I give books for Christmas. I forget sometimes, that other people don't really love reading. I gave everyone on my list a book--Stan got the Stephen King tome about trying to stop the Kennedy assassination, the girls got books about cats and dogs, Luke got the first in this series I read about that starts with Divertido (though that one was supposedly from Santa), Dan's mom, my mom each got about three or four books. I confess that I buy them used from the Princeton Public Library.
I didn't get a book from anyone, but it's risky to buy me books because I have often either already read them or have decided I don't like the writer (David Foster Wallace, for example; who always strikes me as too taken with his own prose).
Dan did not get a book from me this year--though I usually get him something like The Best Buddhist Writing for the previous year. But he's not a huge reader, and he's got a few books piled next to the bed, the most recent of which is In Quest of God by Swami Ramdas. "One of the most remarkable testimonies in the annals of world mysticism," according to Eknath Easwaran, a person who should most definitely be a clue in a crossword puzzle.
Tangentially, the new thing that Dan and I do together is the Sunday NY Times crossword puzzle, which, thanks to my former boss, Elise, we get delivered to our house on Saturday mornings. There's something so very satisfying about breaking a puzzle's theme. Last week for example, I felt brilliant for recognizing six of the corner answers involved using the word "pocket" in the first square and Dan realized that those answers were going to be located in the same places on the puzzle where the pockets are on a pool table. Yesterday, the puzzle's theme had to do with the board game, Clue, and I was able to break down three answers that were "Miss Scarlet...in the lounge...with the rope." Not to ruin it for you.
Sometimes, if I can't fall asleep, I go back over the plot of the latest book I read, like Affinity--how skillfully that writer was able to give us the twist, O. Henry-esque writing without it feeling forced.
I need a topic for my next Philadelphia Stories article--but I've already written about how difficult it is to end things well. I've read in more than one place that the best endings for short stories take you back to the beginning of the story in some way and they also show you, without spelling it out too neatly, the future of the characters' lives after this has all happened. I remember when I was teaching fiction that students always had the hardest time with this part of the story---the impulse was often to reveal a secret at the very end--something that happens often in TV and movies, like that the narrator has been dead all along, or the person is writing the story from prison or that the person is going to commit suicide the second after the story ends. That's what happened in Affinity, but that wasn't really a plot twist, because the reader knew from the start that the narrator was unstable and survived a previous attempt to end her own life. I had hopes up until the last moment that she might rise about it, but she didn't. And I slammed the book shut, totally satisfied and wishing I could read it again for the first time. Luckily, I have a terrible memory and so can go back to it fresh in like six months.