Whether your halls are decked with boughs of ivy or bays of bookshelves, or both (in which case you might experience a tight squeeze in getting to the bathroom), this is the time to wrap up some particularly special titles for your children, relatives and friends. Or even yourself! Here are a seasonal dozen you should look out for:
The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories, edited by Otto Penzler (Vintage Crime, $40; paperback, $25). As fans of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman prepare for the Jan. 1 broadcast of “The Abominable Bride,” they might want to spend some time, before and after, in regaling themselves with these earlier, uncanonical adventures of the sleuth of Baker Street. In this super-sized volume, Otto Penzler — owner of New York’s Mysterious Bookshop, member of the Baker Street Irregulars and a leading scholar of detective fiction — gathers dozens of Sherlockian parodies, pastiches and works of homage, both reverent and decidedly irreverent. Stories range from Vincent Starrett’s classic “The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet” and S.C. Roberts’s “The Strange Case of the Megatherium Thefts,” through P.G. Wodehouse’s “From a Detective’s Notebook” and Robert L. Fish’s pun-filled “The Adventure of the Ascot Tie,” to Poul Anderson’s “The Martian Crown Jewels,” Laurie R. King’s “Mrs. Hudson’s Case” and Neil Gaiman’s “The Case of Death and Honey.” The final deduction is all too obvious: Anyone who loves Holmes and Watson will want to own this book.
The Poems of T.S. Eliot, edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue (Johns Hopkins, Vol. 1, $44.95; Vol. 2, $39.95). Whether Eliot is the greatest 20th-century poet writing in English or just one of the greatest, these two hefty volumes honor every aspect of his artistic genius and unrivaled flair for cultural bricolage. Volume one includes juvenilia, the major works, uncollected poems and a preliminary version of “The Waste Land,” all enriched with — count ’em — over 800 pages of detailed textual and interpretative commentary. Volume two reprints the light verse and translations. A magnificent work of literary scholarship and dedication.
Six Poets: Hardy to Larkin, an anthology by Alan Bennett (Yale, $24). If the Johns Hopkins edition of Eliot is a cathedral, this little Yale volume is a snug rural cottage. Besides the title poets, Alan Bennett — the slightly Eeyore-like playwright and essayist — reprints works by A.E. Housman, John Betjeman, W.H. Auden and Louis MacNeice. To each poem he then adds his own brief reflections. The result is a very English, very approachable volume of poetry, an ideal stocking stuffer for that Anglophile on your list.
Dust and Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting, by Eilon Paz (Ten Speed Press, $50). Because of the book storage “problem,” as my beloved spouse dryly calls it, I now shy away from buying too many old records, though I somehow seem to have accumulated several hundred. By contrast, the wonderfully mad folks pictured in these photographs by Paz obsessively collect, preserve and live surrounded by shelves and boxes and rooms full of vinyl LPs, 45s, boxed sets, stylish turntables and gigantic speakers. A joyous picture book.
The Annotated Alice , by Lewis Carroll; edited by Martin Gardner; expanded and updated by Mark Burstein (Norton, $39.95). There have been many “annotated” editions of the world’s out-of-copyright classics, but all of them are measured against the high standard set by the late Gardner’s “Alice.” This new edition — honoring the 150th anniversary of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” — contains all the notes from Gardner’s three previous editions, as well as some unpublished material, plus new commentary and criticism by a former president of the North American Lewis Carroll Society. Committed Carrollians will also want the new Princeton edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” which couples the author’s preferred 1897 text with Salvador Dali’s surreal illustrations (Princeton, $24.95).
The Definitive Betty Boop: The Classic Comic Strip Collection , by Max Fleischer; with illustrator Bud Counihan (Titan Comics, $39.95). Quite a different sort of heroine from Alice, the curvaceous Betty Boop is “the cutest thing in shorts,” though she’s more often seen in a strapless, tight red dress, with a hemline so short you can glimpse her garters. Betty’s va-va-voom figure and her faintly sexual misadventures will bring a smile to anyone of any age, but especially to older folks who may remember seeing, and sometimes sighing over, the original 1930s comic strips. Boop-boop-a-doop!
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome , by Mary Beard (Norton/Liveright, $35). Winter is the ideal time for reading history — those long nights are naturally conducive to long, long thoughts. In “SPQR” — a Latin acronym for “the Senate and People of Rome” — classics scholar Beard tells the story of the civilization against which most Western nations have long measured themselves. Washingtonians who attended Beard’s Mellon Lectures know of her gift for what the French call “haute vulgarisation” or high-level popularization, but don’t be misled by her conversational style: She may be a Cambridge rather than a Corleone don, but in “SPQR” you’ll want to pay close attention to whatever she says.
The Art of Horror: An Illustrated History , edited by Stephen Jones (Applause, $40). While we normally think of horror in terms of fiction or film, artists’ illustrations — for books, magazines and movie posters — have been giving hideous life to this ever-popular genre for more than a century. Arranged by monster, each section boasts an essay by a prominent scholar, including, among others, David J. Skal on vampires, Kim Newman on werewolves and shapeshifters, Richard Dalby on ghosts, S.T. Joshi on cosmic horrors, Lisa Morton on witches and demons and Robert Weinberg on aliens. Still, the pictures here are, so to speak, to die for. Featured, among scores of others, are Margaret Brundage’s iconic Bat-Woman (from the cover of Weird Tales), Hannes Bok’s even more sexy Fox Woman, Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein confronting his creature and Michael Komarck’s Cthulhu, depicted rising from the ocean depths. This beautifully produced book is, in short, the stuff that nightmares — on Elm Street or before Christmas — are made of.
Giambattista Bodoni: His Life and His World , by Valerie Lester (Godine, $40). Speaking of beautifully produced books, here is yet another from that nonpareil publisher, David R. Godine. Any student of colophons — or of those pull-down menus listing digital typefaces — will recognize the name Bodoni, the 18th-century printer and immensely influential type designer. If there’s a serious bibliophile on your gift list, you need look no further for the right present.
The Spectrum of English Murder: The Detective Fiction of Henry Lancelot Aubrey-Fletcher and G.D.H. and Margaret Cole, by Curtis Evans (Coachwhip; paperback, $17.75). One of the champions of golden-age mysteries, Evans uses his website The Passing Tramp to reawaken interest in superior, if neglected, writers of the 1920s and ’30s. In his latest book, he presents critical-biographical studies of the author of the “Henry Wade” mysteries — notably “Lonely Magdalen” — and of the intellectual socialist couple whose novels served as social critiques as well as whodunits. Evans also oversees a valuable reprint series for Dean Street Press that brings forgotten detective-story authors back into print, most recently E.R. Punshon and Annie Haynes.
The Mysteries of Paris , by Eugene Sue, translated from the French by Carolyn Betensky and Jonathan Loesberg (Penguin; paperback, $30). Some meteorologists have predicted a harsher winter than usual — in which case, what could be better to have on hand when snowbound than a 1,400-page pulpy, sensationalist classic, in a new modern translation? Sue’s “The Mysteries of Paris” not only influenced “Les Miserables,” it also gave rise to a subgenre of Gothicky novels about the dark underside of big cities, including London, New Orleans and Philadelphia (George Lippard’s notorious “The Quaker City”). Aristocrats with secrets, a prostitute with a heart of gold, criminals nicknamed the Schoolmaster and the She-Wolf, an evil lawyer, thwarted love, blackmail and conspiracy — this is a sprawling novel that packs in everything and then adds more. Let it snow!
East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales From the North, illustrated by Kay Nielsen; edited by Noel Daniel (Taschen, $39.99). As for snow, there’s lots of it in this album of Norway’s most popular fairy tales. Setting thin, epicene Aubrey Beardsley-like figures against colorful art deco backgrounds, Nielsen was one of the most admired early 20th-century book illustrators, the equal to Edmund Dulac and Arthur Rackham. His work, though, looks even stranger than theirs, beautiful but also just slightly menacing. In many cases, Taschen has had access to the original watercolors for its reproductions, so this volume is Christmas-tree gorgeous. Happy holidays!
Dirda is a regular book reviewer for Style and the author, most recently, of “Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living With Books.”