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Beneath all the fun, Halloween upholds its spooky essence. On a single October night, we celebrate the darkest side of ourselves: our fundamental desire to transcend our natures, to exceed mortal limits, to claim unwarranted power. We let our children don horrific masks and gather loot from neighbors whom they barely see for the rest of the year. As a community, we gleefully become monsters.

Deeper and more durable than trick-or-treating are the delights of ghost stories and horror tales. So many of the classic works in the genre, Frankenstein and Dracula above all, set into high gear the unbridled Halloween impulse to break through the bonds of mortality and assume mastery over life and death. Under the sway of Mary Shelley or Bram Stoker, we seize for real the power to which Victor Frankenstein and Count Dracula fictitiously pretend. Inert matter (ink on a page) comes to shocking life, and that which is dead (the author, for one thing) is summoned from the grave to haunt us and feed upon the lifeblood of our imaginations.

Year in and year out, the horrors are told and retold, retuned, rediscovered and revamped (or re-vampired). The books recommended here offer a splendid quartet of such variations.

A monster collaboration
Most diehard fans of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein come to it in its third edition of 1831. Now, English professor Charles Robinson rips away the veil of the novel’s origins and takes us back to the thrilling night in 1816 when two of the greatest living poets—Lord Byron and Percy Shelley—joined in contest with Shelley’s wife Mary and their friend Dr. Polidori to devise the scariest ghost story. Without any doubt, Mary took the laurel with her story of a “Modern Prometheus” and went on to expand the terrifying premise into her famous novel, first published in 1818.

So far, this history is common knowledge. But Professor Robinson digs yet deeper in The Original Frankenstein. Through close examination of the manuscripts, he has been able to determine that the novel came into being as a sustained and extraordinarily intimate collaboration between Mary and Percy, with Percy’s hand literally evident on almost every page. Feminists need not be concerned: Robinson’s research is not another patriarchal theft of a woman’s achievement. Indeed, the professor gives us Mary all on her own in the second half of his volume—two Frankensteins for the price of one—and it is clear that the wife’s raw, “unhusbanded” text is the more forceful one. But in the other text, Robinson allows us to bear witness to a marriage of true minds. The inspiring collaboration between Mary and Percy is the greatest possible antidote to Victor Frankenstein’s solitary and overweening ambition.

Rewriting history—and fiction
Peter Ackroyd seeks no such remission from Dr. Frankenstein’s colossal error. On the contrary, the acclaimed British novelist and biographer swings the monstrous electrical lever of his fiction to its maximum position, committing every conceivable historical outrage in the process. Leave it to this most distinguished living biographer of British poets to fabricate such a delectable conflation of history and imaginative literature. In Ackroyd’s The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein, the infamous narrator becomes the inseparable chum of (who else?) Percy Shelley at Oxford, and Mary comes to love Victor as a trusted friend. The Shelleys inadvertently abet Victor’s unholy investigations into the founding principle of life, and in the end—ha! Did you think I would tell you? However inured you may think you are to the shocks of horror fiction, Ackroyd will violate your defenses with his diabolical intelligence and his uncanny empathy for both real-life and imaginary characters.

The vampire authority
Anyone who has had the good fortune to visit Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop in Manhattan knows what a paradoxically overpopulated and uncluttered paradise he has created for book lovers. The very same qualities inform Penzler’s work as an editor. His latest collection, The Vampire Archives, presents an unprecedented cornucopia of stories, ranging from pure pulp (Stephen King) to high art (D.H. Lawrence). Even so, the experience of reading the anthology feels like a walk in a beautifully landscaped cemetery, perfectly laid out with varying tactile delights and far vistas. The gigantic bulk of this book is counterbalanced by its lucid editorial touches, including a 110-page bibliography of vampire literature.

Sibling love gone awry
Douglas Clegg has been busy building his own 21st-century empire of supernatural fiction (check out his state-of-the-art website). His latest novel, Isis, is a feat of old-fashioned storytelling. When 16-year-old Iris Villiers loses her beloved older brother in a tragic accident, she will do almost anything to get him back. But, as any wise reader knows, summoning the dead back to Earth against their will often has grave consequences. This brief chiller should be read aloud, in a happy company ready to be distressed, while a surplus of Halloween candy sweetens Clegg’s bitter little masterpiece.

Michael Alec Rose is a composer who teaches at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music.

Beneath all the fun, Halloween upholds its spooky essence. On a single October night, we celebrate the darkest side of ourselves: our fundamental desire to transcend our natures, to exceed mortal limits, to claim unwarranted power. We let our children don horrific masks and gather loot from neighbors whom they barely see for the rest […]
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Technology may have altered the face of publishing, but among true bibliophiles the old impulses persist. In the tradition of old-fashioned bookishness (long may it endure!), we’ve rounded up a delightful miscellany of literary titles. This holiday season, smarten the shelves of your favorite reader with one of these engaging books.

Daily inspiration
Booklovers can indulge their obsession on a regular basis with Hallie Ephron’s The Bibliophile’s Devotional: 365 Days of Literary Classics. Offering a book-a-day survey of time-honored works in addition to the classics of the future, this lively reference volume brims with author anecdotes, great quotes, plot précis and other literary tidbits. Ephron (yes, she is one of those Ephrons—sister to Nora, Delia and Amy) serves as an instructor at writing workshops around the country and as a book columnist for the Boston Globe. Spotlighting revered novels by Edith Wharton and George Eliot as well as popular modern works from Mary Karr and Salman Rushdie, Ephron provides a balanced representation of great books, along with insightful entries for each title—something for every reader. She writes with discernment, wit and evident affection for her subject matter, and her zeal is contagious. Just try to confine yourself to a single day’s devotional. Reader, it can’t be done.

Reconsidering Dickens
The genius who conjured some of the most enduring characters in world literature—Ebenezer Scrooge, Pip, Oliver Twist, the list goes on—gets a fresh evaluation in Michael Slater’s Charles Dickens. With this volume, Slater—emeritus professor of Victorian literature at the University of London and former president of the Dickens Society of America—offers the first biography of the author in 20 years. He brings a wealth of knowledge and a flair for factual storytelling to this comprehensive chronicle. Readers already familiar with Dickens’ history will welcome Slater’s in-depth focus on his work—the journalism, letters, lectures, plays and essays produced during a career that started in 1833, when Dickens published his first short story, and ended with his death nearly four decades later, in 1870. Slater also focuses on the author’s idiosyncrasies—his mania for organization, inclination for younger women and passion for social reform—and these richly explored traits add wonderful dimension to the narrative. As the reader soon realizes, there’s more to the man and his work than meets the eye, and Slater, who has written several authoritative books on his beloved subject, covers it all in this compelling biography.

A timeless institution
In addition to its more obvious functions—serving as a repository for books and a place of study—the public library represents a society’s finest efforts at civic improvement. In The Library: An Illustrated History by historian Stuart A.P. Murray, the most democratic of institutions receives a fitting tribute. Packed with colorful photos, illustrations and archival materials, this handsome volume traces the roots of the modern library back to ancient times and examines the role it played during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The institution’s evolution in the U.S.—growth that led to the nation-sweeping library movement of the 1830s—is also amply covered. A survey of the world’s significant contemporary libraries, featuring great collections like the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris and the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., rounds out the volume. Published with assistance from the American Library Association, this is a vivid historical tour of an invaluable establishment.

History of a classic
Survey the bookshelves of any editor, and one title you’re likely to find is The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. Initially designed as a classroom reference manual, this revered grammar guide was first published by Strunk himself—a Cornell University English professor—in 1918. Four decades later, White, a former student of Strunk’s, revised the guide for Macmillan and Company. Since then, Elements has sold more than 10 million copies. The evolution of this unlikely classic is documented in Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style by Mark Garvey. An award-winning journalist, Garvey brings an insider’s sensibility to this wonderfully readable chronicle of how The Elements of Style came to be. Using previously unpublished letters and photographs from White’s archives, he provides an in-depth look at the men behind the book. He also interviews big-name authors like Elmore Leonard and Adam Gopnik, who share their thoughts on the guide. A lively, well-rounded tribute to the volume that has become an editor’s bible, Stylized is a compelling account of the birth of a classic.

Addicted to Austen
With their plucky heroines, surprising plots and oh-so-delicious endings, Jane Austen’s books represent a perfect synthesis of the elements of fiction. Although they’re firmly rooted in reality, each of her narratives has the air of a fairy tale. The beloved novelist’s special kind of literary alchemy is celebrated in A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen. In this intriguing collection of essays, a diverse group of authors consider Austen’s singular appeal and examine enduring works like Emma and Persuasion. Among the admiring voices included here are Jay McInerney, who comes clean about his crushes on Austen’s female protagonists; Martin Amis, who ponders the pleasures of re-reading Pride and Prejudice; and Virginia Woolf, who speculates on what Austen’s career might have been like had she lived past the age of 42. Edited by scholar Susannah Carson, this fascinating volume offers a range of perspectives on the great lady’s work, supporting the theory that no one is immune to the allure of Austen.

Royal treatment
One of the best-selling books of all time, The Little Prince, written by French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, was first published in 1943. This unforgettable fable about a young boy who leaves the asteroid he calls home to explore the universe has since been translated into 180 languages. Now, thanks to the wonders of paper engineering, the story has been recast in an interactive, three-dimensional format, and the result, The Little Prince Deluxe Pop-Up Book, is a magnificent twist on the original tale. Ingenious pull-tabs and cunning mechanical features enhance the prince’s extra-terrestrial travels, making his story more irresistible than ever. Cleverly designed and loaded with hidden surprises, the pop-up Prince is the perfect gift for Saint-Exupéry enthusiasts and a splendid introduction for readers unacquainted with the classic.

Julie Hale reads the classics in North Carolina.

Technology may have altered the face of publishing, but among true bibliophiles the old impulses persist. In the tradition of old-fashioned bookishness (long may it endure!), we’ve rounded up a delightful miscellany of literary titles. This holiday season, smarten the shelves of your favorite reader with one of these engaging books. Daily inspiration Booklovers can […]
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Four new graphic novels address the appeal of running away and the impossibility of escaping your past, for good or ill.

TRIUMPHANT RETURN
If you’re even vaguely interested in graphic novels, you’re probably aware that Craig Thompson has a new book coming out. Thompson’s 2003 graphic novel Blankets told an autobiographical coming-of-age story and floored everyone who read it, winning all kinds of awards and making a star of its author. His long-anticipated follow-up, the utterly engrossing Habibi, is at least as gut-wrenching and even more substantial in size and scope.

Just to be clear, this book is not for the faint of heart. In the first few panels, our nine-year-old heroine, Dodola, is sold into marriage by desperate parents whose village is suffering from drought. Dodola’s new husband is no brute, but even so . . . she’s nine years old. Thus begins her journey through the world as a headstrong and beautiful Arab girl. Fortunately for Dodola (and us), her husband is a scholar, and he teaches her to read and write. She learns the stories of the Qur’an, the work of the great poets, the Thousand and One Nights. Then, abruptly, marauding thieves kill her husband and kidnap the girl. She’s brought to a slave market, where she finds and rescues a three-year-old orphan boy, Zam. From then on their fates are linked. They escape and live for a while on a ship marooned in the desert, but their need for food and water leads them to be discovered and separated. Each of them endures years of torment, accumulating scars, grieving and longing for each other. It’s pretty brutal.

But it’s also beautiful. Dodola’s and Zam’s stories are interwoven with the stories they learned as children, the underpinnings of Islam. This lends not only beauty and texture but also meaning and redemption to their suffering, and Thompson’s handling of the religious elements—something that might have been awkward or controversial—is restrained and graceful. His black-and-white drawings, often incorporating Arabic script, are at times floaty and feverish but always perfectly clear. He breaks up dreamy exposition with tightly structured action sequences, and the pages couldn’t be prettier. As always, his economical writing is deeply moving. Habibi is a book not to be missed.

A CHILD’S-EYE VIEW
Another story of a childhood spent in hostile surroundings, Marzi by Marzena Sowa, takes the opposite tack. Marzi’s story, especially at first, seems like it could be happening almost anywhere. In fact it’s set in Poland during the 1980s, as the country was rebelling against communism. It’s only as Marzi grows up and gains understanding that the impact of the political situation starts to become clear. For most of the book she’s a wide-eyed, innocent daddy’s girl with completely typical attitude problems, arguments with her friends, difficulty eating her vegetables, fights with cousins and so on. It’s fascinating and often hilarious to see huge world-changing events like the Chernobyl explosion and factory-workers’ strikes from the point of view of a regular little girl absorbed in her own life.

A FINE ROMANCE
Entirely different but equally charming is The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston, a fictional memoir told in gorgeous full-color collages. With postcards, news clippings, ticket stubs, receipts, catalog pages and drawings that look like illustrations from vintage fashion magazines, Preston tells the coming-of-age story of Frankie, a bright young girl who graduates from high school in 1920 and goes to Vassar on scholarship after her father dies. She gets herself into numerous romantic entanglements, all of them ill-advised, and seems constantly on the verge of abandoning her dream of becoming a novelist. But Frankie is stubborn and scrappy, and she manages to take care of herself in a world where most girls like her just want to be taken care of. The happy ending is a little sudden, but it’s a pleasure to watch Frankie develop and learn to trust her nobler instincts until they pay off.

MERRIMENT ON MOTORBIKES
And finally, an idea I’m surprised hasn’t been tried before: a graphic novel adaptation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales—on motorcycles. This retelling is done by Seymour Chwast, one of the founders of the influential Push Pin Studios who has already adapted Dante’s Divine Comedy. His irreverent humor makes him an even better fit for Chaucer, who never left a good fart joke untold. And nothing goes better with fart jokes than motorcycle touring. (It’s not entirely clear just why the pilgrims are riding hogs, but that doesn’t matter.) Most everyone in these 24 travelers’ tales ends up being thoroughly mocked, both in the smartypants dialogue and in the simplified but pointed drawings. The book works either as an introduction to Chaucer’s original text or as an alternate take for those who’ve read it many times already.

Four new graphic novels address the appeal of running away and the impossibility of escaping your past, for good or ill. TRIUMPHANT RETURNIf you’re even vaguely interested in graphic novels, you’re probably aware that Craig Thompson has a new book coming out. Thompson’s 2003 graphic novel Blankets told an autobiographical coming-of-age story and floored everyone […]
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Books—especially great ones—beget other books. If you don’t believe it, check out the selections that follow. Providing new perspectives on past works, these critical studies, appreciations and fresh editions prove that classic pieces of literature are inexhaustible. Just right for the writer or devoted reader on your holiday gift list, the books below will make any bibliophile smile.

SHADOWING SHAKESPEARE
Few figures inspire more speculation than William Shakespeare. Richard Paul Roe, an accomplished scholar and lawyer, tackles one of the most intriguing Shakespearean what-ifs in his compelling new book The Shakespeare Guide to Italy: Retracing the Bard’s Unknown Travels. Addressing a controversial question—whether Shakespeare visited the country that provided the backdrop for many of his finest works—Roe tracked the dramatist’s 10 Italian plays back to their geographical roots. The author, who died in 2010, invested 20 years in the project.

Guided by the text of the Italian plays, which include Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest and Othello, Roe pinned down settings scene by scene only to discover that—after four centuries—the Bard’s descriptions of Verona, Venice and Padua are uncannily accurate. His conclusion: The playwright almost certainly visited Italy, a verdict that contradicts the accepted view that Shakespeare never traveled outside of England. This controversial conclusion is bound to cause tremors in the academic world, but Roe’s book is more than an inspired piece of literary detection. Beautifully illustrated with paintings, photos and maps, the volume offers an engaging look at life in 16th-century Italy. Roe is a delightful travel guide, and his search for “the secret Italy that lies hidden in the plays of Shakespeare” is fascinating from start to finish.

NAVIGATING A CLASSIC
Answering a question that has crossed the mind of many a reader, Nathaniel Philbrick offers an earnest argument on behalf of a classic in Why Read Moby-Dick?. In his compact critique, Philbrick casts himself as Herman Melville’s champion and sets out to prove that the novel is more than a quaint antique.

Philbrick, whose National Book Award-winning In the Heart of the Sea examined the historical events that inspired Moby-Dick, highlights themes, characters and symbols from the novel that take on new significance as the decades go by. In addition to an in-depth look at the crazed captain Ahab, this brisk volume has chapters on Nantucket, nautical matters and the influence of Nathaniel Hawthorne on Melville’s work. Facet by facet, Philbrick reveals what this vibrant novel has to tell us about the contemporary world. In an era when brevity sells books, Melville’s epic style can easily intimidate, but wise readers will heed Philbrick’s advice regarding the tale of the whale: Dive right in.

A FINAL WORD FROM UPDIKE
John Updike’s Higher Gossip: Essays and Criticism shows a player at the top of his game. The book was in the works when Updike died in 2009, at the age of 76, and serves as a superb retrospective of his genius.

Drawing on a remarkably broad assortment of sources—from Golf Digest to National Geographic—the pieces in Higher Gossip are a testament to Updike’s astonishing range. He writes with equal expertise about art and sports, analyzing Max Ernst and Vincent van Gogh with the same authority that he brings to discussions of Tiger Woods and Fuzzy Zoeller. In addition to his essays, the volume includes poems, forewords, introductions, letters and book reviews. Best of all, it features Updike’s insights into his own work, with pieces on the novels Gertrude and Claudius, Licks of Love and The Poorhouse Fair. “Gossip of a higher sort” is how Updike once defined a well-written review. As demonstrated in this final collection, he was a pro when it came to sharing inside information, writing in a way that was accessible yet always stylish.

A POSTMODERN MASTERPIECE
It’s a rare breed, indeed: Maus, Art Spiegelman’s graphic classic from 1986, simply can’t be cornered. A hybrid of historical narrative and illustrated storytelling, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book is based on the experiences of Spiegelman’s father, a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust to settle in New York City. In an ingenious twist, Spiegelman animalized his characters, casting Nazis as cats and Jews as mice in the maze that was Europe during World War II.

To celebrate the book’s 25th anniversary, Spiegelman has produced MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus, a scrapbook of sorts that explains how the masterpiece came to be. A family-album chapter contains pictures of the main characters (in human form), while an interview with Spiegelman’s father Vladek provides dramatic background. And the author himself answers all the pressing questions—why he took the Holocaust as his topic and the comic book as his medium. Meta­Maus comes with a terrific bonus DVD that features interviews, historical materials and the complete Maus.

TRANSLATING AN EPIC
In the family tree of Western literature, it’s one of the roots: The Iliad, Homer’s epic poem, is the source of countless symbols, themes and narrative conventions that have stood the test of time. Award-winning author Stephen Mitchell interprets the story for modern readers in his elegant new edition of the epic. Based on scholar Martin L. West’s work in assembling a definitive version of the Greek text, Mitchell’s The Iliad powerfully communicates the spirit and the spectacle of the classic story through a subtle poetic style that reflects the essence of the original.

Mitchell, who produced much-praised translations of The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke and Gilgamesh, brings fresh life to the tale of Achilles, Agamemnon and the Greeks’ sack of Troy, the bloody siege that lasted a decade. Whether you’re reacquainting yourself with the work or coming to it for the first time, you’ll find Mitchell’s interpretation of The Iliad intensely rewarding. Reader, enjoy the spoils.

A MAGICAL TALE TURNS 100
It’s hard to believe that the story of Peter Pan has been lightening the hearts of readers for a century. Celebrating the birthday of J.M. Barrie’s magical tale in high style, The Annotated Peter Pan: The Centennial Edition contains the complete text of Peter and Wendy, along with informative notes and essays. Assembled by Maria Tatar, chair of Harvard’s folklore program, this volume is a must for those who believe in the power of pixie dust.

Barrie’s mischievous imp made his first appearance in print in The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island, written in 1901 for the Llewelyn Davies family, whose puckish children served as sources for Peter’s personality. Only two copies of the book were made. Barrie gave one to the Davies clan, while the other made its way to the Beinecke Library at Yale University, where Tatar discovered it. The Annotated Peter Pan makes it available to readers for the first time, along with other rare Barrie treasures, including his screenplay for a silent movie. Critical commentary regarding the various treatments of Peter on stage and screen provide fresh perspectives on his character, while classic, full-color illustrations bring the text to life.

GROUNDBREAKING NARRATIVES
The Library of America’s gorgeous new boxed set, Harlem Renaissance Novels, pays tribute to a group of writers who left an imprint on the face of a nation through their fearless radicalism, taste for innovation and infectious energy. During the 1920s and ’30s, the writers of the Harlem Renaissance produced some of the country’s most significant literature. In two beautifully designed volumes—Five Novels of the 1920s and Four Novels of the 1930s—the collection brings together narratives from a range of writers whose works merit fresh examination.

Five Novels of the 1920s includes Jean Toomer’s classic Cane, a unique blend of poetry and prose that explores the author’s years as a teacher in Georgia, and Claude McKay’s spirited Jazz Age story, Home to Harlem. Four Novels of the 1930s examines different storytelling modes, from Langston Hughes’ beautifully crafted bildungsroman, Not Without Laughter, to George S. Schuyler’s sci-fi spoof, Black No More. Compiled by African-American studies expert Rafia Zafar, the classics get the lavish treatment they deserve in this impressive collection.

 

Editor's Note: The review of Steven Mitchell's translation of The Iliad has been updated to reflect the following corrections: Martin L. West's edition of The Iliad, published in 2000, was a restored Greek edition of the text, not a translation. Stephen Mitchell's translation is not the first published in the U.S. in the last 20 years; it was preceded by Stanley Lombardo's 1997 edition of The Iliad, published by Hackett Publishing Co.

Books—especially great ones—beget other books. If you don’t believe it, check out the selections that follow. Providing new perspectives on past works, these critical studies, appreciations and fresh editions prove that classic pieces of literature are inexhaustible. Just right for the writer or devoted reader on your holiday gift list, the books below will make […]
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Literature lovers have cause to rejoice this holiday season, with riches aplenty in the way of new releases. Need a gift that will impress your favorite bibliophile? Here’s your cheat sheet for holiday shopping!

Since its debut in 1953, The Paris Review has served as a platform for outstanding fiction. A terrific new collection pairs gems from the journal’s archives with expert analysis. For Object Lessons, 20 of today’s top authors picked their favorite stories from the review and composed introductory essays about each work. The contributors—including Wells Tower, Ali Smith and Jonathan Lethem—offer critical praise and sterling insights into the craft of fiction writing. In his essay on James Salter’s “Bangkok,” Dave Eggers describes the story as “an eight-page master class in dialogue.” For Jeffrey Eugenides, the Denis Johnson classic “Car Crash While Hitchhiking” succeeds in part because of the author’s instinct for “knowing what to leave out” of the narrative. Object Lessons will appeal to both aspiring writers and lovers of the short story form.

KING OF THE ROAD, AND MORE

Author of On the Road, the 1957 novel that immortalized the edgy, uninhibited nature and questing sensibility of the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac never seems to lose his allure. Yet, as Joyce Johnson demonstrates in her thoughtful new biography, The Voice Is All, there’s more to the Kerouac myth than meets the eye. Beneath his reckless exterior was a committed artist who took his craft seriously. A former flame of Kerouac’s, Johnson had rare access to her subject, and she draws on personal recollections, important Beat writings and newly available archival materials to create a compelling portrait of the author’s early years, the factors that shaped him as a writer and his quest for an authentic authorial voice. “Jack’s voice was his center,” Johnson says. “Outside that center was chaos.” The Voice Is All is an invaluable biography that gives an icon of cool some well-deserved critical validation.

WHAT WRITERS ARE READING

For bibliophiles, this is bliss: My Ideal Bookshelf, an irresistible new anthology, features the favorite literary selections of more than 100 artists and writers. Providing a peek at the private libraries of David Sedaris, Junot Dí az, Rosanne Cash and other notables, the volume includes brief interviews with the participants, who discuss the significance of their picks. “I derive strength from these books,” Jennifer Egan says of her selections, which include Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy—both narratives that demonstrate “how flexible the novel form is.” Photographer William Wegman chose titles he loved as a kid—science texts, encyclopedias, a Hardy Boys mystery. “These books are nostalgic for me,” he explains. “That’s the spell.” Jane Mount’s stylish illustrations of the selected titles—spines colorfully rendered, typefaces faithfully reproduced—underscore the allure that books possess as objets d’art. My Ideal Bookshelf is a treat from cover to cover.

LETTERS FROM A LITERARY LIFE

While she was editing material for Selected Letters of William Styron, Rose Styron, widow of the acclaimed author, had a revelation about her husband: “I realized that half the endless hours I thought he was working on novels . . . he was actually writing letters.” Spanning almost six decades, the book is an intriguing chronicle of one writer’s interaction with his peers, including Henry Miller, Philip Roth, George Plimpton and Robert Penn Warren. Styron, who died in 2006, earned numerous honors for his fiction, including a Pulitzer Prize for The Confessions of Nat Turner and a National Book Award for Sophie’s Choice. The letters document his student days at Duke University, his steady artistic ascent and his path as a world traveler. They’re studded with classic anecdotes—the stuff from which literary legends are spun. Styron spots T.S. Eliot on a London subway, engages in a verbal brawl with Norman Mailer and locks horns with Harold Bloom, whom he refers to as “a foolish ass of a Yale professor.” Offering an in-depth look at the esteemed author, this collection proves that letter-writing is indeed an art.

A CRIMINAL COLLECTION

Mystery aficionados will be captivated by Books to Die For, a spine-tingling anthology edited by two masters of the genre, John Connolly and Declan Burke. In this one-of-a-kind collection, today’s crime pros offer insights into their favorite works of suspense. The collection kicks off with essays on books that were foundational to the genre (such as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes), then moves on to the the heyday of hardboiled crime fiction with contributions from David Peace, Michael Connelly and Laura Lippman on classics like Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister. Moving decade by decade, this expansive anthology offers plenty of surprises. Pieces on Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (contributed by Minette Walters and Tana French, respectively) underscore the breadth of the mystery genre and the ingenuity of its practitioners. With essays from 119 authors, Books to Die For will thrill any mystery enthusiast.

NEW LIFE FOR CLASSIC TALE

They’ve been in circulation for two centuries, yet the Grimms’ fairy tales feel more vital than ever. Now, in Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, Philip Pullman, himself a spinner of fabulous stories, retells 50 time-tested favorites. In his hands, the simple magnificence of stories like “Cinderella” and “Rapunzel” shines through. He successfully channels the unsettling mix of innocence and perversity, horror and delight for which the tales are famous. In addition to the standards, Pullman shares less prominent stories, including two spellbinding little selections whose startling titles speak for themselves: “Godfather Death” and “The Girl with No Hands.” Beguiling from beginning to end, Pullman’s skillful retellings will surely enchant the book lover on your gift list.

Literature lovers have cause to rejoice this holiday season, with riches aplenty in the way of new releases. Need a gift that will impress your favorite bibliophile? Here’s your cheat sheet for holiday shopping! Since its debut in 1953, The Paris Review has served as a platform for outstanding fiction. A terrific new collection pairs […]
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If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary for the bibliophiles on your list, here’s a collection of notable new releases that includes books about books, artwork made from books, a richly illustrated classic and more. Because books really do make the best gifts!

The singular mind of Umberto Eco takes readers on a tour of fabled places in literature and folklore in The Book of Legendary Lands. In this lavishly illustrated book, Eco explores “lands and places that, now or in the past, have created chimeras, utopias, and illusions because a lot of people really thought they existed or had existed somewhere.” From Atlantis to Camelot, 21B Baker Street to Dracula’s castle, he contemplates why these places are invented and why our imaginations have embraced them. The more than 300 color illustrations range from the canvases of Bosch, Rossetti and Magritte, to illustrations by Arthur Rackham and N.C. Wyeth, to movie stills and book jackets. At once intellectually stimulating and visually stunning, The Book of Legendary Lands is a distinctive gift for the serious reader.

BOOKS INTO ART

Some book lovers may shudder at the prospect of their precious books being “altered, sculpted, carved, and transformed” into something other than, well, books, but there can be no denying that the creations made by artists and displayed in Laura Heyenga’s Art Made from Books are dazzling to behold. Twenty-seven artists who use books as their primary material have fashioned everything from jewelry to chess sets out of all different kinds of books. Some, like Cara Barer, transform the books themselves into sculptural objects, while others, such as Jennifer Collier, make mock household items like shoes and knives. Alex Queral carves celebrity faces into phone books. Better seen than described, Art Made from Books is whimsical and inspirational, and begs the question—could any of these gorgeous artworks be made with e-readers?

ILLUMINATING THE DARKNESS

From its very title, Joseph Conrad’s masterwork, Heart of Darkness, conjures the murky jungle of the Congo and Marlow’s dark passage deep into the human psyche. But, in the arresting artwork by Matt Kish in this new illustrated edition of the classic (a follow-up to his art-enhanced edition of Moby-Dick), there is as much light as darkness. When he was contemplating how to convey the story pictorially, Kish realized that “Conrad’s Africa, the scene of so much death, so much killing, so much horror, would not be a dark place in the literal sense.” The 100 drawings are awash with bright acid greens, diseased yellows and blood reds. The haunting images have a Day of the Dead quality, with skeletal figures and skull-like faces. The effect is at once unsettling and compelling, inviting readers to consider a fresh interpretation of this ageless, seminal work.

TALE OF A BELOVED GARDEN

Beatrix Potter’s first and most famous book originally bore the longer title of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor’s Garden, and as Marta McDowell makes abundantly clear in her lovely book, Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life, the lure of the garden was an essential aspect of the writer’s life. Potter bought her beloved Hill Top Farm, in England’s Lake District, when she was nearly 40, and in time transformed it into her own version of paradise. This volume is a cornucopia of delights for anyone who shares Potter’s love of gardening, as well as those who simply love her enduring work. McDowell provides a congenial biography of Potter as observed through the prism of her gardens, and follows her through a year in the garden. There is valuable information for travelers planning to visit not only Hill Top, but also other English gardens that shaped Potter’s horticultural passions, and an appendix that details all of the plants Potter grew and those she featured in her books. Copiously illustrated with photographs and Potter’s own drawings, this charming work is a must for the book-loving gardener or garden-loving bibliophile.

COLLECTING THE COLLECTIVE

A Circus of Puffins? A Shiver of Sharks? What lover of words doesn’t relish the cleverness of collective nouns? A band of four friends who form Woop Studios (two of whom were graphic designers on the Harry Potter movies) offer the dazzling, richly colorful A Compendium of Collective Nouns. From an Armory of Aardvarks to a Zeal of Zebras—and everything in between—they have compiled some 2,000 examples. Full-page, full-color illustrations with a cheery retro feel are supplemented with dozens of smaller pictures scattered throughout the text. A Charm of Words to delight logophiles, for sure.

WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED

As a reader, you probably already know that books can be good for what ails you. Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin have taken this notion to the logical next step with The Novel Cure. Modeled on a home medical handbook, this witty compendium prescribes just the right book—751 different remedies in all—to combat both physical and psychological disorders. Lost your job? Read Bartleby, the Scrivener or Lucky Jim. Nauseated? Try Brideshead Revisited (if not for Sebastian’s nausea, the authors point out, Charles Ryder would never have gone to Brideshead). The Debt to Pleasure will help the gluttonous, and Crime and Punishment will help assuage guilt. For ailments without a simple cure—the common cold, fear of flying, snoring—the authors supply lists of the 10 best books to get you through.

If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary for the bibliophiles on your list, here’s a collection of notable new releases that includes books about books, artwork made from books, a richly illustrated classic and more. Because books really do make the best gifts! The singular mind of Umberto Eco takes readers on a […]
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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.

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 […]
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STEINBECK'S CAMELOT
Unexpected gems whether rediscovered works or reissued classics are welcome surprises, and John Steinbeck's The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights is just such a treasure. Christopher Paolini, wunderkind author of the bestsellers Eragon and Eldest, has written a foreword for this little-known Steinbeck work, and included in this edition are letters from the author to both his literary agent and the book's original editor.

Steinbeck, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, began writing The Acts of King Arthur in 1958, but as Paolini writes, he stopped working… sometime in late 1959, just as he seemed to hit his stride. Nine years later, he died. It would be his last work. The book's genesis began in Steinbeck's childhood, that time of life when influence is key for many artists. Parents with less than eager readers should take heart: In his introduction, Steinbeck writes that as a child, "words written or printed were devils, and books because they gave me pain, were my enemies." When an aunt gave him a copy of Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur, "fatuously ignor[ing] my resentment toward reading," antagonism changed to fascination. He was drawn in, hooked by the language and the storytelling. Translating the legend's magic to future generations of children became his intent, but for numerous reasons, completing the task proved a challenge. What he did accomplish, however, is enchanting all the same. Its handsome dust jacket, its shadowy and vintage-esque illustrations, Steinbeck's prose: King Arthur and his noble knights are as dramatic and marvelous as ever here.

THE TOLSTOY HOUSEHOLD
Song Without Words: The Photographs and Diaries of Countess Sophia Tolstoy by Leah Bendavid-Val is one of the more beautiful books published in time for the holidays. In September of 1862, Sophia Behrs married Count Leo Tolstoy in Moscow. The ceremony was opulent, Bendavid-Val writes, the countess shy and a little afraid. During the course of her 48-year marriage, the Countess Tolstoy bore 13 children (seeing only eight live to adulthood), ran a lively household, managed the day-to-day business affairs on their estate, Yasnaya Polyana, 60 miles outside Moscow, meticulously hand-copied her husband's prodigious literary output and still found time to write daily entries in her diary and take more than a thousand photographs, most of these during the 25-year span from 1885-1910.

Divided into chapters with simple categorization The Family, Servants and Peasants, Artists, Illness and Marriage the book is a fascinating glimpse into not only Russia during the 19th century, but also life as an aristocrat during that time. The photographs are stunningly elegant: landscapes of the verdant pond and bathhouse at Yasnaya Polyana, informal self-portraits of the countess with her family or alone by a window, tending to her plants in the soft light of a winter day. Her marriage was a demanding and passionate one, but she viewed her husband as a genius and took countless photographs of the iconic writer.

Her style is forthright and unsentimental, never heavy-handed. She worked with an accomplished eye, one imbued with a tender love for its subjects. In addition to the publication of this book, a traveling exhibition of her work is planned for 2008. The countess was a woman devoted to her family and her role within it, but she was also a highly creative and fierce individual. As her great-grandson writes in the foreword, "you were a worthy Lioness."

SHORT AND SWEET
Packaging, presentation and of course, highly crafted fiction, are the obvious draws inherent in McSweeney's intriguing One Hundred and Forty-Five Stories in a Small Box. That which comes in miniature often goes hand-in-hand with cute, but this boxed set of short fiction leans less toward precious and more toward captivating. Comprised of three small books, it comes in a slipcase with cover art designed by Jacob Magraw-Mickelson. His black-and-white illustrations are highlighted with the occasional fleck of shimmery gold, and as they wrap and curve around the corners of the case in endless detail, they tell a story all their own. The books inside, though, are as clever as their covers are beautiful. Each is a collection of short fiction by a different author Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape by Sarah Manguso, Minor Robberies by Deb Olin Unferth and How the Water Feels to the Fishes by McSweeney's founder Dave Eggers and no one story runs longer than 500 words. Also referred to as snap fiction or flash fiction, short-shorts are poetry magnified. There's no room for error. A reader's attention can't stray. The writer must capture immediacy and intimacy in a matter of words. The art of the short story is made purer if not more finely wrought when distilled down to the essence of its form. The folks at McSweeney's get this, hence, One Hundred and Forty-Five Stories in a Small Box. Stories to slide in your back pocket, slip in your purse, carry with you throughout the day. Perfect as a gift for those who love quirky, new-style fiction, this collection will also appeal to readers with short attention spans.

THE POWER OF POETRY
Poetry Speaks Expanded is the newest edition of the 2001 bestseller Poetry Speaks. Like its predecessor, it takes a traditional form (poetry) and adds a 21st-century twist (audio). Poetry is meant to be heard and not just read. Poetry Speaks Expanded takes 47 poets and, across the span of three audio CDs, features them reading selections from their work. There are 107 poems total, each presented in written form alongside a short, biographical sketch of the author. Critical essays by well-known writers add to the anthology's comprehensive scope. In more ways than one, it's a hefty collection.

Nineteenth-century poets like Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Walt Whitman are represented, as are 20th-century greats like Elizabeth Bishop, T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes and Wallace Stevens. Anne Sexton's here, as is Ezra Pound and e.e. cummings. New additions to the anthology include Jack Kerouac and, in the biggest coup of all, James Joyce. Previous difficulties with securing the rights to his work prevented his inclusion in 2001, but now readers can listen in awe as he reads from Anna Livia Plurabelle in Finnegans Wake. Poetry is the oldest of art forms. It's fitting, then, that here its voice rings louder and ever more true.

STEINBECK'S CAMELOT Unexpected gems whether rediscovered works or reissued classics are welcome surprises, and John Steinbeck's The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights is just such a treasure. Christopher Paolini, wunderkind author of the bestsellers Eragon and Eldest, has written a foreword for this little-known Steinbeck work, and included in this edition are […]
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★ The Dutch House
Tom Hanks summons up a kind of nostalgic Americana in his reading of Ann Patchett’s new novel, The Dutch House, a modern wicked-stepmother fable that follows narrator Danny and his older sister, Maeve, throughout their lives. After Danny and Maeve’s mother abandons them, their father remarries a woman who has no interest in them. When he dies and leaves almost everything to their stepmother, including their grand house, the injustice of it guides the rest of their lives. Patchett effortlessly navigates through time, capturing the essence of her characters’ stories in a subtle portrait. Hanks truly transforms into Danny; after hearing his narration, I can’t imagine the book without it.

The Water Dancer
In The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ magical debut novel, readers meet Hiram, an enslaved man with special abilities. Through Hiram’s struggles and those of the people he encounters, Coates makes the emotional costs of slavery tangible, from the families who are separated to the free mother whose children are taken from her and sold. Coates gives his characters an original way of speaking that captures the ethos of the time without being confusing to the modern ear. He refers to the enslaved as the “Tasked” and the enslavers as the “Quality,” an intentional choice that encourages the listener to question the word slave and its denial of humanity. Hearing the words spoken in actor Joe Morton’s rich voice ties the book to the oral tradition and entrenches the story in legend. Coates brings his experience in journalism and nonfiction to ground the book in research, using history to create something new and wholly original.

Mythos
With endless British wit, Stephen Fry puts his own spin on classical Greek mythology in Mythos. The storylines stick pretty closely to the classics, while the added playfulness is all Fry. He fleshes out the gods, heroes and mortals, giving them more personality and filling in their interpersonal relationships. Their nutty antics play out in an absurd fashion. It’s what would happen if you handed Monty Python the keys to Mount Olympus. Fry has a strong love for the English language, which his narration reinforces as beautifully strung words slip over his tongue, and his dry delivery bolsters the comedy. It’s a good listen for families with teens, but a bit risqué for young children.

★ The Dutch House Tom Hanks summons up a kind of nostalgic Americana in his reading of Ann Patchett’s new novel, The Dutch House, a modern wicked-stepmother fable that follows narrator Danny and his older sister, Maeve, throughout their lives. After Danny and Maeve’s mother abandons them, their father remarries a woman who has no interest […]

In the event of a zombie apocalypse, it would be wise to have a plan in place. Perhaps most importantly, who would be on your team? We’ve picked our preferred partners—magical powers are allowed, but no dragons, bears or mythical beasts!


Edmond Dantès from The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

I have long resigned myself to my own lack of apocalypse survival skills. I can’t run without getting winded. I don’t have combat skills. I can’t farm or dress wounds or build shelter or tools. In truth, I would be among the first to go—unless I aligned myself with someone wealthy and powerful. Edmond Dantès is the perfect choice: rich, scrappy and weirdly fixated on avenging himself against those who have wronged him. We could quite comfortably wait out the apocalypse from inside his château. And if that fails, the man owns his own island. Everybody knows zombies can’t swim, so a quick yacht ride to the Island of Monte Cristo would solve our little army-of-the-undead problem.

—Christy, Associate Editor


Sabriel from Sabriel by Garth Nix

Like many of my colleagues, my talents are perhaps better suited to rebuilding the world after the zombie apocalypse than surviving it in the first place. That’s why I need someone like Sabriel on my team, and not only because she possesses a bandoleer of seven magical bells with the power to send the dead back through the nine gates of death to their final rest, although I acknowledge that will come in handy. But Sabriel is also resourceful, adept at other forms of magic, brave and kind. As we make our way to a population-sparse area like—ha, as if I’d tell you my plans—I know she’ll leave me behind only if she absolutely has to, and if I get bitten, she’ll make my death swift and ensure I stay dead.

—Stephanie, Associate Editor


Frank Mackey from Faithful Place by Tana French

My biggest fear wouldn’t be zombies, as they are usually stupid. I’m more afraid of humans in a crisis, as they are, historically, the worst. And that’s why I want Irish undercover cop Frank Mackey on my team. First introduced in Tana French’s The Likeness, Frank becomes the central character in Faithful Place, which puts his ability to pursue multiple, sometimes conflicting objectives—while manipulating almost everyone around him—to the hardest test, as he has to do it to his own dysfunctional family. If he can do that and emerge (somewhat) in one piece, he’d easily survive the human chaos of an apocalypse. Frank is also funny as hell, so we’d have some laughs while trying not to die.

—Savanna, Associate Editor


Vasya from The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

To give myself a real shot at living through this, I need a partner with knowledge of mythical and otherworldly situations, as well as the powers to match—and I need her to live in the middle of nowhere. In Katherine Arden’s debut novel, headstrong young Vasya is an heir to old magic and has the abilities to protect her family from dangers that are plucked straight out of folklore. She’s got a great attitude—which I’ll appreciate when I get upset about the situation—and she excels at riding horses and saving people, so we’ll get along great. We’ll treat the apocalypse like it’s a long winter night, hidden away so deeply in the wilderness of northern Russia that we might not even notice when the end of the world is over.

—Cat, Deputy Editor


Captain Woodrow F. Call from Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Genre-bending is prominent in today’s cultural landscape. From rock with hip-hop beats to Mexican-Korean fusion, the lines have dissolved. All of these hybrids make me think that a cowboy would feel right at home in the zombie apocalypse, and Captain Woodrow F. Call—brave, strong, levelheaded and loyal to the bone—is the paragon of cowboy-ness. Take, for example, when Call saves Newt, the youngest member of the Hat Creek Outfit, from a soldier harassing him. Call beats the man to a pulp until Gus McCrae has to lasso him off. The only explanation Call offers for this violent outburst: “I hate rude behavior in a man. I won’t tolerate it.” Just imagine what the man would do to a zombie!

—Eric, Editorial Intern

In the event of a zombie apocalypse, it would be wise to have a plan in place. Perhaps most importantly, who would be on your team?
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Horror may be the most unifying genre. Whereas some people don’t care for the sweetness of romance or the harebrained schemes of sci-fi, everyone gets scared, whether they like it or not. Not to mention the universality of horror’s tropes and traditions. The genre is communal, often literally, such as in the case of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Due to a copyright misstep in 1968, the movie became part of the public domain—a mistake that forever altered the horror genre. It meant that anyone can use zombies in their work, and if you’ve consumed any media ever, you’ll know that everyone has.

When you get goosebumps or have to avert your eyes, the horror storyteller has done their job. In these two collections, we see how dynamic the genre really is.

In Weird Women: Classic Supernatural Fiction by Groundbreaking Female Writers: 1852–1923, editors Lisa Morton and Leslie S. Klinger collect significant pieces of horror and horror-adjacent (but nonetheless frightening) stories by women. “During the second half of the nineteenth century,” they write in the book’s introduction, “when printing technologies enabled the mass production of cheap newspapers and magazines that needed a steady supply of material, many of the writers supplying that work were women.” Given the historical context of the industrial revolution, the effects of which caused significant fear, it makes sense that this era would produce a deluge of literary fright and strangeness. People needed their discomfort to be validated (and syndicated).

Women throughout history have been the chroniclers and agents of change, and in these stories, presented chronologically, their fears about the world are limned with staggering detail. With stories from Louisa May Alcott, Emma Frances Dawson and Edith Nesbit (under her E Bland pseudonym), this collection shows a societal response to a changing world. It is crucial to recognize the status of these women at the times of these stories’ publication, as most of the authors wrote using fake names or just their initials. Weird Women gives the reader a real glimpse of horror, written by authors who experienced it in their own lives.

Horror has been around for a long time, but innovation in the genre is as alive as ever. In Tiny Nightmares: Very Short Stories of Horror, Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto prepare a healthy serving of fear to inject straight into your head, heart, limbs and viscera. The collection is organized in exactly that way, with each section meant to evoke a response in that particular area—an experiment that works with chilling effects. Each story here is under 1,500 words, and with contributions from the likes of Samantha Hunt, Iván Parra Garcia, Stephen Graham Jones and Kevin Brockmeier, the collection is a fusillade of fear.

The best horror explores issues that plague the real world, and with a wide stylistic range of vignettes, Tiny Nightmares is something like a sophisticated "Scooby-Doo," evincing the human aspect of the horror in our daily lives. The real fear that comes from reading this collection is an emphatic reminder that our society’s horrors are becoming increasingly scarier, such as in Jac Jemc’s story Lone, which finds an isolated camper having to face her greatest fear: men.

The brevity of these stories highlights the horror in our everyday lives, and the conclusions drawn by each author are varied, yet all terrifying. By taking a look at the state of horror today, we see the ways that nightmares are pulled from reality.

When you get goosebumps or have to avert your eyes, the horror storyteller has done their job. In these collections, we see how dynamic the genre really is.

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