Classic Book Recommendations For Every Person In Your Life
A good book always makes a good present: This we hold to be true. The wealth of literary options can be both liberating and daunting. Looking for a quality new read? There’s no shortage of lists of the best books of 2015 circulating. But what about those books that have stuck around, and really stood the test of time?
Whether it’s a favorite classic of yours, a particularly brilliant book from 2003 you happened to love, or an older standby that seems perfect for someone on your shopping list, there’s a crazy huge number of books out there, published before 2015, that would make great gifts.
The really tricky territory comes with long-established classics, the books that have been around so long that you can pick up a cheaply glued copy for a couple bucks at a discount store, or a leather-bound item clearly meant more for display than frequent perusal. You don’t just want to get your niece any copy of Pride and Prejudice — you want the one that she’ll treasure for years. You want an accurate, well-edited text; if originally written in another language, the most critically accepted translation; excellent if any supplementary writings; and finally, of course, beautiful cover art. (Who doesn’t love a pretty package?)
So, while we didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in this unseasonably mild December of finding the best classic edition for every person you might be shopping for, we did our level best to hit the high notes.
For the little reader
Rifle Paper Co.
If we were still young, we’d covet these colorful, meticulously designed editions of classics starring our favorite child heroines. Okay, we still kind of do. Puffin in Bloom is a line of classics featuring cover designs by Rifle Paper Co.’s lead designer Anna Bond, and they are appropriately adorable.
If there’s a special little reader in your life you’ve been hoping to introduce to Anne and Jo, any one of these editions of Little Women, Heidi, A Little Princessand Anne of Green Gables (or the full set) would make an inspired gift.
Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderlandis one of the great children’s classics, but even adults can’t resist its magic. This year was the 150th anniversary of the book’s publication, so there are some particularly gorgeous editions on offer. For a loved one who’s all grown up, but still has a soft spot for the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat, this beautiful and thorough Annotated Alice serves every function — a nostalgic night on the couch, an adventure into the undiscovered backstory behind the well-worn tale, a coffee table accent piece, and a family favorite to pass down to future generations.
Austen is a staple of classrooms and book clubs, but if you know a teen or young adultreader with a keen appreciation of mordant social satire — and a happy ending —Pride and Prejudiceis the ideal book gift. This edition, with a lively cover designed by artist Leanne Shapton, won’t let you downon either count. From the reliable classics purveyor, Vintage, it features an intro from Alexander McCall Smith.
Every little rebel and social misfit finds a kindred spirit in Twain’s Huck Finn. Little about the life of a poor, troubled young boy in early 19th-century Missouri is whitewashed, even the dehumanization of slavery. While recent editions are sometimes bowdlerized to remove offensive language, this one remains faithful to the complete original text, showing every uncomfortable truth Twain revealed about the antebellum South. Twain speaks the language of rough-and-tumble young men, as much today as he did then, but there’s plenty ofsubstance buried within.
Hit three birds with one stone — three of the most beloved Victorian novels of all time, that is. The most beloved book of each of the Bront sisters are collected into this one volume from Penguin Classics. It’s the perfect gift for a reader with a proclivity for long hours sniffling over romantic melodrama, because once you start with the Bronts, you won’t want to stop.
Everyone who’s been seduced by the romance of French culture should read at least one Flaubert novel.Madame Bovary takes a rather dim view of somethe pleasures and temptations we might associate with the culture, but it’s a deeply humanizing and compelling tale of self-destruction. Don’t just pick any copy, though — a recent translation from Lydia Davis has won plaudits from all corners.
Eliot’s sprawling masterpiece deals with relatively small events and people in an unassuming English town. Her genius for diving into the minds and hearts of each of her characters makes the work morally and psychologically profound, an ideal present for a loved one who likes to grapple withwhat makes other people tick. It’s been said that novelists were the first psychologists, and Eliot is a prime example. This quirky edition boasts a foreword by Rebecca Mead, author of the lovely critical memoir My Life in Middlemarch —accept no substitutes.
Joyce’s first novel, and one deeply bound up in the anxieties of an aspiring artist seeking creative freedom and direction, is the novel every idealistic scribbler should have. Not quite as daunting as Ulysses, but packed with challenging techniques and stylistic experiments, it’s sure to inspire a wordsmith.Edited by Hans Walter Gabler, who edited a highly controversial but still widely used edition of Ulysses, this Vintage edition is a solid pick.
Alexandre Dumas wrote novels packed with swordplay, revenge, elaborate disguises and death-defying risks. For the friend or family member who, like Don Quixote, longs to live in a world governed by honor, duelling and feats of courage, The Count of Monte Cristo is the perfect steely-hearted novel of ruthless vengeance. Many editions of Dumas’ classic make use of a subpar 19th-century translation, but this Penguin edition — aside from being gorgeously designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith — features the more up-to-date translation of Robin Buss, which is both more accessible and truer to the original.
Does your loved one have hours and hours — days and days, even — to spend lost in a book?Anna Kareninaisn’t for the faint of heart, or the five-minutes-a-day reader. If you have someone in your life you want to challenge, Tolstoy is always a good pick, and this celebrated new translation by Marian Schwartz, which is the first to “[embrace] Tolstoys unusual style.”is the proper way to do it.
For the friend or family member who cares passionately about human rights, equality of opportunity, and the ongoing problem of social injustice, Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son is a must-read.This edition features an introduction by Edward P. Jones, the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Known World. Baldwin’s critical essays on race in literature, protest movements, identity and more were deeply of their moment, but also timeless, as relevant today as ever.
If you have a young woman in your life going through a feminist enlightenment, or a friendwho firmly espouses that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,The Awakening, which portrays a young wife who feels lost and weighed down by her domestic life,is one of the unmissable reads. This striking paperback, with its bold black-and-white cover illustration and pages edged with black ink, also includes an introduction by no less than Barbara Kingsolver. This book was made for gifting.
This woman (or man!) on your list has covered bell hooks, Betty Friedan, Audre Lorde and Naomi Wolf. Maybe she’s even read a few of these new feminist classics — but there’s bound to be something in this setforyour most vocally anti-misogyny friend to love.
Who has time to read a full novel these days? For your loved one whose attention span has shrunk to nothing thanks to Twitter and constant smartphone usage, maybe a short story is an easier lift. With this imposingly beautiful compendium, edited by short story magician Lorrie Moore, your gift recipient can sample stories chosen from 100 years of Best American Short Stories anthologies. In short: The best of the best.
If your recipient resists books as clutter, but loves a pretty picture to hang on the wall, you can sneak a book into your gift, Trojan horse style! These pretty prints from Litographs (above, the poetry of Phyllis Wheatley and of William Wordsworth) use the text of a writer’s work to create a representative image. The result is pretty enough to frame, and if your friend ever gets bored or curious, it’s entirely legible as well!
When it comes to classic literature, it’s easy to collect a shelf full of the reliable standards. If there’s someone in your life who wants a bookshelf that stands out a little more — that seems, perhaps, a little more “in the know” or “under the radar” — you might have to dig a little deeper. Enter Melville House, an indie publisher that makes a point of seeking out forgotten or under-appreciated classics. In their Art of the Novella series, which celebrates the not-quite-a-novel form, many of the novellas appear in standalone book form for the first time. Treat your loved one to a couple of these obscure classics, and one day she’ll be able to sniff, “I read that before it became so popular.”
If you have someone on your list who only buys green clothbound hardcovers (to match her living room color scheme) or who has purchased books by the yard (to fill his impressive-looking but untouched shelves), that doesn’t mean you can’t treat that person to a book! Print books can be works of art, and Penguin’s Drop Caps series is another testament to that. A 26-book series, representing an author from each letter of the alphabet, the books showcase 26 stunning drop cap type designs from Jessica Hische. Plus, if you arrange them all in alphabetical order, they make a striking, unbroken color gradient. These aren’t just books: they’re books AND statement pieces.