wherein I politely ask you for lots of gifts

Being new to the world of literary blogging, I had no clue that there’s a well-established convention of making a list and sharing it twice, with your favorite all-time reads
of 2010.

It’s a fine convention, I suppose.

But I absolutely refuse to tell you my three favorite novels of the year. (The House of Mirth, The Custom of the Country, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Damn, I suck at resolutions.)

Problem with this convention is obvious, it destroys the greatest pleasure of the holiday season: Receiving gifts. Make no mistake about it. I want something from you. And I plan to get it.


Dwight, because we live within a stone’s throw of each other, you should easily be able to tell me what to read next, using your short-range telepathic powers. Stocking’s open.

D.G. Myers, I’m a little frightened by your “hair-trigger combativeness,” but I know that beneath your agonistic shell, you’re a big softy of a scholar. I just know it. From you, I want two titles of F. Prose other than Blue Angels. It’s already under the tree.

A.J., dude, your brand of social constructivism may be whacked, but I still enjoy your blog, in spite of that bit on C. McCarthy. What should I read next? Please, don’t say Irigary or Lacan or Kristeva.

Steven, I’m sorry our collaboration on O’Connor has stalled. But because you’ve already done so much for me, i.e., helping me double my readership from four to eight people, I only want one more thing from you. Any title of your choice.

Amelia, with such a cool name like Apostrophe, I have very high expectations of you. I’m all ears and greedy fingers.

Nicole, anyone who gets her Clarel on is a pilgrim worthy of attention. Plus, you’re from Chicago! My favorite city! I can’t wait to see what you get me.

Colleen, my Canadian muse. I’m at a loss for words. Listen, I know cyber-crushes have a whiff of impropriety about them, but I totally forgive you for it. Since I caged The Leopard yesterday, you’ll have to scare up new quarry.

Richard, I figure if you can lead a caravan of memories, you can certainly give me a title or two as stocking stuffers. Gracias.

Fiona, Australian + art teacher + Ph.D. in poetry = all-around awesomeness. So make your gift title count!

Kerry, long live Contempt! You got it. I saw it. And Interpolations got dressed in one hell of a snappy suit. What will you give me?

Mr. Stahl, I’m uncomfortable calling you Levi. I don’t know why. From you I don’t want a book title. I want something even better. Your gift for syntactically perfect first sentences. Really, they’re amazing.  

Kevin oder KfC, first thank you for the advice in the beginning. It helped narrow my focus. But enough about you. Let’s talk about me. So long as you and I know the origin of K2D2, all’s right in the world. No need to wrap it, just tell me what to read next.

Matt, you’re a good reader and a fine writer and I dig the fact that we’re both unsaintly spawn of DePaul. But what you don’t know is that my wife gazes at your FB profile pic. Uncomfortable. Give me a Philip K. Dick title please. Or the real deal. It’s the least you can do.

Frances, we have something in common that no one can touch: a thorough-going appreciation for the splendors of back lighting. No need to put a bow on your gift idea. I’ll take it unwrapped.

Trevor, well, seeing as how your my brother from another literary mother, it’s otiose for you to give me anything. Damn, you.

Anthony, a professional in London is uniquely suited to give a gift to a professional in the Bay Area. So long as it’s not Ulysses. Since you’re already on vacation, I’ll randomly choose a Coetzee book. Thanks! 

Tony, I’m told that going from one child to two is like going from having a life to not having one. You’ve done it. My wife and I will do it, too. Soon. What should I read when I despair of time?

Sue, you’ve already given me Mansfield Park. Instead of saying thank you, I’m ready for another little-read Austen title, or one of your unsung Australian heroes.

Wuthers, you have nothing to worry about. Your secret is safe with me. Ssshh. Really, it is. Anonymity has its pleasures. But it’s nothing compared to giving a personalized book recommendation. Fire away!

Now when I open my comments section on Christmas morning, I had better scream like a manic, wild-eyed kiddo, jacked on sleeplessness and too much sugar.

Till then.


24 Responses to wherein I politely ask you for lots of gifts

  1. Richard says:

    Kevin, you are a crack-up, my friend! In related news, I’ve instructed Santa to fulfill your gift request sometime between now and Christmas morning. Cheers! P.S. Interesting top three you chose–thanks for sucking at resolutions…

  2. Fred says:


    While you didn’t request a gift from me, I’ve decided to do so voluntarily–mainly because I’m an ex-Chicagoan and because I’m another spawn of De Paul U.

  3. Colleen says:

    Wait, who has a cyber-crush on who here? I think you got it backwards. 😉

  4. Ok you’ve asked for it! Of course, all Austens are read a lot, but the one that many don’t read and when they do they often miss the point AND it’s the one the filmmakers have had most trouble adapting is Northanger Abbey. It contains her famous defence of the novel. Try it – you’ll probably like it.

    And, just because I’m a generous person, I’ll give you two gifts. The second one is an Aussie. As Austen is a female, let’s make this a male. How about David Malouf. He’s written so many but The conversations at Curlow Creek is a great example of his writing and deals with early Australian history.

  5. Dear Kevin,

    It hasn’t stalled because it didn’t start, and that is largely my fault (if fault there be), but I do promise that it will start once I figure out where to start (and emerge a little from the thickets of the present preoccupations).

    Gosh, one of my choice is tough because I have no idea what you’ve already read. So I’ll offer part of my best of the past three years and you may take your choice:

    Maaza Mengiste–Beneath the Lion’s Gaze–the revolution in Ethiopia

    Yiyun Li–The Vagrants

    Rohinton Mistry–A Fine Balance

    If you’ve already taken those in, let me know and I’ll offer more. But I have to say that I saved the very best of last–a book that lingers long in memory and has to have some of the best insights into the lives of the oppressed that I have ever read.

    May you be truly blessed on Christmas morning–or whenever you get around to this.



  6. Dwight says:

    I’m glad you got my telepathic message about The Relic by Eça de Queirós, as well as the need to meet for lunch so I can drop my copy off with you. Brilliantly weird (and funny, even though the humor is telegraphed pages in advance), it’s one of my favorite novels.

  7. Kerry says:


    You bring new life to the form, as always. So, because you demand it, I have a gift for you.

    I considered gifting Turn, Magic Wheel by Dawn Powell, because she reminds me so much of one of your favorites, Wharton, only with a generational shift. But that would be re-gifting. Tony of Tony’s Book World practiced some persuasive proselytizing and converted me quickly. You cannot go wrong in the Church of Powell. However, that is not my gift to you.

    I already made a gift of Mischief by Chris Wilson to Kim of Reading Matters and her loyal followers (of whom I am one). That’s out.

    I recommend the novels of Gina Berriault to anyone who will listen, so that can hardly be a gift unique to you.

    Your gift must be an exceptionally well-written book, as your index makes clear. You are a literary connoisseur. The novelistic Two Buck Chuck will not do. You must have something with tantalizing legs, an oaky bouquet, and a smooth finish.

    I give you a 1942 vintage that was aged, untranslated from its native Hungarian, for sixty years. When the English cork was finally popped in 2002, bibliophiles raved. This dense novel is a slim 224 pages full of palate-pleasing prose. I am confident you will surfeit yourself on delicious quotes:

    Every exercise of power incorporates a faint, almost imperceptible, element of contempt for those over whom the power is exercised.

    This present is not only for you, I must admit. I have engaged in some selfishness in wrapping this particular gift, which the tough-grading Complete Review gives a B+. The anticipation of seeing what you pull from it and onto your blog is my own little present to me.

    Wishing you the Merriest of Christmases and a Happy New Reading Year!

  8. A. J. says:

    You should read Ferdydurke by Witold Gombrowicz.

    “This masterpiece of European modernism was first published in 1937, and so arrived on the literary scene at an inopportune moment. First the Second World War, then Russian domination of Gombrowicz’s Poland and the author’s decades of exile in Argentina all but expunged public awareness of a novel that remains a singularly strange exploration of identity, cultural and political mores, and eros. Joey Kowalski narrates the story of his transformation from a 30-year-old man into a teenage boy.”

    Yes, it is all about perception again. Happy Holidays!

  9. Trevor says:

    Otiose, maybe, but I’ll answer the silent plea anyway. You may already guess my gift because you’ve been peaking, but in gifting you Maile Meloy’s Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It I feel as I would have had I gifted you The Complete Works of Flannery O’Connor twenty years ago.

  10. Tony says:

    Hmmm. Just looked, and I’ve finished fifty books since Hayley was born (obviously, it’s just the rest of my life which has fallen apart…).

    My gifts are Woolf’s ‘The Waves’, Natsume Soseki’s ‘Kusamakura’ and ‘Sanshiro’, and Trollope’s ‘He Knew He Was Right’ (as a reminder of the days when your opinion mattered!)- enjoy 🙂

  11. My holiday season is shaping up nicely! Just awesome. Thank you, all.

    @ Richard — I’m patient as a spider.

    @ Fred — I was going to ask you for specific poems of E. Dickinson to read but a clever request didn’t suggest itself. I applaud your generosity.

    @ Colleen — coyly played!

    @ Sue — Northanger Abbey it is – thank you! I’ll long-list Malouf. Cheers.

    @ Steven — no rush on the O’Connor front. I have an idea for two posts: one involving an expose of a particular moral commitment; the other, a riff on entendres. Anyhow. Thank you for the suggestions, in particular, The Vagrants.

    @ Dwight — I can’t possibly take your copy. But I can’t wait to read The Relic. I’ll ping you offline about lunch. Or a beer.

    @ Kerry — “However, that is not my gift to you.” It isn’t! “Your gift must be an exceptionally well-written book.” Yes! “The novelistic Two Buck Chuck will not do.” No, it won’t! “You must have something with tantalizing legs, an oaky bouquet, and a smooth finish.” Gimme, gimme, gimme! “I give you a 1942 vintage that was aged, untranslated from its native Hungarian, for sixty years.” Beautiful. The warmth of Embers await. Thank you.

    @ A.J. — great suggestion, I’ll be eager to discuss it w/ you. Many cheers.

    @ Trevor — “Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It.” Done! Now I just have to stop reading O’Connor, which I can’t seem to do.

    @ Tony — I’m torn between Woolf and Soseki so I just might have to read both. Cheers.

  12. Fiona Bell says:

    Merry Christmas! And for you a second hand, but in great condition, copy of Henry Miller’s “The Air-conditioned Nightmare” and an only read once Penguin edition of Elizabeth Bowen’s classic “House in Paris”.

    Thank you for your comments and interest regarding my blog this year. I hope your stocking has many books in it!

  13. Matt Rowan says:

    Hahahaha, well Kevin, this was certainly unexpected and awesome. I feel like a Philip K. Dick book is so very appropriate as he is 1. a weird science fiction writer who was crazy (which I feel a strong kinship with) and 2. originally from Chicago which is a city that I, too, love. George Saunders is originally from this place, for his part. I should give you the gift of his latest new yorker short story, “Escape From Spiderhead” — perhaps I can illegally transcribe it to a word file or some such, unless you have a New Yorker subscription, then the whole thing is rendered beside the point. Ya know, if only someone would take the time to combine George Saunders and Philip K. Dick, then we’d have something truly ridiculously terrifying (throw some Cormac McCarthy grit in for good measure, too!) Anyway, if I were to send you any one work by PKD it would have to be “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch” because that is such a trippy good place to start with his fiction.

    I’m very happy my fb profile has become the source of interest — I am holding many dogs in many of the pictures, which is a source of great happiness and catharsis for me. I hope they produce the same effect for others, yes!!!!

    Happy holidays and Christmas chief among them (since I do not want to offend those war-on-Christmas folk)!


  14. Hey, wait, I want to read Gombrowicz and The Relic, too. Someone organize a readalong, please!

    My gift is Immensee, Theodor Storm’s 1850 novella. You might see a connection to our discussion about beauty in literature. Storm is on your side, not mine, to the extent that I, or you, have a single side.

    Immensee can be found in The Rider on the White Horse (NYRB, tr. James Wright), Hans and Heinz Kirch (Angel Classics, tr. Denis Jackson & Anja Nauck), or The Lake of the Bees (Hesperus, tr. ?). The Denis Jackson version is the only one with much in the way of notes, but you won’t want any notes.

  15. Fiona, Matt, and AR, thank you! I have noted your suggestions and hope you have a great rest of the week. Cheers.

  16. nicole says:

    Just because I would recommend these to any friend/reading buddy, online or off, doesn’t mean they aren’t personal. I give the bibliographing guarantee of pure awesomeness.

    So, if you’ve never read The Good Soldier, drop everything and do it now. I need a re-read and we’ll have an even better chance to talk about unreliable narrators. And if you have read it, move on to Parade’s End. So. Good.

    And if you’re in the mood for something a bit shorter, get some Richard Hughes on with A High Wind in Jamaica. AR likes him too and has officially named him a “writer’s writer.” And everything I read of his just keeps getting better.

    Have a wonderful Christmas!

  17. Anthony says:

    Kevin, on vacation perhaps, but the wonders of technology enable some remote gift giving.

    In the mood for some Coetzee? No better place to begin than with his trilogy of fictionalised memoirs, read back to back. An unreliable autobiographer satisfies so much of what makes reading exciting.

    Happy Christmas!

  18. Richard says:

    Since Moby Dick‘s already an all-time fave of yours, Kevin, I won’t suggest that but will go instead with Roberto Bolaño’s 1996 Nazi Literature in the Americas and Georges Perec’s 1978 Life a User’s Manual: two of the most audacious books I’ve read all year storytelling-wise and easily two of the funniest. I also was a big fan of Lautréamont’s 1868-69 Maldoror (a tremendously satisfying reread but not for the faint of heart) and Thomas Bernhard’s 1982 Wittgenstein’s Nephew (best 100-page, single paragraph rant I’ve yet to come across). Hope at least one of these titles eventually bears fruit for you–have loved seeing the other gifts that have arrived under your tree!

  19. Fred says:

    Since I’m feeling especially generous, I will provide the following suggestions, just in case you may have already enjoyed the work:

    Ford Madox Ford–_The Good Soldier_

    Russell Hoban–_Riddley Walker_

    Walter van Tilburg Clark–The Ox-Bow Incident

    Ursula K. LeGuin–The Left Hand of Darkness

    Eliot Pattison–The Skull Mantra

  20. @ Richard — thank you for the 4-book suggestion! I’m leaning toward Bolaño, but who knows what used books will turn up in my ongoing scavenger hunt.

    @ Fred – you know, I’ve been meaning to read LeGuin and The Ox-Bow Incident keeps cropping up in various contexts, so I’ll definitely short-list that one. Your generosity is certainly appreciated. Many cheers.

  21. Sorry I am late to the game, K2D2. I’d like to second the recommendations for A Fine Balance (my favorite novel of all time), but given the De Paul influence, I would like to throw in:

    The Adventures of Augie March

    You continue exploring Edith Wharton’s New York, I think you should share with us your thoughts on Bellow’s Chicago.

  22. […] Christmas, I did what most charitable and seasonally minded folks do — I asked for lots of gifts. And blessing of blessings, I received them, gratefully. I shortlisted most of […]

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