Gift Books: The Extragavant
This is our first gift book issue of the season, and beyond the 20 titles reviewed below, I'd like mention a few lavish offerings, like The Cosmic Script: Sacred Geometry and the Science of Arabic Penmanship (Inner Traditions, $150). In two slipcased volumes, Ahmed Moustafa and Stefan Sperl cover the history of Islamic calligraphy in spectacular fashion. Just as gorgeous is the Metropolitan Museum of Art's The Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp: The Persian Book of Kings by Sheila R. Canby ($75)--an illustrated epic poem from the 10th century. These illuminated pages are known as the most beautiful of all editions.
The New Sylva: A Discourse of Forest & Orchard Trees for the Twenty-First Century (Bloomsbury, $90) is based on a definitive 1664 work by British horticulturist John Evelyn. Silvologist Gabriel Hemery and artist Sarah Simblet have updated his study with black-and-white drawings and elegant prose. Another take on the natural world: Ansel Adams in Yosemite Valley: Celebrating the Park at 150 (Little, Brown, $100). It's what we expect from him--luminous photographs--curated by Peter Galassi in a large-format, clothbound book. There's more exquisite photography in Earth Is My Witness: The Photography of Art Wolfe (Earth Aware Editions, $95)--absolutely breathtaking, from majestic lions in fold-out spreads to sadhus in India to icebergs to Mongolian eagle hunters.
Peter Mendelsund is one of the current top book designers, and his work has been collected in Cover (powerHouse Books, $60). It's a treat for book lovers and artists, who will certainly find at least one--more likely, many--favorite book cover. More cover art is in the boxed Marvel Comics: 75 Years of Cover Art (DK Publishing, $50)--Spider Man, Iron Man, the Avengers, Captain America, X-Men--a feast for fans. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Star Wars: Imperial Handbook Deluxe Edition
by Daniel Wallace
Star Wars: Imperial Handbook Deluxe Edition is impressive from the moment it comes out of its box: spring-loaded doors on the case open to lights and sound effects, revealing a slim hardcover inside. This book--a handbook of the Imperial Army, Navy and Stormtrooper Corps, including details on Imperial weapons and technologies--is just as impressive. Written as a commanders' guidebook, this copy fell into the hands of Luke Skywalker, who provided it to the Rebel Alliance as a resource.
Daniel Wallace (The Jedi Path and numerous other Star Wars reference guides) has done an impressive job making the piece feel authentic. The original text of the book is ostensibly a relic dating from before the Battle of Yavin; annotations from Alliance commanders and soldiers (including Han and Leia) add to the realism of the conceit. Any fan of Star Wars will want this glowing case, filled with full-color pages and detailed illustrations, on her shelf. -- Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: An relic from the years before the Battle of Yavin, sure to delight any fans of either Empire or Alliance.
Ships, Clocks, and Stars: The Quest for Longitude
by Rebekah Higgitt, Richard Dunn
For the tercentenary of Britain's Longitude Act of 1714, the Royal Museums Greenwich offers an exhibition and accompanying book, Ships, Clocks, and Stars: The Quest for Longitude. For centuries, longitude, which locates a place on the Earth on an east-west basis, was impossible to track at sea, posing not only economic but safety challenges. This issue was eventually solved in the 1700s, largely by British scientists and philosophers, including astronomers, inventors and clockmakers. The story of quest for a solution--first define the question, then ascertain a reliable way to determine longitude while out in the open ocean, then build reliable and consistent tools--is one of innovation, cooperation and competition, as well as science. Richard Dunn and Rebekah Higgitt, both researchers and museum curators, relate the quest for longitude in accessible prose, complementing the text with more than 150 images, maps and artwork. While the ample notes will be welcomed by academic readers, the intriguing and varied illustrations and lively subject matter--a first-class adventure tale--will entertain anyone who dreams of travel and exploration. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: The historic quest for naval navigation measurements, heavily illustrated and enlightening.
Retronaut: The Photographic Time Machine
by Chris Wild
A chance discovery of an old book of photographs helped former museum curator Chris Wild realize that the mental image he had of history was inaccurate. He set out to find other photographs that would transform his "low-resolution version" into "a new colorful past of high resolution, high contrast, low noise--and lots and lots of detail."
Wild took his acquisitions to the Internet and created a blog he called Retronaut, meaning "someone who travels back." Retronaut: The Photographic Time Machine brings a selection of the virtual collection into a captivating print compilation of photos, posters, advertisements and other curiosities that enhance the detail of bygone times.
The "time capsule" presentation of images, riveting quotes from a wide variety of luminaries and thorough captions will mesmerize readers as they view snapshots of the world through Wild's rear-facing lens. A great conversation starter, Retronaut also offers teachers a fresh springboard for school projects. Fans of the unusual will rejoice. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts
Discover: An offbeat assemblage of past artifacts that inflate commonly held, two-dimensional presumptions into three-dimensional marvels.
National Geographic Society,
The Crossing of Antarctica: Original Photographs from the Pioneering Expedition
by George Lowe, Huw Lewis-Jones
Few people put Antarctica on their bucket lists. There are no beaches, no museums, no cities or permanent residents--just five million square miles of land, 98% of which is covered with ice (the remainder is bare rock). Still, a transcontinental trip across Antarctica has entranced the modern world's great explorers since Ernest Shackleton's tragic Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in the early 1900s. It wasn't until the 1955-1958 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition that other explorers accomplished Shackleton's dream of an edge-to-edge land crossing of the continent.
Vivian Fuchs's successful expedition included George Lowe, the mountaineer photographer and filmmaker who had recorded Sir Edmund Hillary's 1953 conquest of Everest. The Crossing of Antarctica: Original Photographs from the Pioneering Expedition celebrates the centennial of Shackleton's failed crossing with the first collection of Lowe's original expedition photographs, a historical narrative by University of Cambridge Professor Huw Lewis-Jones, and selected reflections by renowned world explorers. Its 200 images show all the ice, snow, wind, frozen whiskers, Sno-Cats and sled dogs needed to illustrate the magnitude of the team's accomplishment. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: George Lowe's photos of and the history behind the first successful trans-Antarctic expedition.
Thames & Hudson,
Nature & Environment
Great Bear Wild: Dispatches from a Northern Rainforest
by Ian McAllister
Great Bear Wild: Dispatches from a Northern Rainforest is an impassioned plea for the conservation of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, photographed and written by Ian McAllister ("talk to anyone in the Great Bear about wildlife and eventually Ian's name will come up," writes Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., in the foreword). This distinctive coastal region is threatened by pipelines, oil tankers and liquefied-natural-gas transport; environmental groups and First Nation people are coming together in the fight to protect the enormous biodiversity, cultural heritage and immense beauty at stake.
McAllister, an accomplished photographer and longtime resident of the Great Bear, has local connections and a deep understanding of the issues at hand. Readers can flip through his work solely for the breathtaking photographs--of bat stars, spirit bears, sea wolves, salmon and many other remarkable creatures--but this accomplished collection also begs to be consumed chapter by chapter, for its ardent, beautifully written, informative prose. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: Beautiful photographs of the Great Bear Rainforest, at risk on the west coast of Canada.
University of Washington Press,
Crown of the Continent: The Wildest Rockies
by Steven Gnam
In his stunning homage to the expanse of Rocky Mountains between Missoula, Mont., and Banff in Alberta, Canada, photographer Steven Gnam captures an awe-inspiring region in all its seasons while locals offer essays on the importance of this exceptional geographic stretch and the need to increase wildlife corridors.
Gnam captures the vast plant and animal life in breathtaking color. All the images--taken at ground level, and in some cases below the waterline--emphasize the miraculous expanse of this region, especially in relation to man. The interwoven essays are as mesmerizing as the images. Crown of the Continent: The Wildest Rockies was conceived as a way to educate people to the vital importance of connecting protected islands of wilderness. Each passionate essayist encourages enlightenment through anecdotes, data and insight.
Contributor Michael Jamison says, "There is no separating the human from the wild. Our species has not seceded from nature." Readers will feel this connection acutely in Crown of the Continent. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts
Discover: A brilliant photography collection of a rare biosphere that is sure to enthrall any nature lover.
The Writer's Garden: How Gardens Inspired Our Best-Loved Authors
by Jackie Bennett, Richard Hanson, photographer
Jackie Bennett (former editor of Garden Design Journal) examines the lives of 19 British writers and their relationships to their gardens in The Writer's Garden: How Gardens Inspired Our Best-Loved Authors. Virginia Woolf wandered the roomlike gardens at Monk's House while she labored over Mrs. Dalloway. Charles Dickens tended to the gardens at Gad's Hill Place each day before tackling his masterpieces. The woodland paths and boathouse at Greenway inspired Agatha Christie's Dead Man's Folly. And would there have ever been a James and the Giant Peach had Roald Dahl not studied his own fruit orchard and the crawly creatures in the gardens at Gipsy House?
Archival images and vivid landscape photographs accompany the profiles and enhance each intimate glimpse into the countryside sanctuaries that fed the imaginations of great writers. "Written in Residence" sidebars offer lists of works created at each locale, and epilogues explain what became of the homes and gardens after the death of each revered wordsmith. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: An intimate glimpse into the country homes and gardens of some of the great British poets, essayists and novelists.
The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden
by Rick Darke, Doug Tallamy
The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden aims to foster gardens hospitable to wildlife and human inhabitants. Rick Darke (plant ecologist, horticulturist, photographer and landscape designer) and Doug Tallamy (professor, entomologist, behavioral ecologist and ornithologist) unite over their shared interest in nurturing biological diversity to create "a book about how native plants can play essential roles in gardens designed for multiple purposes, with a focus on proven functionality," including durability, cooling, groundwater recharge and food and shelter.
Darke uses his own 20-year-old garden as a "living laboratory," and his aesthetic sense is demonstrated through the luminous photography. Tallamy's passion for ecosystems ensures the beautiful landscapes host an array of wildlife as he teaches gardeners how to bring lessons learned from the "structure, composition, and processes of functional ecosystems" into their own backyards. The examples are from eastern North America, but apply to many areas; a chart lists plants and their function by region to inspire gardens that embrace human desires to play, dine and entertain while respecting natural habitats. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics
Discover: How gardens can nourish all species.
Styling the Stars: Lost Treasures from the Twentieth Century Fox Archive
by Angela Cartwright, Tom McLaren
Angela Cartwright, who played Brigitta von Trapp in The Sound of Music, grew up on movie sets and was fascinated by the way actors transformed into their characters. She and coauthor Tom McLaren delved into the Twentieth Century Fox archives and found negatives of long-forgotten continuity photos from movies made from the late 1920s to the early 1970s.
Continuity photos are taken on sets to document the makeup, hairstyle and wardrobe of every actor in every scene so that the looks can be re-created at a later time. Because the shots in Styling the Stars: Lost Treasures from the Twentieth Century Fox Archive are not publicity stills, the actors are more unguarded than carefully posed. Marlon Brando smiles with sand and fake blood on his face, and Doris Day pretends to be grumpy in a robe and pajamas. The book also covers little-known facts (Olivia de Havilland had to wear her own clothes in Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte). Classic-movie lovers will enjoy these glimpses of stars in the process of creating some of their iconic roles. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: Candid, on-set photos of classic movie stars being made camera-ready.
The Making of Gone with the Wind
by Steve Wilson
Commemorating the 75th anniversary of the film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, this gorgeous book by Steve Wilson showcases more than 600 items from producer David O. Selznick's archives.
These items, also on exhibit at the Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin (where Wilson is curator of the film collection), include storyboards, costume sketches, stills from the screen tests of the top contenders for Scarlett O'Hara, on-set photos and confidential memos from the creative minds behind the movie.
Among the most fascinating artifacts is the seven-page edict from the Hays Office (Hollywood's censors), with notes about which elements were objectionable (e.g., painful childbirth, use of the N word by "white people") and needed to be toned down or eliminated. Fans of the classic film will see it again with new eyes after reading this book, and those who haven't experienced it will want to settle in for a viewing. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: Rarely seen photos and materials from the production of one of the most popular films of all time.
University of Texas Press,
American Jukebox: A Photographic Journey
by Christopher Felver
Best known for his pictorial chronicles of the Beat Generation, Christopher Felver (Beat) has also spent 30 years snapping quick informal portraits of the masters of late 20th-century jazz, rock and blues. American Jukebox is Felver's own personal photographic playlist, with more than 200 black-and-white shots of an eclectic range of musical icons. Like a friendly paparazzo, he roamed the classic festivals (Farm Aid, Monterey Jazz Festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass) to catch the stars at their candid best.
He covers all the greats with their hats, horns and other gear. There's B.B. King with Lucille (his guitar), Oscar Peterson in an elegant tuxedo, Dr. John and Clarence "Frogman" Henry with their walking sticks, Trombone Shorty with his 'bone and mirrored aviators and Ironing Board Sam wearing a sequined jacket and a big smile. With essays and comments from the likes of Dan Hicks, Ed Sanders of the Fugs and Ramblin' Jack Elliott, American Jukebox is a warm tribute to those who created this nation's modern musical legacy. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kans.
Discover: A cornucopia of musical legends of the late 20th century, captured in moments of natural ease.
Indiana University Press,
Art & Photography
Vogue & the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute: Parties, Exhibitions, People
by Hamish Bowles
Like a piece of couture, a decadent book demands reverence. So it is with Vogue & the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute: Parties, Exhibitions, People
, with an ornate, glossy interior that's a work of art unto itself. The volume spans exhibitions from 2001's "Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years" to 2014's "Charles James: Beyond Fashion," and the array of historical gowns, starlets and striking photographs are an argument that fashion is more than the sum of its parts: it's an art form, a cultural barometer and a touchstone of identity.
Hamish Bowles (editor-in-chief of Vogue Living
) follows the thread of a garment from its inception to its modern iteration: first a harem costume from 1911, then a gossamer 1920s gown and, finally, a photo of model Natalia Vodianova in flapper-inspired Dior in a 2007 issue of Vogue
. Running the gamut from oddity to conventional beauty, these designs are a feast of artful confections. --Linnie Greene
, freelance writer
Discover: The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute exhibitions as depicted through the lenses and pens of Vogue photographers and writers.
Unconventional & Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950-2000
by Roderick Kiracofe
In the popular imagination, quilts have a homespun, make-do-and-mend image: they often appear in historical movies or novels as potent symbols of hearth and family. But for Roderick Kiracofe (Going West!), quilt expert and collector, the history and aesthetic of this art form goes far beyond that notion. In this gorgeously illustrated coffee-table book, Kiracofe showcases nearly 150 examples that break the rules. Made by Americans (mostly women) in the latter half of the 20th century, the quilts range from surprising takes on traditional patterns to Pop Art creations featuring mod patterns, bold color combinations and unusual motifs.
Accompanying the photos are 10 essays by quilters, museum curators and historians (whose designations sometimes overlap). The essays offer commentary on specific pieces, but also explore the history of the craft and its practitioners, common textiles and motifs and quiltmaking as an art form. For those interested in these slices of Americana as handicrafts, objets d'art or historical artifacts, this is a fascinating exploration of modern quiltmaking. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: A bold collection of unconventional American quilts, with essays exploring the craft and art form.
Stewart, Tabori, & Chang,
A Respect for Light: The Latin American Photographs, 1974-2008
by Mario Algaze
Leaving Cuba for the U.S. as a teen refugee, Mario Algaze grew up to become a detached yet knowing observer of the Latin American experience. His street-scene photographs span three decades and 16 countries, and the Spanish titles of most of his photographs serve as a dislocation technique, challenging the viewer to create meaning out of their "found" formalism.
While the ideal clashes with the real in most of Algaze's work, the artist does not seem to indict the poverty or desolation that he witnessed. Instead, he seems to project humor and hope: Lady Liberty, with one arm missing, holds her torch at the bottom of a dilapidated stairway; postcard images of Che and Castro wait for potential tourists in a sunlit alley; former Bolivian dictator Hugo Banzer, who lost in the 1978 election, still leaves tattered traces of his presence on a wall in La Paz (Banzer was later democratically re-elected); a dwarfed yet sturdy figure of a cotton-candy seller stands next to a young sapling, all symbols of both endurance and optimism. --Thuy Dinh, editor, Da Mau magazine
Discover: Painterly images of stasis and struggle that speak volumes about Latin America.
Enfu: Cute Grit
by Ken Taya
Enfu: Cute Grit is an ebulliently adorable collection of graphic artist and video-game designer Ken Taya's unabashedly joyful visual art. "Enfu" is the name Taya uses to sign his creations, like a street-art tagger hopped up on rainbows and babies. The versatile artist creates "tiny meditations on cuteness" in the Japanese chibi style, patterns of repeating graphic symbols that adorn his own line of urban clothing, "I Fart Rainbow" (an online comic strip in both English and Japanese starring his young daughter) and a wild variety of sketches and doodles.
The artwork included in this coffee-table volume--covered in an explosion of Technicolor art, printed on thick paper with hot-pink-stained edges--is a tour de force of multicultural, urban-influenced whimsy, and Enfu is ideal for readers who like to lose themselves in cheeky character art. Taya's brilliance in both color and tone is infectious; it would be hard not to love this book. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A riot of color, character and cuteness that threatens to burst forth with every page turn.
Chin Music Press,
For a Love of His People: The Photography of Horace Poolaw
by Nancy Marie Mithlo, editor
Horace Poolaw (1906-1984), a Kiowa Indian from Oklahoma, was an avid photographer who never made a living from that passion. For a Love of His People: The Photography of Horace Poolaw is the first major collection of his work, and serves as companion to a 2014 exhibition under the same name at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City. Poolaw's own photographs of his family and community, many never before published, are accompanied by related artwork in a collection of more than 150 images; these striking, vibrant images are not the only appealing aspect of this beautiful book. Essays and interviews by scholars, natives and non-natives, artists and activists and Poolaw's family put his work in artistic, political and historical context, and portray him as documentarian of his time, place and people. These diverse contributors express Poolaw's intention to preserve his piece of the 20th century, and complement the richness of his vivid work. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: Arresting images of his community, taken by a Kiowa photographer, enriched by commentary.
Charles James: Beyond Fashion
by Harold Koda, Jan Glier Reeder
This gorgeous history of Anglo-American couturier Charles James (1906-1978) is eye-catching even on the outside: the cover bears a striking edge-to-edge image of women wearing beautiful James creations. The pages are full of hundreds of breathtaking full-color photographs of dresses, close-ups of fabric and sketches done by the designer himself.
Published to accompany the 2014 exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Charles James: Beyond Fashion is a definitive study of James's work. Detailing his early life in England, his time as a milliner in Chicago and his rise to preeminence in American fashion, the book is both fascinating and striking. The stunning photographs superbly showcase his distinctively architectural approach to couture, and make clear how his creations have withstood the test of time instead of falling into obscurity like those of so many of his peers. James, one of America's first couturiers, receives his due in this fine retrospective. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm
Discover: A spectacular photographic history of the work of couturier Charles James.
Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna & Flora
by Beth Van Hoesen, Bob Hicks
Sensitivity and refined, delicate elegance mark the career of intuitive and interpretive visual artist Beth Van Hoesen (1926-2010), who was raised in the American West. She lived and pursued her art for more than 50 years in San Francisco with her husband, artist Mark Adams. Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna & Flora features more than 90 of the kinds of pieces for which Van Hoesen was best known--understated, meticulously composed, warm, appealing prints and drawings of the natural world--separated into two sections: animals (from birds to bears) and flowers (from pomegranates to poppies).
Previously unpublished journal excerpts written by the artist accompany the two portfolios and reveal the depth of her quiet artistic vision, how she captured various subjects and her feelings toward them. Bob Hicks, who has written about Van Hoesen before, introduces each section. He thoughtfully examines the late artist's work and eloquently sheds light on aspects of her life and how she cultivated, maintained and mastered her artistic sensibilities. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: Inventive, unassuming prints and drawings of flowers and animals that take on a stunning, sophisticated charm.
The Art of the Brick: A Life in Lego
by Nathan Sawaya
Nathan Sawaya had followed a fairly traditional life path until the plastic bricks he loved as a child enticed him to leave his career as a lawyer and become an artist. The Art of the Brick: A Life in Lego is Sawaya's memoir of this transition, accompanied by rich photographs of some his more famous creations. He has sculpted well-known people (Conan O'Brien), iconic images (Mt. Rushmore, the flag raising at Iwo Jima), and deeply personal faces and buildings that marked pivotal moments for him.
For those unable to visit one of Sawaya's extraordinary exhibits, The Art of the Brick is the next best thing, showcasing the tiny details and vivid colors of his sculptures. Hundreds of photos of Sawaya at work and of his art in partial and final stages bring his anecdotes to life. A fun conversation-starter and ideal for anyone into art or Legos, this is a dazzling full-color showcase of an unusual art form. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm
Discover: The life and life's work of a sculpture artist working in an unexpected medium.
No Starch Press,
100 Not So Famous Views of L.A.
by Barbara A. Thomason
For Proust, the cure for homesickness was a madeleine dipped in tea, which transported him back to Combray. For displaced Los Angelenos, the cure is Barbara A. Thomason's 100 Not So Famous Views of L.A., a gorgeous collection of paintings and text depicting city vistas both famous and obscure. Thomason dares to face down her city as it truly is--looping highway overpasses and all--and in this mixture of high and low, natural and urbane, California natives, transplants and tourists will find a winsome and loving portrait of an iconic city.
The paintings, done with the same Cel-Vinyl paint that animators use, cover neighborhoods from Silver Lake to the Miracle Mile. The span of a few pages can take the reader from #38 ("View from the Hollywood Home Depot") to #45 (the Kermit-topped Jim Henson Company Lot). Devoid of humans, these images give the city a personality and evolution unto itself, chronicling its charms, its oddities and its perennial allure. --Linnie Greene, freelance writer
Discover: A charming, colorful tour through famous and lesser-known vistas of Los Angeles.
Prospect Park Books,