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Books for giving this holiday

Novels, essays side by side with Sondheim

Patricia Wall/The New York Times

“The Marriage Plot,’’ by Jeffrey Eugenides (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 416 pp., $28)

Ah, the ’80s! Brown University! Semiotics! Eugenides’s first book since Pulitzer-winner “Middlesex’’ mixes Gen-X nostalgia with questions of love, art, and spirituality. Readers follow idealistic, literature-besotted Madeleine into post-college (and post-modern) life, with its inevitable compromises.

“Salvage the Bones,’’ by Jesmyn Ward (Bloomsbury, 272 pp. , $24)

Winner of this year’s National Book Award, Ward’s second book tells of an approaching hurricane, a Southern family, and survival in the meanest circumstances. In short, the first great novel about Katrina.

“Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend,’’ by Susan Orlean (Simon & Schuster, 336 pp. , $26.99)

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A perfect marriage of subject and author: the dogged Orlean on the trail of “Rinty,’’ whose life spanned the battlefields of World War I France to the golden age of Hollywood. Fruitful digressions explore dog breeding, animals in warfare, and why humans and their dogs are so important to each other.

“The Swerve: How The World Became Modern,’’ by Stephen Greenblatt (Norton, 356 pp. , $26.95)

The author is a professor of English at Harvard whose previous book, “Will in the World,’’ examined another beacon in the making of the modern world. Here Greenblatt brings boundless curiosity and graceful explication to an obscure Renaissance poem. The Globe said this one, winner of this year’s National Book Award for nonfiction, would leave readers “inspired and full of questions about the ongoing project known as human civilization.’’

“Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens,’’ by Christopher Hitchens (Twelve, 816 pp. , $30)

Now battling esophageal cancer, Hitchens has written recently about the trauma of losing the power of speech. Few can match his precision and erudition, and his prose crackles with such energy that even when his essays infuriate (and there’s something here to anger nearly everyone), one is left deeply grateful for his singular voice.

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“Alexander Girard,’’ by Todd Oldham and Kiera Coffee (Ammo Books, 664 pp. , $200)

King of midcentury textiles, Girard is famous for his collaborations with Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, and other design icons. His sunny, bright graphics helped define his generation’s visual style and made him the godfather of whimsy, inspiration to folks like Jonathan Adler and Todd Oldham.

“Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty,’’ by Andrew Bolton, Tim Blanks, Susannah Frankel, and Solve Sundsbo (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 240 pp. , $45)

Produced to coincide with an exhibit of the late designer’s work, this is more tour de force than catalog. Lush photography blended with essays provides a 360-degree view of England’s most audacious designer, a technological innovator and social instigator, whose death in 2010 extinguished one of the fashion world’s most brilliant talents.

“Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) With Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Digressions, Anecdotes and Miscellany,’’ by Stephen Sondheim (Knopf, 480 pp. , $45)

Wit, wordplay, and emotion - this book contains the source code for Sondheim classics from “Sunday in the Park With George’’ on, with additional glimpses into the lyricist’s life and work in the form of backstage stories, occasional songs, and offhanded asides.


Kate Tuttle can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.