Smart Gifts (Books, Naturally) for Friends of the Opposite Sex

Have you noticed how many books about Abraham Lincoln are being published this season? Of course, Lincoln is headed into a bicentennial (he was born on Feb. 12, 1809, an anniversary we'll mark three weeks or so after the presidential inauguration), and there are reasons right now to value his leadership (superb in war, principled in civil rights, level-headed about economic turmoil). Ditto on general smarts for Darwin, whose bicentennial just happens to coincide: Did you know? Darwin and Lincoln were born on exactly the same day? A curious coincidence really: One was concerned with the survival of the fittest; the other about the equality of man. Needless to say, with such important anniversaries in the offing, I can well understand why there would be a flurry of books on these two.

But how about the flurry of books on happiness? And how about a similar bonanza for books about parrots?

The publishing business is fascinating.

As it happens, there is a concomitant little swirl of books about literary friendships. So if you have a friend of the opposite sex who happens to love books, you may want to think about the following, which celebrate the male-female meeting of minds:

Words in Air:The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, edited by Thomas Trevisano and Saskia Hamilton (Farrar Straus Giroux, $45). They were entirely different in nature as they were in art, and yet they were best friends, as is evident in this sassy, smart and entirely humane collection of letters.

White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, by Brenda Wineapple (Knopf, $27.95). She sent him a startlingly forthright letter, he answered by giving her a lifetime's friendship in return.

A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade, by Christopher Benfey (Penguin, $25.95). They shared a fascination not only with words but with the notion of personal freedom.

Books make the best gifts.

-- Marie Arana

(For more recommendations of good reading, check out Book World's picks for the best of 2008.)

By Marie Arana |  December 8, 2008; 7:01 AM ET Marie Arana
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I didn't know that the great Darwin and Lincoln were born on the same day--an interesting coincidence of history. I did know that 1809 was a vintage year. Fifty years ago when I was a freshman taking western civ., we were assigned Robert B. Downs's "Books that Changed the World." Downs made a point of the 1809 bumper crop. I think I recall: Lincoln, Tennyson, Darwin, Poe, Edward Fitzgerald, Gogol, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Gladstone. He probably listed others.
"Lenexa, Kan."

Posted by: lheffelkcrrcom | December 8, 2008 1:50 PM

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