We are surfeited with end-of-year lists purporting to name the “10 Best” or “20 Best” or “100 Best” books of 2022. My next column (after this one) will be a list of sorts—“A Year of Reading,” continuing an annual feature—and even though I scrupulously avoid the “Best” label, you could charge me with guilt by association. So be it. But in this column, I’m doing something different: I’m suggesting books (some from 2022, some published earlier) that might appeal to various people on your Christmas gift list. I hope you will find at least a couple of good choices (and maybe you’ll find a title or two here to request from your spouse or another loved one as a gift for yourself). The titles are not listed in alphabetical order.
The Times of Lewis Hine
Lewis Hine (1874–1940) was the photographer who, more than any other, was responsible for bringing the reality of child labor home to the American public, until finally (the struggle was bitter and long) the practice was outlawed. Nemerov is a wide-ranging scholar of a philosophical bent who has often written about photography. This book will appeal especially to readers haunted by “images” and the way they work (I think of my friend Matthew Milliner, for instance); also to those who (like me) are endlessly fascinated by “time.”
The Middle Ages and the Movies:
Eight Key Films
reaktion books (2022)
Images of another sort are central to this book, which considers Braveheart (1995), The Name of the Rose (1986), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Andrei Rublev (1966), El Cid (1961), The Seventh Seal (1957), Alexander Nevsky (1938), and Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (1924). If you are part of a small group, you could propose a reading of the book and a viewing of the films over several months.
mit press (2022)
Let us suppose that among your friends is someone who reads a great deal of fiction and loves Rose Macaulay’s 1956 novel The Towers of Trebizond but is unlikely to be a Macaulay completist, hence unlikely to have looked at her 1918 novel What Not, set in a (then) near-future England and now reissued by MIT Press in their very interesting Radium Age series, with an introduction by Matthew De Abaitua. It’s a very odd but absorbing book, with thematic links to The Towers of Trebizond.
Hear Me Now:
The Black Potters of Old Edgefield, South Carolina
edited by adrienne spinozzi
the metropolitan museum of art & yale university press (2022)
This book, accompanying an exhibition at the Met, is a collective project carried out with meticulous scholarship wedded to passion. Appreciation for the work of enslaved craftsmen mixes with a powerful sense of irreparable harm done and injustice perpetuated long after slavery was abolished. The anger sometimes becomes performative, but the stoneware speaks for itself, with uncanny power. If you have in your inner circle a “maker,” consider this book as a gift.
Good as Gold:
My Eight Decades in Baseball
jim kaat with douglas lyons (foreword by bob costas)
triumph books (2022)
Maybe your gift list includes a couple of aging baseball fans (sixty-five or older, roughly) who still follow MLB despite frustrations. There’s a tradition among fans who also love to read about baseball: During the time of “the Hot Stove League,” between the end of the World Series and Spring Training for the next season, bookish fans line up some titles that will tide them through. This memoir by a Hall of Fame pitcher and outstanding broadcaster is ideal for that purpose.
A Carnival of Losses:
Notes Nearing Ninety
houghton mifflin harcourt (2018)
We hear (endlessly!) about “diversity” in multiple contexts, but this emphasis, alas, turns out to be quite selective. The perspectives of the “old” (not to mention the very old) are routinely given short shrift, even as we are told about how many of them there are. For oldsters on your list who'd like to hear from one of their own, but also for younger readers who perhaps rarely see our common world from that angle, consider A Carnival of Losses. I wrote about this “splendid miscellany” in a 2018 column, in which I speculated that perhaps “we’ll soon have a new literary category, Old Adult, to match Young Adult.” The possibilities are delicious, aren’t they? Sadly, no one (to my knowledge) has taken up this project, but I haven’t given up.
I could go on and on! But I hope I’ve given you an idea or two. Best wishes for a bookish Christmas.
John Wilson is a contributing editor for The Englewood Review of Books and senior editor at The Marginalia Review of Books.
First Things depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.
Click here to make a donation.
Click here to subscribe to First Things.