I wrote a scene into my first book, The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, wherein one of the characters gives another one a very thoughtful Christmas gift. Without giving it away for those of you who haven’t read it, I can tell you that it’s one of my favorite scenes in the book. I love it because I love holiday scenes in books about terrible events. I love it because it’s the kind of gift I’d like to receive. I love it because readers tell me all the time that they love it, too, for what it means between people trapped in dire times with general material worthlessness to signal what they know of one another with a thoughtful present.
The present is this: a man gives a woman a collection of books written by women. The gift is fraught because most of the people in the world have died, and there is one woman left for every ten men on earth. There may never be another woman with the freedom to write and publish her story again. The people in my book know that. My main character is an obsessive diarist, but she doesn’t know that she’ll ever be read, or known in any sense of the word. She receives this gift with the weight of all that has been lost. It turns her Christmas from one of grudging fellowship to a moment of profound grief and joy in being seen.
There are books that I wish were in this box that are not. I tried to imagine what would be easy to find in a library in a small town in Utah, and what Honus would recognize. Remember that when you wonder about what’s missing here, please.
A good friend asked me recently what was in the box, in that moment in my book. I smiled at her and told her I knew exactly what was in the box, but I had never written it down. Merry Christmas, Blessed Yule, and Happy Holidays to you all, but most of all to Molly. Here’s the reading list of the Unnamed Midwife. Think of the women in your life. There’s still time to get them a book.