Literature lovers have cause to rejoice this holiday season, with riches aplenty in the way of new releases. Need a gift that will impress your favorite bibliophile? Here’s your cheat sheet for holiday shopping!
Since its debut in 1953, The Paris Review has served as a platform for outstanding fiction. A terrific new collection pairs gems from the journal’s archives with expert analysis. For Object Lessons, 20 of today’s top authors picked their favorite stories from the review and composed introductory essays about each work. The contributors—including Wells Tower, Ali Smith and Jonathan Lethem—offer critical praise and sterling insights into the craft of fiction writing. In his essay on James Salter’s “Bangkok,” Dave Eggers describes the story as “an eight-page master class in dialogue.” For Jeffrey Eugenides, the Denis Johnson classic “Car Crash While Hitchhiking” succeeds in part because of the author’s instinct for “knowing what to leave out” of the narrative. Object Lessons will appeal to both aspiring writers and lovers of the short story form.
KING OF THE ROAD, AND MORE
Author of On the Road, the 1957 novel that immortalized the edgy, uninhibited nature and questing sensibility of the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac never seems to lose his allure. Yet, as Joyce Johnson demonstrates in her thoughtful new biography, The Voice Is All, there’s more to the Kerouac myth than meets the eye. Beneath his reckless exterior was a committed artist who took his craft seriously. A former flame of Kerouac’s, Johnson had rare access to her subject, and she draws on personal recollections, important Beat writings and newly available archival materials to create a compelling portrait of the author’s early years, the factors that shaped him as a writer and his quest for an authentic authorial voice. “Jack’s voice was his center,” Johnson says. “Outside that center was chaos.” The Voice Is All is an invaluable biography that gives an icon of cool some well-deserved critical validation.
WHAT WRITERS ARE READING
For bibliophiles, this is bliss: My Ideal Bookshelf, an irresistible new anthology, features the favorite literary selections of more than 100 artists and writers. Providing a peek at the private libraries of David Sedaris, Junot DÃ az, Rosanne Cash and other notables, the volume includes brief interviews with the participants, who discuss the significance of their picks. “I derive strength from these books,” Jennifer Egan says of her selections, which include Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy—both narratives that demonstrate “how flexible the novel form is.” Photographer William Wegman chose titles he loved as a kid—science texts, encyclopedias, a Hardy Boys mystery. “These books are nostalgic for me,” he explains. “That’s the spell.” Jane Mount’s stylish illustrations of the selected titles—spines colorfully rendered, typefaces faithfully reproduced—underscore the allure that books possess as objets d’art. My Ideal Bookshelf is a treat from cover to cover.
LETTERS FROM A LITERARY LIFE
While she was editing material for Selected Letters of William Styron, Rose Styron, widow of the acclaimed author, had a revelation about her husband: “I realized that half the endless hours I thought he was working on novels . . . he was actually writing letters.” Spanning almost six decades, the book is an intriguing chronicle of one writer’s interaction with his peers, including Henry Miller, Philip Roth, George Plimpton and Robert Penn Warren. Styron, who died in 2006, earned numerous honors for his fiction, including a Pulitzer Prize for The Confessions of Nat Turner and a National Book Award for Sophie’s Choice. The letters document his student days at Duke University, his steady artistic ascent and his path as a world traveler. They’re studded with classic anecdotes—the stuff from which literary legends are spun. Styron spots T.S. Eliot on a London subway, engages in a verbal brawl with Norman Mailer and locks horns with Harold Bloom, whom he refers to as “a foolish ass of a Yale professor.” Offering an in-depth look at the esteemed author, this collection proves that letter-writing is indeed an art.
A CRIMINAL COLLECTION
Mystery aficionados will be captivated by Books to Die For, a spine-tingling anthology edited by two masters of the genre, John Connolly and Declan Burke. In this one-of-a-kind collection, today’s crime pros offer insights into their favorite works of suspense. The collection kicks off with essays on books that were foundational to the genre (such as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes), then moves on to the the heyday of hardboiled crime fiction with contributions from David Peace, Michael Connelly and Laura Lippman on classics like Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister. Moving decade by decade, this expansive anthology offers plenty of surprises. Pieces on Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (contributed by Minette Walters and Tana French, respectively) underscore the breadth of the mystery genre and the ingenuity of its practitioners. With essays from 119 authors, Books to Die For will thrill any mystery enthusiast.
NEW LIFE FOR CLASSIC TALE
They’ve been in circulation for two centuries, yet the Grimms’ fairy tales feel more vital than ever. Now, in Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, Philip Pullman, himself a spinner of fabulous stories, retells 50 time-tested favorites. In his hands, the simple magnificence of stories like “Cinderella” and “Rapunzel” shines through. He successfully channels the unsettling mix of innocence and perversity, horror and delight for which the tales are famous. In addition to the standards, Pullman shares less prominent stories, including two spellbinding little selections whose startling titles speak for themselves: “Godfather Death” and “The Girl with No Hands.” Beguiling from beginning to end, Pullman’s skillful retellings will surely enchant the book lover on your gift list.Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
It's been 200 years since the publication of the first volume of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm's Children's and Household Tales, and we'll be seeing celebrations. Norton is issuing an update of Maria Tatar's The Annotated Brothers Grimm, and now Pullman has jumped in with his own versions of 50 of the immortal tales, from perennials like "Cinderella" to less familiar gems like "Briar-Rose." The dark edginess of Pullman's own work (e.g., "His Dark Materials" trilogy) seems a good match for the Grimm tone of the originals.[Page 48]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Pullman (The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ) celebrates the 200th anniversary of the Grimm brothers' first fairy tale collection in this collection of 50 tales, which draws from all seven original Grimm editions as well as other versions and Pullman's own imagination. (He opens with a Tuscan proverb by way of Calvino that "the tale is not beautiful if nothing is added to it.") Favorites like "Cinderella" and "Rumpelstiltskin" become just slightly bloodier, but all retain their old-fashioned feel. Pullman also resurrects tales of the Devil's odd bargain with a soldier ("Bearskin") and a girl who faces an enchanted lion ("The Singing, Springing Lark"). Smooth narration makes every tale accessible while keeping the mystical and lyrical qualities that make fairy tales so beloved. Afterwords provide bibliographic and scholarly information. Readers will enjoy not only returning to European fantasy's roots but seeing how the tree still blooms. Agent: Jamie Byng, Canongate. (Nov.)[Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC
Fifty tales are retold in this witty, fast-paced, and entertaining collection. In fairy-tale tradition, Pullman adds his own modern phraseology and an occasional event to the "originals" when he believes it will be an improvement. The conceits of the genre are respected and adhered to but the subtle changes make the stories compelling. It is charming to think of the Brave Little Tailor as "a weapon of mass destruction." This and a few other modernisms enliven the narratives. Pullman effectively makes use of other sources to tell the stories: an Uncle Remus conclusion for the ending of "The Cat and the Mouse Set Up House" and the epigram in "The Robber Bridegroom" from "Mr. Fox," which is similar to Much Ado About Nothing. He attributes and incorporates the original tellers and writers as collected by the Grimms as well as authors of other variants and other folktales. Each selection is referenced by type, source, and similar tale. Mention of the psychologist Bruno Bettelheim and scholars such as Maria Tatar, Jack Zipes, and Marina Warner point to varying interpretations of the stories. The introduction conveys his purpose and presents some history of the Grimms and information about the fairy-tale conventions found in their tales. Others have presented the complete tales (Zipes) and annotated tales (Tatar) and there are countless picture-book adaptations. Pullman's collection is noteworthy for the energetic pace of the stories and the subtle adaptations that make it accessible to modern readers. This is a collection for librarians and teachers to read aloud and to encourage listeners to imagine and retell in their own words.--Jackie Gropman, formerly at Chantilly Regional Library, VA[Page 121]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.