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The season's best picks for serious readers
If you’re shopping for a book-obsessed guy or gal who geeks out over all things literary, then you’ve turned to the right page. The holiday selections featured below offer the sort of author anecdotes, book-related trivia and top-notch storytelling that bibliophiles are wild about.
LIFE ON THE PRAIRIE
Countless young readers have warmed to the novel form thanks to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. Images from Ingalls-family lore—silent Indians, swarming locusts, interminable wagon journeys with Jack the bulldog trotting behind—are now part of America’s collective literary consciousness. Followers of Wilder’s prairie adventures have something new to look forward to with the release of Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography. Wilder wrote this factual account of her life in 1929-30, and when publisher after publisher passed on it, she repurposed it for the Little House books, using it as the foundation for her fiction. The newly released manuscript displays the forthright style and easy grace associated with the Wilder name and delivers an unsentimental look at the reality behind her novelized life. In a compelling introduction to the book, editor Pamela Smith Hill examines the evolution of the manuscript and offers insights into Wilder’s development as a writer. Maps, photos and other memorabilia make this a must-have for the beloved author’s many fans.
RELATED CONTENT: Read a Q&A with Pamela Smith Hill on Pioneer Girl.
WRITERS ON THE ROAD
The armchair escapist on your gift list will love An Innocent Abroad: Life-Changing Trips from 35 Great Writers. A wide-ranging anthology that pays tribute to the transformative power of travel, the volume features contributions from an impressive lineup of literary celebs. Far from being savvy explorers, the authors in this globe-trotting collection confess their incompetence when it comes to crossing borders and cracking maps. Ann Patchett’s Paris sojourn contains a quintessential coming-of-age escapade: As a teenager made giddy by the City of Light, she toys with the idea of getting a cow (yes, cow) tattoo. Mary Karr’s Belize eco-tour results in personal growth, as she sheds her civilized self and becomes one with the jungle. Alas for Richard Ford—his hair-raising run-in with kief sellers on a remote road in Morocco demonstrates that danger is all too often the traveler’s companion. Yes, vicarious voyages are sometimes the best kind, and this travel-writing treasury offers an instant—and expedient—adventure fix.
AUSTEN IS AWESOME
Fans of Emma and Persuasion may OD on the eye candy contained in Margaret C. Sullivan’s Jane Austen Cover to Cover: 200 Years of Classic Covers. A fascinating survey of the visual treatments Austen’s work has received over the centuries, this charming anthology opens with marble-boarded first editions of Sense and Sensibility from London publisher Thomas Egerton and ends with a roundup of foreign translations that range from old-fashioned to funky (a 1970 Spanish edition of Pride and Prejudice has a disembodied eye on its jacket). Sullivan, author of The Jane Austen Handbook, tracks how the presentations of the novels changed along with the publishing industry to reflect graphic design trends and technological advances. Austen’s many disciples will swoon over traditional covers from Penguin, Signet and the Modern Library but may cast a skeptical eye at graphic-novel and zombie editions of Austen’s work. It seems every company under the sun has done Austen, and this irresistible album provides an intriguing overview of their efforts.
THE MAN FROM HANNIBAL
Imagine it: Mark Twain on Twitter. With his carefully cultivated persona and gift for succinct verbal expression—it seems his every utterance was a perfect epigram—the author’s following would’ve been off the charts. Viewing the humorist through just such a contemporary lens, Mark Twain’s America: A Celebration in Words and Images proves that his voice and his work are as resonant today as they were in the 1800s. Harry L. Katz, a former Library of Congress curator, teamed with that institution to produce the book, which features a treasure trove of archival materials, including maps, photos, cartoons and correspondence that depict the rough-and-tumble America of Twain’s era. Documenting the many manifestations of Twain—gold prospector, riverboat pilot, newspaperman, novelist—this lavish volume provides a fascinating portrait of a multifaceted figure who was ahead of his time and whose influence, today, is everywhere. With a foreword by Lewis H. Lapham, former editor of Harper’s Magazine, this is a stunning appreciation of a true American original.
The arrival of the popular “By the Book” column in The New York Times Book Review is the peak of the week for many literature lovers. A writer-in-the-spotlight feature overseen by editor Pamela Paul, “By the Book” made its Review debut in 2012 (the first subject: David Sedaris). A new collection of Paul’s insightful interviews, By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review, contains Q&As with 65 writers, including Donna Tartt, Junot Díaz, Hilary Mantel, Michael Chabon and Neil Gaiman. In their candid conversations with Paul, the great writers come clean about their reading tastes, work habits and inspirations, the books that moved them and the ones that left them cold. Jillian Tamaki’s pencil portraits of the authors are a plus. (Test your writer-recognition skills using the grid of famous faces that graces the cover.) With a foreword by Scott Turow, this is a book that will give bibliophiles a buzz.