December 2010

Treasures for a rapacious reader

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December 2010

Treasures for a rapacious reader

Feature by
December 2010

Treasures for a rapacious reader

Feature by
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Whether you’re shopping for a serious scholar or an armchair academic, a mystery addict or a collector, we have a title for every bibliophile on your list. Stuff a stocking with one of the books below, and you’ll look smart this holiday season.

Offering the inside scoop, so to speak, on what it’s like to live with a moody, complicated genius, The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy, translated by historian Cathy Porter, provides readers with the rest of the story regarding one of Russia’s greatest writers. Sofia Behrs married Count Leo Tolstoy in 1862, when she was 18. Documenting their 48-year union, her fascinating diaries span five decades and chronicle events both personal and political. The daughter of a doctor, Sofia was smart and spirited, and she turned to journaling for both expression and confession. Tolstoy also kept a journal, and the two often shared their writings, no matter how hurtful the content.

As Sofia’s diaries make clear, the couple had a tumultuous relationship. Although she bore Tolstoy 13 children and supported him in his work, copying out his manuscripts and overseeing their domestic affairs, he was often cold and neglectful, and Sofia’s journals are filled with angst-ridden entries that describe her struggles to negotiate their shared life. Written with precision and earnest emotion, the diaries reveal the daily dramas—family quarrels, illnesses and financial concerns—that enlivened the Tolstoy household, and they show that Sofia was an accomplished artist in her own right. Featuring an introduction by Doris Lessing, this volume will strike a chord with both history buffs and literature lovers.

The title says it all: Writers Gone Wild: The Feuds, Frolics, and Follies of Literature’s Great Adventurers, Drunkards, Lovers, Iconoclasts, and Misanthropes catalogues notorious moments in the lives of famous authors. Compiled by journalist Bill Peschel, this tantalizing collection of true anecdotes documents a different kind of literary history—one of scandal and abandon, packed with scenes worthy of a bestseller. Peschel offers what amounts to mug shots of the literati, as he recounts incident after unbelievable incident: There’s Norman Mailer stabbing his wife, Adele, at the close of a night of carousing, and Theodore Dreiser slapping Sinclair Lewis during a formal dinner that becomes a bit of a brawl. Taking it to the streets are J.P. Donleavy and Brendan Behan, who duke it out on a London sidewalk.

Of course, the vino flows liberally throughout Peschel’s book, providing fuel, in most cases, for each writer’s act of passion. Peschel has organized the proceedings into chapters (“Public Embarrassments,” “Unfortunate Encounters,” “Fight Club”—you get the picture) and includes recommendations for further reading. An artful writer, he presents each priceless nugget of trivia with style and flair. Bibliophiles will love this enormously entertaining look at authors who succumbed to the very impulses they wrote about. When life imitates art, look out!

The Updikes and Munros of tomorrow are featured in 20 Under 40: Stories from The New Yorker, a terrific new collection compiled by Deborah Treisman, the magazine’s fiction editor. Proving that the short story form is as vital as ever, the volume presents a talented new generation of writers, all under the age of 40, whose work was showcased in the magazine this past summer.

The narratives are wonderfully varied, and the roster of authors is diverse. David Bezmozgis and Dinaw Mengestu, both transplants to the West, contribute powerful tales of the immigrant experience. Innovators Téa Obreht and Jonathan Safran Foer push the boundaries of the genre in stories that surprise, while ZZ Packer and Wells Tower use narrative voice as the foundation for their rich explorations of character. Bringing humor to the table, Joshua Ferris and Gary Shteyngart offer sharply realized satires.

The New Yorker has a reputation for fostering great fiction writers. With 20 Under 40, the magazine continues its tradition of spotlighting authors with fresh styles and exciting visions. Readers concerned about the state of literature in this digital era can rest easy: As 20 Under 40 demonstrates, the future of fiction looks bright.

Get ready for poisoned sugarplums and Santas who sleuth. Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop, edited by Otto Penzler, offers readers a different kind of Yuletide yarn. Penzler, a connoisseur of suspense fiction, owns the esteemed Mysterious Bookshop in New York City. Every year, come Christmas, he solicits a story from one of his partners in crime—i.e., some of the most popular mystery writers working today. For guidelines regarding plot and character, Penzler offers only the following: Each narrative should take place during the holidays, be centered around a mystery and use as its setting—for at least a few scenes—his shop.

Penzler started this spine-tingling tradition in 1993, publishing the tales as limited-edition pamphlets, which he gave to his customers as gifts. Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop brings the stories together for the first time in one volume. The 17 contributions include diverting whodunits and sophisticated crime dramas, as well as narratives written with good old-fashioned fun. Featuring pieces by Ed McBain (“I Saw Mommy Killing Santa Claus”), Donald Westlake (“Give Till It Hurts”) and S.J. Rozan (“The Grift of the Magi”), this roundup of holiday tales with a sinister twist is the perfect gift for the mystery lover on your list.

Movie fans and fiction lovers alike have Lisbeth on the brain—Lisbeth Salander, that is. The heroine of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, Lisbeth is equal parts guerrilla girl and math geek—a street-smart genius with a knack for hacking who uses her computer skills to take on the baddies of Swedish society. Her adventures, chronicled in Larsson’s trio of bestsellers, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, have bewitched readers around the world.

Coinciding with the holidays is the arrival of the Millennium Trilogy Deluxe Boxed Set, a handsome slip-cased collection that will provide fans with an extra Lisbeth fix. The set contains new hardcover editions of the three novels, which have been outfitted with a fresh design that includes maps, unique engravings and one-of-a-kind endpapers. Rounding out the collection is On Stieg Larsson, a volume of previously unpublished essays and correspondence with the author, who died in 2004. With more than five million copies in print, Larsson’s thrilling trilogy has turned Lisbeth into the queen of crime fiction, and her story gets the royal treatment here. This lavish set is a must-have for Millennium devotees and readers in search of suspense.

The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy
By Cathy Porter

ISBN 9780061997419

20 Under 40: Stories from The New Yorker
By Deborah Treisman

ISBN 9780374532871

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