This season it seems especially important to affirm the power of words in our lives. So we invited a few authors we admire to tell us about books they love and like to give as presents.
Normally I try to give a book I know somebody wants, but if it's somebody I don't think is necessarily a big reader, I always give them a copy of Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates. I figure if they're not going to read it, at least he sold a book. He's a sublime writer, and it's my favorite of his novels. It takes place in the late 1950s, and it's about a couple who, like most of Yates's characters, have artistic ambitions that don't pan out; the husband ends up working in advertising and taking it out on his wife. I've always felt it's a really important post-World War II novel, capturing that moment when suburban America defined itself in terms of emptiness and anxiety.
I've just read Diane di Prima's autobiography, Recollections of My Life as a Woman, which is a very beautiful book and wonderfully historical. It's about a woman who was part of that whole Beat scene in the late 1950s and early '60s but really retained her own powers, a woman determined to live the way she wanted to live—and that was it. Di Prima is primarily a poet, but this is not fancy writing; it's solid prose, beginning-to-end thinking about that time by someone who was influential in it. My husband and I have been reading it aloud to each other; it's a nice thing to do in the evening. That's a book out now I'd like to give as a present.