Pick a Paperback for Pure Pleasure with the Deluxe-Book Season Past, Serious Readers May Wish to Reach for Any Number of Quality New Softcovers, Ranging from English Novels and Agatha Christie Mysteries to a History of the Rio Grande
Merle Rubin. Merle Rubin regularly reviews literature and contemporary fiction ., The Christian Science Monitor
NOW that the gifts have been given, the friends and family visited or entertained, it's time perhaps to entertain ourselves by settling down with a good book for the pure pleasure of reading. Bypassing the big-budget books and deluxe boxed editions, shopped-out readers can find just what they may be looking for among the paperbacks.
Penguin Classics publishes a fine selection of 19th-century English novelists, including Jane Austen, the Brontes, Dickens, Hardy, George Eliot, and Elizabeth Gaskell. They've recently come out with paperback editions of Anthony Trollope.
For years, I avoided Trollope because I'd seen his picture: a bearded, bespectacled 19th-century man of letters whom I mistakenly assumed to be either a minor Russian novelist (a kind of cut-rate Tolstoy) or Marxist thinker. (He did look a bit like Trotsky, and critical blurbs kept commending his sense of social realism!)
It was thanks to a course in graduate school on the English novel that I finally made the acquaintance of this funny and delightful English novelist. Almost no one I know of who has read Trollope has been anything but charmed by the experience. Penguin Classics currently offers Phineas Finn (746 pp., $6.95) from Trollope's Palliser series (serialized some years ago on PBS), and the first four novels in the Barsetshire series, including his fresh and engaging Dr. Thorne (566 pp., $7.95), edited and introduced by mystery writer Ruth Rendell, a self-sufficient story that is an excellent example of Trollope at his best. For those who may prefer handsome hardcover editions of both the Barsetshire and Palliser series, these are available from Oxford University Press for $16.95 and $14.95, respectively.
The Oxford University Press World's Classics series offers an eclectic and international selection, from Ivan Turgenev's A Month in the Country (128 pp., $4.95), the tragicomic story of a married woman's infatuation with her son's tutor, newly translated and edited by Richard Freeborn, to perhaps the most moving of Theodore Dreiser's novels, Jennie Gerhardt (378 pp., $5.95), the story of a poor, sweet-natured Midwestern girl struggling to find love and a decent life in the cynical and hypocritical society of America in the 1880s and 1890s, the so-called Gilded Age. This edition of Dreiser's second novel, originally published in 1911, is edited by Lee Clark Mitchell, who informs us that a scholarly edition of Dreiser's works now in progress will supply the author's longer first version of this novel. That had a happy ending, which Dreiser's friends found improbable - even though Dreiser had based the happy ending on the real-life experiences of one of his sisters, who was the model for Jennie. Another in this series, Charlotte Bronts first novel, The Professor (292 pp., $4.95), also has a happy ending, one of the reasons it has been less esteemed than her subsequent treatment of the student-mentor love theme in "Villette." Margaret Smith's introduction to the World's Classics edition makes the case that "The Professor," like Bronts later works, is admirably modern and realistic: an honest portrait of women and men who have to earn their living and work out their relationships without relying on the old-fashioned fictional devices of surprise legacies or gallant, rich fiances riding to the rescue.
The appearance earlier this year of David Gilmour's biography "The Last Leopard: A Life of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa" (Pantheon), focused new attention on the aristocratic Sicilian whose only novel, "The Leopard," published just after his death in 1957, has come to be regarded as a masterpiece of Italian literature. Pantheon has issued a paperback edition of The Leopard (312 pp.) selling for $12. For $15, however, you can buy an elegant little hardcover edition (300 pp.) - the same translation by Archibald Colquhoun - which also includes Lampedusa's "Two Stories and a Memory. …