Literary delights: Gifts for the discriminating reader
Technology may have altered the face of publishing, but among true bibliophiles the old impulses persist. In the tradition of old-fashioned bookishness (long may it endure!), we’ve rounded up a delightful miscellany of literary titles. This holiday season, smarten the shelves of your favorite reader with one of these engaging books.
Booklovers can indulge their obsession on a regular basis with Hallie Ephron’s The Bibliophile’s Devotional: 365 Days of Literary Classics. Offering a book-a-day survey of time-honored works in addition to the classics of the future, this lively reference volume brims with author anecdotes, great quotes, plot précis and other literary tidbits. Ephron (yes, she is one of those Ephrons—sister to Nora, Delia and Amy) serves as an instructor at writing workshops around the country and as a book columnist for the Boston Globe. Spotlighting revered novels by Edith Wharton and George Eliot as well as popular modern works from Mary Karr and Salman Rushdie, Ephron provides a balanced representation of great books, along with insightful entries for each title—something for every reader. She writes with discernment, wit and evident affection for her subject matter, and her zeal is contagious. Just try to confine yourself to a single day’s devotional. Reader, it can’t be done.
The genius who conjured some of the most enduring characters in world literature—Ebenezer Scrooge, Pip, Oliver Twist, the list goes on—gets a fresh evaluation in Michael Slater’s Charles Dickens. With this volume, Slater—emeritus professor of Victorian literature at the University of London and former president of the Dickens Society of America—offers the first biography of the author in 20 years. He brings a wealth of knowledge and a flair for factual storytelling to this comprehensive chronicle. Readers already familiar with Dickens’ history will welcome Slater’s in-depth focus on his work—the journalism, letters, lectures, plays and essays produced during a career that started in 1833, when Dickens published his first short story, and ended with his death nearly four decades later, in 1870. Slater also focuses on the author’s idiosyncrasies—his mania for organization, inclination for younger women and passion for social reform—and these richly explored traits add wonderful dimension to the narrative. As the reader soon realizes, there’s more to the man and his work than meets the eye, and Slater, who has written several authoritative books on his beloved subject, covers it all in this compelling biography.
A timeless institution
In addition to its more obvious functions—serving as a repository for books and a place of study—the public library represents a society’s finest efforts at civic improvement. In The Library: An Illustrated History by historian Stuart A.P. Murray, the most democratic of institutions receives a fitting tribute. Packed with colorful photos, illustrations and archival materials, this handsome volume traces the roots of the modern library back to ancient times and examines the role it played during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The institution’s evolution in the U.S.—growth that led to the nation-sweeping library movement of the 1830s—is also amply covered. A survey of the world’s significant contemporary libraries, featuring great collections like the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris and the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., rounds out the volume. Published with assistance from the American Library Association, this is a vivid historical tour of an invaluable establishment.
History of a classic
Survey the bookshelves of any editor, and one title you’re likely to find is The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. Initially designed as a classroom reference manual, this revered grammar guide was first published by Strunk himself—a Cornell University English professor—in 1918. Four decades later, White, a former student of Strunk’s, revised the guide for Macmillan and Company. Since then, Elements has sold more than 10 million copies. The evolution of this unlikely classic is documented in Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style by Mark Garvey. An award-winning journalist, Garvey brings an insider’s sensibility to this wonderfully readable chronicle of how The Elements of Style came to be. Using previously unpublished letters and photographs from White’s archives, he provides an in-depth look at the men behind the book. He also interviews big-name authors like Elmore Leonard and Adam Gopnik, who share their thoughts on the guide. A lively, well-rounded tribute to the volume that has become an editor’s bible, Stylized is a compelling account of the birth of a classic.
Addicted to Austen
With their plucky heroines, surprising plots and oh-so-delicious endings, Jane Austen’s books represent a perfect synthesis of the elements of fiction. Although they’re firmly rooted in reality, each of her narratives has the air of a fairy tale. The beloved novelist’s special kind of literary alchemy is celebrated in A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen. In this intriguing collection of essays, a diverse group of authors consider Austen’s singular appeal and examine enduring works like Emma and Persuasion. Among the admiring voices included here are Jay McInerney, who comes clean about his crushes on Austen’s female protagonists; Martin Amis, who ponders the pleasures of re-reading Pride and Prejudice; and Virginia Woolf, who speculates on what Austen’s career might have been like had she lived past the age of 42. Edited by scholar Susannah Carson, this fascinating volume offers a range of perspectives on the great lady’s work, supporting the theory that no one is immune to the allure of Austen.
One of the best-selling books of all time, The Little Prince, written by French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, was first published in 1943. This unforgettable fable about a young boy who leaves the asteroid he calls home to explore the universe has since been translated into 180 languages. Now, thanks to the wonders of paper engineering, the story has been recast in an interactive, three-dimensional format, and the result, The Little Prince Deluxe Pop-Up Book, is a magnificent twist on the original tale. Ingenious pull-tabs and cunning mechanical features enhance the prince’s extra-terrestrial travels, making his story more irresistible than ever. Cleverly designed and loaded with hidden surprises, the pop-up Prince is the perfect gift for Saint-Exupéry enthusiasts and a splendid introduction for readers unacquainted with the classic.
Julie Hale reads the classics in North Carolina.