Lit Hits Holiday Special: What We're Reading in December

Here at Grub HQ, we're always talking about the books that keep us up at night, the novels we can't put down, the memoirs that call to us over our morning coffees. Every month, we'll share our staff's latest literary obsessions to add to your own never-ending reading list. This month, we held our traditional Grub Staff Book Exchange. Each of us shared a list of five books we want to read, then we drew names in secret, and chose one book from the list of the person we picked, and a surprise book we thought they would like. Here's what we chose for one another and why.


Larry, the Literary Cultural District Coordinator, messed up, because he got two books for Sonya that she put on her list rather than choosing a book for her. The two titles were Changing My Mind, by Zadie Smith, and The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. Sonya says she is the only person left who still hasn't read The Handmaid's Tale and that everyone who knows her says she would like Changing My Mind.


For Eve, Office Manager Lauren bought Fairyland by (Grub instructor) Alysia Abbott and A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. Lauren took a Grub class with Alysia and found her so sweet and so smart, and she also cannot wait to read Alysia's book herself. Seven Killings has been on Lauren's list (well, all of our lists) for over a year. She selfishly can't wait to borrow it from Eve when she's done! 


Grant, our Executive Assistant, got KL The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro because it was the book on her wish list that Grant wanted to read most. It seemed magical and dark and atmospheric and he can't wait to borrow it when KL's done! Grant also got her Dog Songs, by Mary Oliver. For the entire year, KL and Grant have been going back and forth on whether cats or dogs are better (KL is on Team Cat; Grant is Team Dog all the way). Mary Oliver has written a book of poems that makes the case for the importance of pets in our lives, as well as the lessons that dogs teach us about ourselves and how we interact with the world around us that, Grant hopes, even a cat lover can enjoy.


Sonya, Assistant Director of the Muse and the Marketplace, bought Alison (from Porter Square Books): Dancer, by Colum McCann -- which is Sonya's favorite of his books. It's the story of a Russian dancer that somehow manages to span four decades and travel all across the world, with exquisite detail and a kind of fierce levity. She also got Alison Marlon James' 700-page A Brief History of Seven Killings. Between that and A Little Life, perhaps "The Big Book" is making comeback.


Alison, Grub's Director of Programs and Marketing picked Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh from Chris's list, which seemed like a dark and fun holiday read (Alison likes her holiday reads with a healthy side of dark humor). She also got him The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner, dearly hoping he hadn't read it (he hasn't!). It's a gritty, beautiful book about motorcycle racing and Italian anarchists and love and danger and love of danger, set mostly against the late 1970's New York art scene (and later, Italy). She chose it because the precision of the writing is beautiful and striking and it reminded her of him.


Executive Director Eve bought Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood for Ian because it was on his list of requested titles, and her surprise for him was Candice Millard’s Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President. It’s a great narrative history of the extraordinary life of James Garfield, a fierce reformist, who was nominated for president against his will only to be shot by a deranged man four months after he was sworn into office.  He didn’t die right away and the drama of what happens is epic in scope and beautifully written.  
Larry left very explicit directions, so Jonathan, our Program and Advocacy Manager, bought him Patti Smith's Just Kids. For the surprise book, he chose Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française, which is about the Nazi occupation of Paris in 1940. The novel and the story behind the writing and eventual (and unlikely) publication of the book is fascinating, and he thought Larry would be interested in its historical context and content. Larry also sings along to Jonathan's French Cafe station on Pandora, so he figured he couldn't go wrong with this book.


From Jonathan's list, Head Instructor Chip chose Marlon James's A Brief History of Seven Killings -- and scored a coup by finding a signed copy (yeah!). For the surprise book, Chip had hoped to get him Richard Hughes's A High Wind in Jamaica, which is an amazing, weird book about a group of children who get kidnapped by pirates and end up being more immoral than the pirates, but since that was impossible to find, he decided to go with Roberto Bolano's By Night in Chile, a little gem of a novel involving (among other things) a priest and literary critic who's recruited to teach Marxism to Pinochet in Chile after Allende's fall. It's a great introduction to Bolano, more accessible than the very intimidating 2666. It was just a gut feeling: Chip loved it and thought Jonathan might, too. 


KL, our Youth Programs Manager, bough Ms. Lauren In the Country by Mia Alvar -- an incredible collection of short fiction -- and Claudia Rankine's Citizen, which was KL's favorite book of 2014, and one she thinks everyone should read. KL purchased In the Country at her favorite local indie bookstore, Wicked Good Books in Salem, MA, and decided to spread the love and pick up Citizen at the Brookline Booksmith. 


From Sarah's list, Artistic Director Chris bought How To Be Both, a novel by Scottish author Ali Smith. As his "I hope she likes this" pick, he bought Sarah The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli, primarily because of its experimentation and super cool cover, but also because Luiselli, like Colwill-Brown, is an exciting new voice. 


Director of Finance and Administration Ian's personal pick for Chip was Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall. Chip and Ian have had a few discussions about running, and this book was a game changer for Ian in his training. He's hoping it will inspire Chip to run a race with him in 2016. He also picked up Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf, and chose this one, pretty much, because it was at the top of Chip’s list. 


Sarah, our Marketing and Community Engagement Manager, chose Room by Emma Donoghue from Grant's list because it's skillful and astonishing and unlike any other novel she knows of. Sarah followed this up with another badass Irish woman, and went with Eimear McBride's A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing for Grant's surprise pick. She chose this partly because it's the best thing she's read in a really long time (in last month's Lit Hits, she described it as "a slim, unassuming slip of a of the most challenging, beautiful, resistant to comprehension and yet completely immersive books she's ever read"), but also because she thought Grant would appreciate the experimental style, and she can't wait to have a two-person book club with him about it when he's finished!



What are you reading? Share your current literary love with us @GrubWriters using #GrubbieLitHits.

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