Umm, this is a tricky one. In my introduction today I must appear bright, literate, perhaps even -- dare I say(?) -- scintillating.
You know, like I could, if cornered, make an obscure philosophical or literary allusion in an erudite conversation with a raised brow and a condescending twinkle in my big blue eyes.
But then again, Bob Butler and I have been friends for so long I trust he has low expectations.
Instead of turning to my new Roget's International Thesaurus: Revised & Updated Sixth Edition and pouring over words worthy of his eminent stature, I thought I would simply cut to the chase, take advantage of our friendship and ask him for a Christmas present. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?
(I'm sure Bob will appreciate the use of two successive cliches on my way to getting to the point in this long-winded -- ah, there we go, that makes three -- preface.)
What I wanted for me -- and for you -- was a gift no one else could possibly imagine. So I asked him if he would please give me a guest post for Noel.
Without hesitation he said: "Of course" -- in Latin. No, I'm joking.
Here then is the final cadeau I've been promising for your reading (and shopping) pleasure from the Pulitzer Prize winning author, Robert Olen Butler:
Christmas Book Buying
Buy Robert Olen Butler (that includes subliminal advertising)
The great thing about giving books for Christmas is that you can do with great precision and even subtlety what good gift-givers should always do, tailor the gift to the recipient's mind and heart and sensibility (as you know it). I particularly like to give books to people who don't expect me to give them a gift. The intent: delight and surprise. Or shock and awe, given what you know of and feel about the intended reader.
I never give my own books as Christmas presents. Tacky. You and your readers, dear Tish, have no such constraints. (And I don't care if that solicitation is itself tacky.) Speaking of shock and awe, my most recent novel is entitled Hell and is set entirely in that place, with the main character the TV anchorman for The Evening News from Hell. A perfect thing for the season if you have friends like mine. (I gave them their copies out-of-season.)
Here are a few special books you might consider. Special indeed.
If someone on your list loved Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude (and such folks are legion), you should give them Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita. Contrary to popular belief, Marquez was not at the advanced edge of what has come to be called "magical realism." Bulgakov wrote this wonderful book decades earlier, working over several drafts from 1928 till his death in 1940. It was, all along the way, suppressed by Stalin and didn't come to light until 1962. I'd strongly recommend either the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation (Peguin) or the Diana Burgin (Vintage). Incidentally, Bulgakov's museum in Moscow was vandalized a few years ago by a religious fanatic who thought the book to be Satanic propaganda.
If you have a writer on your list, particularly a fiction writer, then an ideal book would be the Merriam-Webster's Visual Dictionary or The Oxford-Duden Pictorial English Dictionary. Or both. They each have special things the other does not, but both give many thousand illustrations of the physical objects of our world. Things you can picture, but can't name.
Yes, that's an aglet at the end of your shoe lace. Yes, that's a bollard they're using to tie-off that boat on the dock. And for those old enough to be sliding into nominal aphasia, that thing you're trying to go out of is a door and those are fingers wiggling there on your hand. (Why do I never forget the noun "nominal aphasia" when it describes the very thing that afflicts me, which should make me never remember the name of it?)
Okay. Anyone who has a sweet tooth for England and appreciates elegant writing and surprisingly apt metaphors and wants to LMAO, as the internet will have it (Google it), anything by P. G. Wodehouse.
And for anyone who likes mysteries, but likes them written with manifest psychological acuity, any of the Maigret mysteries by Georges Simenon. It's quite possible they haven't discovered this splendid and prolific and popserious Frenchman.
And did I mention Hell? Embrace the irony.
My sincere best wishes for a joyful holiday and a splendid new year.
(Ed. Note: That last part -- at the very end, end -- I think it's just for me. . .)