Book Reviews | December 2020 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Holiday Gift Books for Bibliophiles: A Short List

Courtesy of Chronicle Books

A beautiful new edition of Pride and Prejudice.

It’s that time of year, and sure, buying a book for a bibliophile is generally a good idea, but it can be tricky to pick just the right thing. So we’ve pulled together a short list of “gifty” books that we’ve reviewed this year or that have been highly recommended.

First, the tactile new edition of Pride and Prejudice (Chronicle Books, $40), published earlier this fall. Aside from its beautiful cover (with its allusion to the 1894 Hugh Thomson peacock edition) and elegant blue endpapers, this volume contains interior surprises: pockets bound in containing nineteen gorgeous replica letters from the text. Recreated to appear authentic to Jane Austen’s time, each intricately aged, folded, and tucked away note offers the reader an opportunity to put herself in the characters’ shoes. The execution of this idea is so artful and well done — brava to curator Barbara Heller and her team of calligraphers!   

For the Sherlock Holmes fan who might have everything, try Conan Doyle’s Wide World (Bloomsbury, $28) written by Andrew Lycett and published earlier this year. Says Barbara Basbanes Richter, it’s a “tantalizing” compendium of the author’s travel writing with a stunning decorative cover and two illustrated sections. 

Similarly, Shakespeare fanatics might not yet have this one on their shelves: A Shakespeare Motley: An Illustrated Compendium (Thames & Hudson, $19.95), aptly described as “a delightful cabinet of Shakespearean curiosities,” and profusely illustrated. Published in association with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Courtesy of Ten Speed Press

Three vibrant coffee-table books caught our eye. The Look of the Book: Jackets, Covers, and Art at the Edge of Literature (Ten Speed Press, $50) by book designer Peter Mendelsund and Harvard professor David Alworth is a lush exploration of modern book design — the why and how of dust jackets and blurbs coupled with behind-the-scenes publishing tales and trends. The focus is on the twentieth century, and it takes particular aim at exploring how a book gets represented graphically in numerous ways over time, posing, for example, the questions, “Which is your Madame Bovary? … And which is your Lolita?” alongside a collage of book covers from various editions of each title. Remarkable Diaries: The World’s Greatest Diaries, Journals, Notebooks and Letters (DK, $30) is a glossy, easy-to-flip-through volume of mini histories of manuscripts by the likes of Da Vinci, Kahlo, and Kafka. And, if you're a Philly bibliophile, don't forget about Making the Renaissance Manuscript: Discoveries from Philadelphia Libraries (Penn Libraries/Oak Knoll, $55), which we reviewed back in September.

For the scholarly set, the new Oxford Illustrated History of the Book (Oxford University Press, $39.95), edited by James Raven, would certainly be a welcome gift. Critics have praised its accessibility, its multicultural focus, and its “sumptuous” photography.