It has become a tradition (2007, 2006, 2005, 2004 . . . you get the idea) on National Review Online for regulars and friends to share Christmas-gift recommendations (well, besides giving the gift of NR) around Thanksgiving time. Once again, we hope we are a help. Happy shopping (and thank you for clicking through — your Amazon purchases through this list put a few coins in NRO’s stocking). And, most importantly, ultimately, merry Christmas. Enjoy the season. There is a reason for it.
RAYMOND ARROYO Christmas is my favorite time of year. Once Advent begins, faith, music, and memories are newly revived. Here are a parcel of gift suggestions to share these treasures with those you love and cherish:
The Sopranos: The Complete Series. It is hard to believe that it has been more than a year since Tony Soprano cut to black. My Sunday nights have not been the same since. Well, here is a chance to relive the brilliance of one of television’s great achievements — and David Chase’s masterpiece. The writing, the acting, and the coherent moral universe make this series one of the all-time greats. If you haven’t met the Soprano clan yet, “poor you.” Here’s your chance. Weighing in at 10 pounds, the 33 disks contain every episode of the series and hours of bonus features. But if you’re looking for an explanation for that abrupt ending — fuggedaboudit. Chase and company keep the truth to themselves.
Sinatra: Vegas. Forgive the Italian theme here, but Sinatra is, strictly speaking, an American classic — and this box set demonstrates why. Though it has been out for a few years, this attractive set features far more than the standard tracks that populate so many Sinatra collections. These are live audio recordings of the Chairman of the Board from 1961-1987, as well as a DVD recorded at Caesar’s Palace in 1978. The music swings, and for hardcore Sinatra devotees like me, there can be no better gift. Ring-a-ding ding.
Exiles by Ron Hansen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). The great Catholic author, Ron Hansen, has written a haunting novel which simultaneously describes the creation of a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, as well as the shipwreck it commemorates. With a remarkable eye for detail and mastery of his craft, Hansen breathes new life into the Jesuit poet — exiled from his family for the sake of his faith — while making us care for a troop of nuns who leave their native Germany to follow God’s will. Every book Hansen has ever written is worth reading (don’t miss Mariette In Ecstasy, The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Atticus). But this Christmas, you may as well give that special someone the latest. Hansen is that rare writer capable of revealing the powerful struggle of good and evil just beneath the surface of the observed world. In his book A Stay Against Confusion: Essays on Faith and Fiction, Hansen wrote “ . . . religion and fiction have in common the unquenchable yearning to achieve the impossible, fathom the unfathomable, hold on to what is fleeting and evanescent and seen, in Saint Paul’s words, ‘as through a glass, darkly.’ Read his work and you’ll experience this firsthand. Merry Christmas. – Raymond Arroyo is the author of the New York Times Bestseller Mother Angelica’s Private and Pithy Lessons From the Scriptures(Doubleday).
MYRNA BLYTH Here are my holiday suggestions:
For book lovers: a wonderful novel called The Septembers of Shiraz, by Daila Sofer, which is set in Iran just after the Shah is overthrown and the mullahs take over. It is about a wealthy Jewish family whose whole world changes — who have had comfortable, easy lives filled with beautiful clothes and good food, a luxurious weekend house and vacation trips to marvelous places. Very suddenly they become strangers in a strange land that used to be their own. The book takes on particular meaning in these times when everything has changed so much and we all feel a bit like strangers in a place we thought we knew so well.
A place to visit: A fabulous museum to visit in New York is the Rubin Museum of Art, home to a marvelous collection of Himalayan art. The building itself — on 17th Street, the former address of Barney’s downtown store — is beautiful, and the exhibitions are always remarkable. Currently there is an exhibition of the art of Bhutan, objects never before seen in the West. Monks from this tiny country chant prayers twice a day in one of the galleries. It also has a lovely café and gift shop where you can buy a Christmas gift someone you know would probably adore.
The Age of Obama coincides with the Lincoln bicentennial. Myth gridlock! Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point, by Lewis E. Lehrman, looks at the Peoria speech of 1854 which, Lehrman argues, was the opening salvo of a years’ long Lincoln/Douglas debate, and outlined the major themes of Lincoln’s mature thought.
– Rick Brookhiser is a Senior Editor of NR.
MATTHEW J. FRANCK As we enter the Age of Obama, I think back to having said in February that “if a better book is published by a political scientist in America in 2008” than Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, “I’d be very, very surprised.” Well, the year is nearly over, and I haven’t seen one. Read it and worry about what’s on the horizon.
If conservatives are entering a wilderness period, who better to inspire us to deepen our thinking than Winston Churchill? During his time of exile, Churchill wrote Marlborough: His Life and Times, a massive and magisterial work about his ancestor John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough — a book that Leo Strauss called “the greatest historical work written in [the twentieth] century.” The University of Chicago Press has it back in print, and Strauss’s judgment is hard to contradict. Churchill’s portrait of statesmanship is as instructive as anything by Aristotle or Machiavelli.
Need some pure escape that isn’t pure fluff? Do you miss the Aubrey/Maturin novels of the late Patrick O’Brian? The nearest things — in their own way, quite as good — are the Matthew Hervey novels of Allan Mallinson — stories of a British cavalry officer of the early 19th Century that are packed with detail about the imperial politics of the age, and feature heart-pounding military action and an interesting hero. Start with A Close Run Thing, a riveting account of the battle of Waterloo, and see if you don’t get hooked as I have been.
The Christmas season is a time to reflect on the faith, and I’ve discovered an interesting reprint series from Loyola Press of Catholic novels from the mid-20th Century. So far I’ve read A. J. Cronin’s The Keys of the Kingdom, and I’m in the middle of Morris West’s The Devil’s Advocate. Both are well-told tales about the priesthood, and remind us that our shepherds are men who must bear their own crosses as well as ours. Merry Christmas to all our priests and pastors!
– Matthew J. Franck is a Visiting Fellow in the James Madison Program at Princeton University, and professor and chairman of political science at Radford University.
MARK HEMINGWAY 1. Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Making of American Consensus by Rick Perlstein. Perlstein’s latest book, Nixonland, is currently occupying a slot on just about every publication’s “Best Books of 2008” list and is certainly worth reading, but it’s his first book on Barry Goldwater and the political and cultural millieu that led to the rise of the conservative movement that seems to be of particular relevance these days. In fact, the book and the lessons therein were championed by the liberal netroots a few years ago when it looked like Democrats would be out of power indefinitely.
Politically, Perlstein’s about as liberal as they come. (I’m proud to say I’m friendly with the author and we can rarely talk politics without things immediately devolving into an argument.) However, though he’s personally pugilistic, he’s the unicorn of academic historians — in that he earnestly seeks to understand foreign ideological viewpoints and he knows how to write evocatively and compellingly. Long out of print, a paperback edition will be finally be published in February and is currently listed on Amazon. If you’re looking for a Christmas gift and can’t wait until February, try and find a used copy on abebooks.com or another used-book seller.