The Golden Key

George MacDonald (Eerdmans)

I admit that I’ve always found George MacDonald’s fiction hard going. But this fairy tale, gorgeously illustrated by Ruth Sanderson, is winsome indeed, and I’m looking forward to reading it with our grandchildren. Odd to reflect that when this story was first published in 1860 as part of a collection, it wasn’t, of course, received as “Victorian,” the label we have retrospectively attached to it. The book concludes with an illuminating afterword by Jane Yolen and a lovely note from the illustrator.

The Tallgrass Prairie

Cindy Crosby (Northwestern University Press)

This slim volume, designed to slip into a backpack or a large pocket, easy to hold, illustrated with inviting drawings, and organized in a practical, user-friendly way, is by a good friend. But I assure you, I’m recommending it not because my wife and I have known Cindy Crosby for years but because—as a steward supervisor at the Morton Arboretum’s Schulenberg Prairie and a steward at Nachusa Grasslands—she is a superbly qualified guide to the tallgrass prairie, and as a writer she is lucid, companionable, and wise. This is a book we will wear out (and one that we’ll be giving to many friends).

The Fellowship

Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

This book on the Inklings (focusing primarily on C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams, but not neglecting their larger circle) was published in 2015, so why am I mentioning it now? My wife, Wendy, and I recently listened to the audiobook version (from Recorded Books, available via Audible at Amazon). You may feel—as I did when it first appeared—that we don’t really need yet another book on the Inklings. It turns out that I was wrong. The scope of this cross-cutting narrative, spanning the 20th century and setting the lives and works of these four extraordinary characters in context, is stunning. Of course you’ll have quibbles, but you won’t regret the investment of time and attention.

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