Six books that are great Christmas gifts

Thanks to the pandemic, the best books this year were slow to print and hard to get hold of, although of course so are the worst books. (The worst is Jonathan Franzen’s “Crossroads” about the 1970s Midwestern Lutheran sincerity, uber-Franzen.) Look up these fine books, and I hope they arrive before Christmas.

“Friends of Our Country,” by Gary Shteyngart. It’s a true masterpiece, the last I expected this year from this wonderful Russian-American author who recently wrote about his physical pain at the age of 40 due to the long-term consequences of a violently poor circumcision at the age of seven. . The Russians are suffering. That’s what they do. Jewish Russians suffer the most. Shteyngart withdrew with friends to his country house in New York State to ride out the pandemic, and as the resulting novel makes ice-cold clear, exile cannot escape their own nature. Friends, no matter how shiny they look, suffer from failure, fame distortion, envy, longing, narcissism, anomie, paranoia, internet inflammation, app damage, you name it. No one does it intact. It’s painfully funny about the pursuit, autism, Korean cuisine, not so much about the hallucinatory anguish at the death of coronavirus. It protrudes from nothing.

“Shutdown: How COVID Shook the World’s Economy,” by Adam Tooze. If you can not afford a house or expect your inflatable house price to never lose its flare, or if you can, as Kipling put it, “lose, and start again at your beginning / And never breathe a word about your loss,” you will enjoy the historian’s sharp explanations of how markets worked during the pandemic. They did, and they did not. Sometimes I despair of readers’ lack of interest in world finance that accompanies them every day of their lives. forces that overpower the individual are not pleasant.But better to know why the world changes with or without your help.Tooze has talent for explanation.It leaves the reader elegant.

“The Morning Star,” by Karl Ove Knausgaard. It’s August. This is Norway. Without warning or explanation, a giant bright star appears in the sky. Just as the deadly coronavirus floats in invisible clouds on streets and roads, something scary is on the way. Five characters – professor, priest, reporter, father, psychiatric nurse – go their days. There are three episodes, First Day, Second Day and then a long disquisition, classic Knausgaard, which I call The Bit You Do Not Have to Read. As always, he writes about epic psychic greatness, our place on a planet we destroyed, and business from minute by minute how we turn off the light, close the door, and pour a glass of water to ourselves while the star shines. There is an atmosphere of fear that is engagingly familiar in this year 2021. Knausgaard is exactly the author to understand how bad we are, how interrupted, how likely it is to break out in tears.

“Uinvited: Canadian Women Artists in the Modern Moment,” edited by Sarah Milroy. This fascinating art book accompanies a McMichael exhibition on female artists whose work was and is being ignored in favor of the Group of Seven. When one studies the paintings of people and the built world, one begins to resent the group of seven guys. Although I love their work, I look at it and say, “It’s a tree. No doubt about it.” Whereas Yvonne McKague Houser’s paintings of northern cities, of empty sidewalks and mills, leave me trapped and wondering. As Sara Angel writes, a painting by Cobalt, a city, was altered to make it brighter and more beautiful so it could be sold, but thoughtful readers will prefer the darker view. It’s a vision of a secret Canada populated by secret female visionaries.

“Four Thousand Weeks,” by Oliver Burkeman. When Burkeman, an eloquent Briton, explained that the average human lifespan is 4,000 weeks, you could have pushed me over with a peony. It feels more like 72,000, do not, more if you have roommates. Burkeman wants us to spend our short time better, but not in a way that we have to tick off a list. Before the Industrial Revolution, people were resting after hard work. Now we are cheating our breaks away. Did you know that if people live to 100, at what time more people are born, who then live to 100, the Renaissance was only five lives ago? Relax, folks. Know what I do not know, but it better start now.

“The Incomplete Framley Examiner.” This is the total output from a British newspaper in a small town, taken from a parody site, and it’s the funniest thing I (and actor Bob Odenkirk) have ever read. We all live in Framley. We all sizzle over homes, dogs, trash cans, vandals, the shortened new bike path that “is not even as long as a small bike,” leaving “Framley cyclists furious at the new facility for Framley cyclists.” The Framley Examiner is your vicious local Facebook page, but most of all it’s BlogTO, chirpy, teenage and illiterate, packed with mystifying headlines: “Local man neither local nor man” “Newby’s treats it’s shoppers” “Man waits to weeks to be served in local restaurant “” Mayor D’Ainty lands on the moon “Published abroad, you can buy it at It shows up eventually.


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