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Best-of collections and one-of-a-kind compilations are as abundant as twinkling lights this time of year, and we’ve rounded up a few of the best new volumes. Mysteries, poetry, witticisms, mythology and more—there’s something for all kinds of readers.
Whether writing about the intrusiveness of email or the futility of the war we all wage against aging, Nora Ephron infused her essays with a confidential tone—a comforting, we’re-all-in-this-together quality that made the reader feel select. Ephron, who died last year, was a writer of extraordinary range, a journalist, novelist and author of screenplays who also blogged regularly for The Huffington Post. Her many dimensions are generously represented in The Most of Nora Ephron, an expansive new collection that, once dipped into, quickly becomes addictive.
Along with choice cuts from her acclaimed collections I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing, the book includes Ephron’s best-selling novel, Heartburn; the never-before-published play Lucky Guy; and the complete screenplay of When Harry Met Sally. . . . What’s not to like about this terrific anthology? As a compassionate commentator on the absurdities of everyday experience, Ephron is unrivaled. To read her is to love her.
MERRY LITTLE MYSTERIES
Otto Penzler, the prime minister of crime fiction, delivers the goods once again with his latest anthology, a collection of holiday whodunits that’ll have you eyeing the department-store Santa with suspicion. The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries is the 12th discerningly curated collection from Penzler, who owns the Mysterious Bookshop in New York City.
The book features 60 Christmas capers, including a number of forgotten and hard-to-find chestnuts. Penzler has sorted the stories into clever categories—pulpy, scary, classic, uncanny . . . the list goes on (who knew that Christmas was such a prime time for crime?)—and the result is a well-rounded anthology that represents the many facets of the mystery genre. There are old-fashioned tales of Sherlockian sleuthing, dark noir dramas and unsettling yarns along the lines of A Christmas Carol. With contributions from Agatha Christie, Damon Runyon, Donald Westlake and Mary Higgins Clark, Penzler’s new compilation is a future classic. Can you crack these Christmas cases? We dare you to try.
THE CLASSICS + GRAPHICS
There’s no denying it: College skirmishes with the masterworks of modern literature left many of us permanently scarred. Fortunately, a corrective has arrived. An extraordinary anthology of art inspired by prime pieces of literature, The Graphic Canon, Vol. 3: From Heart of Darkness to Hemingway to Infinite Jest will make readers forget old grievances and contemplate the classics anew.
This remarkable anthology—the third in a series created by visionary editor by Russ Kick—focuses on 20th-century literature and features art by more than 70 contributors. It contains graphic adaptations of both time-tested works (“The Waste Land,” Ulysses) and contemporary fare (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle). High points include Dame Darcy’s hallucinatory take on Blood Meridian: stark, black-and-white drawings that accurately capture the fever-dream quality of Cormac McCarthy’s classic; and selected scenes from Infinite Jest, a group of colorful, in-your-face outtakes by Benjamin Birdie that serve as teasers for David Foster Wallace’s monumental work. A heady trip through the land of high literature, this mad, inspired anthology is sure to lure new readers to the canon while arousing curiosity in those already acquainted with it.
AN AMERICAN COLLECTION
The latest entry in the much-praised poetry series that started 25 years ago, The Best American Poetry 2013 is a can’t-go-wrong-with-this gift for the literature lover on your list. Guest editor Denise Duhamel, herself an acclaimed poet, chose 75 pieces for this powerful new collection, and many of them articulate unmistakably native mindsets. Stephen Dunn’s bull’s-eye observation that Americans “like to live in the glamour between exaltation and anxiety” is one of many revelatory moments in his poem “The Statue of Responsibility.”
Other selections evoke a distinct sense of place. Emma Trelles’ vivid “Florida Poem” describes the humid, overripe environment of her home state: “ Gardenias swell, / breathing is aquatic and travel / is a long drawl from bed to world.” War—perhaps unsurprisingly—is also a recurring theme in the book. Sherman Alexie’s chilling “Pachyderm” features a Vietnam veteran confined to a wheelchair that’s “alive with eagle feathers and beads and otter pelts” and who has lost a son in Iraq.
A contemporary chronicle of the American experience, this visionary collection also includes poems by Kim Addonizio, Billy Collins, Louise Glück, James Tate, Kevin Young and the late Adrienne Rich.
Here’s to another 25 years of amazing poetry!
ANCIENT STORIES REBORN
In the intriguing anthology xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Kevin Wilson and a host of other notable writers re-imagine timeless tales from around the world. Edited by Kate Bernheimer, the collection presents ingenious retellings of a wide range of archetypal narratives, from ancient coyote myths to the story of the Trojan Horse to the tale of Sinbad the Sailor.
Newly interpreted, these classic stories take on fresh resonance for the reader. In “Demeter,” Maile Meloy modernizes the well-known myth, setting it in present-day Montana and giving the heroine a pharmaceutical habit and an ex-husband named Hank. Joy Williams spins an unforgettable yarn from the perspective of Odysseus’ loyal dog in “Argos,” while Elizabeth McCracken updates the terrifying Greek tale of a child-eating demon in “Birdsong from the Radio.” This one-of-a-kind collection serves as a testament to the open-endedness and staying power of great stories—and also to the world’s enduring hunger for them.