I've done a round up of beautifully produced classics for Christmas for The Telegraph, which you can read here. It was a bit truncated, so I've pasted the full version below.
As ephemeral e-books continue to flourish on the screens of their ugly readers, could we be seeing a return of a need for the haptic? Psychologically it makes sense: one doesn’t feel that one owns an e-book (in fact, legally, you don’t – you only have a licence to it); a beautifully produced book, however, not only belongs to you, but to future generations. Publishers have responded to this deep-seated hunger in time for Christmas with a selection of gorgeously bound classics which are full of grace and charm.
Published earlier this year, in collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum, was a series of books with starry designers. Iris Murdoch’s strange and beautiful The Sea, The Sea (Vintage Classics, £9.99, 608pp) is a stand-out, with a bold, swirling, abstract cover by Zandra Rhodes, throbbing with allure and conflicting emotions. There’s also a striking geometric cover for Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love (Vintage Classics, £9.99, 288pp) by WilkinsonEyre Architects, which encapsulates the tick-tock precision of the book’s relentless, uncomfortable strength.
Penguin Classics don’t disappoint with their compact cloth-bound editions: they fit in your hand (or man-)bag, and are a serious treat to hold and contemplate. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (Penguin Classics, 1276pp, £18.99) is the dark green of the waters around that fabled isle; on its cover are crimson venetian masks, reminding us of the layers of deception and glamour that inhabit this most wonderful of romances. Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (Penguin Classics, 1231pp) is a more serious black, with scarlet birds poised between vertical lines – souls trapped, yet singing.
Small publisher Alma Books has concoted an elegant selection of F Scott Fitzgerald’s novels, with illustrations of spindly, flapperish characters set against raised gold lettering that capture the books’ jazzy brilliance: The Great Gatsby (Alma Classics, 256pp, £6.99) has that ominous motor car, a memento mori amongst the brightness. A 50th Anniversary of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (Heinemann, 320pp, £18.99) has a simple cover with elegant endpapers repeating the colours, gentle yet powerful as its contents.
If you want something both affordable and essential, you could do a lot worse than the Complete Jane Austen (Wordsworth, 1440pp, £11.99), which looks fabulous and would delight the eyes of any family, fortune-seeking or not. More Christmassy are two editions of Charles Dickens: a splendid A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Books (Everyman, £10.99, 456pp), which has an introduction by Margaret Atwood, and Dickens at Christmas (Vintage Classics, 592pp, £15), both of which exude jollity. You can practically taste the mince pies.
For the fashionable there are some stylish tomes: Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (Virago, 448pp, £12.99) and Elizabeth Jenkins’ The Tortoise and the Hare (Virago, 288pp, £12.99) are so sophisticated you can only read them with a cigarette holder and a martini; the latter is introduced by this year’s paramount novelist, Hilary Mantel.