Five Books to Help You Give Thanks

Here at the Kansas State English Department — Fine Purveyor of Literary Listicles for All of Your Holiday Needs — we’re thankful for the holiday break next week, for our families, for our students, for our colleagues, for our friends, for those who fight for the rights of others, and for books — don’t forget books. To celebrate literary gratitude, here are the top five books that make us feel thankful.

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Toni Morrison’s Home is a book I didn’t expect to love as much as I do. Centered on the life of a 24-year-old veteran and his journey back to Georgia to rescue his sister from medical experimentation, it inspires an appreciation for the unconditional love and support of family. In interviews, Morrison has often cited her intent to portray a love relationship in a pure form without the power dynamic that gendered romantic stories bring; Home reflects that bond. Of course, true to Morrisonian technique, a wealth of pain and struggle undergird Frank’s journey. What expedites Frank to wholeness and healing is an organic love for his sister, and for Ycidra, it is the aid of older women in their community that reminds her, “somewhere inside you is that free person that I’m talking about. Locate her and let her do some good in the world” (126). Even in the midst of insurmountable obstacles, I am inspired to tap into the freedom of who I am so I may live for humanity’s greater good. — Tosha Sampson-Choma, Assistant Professor

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Sarita Echavez See’s The Decolonized Eye: Filipino American Art and Performance immediately comes to mind when I think of a book that makes me feel thankful. Published in 2009, it charts the corpus of contemporary Filipinx American visual and performance artists whose mimetic and abstract aesthetics confound what it means to be a diasporic Filipinx subject and lays bare the psychic violences of U.S. imperialism in the Philippines since the turn of the 20th century. See ends the introductory chapter with the following sentence: “This book is for Filipino Americans, so that we can cherish both what has been bequeathed to us and what we persist in inventing and envisioning” (xxxiv). Reading these words early in my graduate studies as a Filipino American felt affirming and empowering. Most of the books I was reading at the time did not have me as its imagined audience; and for the first time, I was reading an author who was directly interpellating me. — Tom Sarmiento, Assistant Professor

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I remember the first time I read Rilke’s Duino Elegies. It was when I was working at the Blackfriar’s Theater in Staunton, VA, and one of the Shakespearean actors left his copy in my mailbox. I don’t remember what play was being performed that day, but I remember sitting at my desk in the mauve lobby and feeling like my soul was sitting straight up in my body. Whatever nepenthean fog had been over me was gone. Those horrifying angels that Rilke wrote about had hooks in my throat and eyes and heart. It’s a book I return to again and again, one I try and put in people’s hands. It makes me grateful for how language can wake us up. And grateful that poems can unite people across generations and oceans and death. And grateful for beauty, even if Rilke is right and beauty is nothing but the beginning of a terror we’ve barely begun to recognize. — Traci Brimhall, Assistant Professor

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The Fellowship of the Ring (which holds books one and two of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings) makes me feel thankful for friendship, necessary journeying, landscapes natural and historical, eating and drinking, stories that are still beginning, and trees. — Carol Franko, Associate Professor

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On the surface, Chris Bachelder’s The Throwback Special is about 22 grown men who get together every November to recreate the famous NFL play that ended Joe Theismann’s playing career. Underneath that surface, it’s a book about ritual and gatherings and friendship and living in the 21st century and the families we create. It’s funny too. Reading it makes me thankful for all kinds of rituals, for all kinds of books and all kinds of writers too. I recommend this book to all kinds of people. Buy it for your dad for the holidays. He’ll like it. I promise. (You can thank me later. ) — Dan Hoyt, Associate Professor

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