To Be a Black Writer: Chester B. Himes

This guest post by Lawrence Jackson, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of History and English, from his forthcoming biography of Chester Himes, previews the talk he will give on “Chester Himes and Life Writing,” on Wednesday, February 22 at 5:15 pm in the Macksey Room in the Brody Learning Commons.

Please visit our display of books from Professor Jackson's collection in the window of the Winston Tabb Research Center, from February 16 through 28, in celebration of Black History Month.

In the spring of 1934 a young prisoner in Ohio’s maximum security penitentiary sat in a raw dormitory near an open latrine with a typewriter purchased from his gambling winnings. For three years, he had plunked away at short stories, one after another, dozens of them, mailing them out to newspapers in Chicago and Atlanta. Slowly he had mastered his craft while reading everything that the prison trustee had in the cart, from glossy magazines and detective stories, to Omar Khayyám and the latest by John O’Hara. Five years into his sentence, the twenty-four-year-old had known some minor literary successes, but in that year he would have some major ones. Although it wasn’t unheard of for an Ohio convict to achieve literary fame—O. Henry had walked the same yard; there was a difference. Chester Himes was black.

If race has reasserted its powerful relevance in the twenty-first century, in the early 1930s it had fully evolved into what the sociologist and writer W. E. B. Du Bois forecast in 1903 as “the problem of the Twentieth Century . . . the problem of the color line.” Up to 1934 there had been one black professional writer of regular national reach, the short-lived poet and novelist Paul Laurence Dunbar, who was best known for poetry in black “dialect,” what he himself was prone to dismiss as a “jingle in a broken tongue.” Others had tried and abandoned the job, moving on to steadier work. For most people whose parents or grandparents had reached adulthood as chattel slaves, it was thought improvident and foolhardy, if not genuinely odd, to pursue a career exclusively as a professional writer of fiction.

This was certainly true for Chester Himes. At the beginning, he ignored, denied, erased, or felt ashamed of much of what is understood today as racial ancestry or racial identity. He knew mainly that blackness had helped him pull a twenty-year-sentence for an armed robbery, a punishment he received at nineteen after he threw himself on the mercy of the court and confessed. A broken back was the only reason he had the leisure to write in the segregated prison and, unlike the other black convicts, wasn’t shoveling coal all day, everyday.

But to look at Chester Himes in 1934 was not, however, to be overwhelmed by something that mattered little to him. Light-skinned and slightly built, he exuded boyish, almost feminine charm. He had chipped teeth and several prominent scars, the main one on his chin, but they were the result of an accident, not street fights. For all of his life he would strive to appear tougher than what he felt inside, and writing helped him steel himself emotionally. He often compared the literary life to prizefighting and he accepted the discipline of training, punishment, and rejection, saying that “a fighter fights, and a writer writes.”

What he would accomplish in gray dungarees on the gray bunk surrounded by the clamor of unruly men suffering through the winter of their confinement would land him in a national magazine in 1934, repeatedly, alongside the best American writers, Ernest Hemingway and Langston Hughes, another young black man from Ohio attempting to make a career in writing stick. Within ten years, after an early parole, Chester Himes fulfilled all of his youthful promise, and published a fiery first novel with America’s largest press, Doubleday. Not even two years after that, and with arguably America’s best literary publisher, Knopf, he completed the book that would define his career, Lonely Crusade. But although he was acclaimed—“if he is not the greatest writer of fiction among contemporary American Negroes, there is none greater”—by the American impresario of modern art Carl Van Vechten, Himes fled the United States as soon as he could in 1953, returning in contrite humiliation for ten months in 1955, then happily abandoning America forever. In France, Chester Himes became a writer of international renown and shaped the attitudes of the next generation. He did it by living in an unbending style and pioneering black stories in a new genre: detective fiction.

Himes was driven to expose racial injustice, especially its subliminal and libidinal dimensions, and all of his work was that of a bold man struggling to survive by the writer’s discipline. His candid, revealing books shamed other writers and always repulsed and offended parts of his audience. Early on, his publishers considered him unique “for sheer intensity of feeling, for conveying utter frustration, the heart-breaking effect of constant defeat, and fear that can be dissolved only by violence.” But he insisted on taking his fight not simply to the most obvious sources of racial cruelty in American society, but to the doorstep of progressive liberals congratulating themselves for their altruism and kindness. He specialized in biting the hand that fed him, and he earned that reputation by accusing the presses that acquired him of perfidy. His first book, If He Hollers Let Him Go, made one of his editors at Doubleday remark that he “nauseated her,” which led Himes to develop a critique, which he made over and over, that the company sabotaged and cheated him. Doubleday’s editor in chief once responded testily, “We are not accustomed to having our word questioned the way you question it in that letter, Chester.” The editor would be joined by virtually everyone who ever published Chester Himes. Chester worked both sides of that street. He was the rare black writer to earn official condemnation from the NAACP.

Chester Himes soldiered on, writing books with a vulnerable honesty that left him wounded when the works floundered, typically on account of the claim that the author was too bitter, too graphic, and ignoring the progress in U.S. race relations after the 1954 Brown decision. He became, midway through his career, a scapegoat, the black writer unwilling to accept that the United States had become a blameless, functioning multiracial democracy. He was outcast for his blunt unwillingness to herald a Pollyannish future of healthy racial integration and economic justice. History has borne out some of his vinegary judgments.

In an America that was enjoying Amos n’ Andy, Himes wrote about black men lusting after white women, crippling skin-color prejudice, and the difficulty of combat against the power of corporate industrialists. Himes might have been considered a prophet if he had not begun a career in the era when Richard Wright was the recognized black writer exploring the arc of race relations, Willard Motley the best-selling author who had completely eschewed the race problem, and Ralph Ellison the shining artist-intellectual who transcended race and wrote because he loved his craft.

Although Chester wrote about Harlem and black workers struggling to get ahead, he was reared in the Deep South and Cleveland, the middle-class child of college teachers. He was the first twentieth century black American to walk the path of petty criminal and convict turned dynamic writer that would later make celebrities out of Malcolm X, Claude Brown, Eldridge Cleaver, Robert Beck, Nathan McCall, and several others. Himes’s early novels—If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945), Lonely Crusade (1947), The Third Generation (1953), and The Primitive (1955)—revealed a fundamentally racist American society less inclined to lynch blacks but preferring to dismantle them psychologically. In his French detective series starring Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, he reversed gear, discarding the exposure of corruption and ethical hypocrisy and instead exaggerating the gross carnival created by slavery and segregation. Himes resolved the pain and indignation of his life by revealing the humor in it and by acknowledging the absurdity of western humanity and the inextricability of black people from any vision of America. His vernacular tales gained wide appeal and were turned into films. The generation who became writers after the assassination of Malcolm X, proudly calling themselves “black,” defining their identities in the storm of left-wing politics and black nationalist aesthetics, considered him their forebear. Their respect and admiration was unsurprising. During his lifetime, Chester Himes published seventeen novels, a book combining a major playscript along with several short stories, and a two-volume autobiography: he left a decisive archive and a legacy that endures.

Excerpted from Chester B. Himes: A Biography by Lawrence P. Jackson. Copyright © 2017 by Lawrence P. Jackson. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Special Collections Welcomes Freshman Fellows!

For many, Special Collections is synonymous with a treasure house -- something to safeguard, but not necessarily to use.  But where's the fun with having super-cool things if no one can ever use them for research and inspiration? At the Sheridan Libraries, we are committed to generating interest in our rare holdings, be it through Halloween parties at the George Peabody Library or lectures offered by the Special Collections Research Center.

A recent example of our undergraduate outreach is Freshman Fellows, a one-year fellowship providing four, first-year students with research experience and mentoring. Generously funded by the Sheridan Society, the fellowship encourages students to engage meaningfully with primary resources and receive research guidance from Special Collections staff, all while exploring topics they selected themselves!

The competition was fierce. (Yet did we expect anything less from our freshmen? They are budding Bluejays after all!) Twenty-four students applied for the fellowship, an incredible feat considering the applicants were adjusting to college life while working on their fellowship essays. The deliberations were tough.  Not even summoning the ghost of Johns Hopkins in a vain quest for his sage guidance could make the task less fraught.  And yet we persisted, and four applicants were selected due to their passion and enthusiasm for their individual projects.

I am pleased to announce the first cohort of Freshman Fellows, and am thrilled that you, dear readers, will have an opportunity to read about their research in subsequent blog posts:

  • Kiana Boroumand: Mentored by Yours Truly, Kiana is exploring the corset-busting topic of dress reform.
  • Lucy Massey: Mentored by Paul Espinosa, Lucy is translating obscure Latin texts housed at the George Peabody Library.
  • Faith Terry: Mentored by Jim Stimpert, Faith is uncovering the early years of student housing on the Homewood Campus.
  • Caroline West: Mentored by Amy Kimball, Caroline is delving into our Shakespeare collection.

After reading their blog posts, I am sure that you will want to learn more about their discoveries.  Well, you are in luck! We will be hosting a Freshman Fellows panel discussion starting at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 19 in the Macksey Room.  Definitely, mark your calendars!

Hugh Hawkins Research Fellowships for the Study of Hopkins History: Apply by March 10th

History and Politics Seminar, circa 1887. Ferdinand Hamburger University Archives.

Ever learn something amazing about Johns Hopkins University and thought, “Wow, I’d really like to know the story behind that!”? Well, now’s your chance! Apply for a Hugh Hawkins Research Fellowship for the Study of Hopkins History and spend 8 weeks this summer digging deep into an historical research topic relating to Hopkins. A faculty mentor can help you refine your topic and serve as a sounding board, while your archivist mentor will help you explore the rich archival collections that document the history of our university and hospital system.

Hugh Hawkins Fellowships are open to both undergraduate and graduate students from any school or division of Hopkins. So whether your major is ChemBE or Classical Guitar, if you have a great idea for a research topic, we want to hear it!

The deadline for applications is March 10, 2017. To learn more about the fellowships and how to apply, visit http://retrospective.jhu.edu/our-initiatives/hugh-hawkins-research-fellowships-for-the-study-of-hopkins-history.

Spirits of the Dead: The End of Enigmatic Edgar – February 5, 4pm

Don your black turtlenecks and come hungry for popcorn to Spirits of the Dead, a trilogy of short film adaptations of tales by Edgar Allan Poe showing at the George Peabody Library on Sunday, February 5, at 4 pm.

The screening, which is free and open to the public, closes out The Enigmatic Edgar A. Poe in Baltimore & Beyond: Selections from the Susan Jaffe Tane, our exhibition of rare artifacts, manuscripts, newspapers, photographs, and you-name-it by and about Edgar Allan Poe. If you haven’t seen the exhibition yet, we are open through Sunday—and that’s your last chance!

The three short films that make up Spirits of the Dead were directed by three great cinematic auteurs, Louis Malle, Roger Vadim, and Federico Fellini. So it’s also a wonderful occasion for comparing directorial styles and approaches. But you’ll probably notice at least one thing they have in common: taking liberties with the Poe texts they are adapting. (Liberties that are very, shall we say, libertine, à la 1968.)

There’s a long and luscious history of Poe adaptations in all kinds of media, from illustrations and musical settings of his poetry, to comic book versions of his tales, to films and television shows and action figures and video games that incorporate Poe-esque characters. One of the earliest Poe films ever made—going back to the early days of film history itself—is The Raven (1909), directed by D. W. Griffith (who also directed the racist epic Birth of a Nation). The “kitsch” version of Poe that we know and love today was the progeny of director Roger Corman, who made eight film adaptations of Poe works between 1959 and 1964, including House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Tales of Terror (1962), and The Raven (1963). Most of these starred Vincent Price.

But there has been a French love affair with Poe that goes back even further. French translations of Poe’s works—translations are, of course, a kind of adaptation—first appeared in 1853, just four years after Poe’s death; the poet Charles Baudelaire was one of the most prolific translators of Poe, titling several of his collections Histories Extraordinaires—which also served as the original French title for Spirits of the Dead. French film adaptations of Poe include La Chute de la Maison Usher (1928) and Danse Macabre (1964).

We have so many ways for you to learn about adaptations of Poe! Check out Adapting Poe: Re-Imaginings in Popular Culture, Poe in the Media: Screen, Songs, and Spoken Word Recordings, Poe Evermore: The Legacy in Film, Music and Television (available through Borrow Direct), and of course Poe-focused journals like Poe Studies, Dark Romanticism, and The Edgar Allan Poe Review. We even made our own Poe adaptation to celebrate the anniversary of Poe's death back in October—a Hopkins version of "The Raven."

Or, just come to the movie on Sunday. Eat some popcorn. Laugh. Relax. And say good-bye to Enigmatic Edgar.

We’ve missed you!

Welcome back! We hope you had a restful, fun-filled, wonderful break! Or, if you took an intersession class, we hope you got an A!

Ready or not, the Spring 2017 semester begins this week. Remember, you're not in this alone - MSEL is here for you. Here's some stuff you should know as you venture forth:

Come on in! The BLC is open 24/7 for Hopkins folks and people from other academic institutions (academic ID required); MSEL is open almost 24/7 - 7:30am to 3am. Need more detail? Here ya go.

Don't forget to seek help when you need it! Check out the general library website, our subject research guides, and our Ask-a-Librarian page to see when a research librarian is available in-person or online.

You'll need to check out lots of books, of course. Here's information about what's available to you as faculty, grad students, undergrads, alumni, and guests.

But, wait, there are other things you can check out of the library, too! All sorts of gadgets (including laptop locks, chargers, and cables) for loan at the Service Desk; lockers available to store your treasures, and DVDs for your film class (or for a study break...we won't tell!), to name a few.

Hmmm... does that about cover it? If not, just ask us! And, there will be a constant stream of breaking news from us via Twitter and Facebook.

Cheers to a great semester!

Day in library life: searching for clinical (or non-clinical) case studies

At first blush, it seemed like a very simple, clearly written assignment for a student -- go and find a case study related to your search topic...to be used in an oral presentation and a written paper.

books-education-school-literature-48126The first thing to understand is what the assignment is asking the student to do. It's asking for a relevant case study applicable to a topic the student identifies for a presentation and then a paper. So let's break it down into the parts that are critical for the student to get started:

  • Define the search topic
  • Find a case study on the topic
  • Find other articles (not case studies) related to the topic
  • Write an outline for a presentation
  • Give the presentation to the class
  • Convert this outline into a paper

The student had worked with a librarian previously and had come up with a great search topic, but was now having problems finding a case study related to it. Why? Partly because the term "case study" differs depending on the discipline and the setting as well, but also from finding too many search results and trying to wade through them to find the relevant case study became super difficult. Imagine looking for one case study in over 100,000 possible search results!

Wikipe-tan_on_the_haystackSo the next step was to define what case study as the first way to put some additional parameters on the search. According to the OED, a case study refers to:

  1. A process or record of research in which detailed consideration is given to the development of a particular person, group, or situation over a period of time.
  2. A particular instance of something used or analyzed in order to illustrate a thesis or principle.

Besides case studies, there are types of articles called case reviews and case report...which are different, but sometimes used interchangeably by researchers....so if you're scratching your head right now, let's set aside the other type of terms and focus in on how just the term case study in a health care setting.

Case studies in health care research, for example, often involve in-depth interviews with participants and key individuals, review of medical records, observations, and experts from patients' personal writings and diaries. Often library searching is nuanced and complex though, because even though we can define case study by the discipline, undergraduate textbooks tend to defined case study as neither quantitative or qualitative. Depending on the textbook, case studies are often glossed over.

Because the student had chosen a health topic related to clinical applications, we decided to first search in PsycInfo and PubMed. The student had found all kinds of great articles by searching in Google. The problem the student had that day was too many search results...and also, how to know if any of the search results were a case study or not? I am just as guilty as anybody as to searching for answers in Google, but sometimes it really is easier and faster to start in a library database, particularly for a search like this because there are advanced limits for Case Studies.

In PsycInfo for example, if you click into the menu under "methodology" there are two relevant limits for case study, the clinical case study and the nonclinical case study. By understanding the search limits, we could use the clinical case study or nonclinical case study limits to more quickly and effectively narrow down the search results:

  • In PsycInfo, a clinical case study is defined by the American Psychological Association as "case reports that include disorder, diagnosis, and clinical treatment for individuals with mental or medical illnesses."
  • Nonclinical case studies refer to "non-clinical or organizational case examples of the concepts being researched or studied. The setting is always non-clinical and does not include treatment-related environment."

Based on this, can you tell if this citation is a clinical or nonclinical case study:

Uzum, B. (2013). From 'you' to 'we': A foreign language teacher's professional journey toward embracing inclusive education. Teaching and Teacher Education, 3369-77.

If you guessed nonclinical, you were right! But if you weren't sure you can always click into the description of the article and usually the abstract will offer a few more clues about the nature of the article.

At this point, you might be asking, um....I thought this was supposed to be a nonclinical case study, but this article is talking about qualitative research, so what is it? Case study? Qualitative research? Often, case studies use mixed methods, meaning that they can be qualitative or quantitative. After clicking on the article title, you can see more information about the article, including a methodology field, which in this case tells us this particular nonclinical case study is also an empirical study and qualitative study.

methodology

The best bet, if you're still not sure after looking at these extra fields is to read the paper and skim the methodology in the paper itself to see how the author describes it, in the abstract and early on in the paper. Many scientific papers will describe their methodology, so while the format may vary from journal to journal, skim through and look for any section related to methods or methodology, such as:

methods

Case studies require a lot of time, effort, and attention to detail to put together, and yet, some researchers say that they reveal more about a particular subject than any other research method.  If you would like more information on how to find case studies in PubMed, let us know and we'll follow up with another post. So next time you find yourself needing to do some research and getting stuck, remember that librarians are more than happy to help.

pexels-photo-59628

In the meantime, these might be of interest:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will The Real Edgar Allan Poe Please Stand Up?

In honor of Edgar Allan Poe’s 208th birthday, today we are launching the digital complement to an exhibition of delicious Poe rarities currently on view at the George Peabody Library—The Enigmatic Edgar A. Poe in Baltimore & Beyond: Selections from the Susan Jaffe Tane Collection. The digital exhibition lets you explore Poe’s life and work at your leisure, with detailed information about the artifacts in the physical exhibition, plus images you can examine on your very own screen: sweet!

The physical exhibition is on display through Sunday, February 5. On that day, we’ll be hosting a free showing of Spirits of the Dead, a trilogy of campy film adaptations of Poe stories. (More on that later.)

With this exhibition of rare books, manuscripts, letters, magazines, illustrations, and spooky Poe artifacts (like a lock of hair clipped from his head after he died, a fragment of his coffin, a Poe action figure, and the “Poe mask” featured on the TV show The Following), surely we’ve plumbed the depths of the Poe mystery—right? Surely, these amazing materials—over 100 objects on loan to us from Poe collector extraordinaire Susan Jaffe Tane—answer all the questions there are to ask about Poe?

Nope, not even close.

The thing about Poe is, we’ll never know how he died (even the heavy metal analysis of the aforementioned lock of hair is inconclusive), what his temperament was really like (gentle and charming or impatient and selfish? -- there are conflicting reports), or who among his many lady friends was the subject of the poem “Annabel Lee.” We’ll never know what he thought about important features of the world he lived in—the rapidly expanding United States of the 1820s, 30s, and 40s, reckoning with some of the great moral conflicts at its core, like slavery, Indian “removal,” and various restrictions of suffrage. We’ll never know how much his melancholy poems and frightening stories directly reflect his own fears and experiences… or how much they are simply vivid inventions masterfully orchestrated to appeal to readers.

There’s a lot we’ll never know about Edgar Allan Poe the man. However, there is much we can learn about his work: what he wrote, and when, and how. Could close study of his existing manuscripts help us see new connections between his poems, tales, and essays? Could digital tools help us find in his writing traces of what he was reading? Are there important new contexts for his work to be unearthed in the magazines and newspapers where he published?

Here is where an exhibition of Poe’s publications and manuscripts and letters can really help out! We wanted to give you the chance to get up close and personal with these artifacts, so you can: ask new questions, make your own discoveries, or contribute to the vibrant afterlife of Edgar Allan Poe through your own creative work.

Happy Birthday, Edgar! From all of us.

Why We March

When people feel they are not being represented—that their voices and experiences don't matter, when they feel there is a great wrong in the world, and when they have simply had enough—they often take to the streets and march. Increased acts of civil disobedience rose around the world after Percy Shelley’s poem The Mask of Anarchy and an essay by Henry David Thoreau in the 19th century became popular rhetoric with freedom movements of the 20th century. Protestors increasingly took to the streets: Ghandi in 1930 for the great Salt March; protestors opposing apartheid in South Africa; students demonstrated for weeks in Tiananmen Square in 1989; the Arab Spring Protests in 2011; and more. While civil disobedience at its root is based in nonviolence, protesters often risk harm and even death when those in power decide to respond.

Across the U.S., protest movements are both an integral part of our past and how we display our opposition to conditions of the day. In our very recent past, protesters have taken to the streets from Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 to Standing Rock in North Dakota in 2016. Peaceful protest is a tool that Americans continue to use across all states in order to give a voice to those who feel they are not heard. But, no location features as prominently for protest movements in the U.S. as Washington DC. Suffragists marched on Pennsylvania Avenue in 1913 for access to the vote. Infamously, large numbers of KKK members turned up to march in DC in 1925. Throughout the Vietnam War, protesters marched on Washington in both opposition to the ongoing conflict and conversely—though in much smaller numbers—in support of Nixon. In 1993, possibly the largest peaceful U.S. demonstration was the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. The largest distance covered to protest was the 1978 Longest Walk from San Francisco to DC in objection to increasing legislation that threatened tribal land and water rights.

Civil rights movements are some of the most prominent for making Washington DC their target in the 20th century. The Black Panthers and Louis Farrakhan have called on the leaders of the U.S. from the Mall to legislate to improve conditions for Black Americans. And certainly one of the biggest and most diverse marches was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Although Martin Luther King Jr. helped lead many marches around the U.S., it was the sweltering August 1963 march in which he delivered his unforgettable Dream Speech that is etched as a cornerstone in American history.

While marches and rallies in opposition to government were once seen as actions by radicals—every move by Martin Luther King was tracked by the FBI, after all—it has become an increasingly acceptable public show of a group’s objection to government. Current marches of the day include an annual March for Life in opposition to Roe V. Wade and the Rolling Thunder annual motorcycle rally to support and give voice to veterans and POWs. Just around the corner, on Saturday, January 21, 2017, hundreds of thousands have committed both online and through transportation and hotel reservations to attend the Women’s March on Washington. Based on the internet virality of information and preparation for the rally, we’ll soon see if that march also makes history.

People have marched on Washington DC for over a century now in order to give a voice and show of solidarity when they feel that their needs and rights are not being heard or responded to by those who legislate. The ability to be seen and heard and march for that in which we deeply believe is an important aspect to how we peacefully attempt to display our dissent.

Learn more about protest movements:

Watership Down – Book, Film, and Music

"Do tell me how I can help you," said the Chief Rabbit.

"Well sir,' said Hazel rather hesitantly, 'it's because of my brother -- Fiver here. He can often tell when there's anything bad about, and I've found him right again and again. He knew the flood was coming last autumn,...and now he says he can sense a bad danger coming upon the warren."

"A bad danger. Yes, I see. How very upsetting," said the Chief Rabbit, looking anything but   upset.
---Watership Down

                                                    ------------------------------
Richard Adams made up rabbit stories to tell to his two young daughters during long car rides. He had recently read The Private Life of the Rabbit, and made up the personalities and behaviors of the rabbits in his story from descriptions in the book.

His tales about a community of rabbits, who were brave and timid, big and small, talented and vicious and born leaders, became the beloved classic Watership Down. Adams, who died in December 2016 at the age of 96, had worked at Great Britain’s Department of Environment, and had visited every location that he wrote about in the book.

Why were the rabbits in Britain being exterminated?

Do we have any other fictional stories about rabbits?

Season’s Readings, Guilty Pleasures (and Gift Ideas)

Why do I love these lists so much? Every December, I look forward to the various year-end lists of best books put out by newspapers and other periodicals. True, they are a great place to find something to read, and to get gift ideas for that difficult person on your list. But there's something else that makes them irresistible to me. Maybe it's just that I love checking off items on a list, and seeing books I've read over the past year appear on the lists makes me feel like a schoolgirl again, getting invisible brownie points from an invisible teacher.

Peruse all these lists to see what you might want to read, now that all those papers are (almost?) finished, and what you might buy for your Mom or brother, your roommate or best friend, for Christmas or Hannukah or whatever end-of-the-year festival you celebrate. Festivus anyone?

Okay, I can't resist with such a captive audience. The best book I read in 2014? (Not FROM 2014 mind you). Has to be Strunk and White's (and Kalman's) Elements of Style. Read, or re-read, this one and you'll find yourself reading everything else in a new light!