Gift Books: So Many Ideas for Giving
In this issue (the first of three focusing on gift books) we offer 22 reviews. That's still not enough space to cover all of the books we like, so I'll add a few more:
Matchbook by Shahid Datawala (Tara Books) is a little slipcovered paperback celebrating that ubiquitous feature of Indian daily life, the matchbook, in appealing works of art, down to the variations on the strike patterns on the box edges. A perfect accompaniment is The Cigarette Papers: A Eulogy for the Cigarette Packet in Anecdote & Literature by Peter Ashley (Frances Lincoln), a nostalgic collection of the packs that were everywhere, at work and home, in literature and film. Another nostalgic era is presented in The Edwardian Country House: A Social and Architectural History by Clive Aslet (Frances Lincoln). Almost 300 pages of photos and text will satisfy Downton Abbey fans waiting for season three.
Three photography books on a range of subjects. Football's Greatest from Sports Illustrated (Time Home Entertainment) is a huge production, with photos that seem almost life-size. In Icons by Markus Klinko and Indrani Pal-Chaudhuri (Running Press), stars from film, fashion and music are showcased in glittering images. A more sedate art--Japanese prints--comes from the Portland Art Museum: The Artist's Touch, the Craftsman's Hand, edited by Maribeth Graybill. Three centuries of prints in 300 pages make for an exquisite compilation.
More big, impressive books are the latest in annotated classics: The Annotated Brothers Grimm: The Bicentennial Edition by Maria Taber (Norton) would be a nice gift in tandem with Philip Pullman's Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm. Jane Austen's Emma has been annotated by Bharat Tandon (Belknap Harvard)--560 pages of notes and illustrations, enough for any Austenophile. Also from Belknap Harvard is The Annotated Frankenstein, edited by Susan J. Wolfson and Ronald Levao. These are beautifully produced volumes, and would be appreciated by fans and by first-time readers of these classics. --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness
Science Fiction & Fantasy
American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s
by Gary K. Wolfe, editor
The 1950s was a boom period for American science fiction, as writers pushed past the genre's pulp origins to create novels that, while often ignored by the contemporary literary establishment, have in some cases earned a distinctive reputation in the following decades. Gary K. Wolfe, one of SF's leading scholars, has chosen nine novels from the decade for an anthology intended to showcase the best of the best. The selection in American Science Fiction spans a variety of styles, from the biting satire of Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth's The Space Merchants to the fast-paced adventure of Robert Heinlein's Double Star and Alfred Bester's intense revenge tale The Stars My Destination. In some cases, such as Algis Budry's Who?, these books are not otherwise readily available, making their appearance in the Library of America's high-quality format all the more welcome. A QR code on the dust jackets and slipcase will guide you to a website full of additional resources on the books and authors selected--and on science fiction as a whole. This two-volume set isn't for casual SF fans, but it's perfect for anyone who wants to dive into the classics. --Ron Hogan, founder of Beatrice.com
Discover: A two-volume set of classic science fiction from the 1950s.
Library of America,
boxed set, 9781598531572
The Rime of the Modern Mariner
by Nick Hayes
The ecological message of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner receives a stylish and timely update in Nick Hayes's dazzling debut graphic novel. A newly divorced businessman sits down on a park bench to eat his bland lunch. Out of nowhere, the mariner joins him and abruptly begins his sad tale. Although Hayes relocates the setting to the Pacific Ocean in his retelling, the essence and style of Coleridge's poem remains. The seaman kills an albatross, but as it hangs around his neck, he sees that it was tangled in a bit of fishing net. The sea he looks out upon contains the same ethereal phantoms and vengeful, ancient gods as Coleridge's original, but also is riddled with the waste of man. Hayes's art combines the painstaking intricacies of an M.C. Escher woodcut with the poignant elegance of Marjane Satrapi; in parts, it complements the lettering so well that it produces an experience similar to reading an illuminated manuscript. --Sarah Borders, librarian at Houston Public Library
Discover: A beautifully haunting retelling of Coleridge's most famous poem and the perfect gift for any graphic novel fan.
by Chris Ware
Chris Ware's Building Stories comes in a sturdy box that contains defiantly non-electronic comic strips, pamphlet-sized graphic short stories, a hardbound volume in the dimensions of a Golden Book, a few comic-book sized collections and a large, hard tri-fold piece that would work in a board game. The story readers must build from these disparate parts (without any instruction or obvious hints) reads like a meditation on the nature of memory itself: melancholy, confusing at times, bittersweet and always from the remembering party's perspective.
Building Stories follows the life of an amputee woman as she grows up looking for meaning and love in an indifferent world. Other stories concern a tenement building in Chicago and the elderly woman who owns it, plus an odd little comic about Brandford the Bee. The formats of solidly printed paper comics collected here are ultimately as important as the stories within. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A phenomenal collection of indie-comic tales involving a woman searching for herself.
Essays & Criticism
The Minus Times Collected: Twenty Years / Thirty Issues
by Hunter Kennedy, editor
Hunter Kennedy started The Minus Times in 1992, "when the Internet was still science fiction and phones had cords attached to walls," as a typewritten one-sheet illustrated with newspaper clippings that you could pick up for free if you knew where to find it. It eventually grew into a full-fledged literary magazine (still laid out by typewriter) where you could find an analysis of the sexual symbolism of The Andy Griffith Show by poet Joe Wenderoth alongside cartoons by Dave Eggers or short fiction from Sam Lipsyte and Wells Tower. (In an introduction, Man Booker nominee Patrick deWitt explains how getting his first stories into the magazine kept his writing career moving forward.) It's been three years since the last issue, but now that it's here, Kennedy has bundled it together with all the preceding content for an overview of a frequently unsettling but always provocative strain of underground American literature in the new millennium. --Ron Hogan, founder of Beatrice.com
Discover: An overview of a small magazine that has grown from a typewritten one-sheet to a (still) typewritten full-fledged literary magazine.
Trees of Life : A Visual History of Evolution
by Theodore W. Pietsch
Researchers and scientists have used branching tree diagrams to depict correlations between organisms for centuries. In Trees of Life, Theodore Pietsch compiles an impressive collection of these images to represent the evolution of the original family tree.
Early bracketed designs, like Francis Willughby's "Piscium Cartilagineorum Tabula" (a classification of cartilaginous fishes), exhibit the imagined order of life creation. Modern and meticulous pictorial phylogenies, such as "The Evolution of the Pineal Eye-Hole in Geologic Time," exemplify current scientific research into the evolution of organisms. Pietsch holds the diverse range of trees together with a cohesive timeline showing the development and transformation between these life system blueprints. He includes accompanying explanations of each diagram and a comprehensive glossary as well as end notes.
Trees of Life commemorates the tree as a visual representation of life; science buffs will revel in this dazzling forest of transformation. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts
Discover: A comprehensive history celebrating the pictorial representation of evolution.
Johns Hopkins University Press,
Nature & Environment
On Arctic Ground: Tracking Time Through Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve
by Debbie Miller
At 23 million acres, Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve is the largest single unit of public lands in the United States, none of it permanently protected. Rich in oil, gas and coal, it is also home to an astounding diversity of plants and animals, many endangered and threatened; the migratory birds of six continents begin their lives in the Reserve. Debbie S. Miller's On Arctic Ground is a striking plea for the conservation of this irreplaceable natural space.
Although it can be read cover to cover, the best way to enjoy this book is to take its short chapters one by one. Each provides mind-boggling details--like the bar-tailed godwit's nonstop, 7,000-mile migration from western Alaska to New Zealand--and makes the starkly moving point that this incomparable area is highly vulnerable. Breathtaking full-page pictures throughout offer stunning portrayals of the Reserve's strange and spectacular life forms. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pages of julia
Discover: A call for the preservation of Alaska's natural heritage, with exquisite photos.
American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America
by Michelle Obama
The first ladies of the United States have a tradition of working on projects that address a problem they see as needing the attention and resources that can come from someone in the White House. Nutrition is a vexing national issue--considered one of the biggest health dangers facing the American population--and Michelle Obama has spearheaded efforts to raise awareness around nutrition by planting a working garden on the White House grounds, among other efforts. American Grown describes her activism, accompanied by well-done photography detailing her efforts from seed to harvest--both of the garden, and of her various health initiatives launched--all of which is interspersed with stories, history and recipes from the White House kitchen. The result is a beautiful call to arms (or rather, shovels and seeds) to build self-reliance and better health. --Matthew Tiffany, counselor, writer for Condalmo
Discover: Michelle Obama's illustrated book raises awareness of the challenges the U.S. faces in overcoming obesity and the role one's own garden can play in making change.
Radioactive Man: Radioactive Repository Volume One
by Matt Groening
Radioactive Man: Radioactive Repository Volume One is a delightful romp through the history of comics as filtered through the art style of Simpsons creator Matt Groening. It starts with an introduction by Morty Mann, the fictional creator of the superhero Radioactive Man, followed by a faux retrospective of the character's history. The heart of the book is in the 20 well-crafted stories that pay loving homage to comic books in all their ridiculous, four-colored glory--from the early pulp magazines through Jack Kirby's cosmic 1970s style, finishing strongly with a tribute to Watchmen-esque art and storytelling. Radioactive Man and his young ward, Fallout Boy, fight a rotating roster of baddies, including Larceny Lass, Magmo the Lava Man and Larva Girl. Comic fans will love the hilarious references, which skewer comic books, pop culture, political and social movements and--of course--The Simpsons. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A running gag from The Simpsons expands into a satirical look at politics and pop culture.
The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in Twelve Songs
by Michael Feinstein
The Gershwins and Me is Michael Feinstein's tribute to George and Ira Gershwin, those genius brothers of popular song. Feinstein places the pair in the forefront of America's cultural soundtrack, and in addition to masterworks like Porgy and Bess and "Rhapsody in Blue," he also focuses on a dozen ageless songs--including "Strike Up the Band," "The Man I Love," "I've Got a Crush on You" and "Someone to Watch Over Me"--which he also performs on an accompanying CD.
His connection to the subject is personal: at the tender age of 20, Feinstein landed a job as archivist to Ira Gershwin, where he had access to Ira's collections--and heard many personal reminiscences.
"This book is a celebration," Feinstein writes. "It's my attempt to capture and preserve the essence of an era... it was a time when the names George and Ira Gershwin were synonymous with everything that was fresh, exciting and vital about the creative arts." --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Cannon Beach, Ore.
Discover: Michael Feinstein traces the cultural impact of the Gershwins from Tin Pan Alley to Broadway to Hollywood.
Simon & Schuster,
Abbey Road: The Best Studio in the World
by Alistair Lawrence
For many in the United States, "Abbey Road" immediately calls to mind the Beatles album and its iconic cover of the band strolling single file across a London street. However, in England, Abbey Road is recognized as the name of the most famous recording studio in the world. Over the past 80 years, the home of EMI (Electric and Musical Industries) has been at the vanguard of modern recorded music--inventing much of the technology that made it possible. In this lavish archival photo-history of the studio, Alistair Lawrence has not only chronicled the long list of other performers who did their best work at Abbey Road (e.g., the London Philharmonic, King George VI, Glenn Miller, Peter Sellers, Pink Floyd and Elton John), but also illustrated the recording innovations developed at Abbey Road: everything from microphones to vinyl cutters to 16 track stereo mixers. Imagine a world without Abbey Road Studio--no Beatles, no "King's Speech." --Bruce Jacobs
Discover: The story of modern musical recording in a lavish archival photo-history of the world's most famous recording studio.
Art & Photography
Honky Tonk: Portraits of Country Music
by Henry Horenstein
Starting in the early 1970s, Henry Horenstein set out to photograph the honky tonk world of country music, a dying milieu characterized by songwriter Harlan Howard's epitaph: "Three chords and the truth." While Horenstein's unadorned black-and-white shots heavily cover country music's ground zero--Nashville's Ryman Auditorium and, just across the alley, Tootsie's Orchid Lounge--they also peer into joints all across the country: Boston's Hillbilly Ranch gets as much exposure as Austin's Continental Club and Fais Do-Do in Marksville, La. His photos focus on the people in the honky tonks, not just the photo-cluttered walls and linoleum tables. Under Horenstein's generous eye, the honky tonks are revealed as places for inexpensive pleasure and escape, where not-so-famous entertainers mingle with even less famous patrons, and beer bottles cluster behind the smoke of cheap cigarettes. If "it wasn’t God who made honky tonk angels," as Kitty Wells sang, it's Henry Horenstein who has made them look good. --Bruce Jacobs
Discover: The fast-fading world of country music honky tonks in photographs as true as the twang of a steel guitar.
Talking Pictures: Images and Messages Rescued from the Past
by Ransom Riggs
Ransom Riggs's hobby is to collect "vernacular images of weddings and funerals, family vacations, backyard forts, first days of schools," pictures that have been "dumped into... communal graves of a sort." He especially likes how these gothic photos spring to life when accompanied by captions. Often a stranger's writing transforms the banality of the photo into something close to art: a blurred image of a rocky wall flanking a forlorn road is inscribed with this sentence: "Rock wall near Rose Bowl, Pasadena Cal where Dorothy found a Baby Girl on Jan 24, 1961."
Car accidents, infectious diseases and untimely deaths are recorded off-handedly, as if their very announcement keeps terror at bay. Tragic yet defiant, these captioned images represent a sustained dialogue between the dead and the living, evoking "I Died for Beauty" by Emily Dickinson: "And so, as kinsmen met a night/ We talked between the rooms/ Until the moss had reached our lips/ And covered up our names." --Thuy Dinh, editor, Da Mau magazine
Discover: Words give life to found memento mori, transforming daily suffering into poetry.
Artists' Postcards: A Compendium
by Jeremy Cooper
Postcards may be small, but they've been big since the 1850s. "Postcards mean things fun and fundamental--to almost everyone," Jeremy Cooper explains in the gorgeous, surprising Artists' Postcards. Artists have been making postcard art as long as they've been around, but especially since 1980--largely because it's cheap and they can reach a wide audience.
After some background material about the gradual rise of this art form, Cooper breaks down contemporary artists' postcards into various categories, from original artist-designed cards to alterations of existing cards. He also covers composite pieces, collages, boxed sets and mail art, with additional focus on political and polemical work and promotional cards.
Many of the artists represented are not well known; the postcards thus serve as tiny, affordable advertisements for their art. The range of images and styles is substantial--more than 400 illustrations, most in color--as is the wit and creativity they demonstrate. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher
Discover: A lavishly illustrated history of how artists have exploited the inexpensive postcard.
The Highlands: Land and Light
by Craig Aitchison
In the introduction to his first book, The Highlands: Land and Light, landscape photographer Craig Aitchison describes the dramatic geographic diversity and complexity of the Scottish Highlands; the stunning images he includes provide eloquent evidence. Aitchison divides his photographs according to season, illustrating the sometimes harsh but always shockingly beautiful landscape in its various incarnations. A note accompanies each panoramic photo, explaining the history or geography of the landmark, and Aitchison often elaborates on his own experience when he took the image. Though his photographs depict the Highlands as being largely unspoiled, there are subtle clues in the images and in Aitchison's descriptions that point to the slow encroachment of development and environmentalism. The Highlands will be an excellent gift for anyone already acquainted with the area, and a riveting introduction for those who haven't yet had the privilege. --Judie Evans, librarian
Discover: The shocking and volatile beauty of the Scottish Highlands in all their panoramic glory.
Artists in Love
by Veronica Kavass
The purpose of Artists in Love, Veronica Kavass writes, is "to revitalize these artists and their works, to present the way they, as partners, collaborated, influenced one another, or guarded their art from a lover's influences." Kavass's fascination with Lee Miller, "a seductive, ghostly beauty," drew her to the starting point of this project, the story of Miller's relationship with Man Ray. From there, Kavass went to Frida Kahlo, a woman with significant physical problems who could still laugh at her infirmities and forgive Diego Rivera for his many infidelities.
The other couples in Artists in Love--29 in all--include Wassily Kandinsky and Gabrielle Munter, Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe, Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight, Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Motherwell and Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. Lush, stunning illustrations of their art accompany Kavass's revealing essays, along with documentary photographs of the couples by Irving Penn, Robert Capa and others. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Cannon Beach, Ore.
Discover: A lushly illustrated book for those who love art and believe in love.
The Art of Luke Chueh: Bearing the Unbearable
by Luke Chueh
Luke Chueh may paint pictures of anthropomorphic bears and bunnies, but his work definitely isn't for kids. You've probably seen his adorably macabre images on skateboards, album covers and bootlegged T-shirts. A Los Angeles artist with a cult following, Chueh juxtaposes the "cute and the brute": his little bears stand alone in empty stark spaces, often bloody or breaking apart or on fire, evoking loneliness and discomfort but also a sweet ironic humor.
Organized chronologically and strung together with brief commentaries by the artist, gallery owners and celebrity fans, Bearing the Unbearable showcases Chueh's work from 2003-2009. It's a beautifully formatted book, and Chueh's simple images are all the more striking on big glossy pages.
"This is an art movement of icons and relatability," writes one contributor--like Chueh, a member of the "pop surrealist" movement. "And Luke has created some of the strongest icons of all." --Hannah Calkins
Discover: A beautifully formatted showcase of artist Luke Chueh's creepy-cute work.
Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam
by Venetia Porter, editor
The British Museum's Venetia Porter edits contributions from an impressive roster of scholars in Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam, the companion volume to a beautifully curated celebration of the history, rituals and people of the world's largest pilgrimage.
"Hajj" is the journey to Mecca, a sacred duty Muslims must undertake if they are physically and financially able. "There can be no better introduction to the dynamic and values of Muslim faith than the Hajj pilgrimage," writes Karen Armstrong (A History of God) in her introduction, and for the curious layperson, this seems to be true. In carefully detailed sections devoted to the history of the rituals of the Hajj, the effects of time and politics on its routes and the iconic textiles that surround it, Hajj presents a robust education in what moves and motivates the millions of pilgrims that travel to Mecca every year. --Hannah Calkins, blogger at Unpunished Vice
Discover: A beautifully curated study of the history of one of the five pillars of Islam: the sacred journey to Mecca.
Harvard University Press,
50 Main Street: The Face of America
by Piero Ribelli
In 50 Main Street, Piero Ribelli's photographs--the fruit of 47,000 miles of road and air travel--paint a 50-state portrait of a common address and the people who inhabit it. Ribelli, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1985, set out to find 50 different Americans with a home or business at 50 Main Street--one in each state--and take their photograph. 50 Main Street combines these Americans and their stories with his stunning images in a coast-to-Alaska-and-Hawaii tour of the United States, its landscapes, its stories and its Main Streets. His portraits provide a heartwarming view of the human side of the U.S., the personal histories and quirks that bring us together, in a book perfect for an armchair vacation or a reminder that what brings us together will always be stronger than what drives us apart. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Book Cricket
Discover: A 50-state view of America that celebrates the things that make us different as well as the things that we share.
Cameron & Co.,
How to Draw Your Dragon
by Sergio Guinot
Part fantasy field guide, part art lesson and part dragon tale, fantasy artist Sergio Guinot's How to Draw Your Dragon will appeal to aspiring artists as well as fans of Christopher Paolini, Anne McCaffrey and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Each lesson opens with a segment of story connecting the various dragons pictured, as the fictional narrator, an illustrator in the year 3112 CE, joins an expedition to investigate reports of dragon sightings and finds himself embroiled in a struggle between humanity and its draconic enemies and allies.
Beautiful, imaginative and comprehensive, the lessons cover traditional pencil-and-ink drawing but also delve into digital finishing methods. From traditional saurian dragons to feathered amphiteres and marine beasts, dragons of stone and flame to an astonishing faerie dragon made entirely of living branches, Guinot's illustrations and tutelage are sure to inspire teen and adult artists alike. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Latah County Library District and blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: An ingenious how-to-draw manual that’s part field guide, part art lesson and part dragon tale.