Debbie Blue's Christmas picks

I’ve been engrossed in The Story of the Lost Child, the fourth in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels (Europa Editions). The series follows the friendship of Elena (the narrator) and Lila (her fiery and fearless friend) from girlhood to old age. Very little of what we find precious (romance, marriage, career, motherhood) remains intact here—all of it is mined with refreshing and ferocious honesty. The novels dredge up what we might rather keep hidden: the human propensity for competition, rivalry, and profound insecurity. There’s something cathartic about the experience of reading them—not unlike confession. I like that Ferrante is an anonymous author, so buying her work is supporting a novelist not a celebrity (a small victory for good writing.)

I often turn to Marilynne Robinson’s essays when I’m feeling a bit doubtful about the whole Christian enterprise, so I’m thrilled that The Givenness of Things (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is out in time for Christmas.

If you’d like a gift that will deliver pure pleasure, preorder the Cactus Blossoms’ new CD You’re Dreaming (Red House Records, available January 22). This young brother duet has been dazzling us here in the Twin Cities with their gorgeous harmonies and sometimes playful, sometimes gut-wrenching lyrics. Garrison Keillor called the traditional yet edgy duo “the brother duet America is waiting for.”