Cover Stories: Tolkien; <i>My First Britannica</i>; novel software; translated novels

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The Independent Culture

To sharpen our critical faculties about the book of the millennium (and now of the multiplex), a new book examines Tolkien: Cult Writer or Literary Great? (Palgrave). Brian Rosebury, of the University of Central Lancashire, considers JRR in the context of other 20th-century writers, suggesting that the establishment neglects him because he eludes the strategies of contemporary criticism and transcends genres. By the way, Tolkien's publisher, HarperCollins, is celebrating the BBC Big Read win by giving all staff an extra two days' holiday.

* Anyone still looking for a lavish but serious present for six- to 12-year-olds might consider the 13-volume My First Britannica, arranged thematically in accordance with young readers' preferences. Written approachably, with more than 800 photos and illustrations, it costs £179: a worthwhile present to put under any tree.

* Another great gift, this time for aspirant novelists. Lucinda Hawksley - whose credits include a retelling for children of A Tale of Two Cities by her great, great, great-grandfather Charles Dickens - has created a software programme to guide would-be writers through the entire process of writing a novel. Will Self has applauded newnovelist, which is easy to install and features a range of powerful tools to assist the aspirant writer. There's no money-back guarantee, of course, but at just £29.99 it seems quite a bargain - and has already helped George Green, head of the creative writing course at the University of Lancaster, to get his first novel, Hound, out of the starting gate.

Our Christmas Books special (published on 5 December) lambasted the current Waterstone's gift catalogue for including just one new translated novel - and by the iffy Paulo Coelho at that. Now Andrew Stilwell, manager of the formidable London Review Bookshop (at 14 Bury Place, London WC1), points out that his gaff stocks every translated title we recommended. Do your literary shopping there and you might even have the luck to run into one of the pervy pedants who make the LRB Personals column such an utterly essential read.

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