The good news this Christmas is the Good Book itself but as you've never seen it before: an edition of the New Testament that looks a lot like a glossy magazine "illuminated" using photojournalistic images of today's pressing issues: poverty, homelessness, war, and global warming. But look in these pages for do-gooders the Dalai Lama, Muhammad Ali, and Princess Diana too, plus printwork by Andy Warhol.
The target audience for The Book New Testament (published first in Sweden and the brainchild of a former ad exec)? Readers who rarely, if ever, look at the Bible. You know who you are. And you now have no reason not to be reminded of some biblical teachings, many of them conveniently highlighted. The type here is a bit small, but the running text comes without the interruption of chapters and verse, and it's rendered in contemporary terms for the non-King James-minded. The accompanying images (see under Revelation in particular): downright unholy.
From cleric to heretic: That was Giordano Bruno, the 16th-century Dominican priest burned at the stake in Rome. Why? For arguing that the Earth was not the center of the universe and for proposing that the universe was infinitely large, which made Bruno not only a natural philosopher but an enemy of the Counter Reformation Catholic Church. Ingrid Rowland is the highly knowledgeable, gifted biographer. Giordano Bruno: Philosopher/Heretic is the title. Farrar, Straus and Giroux is the publisher — a publisher that's proved especially valuable when it comes to printing the words of modern poets. As in:
"I've been meaning to write, to thank you for the introduction to Ariel: it was very good of you ... . I've wondered since if it was a sane thing to publish the book over there — no doubt as holy text it will push several girls over the brink."
The "holy text" in the above quote is Ariel, the book of poems by Sylvia Plath, who killed herself in 1963. "Over there" is the U.S. The writer, writing from England, is Plath's widower, poet Ted Hughes, and "you" is American poet Robert Lowell. The quote comes from The Letters of Ted Hughes, selected and edited by Christopher Reid and new from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. It's a title to go well with FSG's recent paperback edition of Ted Hughes: Selected Translations (edited by Daniel Weissbort), a collection that stretches from Homer to Federico Garcia Lorca. But these letters from Hughes: If they aren't poetry per se, they're remarkable, as Reid writes, for their concentration, force, immediacy, grace and, on occasion, wit. Especially: force.
Words in Air isn't poetry per se either. But it's the work of two major American poets, Elizabeth Bishop and (again) Robert Lowell, who happened also to be more than devoted friends: Their meeting in 1947 initiated an exchange of letters that lasted 30 years — letters that "led to the creation of an extraordinary body of correspondence whose claims to canonical status as literature must certainly be considered."
That's Thomas Travisano writing in the introduction to the marvelous Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, edited by Travisano along with Saskia Hamilton.
Stepping Stones isn't poetry either, but its focus — in a 500-page series of Q&A's, most of them conducted in written form over the course of several years — is one poet. The subtitle says it all: Interviews with Seamus Heaney, by Dennis O'Driscoll. Again, the book is from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. And is there, in the person of Nobel Prize-winning Heaney, a living poet you'd more want simply to sit with and hear on the subject of Heaney himself and poetry in general? No.
From the kitchens of the 17th-century ancien régime, there was a revolution before the French Revolution. Call it A Revolution in Taste: The Rise of French Cuisine, by Susan Pinkard, a fascinating, scholarly study of the development of "delicate cooking," published by Cambridge University Press.
Make it an Oxbridge season by pairing Pinkard with that granddaddy of English dictionaries, The Oxford English Dictionary (which is celebrating its 80th anniversary), from Oxford University Press. But make room under the tree. The OED totals 22,000 pages and comes in 20 volumes. Until January 31st, it's a bargain at $895.