Nutshell by Ian McEwan — A witty take on Hamlet set in contemporary London emphasizing the murder mystery over the revenge aspect. Yes, the “narrated by a fetus” premise is out there, but don’t take it too seriously. It just means Hamlet is listening to a kind of radio play of wine-soaked decadence and careless treachery. T.T.
No Fair! No Fair! And other Jolly Poems of Childhood by Calvin Trillin with illustrations by Roz Chast. Trillin’s dry doggerel is accompanied by Chast’s anxious cartoon illustrations for the 5- to 8-year-old set. Anyone who has sat in the backseat with a sibling will relate to this immortal refrain: “She’s over the line./ She’s over the line./ She occupies space/ That’s rightfully mine.”T.T.
Heyday: The 1850s and the Dawn of the Global Age by Ben Wilson. A young British historian’s take on a decade that began (at least in England) with a kind of euphoric optimism epitomized by the Great Exhibition and degenerated into disillusionment and war. He hops around the globe (New Zealand, the frontiers of the Upper Midwest, India, China, Central America) but sustains a compelling narrative fueled by the great globalizing forces that remain part of our accelerating age more than 150 years later. An excellent gift for those who wish to adopt the long view. T.T.
The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by P.D. James. Four entertainments commissioned by newspapers and magazines but collected in a book for the first time, these mysteries have some of the hallmarks of “cosies” (country houses, British eccentrics) but none of the schmaltz. James has a wicked way with plot twists and writes beautiful sentences. T.T.
Speaking American* How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk: A Visual Guide by Josh Katz. A gift that will get passed around and poured over on Christmas Day whether you give it to your Ant or your Ahnt. Find out where crayons are pronounced Krey-Awns and where Krey-Ahns and in what benighted sections of our land they are pronounced either Krans or Krowns. Sadly, you may have to admit that pronouncing the “t” in often is not “just wrong” (as I’ve always felt) but a clue to where a person is from. T.T.
News of the World by Paulette Jiles. A historical novel recounting a four-hundred-mile journey across Texas in the 1870s. An old man who travels from town to town, presenting the news of the world to isolated villagers, is asked to deliver a ten-year old orphan who has been kidnapped by American Indians and recaptured by the Army to her relatives in San Antonio. The account of their trip with its threats from Comanches, bad men, and nature is exciting, funny, and frightening in this epic and beautifully-written saga much in the spirit of Lonesome Dove and True Grit. The author, a poet, was nominated for the National Book Award and should have won, according to John Doyle. J.K.D.
The Vanishing Velázquez by Laura Cumming. An independent bookseller living in Reading, England, discovers an obscure painting thought to be from the school of Van Dyck. It is to be sold at auction and he purchases it for 8 pounds, convinced it is a long-lost portrait of Charles I by Velázquez. This true story of the massive opposition he encounters as he attempts to gain recognition for the artist is astonishing, funny, and, at times, reminiscent of some of the bitter battles we have experienced in the recent political campaign. Cumming is an excellent writer and, while following the drama of this exciting story, we also learn all about the genius of Velázquez and other great painters. J.K.D.
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