It’s almost Thanksgiving for those of us in the U.S., the day where we get together with family and eat too much food in gratitude for our good fortune. The ladies of The Broke and The Bookish have set forth a topic in the spirit of the upcoming holiday:
Top Ten Books I am Most Thankful For:
1. Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson
Most of my reading is fiction and I love a good novel like the breath of life, but there are a few books I keep on hand to get me through the minutiae of daily life and this is one. When we moved away from the oceanside and I needed to get that mildew smell out of everything we owned, I reached for Home Comforts. When a family member stained a brand new piece of furniture (with blood). When we were too poor to buy brand-name cleaners but I wanted to keep my house sanitary. It’s a tremendous reference for anyone like me, raised a few generations removed from the ladies who received housekeeping knowledge with mother’s milk (and any man with a house to keep, too). Amusingly, I have the book because my mother received it as a gift and felt it was an insult to her housekeeping. Lucky me!
This is my baking Bible. I learned to bake cookies and lasagna from its pages, and when I moved into my first apartment my dad bought me my own copy (his came from my grandmother). I’ve adapted my Snickerdoodle recipe from the one in its pages (the cookies that caused one pregnant neighbor to call me after midnight in hopes that I might whip up a batch). I used it tonight to whip up a crust for a pecan pie. It’s not trendy, it’s a staple.
This was a wedding gift from my mother-in-law, and I was skeptical. I knew how to cook, and I had my trusty Betty Crocker. What could this cookbook possibly have to offer? In the five years since, I have discovered that the answer is quite a lot. This is now my go-to cookbook for cooking (as opposed to baking). It has great reference material on the basics of food: cuts of meat, properties of different grains, ideas on stocking an efficient and compact kitchen. The recipes are tasty and earmarked with notes like “low-fat”, “quick”, or “best-loved”. My favorite part has to be the meals portioned for two. These recipes kept my husband and I fed in style with no leftovers spoiling in the fridge. We particularly like the meatball soup, and my husband once ate the provolone-stuffed meatballs raw while I was away on a trip.* They’re that good.
4. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
I am thankful for all seven books of The Harry Potter series (even Chamber of Secrets) for many reasons. I have read them all a few times, some of them more than a few, and I know that I will read them again throughout my life and be just as excited and engaged as I was the first time. I know that I will share them with my children. I am thankful for the virtues championed throughout the series: courage, loyalty, perseverance. I am thankful that the narrative prizes love, friendship, and intelligence over sex, self-interest, and the YOLO mentality. I am thankful that (SPOILERS) good wins in the end. It might not be edgy, but it’s enduring.
5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
It is on so many of my lists, but I am specifically thankful for it because I have my absolute best conversations with students about this book. About why the presence of the word “nigger” in a book does not make it racist, can in fact make it anti-racist. About the significance of mockingbirds, Boo Radley, and the actions of Atticus Finch. I am thankful that more than a half-century on this book is still getting teenagers to think critically about morality and character and what type of person they want to be, even though the America of this book is so far removed from the one they know. I am thankful that my husband replaced my third destroyed paperback copy with the fancy schmancy Barnes and Noble hardcover!
6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
This book was my gateway into science fiction and fantasy literature, and for that I will be eternally thankful. I am also thankful that is presented a smart and physically unattractive heroine, who was somewhat difficult to get along with, and yet people still saw her value. She was still the heroine. I am very thankful to have had a book like that available to me in my childhood. Thankful that L’Engle didn’t talk down to her readers. A Wrinkle in Time is a dense read, though the volume is slim. I appreciated the challenge then and I appreciate it now.
7. On Writing by Stephen King
This business of me writing things that were not for classes and letting people read them only started a little over a year ago. The whole idea had me shaking in my shoes and dreading turning into some of the things I associated with “writers”. I’m thankful for a book that talked about the business and mechanics of writing without getting all purple about it. I am thankful that reading it has already improved my writing.
8. Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis
This book is the kind that inspires me. It is the story of many intelligent and talented people who saw both a problem and an opportunity and, instead of complaining about it or protesting, crafted a brilliant solution. An enduring solution that continues to evolve and grow in order to serve its purpose. I am thankful for those people, and for the people who took the time to record their story for posterity.
9. American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot by Craig Ferguson
I am thankful to be an American. For all our troubles, America is a progressive nation: open-minded, offering freedom and opportunity. I am grateful to Craig Ferguson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the thousands of naturalized citizens every year who breath new life into the American Dream with their hope. The ones who don’t take our abundance, our cultural tolerance, and our freedoms for granted. This book is not only hilarious, but it is deeply patriotic in a way that reminds me how glad I am to be American.
10. Norman Rockwell: Artist and Illustrator by Thomas S. Buechner
This enormous, heavy book was once my grandmother’s. She was moving and selling it at a garage sale, so I asked if I could have it. Many of my adolescent artistic efforts involved drawing studies of the gestures and poses on its pages, and I loved the image of idealized Americana it presented. America in our best moments, and America as we wish we were. I am thankful that Norman Rockwell existed, was so prolific, and stuck to his traditional style and subject matter when the ugly, abstract, and unpleasant came into fashion. I am thankful for this record of idealism.
So I’ve hit the major themes of Thanksgiving: tradition, food, virtues like gratitude. Thanksgiving is an American tradition, an originally American holiday, which is perhaps why my list skewed so traditional. The new and flashy is not always better than the tried and true, and I am thankful for the things that endure.
*I nearly had a heart attack when he told me. They’re half pork!