Great Reads to Give and Receive
MARK TWAIN: HISTORICAL ROMANCES: THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER, A CONNECTICUT YANKEE, JOAN OF ARC. The Library of America,
1031 pp., $35 HISTORIES (VOL. I AND II). By William Shakespeare Everyman's Library/; Alfred A. Knopf, 1256 pp. total, $20 each THE OXFORD BOOK OF MODERN WOMEN'S STORIES. Edited by Patricia Craig; Oxford University Press, 522 pp., $25 DAWN POWELL AT HER BEST. Edited by Tim Page; Steerforth Press, 448 pp., $28 THE COLLECTED POEMS OF LANGSTON HUGHES. Edited by Arnold Rampersad; Alfred A. Knopf, 708 pp., $30 THE WEST: A TREASURY OF ART AND LITERATURE. Edited by T. H. Watkins and Joan Watkins; Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, 384 pp., $75 THE MYSTERIOUS WEST. Edited by Tony Hillerman; HarperCollins, 392 pp., $23 LONDON. By John Russell; Harry N. Abrams, 256 pp., $45 DUBLIN: A GRAND TOUR. By Jacqueline O'Brien with Desmond Guinness; Harry N. Abrams, 256 pp., $65 THE MOST BEAUTIFUL VILLAGES OF PROVENCE. By Michael Jacobs. Photographs by Hugh Palmer; Thames and Hudson, 224 pp., $40 MITTEL EUROPA: REDISCOVERING THE STYLE AND DESIGN OF CENTRAL EUROPE. By Suzanne Slesin, Stafford Cliff, and Daniel Rozensztroch. Photographs by Gilles de Chabaneix; Potter/Crown, 251 pp.,$50 HOW TO TRAVEL WITH A SALMON & OTHER ESSAYS. By Umberto Eco; Harcourt Brace, 248 pp., $18.95 THE DORLING KINDERSLEY WORLD REFERENCE ATLAS. Dorling Kindersley, 732 pp., $50 THE TIMES ATLAS OF EUROPEAN HISTORY. HarperCollins, 206 pp., $40 THE ART OF DINING: A HISTORY OF COOKING AND EATING. By Sara Paston-Williams The National Trust/; Harry N. Abrams, 348 pp., $49.50 THE FABER BOOK OF FOOD. Edited by Claire Clifton and Colin Spencer; Faber and Faber, 548 pp., $24.95 THE NORTON/GROVE CONCISE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MUSIC. Edited by Stanley Sadie; W. W. Norton, 909 pp., $42.50 CLASSICAL MUSIC: AN INTRODUCTION TO CLASSICAL MUSIC THROUGH THE GREAT COMPOSERS AND THEIR MASTERWORKS. By John Stanley; Reader's Digest, 272 pp.,$35 COUNTRY: THE MUSIC AND THE MUSICIANS. By the Country Music Foundation; Abbeville, 432 pp., $45
Each holiday season brings with it the enjoyable, if sometimes difficult, task of deciding what gifts to give the various people in our lives. In addition to their quite obvious merits of informing, stimulating, and sustaining those who read them, books require no batteries, are seldom the wrong size, need no repairs, and generally last a very long time.
Literature and poetry
Expressly designed to withstand frequent use and time's other ravages, the handsome editions of the Library of America series feature past and present American classics, like the just-published Mark Twain: Historical Romances: The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. Each volume manages to contain a great amount of material in a compact, easy-to-read format, expertly edited and discreetly annotated by reputable scholars.
For an international choice of classics, the Everyman's Library series offers nicely produced, reasonably priced editions of great writers from Dante to emile Zola. Among the recent titles are Histories (Volumes I and II), by Shakespeare, and Thomas Mann's ``Buddenbrooks.''
Many anthologies of women's writings have appeared in recent years. The Oxford Book of Modern Women's Stories, edited by Patricia Craig, is a standout that will appeal not only to women of literary ``roots,'' but to all readers who love fine fiction from such accomplished storytellers as Willa Cather, Elizabeth Bowen, Muriel Spark, and Christina Stead. The variety of styles and viewpoints represented here is matched by a high level of achievement.
A woman writer who keeps turning up on lists of the underrated is Dawn Powell (1897-1965). A compassionate, sharp-eyed observer of social mores with a warm sense of humor, the Ohio-born Powell understood the lives of small-town Americans and the desires that brought so many of them to seek out the challenge of life in the big city (as she herself had done). For years, her work would scarcely be found except in odd corners of secondhand bookshops. Now, Dawn Powell at Her Best, edited by Tim Page, assembles in a single convenient volume nine of her stories, plus two of her most admired novels, ``Dance Night'' and ``Turn, Magic Wheel.''
Langston Hughes hardly qualifies as a forgotten literary figure, so it's something of a surprise to note that The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes is actually the first complete edition of his poetry: outspoken, down-to-earth, delighting in the cadences and diction of African-American song and speech. Hughes's vision of America is in many ways as timely today as in the decades in which these poems were written.
Portraits of the West
The beauty and diversity of the American West are brilliantly reflected in the pages of The West: A Treasury of Art and Literature, edited by T.H. Watkins and Joan Watkins. This exciting collection of writings, paintings, and photographs reflects the experience of Indians, explorers, cowboys, farmers, naturalists, and wilderness lovers of all persuasions. Featured writers include Francis Parkman, A.B. Guthrie Jr., Willa Cather, Ivan Doig, and Wallace Stegner, and the pictures represent a richly varied range of artistic styles and visions from Frederic Remington to Georgia O'Keeffe.
A very different approach to the West can be found in The Mysterious West, edited by Tony Hillerman. Twenty stories by contemporary suspense writers evoke a gritty world of casinos, highways, trailer parks, small towns, and glitzy cities where crime seldom takes a holiday.
It's a long way from the raw splendors of the West to the venerable Old World metropolis, but art critic John Russell's knowledgeable yet engagingly personal look at London is well worth the trip. Russell, who has lived in London much of his life, knows its streets, its parks, its grand houses, its bed-sitters, and its history, which he conveys with great flair. His lively text is complemented by well-chosen illustrations of the city and its people as seen through the centuries by the likes of Gainsborough, Hogarth, Turner, and Lucian Freud. London's poets also figure predominantly, and the city's archetypal citizen, Dr. Samuel Johnson, is accorded a chapter all his own.
Dublin: A Grand Tour, by Jacqueline O'Brien with Desmond Guinness, is a lavishly illustrated architectural history that proceeds building by building from the city's earliest landmarks to Victorian times. Full-color photographs display the details of craftsmanship and evoke the predominantly Georgian beauty of the city.
Primarily a picture book also, The Most Beautiful Villages of Provence, by Micheal Jacobs and Hugh Palmer, seems expressly designed for tourists: Its concluding section provides maps, a calendar of market and festival days, and names of hotels and restaurants. But the evocative photographs and succinct descriptions of some 30-odd villages also add up to a rather attractive album for those who've already visited this much-loved region of France, and for those who would like a picture of what makes this landscape - and way of life - so attractive.
Mittel Europa: Rediscovering the Style and Design of Central Europe offers a charming and colorful portfolio of the villages, cities, and countryside of the land along the Danube: from Vienna to Prague to Budapest and Trieste. De-emphasizing the ever-changing political boundaries, the multiple authors focus on common cultural features of the region. Photographs do the bulk of the storytelling: The text is there merely to explain the pictures. But the pictures say volumes about the lives lived amid peasant craftsmanship; solid Biedermeier comfort, elegant Baroque ornamentation and modern Bauhaus functionalism.
In his latest collection of lighthearted reflections on the petty and not-so-pretty trials of modern life, How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays, the renowned scholar and novelist Umberto Eco provides humorous advice on travel and related subjects: ``How to Go Through Customs,'' ``How to Eat in Flight,'' and, most challenging of all for those traveling in Europe, ``How Not to Talk about Soccer.'' These essays are diverting - and brief enough to be read on the run.
Mapping the world
Better enjoyed at home, the weighty Dorling Kindersley World Reference Atlas provides full and up-to-date information at a glance on all the world's nations. Although there is a small map of each country, the emphasis is on the accompanying charts, graphs, and thumbnail analyses of each nation, from statistics on crime, health, and education to discussions of economy and environment.
An equally valuable reference with a different approach is The Times Atlas of European History. Large color maps, accompanied by intelligent texts, illustrate the political history and changing boundaries of the European subcontinent, starting with the ancient world and proceeding up to current times. Not merely a sourcebook, this atlas can also be perused for pleasure and instruction.
History from the perspective of food is served up handsomely in Sara Paston-Williams's gorgeously illustrated The Art of Dining. Subtitled ``A History of Cooking and Eating,'' this well-researched, richly detailed survey begins in medieval times and ends with the Edwardian era, focusing on the tables, kitchens, and pantries of Britain. The changing ways in which food has been cultivated, hunted, stored, prepared, and eaten over the centuries proves a fascinating story, as told here, making history come vividly to life.
A more literary but no less entertaining perspective on comestibles can be found in The Faber Book of Food. The scope of this anthology, edited by Colin Spencer and Claire Clifton, is truly eclectic and global, with excerpts from novels, diaries, histories, etiquette books, and even some food-related poetry. Included are Goethe on lemons, Zola on strawberries, D.H. Lawrence's portrait of high tea in Australia, Diaz and Marco Polo describing markets in the New World and China (respectively), and Plato's disdain for the art of cooking and Proust's warm tribute to it.
Possibly the most comprehensive single-volume reference guide in its field, The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music, edited by Stanley Sadie, is newly available this year in a revised and enlarged edition updating the previous edition of 1988. Composers, their works, musical instruments, and terminology are briskly yet cogently identified, characterized, and, when need be, explained. Although the focus is on classical music, there are some entries on jazz and popular music as well.
John Stanley's Classical Music: An Introduction to Classical Music Through the Great Composers and Their Masterworks is an attractively illustrated, highly readable survey of musical history, featuring lively biographies of some 150 major composers from Hildegard of Bingen to Leonard Bernstein, plus recommendations of recordings. Some of its attempts to integrate the music history with political/social history are a little awkward, but do not detract from its value.
And for those who love country-and-western music, the Country Music Foundation has issued a new edition of a book published in 1988. Country: The Music and the Musicians offers a reasonably comprehensive examination of the development of this distinctive style of popular music. Seventeen chapters, each by a different essayist, tackle everything from honky-tonk and bluegrass to hillbilly and singing cowboys. Although there is not much of an attempt to explain country music to the uninitiated, this is an intelligently written, colorfully illustrated, and entertaining book.