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Holiday Book Bonanza ’09:
Elliott Gorn

It has become a holiday tradition on the OUPblog to ask our favorite people about their favorite books.  This year we asked authors to participate (OUP authors and non-OUP authors).  For the next two weeks we will be posting their responses which reflect a wide variety of tastes and interests, in fiction, non-fiction and children’s books.  Check back daily for new books to add to your 2010 reading lists.  If that isn’t enough to keep you busy next year check out all the great books we have discovered during past holiday seasons: 2006, 2007, 2008 (US), and 2008 (UK).

Elliott J. Gorn is Professor of History and American Studies at Brown University. He is the author of Dillinger’s Wild Ride: The Year That Made America’s Public Enemy Number One, The Manly Art: Bare-Knuckle Prize Fighting in America and Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America, among other books.

I’m a total sucker for Richard Russo. There is nothing fancy or trendy about his novels, just great prose, acute observation of what makes people tick, and some laughs along the way. His 1997 book Straight Man, for my money, is the best academic novel ever published. His early books like Nobody’s Fool and The Risk Pool were wonderful evocations of working class life. This year’s That Old Cape Magic, follows his more recent themes, like age and desire. Russo’s characters are always trying to make it through life unscathed, and of course they never succeed. You can’t read without an ache the description of Griffen (his main character) as a boy, the lonely son of two academics, discovering in a neighboring family a whole sensual and emotional world while on a Cape Cod vacation. Russo is always about the secrets we keep from ourselves coming back to haunt us decades later. I hoarded this book for a long plane ride, and it kept me flying hour after hour.

My favorite kid’s book of all time? The one I loved reading to my daughter, the one I always buy for friends is Munroe Leaf and Robert Lawson’s old classic The Story of Ferdinand, about a bull who is just not interested in his own fearsomeness. He is who he is, always a good lesson for kids. But I might not be a good person to ask about children’s literature; I always thought “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and Lyle Lovett’s “If I had a Boat,” were good bedtime lullabies.

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