The shelves are brimming with extra-special titles for bibliophiles. If there’s a discerning reader on your gift list, check out our must-have recommendations below. Here’s to a very literary holiday!
Poets and novelists can be solitary souls, but as Alison Nastasi reveals in Writers and Their Cats, they often have a rare appreciation for pets, especially of the feline variety. Featuring photos of 45 famous authors and their cat sidekicks, Nastasi’s purrrfectly charming book is filled with surprises, including a picture of a kitten-covered Stephen King. Sensational shots capture Alice Walker, Neil Gaiman, Gillian Flynn, Haruki Murakami and other beloved authors with cats at writing desks, in libraries and cozied up on sofas.
For the writer, what’s the allure of le chat? According to Nastasi, “The cat represents traits most appealing to the creative personality—qualities like mystery, cleverness, fearlessness, unpredictability, and sensuality.” Her book is catnip for literature lovers and an extraordinary celebration of kindred spirits.
© Underwood & Underwood / New York Times. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons. From Writers and Their Cats by Alison Nastasi, published by Chronicle.
Author Viv Groskop takes heart from the tales of Tolstoy, Chekhov and Pushkin in The Anna Karenina Fix: Life Lessons from Russian Literature and looks at the morals and messages that can be gleaned from the masters’ works. With insight and humor, she examines 11 books and plays, revealing how her own experiences have been informed by timeless titles such as Dr. Zhivago, The Master and Margarita and War and Peace.
By chronicling the heartaches, dramas and hardships of daily existence, Russian literature can provide solace to the reader who seeks it. If you’re enmeshed in an ill-fated romance, Groskop prescribes A Month in the Country. Tormented by inner conflict? Pick up Crime and Punishment. Stories, Groskop says, “are as good at showing us how not to live as they are at showing us how to live.” Read and heed.
BOOK LOVER’S BOUNTY
An delightful compendium of literature-related history and trivia, Jane Mount’s Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany is one of the season’s standout gift selections. In this splendid treasury, Mount explores literary genres and shares the reading recommendations of librarians and booksellers from across the country. She also presents nifty lists of literature-based enterprises, like blockbuster book-into-movie projects (Emma, The Shining) and famous songs inspired by great books (Bowie’s “1984,” Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad”).
An avid reader since childhood, Mount has been painting what she calls Ideal Bookshelves, renderings of fellow bibliophiles’ favorite books, since 2008. Readers will enjoy perusing the colorfully illustrated, artfully assembled stacks that have become Mount’s trademark. Her artistic talents are on full display here in enchanting illustrations of meticulously detailed spines, book jackets, authors and notable libraries and bookstores.
Bibliophile is bliss for the book lover, from cover to cover.
Susan Harlan explores the estates, castles and cottages that appear in classic works of fiction in Decorating a Room of One’s Own: Conversations on Interior Design with Miss Havisham, Jane Eyre, Victor Frankenstein, Elizabeth Bennet, Ishmael, and Other Literary Notables. Harlan, who teaches English literature at Wake Forest University, brings scholarly expertise and epigrammatic wit to this guide to famous fictional figures’ digs.
Casting the literary hero as homeowner, the book features Apartment Therapy-style interviews with a wide cast of characters who expound upon design ideas and DIY projects. There’s plenty of decorating advice on offer: “If you own an abbey, don’t feel obligated to adopt an overly monastic style,” Emma’s Mr. Knightley counsels. “That would be badly done indeed!” From opulent (Pride and Prejudice’s Pemberley) to plainspoken (the March home in Little Women) to utterly inhospitable (Castle Dracula), the residences in this delightful volume run the gamut. Becca Stadtlander’s dainty illustrations make this a tour that readers will want to take again and again.
GALLERY OF GREATS
Growing up, photographer Beowulf Sheehan took refuge in books, and he pairs his twin passions to perfection in Author: The Portraits of Beowulf Sheehan, a gallery of 200 acclaimed contemporary writers, from Margaret Atwood to Colson Whitehead. Sheehan took his first author portraits in 2005 at the PEN World Voices Festival; by 2017, he’d photographed around 700 writers. His photos capture the idiosyncrasies and moods of each of his subjects, whether it’s a brooding Karl Ove Knausgaard or a radiant Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In the book’s introduction, he shares on-the-job anecdotes involving the likes of Donna Tartt, Chinua Achebe and Umberto Eco. With a foreword by Salman Rushdie, this revelatory volume will bring a sparkle to any bibliophile’s holiday.