It's a hard truth: there just isn't room in the newspaper for every book that deserves mention. We try, we really do, but we can't fit them all in. News gets in the way. And the funnies! And the TV grid. And apparently we must devote some column inches to sports.
So every so often, I like to highlight a few worthy books here on the blog, and this time of year I keep my eye out for gorgeous books that might be suitable for giving (to others, or to yourself). Here are three.
"Paul Chesley: A Photographic Voyage," by Paul Chesley (Goff Books, $60) celebrates 40 years of photography by Minnesota native Paul Chesley (he was born in Red Wing)--many of those years spent shooting for National Geographic. This big, coffee-table-sized book collects more than 300 color images--many a full page, or bigger--from exotic locales. These are not action shots of war, or images from busy urban life, but mostly are photos that look as though they could have been shot any time in the last 100 years: young monks in Cambodia, dancers in Thailand, horsemen riding past a mountain, native American women herding sheep in Arizona, bicyclists in Hanoi, mountains in the snow. So beautiful.
This series of annotated, illustrated classics from Harvard Press has become a lovely annual tradition. Over the years, the press has published annotated editions of "The Wind in the Willows," "Alice in Wonderland," "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (both annotated and uncensored!), and many others. Each one has been carefully and beautifully edited.The editors know what we like, though, and they have done more Jane Austen than they have anyone else; "Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition" is the press' fifth Austen book and is a worthy addition. It's gorgeous to look at, with moire endpapers, illustrations from various editions of the book (as well as photographs of objects of the time, and paintings of contemporary well-known people), and, of course, the intelligent and abundant annotations, by scholar Patricia Meyer Spacks of the University of Virginia. I particularly like one of the opening images--Jane Austen painted in 1802 by her sister, Cassandra. Jane is wearing a blue bonnet and is lifting her skirt above her ankles, perhaps to keep from getting muddy as she crosses a field. "The painting," notes Spacks, "evokes personality without rendering any facial feature of its subject."
The Folio Society treats books as works of art. In this case, the editors have taken the original 1872 edition of George MacDonald's fairy tale and commissioned illustrations by Romanian artist Madalina Andronic--only seven illustrations, but each a full page and steeped in colors, shapes and patterns that invoke the mysteries of Eastern Europe folklore: forests and bearded men and tulips and dreams.
MacDonald's story is about young Princess Irene and a miner boy, Curdie, who becomes her friend. Together, they must thwart the goblins that live underground, and who are plotting to kidnap Irene and take over the country. It's a rich, vibrant, mysterious tale, one of three notable books written by the Scottish author (and all mainstays of my childhood). The introduction is by Maria Tatar, Harvard professor and expert on folklore and fairytales. A perfect gift for a middle-grade or older child who loves to escape into a different world through books.
New York Review Books is reissuing the books of Kingsley Amis, and even though Amis was a quintessentially English writer, the person the editors chose to design the book jackets for the series lives in south Minneapolis.
First up was "Lucky Jim," Amis' comic novel about Jim Dixon, a hapless professor at a minor English college; pub date for that is Oct. 2. It will be followed by the Booker Prize-winning "The Old Devils," about a group of elderly friends who are blithely drinking their dotage away when one of them--well, drops dead.
"I did several dozen drawings of Jim Dixon to start," Hanson wrote on his blog. "I drew him with a pint in his hand, with a book, wearing a jaundiced expression, a bilious expression, a world-weary expression. Then I decided to do the reader a favor and let them visualize Lucky Jim how they liked. I turned him volte face, striding up a long sidewalk toward the college."
Hanson is the author of "A Book of Ages," a collection of fascinating anecdotes and moments by famous people, at least one for every day of the year. His illustrations appear frequently in the New York Times.
Lots of Minnesota books are among the finalists for this year's Midwest Booksellers Choice Awards. Written by Minnesotans, set in Minnesota, published by Minnesota publishers....it's all looking good.
The books were nominated by Midwest booksellers, and over the next month booksellers will vote for their favorites out of the group. The awards will be given out in October, during the Midwest Independent Booksellers trade show in Minneapolis. (Louise Erdrich--both bookseller and author--will be keynote.)
Here are the finalists. Save your applause for the end, please.
Chad Harbach, "The Art of Fielding." (Set in Wisconsin.)
William Kent Krueger, "Northwest Angle." (St. Paul author.)
Danielle Sosin, "The Long-Shining Waters." (Duluth author.)
Larry Watson, "American Boy." (Milkweed Editions of Minneapolis.)
Joe Blair, "By the Iowa Sea."
Beth Dooley, "Northern Heartland Kitchen." (Minnesota writer.)
Cheryl Strayed, "Wild." (Minnesota claims her!)
Todd Boss, "Pitch." (St. Paul.)
Joseph Campana, "Natural Selections." (Graywolf Press author, though this book is University of Iowa Press.)
Carol Muske-Dukes, "Twin Cities."
Sheila O'Connor, "Sparrow Road." (St. Paul.)
Brian Selznick, "Wonderstruck." (Set in northern Minnesota.)
Jacqueline West, "Spellbound: The books of Elsewhere Volume 2." (Lives in Red Wing.)
Children's picture books
Mary Casanova and Ard Hoyt, "Utterly Otterly Night." (Minnesota writer.)
Loren Long, "Otis and the Tornado."
Susan Vande Griek and Karen Reczuch, "Loon."
Jim Aylesworth and Brad Sneed, "Cock-a-Doodle Do, Creak, Pop-Pop, Moo."
It was always E.B. White's worry that he had produced nothing of significance in his lifetime. He worried that a great magnum opus eluded him, and he rejected the idea that his best and most enduring work might be a book for children. But there you are: "Charlotte's Web," is a masterpiece, and it is reaching its 60th birthday this year.
Everything that White wrote--his essays, his letters, his children's books, the humor books he produced with James Thurber--was in his wise, plain, clean style; it "lopes along sensibly," as John Updike said a few years back in the Guardian.
I was raised on "Charlotte's Web"; there was always a battered copy of it lying around the house somewhere, maybe on a shelf with Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books; they shared the wonderful illustrator Garth Williams.
"Charlotte's Web" was a book that held up to re-reading, and re-re-reading. It had a number of threads you could follow, and you paid attention to different threads at different points in your childhood. There is, of course, the main story of the warm friendship between Wilbur and Charlotte, the doomed pig and the loving, enterprising spider.
There is the wonderful backdrop of the farm, the hissing geese, the resourceful rat, the life-filled barn, "deep in the dung and the dark!"
And there is the coming-of-age story of Fern and her growing friendship with Henry Fussy--a friendship that supplants her friendship with Wilbur. Fern grows up all at once, at the fair, like the narrator of Joyce's "Araby."
"Charlotte's Web" also has the best opening line and the best closing lines in all of literary history. ("Where's Papa going with that axe?" and "It's not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.")
Were it not for "Charlotte's Web," I might never have heard of White, or might never have reallized that his work went far, far beyond "The Elements of Style." I might never have found his collected essays, might never have read "Goodbye to 48th Street," or "Afternoon of an American Boy," or "Death of a Pig," a darker story about life on the farm.
To celebrate the anniversary, Harper Collins, White's publisher, has produced a charming little story trailer, which you can watch here. But if ever a book didn't need a trailer, it's "Charlotte's Web." Just buy a copy, and hand it to a child. Any child. E.B. White's magnum opus will do the rest.
Don't you love it when someone has a birthday and instead of receiving presents, they give them? Ok, that hardly ever happens, but in the case of the Minnesota Governor's Residence, it's true.
The stately old mansion at 1006 Summit Av. in St. Paul is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2012 with a year-long celebration. And part of that celebration involves books--books for children.
"The Governor's Mouse," a picture book by two Minnesotans--Kristin Parrish and Kirsten Sevig--will go to every elementary school in the state. In the book, a mouse takes readers through the house, from wrought-iron front gate to back garden. He explains the history of the house, how it was built in 1912 for $57,000 -- $7,000 for the land, and $50,000 for the building -- and was later donated to the state by the original owners, the Irvine family.
Which brings us to the second book. "Through No Fault of My Own" is the diary of young Coco Irvine, who was 13 when she recorded her madcap and hilarious adventures in that house. Former Strib writer Peg Meier discovered the diary at the Minnesota Historical Society, and wrote an introduction and an afterword, and the charming book was published last year by the University of Minnesota Press.
(And as I should have mentioned earlier--the money for these books comes from the 1006 Summit Avenue Society, a nonprofit that was set up during Al Quie's administration to pay for the upkeep of the house. The nonprofit is paying for the 100th birthday festivities.)
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