orange christmas present

This type of post is a first for me. I love reading the gift lists others write, but I get nervous whenever I have to compile a list of favorites, especially when it includes books. How to narrow the choices? What if I forgot something?

One list that I look forward to reading all year long is written by Margie Haack at Letters from the House Between, formerly called Notes from Toad Hall. I have written about Margie’s work a number of times here. This year’s list arrived in my mailbox last Saturday, well before any Christmas shopping was done, so I am mulling over her suggestions and considering which ones will work for those on my shopping list.

Some of my suggestions you may recognize. They appeared in previous posts, but that’s okay. They’re worth mentioning again and sometimes we need that extra nudge.

On the book front, the best piece of fiction I read in 2015 was All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Almost from the first page, I found myself swept away by the beautiful writing and compelling characters. Doerr won the Pulitzer Prize for this novel that was 10 years in the writing. In this season of Advent where the contrasts of light and dark are powerful images, this book captures both the symbolic and literal realities of light—from the physical to the spiritual. (I’m sure this book tops many people’s lists this year.) Also, don’t be turned off if you happen to hear this is another WWII book. Yes, the book is set during this time period, but it is far from another WWII book.

Anytime I stay up really late reading a book, I know it is a good one. Just ask my family who makes fun of me for my “regular bedtime” habits. Last winter, on the eve of another snowstorm and the announcement of “no school tomorrow,” I finished the book. I read for four hours straight. That’s when I know I have a winner.

If you’re looking for a gift for the thinker on your list, then I recommend Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure by Nancy Nordenson. Nancy’s reflections on work and longing and fulfillment remind me that I am not alone when I struggle with contentment about my own work. Her essays are articulate and give voice to the desire we all have to find meaning in how we spend our days. As I wrote previously, her vocabulary is beautiful and impressive.

For those who love mystery/crime novels, I recommend Sidney Chambers and The Shadow of Death by James Runcie. (I recently discovered there are more books in the series. Yipee!) My mom gave me this book to read last Christmas, telling me I would enjoy it. She was right. Sidney Chambers is a Cannon in the village of Cambridgeshire during the 1950s. Along with his Police Inspector friend, the two solve crimes. I like how Runcie develops Sidney’s character. He’s a man of the cloth, but he struggles with his faith and has his fair share of doubts. Yet his faith is portrayed as one that hangs on, even in the midst of uncertainty.  

Last January Masterpiece Mystery aired its first season of Grantchester, which is loosely based on the novel. Season 2 will air in the new year. Actor James Norton is a perfect Sidney Chambers and not bad on the eyes either!

No Christmas List would be complete without a cookbook recommendation.  Early last summer I discovered Good Cheap Eats: Everyday Dinners and Fantastic Feasts for $10 or Less by Jessica Fisher. As I wrote previously, my cookbook purchases are limited these days. It is too easy to look up a recipe online. But after renewing this book a couple of times from the library, I decided it was worth the purchase. After I blogged about this cookbook, I heard from a number of you that also liked some of her other cookbooks. Now that my daughter is a vegetarian, I appreciate the many meatless recipes included in this book.

For the music lover on your list, I recently stumbled across Diana Krall’s latest album Wallflower while listening to Spotify. I love listening to  Diana’s music while cooking in the kitchen or working at my desk. Her husky vocals compliment, rather than compete, with my tasks. Now that I am officially middle-aged (yes, it was number 45 this year), I appreciate that her career is still strong and that she looks darn good in her 50s.

In light of recent events in Paris, Colorado, and California, I realize it can seem trivial to write about gift lists. Innocent people have perished and many families face a dark, bleak holiday season. The season of Advent penetrates the darkest of places. It doesn’t erase or diminish the pain and suffering, but it reminds us of God’s deep love for his creation. He sent his own Son as the ultimate gift. Christ’s life and death mean that pain, suffering, and senseless killings don’t have the last word. This is good news.

Blessings to you and yours this Advent season.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

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