Holiday Book Picks

Books to give as gifts for the holidays, chosen by MORE magazine’s editors.

By the editors of MORE magazine

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins)This book is at the top of my Hanukkah gift list. Chabon performs a minor miracle: deliciously inventing an entire 60-year history of a frozen diaspora for the Jews, who’ve been leased a settlement in Alaska instead of Israel. While working within the well-worn detective framework, he manages to comment on the state of the Jewish heart and soul. His hilariously updated Yiddish is worth the price of admission alone. Though it can be read for sheer fun, it bears comparing to Philip Roth’s masterpiece, The Plot Against America.— Maxine Davidowitz, Creative DirectorBuy The Yiddish Policemen’s Union All Things Are Labor: Stories, by Katherine Arnoldi (University of Massachusetts Press) This year, I am giving my friends the moving and fiercely original story collection All Things Are Labor. The stories loosely chronicle Arnoldi’s life, from a Mennonite childhood in 1960s Ohio, to teenaged single motherhood, to trying to keep body, mind, and soul together in New York City’s East Village, pre-gentrification. They are heartbreaking, funny, wise, and a little mysterious: the work of a real grownup. The best of them put me in mind of Grace Paley, but Arnoldi is entirely her own person. In the opening story, she writes of a dear friend: "For fifteen years we have been like this. As though we are lying on moss-covered rocks in a creek, feet together and heads cushioned on opposite banks. As though we’ve watched our lovers pass over our bodies like water and float downstream, far under the horizon." — Dawn Raffel, Editor-at-LargeBuy All Things Are Labor The Other Side of the Bridge, by Mary Lawson (Dial Press)From its opening scene, in which the two sons of a Canadian farmer play a game of chicken with a knife that outlines their many deep differences, Lawson’s The Other Side of the Bridge packs some big emotions in a deceptively simple setting. Sibling rivalry, betrayal, guilt, unrequited love, and the ravages of World War II are woven into a story that spans more than 20 years but never loses its tight, mesmerizing focus. By the end, you will know these people and their small-town lives intimately. — Kathy Heintzelman, Entertainment DirectorBuy The Other Side of the Bridge Learning to Drive, by Katha Pollitt (Random House)I raised my eyebrows at first: Was Pollitt — the feminist writer whose political columns I’ve cited in heated debate — really writing about her failed love life? Was she really admitting that she stayed with an arrogant, unfaithful, womanizing philosophy professor for seven years? Pollitt admits to Web-stalking her ex-boyfriend while drinking cold coffee at the wee hours of the morning, for God’s sake. But I will say I liked the book, regardless. Pollitt’s stories are honest, funny, thought provoking and, like it or not, relatable. Instead of asking what Pollitt’s heartbreaking experience with a lying, cheating man says about her feminist sensibility, let’s ask ourselves what it says about men.— Patti Greco, Associate EditorBuy Learning to Drive In the Driver’s Seat, by Helen Simpson (Knopf)Simpson has done it again! Her new collection of short stories, In the Driver’s Seat, is as sharply perceptive and as fearless as her earlier collection, Getting a Life. Simpson has an eye — and an alert ear — for the honest dynamic of our closest relationships. Not a word is wasted: These stories are cut diamonds, reflecting and refracting the interior dramas of love gained, assumed, lost, revisited, revised. This book fits into your pocket, but is by no means small. It’s a keeper for the permanent library — for women and their men.— Fritz Beshar, WriterBuy In the Driver’s Seat Circling My Mother, by Mary Gordon (Pantheon)This book will resonate with any daughter who has lost, or is losing a parent. Prompted by her mother’s Alzheimer’s — and her inability to talk with her about the past — Gordon goes back in time to retrace her mother’s life as a breadwinner and single mother. In Gordon’s quest for answers about a woman she had only made assumptions about, the reader learns that memory is what you make it, and sees the importance of letting things go.— Dara Pettinelli, Assistant EditorBuy Circling My Mother Foreskin’s Lament: A Memoir, by Shalom Auslander(Riverhead)In his biting, laugh-out-loud memoir about growing up as an Orthodox Jew, Shalom Auslander exposes his lifelong game of cat and mouse with God. As a boy he savors beef jerky, hoards porn magazines, and drives his car to the mall on Shabbat — that is until a healthy dose of Jewish guilt sends him into a flurry of repentance and the porn literally goes up in flames. His complicated systems of checks and balances — curse God one day, attend yeshiva the next — are hilarious, and all too familiar to anyone who’s grappled with religion.— Rebecca Adler, Assistant EditorBuy Foreskin’s Lament Blood of Flowers, by Anita Amirrezvani (Little, Brown) In her debut novel, Iranian-born Amirrezvani’s heroine is a 15-year-old girl living in 17th-century Persia. But the lovingly crafted story of an aspiring carpet-maker is as easily accessible as any modern-day tale of adolescence. The girl’s struggle to find her place in the bustling city of Isfahan takes her from the carpet booths of the market into the arms of a wealthy horse merchant, from the poverty of servant life to the grand halls of the Shah’s palace. Amirrezvani threads her novel with exquisite detail and leaves the reader both satisfied and yearning for more.— R.A.Buy Blood of Flowers Tree of Smoke, by Denis Johnson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)Johnson brings history to life for those of us who were too young to comprehend the Vietnam War and its impact on humanity. His novel follows Skip Sands, a spy-in-training who is working against the Vietcong. Disaster follows Sands in Vietnam thanks to his uncle, a famous war hero. In times of war, Johnson reminds us how hard life as a soldier on the front lines can be. At the very least, this book makes me appreciate the fact I am female and have never had to worry about being drafted!— Judy Goss, Bookings and Casting EditorBuy Tree of Smoke Originally published on, November 2007.

First Published Mon, 2009-04-06 18:11

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