In 1970, when I was an angry young woman full of pathos for the refugees of political turmoil and the ravages of flood and famine in Bangladesh, I entreated my family to send any money they would have spent on gifts for me to a benefit fund. On Christmas morning my father, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, produced a wood packing crate filled with gifts labeled “From the People of Bangladesh to Jane” along with a donor cheque. I learned then that charity and abundance are not mutually exclusive. I also came to the heartbreaking realization that despite my self-sacrifice, the poor are always with us. Now, while I do donate to charities, I also enjoy giving special books to my favourite people and indulging in one or two for myself.
Here is my list for 2011:
For my husband, who is both handy and handsome, a tin of book darts from Lee Valley and The Anarchist’s Tool Chest by Christopher Schwarz. It includes a list of 48 essential hand tools and instructions on how to build a chest to house them.
For my daughter who faithfully PVRs “Iron Chef,” cooking lessons from Chef Bender at Louis Riel Arts & Technology Centre and a copy of The Art of Living According to Joe Beef by the proprietors of the eponymous restaurant in Montreal. More of a philosophy than a cookbook, it includes a recipe for absinthe, a homage to railway dining cars and a gorgeous fold out of a thirty ingredient smorgasbord.
For my mother who misses her daily Oprah fix, the novel The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. Anointed “Most Cinematic” on Oprah’s Best Fiction list in December 2011 issue, it is billed “as an irresistible and astonishingly assured debut about working-class women and world weary WASPs in 1930s New York” and is touted to “pick up where The Great Gatsby leaves us”.
To my sister who juggles an active 7-year-old, a part time job, volunteer duties at school and, consequently, has no time to read, a voucher for meals from Supper Central and a subscription to Canadian Family magazine which features Canadian articles and sources for home décor, vacation, food and health and parenting.
To my brother who writes very funny yet cynical letters, I will wrap a fountain pen along with Roz Chast’s What I Hate , an alphabetized list of terrible things that cause anxiety from carnivals and Ouija boards to tunnels. I never fail to laugh out loud at Chast’s cartoons in the New Yorker.
To my brother who now lives in “Shangri-La” on Vancouver Island, a pair of garbage mitts and Winter, the 2011 CBC Massy Lectures by Adam Gopnik to remind him of what he is missing. Did you know that the Russians embraced the return of winter because the snow meant the end of muddy roads?
And for myself…? In a Venn diagram of various literary prizes constructed by The Globe and Mail, the “convergence of opinion” puts Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan at the top of my Must Read list. After an afternoon of delivering hampers for the Christmas Cheer Board, I look forward to a mug of mulled cider and cracking open this winning novel about a jazz musician’s memories of Paris in the Second World War.
Read more books, give more time, spend less money this holiday.