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‘Tis the Season for Reading
by Augusta R. Scattergood



This year I went against all I believe and shopped at the Mall on Thanksgiving weekend. I avoided Black Friday, but still, even on Saturday, I approached the experience with fear and trepidation. True confession - I was seduced by the ads, the coupons, the promises of once-in-a-lifetime bargains.

Oh, I know I could have bought sweaters at the Gap, two for the price of one. But I live in Florida most of the time and hardly need one sweater. On the way into the Mall, I passed through a department store promising 50% off everything, but I kept moving as if wearing blinders to shield me from temptation.

After a stop to drool at the Apple Store, checking out IPhones and Macbooks, I ducked into the bookstore. And that’s where I stayed.

I’m thinking this year I’ll buy books for the extended family. What a novel (pun intended) idea. Actually, each year I buy books, or at least make sure the gift cards I purchase can be used for books. And I usually include at least an inexpensive paperback for the kids on my list, even if I go the gift card route.

Recently I read something that made me think about giving books as gifts. “Never give a child a book you wouldn’t want to read yourself.” I’ll take that to mean either your childhood self or your grown-up self. There are many books, written for kids, worth reading by grownups.

So with that in mind, I prepared my list.

One of my nieces is a sophisticated reader. She’s also an animal lover. I wouldn’t give this book to anyone much younger than nine, but Kathi Appelt’s The Underneath is already gathering awards. A mesmerizing story with magical elements and a sophisticated storyline involving a cruel and frightening man named Gar Face, the tale also tugs at your heart as orphan kittens are adopted by a slobbery old hound dog. This one is set in the Texas Piney Woods and carries the flavor of that place.

For the younger set, I’m buying Epossumondas books, hands down. There are three of these wonderful picture books by the late New Orleans native Coleen Salley, and I love them all. Does anybody remember the old Epaminondas tales? Well, Epossumandus is just as noodleheaded. (“Oh, Epossumondas, you don’t have the sense you were born with!”) This is a great read-aloud, with wonderful illustrations by Janet Stevens.

I’ve spent a little time in the Smokey Mountains. Maybe that’s why I love Kerry Madden’s Maggie Valley Trilogy. Even though she lives in California now, Madden qualifies in every regard as a true Southerner. (Her dad was even a football coach at Tennessee and Mississippi State.) The first book in the series, Gentle’s Holler, is now available in paperback - easily tucked into a stocking or paired with a gift card. Set in the 1960s, the books are full of the things we want to remember to tell our children and grandchildren. Madden’s novels are for middle grade readers, ages 9 and up.

Of course, I didn’t depart the bookstore Thanksgiving weekend with only kids’ books. I edit a Book Group column for Skirt! Magazine, so I’m always intrigued with the latest “must have” books for discussion. Three groups have mentioned Ron Rash’s new book, Serena, this fall. Can’t wait to read that one and hope Santa’s listening.

Just before leaving, I spotted the latest edition of New Stories from the South, 2008. This year’s editor is a personal favorite of mine, ZZ Packer. This year’s stories include familiar names—Clyde Edgerton, Daniel Wallace—and quite a lot who are known, to me, by their place of publication—The Oxford American, Zoetrope, Ploughshares—to name a few. Often controversial in their choices, the guest editors expose us to what’s being talked about, what the current state of affairs in southern short story writing is. This collection makes a perfect gift for the writer on your list. I bought it for myself.

What better antidote to a day at the Mall, post holiday, than a good book and a quiet place to read. As ZZ Packer says, “So turn the page and get to reading.”



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Augusta Russel Scattergood reads and writes in Madison, New Jersey, and St. Petersburg, Florida. You can follow her sometimes blog at ascattergood.blogspot.com

. You can read more about Southern writers and perhaps find your favorite author at “A Good Blog is Hard to Find.” -- Southern Authors

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