The world falls into two holiday camps: those who love receiving books as gifts; those who do not. Most of my friends (many of them inveterate book clubbers), are thrilled with such a gift.
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One (you’ll want it for yourself as well) is “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” by 30-year-old clutter celebrity Marie Kondo (Ten Speed Press, $16.99). If any object does not “spark joy,” toss it. That’s Kondo’s motto, and she guides you step-by-step through clothes, books, papers, sentimental items. Clothes and books, done. There’s now more air in my house, more light. I feel lighter, too. In January, I’ll tackle papers. Sentimental items? Ouch.
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The New York Times hailed North Carolina’s own Ron Rash as belonging in the pantheon of great American writers. It’s about time for this Appalachian poet and novelist (“Serena”) who teaches at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee. His latest, “Something Rich and Strange: Collected Stories” (Ecco, $27.99), hoists him among the best of the best. These 34 stories make up a panorama of our human frailties: hunger, loneliness, anger, pride, greed, fear and sorrow. Sound depressing? Get over it. Rash will pry open every chamber of your heart.
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I recently heard Joseph Bathanti, former N.C. poet laureate (2012-2014), read aloud from his memoir, “Half of What I Say Is Meaningless” (Mercer University Press, $25). He brought down the house with “A Christmas Story.” We need Bathanti’s cheer and his unfailing passion for the mystery that surrounds us. A Charlotte resident for years, Bathanti teaches at Appalachian State in Boone. Like Bill Mazeroski’s 1960 homer in Pittsburgh (which he writes about), this one clears the fence.
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Marilynne Robinson’s latest novel in the Gilead trilogy is “Lila” (Farrar Straus, $26), a National Book Award finalist and the story of a rough, itinerant Iowa woman in the 1950s who falls hard for an elderly, widowed preacher. Early on, Lila can only express her love by tending the roses around the graves of his first wife and infant son, a gesture so guardedly generous you need know nothing more about her. We hold our breath for the fragile pair as they await the birth of their son during a March storm and rejoice later as Lila scrambles eggs one morning and says, “I can’t feel as happy as I am.”
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As a member of 23andme, the genomics and biotechnology interactive site, I’m hooked on the subject. Christine Kenneally’s “The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures” (Viking, $27.95) would keep me fascinated for hours upon winter hours. (Hint, hint.)