“Go on to the Useless Presents.”
I think of that line often at Christmastime. It comes from Dylan Thomas’s “A Child Christmas in Wales.” A young boy implores the narrator to describe the kinds of gifts he received as a child. When the boy tires of hearing about the “Useful Presents”—scarves, hats, and such—he interrupts with his command.
Thomas’s narrator then recounts all the Useless Presents that thrilled him as a child: toys, candies, costumes, and coloring books. Useless, yes, and delightful for it.
Though well past childhood, I hear “Go on to the Useless Presents” in my head whenever a loved one asks me what I want for Christmas. I know I should answer with things I need—“I could use some more socks, or maybe drill bits.” But I gravitate to those simple things that bring delight.
For me, those simple, delightful objects are usually books. Nothing transports me like reading.
I bet you’re a bit like me in this regard. After all, you are reading The Imaginative Conservative.
So when The Imaginative Conservative asked me for Christmas gift recommendations, I thought of great things to read.
These recommendations are not “useful” in a narrow sense. They do not fit the mold of “utilitarian efficiency” that, as Russell Kirk pointed out, many educators promote.
But they enlarge the mind and the moral imagination. And as any imaginative conservative will tell you, that is rather useful indeed.
So here are five gift suggestions from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI). They all offer thoughtful explorations of conservative ideas. You can get them (and hundreds of others) for 50% off as part of ISI’s Christmas sale:
1. Modern Age: Founded by Russell Kirk, the journal Modern Age is more engaged and engaging than ever under editor Daniel McCarthy. Ross Douthat and Rod Dreher link to its articles. The Washington Post praises Modern Age’s “high-toned approach to politics.” Time hails its “erudite commentary.” Historian Wilfred McClay calls it “required reading for those who want to engage conservative thought at a high level.” And this month only, you can subscribe for just $15.
2. Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child: I don’t think Anthony Esolen is capable of writing a bad sentence. Goodness, can he write. And this brave and bitingly funny book remains his best. It’s the book that led the American Spectator to place Esolen “in the top rank of authors of cultural criticism.” The Spectator put him alongside “Richard Weaver, Walker Percy, Russell Kirk, John Senior, Christopher Lasch, and Roger Scruton.” Not bad company.
3. The End of the Modern World: Imagine you had access to someone with the wisdom to guide you through our bewildering age. And imagine that same wise guide predicted—more than sixty years ago—so much of what’s happening in today’s world. Well, meet Romano Guardini, the Italian-born German philosopher-priest. As one reviewer says, “Nearly every week brings evidence of how prophetic” Guardini was in this short, brilliant book. The End of the Modern World opened my eyes. It will open yours, too.
4. Family and Civilization: “Chillingly prophetic.” Sounds like a blurb for a sci-fi novel, doesn’t it? But it’s actually how Rod Dreher describes this 1947 classic by the Harvard sociologist Carle C. Zimmerman. Dreher recommends this book because it reveals the roots of today’s broken families and social epidemics. As he writes, Zimmerman “saw as far back as the early postwar era that civilizations that do not have strong families and family systems cannot survive.”
5. Unbelievable: Here is the newest title from ISI Books. It’s being printed as I write this, in fact. Unbelievable tackles the uses and abuses of history. In this case, the history of science. Celebrity scientists like Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Neil deGrasse Tyson love to tell stories showing that religion is anti-science, and that science and religion have been at war with each other for centuries. There’s just one problem, as the historian of science Michael Newton Keas reveals: these stories are pure myth. David Klinghoffer praised Unbelievable in a blog post last week. He wrote: “The book is great! . . . Mike Keas skewers myths about Galileo, Copernicus, Giordano Bruno, and much more. The purpose behind all of these fictions is to cast religion falsely as a retarding force on science.”
There you have it: your five Christmas gift recommendations from ISI.
Remember, everything in the ISI store is 50% off for the holidays. So take a look around. You’ll find plenty to enlighten and delight your friends and loved ones. Or you can use the ISI Christmas sale as a simple and affordable way to add to your own library.
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Editor’s Note: The featured image is licensed under Creative Commons 4.0.