Thanks for good eats, great reads

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I imagine all of you fellow students out there are thankful for the break, even if Thanksgiving itself doesn’t jazz you. For instance, I’ve never been a huge fan of turkey, though this is the one time of year it’s actually good. Still, I’ll probably have the best Thanksgiving ever with just a plate of mashed potatoes and a tankard of cranberry sauce.

For me, there’s not much to Thanksgiving beyond the food and such. Growing up kind of ruined the whole myth of it. I mean, is it a legitimate pilgrim celebration? Propaganda? An Abe Lincoln thing? Oh, and the whole “pardoning” a turkey deal. Where’s the mercy in telling some bird, “we chose you to live so you could watch?” And don’t get me started on that Norman Rockwell painting. Honestly, if you stare long enough at a Rockwell piece, you come to realize that every person he ever painted is a hollow horror, like Tom Cruise or the Antichrist.

But I’m not paid to vent on miscellaneous holidays; after all I am a literature columnist. Then again, I don’t get paid anyway, but I’m willing to negotiate. So, Thanksgiving, yadda yadda, cranberries, yadda yadda, Antichrist, yadda yadda, let’s talk about thankfulness. ‘Tis the season, for a day or two at least. And without getting out of my depth, I’m mostly thankful for books in my life. Here are a few pertinent examples, straight to your heart, some of the embers which have warmed the cockles of my heart:

“The Europeans” by Henry James

Ah, this book. James himself saw it as a thin misfit in his cadre of works, but for what it’s worth, this is one of James’s best early books, before the botched theater career and the reign as Master Difficult. Honestly, worth looking into, for anyone who thinks modern prose is some anemic wastrel.

“after the quake” by Haruki Murakami

I owe a lot to friends in my life, and one of my friends did me a great service by introducing me to Murakami. Disaffected and weird—the mélange striking your emotional core—this is the kind of book you read on a long bus ride with utter satisfaction, or under one lightbulb with a glass of Four Roses, though Murakami would proffer some Cutty Sark instead. Maybe some spaghetti, but that’s another story.

“Absalom, Absalom!” by William Faulkner

Oh the bitter effluvium of a ripping Southern Gothic novel. This is the real deal here. Faulkner never got more mythic or complicated. You want earthy density? You’ve got it here. And blood! There’s a lot of blood in this book. Good blood, bad blood, blood in a mansion, blood out on the battlefield. You might want to bring a napkin. Or a bucket.

“East of Eden” by John Steinbeck

I’m going to be honest. Who among us wouldn’t want to put out their best work after 30 odd years of a distinguished career of letters? Probably illiterates. Or businessmen. Maybe dogs. Eh, tomato, tomato. But it’s worth emphasizing the novelty of this achievement. Rock on, Steinbeck.

“A Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold

Let’s be serious for a brief second here. This is one of those books that changes you. You can clearly divide your life into “pre-Sand County” and “post-Sand County” and your “post” period will be illumined by a visionary. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing in my life without this book. This is an utterly fantastic book.

“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

If you don’t know what this is, put down this newspaper and walk away. If you’re reading this online, throw your computer out the window. Seriously, you’ve wasted too much time not knowing what this book is.

“The Waves” by Virginia Woolf

There are no words to describe this book because they are already in the book and there is nothing I can say which will do it justice.

“Collected Fictions” by Jorge Luis Borges

If you want to come as close to seeing space time bend as imaginably possible without being magic or high, do yourself a favor and pick up this, or some other derivative. “Labyrinths” is a good primer, but this is the one book that has the whole package at your fingertips (the fictional side anyway).

“Pale Fire” by Vladimir Nabokov

A bed took roots pity sigh.

“A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” by David Foster Wallace

Is A Wickedly Fun Book I’ll Forever Read Again.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all. See you next week.

What literature are you thankful for? Drop Sean a line at sreichard@wisc.edu. 

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