Among university presses, Christmas marketing strategies vary from nonexistent to low budget to enthusiastic. But regardless of their sales efforts , university presses offer many potential Yuletide gifts for the scholar and the general reader.
The following selected titles are recommended as the best of their kind, hinting at the infinite variety of books published by university presses.
Wesleyan University Press is represented by Annie Dillard's thought-provoking Encounters with Chinese Writers (106 pp., $8.95). This is a collection of reminiscences of her conversations with Chinese writers while she was part of a six-member team of American intellectuals who visited China in 1982, and later when a Chinese delegation visited this country.
Dillard's remarkable book is a portrait painted with a light, deft touch in which highlights define the subject, which in her words ''is not China, and not even entirely Chinese writers, but a few vivid, equivocal moments in the days of some of the earth's people. . . .'' She shows these intellectuals - aliens in terms of manners and education, and lacking an understanding of each other's literary heritage - reaching out politely, humorously, and sometimes successfully to find a common means to communicate their insights on the world. In describing this contact between alien peoples, Dillard fascinates us with the process of one mind coming to understand the mystery of another.
Understanding is also the goal of a quite different book, published by the University of Arizona Press. Between Sacred Mountains: Navajo Stories and Lessons From the Land (Sun Tracks: An American Indian Literary Series, 287 pp., members of their community an appreciation of their heritage.
The large-format, attractively illustrated volume also makes fascinating reading for anyone interested in the land and customs of this important native American people.
The contents of this unique volume derive from community members of all ages; they contributed artwork, recitations of family historical and traditional stories, craft demonstrations, cooking, and work techniques to make a ''small encyclopedia of (the) Navajo country'' and way of life.
From satellite photos to homely cartoons, the illustrations provide multiple perspectives on Dire bikeyah, ''the land between sacred mountains.'' And the words of Navajo leaders, grandmothers, hunters, and children echo those of storyteller George Blueeyes, who notes, ''These mountains and the land between them / are the only things that keep us strong.''
This book shows that the Navajo are not only tied to the land, but challenged and inspired by it.
The painter John Constable was of course inspired by the land and edifices of England. In two beautifully produced art volumes, Yale University Press brings us Graham Reynolds's The Later Paintings and Drawings of John Constable (833 black-and-white and 255 color plates, text 324 pp., $195). His well-known paintings of Salisbury Cathedral are reproduced here in color along with fascinating sketches of trees, studies of cloud formations, shipyards, rural landscapes, and even an inn-sign with a mermaid motif.
One quarter of the works were previously unpublished; all are arranged in chronological order; a written entry is provided for every recorded painting and drawing identified as being produced during the last 20 years of Constable's life; a chronology of the painter's life accompanies the entries; and a fine index completes the whole.
Yale is known for its English art books: this set lives up to the high standards art experts expect from the Yale imprint.