Tis the season! There is Comfort. There is Joy. And . . . then there’s the rest of it. These six books are perfect side dishes to the turkey and the fa-la-la, and the sorrows that sometimes lurk just beneath. So snuggle in and read.
I doubt any lawyer has not faced a moment where the thought of chucking the legal grind and starting anew seemed tempting. It is an inevitable by-product of the job, with its frenetic energy, constant pressure and long stretches of long hours. Good Husbandry (Scribner 2019), by Kristin Kimball, is not the story of a high-powered New York professional who ditched it all to marry the love of her life and start a family and a farm in the country. That was her first memoir, The Dirty Life (Scribner 2010). Good Husbandry is the next chapter, the ten years that followed the leap. It is about the anxiety and the stress and the constant financial worry that came with a major mid-stream course correction. Yet, at its heart, it is sublimely comforting, in the way that only a pastoral memoir can be. We see everything through the seasons’ prism: the birthing season, the planting season, the winter season, and the building season. It is a beautiful family story, and much of it adds up to this: wherever you go, there you are. The author reminds us that there are different ways to re-make ourselves, some drastic, some less so: “Sometimes you just pull down a wall, reinvent, put some new skin on the old bones. And it’s lovely.” And we can do that again and again.
In her haunting elegiac memoir, Late Migrations (Milkweed Editions 2019), New York Times columnist and Nashville favorite, Margaret Renkl, also sets the seasons of the natural world against the seasons of our lives to beautiful result. Alternating between sketches of childhood in lower Alabama and her current life in Nashville, we see the world through a child’s eyes and are reminded that a grown-up can find refuge from life’s hurts when we return to that view. We can still see the wonder in the falling leaves and the spring birds. For me, this book’s resounding comfort is in its depiction of loss. Whatever the happiness this time of year may bring, for many, it is tinged with the grief that we feel most acutely at times when there should be cheer. Margaret’s narrative, in style and content, is an hymn to the natural rhythm of sorrow and renewed joy. For everything, there is a season.
Now to more basic comfort: good eats. Admission: I’ve only ever used my iron skillet for making cornbread. And by ever, I mean approximately twice. But Anne Byrn has changed all that with her new book Skillet Love (Grand Central Publishing 2019). Who knew there were so many things that old iron skillet (or a new one—you can buy them pre-seasoned now!) could be used to make? I got a first-hand taste when Anne brought some treats by the bookshop on the occasion of her book launch. I am telling you that her recipe for simple yellow cake made in a skillet is to-die-for. I easily could’ve eaten the whole batch. I have since heard my colleagues raving about the crowd-pleasing (and kid-pleasing) recipes: everything from Smashed Chicken to Warm Chocolate Chunk Cookies. Mary Laura Philpott swears by the Skillet Pizza. Could there be anything more comforting than supper in a skillet? You should really find out.
Finally, for dessert, here are three shots of pure book joy:
Nothing to See Here (Ecco 2019), by Kevin Wilson:
In my mind, nothing is more joyful than a perfect little novel. This one is based on the startling and far-fetched premise of one long-lost friend willingly induced by her former bestie into nannying for her two stepchildren, who on occasion spontaneously catch on fire. Take my word for it—your suspension of disbelief at the combustible nature of the tots will be swift. This book is heartbreaking and heartwarming and wickedly funny, and is so neatly and brilliantly composed that you can finish it in one delicious lazy day, or two if you want to savor. You will be enchanted by this story about the love we find in strange places and the family that we find for ourselves.
Southern Lady Code (Doubleday 2019), by Helen Ellis:
Y’all—this one is for straight-up I’m-alone-and-yet-giggling-like-a-diabolical-baby laughter. From the first essay, in which the author leaves her apartment dressed to the nines, with an unmentionable unfortunately and accidentally stuck to her backside, to the one in which she reveals that her dream as a young southern belle was to grow up and live in a New York City apartment surrounded by fabulous and fashionable gay men, every delightful bit affirms the foundational tenet of Southern Lady Code: “If you don’t have something nice to say, you say something not so nice in a nice way.” Bless your heart.
Royal Holiday (Berkley 2019), by Jasmine Guillory:
This is the book for when everyone really wants to watch It’s a Wonderful Life, and you secretly yearn for a Hallmark Channel Christmas Movie Marathon. I suggest slipping away, saying (in a suitably superior tone) that you’d really rather read, and then settling in with this sinfully delicious holiday romance. Our heroine, Vivian, accompanies her daughter on a trip to London where the daughter is styling The Duchess, clearly recognizable as Meghan-Markle-esque, and in the course of their mother-daughter adventure falls in love with the Queen’s handsome private secretary. This nugget is the perfect antidote to the lingering sadness you feel when you have finished binging Season Three of The Crown and realize there will be no more episodes for two years.
Happy Thanksgiving! May it be filled with comfort, joy, and books!
Guest columnist Keltie Peay is a top graduate from the University of Virginia School of Law (Class of 1998) and Harvard College (Class of 1995). Following law school graduation, she clerked with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia and the following year, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Prior to devoting her professional life to the dissemination of important ideas and valuable life lessons through books (both as an independent copy editor and bookseller with Parnassus Books), Keltie practiced white-collar criminal defense and complex civil litigation with the Nashville law firm of Neal & Harwell and the national firm Redgrave LLP. Her column, The Reader’s Docket, appears on Latitude’s blog Insights the third Thursday of every month. All of Keltie’s past and current recommendations are listed here and available for purchase online through Parnassus Books.