Warning: James' Joyce's no-quotation-marks trick is used here, for no good reason. Please don't be confused.
If you've never experienced a white elephant book exchange, I'm truly sorry for you. Because they're insanely fun if you're comfortable with the other partygoers. Everyone wraps up a book that they don't want any more and then you just pick one out of the basket. The tricky part comes when everyone has donated books by David Sedaris or Nicole Krause and you've donated Shopping the North Carolina Furniture Outlets. (No, that wasn't me!) Or Thomas Pynchon's Mason and Dixon. (No, not me, either!) Then again, no need to admit your donation if no one saw you furtively sneak your gift in the basket. My donation, this year, was Crossing to Avalon: A Woman's Midlife Quest for the Sacred Feminine. (I'm sorry but I hate the humorlessness and grandiosity of archetypes). Anyhoo, here's the quick rundown, because I know you have a lot of things to do (note that this is the Liberal Overeducated Suburban Moms' version of a white elephant exchange):
Once the chitchat about music lessons, college applications, and the latest divorces abates, and you are well into the cranberry martinis, you can really get down to it.
Jonathan Franzen's Freedom: What about it? Is it really worth reading? Completely, ventures the hostess. It's a great doorstop, suggests another. She adds, it's about us--I don't want to read about us. Says your friend the radio producer, Patti Smith's memoir isn't that great; it's too precious. You say I know what you mean, but I sort of liked that she can be that way. She says, you should read Keith Richards' memoir--it's great. He's a smart guy. Smarter than you think. The books are all opened and then haggled over. Someone gives away Nicole Krause's A History of Love to the only person in the room who hasn't read it yet. But the receiver of David Sedaris' Holiday on Ice is not going to give it up. Ever. You are all jealous of her. The book you get, An Irish Country Christmas, sounds awful, and you manage to trade it for Her Husband: Hughes and Plath, A Marriage, by Diane Middlebrook. Rather different, eh? You're really looking forward to reading it, but it sounds more like an after-Christmas January blues kind of book. What with the affair, the divorce, the suicide, and all.
The last book picked, that truly no one wants? Glenn Beck's novel The Christmas Sweater. Each page has a curlicue border around it, which is enough to turn you away if not for all the other things about it that turn you away.
You bring Cheese Straws to the party, from where else but The Essential New York Times Cookbook. You should have doubled the recipe, because they are scarfed down and your dear family cannot partake of any leftovers. Says one one of the ladies, Where I come from you are judged on the quality of your cheese straws.