Happy birthday, Thor!
I’ve started calling my brother “Thor’’ since his genealogy research last fall showed us as belonging to the Thor line of Pates. No, it doesn’t mean we’re descended from Vikings (although we might be) but from a Thoroughgood Pate who lived in Virginia or North Carolina during the 1700s. Supposedly “Thoroughgood’’ was a right popular name during the Revolutionary War era, although I don’t know if it was from a surname or one of those Christian virtue names, like Prudence (a paternal great-grandmother) or Endeavour (the closely guarded first name of Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse). I prefer “Thor.’’
Anyway, I sent Thor the first two novels in Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales series, The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horsemen, set in the ninth and 10th centuries when King Alfred and his heirs were battling to keep Wessex from the Viking conquerors. Cornwell writes vigorous, well-researched historical fiction, and I thought my brother would like these because we both liked Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe novels and because of our probable if incredibly distant ties to the Saxons and Danes.
I haven’t read this series yet, which is unusual because I almost always read the books I’m giving as presents. And I love giving books to friends and relatives, which made my recent holiday shopping both easy and fun as I tried to match book to reader.
My mom and I mutually gave one another Sue Grafton’s ‘U’ is for Undertow; last year we shared P.D. James’ The Private Patient. An aunt who likes lighter fare received Mary Kay Andrews’ The Fixer-Upper with firm endorsements from my me, my mom and her daughters (the other two-thirds of Caroline Cousins.) They got Jeanette Walls’ novel about her remarkable grandmother, Half-Broke Horses, because I knew they’d like it and because we keep talking about writing something about our remarkable grandmother, Nanny Love.
I took a chance with my uncle who likes Westerns and has already read Larry McMurtry, Robert B. Parker and all the Zane Greys and Louis L’Amours. I picked for him Larry Watson’s memorable coming-of-age tale, Montana 1948, and quickly re-read it before wrapping it up. My college sophomore niece thought she would like Jennifer Weiner’s breezy Best Friends Forever, which I enjoyed last summer, and after my nephew in the Army told me he was re-reading free classics on his I-Phone, he got a paperback of The Hound of the Baskervilles along with the DVD of the movie starring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes.
And then there was Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, which may have been my favorite book of last year, sort of a collegiate Harry Potter writ dark. I knew my longtime friend Laura would love it because we love the Narnia books and Tolkien and T.H. White and fairy tales, and of course, J.K. Rowling. “Wow, this guy must really know every fantasy book going,’’ she marveled this morning, promising to put Grossman’s The Codex on her reading list. My book-gifter heart was thrilled.
I think that’s it. My mom’s birthday was last week. I sent her flowers and promised to put the new Anne Tyler, Noah’s Compass, in the mail – just as soon as I’ve read it.
(Open Book: I bought all the books mentioned above except for Best Friends Forever (Simon & Schuster), which I received in a web giveaway from the publisher. I also have my own copies of the books I gave away, except for the Cornwells, which I hope Thor will lend me.)