Christmas Poems
Selected and edited by John Hollander and J.D. McClatchy
Published by Everyman's Library Pocket Books
254 pages, 1999
ISBN: 0375407898

Actually small enough to stuff into a generous coat pocket, Christmas Poems is the kind of little book that inspires family traditions. The collection includes such favorites as "I Saw Three Ships," and "Silent Night," (yes: both of these were poems before they were songs,) to Thomas Hardy's "A Christmas Ghost Story," and my favorite of the collection, "The Christmas Robin" by Robert Graves. Graves' poem perfectly describes a non-denominational spirit of Christmas. (Though, certainly, not all in this collection do.) "The snows of February had buried Christmas," Graves wrote. "Deep in the woods, where grew self-seeded The fir trees of a Christmas yet unknown, Without a candle or a strand of tinsel." There's more, and it's all just as lovely. Organized thematically, the chapters have descriptive titles: Christmas Eve; The Nativity; Christmas Ironies and so on.

 

The Best American Mystery Stories 1999
edited by Ed McBain; series editor Otto Penzler
Published by Hougton Mifflin
352 pages, 1999
ISBN: 039593916X

For the third year in a row, series editor Otto Penzler has done his homework, "reading hundreds of stories and skimming hundreds of others" to arrive at 50 short-listed tales, less than half of which actually made it into this latest "best" book. The range of this year's winners is broad, from Phillip Margolin's amusing "The Jailhouse Lawyer" and Joseph Hansen's "Survival" (in which cowboy sleuth Hack Bohannon runs into right-wing survivalists in Idaho), to Peter Robinson's "In Flanders Fields," a World War II-era story of identities, both mysterious and mistaken. There are only a few disappointments here, including Joyce Carol Oates' nightmare adventure for a scholarship interviewee. But the introductory remarks by volume editor Ed McBain (aka Evan Hunter) about his early short-fiction writing set a neat stage for what's to come.

 

The Allegra Series
by Barbara Lambert
Published by Beach Holme Publishing
192 pages, 1999
ISBN: 088878399X

A classic contemporary love triangle interwoven with Greek mythology and all set against the backdrop of the world of art and textiles. Barbara Lambert's debut novel is a delicate tapestry of light and color, alight with rich character studies and awash with human joy and tragedy. Allegra is a middle-aged woman dealing with the onset of a debilitating disease and involved with a much younger married man. Lambert captures the emotions of her characters beautifully and they stay with you long after the last page is turned.

 

The Vintage Book of War Stories
edited by Sebastian Faulks and Jörg Hensgen
Published by Vintage
396 pages, 1999

When you think about it, war and literature share some very close bonds. It's not surprising that the raw, human emotion brought to the surface when humans are closely exposed to death should lead -- ultimately -- to a passionate outpouring of literary matter. In The Vintage Book of War Stories Sebastian Faulks and Jörg Hensgen have put together what is arguably some of the finest writing on the subject to come out of the 20th century. The stories included were written by Bruce Chatwin, Ernest Hemingway, Pat Barker, Laurie Lee, Alistair MacLean, John Fowles, Norman Mailer, Joseph Heller, Michael Ondaatje and Kurt Vonnegut, to name but a few. In all, 40 heartfelt stories from some of the finest writers of their time.

 

Poetry for a Lifetime
edited by Samuel Norfleet Etheredge
Published by Miravista Press
488 pages, 1999
ISBN: 0966580400

Sort of a Chicken Soup of classic poetry, author Etheredge has collected hundred of the poems we think of as the classics, organized them thematically (Inspiration, Humor, Patriotism and so on) and prefaced each poem with a personal comment. And so we have Burns, Shelley, Service, Guest, Tennyson and company anthologized in a single -- albeit quite fat -- volume where they can easily be shared with children or accessed simply when you say, once again, "What was that line?" This task is made easier by a very useful first line and title index with is supplemented by an author index.