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Rheta Johnson: A last-minute list of books for Christmas

 

Rheta Grimsley Johnson

 

When niece Chelsey was little, I lavished her with Christmas gifts too numerous and fanciful to remember. There were faux-fur coats with Dalmatian spots, diminutive dolls bundled as quintuplets, plastic horses that cost more than the real thing. 

 

She probably doesn't remember any of that. What she does remember, what she kept, were the books. Always, there were books. They were a good investment. At 25, she's better read than I. 

 

Older, wiser, more frugal, now I mostly give all children on my list books. Same policy for adult friends and relatives. 

 

Books are the gifts that run a low profile, often left beneath the crumpled wrap and the dried-up Christmas tree. But in January, when the sexier presents have lost their glitter, the book is a refuge in the cold. 

 

Books last. 

 

A lot of my friends are writers. I'm lucky that way. So I get books in the mail often, and when they are good I try to mention them in print. That's because any way I can help the writers' struggle feels right. You already know about the Donna Tartts and the Sue Monk Kidds. There is a reason. They write wonderful books. And they have publishers with huge advertising budgets. 

 

But there are other talents that get overlooked, a shame for which nobody cries. 

 

So here goes. A year-end, sweep-the-kitchen list of books and other art you might want to consider for the discerning person on your list who knows and appreciates the value of creativity. 

 

From Alabama, Marian Carcache offers an excellent short-story collection called "The Moon and the Stars." I laughed so while reading one of the stories that the woman next to me in the dentist office moved over a couple of seats. Gail Langley has a great book for children or adults, "The No Snake in the House Rule." Both sweet offerings were illustrated by Margee Bright-Ragland, an artist with sass. 

 

From Tennessee, Sue Freeman Culverhouse has written lively literary profiles from her home state. The book has a cumbersome title -- "Tennessee Literary Luminaries: From Cormac McCarthy to Robert Penn Warren" -- but a user-friendly approach to learning more about a mighty impressive roster. 

 

From Mississippi, my hero Robert Khayat, former Ole Miss chancellor, law professor, professional football player and occasional country singer, has written a memoir. Turns out, he can do anything. "The Education of a Lifetime" is poignant, funny, relevant and, at times, musical, especially when he writes of his hometown of Moss Point. 

 

Speaking of music, an Alabama bluegrass group called Wiregrass has a new album called "Path to Camden," foot-tapping traditional fare that will force a music lover of any age to smile.  

 

My former husband, cartoonist Jimmy Johnson, still has a few copies of his amazing collection gleaned from three decades of his comic strip, the best one in the funny papers. The book is "Beaucoup Arlo & Janis," and if you like the comics or find contemporary life at all amusing you need it. 

 

Finally, journalist Frye Gaillard has written "The Books That Mattered: A Reader's Memoir," which will inspire the most reluctant reader to explore the modern classics. Books do matter. And make gifts that fit, delight and last. 

 

 

 

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