Here are some gift recommendations from my past year of reading.
Simon Blackburn, Mirror, Mirror: The Uses and Abuses of Self-Love (Princeton 2014). This is philosophy well done—secular philosophy, that is. Blackburn “offers an enlightening and entertaining exploration of self-love, from the myth of Narcissus and the Christian story of the Fall to today’s self-esteem industry.” Christians may be baffled how the author resists some fairly self-evident conclusions: he artfully identifies the symptoms without ever naming the disease.
Joseph Epstein, A Literary Education. The most recent collection of essays from the master, a longtime editor of The American Scholar and a professor emeritus at Northwestern University.
Alan Jacobs, The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography (Princeton 2013). An excellent introduction to the poetry, history, and politics of the Anglican prayerbook. Jacob’s erudition and style prompted me to pick up a few of this other books. Princeton’s “Lives of Great Religious Books” series continues to spin out excellent titles, include Ronald Hendel on Genesis (2012), John Collins on the Dead Sea Scrolls (2012), and George Marsden on C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity (forthcoming).
Alan Jacobs, The Pleasure of Reading in an Ideological Age (Oxford 2011). This essay will provide hours of delight and reflection on reading in an age of Twitter and Facebook. I picked it up this year after being deeply impressed by his book about the Anglican prayerbook. I’ve added Jacobs to my parthenon of literary critics, including Robert Alter (The David Story), Richard Lanham (Style: An Anti-Textbook), and Wayne Booth (A Rhetoric of Fiction), to name a few.
Rowan Jacobsen, Apples of Uncommon Character: Heirlooms, Modern Classics, and Little-Known Wonders (Bloomsbury 2014). If it’s good enough for ATK’s Christopher Kimball, it’s good enough for me.
Boris Kachka, Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (Simon and Schuster 2013). For those who want a look inside the world of literary publishing.
Robert Llewellyn, Seeing Flowers: Discover the Hidden Life of Flowers (Timber 2013). A gorgeous follow-up to Seeing Trees. (If you like gardening books, explore Timber’s site. It’s a treasure trove for the plant lover.)
Marilynn Robinson, Lila (Farrar Straus 2014). The latest novel from the author of Gilead. High expectations here.
Michael Ruhlman, Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient (Little Brown 2014). The latest from an author who consistently manages to remake—indeed, re-imagine—one of the most tired and trodden genres of all, cookbooks.
Joel Sartore, Fundamentals of Photography (Great Courses 2014). This National Geographic photographer explains how to get the most out of your camera in 24 half-hour lectures. Course transcript available, too.
Roger Scruton, The Soul of the World (Princeton 2014). I read this book in the wake of David Bentley Hart’s highly acerbic yet penetrating Experience of God. Braiding strands of his thought from several of his previous books, Scruton offers a thoroughly refreshing, beautifully written, and entirely unexpected account of modern belief in God. Reviewers have obstinately refused to give it its due. Professional envy perhaps?
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karinina, translated by Rosamund Bartlett. This new translation has received glowing reviews. I hope to dig in over the Christmas holiday.
The Bible. Crossway released a Reader’s Edition of their popular English Standard Version. The single-column layout, the larger point-size type (alas, my failing eyesight!), and the dropped verse numbers make this edition enormously appealing. For a full review, visit the ever-fascinating Bible Design Blog. I hate to say it, but I almost prefer this $30 edition over my $190 calfskin Clarion Reference edition. Find out what all the hype is about here.
For nature books, check out these excellent recommendations from Julia Zickefoose—hands down, the best list in the Wall Street Journal’s Holiday Books section.