If you’re shopping for someone who’s happiest in the company of a book, then these recommendations are for you! Bibliophiles will delight over the goodies we’ve gathered this holiday season.
First up is a story of cinematic proportions: An ancient codex, written by an unidentified author in a hand no one can decipher, flits in and out of history, confounding researchers across the centuries. The codex in question, known as the Voynich Manuscript, is one of literature’s great enigmas. The work dates back to the 15th century, and what’s known about its past is piecemeal. After passing through the hands of various owners, it surfaced in a book sale in Rome in 1903. Nine years later, it came into the possession of Polish antiquarian Wilfrid Voynich. Today it’s housed at Yale University.
Readers everywhere can now puzzle over this archival oddity thanks to a magnificent new facsimile edition created from fresh photographs of the original. The Voynich Manuscript includes the full text of the codex, as well as reproductions of its arcane illustrations. Edited by rare books expert Raymond Clemens, the volume features essays on the background of the manuscript and the latest research connected to it—efforts that have produced few clues about its provenance. A strange yet sublime work, The Voynich Manuscript is a jewel for the literary enthusiast and a prize for any personal library.
MINDING THE STORE
For book lovers, nothing beats a few hours of browsing in a well-stocked bookshop. New Yorker illustrator Bob Eckstein celebrates the singular joys of perusal and possible purchase in Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores, an international tour of 75 indie bookshops that includes literary institutions such as City Lights (San Francisco) and Shakespeare and Company (Paris). Eckstein captures the essence of each shop in his luminous illustrations and shares stories from the stacks.
The destinations are worthy of a bibliophile’s bucket list, like Word on the Water, a London bookstore located on a floating barge, and Librairie Avant-Garde, an underground book emporium in a former bomb shelter in Nanjing, China, with 43,000 square feet of browsing space. A foreword by Garrison Keillor and quotes from Alice Munro, Robin Williams, Patti Smith and other notables make this the ultimate valentine to the brick-and-mortar bookstore.
THE WRITING LIFE
Getting writers to interview other writers is a long-held practice at Vanity Fair that has resulted in classic contributions to the magazine. The best of these literary pairings appear in the lively new anthology Vanity Fair’s Writers on Writers. Assembled by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, these 43 pieces are filled with the larger-than-life reportage and sophisticated criticism that have made the publication famous.
In “Mississippi Queen,” Willie Morris goes for a drive with Eudora Welty—“quite simply,” he says, “the funniest person I’ve ever known.” In “The White Stuff,” Michael Lewis pays a call on Tom Wolfe in his Hamptons home, finding the great writer turned out in (you guessed it) a white suit and matching fedora. When it comes to author appraisals, the collection’s lineup of matches is remarkable: James Wolcott tackles Jack Kerouac, Martin Amis assesses Saul Bellow, Jacqueline Woodson honors James Baldwin—and that’s just a preview. In his introduction to the collection, fellow editor David Friend writes, “the life of every storyteller brims with revelatory tales.” So does this terrific anthology.
Like a brave heroine or stalwart adventurer, setting takes a leading role in many a beloved literary work. Middle-earth, Oz and Narnia are fully realized worlds that readers can map with their imaginations. These and other sensational sites are celebrated in Literary Wonderlands, an unforgettable expedition to 90-plus places made famous in fiction and poetry.
Edited by Slate columnist Laura Miller, Wonderlands tracks almost 4,000 years of narrative. Starting with lands brought to life in time-honored tales like The Odyssey and The Tempest, the volume moves forward to explore 20th-century favorites (Fahrenheit 451, Slaughterhouse-Five) and up-to-date offerings (The Hunger Games, 1Q84). Author biographies, background on the creation of each work and a wealth of visuals complete this standout tribute to stories that transport the reader. Isn’t that what fiction’s for?
A BOOK CLUB’S BEST FRIEND
Is your book group in need of a boost? This holiday, surprise the members of your circle with A Year of Reading and get set for inspired discussions in 2017. Amply qualified authors Elisabeth Ellington (Ph.D., British lit) and Jane Freimiller (Ph.D., philosophy) share creative ideas for a year’s worth of reading in this handy guide.
In a month-by-month format, the book offers reading recommendations tailored to each season. Ideas for February range from the new to the tried-and-true: Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance; Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. For November, there’s a bounty of food-related reading, including Lucy Knisley’s Relish, a culinary memoir told in graphic-novel form. Along with out-of-the-ordinary selections, the guide provides talking points that can kickstart a conversation and questions to keep the dialogue alive. With tips on how to organize a new reading group and resources for researching titles, this manual is a must for book-clubbers.