The Hughsletter #78: Gift Giving Edition

Good morning!

I’m Hugh Hollowell, and this is my weekly newsletter about The Relentless Pursuit of Beauty as a prophylactic against the ugliness of the world. (Learn more about this newsletter here.)

I like to build things. Physical, tangible things. Things that have a material list, that you plan, that have a definite end date and that can be done. 100 years ago, the overwhelming majority of the population spent their time in work like that – building things, making things, planting, growing and cooking things.

But most of us don’t have lives like that anymore. For myself, most of my days end with things still undone, things not finished and that have no possibility of ever being finished. Which is why it’s important to me to build things. Like this toolbox I made this weekend for my carpentry tools.

Here are 8 things I thought were beautiful, and that would make great gifts for someone you know.

  1. Peter Taylor is a writer read most often by other writers, in much the same way that Townes Van Zandt is a musician most often known by other musicians. A Summons to Memphis, his best known novel, is filled with family pathos, the experience of trying to return home and a father that is strong willed, yet incapable of managing his affairs. In other words, the perfect story of the Urban South.
  2. Shelby Foote was the soul and voice behind Ken Burns’ documentary on the Civil War. And he is the masterful craftsmen who wrote what is perhaps the best single treatment on the War Between the States, titled simply, The Civil War: A Narrative History. But before all of that, he was a novelist of wide acclaim. His novel Shiloh, about the bloodiest day of the bloodiest war in US history almost cannot help but to be amazing.
  3. MFK Fisher is probably my favorite writer that no one knows about. She was a fierce woman and a feminist before the word existed. She wrote about food, mainly, but saw that as her way of writing about love. She was someone who knew what it meant to face the world on your terms, and yet still have time for a glass of wine with a dinner you made for yourself. In the midst of the food rationing of WWII, she wrote about what to do when the wolf shows up at your door: You cook him.
  4. My favorite thriller of all times is The Silence of the Lambs (if you only know the film, make it a point to read the book, which is so much better). The sequel to that was Hannibal, where we see clearly in the mind of a serial killer. One of the plot devices in both books is Hannibal’s prodigious memory, and in an interview, Thomas Harris mentioned an obscure book that heavily influenced him called, simply, The Art of Memory. Part instruction book, part history lesson and part philosophy tome, it is delightful and instructive.
  5. In the Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal asks his prison guard for a copy of Glenn Gould’s 1955 performance of The Goldberg Variations. It’s perfect in every way – but in 1983, they recorded him doing it again, and it too is perfect, but in another way. Both versions are available on one CD.
  6. Thoreau said that a thing costs however much of our life we had to trade for it. In Your Money or Your Life, the authors take that to heart. It’s sorta a self-help book, but much more a “How to think about money and your life” book. It doesn’t promise you will get rich if you read it, but does promise to change how you think about money.
  7. Lots of us wish we were creating more – we wish we were writing more, or painting, or building or whatever our art is – but something keeps getting in the way. The author Stephen Pressfield gave that something a name, and wrote a book about how to kick that something in the ass and do your cool thing. If you know a person who just can’t seem to get that thing written, this is the perfect book.
  8. I love beautiful things that are also useful. Like the Opinel No8, a French pocket knife that has 4 pieces, no springs and costs less than 15 dollars. Perfect to keep in your bag for slicing that apple, opening a box, or cutting some string.

And while not beautiful, certainly useful:

  1. And while we are talking about useful – I use my Kindle tablet every day, and it’s less than $50. A computer you hold in your hand for $50. What a world. And if you don’t like sitting down to read, you probably ought to get an Audible subscription, where you have access to almost 200,000 audiobooks for less than $15 a month. And the first month is a free trial.

So that’s it this week – as always, if you enjoyed this issue, please forward it to a friend. If someone forwarded this issue to you, you can get your very own subscription by going here.

Take care of yourself, and each other.

Hugh Hollowell
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