Nothing inspires fear in the hearts of readers quite the way poetry can. The hoary literary category is something most of us attend to only in school. But this holiday season, poetry gets a lift from the literature lovers at Sourcebooks, who have designed a beguiling gift around the most overlooked genre in the publishing industry. Poetry Speaks, a trio of audio CDs accompanied by an impressive anthology, offers a star-studded lineup of authors reading their own classic poems aloud. Hear the prize winners and the poet laureates, the writers who nursed their verse to near-perfection modernists like T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound; confessionalists Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Robert Lowell. Beginning with Alfred, Lord Tennyson, whose 1888 reading from "The Charge of the Light Brigade" is offered here on audio for the first time, Poetry Speaks spans more than a century and presents the recordings of 42 writers, including Edna St. Vincent Millay's crisp, prim delivery of "I Shall Forget You" and a sonorous reading of "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" from William Butler Yeats. Crackling with age, Walt Whitman's recitation from "America" is ghostly, and T. S. Eliot's alert to his audience as he prepares to read "Prufrock" is priceless: "I must warn you, it takes a little time always to warm up the engine." The Poetry Speaks companion volume includes photos of the writers and selections of their work. Billy Collins, Seamus Heaney, Mark Strand and other luminaries contributed biographies and essays on each author. From symbolism to imagism, free verse to blank verse, Poetry Speaks offers a quick literary fix to those who'd rather listen than read.

Gorey details One of the most singular figures in American letters is celebrated in Ascending Peculiarity: Edward Gorey on Edward Gorey, which collects a quarter-century's worth of interviews with the inimitable artist and author, who died last year. Organized chronologically and drawn from sources like The New York Times and The New Yorker, these pieces reveal their subject's wide-ranging tastes and unmatchable intellect. Gorey, who had no formal art training, attended Harvard in the 1940s. He eventually wound up in New York, where launching a 40-year literary career he devised the demise of many an innocent in wonderfully whimsical, slightly disturbing books like The Gashlycrumb Tinies ("K is for Kate who was struck with an ax, L is for Leo who swallowed some tacks," so the story goes) and The Chinese Obelisks. Gorey's trademarks the furtive figures, the violence set to verse initially gave him a cult following until he gained the wider audience he deserved. Over the course of countless books, he did for cats what James Thurber did for canines. His lanky dancers jetŽd their way across the pages of a ballet book called The Lavender Leotard. In Ascending Pecularity, he discusses his influences the choreography of Balanchine, the paintings of Balthus, the stories of Borges an artistic assimilation that fed his singular style. With abundant photos of the artist as well as samples of his work, Ascending Pecularity reveals what made Gorey, the ultimate eccentric, tick.

A medieval classic It's no surprise that one of Gorey's favorite reads was the 11th century Japanese classic The Tale of Genji. (He frequently named his cats after the story's characters.) Considered by many to be the world's first novel, Genji, a narrative of intrigue, romance and manners set in medieval Japan, remains a hallmark of world literature more than 1,000 years after its debut. Written by Lady Murasaki Shikibu, a Japanese courtier, the novel follows the beautiful prince Genji through a series of stormy love affairs and risky political ventures, introducing along the way a large cast of characters, both good and evil. The story spans 75 years and given the fiery nature of its protagonist contains plot twists aplenty. Royall Tyler's fresh, lyrical translation of the novel, heralded as a literary event comparable to Seamus Heaney's Beowulf, sets a new standard for approaching the narrative. Tyler, a renowned Japanese scholar, compiled glossaries, notes and a list of characters for this distinctive, two-volume boxed edition. Delicately illustrated with black-and-white reproductions from medieval scrolls and texts, this new, world-class version of Genji brings ancient Asian culture to life the way few literary works can. Truly a timeless tale.

 

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