Holiday Guide

Indeed, it’s the most wonderful time of year. And for two solid reasons: Christmas presents in the shape of books and cold and cozy days meant for cuddling up with your favorite read. So if you have a bibliophile in need of some holiday magic, here are my picks for the best gifts, Big Little Lit style:

Book-themed candle

Old books

Etsy is full of creative and thoughtful gifts, and its Book Club MVP section is no joke. It clearly knows that there’s nothing like the smell of books to get a book lover’s imagination running wild. Choose between a classic bookstore with Earthy tones, Divination classroom or Christmas in the Great Hall for the HP fanatics, or even old books to set the perfect reading mood.

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History in the Making

Textbooks can never do history or its victims much justice. That’s where novels supplement them, add context, and bring them to life. They teach us something new and evoke feelings that textbooks never can; that’s exactly what The Patriots did for me.

Sure, every American kid learned that the Cold War threatened the institution that was the “Beacon on the Hill” and all of its principles. But somehow my history classes glazed over the passion, the unity, the rumblings, and even the atrocities of the Soviet Union during this time. But just as important, it left out stories of those Americans who felt a connection to the U.S.S.R., took a chance, and left their homes for this place of the future. Sana Krasikov vividly showcases these narratives in her 2017 debut novel. With her evocative words and strong storytelling, The Patriots doesn’t allow these defining (and more importantly, those less so) moments to go unnoticed by making a four-flame impact.

The Patriots

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Life is Like a Box of Chocolates

You never know what you’re gonna get. For main character Lillian Dunkle, that was quite the case, as she navigated life from being an impoverished and abandoned immigrant on the Lower East Side to a national phenomenon living on Park Ave. And as a reader, I definitely didn’t anticipate that The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street would be the Forrest Gump of the dessert world. But that’s what Susan Jane Gilman gives us in her debut novel. From Ellis Island to the conservative movement of the 1980s, Gilman provides us with a lesson in American history through the lens of her main character, much like Winston Groom did with his 1986 novel.

If you’re going to follow the concept of a book that led to a Best Picture Oscar, then you have to nail it. Gilman does. She chooses a strong and interesting, albeit abrasive, character to lead her tale. And she keeps her storytelling consistent with the same humor, drama, and characterizations lasting for 500 pages.
Ice Cream Queen

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The Importance Of Being A Library

Libraries are the ultimate encyclopedia. They contain all the information there is to learn. They provide us with literature to bolster our creativity and resources and services to make our everyday lives just a little bit easier. They were the world wide web before it became cool.

On Nov. 7, my home of New Jersey had the chance to further support its libraries. The 2017 election contained a ballot initiative for the state to issue $125 million in general obligation bonds. Revenue from this issuance would be used exclusively for libraries to help expand and modernize libraries. Thankfully, the initiative passed. This can only help our communities because the benefits of a library are endless. The limit simply does not exist.

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My Jersey City library branch

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Ranked: Harry Potter

Harry is more than just my homeboy. In fact, he changed my life. The series taught me about creativity and having imagination, the importance of reading, and how fun and emotional it can be. It showed me what having a passion meant because Lord knows I’m passionate about Harry Potter. And I’m not going to say I choose friends based on their HP opinions. But if you don’t like Harry Potter, then GTFO.

Quite frankly I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to write a post dedicated to The Chosen One. So let’s not waste any time. My dearest, Harry James Potter, and my girl, J.K. Rowling, you got ranked.

Quidditch

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Pour Some Sugar (and a Plot) On Me

Make Your Butt Bigger Bars do more than expand my derriere. They fill me with warmth; they make me nostalgic; they make me feel homesick, grateful, and loved. My mom’s signature bars, which have traversed half a country to impress the finicky minds of New Yorkers, might seem like a gluttonous Midwestern treat to the outside, but if you’ve had the pleasure of indulging in one, you know their power: They transform your soul.

That capability of food is the core of Kitchens of the Great Midwest, which makes it a relatable and beautiful read. As a young food savant grows into a powerhouse chef, she takes the most important ingredients and meals in her life with her to the next chapter (literally and figuratively). This love affair with food heightened my senses of sight, smell, and taste (not to mention induced perpetual hunger), but I struggled to follow the book’s plot and connect the characters. To Stradal’s credit, though, he has a way of filling in the gaps right when it matters the most: the very end.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest

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I Too Lived

  • What: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
  • Who: Betty Smith
  • Pages: 493
  • Genre: Classic literature
  • Subgenre: Coming of age
  • Published: 1943
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flames

Every New Yorker has his or her favorite neighborhood spots. While living in my first Brooklyn apartment, mine was the grilled cheese place that opened the same year. Erin had a knack for finding cute little coffee shops as well as a love for the Brooklyn Museum a few blocks away. Jamie’s was Ample Hills, named for Walt Whitman’s words. And we all reveled in the days we ate at Tom’s without an hour wait. It’s these places that we recall in our memories.

Francie Nolan had those places too. In early 1900s Brooklyn, it was McGarrity’s saloon, where her father fed his addiction. There was the shabby yet charming house that the Nolans falsely used as their address so Francie could transfer schools. Carney’s junk shop was where she and her brother, Neely, would lug their knickknacks to earn a penny. And of course there’s the library whose librarian didn’t look at Francie her entire childhood.

These places are remembered because they’re where we grew up; we all have them. It’s this connection of coming of age, as well as strong characters and a touching theme, that earned A Tree Grows in Brooklyn four flames.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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