These books for bib­lio­philes speak vol­umes

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Michael Dirda

Look­ing for hol­i­day gifts? Tech gad­gets are so ho-ho-hum, but no mat­ter what star­tled vis­i­tors to my house say, you can never have too many books. Here, then, are a sack­ful of ti­tles sure to make the sea­son bright.

“Jeeves and Wooster,” “Golf ” and “Bland­ings”

(Over­look): Three P.G. Wode­house boxed sets. Start to read any­thing by P.G. Wode­house and you’ll be smil­ing be­fore you reach the bot­tom of the page. This year Over­look, the mas­ter’s Amer­i­can pub­lisher, has brought out a trio of in­tro­duc­tory gift sets, and you can’t go wrong with any of them. Still, I should point out that “The Code of the Woost­ers”— in the “Jeeves and Wooster” box — is gen­er­ally viewed as Wode­house’s finest sin­gle novel. It’s the one about the theft of an 18th-cen­tury cow creamer and the machi­na­tions of the wouldbe dic­ta­tor Rod­er­ick Spode, leader of the Black Shorts.

“J.D. Salinger: The Last In­ter­view and Other Con­ver­sa­tions,” edited by David Stre­it­feld (Melville House); “Con­ver­sa­tions With Robert Stone,”

edited by Wil­liam Heath (Mis­sis­sippi): Who isn’t fas­ci­nated by the enig­matic and reclu­sive au­thor of “The Catcher in the Rye”? Fol­low­ing Stre­it­feld’s lively in­tro­duc­tion, “J.D. Salinger: The Last In­ter­view” re­prints 150 pages of com­pul­sively read­able Salin­ge­ri­ana. It’s a per­fect stock­ing stuffer, as are other re­cent ti­tles — about Lou Reed and Oliver Sacks — in Melville House’s ad­mirable last in­ter­view se­ries. For even more lit­er­ary talk, turn to the “Con­ver­sa­tions” vol­umes pub­lished by the Univer­sity of Mis­sis­sippi Press. In the lat­est, Wil­liam Heath, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at Mount St. Mary’s Univer­sity, col­lects a dozen in­ter­views in which Robert Stone dis­cusses his early years, the 1960s and his dark moral fic­tions of Amer­i­can life, in­clud­ing “A Hall of Mir­rors” and “Dog Sol­diers.”

“In Sun­light or in Shadow: Sto­ries In­spired by the Paint­ings of Ed­ward Hop­per,” edited by Lawrence Block

(Pe­ga­sus): If a pic­ture is worth a thou­sand words, any of Ed­ward Hop­per’s paint­ings of Amer­i­can lone­li­ness is worth an en­tire short story. Here 17 con­tem­po­rary authors imag­ine the De­pres­sion-era back­grounds to var­i­ous Hop­per mas­ter­pieces. Con­sider the matchups: Michael Con­nelly with that apoth­e­o­sis of the ur­ban diner, “Nighthawks,” Lee Child with the bleak “Ho­tel Lobby,” Joyce Carol Oates and the naked woman at the win­dow of “Eleven A.M.,” Stephen King and the alien­ated cou­ple of “Room in New York,” and Me­gan Ab­bott with “The Gir­lie Show.” Ekphra­sis — see­ing a story in a pic­ture — was sel­dom so much fun.

“The Face of the Bud­dha,” by Wil­liam Emp­son; edited by Ru­pert Ar­row­smith (Ox­ford); “Yours Re­spect­fully, Wil­liam Ber­wick,” by Chris­tine A. Smith (Legacy Press); “The Pre­lude,” by Wil­liam Wordsworth, edited by James En­gell and Michael D. Ray­mond

(Go­dine): Don’t ne­glect the gift po­ten­tial of schol­arly works. Emp­son’s re­cently re­dis­cov­ered es­say about sculp­tural de­pic­tions of the Bud­dha is the work of a pas­sion­ate ama­teur who just hap­pens to be the most daz­zling lit­er­ary critic of the 20th cen­tury. Smith’s mas­sive work con­tains a bi­og­ra­phy of the pi­o­neer­ing man­u­script re­storer Wil­liam Ber­wick and a de­tailed his­tory of “pa­per con­ser­va­tion in the United States and West­ern Europe, 1800 to 1935.” Go­dine’s sump­tu­ous edi­tion of Wordsworth’s au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal mas­ter­piece, writ­ten in the best blank verse since Mil­ton, is fur­ther en­hanced with ex­plana­tory an­no­ta­tions and 130 pe­riod-ap­pro­pri­ate paint­ings and draw­ings.

“I, Robot,” by Isaac Asi­mov; “From Rus­sia with Love,” by Ian Flem­ing; “In Patag­o­nia,” by Bruce Chatwin,“Love and War in the Apen­nines,” by Eric Newby, and “The Fo­lio Sci­ence Fic­tion An­thol­ogy,” edited by Brian Ald­iss

(The Fo­lio So­ci­ety): These ti­tles — sure to please any book lover — are just some of the 2016 of­fer­ings from the Fo­lio So­ci­ety, known for its beau­ti­fully de­signed and il­lus­trated clas­sics. Bruce Chatwin’s “In Patag­o­nia,” for in­stance, is prob­a­bly the most in­flu­en­tial travel book of the past half-cen­tury.

“Shake­speare and Com­pany, Paris: A His­tory of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart,” edited by Krista Halver­son

(Shake­speare and Com­pany): Es­tab­lished in Paris in 1951, Ge­orge Whit­man’s Shake­speare and Com­pany — like the orig­i­nal book­shop of this name op­er­ated by Sylvia Beach — wasn’t just a place where you could buy English-lan­guage books. It was a haven, a refuge. Ex­change stu­dents, fa­mous writ­ers, lost souls — all could be found brows­ing the shelves, sip­ping tea or crash­ing for the night on the mat­tresses up­stairs. I nearly stayed on one my­self back in 1971. Chock­ablock with photographs and brief mem­oirs, this nos­tal­gia-laden scrap­book pulses with the sweet­ness of be­ing young in Paris.

“The Valan­court Book of Vic­to­rian Christ­mas Ghost Sto­ries,” edited by Tara Moore “Af­ter­ward,” by Edith Whar­ton

(Valan­court); and four other ti­tles in the mini-paper­back se­ries “A Ghost Story for Christ­mas” (Bi­b­lioa­sis); Robert Westall’s “An­tique Dust,” read by R.C. Bray (Valan­court au­dio books); “The Averoigne Chron­i­cles,”

by Clark Ash­ton Smith (Cen­tipede); “Dark­ness, My Old Friend,” by John Pe­lan (Fe­do­gan and Bre­mer) and “The Girl With the Pea­cock Harp,” by Michael Eisele

(Tar­tarus): Now is the time for “win­ter’s tales,” and here are ghostly clas­sics from Valan­court and Bi­b­lioa­sis; Robert Westall’s tales of eerie clocks and di­a­bol­i­cal dolls read so per­fectly by R.C. Bray that you’ll shiver with plea­sure; a leg­endary au­thor’s gor­geously writ­ten me­dieval fan­tasies in a lav­ish edi­tion; and two ex­cel­lent col­lec­tions of con­tem­po­rary weirds. Pe­lan — “the prince of pulp” — can be grim, hu­mor­ous or dis­tinctly metafic­tional. Eisele’s col­lec­tion shows that he has learned from the best, as in “An Old Tale,” which opens like a story by Steven Mill­hauser: “Long ago, in far­away Rus­sia, there was a great academy of bal­let. Every year, many pupils ap­plied … ” The end­ing is won­der­ful, if a bit sen­ti­men­tal, but so is “A Christ­mas Carol.”

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