What we read over the holidays

WVU’s students returned to classes today, which means the quiet days and easy commutes through town have come to an official end. Suddenly those days of the holiday break—not necessarily easier than the regular routine, but full of possibility—seem far away. To bring us back to thoughts of relaxation and leisure, and to possibly inspire your next cozy-under-the-blankets winter read, WVU Press’s full-time staff have shared some of the books they were gifted with or read over the holiday break. We bring you nonfiction, poetry, and new novels (not to mention bookstore recommendations)—and “dishwasher” comes up in two ways. Happy new year and happy reading from everyone at WVU.

Sara G., Managing Editor

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017)

On a whim at the bookstore one night last year, I bought Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus. I’ve been intrigued by cephalopods, so intelligent and yet so alien, ever since I watched an episode of Nature featuring a deceptive cuttlefish. For several nights in a row, I interrupted my husband every few minutes to share whatever new fact I learned as I was reading. (Did you know that octopuses can regenerate their arms? Did you know they can see and taste with their skin?) My husband gifted me the perfect follow-up, and I’m looking forward to diving into this philosophical treatment of these creatures.

Sarah M., Marketing Manager and Acquisitions Editor

Atopia by Sandra Simonds (Wesleyan UP, 2019)

My birthday falls close to Christmas, and every year one of my friends from my MFA program sends me a new book, usually poems, specifically for my birthday. She finds the books at a local shop and actually takes them to the Post Office to mail, which I find incredible, and always apologizes for the Christmas wrapping paper. Rarely does anyone else in my life gift me with poetry unless they’re buying something I asked for, so her gift is extra special to me for her thoughtfulness and the bit of risk involved—plus she has fantastic taste and instincts. As I unwrapped this year, I saw across the top back cover “A FEMINIST MARXIST EPIC.” Buckle up.

Derek, Director

Like a lot of people, I travel a ton around the holidays, and in November and December I was lucky to get to visit bookstores in Buffalo (Talking Leaves), Toronto (TYPE Books and the University of Toronto Bookstore), Pittsburgh (White Whale), and, back in West Virginia, Charleston (Taylor Books) and Shepherdstown (Four Seasons Books). I bought myself plenty of gifts.

There’s often a temptation during the season of best-of lists to dip into some of the year’s big novels, and over the holidays I read and enjoyed Nell Zink’s Doxology (Ecco, 2019) and Sam Lipsyte’s Hark (Simon & Schuster, 2019) (both of them varieties of Gen X comfort food). To get a little further from the familiar I read the French Canadian novel The Dishwasher by Stéphane Larue in translation (Biblioasis, 2019)—a souvenir from my Toronto trip, but available in the States. (Try City of Asylum in Pittsburgh.) With its matter-of-fact bleakness and flattened plot, The Dishwasher reminded me of Cherry by Nico Walker (Vintage, 2018), a biggish book last year. Anyway, no classic! But its many scenes set on Montreal’s dark, snowy streets may make you feel even better about being curled up with a dog, a blanket, and a book.

PS—Not holiday reading, but I want to put in plugs for my two favorite novels of the year: Madeline ffitch’s Stay and Fight (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019) (purchased at Four Seasons) and Salvatore Scibona’s The Volunteer (Penguin, 2019) (purchased at Community Bookstore in Brooklyn).

Than, Production and Design Manager

Frigidaire Gallery Series Dishwasher Model #IFID2459VF Installation Manual, by Staff Writer (Frigidaire, 2019)

My daughter’s birthday falls close to Christmas, so the season is packed with plenty of chances for our family to celebrate—often with food and drink, and the messes invariably left behind. Rhowyn, a busy musical theater student, lives in the house I grew up in, and as of this Christmas it still had no dishwasher. Mom was a tough lady who saw no need for such luxuries. So I was looking forward to this year’s holiday break much the way I imagine Shackleton and his crew looked at their beloved sled dogs: with a mixture of anticipation and regret. Anticipation, because I knew that I’d finally get to install that dishwasher for my Pookie Bear (don’t ask). Regret, because I knew that by New Year’s Day I’d be several hundred dollars poorer and several trips to Lowe’s older. Luckily, this installation manual is well-written and well-illustrated, and provided me with everything I needed to know before beginning the process. When I tore open the plastic bag containing the manual, warranty cards, and legal notices about electrocution, I saw across the top of page 32 a bold subhead (I think it might have been Univers 67 Bold Condensed) reading, “Connecting your Frigidaire Gallery Series Model #IFID2459VF to 120V AC power,” and I thought, “This is going to be good.”

All levity aside, I didn’t receive, give, or read any books over the holiday, aside from reading Pippi Longstocking for the twentieth time with my son Eli at bedtime. I cleaned out the barn and built a couple of bonfires. I did also leaf yet again through the only book on my bedside table: this old favorite, which I’ve pored over so extensively that the binding is broken and the pages are spilling out: Tokyo: A Certain Style, by Karin Goodwin and Kyoichi Tsuziki (Chronicle Books, 1999).

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