Great Gifts from the Folio Society

Books mentioned in this post were received for review consideration from the publisher. No other compensation was received, and all opinions expressed are my own.

Here’s a video showing some of my favorites among the newest publications by the Folio Society, which I hope might interest you as gifts for your loved ones this season — or a fabulous way to treat yourself!

A summary of the seven featured titles can be found underneath the video, with links to more information from Folio. And for more beautifully illustrated books from all genres (including history, science, religion, travel, and philosophy, as well as fiction, poetry, and children’s books) please visit

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin – I reviewed this landmark science fiction novel recently here. One of the last projects Le Guin worked on toward the end of her life, approving the illustrations by David Lupton, who also illustrated A Wizard of Earthsea for Folio.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh – A new edition of one of the great classics of the twentieth century, with two-color woodcuts by Harry Brockway.

How To See Fairies by Charles Van Sandwyck – An homage to Arthur Rackham, these are short tales, poems, and vignettes previously printed privately by the author/illustrator, now available to all in a gorgeous deluxe format.

The Selected Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes – Winner of the annual Folio/House of Illustration competition, this selection of ten of the greatest and most famous Holmes stories features atmospheric illustrations by Max Löffler.

The Folio Book of Children’s Poetry – A charming collection of assorted children’s favorites, from classic and modern authors. The poems are arranged alphabetically by title, which makes for some interesting juxtapositions.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – A very well-thought-out and designed edition of Steinbeck’s short but powerful novel, with dramatic color and black-and white illustrations by James Albon, including a wrap-around illustrated slipcase.

Middlemarch by George Eliot – One of the monuments of world literature gets a monumental new edition, in honor of the centenary of the author’s birth. Illustrator Pierre Mornet contributes insightful portraits of the unforgettable cast of characters, and critic A.N. Wilson introduces the novel that most profoundly “understands misunderstanding.”

How should fiction and nonfiction mix?

This week’s Nonfiction November topic, hosted by Rennie of What’s Nonfiction, is Reads Like Fiction.

Nonfiction books often get praised for how they stack up to fiction. Does it matter to you whether nonfiction reads like a novel? If it does, what gives it that fiction-like feeling? Does it depend on the topic, the writing, the use of certain literary elements and techniques? What are your favorite nonfiction recommendations that read like fiction? And if your nonfiction picks could never be mistaken for novels, what do you love about the differences?

I’d like to put a slightly different spin on the topic, and ask: What degree of factuality should there be in fiction, and to what degree is it acceptable to deviate from the facts in nonfiction? What works for you, or what do you find ethically acceptable?

I find the most impressive historical novels stick to the facts as far as they are known and fill in plausible details around the edges where there are uncertainties. It’s rare that an author does not change, rearrange, or combine the facts in some way, but I appreciate a note informing me about these deviations. And I personally do not like it when really important details, like whether a character was married or a murderer or present/absent at some crucial event, are changed — when things get too far from reality, then I think it’s better to create original characters based on or inspired by the historical figures, and give the imagination free rein.

I love nonfiction that reads like fiction, but I don’t like too much invention here either. Sometimes the facts are just too few and far between, and rather than writing a very short book the author speculates at length about things no one can possibly know. To me, this quickly becomes tiresome. Sometimes twisting a certain event or sequence of events makes a better story, which is within the bounds of respectability in a novel, but not, to me, in a nonfiction book. It’s all right to imagine some scenes or bits of dialogue, but I get uncomfortable if these devices take up too much of the book, or are not properly identified. Here, too, there are times when I wish the book would just be written as fiction and have done with it.

How do you feel about the mixing of fiction and nonfiction? Can they be respectably combined, or do they need to stay in separate corners?

Posted for the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts at Midnight.

Words and Pictures: There were no men left

The racket was indescribable; trapped and burning smoke almost blanketed the fight in total darkness. No words can express horror at that pitch. There were no men left in that now infernal struggle. It was no longer a matter of giants versus colossi. It was more like something out of Milton and Dante than Homer. Fiends attacked, specters resisted.

It was the heroism of monsters.

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), tr. Julie Rose
Image, Edouard Manet, The Barricade, found here

In my year-long chapter-a-day reading of Hugo’s novel, today’s chapter “Inch by Inch” (from which this quotation is taken) concerns the fall of the barricade defended by several of the novel’s main characters in a doomed 1832 insurrection.

Did Hugo know that this chapter would correspond to the today’s date, November 11, the day of St. Martin, a soldier who put down his arms to follow Christ? He didn’t know, of course, that today would mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War, which created so much pointless bloodshed. But the horror of violence was much on his mind — along with the nobility of some who attempted to use it in a good cause.


Nonfiction November: Fiction/Nonfiction pairing

Welcome to Nonfiction November! This week’s topic is one of my favorites; I find it great fun to look back at my fiction and nonfiction reading and see which titles go together, out of a seemingly random assemblage of books.

I have three pairings for you this year. If you have a post, please let me know – or leave your own suggestions in the comments! This week’s topic is hosted by Sarah’s Book Shelves, so head over there to find out more.



I Don’t Want To Talk About It by Terrence Real
It’s Like This, Cat by Emily Neville

Two decades ago, psychotherapist Terry Real wrote a groundbreaking book about the epidemic of “covert depression” in men, which stems from the way our society systematically discourages emotional nurture and relatedness in half of the population. This denial of basic human needs can cause extreme trauma and dysfunctionality, with far-reaching consequences for our families and our world. I think this book should be required reading for ALL women — and men who have the guts to face their issues.

In a Newbery-winning novel of the 1960s, the classic “disconnected father / silenced mother” relationship was subtly portrayed many years before Real made his study of the pattern. Narrated by their teenage son, who takes in a stray cat in defiance of his father’s wishes, it shows how building bonds of connection and relatedness between people (and animals!) slowly transforms him, and also changes his family.

The Apocalypse of St. John by Emil Bock
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

I’ve gotten very interested in reading about the Apocalypse these days, for all-too-obvious reasons. Emil Bock’s profound study elucidated many puzzling elements for me, including the meaning of the number 666. (Think of it this way: the Apocalypse is completely based on cycles of seven, so a triple six is like saying “the eleventh hour,” the last moment before a next stage has to begin.)

Meanwhile, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman take a much more irreverent view of the topic, with a set of Four Horsemen on motorcycles and an eleven-year-old Antichrist. Yet for all their silliness, they never lose sight of the dignity of the human spirit which is the basis of all true religion. That’s what I like about these two authors; they know the real meaning of comedy, which is to restore wholeness.

Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales by Marie-Louise von Franz
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

Speaking of wholeness, we can’t have it without an understanding of the shadows cast by our light of consciousness. Fairy tales offer a superb guide to this un-penetrated part of our being, and Marie-Louise von Franz’s lectures illuminate their wisdom with her own insights from years of work as a Jungian analyst.

For a literary treatment of the shadow motif, there’s none better than Le Guin’s first tale of Earthsea, in which a young wizard looses the forces of darkness in a moment of pride and arrogance. As he painfully must find a way to make up for the harm he has caused, we follow him on a journey that can teach us, too, how to reclaim and own our shadows.

Month in Review: October 2018


Okay, I’m still not getting a ton of reading done, but I did manage some book reviews. I even polished off some from the TBR stack, which feels really good. Unfortunately, I keep buying more at double the rate of completion … but I shall keep working on it.

What have you completed, or acquired, this month?




Other Books Read

  • I Don’t Want To Talk About It by  Terrence Real
  • The Apocalypse of St. John by Emil Bock
  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett


Other Features and Events

  • I asked, Is it time for a change? — I’m thinking of starting a new blog in the new year. Your response was encouraging…
  • I noted that Witch Week has begun, hosted this year by two other lovely blogs. I’m so glad my brainchild will continue to exist, and also glad that at this super busy time of year I didn’t have to put it all together. Whew.


Shared in the Sunday Post hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer, the Month in Review linkup at The Book Date, and the Monthly Wrap-up Round-up hosted by Feed Your Fiction Addiction