Brooklyn Snow

Pete Hamill’s Christmas Book Bag

Think of Pete Hamill and you think of Brooklyn. Perhaps it’s time to add Christmas to that association? The author of the new The Christmas Kid: And Other Brooklyn Stories tells us what he’s been reading—you should curl up with these books during your Christmas nights, too.

Winter Journal By Paul AusterMore than simply a memoir by one of the finest American novelists. This is also a reflection on time, age, mistakes, work, the closing of some doors, and the opening of others. For me it’s a perfect book for a season usually marked by reflection, regret, and, yes, hope.

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris By David McCulloughNot another rehash of the Lost Generation. This rich book is about an earlier time, when American doctors could not perform autopsies on the corpses of American women, when female models appeared fully-clothed in the few American art schools, when the legacy of American Puritanism created an intellectual and artistic prison. Some young Americans, men and women, went to Paris. They returned with the gifts of reason, science, art, and vision. McCullough tells the story as a triumphant human tale, about individuals. His prose is fluid and detailed, never abstract, never pedantic. The result is marvelous.

Human Chain By Seamus HeaneyThe most recent volume of poems by the 1995 Nobel Prize winner, this should not be read cover-to-cover. Take the book to bed before sleeping, read one poem each night, like a prayer. Then turn off the lights. If you're like me, you will awake each morning charged with the music of what happens. Heaney’s music. Now part of yours.

Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History By Robert HughesThis is at once a celebration of one of Europe’s essential cities and a detailed exploration of the things that truly matter about its past. Hughes was, of course, one of the finest writers of his day, an art critic for Time, an author of several books of history. In this, his final work, he reminds us again that all empires inevitably fade but their truest legacies are almost always works of art. He tells us that part of the Roman tale, too, and what happened during the many centures that followed the fall. Every man or woman who reads this book will be wiser when they finish.

The Story of Babar By Jean de BrunhoffThis brilliant book (published in 1931) was the first I ever read, at age 5, my eyes following my mother’s finger as she touched each precious word. I remember weeping the first time I understood that the little elephant’s mother had been shot dead by a hunter. I must have read the tale another 30 times before I was 6, weeping each time, hating that hunter, but loving the city Babar went to from his jungle home. The place called Paris. I still read it every year in this season. And no, it never did make me a defender of French colonialism.