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Books For Christmas

In my house of origin, stocking presents were in some ways the best part of Christmas. Mom would tell stories of the little things she’d misplaced, or how something one of the 4 kids opened was intended for another. We’d open the usual goofy Christmas socks and underwear. And as a reading family, we always each got a book.

Once we grew up, and Mom no longer ran the show, we evolved to a tradition where everyone who attends a group Christmas morning anywhere in the family brings one stocking present for everyone else who will be there.

And we still give books.

I figured you literate crew might do so as well, and I thought I’d offer a little list of recommendations for Christmas. All of which I’ve read, all of which I’ve enjoyed, all of which I’ve invented second titles for in my mind.

The Preppy Cookbook: Classic Recipes for the Modern Prep

The Preppy Cookbook Review

In other worlds, this book might have been called, “The Upper Middle Class White People Comfort Food Cookbook.” Although that might have appealed to an even more limited market, of course. The thing is, I’ve made both the Pot Roast and the Chicken Paprika, with great success. (My mom always made Chicken Paprika, in the early 70s. Yours?) If the rest of the recipes follow suit, beginner cooks will love the Preppy Cookbook for ease, while the more advanced will appreciate unfussy deliciousness. Enjoy the plaid cover, never mind the cultural references, and party hearty, as we said in the 70s after we ate Mom’s chicken.

Forever Chic: Frenchwomen’s Secrets for Timeless Beauty, Style, and Substance


You will perhaps have seen this book reviewed and given away around the blogosphere. That is because it’s written by our own, dear, kind, Tish Jett. You might also have thought, “Yikes, not another book about French women!” In fact, although Tish is writing about her research on French practices in beauty and style, the book is not a Francophone panegyric. It is instead a manual for how to dress and wear makeup, from a culture that has been styling since before Photoshop, supermodel apotheosis, and the glorification of the pre-teen.

Seen that way, especially through Tish’s kind and perceptive lens, a book on Forever Chic turns out to be a sophisticated but down-to-earth little manual on personal style. I kind of wanted to call it Forever High WASP Chic In California but, very small niche, that one. Her real title has worked, clearly, since the book sold out right away. They target a restock this week, check regularly in order to catch this printing.

A Field of Darkness


The first and perhaps only High WASP detective in the universe. Madeline Dare lives in Upstate New York with a handsome farmer boyfriend named Dean, and solves murders. This may not be the cleverest mystery I ever read, but it is the only one with traces of my East Coast family writ large across the pages. Cornelia Read, the author, comes from 10 generations on Long Island’s Centre Island, and was brought up in Big Sur by hippie parents. Straight from her Amazon bio that is. Say no more.

It’s well-written, entertaining, and full of visual details that linger. Alternative title? Sturdy Gal Catches The Bad Guy.

Oh, and my family always wraps stocking presents in tissue. I have no idea why, but I’ve got red and green at the ready.


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29 Responses

  1. So, what IS the cleverest mystery (or mystery writer) you’ve ever read? I’m always on the look-out for a good mystery. Thanks for the suggestions. We have a young lady visiting our (almost) all-male household this year. Quite exciting! As to cooking and wasps, the funniest take on that one is by Alexandra Wentworth (later known as Mrs. George Stephanopoulos. I know, I know…), entitled The Wasp Cookbook. Totally tongue-in-cheek but has some good memories of days gone by in the Betty Crocker world of white bread cooking.

  2. The mystery novel sounds like a lot of fun! I’ll check it out.

    My lovely sister sends me an illustrated Christmas book each year. This time, she sent me a beautiful copy of Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory.

  3. My mother’s family is from Hungary, so chicken paprikash (always with the final -sh) was always a staple for us. In fact, she made a great batch when I visited Ohio last summer.

    1. I bet your mom’s is amazing. And I do say it with the -sh, because I had a friend in college who had emigrated in 1967.

  4. Wow, I had forgotten all about the paprika chicken! We are giving The Preppy Cookbook to a sister-in-law, and I am absolutely going to look for some Cornelia Read, she is a new author.

  5. A High WASP detective series that’s great fun: Blackbird Sisters mysteries. Author Nancy Martin, like her heroines, comes from a distinguished Pennsylvania family whose ancesters include Betsy Ross and a signer of the Declaration of Independence (so say the author bios on inside back covers). I usually buy myself one to read over the Christmas holidays.

  6. The links to the books are not working for me — I’m getting an error message on your blog (for the first one) and on Amazon (for the second one). I was clicking through from my RSS reader.

    1. Fixed. My apologies. I was trying to avoid the little taglines but retail marketing will not be denied.

  7. Cornelia Read has said that her novels are thinly disguised memoir with some fictional murders thrown in the mix. What a life she has lead… such an emotionally honest, funny, intelligent, self-deprecating, engaging writer. In either fiction or non fiction. The pieces she has written about her younger daughter’s autism (one of twins) and issues around autism are searing and mesmerising.

  8. I love the little idiosyncracies of other people’s holiday traditions. In our house, books were and are always an integral part of Christmas. My kids were carrying off the children Christmas books recently until I made them bring them each pick one and keep the rest here.

    My mother never wrapped the Santa gifts. I suppose with 5 girls and the fact that she was usually hemming dresses on Christmas Eve or getting ready to serve dinner to 18, she figured we wouldn’t notice the lack of wrapping paper. I started to do the same when we had kids, but my husband insisted that all gifts be wrapped (he of the single child family).

    Do you open one gift on Christmas Eve? We do and the gifts are always pajamas to be worn after dinner for dessert.

  9. We have Santa sacks and wrap everything in tissue too…they are my favourite family tradition.

    I’d be interested in the preppy cookbook. It might go hand in hand with The Park Avenue Pot Luck cookbook where I can live vicariously through those society gals.

    Reading Tish’s book now and calling it an early night so I can read more.

    What books are on your Christmas list?

  10. Of course I’ve got Trish’s book right on my nightstand. Love the idea of “The Preppy” cook book. Will absolutely get your Preppy detective book. Love the premise. I adore books so the more the merrier. Right now I’m reading one I think you’d enjoy “Seating Arrangements” by Maggie Shipstead. Look it up on Amazon. Perfect for you.

    1. Sandra, I read “Seating Arrangements” and felt a very strong but slightly odd antipathy. She’s writing about my clan, but I think she goes at it all cliches in hand and I’m tired of that. So, perfect to raise my hackles:).

  11. I am tremendously honored to have made your list of Christmas suggestions, thank you! And I now have to buy copies of The Preppy Cookbook for everyone in my familys’ stockings this year. We also always wrap our stocking prezzies in tissue paper, but only white. Red and green would be a terrific upgrade. Thanks again!

    1. You are more than welcome. I am very honored that you responded here! My goodness. I am flustered with my bad hospitality in not noting your presence more quickly. As High WASPs are always flustered when confronted with evidence of their own inappropriate behavior…

  12. Cornelia Read grew up in Big Sur? I’m fascinated by Big Sur and have spent three idyllic summer vacations there. My favorite book from that place is My Nepenthe–more a family saga than a cookbook. I devoured it cover to cover one December 26th after finding it in my stocking. It’s the story of the family that stated the iconic Nepenthe restaurant–true Big Sur bohemians. A must read for those who love family stories.

    1. @Susan, I actually grew up south of Carmel on the way to Big Sur, but all the Big Sur kids rode my school bus into town, so I like to claim some kinship. And “My Nepenthe” is one of my favorite books ever. My favorite “stepfather” was Bill Fassett, who founded Nepenthe. Lovely, lovely man who lived with us for a while. Romney Steele (whom I knew as Nonny when we were kids) is a fabulous writer, and she really managed to capture all that’s best about Nepenthe and her wonderful family in that beautiful book. It makes me homesick every time I read it.

  13. We wrap our stocking presents in Santa paper, because, of course, Santa brings them. That paper cannot be used for non-Santa gifts, naturally. And while we often give books I’m embarrassed to say that Santa typically brought comic strip books to our house (eg, Calvin & Hobbes), along with socks and underwear. The boys loved the books.

  14. We wrap stocking presents in tissue too! I think it is because they are often small (musch easier to wrap in something soft and forgiving) and if genuinely stuffed into large socks will need the robust padding which tissue can give.

    Unpacking a rainbow of oddly-shaped tissue-wrapped parcels was one of my favourite things about Christmas morning. My mum always saved scraps of tissue paper and our presents might be arrayed in purple, iridescent blue, gold, silver, orange … with old-fashioned ribbons and funny hand-made labels.

    No stockings this year as my sister is spending Christmas with her boyfriend’s family and Mum has announced Stocking Season has run its course. Sigh. We are now going to have to wait for a new generation of little people for whom to revive the tradition!

  15. Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomonicon is a good humored, epic tale that swings and forth back in time from WWII to the recent present, around the topic of technology development.

    There’s so much awesome in this tome. A farcical scene about family members getting together to divide up Grandmother’s furniture had me rolling on the floor in not a little bit of recognition…

  16. We give (and get) an enormous number of books every Christmas. And for a wonderful set of mysteries starring a classic High Wasp academic – Amanda Cross’s terrific Kate Fansler novels.

  17. In my family, the stockings are sometimes the best part. I often don’t know how my family gets so many items in my stocking! My sister and her husband tend to sleep WAY later (as in a few hours later) than the rest of us on Christmas morning. The stockings are the warm up for Dad, Mom, M, James and I while we wait. Some of the coolest and most unique gifts have come from my stocking.


  18. I came on here to say I love the Madeline Dare books – I have read all 3 (the other 2 are The Crazy School and Invisible Boy, both excellent) and there is a new one coming out, that’s going on my Pinterest To Read list. Then I saw that the author herself had commented on your post – that made my day! Your blog is turning into a literary salon! xx

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