A Long December

December has not been very kind to bloggers, or at least not to this particular blogger. With term papers to write and finals to take, I have unwittingly neglected my blogging duties this month. Unfortunately, I’m about to board a plane in T-minus 4 hours for southern China where I shall be traveling (namely in Hong Kong, Guilin, Beihai, Sanya, and Shanghai) for the next three weeks, so I probably won’t be able to get any decent blogging in before New Years.

There are still two weeks before Christmas, so I’ve decided to compile a quick list of things to give your fellow bookworm for the holidays:

oxfordrhymingdict1. For the poetically inclinedA rhyming dictionary. A gift that is both practical and entertaining, a rhyming dictionary is a must-have for anyone dabbling in poetry or song writing. You can use it to find that elusive phrase that will complete your couplet or it can be really fun just flipping through it and finding words that you never knew could be used in a rhyme. This is the ideal gift for anyone who loves words (especially phonetics). I would recommend the Penguin Rhyming Dictionary, or if you have a little more money, the Oxford Rhyming Dictionary (warning: some words will only rhyme if you put on a British accent).

2. For the ambitious bookwormWar and Peace, newly translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. First published in hardcover last year, this book just arrived in paperback form on December 2nd, in time for the holidays. I actually haven’t gotten a chance to read this translation yet (sadly, my first experience with Tolstoy was with the inferior Constance Garnett version), but I would vouch for any Pevear/Volokhonsky translation. They have previously translated several works of Dostoevsky (including The Brothers Karamozov and Notes from Underground), Dead Souls by Gogol, a number of short stories by Chekhov, and Anna Karenina. The couple have a knack for maintaining the original linguistic style of the work, a feat difficult in translation because translators often impose their own mannerisms or cultural language onto the original. Translation is never as good as the original, but since not all of us have time to learn Russian, this is probably going to be as close as you can get to a true Tolstoyan experience.

3. For the intelligent dreamer – The Sandman (Vol. 1-10) by Neil Gaiman. I was first introduced to this comic book series in my sophomore year of high school and four years later, I still find myself fascinated by the questions that the series raises. The Sandman, “a comic book for intellectuals” as Norman Mailer has described it, has this wonderful dichotomy of past and present, reality and fantasy that manifests itself in its artwork (which varies stylistically from story to story) as well as in its melding of classical mythology with modern life. Although I would probably criticize certain segments of the series, I found the conclusion extremely powerful and thoughtprovoking. The spinoffs, however, I would not recommend except for Endless Nights, which I think is closest in tone to the original series.

westerncanon4. For the general reader – The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages by Harold Bloom. There are many people against the idea of a canon as well as people who simply cannot stand Harold Bloom. However, regardless of how you might feel about his critical theory, his enthusiasm for great literature is always palpable and that love for good books is especially contagious for the general reader. This book acts as a reading list and a guide for some of the greatest works in the Western tradition and will definitely whet your appetite for the likes of Shakespeare, Dante, and Chaucer.

5. For the nontraditional gent or gal – Write a short story featuring the recipient as the main character. If you plan on traveling, do a little literary tourism and explore the haunts of fictional characters (i.e. Sherlock Holmes’s digs in London) or the abodes of famed authors (i.e. Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West). Invite your friends to a reenactment of a scene in a beloved book (such as the Mad Hatter’s tea party or the Neverfield ball). Buy tickets to an author’s talk or poetry reading or even a play. If you’ve given your literary friend a book year after year, this is the year to change it up and form some lasting memories.

Let me know if any of these literary gift ideas helped! 🙂

As for my winter break reading, I shall be catching up with my Kafka (short stories only) while I am in the Orient so I shall let you know my thoughts upon my return. Also, I’m contemplating adding a travel category, but I think I’ll probably keep it oriented towards literary tourism or maybe places of historical or artistic value. I shall ruminate upon this some more…

Until the next time I have internet access, adieu. Happy Holidays!