What is better than the gift of literature?

Andrea W. Doray
Posted 12/19/18

Recently, at my beloved Lighthouse Writers Workshop, one of my classmates arrived with what appeared to be a pack of famous-author trading cards she had discovered downstairs. The rest of us …

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What is better than the gift of literature?

Posted

Recently, at my beloved Lighthouse Writers Workshop, one of my classmates arrived with what appeared to be a pack of famous-author trading cards she had discovered downstairs. The rest of us scrambled to get some and what ensued was a full-out trading-card session.

The cards are actually photographs of writers who have visited Lighthouse over the years, with quotes from their works. I was particularly interested in authors I have heard, talked to, or learned from at various Lighthouse events.

The cards I most wanted are for Cheryl Strayed, Roxanne Gay, Jennifer Egan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Claudia Rankine, Michael Ondaatje, Mary Karr, Lauren Groff … all luminaries with whom I’ve had the privilege of interacting.

That’s one reason why I ask for books … and why I choose books for others. What is better than the gift of literature?

For instance, you may have heard of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, also a movie produced by and starring Reese Witherspoon. Even if – or because – you’ve seen the film, Strayed’s book is a delight. Put Wild on your list, to give or to get!

Consider these timely words from Mary Karr’s Liar’s Club: “Sure the world breeds monsters, but kindness grows just as wild …”. Or this from Jennifer Egan in A Visit from the Goon Squad: “I don’t want to fade away, I want to flame away – I want my death to be an attraction, a spectacle, a mystery. A work of art.”

Whew … I’m inspired.

Now, as we approach both the hope and uncertainty of a new year, it helps to hear from and about others. Literature prompts us to engage with the world, taking us into the past or the future, down alleys and into drainpipes, and even asking us to suspend our disbelief as we enter the world of magical realism.

Often, our engagement with literature also means examining our humanity – and inhumanity – as so deftly conveyed, for example, in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, based on his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam.

Although you may be most familiar with Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, in Never Let Me Go – named one of Time magazine’s 100 greatest English-language novels – Nobel prize winner Ishiguro writes appropriately, “Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value most, I don’t ever see them fading.”

Lauren Groff reminds us of the value of the little things, saying of her character in Fates and Furies, “Because it’s true: more than the highlights, the bright events, it was in the small and the daily where she’d found life.”

Personal favorite Michael Ondaatje might not be a household name, but his novel The English Patient probably is. Again, a fine film, but necessarily without the author’s nuances. It’s worth the read. (I’m also partial to Ondaatje’s Running in the Family and The Collected Works of Billy the Kid … I recommend both.)

Perhaps the most poignant – and currently relevant – words on the cards are those of the English patient himself: “All I ever wanted was a world without maps.”

Enjoy!

P.S. Thanks to Lighthouse for the trading cards.

Andrea Doray is a writer who reminds us never to judge a book by its movie. For more gift book suggestions, email her at a.doray@andreadoray.com.

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