Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Christmas Greed

When I was growing up, the big event of the holiday season was the arrival of the the Sears Christmas Wish Book.  Thick as a metropolitan phone book, the tissue-paper-thin pages were a virtual F.A.O. Schwartz for a kid living in rural Wyoming.  I remember grabbing the catalog soon after it arrived in October, sitting at the dining-room table with a ballpoint pen, and making large, paper-tearing X's next to the toys I wanted.

I never got any of those wished-for electronic racetracks, Spirographs, or Show 'N Tell Phono-Viewers, but I did treasure that Avon soap-on-a-rope I got annually from my grandmother.  And, Mom?  Those pumpkin-colored corduroy pants were pretty neat-o, too.

(In truth, I did get something I asked for one year: Romper Stompers.  Fans of the old TV show "Romper Room" will know what I'm talking about when I say that my fondest Christmas memory is walking [stomping] around the living room on upside-down yellow plastic cups while clutching green plastic "ropes" to hold the cups against my shoes.  You had to be there.)

As I grew older, my Christmas "wish books" grew a little more sophisticated.  While others of my gender couldn't wait to rip the protective plastic off their catalogs from Victoria's Secret or Eddie Bauer, I panted after the over-priced writerly delights of Levenger.  Once again, no one ever listened to my plea for a bamboo lap reader (with cup-holder), but still I prevailed.

So, now it's that time of year again--the season of dashed dreams.  To honor the occasion, I've come up with a small list of things I'd love to see under my tree.  Feel free to leave your Christmas wish lists in the comments section, and then send the link to your significant other.  You never know; contrary to what the Rolling Stones say, you might get what you want.

I might be one of the last people in the world to read these Swedish noir-mysteries, but they have been screaming from my wish list for more than a year now.  I already have a tattered paperback copy of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo on my bookshelf, but there's something beautiful about this boxed set that starts the drool flowing.

This 13-volume set from Ecco is a reissue of Constance Garnett's 1929 translation of more than 200 short stories and novellas from the Russian master.  Each volume is introduced by writers like Richard Ford, Susan Sontag, Harold Brodkey, Cynthia Ozick, and Russell Banks.  I've heard complaints of poor paper quality, but nevertheless, I want, I want, I want.

For my money, there was no better writer in 1940s Hollywood than Preston Sturges.  He was so good, few audiences back then fully appreciated the bitter brilliance of Hail, the Conquering Hero and Sullivan's Travels and it took decades for true love to come Sturges' way.  He was long dead by then, of course.  But what he left for us is fan-frickin-tastic.  This collection of seven screwball classics is missing a major film of the Sturges canon--The Miracle of Morgan's Creek--but you'll be so busy laughing at the others here, you'll hardly noticed its absence.  Note to people shopping for me: I want to laugh this Christmas.

This graphic novel by Brian K. Vaughn centers around one of the most fascinating side-stories of the Iraq War.  As Amazon describes it: "In the spring of 2003, a pride of lions escaped from the Baghdad zoo during an American bombing raid. Lost and confused, hungry but finally free, the four lions roamed the decimated streets of Baghdad in a desperate struggle for their lives. In documenting the plight of the lions, Pride of Baghdad raises questions about the true meaning of liberation – can it be given or is it earned only through self-determination and sacrifice? And in the end, is it truly better to die free than to live life in captivity?"  War and allegory--I can dig it, man.

I'm not sure which Kindle cover I want, but I like the idea of being able to sit in bed with a small booklight glowing above the screen of my e-book.  My wife, dozing beside me, would certainly like that.  This, more than anything on this list, is probably what I'll end up with.  I've already been dropping atom-bomb-sized hints to Mrs. Abrams.

Okay, I am just slightly obsessed with the squeaky-voiced Miss Arthur and I always get this big ole goofy grin on my face whenever she's on-screen in classics like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and The More the Merrier.  This biography by John Oller appears to be a very well-written account of a screwball lady who, like her contemporary Greta Garbo, closely guarded her private life.

Anyone want to buy me a plane ticket to Jolly Old England?  On the surface, this amusement park based on the Victorian novelist's stories and characters may look like the ultimate in tacky entertainment, but in my opinion, any day spent fully immersed in Dickens is indeed the best of times, not the worst.  Besides, I really, really want to ride the Great Expectations log flume.

 Everything Else
Of course, there's also the usual assortment of Books of the Moment that I just cannot live without.  A partial list includes: Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris, A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, The Sherlockian by Graham Moore, Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro, The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer, The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross, Half a Life by Darin Strauss, The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall, and The Tiger by John Vaillant.

Oh yeah, I guess I want peace on earth and goodwill to men, too.


  1. I would also like the set by Chekhov, please. (For a Starfleet ensign, he sure could write!)

  2. The Lee Marvin MONTE WALSH and a bicycle. (I suppose world peace is too much to ask for.)

  3. I think the Steig Larson boxed set is beautiful. I also really enjoyed A Visit from the Goon Squad, so I hope that makes it under your Christmas tree.

  4. That Ecco set is a reissue of their own pb set, which was done sometime in the early 90s, I believe. I've never seen the original Macmillan hardcovers, but they must be pretty damn cool.