It is a truth universally acknowledged that a shopper in possession of gift list must be in want of a good book. OK, I’m a Jane Austen fan. Even so, I had never read Persuasion. But when Persuasion: An Annotated Edition (Harvard Univ., $35) arrived on the shelves, I knew I had to pick it up. Not unlike its relative from last year, Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition, this book is for any Austenite (even if you have read the novel before) or for any collector of beautiful books. All you need to do is open it up to see what I mean. The editor, Robert Morrison, uses side-notes instead of endnotes, so readers can easily go from text to note and back again. The notes carefully explain archaic words, provide commentary, and generally help elucidate the text. Similarly, illustrations, engravings, and paintings are carefully chosen to add depth to the story and provide insight into the world in which Austen lived. Oh, and did I mention, there’s a great love story there too? Truly a gorgeous book and a great gift.
Without a doubt, State of Wonder (HarperCollins, $26.99), by Ann Patchett, is the book I enjoyed reading the most in 2011. For a bookseller, that’s a pretty bold statement. Open this novel and let Patchett’s beautiful, evocative writing take you far away to a place you probably never want to visit, the Brazilian rain forest. It’s full of excessive heat, very large snakes, and a LOT of insects. Nevertheless, our heroine, Marina, a research physician from Minnesota, goes there to bring back the body of her colleague. He died mysteriously while on assignment for the drug company they both work for. While there, she encounters her former mentor who is working on a very secret (and potentially lucrative) fertility drug. We go with Marina from cold, desolate Minnesota to the sweaty depths of the rain forest as she uncovers truths, including her own. Patchett has a way of making every detail of Marina’s journey interesting and believable. I couldn’t put it down.