In “Do I Make Myself Clear?: Why Writing Well Matters,” author Harold Evans recalls George Orwell, who argued that if we wrote better, we’d learn to think better, too, which would make us better citizens, voters and human beings.
That philosophy rests at the heart of Evans’ new book, which is aimed at anyone who writes, even if it’s just an email, text or tweet. His book is one of several on my annual post-Thanksgiving list of recommended gift books for holiday shoppers. This isn’t a Top 10 list; it’s just a survey of a few new titles I’ve enjoyed this year that you and your loved ones might enjoy, too. If we celebrate the written word each holiday season, then maybe Orwell’s ideal of clear thinking might have better prospects.
Even so, whatever its benefits to society, there’s no need to think of reading this season as a grudging civic duty. Books promise pleasure, too, as I’ve been reminded within the pages of “Letters of Note, Volume 2,” a new follow-up to Shaun Usher’s 2014 collection of wise, funny and poignant letters from around the world and throughout the ages.
Usher publishes unusual letters on a blog, then prints the best of them in these nicely illustrated coffee-table books.
One letter in the new book is from a young Winston Churchill to the South Africans who were keeping him prisoner during the Boer War. In a note left beneath his pillow on the evening of his escape, Churchill politely explains why he had to leave, expressing regret that circumstances “have not permitted me to bid you a personal farewell.”
Perhaps no Louisiana governor has been a bigger reader than Buddy Roemer, and now he’s written one of his own — “Scopena: A Memoir of Home,” which lovingly recounts his childhood on a north Louisiana cotton plantation. To reward his son for reading a shelf full of classics, Roemer’s father gave him praise and $50. “I was nine years old. I guess it was quite an accomplishment,” Roemer writes of his feat. “But what impressed me most was the fifty dollars.”
William J. Cooper, another author with a strong Louisiana connection, is making a splash this holiday season, too. Cooper, an LSU Boyd professor emeritus of history who now lives in Atlanta, argues in “The Lost Founding Father” that although John Quincy Adams was spurned by voters after one term as president, he was actually one of our most consequential leaders, helping to craft the foreign policy “that asserted American preeminence in this hemisphere.”
Adams figures in one of the addresses assembled in “The American Spirit,” a collection of history author David McCullough’s absorbing speeches.
One could do worse than leaving Walter Isaacson’s “Leonardo da Vinci” under the tree, or “Devotions,” Mary Oliver’s collected poems. After an anguished year, the simple sanity of a well-crafted sentence might be the best gift of all.
Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter @Danny_Heitman.