Books for Holiday Giving

Kudos to the university presses that are publishing books of the soundest scholarship for the general reader: books with the highest production values and astoundingly reasonable prices. Here are two that I recommend for readers on your gift list.

A Spicing of Birds: Poems by Emily Dickinson, selected by Jo Miles Schuman and Joanna Bailey Hodgman (Wesleyan University Press, $22.95).

Did you know that Dickinson wrote 222 poems with references to birds? As the compilers write in their introduction, “Birds are woven through her poems like the string she mentions that ‘Robins steal… for Nests—.’” Dickinson was a sharp observer of birds, and in her poems she often made images for particular species:

“Some keep the Sabbath going to Church— / I keep it, staying at Home— / With a Bobolink for a Chorister—.” Or the phoebe, image of Dickinson’s own timidity: “I dwelt too low that any seek— / Too shy, that any blame— / A Phoebe makes a little print / Upon the floors of Fame—.”

The poems collected here are themselves a treasure. But the bonus is the book’s visual dimension. Illustrations of birds by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century artists comprise the facing page of nearly every poem. These full-color prints make the book luscious to look at. And with every page printed on cardstock (imagine—cardstock!), the book is also luscious to hold. It gives a tactile pleasure that can never be replicated by e-books. Oh, and the book is hardcover, too—giving that wonderful sense of permanence and solidity that paperbacks and e-books can never have. [Read more…]