Everyone knows that books are works of art (well, maybe not Jeff Bezos). But when they say that, they usually refer to the stories within.
At The Folio Society (TFS), the art of books is elevated to an entirely new level. They specialize in making books works of art both inside AND out, with gorgeously (and expensively!) printed collector’s editions of famous novels, comics, and poetry. The Society has released this year’s Christmas Collection, and once again, there’s something for everyone on this exquisite list.
If you’ve been reading my posts each holiday season, you know that highlighting diverse authors for their Christmas Collection is something TFS always struggles with. Last year, there were only two women authors on the list of 19 books. This year they’ve improved slightly, bringing the total of female representation to a whopping three. But it’s out of 16, so at least the odds are improving? Still, there’s only one author of color featured.
It’s a shame, because TFS’s collection at large has some great titles from authors who aren’t white men, like amazing editions of Kindred by Octavia Butler, Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman, Agatha Christie novels, and so much more.
I’m not sure how the titles for the annual collection get chosen, they are still some great options for any book lover on your list. Here are the top highlights from this year’s collection.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Self-taught British artist Lela Harris contributes six original black and white charcoal drawings (with splashes of purple, of course) to the only illustrated print edition of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel. Walker herself approved the portraits of her now-famous characters, saying they contain “soul and expertise.” The patterned binding and cover motif is inspired by the female quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, a Black community of artisans that have been making quilts since the early 20th century. An exceptional work for an exceptional piece of literature.
272 pages, $65
Everyone’s favorite superhero (change my mind) gets the full Folio Society treatment in the second volume of their “Marvel Heroes” series. Twelve of the webhead’s most thrilling tales are featured, from a wide range of authors and illustrators like Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Brian Michael Bendis, Dan Slott, and Todd McFarlane. The set is selected and introduced by Marvel editor Roy Thomas, and comes with a scale replica of The Amazing Spider-Man #1. No mere digital remaster, The Folio Society scanned an original collector’s edition of the comic. All of the original ads are included, and you can even see some of the newsprint grain as well. As Spidey himself would say: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Oh, wait. That doesn’t actually apply here. Still, it’s cool.
304 pages, $125
Venetia by Georgette Heyer
The Folio Society declares Venetia the “perfect introduction” to Heyer, one of the best-selling and most well-known authors of historical romances. But you don’t have to take their word for it; allow none other than legendary actor and comedian Stephen Fry to explain as much in his exclusive introduction to this edition. Writing in the 1920s, Heyer’s research was so meticulous that her description and detail of high British society transports readers straight back to the Regency era. Ireland-based artist Sally Dunne contributed a cover illustration on the slipcase, a frontispiece, and five full-page color illustrations.
376 pages, $65
The Meaning of Mice by Charles van Sandwyk
There haven’t been a lot of children’s books featured in The Society’s Christmas Collections, so The Meaning of Mice is a welcome treat this year. A Folio Society original from world-famous author and illustrator Charles van Sandwyk, this charming tale of Painter Mouse and his pastoral adventures are sure to delight readers of any age. Only twenty pages long with printed endpapers, this spartan tale is concertina folded and contains 14 color illustrations, inspired by Sandwyk’s own work on TFS’s The Wind in the Willows.
20 pages concertina folded, $35
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
Here’s a question you might never have thought you’d be asked: What do Roald Dahl and Samuel Beckett have in common? Answer: They’ve both been illustrated by Quentin Blake. Britain’s foremost illustrator lends his talents exclusively to the Folio edition of Beckett’s most famous play, “a tragicomedy in two acts.” Blake’s drawings render Beckett’s three characters in simple purple shades, and he provides the image of a lone tree on the cover, as well as splashy lettering to the blocked slipcase it comes in. If you know someone who’s a fan of existential dramas (and really, who isn’t), this is the perfect gift for them.
136 pages, $80
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Read this one with a clove of garlic close at hand. Stoker’s 19th century gothic masterpiece is wrapped in black blocked cloth with dramatic blood-red titling, all covered in a red marble slipcase. Illustrator Angela Barrett offers a total of 15 spooky drawings that accentuate the horror of the tale. Irish novelist John Banville pens the exclusive introduction, detailing Stoker’s biography as well as the significance of one of the greatest vampiric tales of all time (sorry, Twilight). I would say this edition sucks…but that joke’s too easy, and it surely doesn’t.
400 pages, $80
The Lost World by Michael Crichton
A perfect companion to last year’s Folio edition of Jurassic Park, this dino-mite (get it) follow-up brings back many of the same elements that made the first one so special. Vector That Fox returns for six full-page color illustrations and a stunning cover featuring the terrifying velociraptors (clever girls). All of the illustrations were done under the guidance of a paleontologist, so they have the most updated information on what we know of dinosaur biology. There’s also 16 integrated black and white graphics, a two-page spread of the map of Isla Sorna, and printed endpapers. The perfect consolation prize for any Jurassic Park fan still smarting over the existence of Jurassic Park 3.
432 pages, $60
We all know the age-old question about war, but perhaps there actually is an answer beyond “absolutely nothing”: creating some beautiful poetry. In this epoch-spanning collection, former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion (1999-2009) gathers verses on warfare. Arranging the poems chronologically, Motion attempts to depict how war and how we write about it have changed over time. Starting with sections of The Iliad, and including poems from Lewis Carroll, Emily Dickinson, Wilfred Owen, and Elizabeth Bishop, as well as patriotic songs and rhymes that soldiers would trade to pass time in the trenches, The Folio Book of War Poetry is a small slice of beauty borne out of centuries of conflict.
376 pages, $80
If none of these strike your fancy, remember that The Folio Society has an entire host of other titles to check out. Good luck, happy holidays, and happy reading!