Now that I’ve exposed myself as pop-punk-loving trash with that post title (this season I’m thankful for Fall Out Boy), I want to talk to you about one of the best things in the world: Thanksgiving. Why is it great? No, not because we get to stuff our faces with delicious turkey, or croissants. It’s because it’s the one day of the year when Americans stop complaining about all that crap we don’t have (like that report I needed on my desk two weeks ago, Donny) and appreciate with a full (ha) heart all the stuff we do have, like the love and support of our families, our jobs, our friends, and of course, our books.
The staff of Lanternfish came together recently to share the books that we’re thankful for. (Except for Donny. Donny doesn’t read. Donny isn’t real. Shh, nobody tell him.)
Okay, books I’m thankful for this year…the first one is a no-brainer. It’s gotta be something by Gabriel García Márquez, the granddaddy of magical realism (may he rest in peace, and may his hair turn into a river of copper that grows and grows for all time). I think I’m going to go with The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Soulless Grandmother. It was the first thing I read by Márquez, in a Spanish class when I was fifteen, and it became my gateway drug: an introduction not just to magical realism but also to how much power fiction has to throw you into the perspective of someone very different from you — maybe someone who’s powerless and voiceless and forgotten by the world, except in this book, where she gets to speak.
My second choice is Robert Hilburn’s biography of Johnny Cash, one of my favorite things that I read this year. It’s a long read, maybe a little too long, but worth it, because you get to watch a passionate and complicated life unfold in such detail that in the end you feel like you’ve actually experienced life in someone else’s shoes. The story is told fairly, respectfully, but unflinchingly. I learned a ton about the music industry in the 20th century, about the tensions between living life and making art, and about the soul of an extraordinary man.
First, Lord of the Rings! This book is deeply linked with my childhood. My father bought a leatherbound edition when I was born and started reading it to me (I kid you not) the day I came home from the hospital. So many of my early memories center around this story. Like that time when my dad told me if I ate enough mushrooms I would turn into a hobbit. That didn’t end well. I’m not sure if I was more upset because I was sick, or because I didn’t actually turn into a hobbit. I’d be a very different person without this book in my life.
My second choice is Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys, by Michael Collins. I got curious about this book after I watched a documentary about the Apollo program. I was charmed by Collins’s humility and dry humor in his interviews. The book recounts Collins’s experience as the third member of the Apollo XI mission — the guy who didn’t get to walk on the moon. The way that Collins tells his story is humble and humanizing, a breath of fresh air. The book reminded me of how small and insignificant I am in the scope of the universe, but in a way that was inspiring and empowering too.
A Wrinkle in Time will hold a special place in my heart forever. It was one of the first books my dad ever read to me, and arguably is responsible for me falling in love with books in general. The incredible characters of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Aunt Beast are still vivid in my imagination. I can still relate to Meg Murray, that young girl struggling to fit in, and I can still feel in awe of her baby brother Charles Wallace, a genius at the age of 6. I loved everything about this book and the special meaning it has for me and my father (who pulled a Jim Dale and voiced every single character in the most theatrical way possible).
The Scarlet Pimpernel, on the other hand, has special familial connections with my mother. She’s the one who introduced me to the heroic, mysterious hero who saved aristocrats from the guillotine in revolutionary France. My favorite thing about this book, besides it being the first real superhero story (beat it, Batman) that starred a charming and genuinely good man, was that this story focused mostly on his wife, Marguerite. She is such an incredible character, balancing her past and her future, trying to save her brother with the talents and opportunities she’s given, and is ultimately the one responsible for saving her husband. Baroness Orczy won me over with this story, and the fact that I associate it with my mom is just another reason why I’m forever grateful it exists.
Les Miserables is one of the books that sparked my interest in studying literature and pursuing a publishing career. I first “read” the book after my grandmother gave me a copy around the time I was in middle school. I fell in love with the story, but at such a young age I wasn’t able to fully grasp its literary qualities. It wasn’t until I re-read the book in high school that I was able to connect more dots, pick out symbolism, and see the transformation of characters from start to end.
My fourth-grade teacher would often read books aloud to the class, mostly stories by Roald Dahl. The BFG was one story that always stuck with me growing up. As a child, I found the idea of someone or something being able to take away my nightmares a pleasant and welcome one. Dahl was able to transform the giant from a terrifying monster into one of the most lovable characters of my childhood. Who wouldn’t want their own Big Friendly Giant?