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The Boston Phoenix Classics

Library-quality gift books and sets

By compiled by Nicholas Patterson

DECEMBER 14, 1998: 

City lights

Writing New York: A Literary Anthology, edited by Phillip Lopate (Library of America, 1034 pages, $40). Published in honor of Greater New York's centenary celebration, this volume is a composite painting of the city as seen by more than 100 writers, including James Baldwin, Willa Cather, John Cheever, Joan Didion, E.L. Doctorow, Allen Ginsberg, Edith Wharton, and Tom Wolfe.

Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, by Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace (Oxford University Press, 1383 pages, $49.95). Professors Burrows and Wallace (not the TV commentator) draw on more than 20 years of scholarship to recount New York's history from the Ice Age through the Spanish-American war. Mini-biographies of Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, P.T. Barnum, Nellie Bly, and Theodore Roosevelt help bring the story to life.

Brilliant meditations

Auto-da-Fé, by Elias Canetti, translated by C.V. Wedgwood (Noonday Press, 464 pages, $15). This is Nobel Prize winner Canetti's only work of fiction. The tale of a scholarly recluse who is psychologically and physically destroyed by his marriage to an illiterate housekeeper, Auto-da-Fé is part dark comedy, part devastating social commentary on the conflict between the intellect and the baser human instincts.

Crowds and Power, by Elias Canetti, translated by Carol Stewart (Noonday Press, 495 pages, $15). Canetti's wide-ranging study is a revolutionary take on group psychology and the interplay of crowds, from Shiite festivals to the rain dances of the Pueblo Indians to the English Civil War.

World of words

The New Oxford Book of English Prose, edited by John Gross (Oxford University Press, 1012 pages, $39.95). This update of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch's 1925 edition is an anthology of both prose and prose styles. The selections, by writers ranging from John Milton to Margaret Atwood, can be enjoyed on their own or used as a guide to future reading.

American empire

Andrew Jackson, by Robert V. Remini (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1688 pages in three volumes, $43.85). The first complete paperback publication of Remini's definitive biography takes readers through Jackson's tumultuous life, from his role in America's territorial expansion through his two presidential terms.

High society

A Dance to the Music of Time, by Anthony Powell (University of Chicago Press, 2986 pages in four volumes, $72.80). In this 12-novel series (divided into four "movements" of three books each), Powell offers deft portrayals of England's privileged classes. His dead-on observations recall the work of Marcel Proust and Evelyn Waugh.

Colonial rule

The Raj Quartet, by Paul Scott (University of Chicago Press). In these four volumes -- The Jewel in the Crown (464 pages, $16), The Day of the Scorpion (496 pages, $17), The Towers of Silence (400 pages, $16), and A Division of the Spoils (598 pages, $18) -- former British Indian army officer Scott grittily and realistically sketches the last days of British rule in India.

Queen of the avant-garde

Writings 1903-1932, by Gertrude Stein (Library of America, 941 pages, $40). The works included here trace the development of Stein's literary style from more-traditional fiction to the experiments of her early years in Paris. The volume includes Q.E.D. (a posthumously published novel about lesbian affairs in college), Three Lives (a set of novellas), a collection of literary portraits of friends and contemporaries, and The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (the famous memoir about her long-time companion).

Writings 1932-1946, by Gertrude Stein (Library of America, 844 pages, $40). The second volume of this set contains work from the last 14 years of Stein's life. It brings together for the first time the poetic sequence Stanzas in Meditation, the philosophical inquiries of Lectures in America and The Geographical History of America, the artist profile Picasso, and the melodrama of Three Sisters Who Are Not Sisters, as well as numerous other works.

Wit at large

Letters, by Kenneth Tynan, edited by Kathleen Tynan (Random House, 665 pages, $30). Think quick, dry wit and la dolce vita. The collected letters of essayist and drama critic Tynan begin with a letter he wrote as a 10-year-old and end with the last letter he wrote to his own 10-year-old son shortly before dying of emphysema. Tynan's career as a journalist (he wrote for the New Yorker and the London Observer, among other publications) and in the theater led to gossipy, biting, and thought-provoking correspondence with such friends and contemporaries as Marlene Dietrich, Louise Brooks, Tennessee Williams, Václav Havel, John Lennon, and Mary McCarthy -- a good selection of which is published here.

Profiles, by Kenneth Tynan (Random House, 541 pages, $20 paper). Tynan's profiles of subjects as diverse as Greta Garbo, Miles Davis, Dame Edith Evans, and Mel Brooks have served as inspiration to many of today's journalists and critics. Fifty of his best are collected here.

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