Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Beautiful Classics for Christmas

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.

Go into any Waterstone’s and you’ll see a selection of everybody’s favourite novels, bound in leather and shrink-wrapped in plastic so that you can’t look inside and spoil the pages. These are the sorts of books that are both wonderful presents and lasting reminders of the pleasures they bring: Barnes and Noble’s leather-bound classics, which include Sherlock Holmes, C S Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, Bram Stoker and the Complete Works of Shakespeare, are so beautiful that you’ll want to buy one just so that you can unwrap them. They only cost £15, which, if ever there were a snip, would certainly be one. You’ll want to keep them for yourself, to be read by the fire with a glass of mulled wine and a paper hat on your head.You might even stay awake until dinner.

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