Friday, December 10, 2010

A Reader's Holiday Gift Guide

I don't have specific books to recommend this year (other that the ones I have blogged about in 2010) but I wanted to give some thought to gifts that you might give to a reader or that a reader might like to get.  Your favorite book is always a thoughtful gift--I think it is even okay to re-gift a book or read a book you are giving first.  Here are a few favorite things and websites to give you other ideas.

  • My favorite reading related charity is called Room to Read.  These people take schools and books and libraries to developing countries.  Consider a donation to these amazing people in someone else's name.
  • My writing group is called Women Writing for (a) Change-Bloomington.  If you know of someone who would benefit from writing in a conscious community consider getting her a gift certificate to one of these classes.  The group runs programs for girls and teens and could always use scholarship money for young women who would like to attend but can't afford it.  We also do outreach to women in the local jail so a donation to WWf(a)C would help offset the expenses of this program.  WWfaC has programs in Birmingham, Ala., Burlington, VT, Grand Junction, Colo., Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Louisville.
  • Ever heard of NANOWRIMO? I've been excusing myself for the past few years.  Lots of good reasons why, but I still love the program and love how they encourage writing.  Consider a gift from their way cool on-line gift store.
  • How about a poem?  For your friend that has everything or if you yourself are looking for many gifts and can afford few try giving the perfect poem. There is one for every person and every occasion.  Try the Poetry Foundation's way cool poetry tool and check out this audio site of emerging poets.
  • Or how about the gift of poetry to students?
  • I've not read this book but am enjoying the website that launched the book.  Is someone you know interested in awesome things?  Better yet, make a list of your own awesome things and give the list as a gift.
  • Consider a gift or purchase from Half the Sky Foundation: an organization dedicated to helping orphans in China.
  • Organize a group (or go solo) to a Messiah Sing in your community.  I just googled those words and trust me when I say there is one about everywhere in the country.  The chance to sing (or just listen) to beautiful music is one of the rare non-commercial opportunities of the holiday season.  In Bloomington the price of admission is canned food for our food bank.  Take someone who could use a lift.
  • Buy local!  Craft fairs, tickets to sports or theatre, gift cards to small local shops and restaurants, memberships to local museums and history centers.
Okay readers, what are your favorite gifts for readers?  Writers?  Anyone?  I would love to hear from you.

Happy Holidays from Esmerelda's Bookthing.  I'll be back after the New Year with more reading and writing fun!  

Sunday, December 5, 2010

It Gets Better

You've probably seen at least one video from the series, It Gets Better, that is being promoted by Dan Savage (syndicated advice columnist) to help gay youth realize that life gets better after high school.  His videos are a response to the recent well publicized gay teen suicides which largely came as a result of bullying. I have watched many of these with fascination and even shed a few tears.

I began reading a great memoir this week called Where's my Wand?  by Eric Poole. He writes a great coming of age story about a young boy beginning to understand his own sexual identity.  The writer recounts scenes from his life that are quite funny and full of heartache.  The thread that begins to tie them all together and becomes more and more prominent as the stories continue is the role of magic in his life.  He conjures images which are solutions to his troubles which may or may not work.  He puzzles over what works and what doesn't.  His magic becomes his line to God and he begins to question God when the magic ceases to work.  The end of this memoir is quite worth the whole book. The magic and the understanding of his life and his parents love for him all come together at the end in a very magical and important scene.  It got a lot better for Eric Poole and this book prompted me to think of other similarly themed memoirs I have read.

One of the most riveting tales I ever read was by Paul Monette who won The National Book Award for Becoming a Man. It has been more than 15 years since I read this book, so all I have left are my impressions. I remember that getting a glimpse into one person's grappling with these issues was so interesting that it prompted me to steal the book from the Bed and Breakfast in which I was staying.  This book was full of Monette's early sexual adventures and is incredibly painful to read.  Monette's anger is palpable.  Becoming a Man was the memoir that set the stage for all future coming of age tales.  Sadly, Mr. Monette died in 1995 of complications related to AIDS.

Two prominent gay artists have written books about adding children to their families.  BD Wong wrote Following Foo the story of how he and his partner hired a surrogate who gave birth to a child who was biologically his and his partners.  Wong adopted a series of emails he had written to friends and family following the birth of their child into this beautiful memoir.  (A subtle reminder that everything we write counts!)

I first became acquainted with Dan Savage when I read The Kid, his story of his and his partner's adoption of  DJ through the open adoption laws of the state of Oregon.  In his own It Gets Better video, Dan shows pictures of a growing DJ and tells stories about their family life.  The Kid tells the beginning of the story.  Again, I read it many years ago, but I remember the book as being cute, sweet, and compelling reading.  The two gay fathers have just as much worry and parental angst as any straight parents would have.

Memoir of a Beautiful Boy, by Robert LeLeux charmed me.  LeLeux recounts the antics of his mother who is out to become beautiful again in time to snag another man after Le Leux's father leaves the family.  I remember it all seemed very antic and very full of Texas wit and a memorable mother and son relationship.  LeLeux comes out late in the book and the reader rejoices with him as he finds his true love.  This was a funny fast read, and when Robert meets his true love and settles into what his life is supposed to be about, you know it got a lot better.

Last, but not least, one of my favorite memoirs is Travels with Lizbeth.  The story of Lars Eighner as he finds himself homeless and doesn't want to part with his beloved dog Lizbeth.  I'm not really fond of animal stories so I stared at it on the shelf for years until a friend prompted me to read it.  For Lars and Lizbeth, life was bittersweet but they had each other.  The writing was lovely and I fell in love with both writer and dog and cheered for them at the end.

Please consider this my personal contribution to the It Gets Better campaign. If you are out there, check out these funny, interesting, haunting and candid books about parenthood,  coming of age, homelessness, and coming to understand your own identity.  These true stories are proof also that it gets better.  Much better. All are available at the public library.

I would love to hear other reader recommendations on this topic.