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So don't wreck everything by forcing that person to reassure you that your gift was just as good. It wasn't. And that's OK.
We give gifts to the same people, year after year, and most of the time we don't get it exactly right. In fact, most of the time our gifts are pretty forgettable – rather like last year's Oscars. We all understand this, we accept it, and we keep on giving gifts, knowing that the primary function of the giving is to say, I have not forgotten you, you matter to me. That's always a good message.
Ordinary gifts are just fine. Ordinary thanks for those gifts are also fine. It's like the words of "Wonderful World": "They're only saying 'I love you.'" That is quite enough of a burden for your gifts to bear.
And when somebody gives you the perfect gift, don't make them feel bad because your gift wasn't as ecstatically perfect. Even if you never find them a gift that thrills them like that, it's still OK. Your ordinary gifts are perfectly acceptable. They deliver the right message. They're Good Enough.
And who knows? Maybe you'll strike gift-giving gold this year, and finally get even with someone who gave you The Perfect Gift ten years ago.
They're selling Daughter of the Sword, by Steve Bein, in the sci-fi section of the bookstore, and I suppose it belongs there, but it's mostly a really cool near-future thriller that is also a historical novel, a fable, a fantasy, and – oh, just take my word for it. It's really, really good.
The hero is a young woman who is struggling to rise within the Tokyo police department.
Yeah, that's right. The hero is Japanese. The whole novel is Japanese.
I have no particular fascination with Japanese culture. Yes, I loved Shogun and I loved The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino and I'm a real fan of Miyazaki's animated films.
But I'm not a Japanophile the way I'm an anglophile. I am not fascinated by all things Japanese. On the contrary – I recognize that Japanese culture is very different from mine, and I like mine. So sue me.
Not only that, I'm really repelled by martial arts fiction, which is usually a kind of kata-porn, where the writer expects you to think the martial arts scenes are reason enough to care about the hero and the story. For me, they're not.
So don't read Daughter of the Sword because it's set in Japan; but also don't turn away from it for that same reason. Because the story is not about its Japaneseness.
It's about a smart, tough person trying to cope with her family's needs – especially her drug-using sister's – while achieving an ambition that's really important to her.
It's about a grand old man who owns a sword with an ancient history, one that is coveted by a truly evil person who will kill to get it.
It's about the power that some great objects can exert over those who own them, leading us to wonder: Who is the owner, who the possession?
The modern story is interrupted several times by extended stories – fables at first, but eventually extended historical fiction – about previous owners of the three swords that become important in the story. And I'm not denigrating the main storyline to tell you that those interruptions are the very best part of the book.
If you're looking for a Christmas gift for someone who likes mysteries, thrillers, police procedurals, character-driven stories, fantasy, science fiction or just plain good writing, Daughter of the Sword might be just the thing.
Our house isn't new. It's a federal-style house that was built before the modern fad of monumental two-story entries and shrine-like bathrooms and closets the size of moving vans.
Fortunately, it's new enough that the kitchen is decent-sized and it has indoor plumbing and electricity built right in. (We once lived in a house old enough that all those things were afterthoughts, and believe me, that is not nice.)
Our not-very-big master bathroom is directly over the unmagnificent one-story entryway of our house. And while we have two closets in our master bedroom, they are one layer of clothing deep and neither one is very big.
We can't do anything about the size of the closets. But we can do something about the way the space inside them is used.
So we called in Holly Root from The Closet Bee (2180 Lawndale Dr.; 346-5555; closets@TheClosetBee.com) to take a look at the smaller closet and see what could be done.
We liked her ideas. The price was reasonable. We hired the company to do the job.
The day of our appointment, the doorbell rang. I opened it, expecting the work crew. Instead there was just one guy, no tools, holding a piece of paper.
I wasn't sure if I was being served a subpoena or about to hear a sales pitch. And he, seeing my confusion, wondered if he had come to the wrong place.
But it was the right place. And he was the crew.
I had expected a team. But when you think about it, it's a closet. There wouldn't be room for two people to work on it at the same time.
He was done in a couple of hours; maybe less; we weren't looking at the clock. It was done before we expected. The work was well done, the design was fully executed, and it was done on time and at the agreed-upon cost.
It was not a miraculous transformation. There are still the same number of cubic feet; we pretty much filled the space before, and we fill it now.
But everything is much more accessible, and after 22 years of only marginal usefulness, it's almost like getting a new house.
Well, no, it's nothing like getting a new house. Which is fine — who wants to move? But it did give me a new closet and I highly recommend The Closet Bee.
Robert D. Kaplan's The Revenge of Geography looks like it might be brilliant. The subtitle promises: "What the map tells us about coming conflicts and the battle against fate."
Alas, the book is about no such thing. There is relatively little geography in it, but there are massive numbers of ridiculous mistakes about history and culture.
Basically, it's full of unquestioned groupthink with, here and there, a nonstandard thought which is usually even more ignorant than the normal groupthink. What a disappointment.
It's like the book I browsed through the other day that purports to tell us about leadership and leaders. But when I looked at what the author had to say about Winston Churchill, what I saw was pure ignorance: He took as gospel the political lie that Winston Churchill was to blame for the failure of the Gallipoli campaign in World War I.
This is a common error, because Churchill's political opponents loved to make this charge.
However, even the slightest research shows that the consensus of military historians is that Churchill's Gallipoli plan, if it had been followed when he put it forward, would have succeeded quickly and easily and would almost certainly have shortened the war by years, saving a million lives or more.
So when a book that purports to tell me useful things about a lot of different historical figures reveals that it is based upon only the most cursory of research, and is hopelessly wrong in its assessment of one of the most written-about figures in recent history, what am I to conclude about the value of the author's statements about historical figures I don't know as much about?...continued on page 3