Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, November 22, 2016


ReedPop: BookCon Tickets & Information

From My Shelf

St. Martin's Press: Come Sundown by Nora Roberts

Yen Press: Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

It's That Time: Gift Books for All

Beyond the 20 titles reviewed below, we'd like to mention just a few more. It's hard to believe, but Star Trek made its debut in 1966 ("The Trouble with Tribbles" anyone?). For the franchise's 50th anniversary, Michael and Denise Okuda have added 300 pages of new material to their 1994 The Star Trek Encyclopedia (Harper Design, 2 vol. boxed, $150). A fan essential.

For aficionados of another genre: It's All One Case: The Illustrated Ross Macdonald Archives by Paul Nelson and Kevin Avery (Fantagraphics, $44.99). Macdonald's razor-sharp prose elevated the detective novel to a new level, and the interviews and illustrations add to this icon's luster.

I have a bias toward black-and-white photography; two collections back me up. Carrie Mae Weems: Kitchen Table Series by Sarah Lewis and Adrienne Edwards (Damiani/Matsumoto Editions, $50) is a suite of 20 images and 14 text panels from 1990, published here in its entirety for the first time; Lewis calls it "the drama of a woman on a journey to becoming herself." And the absolutely stunning Palazzos of Power: Central Stations of the Philadelphia Electric Company 1900-1930 (Princeton Architectural Press, $29.95) focuses on now-abandoned machines and buildings of PECO; Joseph E.B. Elliott's large-format photographs capture the stark strength of early 20th-century industrialism.

Japan provides something softer: in Kimono, Vanishing Tradition: Japanese Textiles of the 20th Century (Schiffer, $49.99), Cheryl Imperatore and Paul MacLardy, with Tena Turner, celebrate traditional kimono and contemporary designs in more than 525 color photographs. With Hokusai Pop-Ups (Thames & Hudson, $29.95), Courtney Watson McCarthy has produced a lovely, oversize book. The Great Wave ripples open, and five other famous paintings captivate.

The Voynich Manuscript, edited by Raymond Clements (Yale University Press, $50), has been called the world's most mysterious book. Written and illustrated in the 15th century--with unfamiliar plants and a few naked women--its author is unknown and its script indecipherable. Nonetheless, as this edition demonstrates, it's as intriguing as it is baffling. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers


Weinstein Books: A Speck in the Sea: A Story of Survival and Rescue by John Aldridge and Anthony Sosinski


Book Candy

Happy Thanksreading!

Bookish holiday table: "Fantastic feasts and where to eat them" were showcased by Quirk Books, while Bustle served up "11 vegetarian Thanksgiving recipes from literature so delicious you won't miss the turkey" and suggested "9 characters you'd like to invite to Thanksgiving."

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Gratitude: In the spirit of the season, Flavorwire shared "20 literary quotes about gratitude"; and Bustle recommended "15 author quotes about gratitude and family that make the perfect Thanksgiving toast."

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Thanksgiving road trip: "Your found-in-fiction cautionary holiday travel guide" was provided by Signature, which went "looking to literature for both solace and direction."


Thomas Nelson: A Stranger at Fellsworth (Treasures of Surrey) by Sarah E. Ladd


Book Review

Biography & Memoir

Footnotes from the World's Greatest Bookstores: True Tales and Lost Moments from Book Buyers, Booksellers, and Book Lovers

by Bob Eckstein


Illustrator, writer and cartoonist Bob Eckstein (The History of the Snowman) was inspired to paint "the greatest bookstores of the world" after he contributed a piece about bookshops to the New Yorker. Amassing hundreds of quotes and insights into the value of independent stores from owners and employees, writers, celebrities and readers, Eckstein presents beautiful illustrations of 75 beloved shops, pairing them with charming quotes, stories and facts particular to each locale. Some stores are familiar: Strand Book Store in New York City, Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle and Shakespeare and Company in France. Others, however, are off the beaten path: the obscure Librairie Avant-Garde in China, Giggles of India and Words on the Water in England. Add a foreword by Garrison Keillor, a bit of history and anecdotes about great names in literature--like Hemingway, J.D. Salinger and Alice Munro--along with presidents and readers of all stripes who've wandered among the shelves, and this beautifully presented collection celebrates indie bookshops and those who love them. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: Bibliophiles will rejoice at this beautiful collection celebrating the history and lure of independent bookshops worldwide.

Clarkson Potter, $22, hardcover, 176p., 9780553459272

New Press: Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women by Susan Burton and Cari Lynn


History

Big History

by DK


"Big history" aims to knit our knowledge about the universe and life on Earth into an orderly context. It blends the social, natural and physical sciences, and looks for cause-and-effect relationships between evolutionary events. Big History, produced in association with the Big History Institute at Macquarie University in Australia, collects these ideas into a big book.

It identifies eight "thresholds" in the development of life as we know it, beginning with the Big Bang and moving through nearly 14 billion years to our modern industrial age. Each threshold is marked by its "Goldilocks conditions"--the particular, just-right combination of circumstances that set up the next evolutionary leap--as Big History explores it in words, maps, diagrams and photographs. The book features a 60-page "Timelines of World History" section in addition to topic-specific timelines on nearly every page. Although the material it covers becomes more specific and specialized as it moves closer to the current era, Big History is, quite literally, about the big picture. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's Blog: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness

Discover: Big History is a concise, chronological summation of life, the universe and everything.

DK Books, $50, hardcover, 440p., 9781465454430

HarperCollins: Celebrating 200 Years of Great Books


Undisclosed Files of the Police: Cases from the Archives of the NYPD from 1831 to the Present

by Bernard J. Whalen, Philip Messing, Robert Mladinich


Undisclosed Files of the Police is a bit of a misnomer. This coffee-table book may not shed any new light on some of the most heinous and fascinating crimes ever committed in New York City, but it does provide colorful commentary on them. It traces the history of the NYPD, along with the city itself, and shows how crimes from the past 200 years can shed light on the city's cultural, political and social identity. Written from the perspective of the police (two of the book's three authors are former cops), Undisclosed Files explains early detective work, the rise of notorious gangs in the early 20th century, and the beginning of data collection on criminals in the 1990s. The book is broken up into particular cases, using their specifics to highlight how police work and the city itself were continually changing. Complete with incredible photographs, the book is a perfect gift for anyone with a love of true crime or New York history. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: A coffee-table book tracing the history of the New York Police Department and the city's most intriguing crimes.

Black Dog & Leventhal, $40, hardcover, 320p., 9780316391238

Harper: Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton


Science

StarTalk: Everything You Ever Need to Know About Space Travel, Sci-Fi, the Human Race, the Universe, and Beyond

by Neil deGrasse Tyson


In StarTalk, Neil deGrasse Tyson has compiled the best segments of his podcast and television show into a rich compendium of entertaining and informative sections on a vast array of subjects. If you've ever wondered what astronauts eat while in space or where their waste products go, whether planting thousands of trees would help offset carbon emissions, how a roller coaster works, or if we could survive a magnetic polar reversal, then Tyson has the answer for you. Geared toward the young, but intriguing for all ages, these solid snippets of science-backed data will satisfy the curiosity of those in search of a quick answer while piquing the interest of those who wish to investigate further. Color photographs and graphics enhance every page, further stimulating the reading experience. StarTalk is so filled with details on everything from salt to sex to comedy and religion that it's best read in short sections, in order to appreciate the magnitude of information it contains. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: Neil deGrasse Tyson delivers a fascinating and science-driven look at the world around us.

National Geographic Society, $30, hardcover, 304p., 9781426217272

Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: Deadly Game  (Robert Finlay #2) by Matt Johnson


Seeds on Ice: Svalbard and the Global Seed Vault

by Cary Fowler, photographs by Mari Tefre and Jim Richardson


Built into a remote Norwegian mountainside, a concrete vault houses sealed boxes kept behind multiple locked doors, monitored by electronic security, safeguarding the key to human survival. What sounds like dystopian fiction is actually present-day reality. Seeds on Ice is the true, far-out story of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, written with authority by Cary Fowler, inaugural director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

Climate change has introduced new complexity to already challenging agricultural issues. The vault and its hundreds of millions of seeds exist thanks to farmers and scientists joining together worldwide and persisting in their mission to rescue future food supplies.

Svalbard is also home to the northernmost permanent settlement in the world, where polar bears outnumber humans two to one. Fowler shares the history and complexity of the vault and its surrounding community with straightforward prose, supported beautifully by vivid photographs from Mari Tefre and Jim Richardson. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: Seeds on Ice reveals the inside story of the race to save the world from a catastrophic food disaster.

Prospecta Press, $45, hardcover, 160p., 9781632260574

Sports

Paul Smith's Cycling Scrapbook

by Paul Smith with Richard Williams


British fashion designer Paul Smith once aspired to be a professional cyclist, and his love for the sport has persisted over the decades. Paul Smith's Cycling Scrapbook presents assorted ephemera accompanied by Smith's casual commentary, with a brief foreword by Scottish cyclist David Millar.

Smith has an impressive collection of cycling jerseys, pennants, advertisements and publications specific to professional road and track racing. Chapter headings present themes and artifacts, including racing personalities, events like grand tours and one-day classics, Smith's own bicycles and what he refers to as "the look." He admires the individual histories of heroes like Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx, and Smith's friends among contemporary racing stars, including Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins. Throughout, Smith's tone is conversational and self-effacing, even as he is honored to design the 2013 Giro d'Italia's maglia rosa (leader's jersey).

Visually stunning and wide-ranging, Paul Smith's Cycling Scrapbook elegantly marries Smith's admiration for the heroes of road and track cycling with his passion for design. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: In this love letter to professional cycling, a fashion luminary expresses his passion with visual pop.

Thames & Hudson, $50, paperback, 256p., 9780500292365

Children's & Young Adult

The Singing Bones

by Shaun Tan, foreword by Neil Gaiman


The folktales and fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm "have never been illustrated like this," writes Neil Gaiman in his lyrical introduction to The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan (The Bird King; Tales from Outer Suburbia). By "like this," Gaiman means with dramatically lit photographs of Tan's exquisite, primal sculptures that "suggest" more than "describe." "The Frog King," "Hansel and Gretel," "Rapunzel," "The Singing Bone," "Jorinda and Joringel" and 70 more are represented by very short excerpts, with context-providing plot summaries in the back, suggestions for further reading and an essay on the Brothers Grimm by expert Jack Zipes.

Tan appreciates the ambiguity of fairy tales and how they are "strung between the real and unreal, the literal and impossible, convincing and absurd." All of this shines through Tan's powerful, enigmatic papier-mâché and clay sculptures he describes as orange-like in size and "much inspired by Inuit stone carvings and pre-Columbian clay figurines." A marvel, a masterpiece, a must. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Shaun Tan creates 75 sculptural interpretations of Grimm's fairy tales, and the result is breathtaking.

Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, $24.99, hardcover, 192p., 9780545946124

Reference & Writing

Typewriter: A Celebration of the Ultimate Writing Machine

by Peter Weil, Paul Robert


Paul Robert and Peter Weil share a passionate love for the typewriter, and their homage to this frequently cherished writing instrument clearly illustrates that love. Filled with gorgeous photographs of typists and typewriters from the authors' personal collections, and with fascinating facts about the device's invention and how it rose to popularity, Typewriter: A Celebration of the Ultimate Writing Machine is a perfect gift for history aficionados, writers and vintage-loving hipsters alike.

It offers photographs and details of particular models like the Maskelyne, the Rem-Sho and the Sun Standard, as well as stories of female typists entering the workforce and biographical snippets about important typewriter innovators such as woodcarver Peter Mitterhofer of Austria and theologian James Bartlett Hammond of Boston. Robert and Weil trace a clear progression of more than 100 years of typewriter history.

The perfect way to reminisce about the pre-computer days, or marvel at how far and fast technology has adapted, Typewriter is a lovely way to while away an afternoon. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: This beautiful history of the typewriter is filled with gorgeous pictures and interesting facts.

Sterling, $21.95, hardcover, 224p., 9781454920786

Performing Arts

Billy Strayhorn: An Illustrated Life

by A. Alyce Claerbaut and David Schlesinger, editors


Within the last 20 years, the true genius of Billy Strayhorn has come to the forefront of jazz criticism and scholarship. Billy Strayhorn: An Illustrated Life, edited by his niece A. Alyce Claerbaut and David Schlesinger, gathers an insightful collection of essays, photographs and interviews on the life of this jazz great.

Strayhorn, a short, ebullient, gay, African American pianist, was a giant among jazz arrangers and composers from the 1930s until his untimely death from esophageal cancer at the age of 51 in 1967. This gorgeous coffee-table book contains candid photos of the artist at work and at play, including a never-before published photograph of a handwritten "Take the A Train" score that Strayhorn wrote for the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Fans of Strayhorn and his particular era of jazz music will be delighted with every page, filled with imagery and words that attempt to explain Strayhorn's striking talent and impact. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer/editor

Discover: Billy Strayhorn: An Illustrated Life is a beautiful volume that reveals the tremendous influence Billy Strayhorn's under-appreciated genius had on jazz music.

Agate Bolden, $35, hardcover, 208p., 9781932841985

The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop

by Richard M. Isackes, Karen L. Maness


In The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop, Richard M. Isackes and Karen L. Maness pay tribute to scenic artists, the craftspeople who hand-painted the backdrops (or backings), for Hollywood films. They may have started as immense white expanses of cotton muslin, but by the time the artists were done with them, the fabrics depicted clouds above The Petrified Forest, the faces on Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest or translucent botanical gardens in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Amid reminiscences and stories of the profession's dangers--one artist fell from an elevated platform and died while working on 2001's Planet of the Apes--the authors celebrate a craft that digital technology is slowly supplanting and showcase the achievements of industry pioneers. This handsome volume includes hundreds of movie stills and many insider tidbits that film obsessives will love. Among the latter: the scene of Rome behind George Clooney in the 2016 movie Hail, Caesar! is the original backdrop from 1959's Ben-Hur. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

Discover: A coffee-table book gives long-overdue recognition to the artists who hand-painted backdrops for Hollywood films.

Regan Arts, $100, hardcover, 352p., 9781941393086

The Rolling Stones All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track

by Philippe Margotin, Jean-Michel Guesdon


Since Mick Jagger and his band mates have been icons for more than five decades, they make fitting subjects for music biographer Philippe Margotin and musician Jean-Michel Guesdon. The meticulously researched Rolling Stones All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track covers the band's discography chronologically, from debut album to the collection released in 2012 celebrating the Stones' 50th anniversary.

Some stories are well known, such as Keith Richards's anecdote about having no memory of composing "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" in his sleep but luckily a tape recorder on his nightstand captured it--plus 40 minutes of snoring. Other revelations are more obscure, such as how "Beast of Burden" started as a song Richards wrote about himself being a burden on the band due to his drug habit.

Because they didn't interview the band members, Margotin and Guesdon use previously published information and often resort to speculation about the inspiration for each song. But the authors' thoroughness, along with more than 500 photographs, make this a handsome gift for Stone addicts. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Every Rolling Stones song gets an origin story, with a plethora of photos.

Black Dog & Leventhal, $50, hardcover, 704p., 9780316317740

Jim Henson's Labyrinth: The Ultimate Visual History

by Paula M. Block, Terry J. Erdmann


Lovers of fantasy and puppetry, rejoice: Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann (Star Trek: The Original Series 365) have compiled an exhaustive and exquisitely arranged compendium of tales and memorabilia in Jim Henson's Labyrinth: The Ultimate Visual History for the 1986 film's 30th anniversary.

This is a truly behind- and in-the-scenes look at a film that has maintained a pull on audiences for decades. With sketches, interviews with cast and crew and thorough research, Block and Erdmann explore the genesis of the film, its script, its puppets, the ins and outs of its filming, and the ups and downs of its reception. It's at once dazzling and engrossing. The collection is studded with extras that add texture and delight: inserts, posters, scripts, memos, original art and stunning photography. The result is a tribute to Henson, to Labyrinth and to the people who made it possible, a rich shrine to the film's enduring legacy. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: This collection culls behind-the-scenes stories and materials that will enthrall fans of the film Labyrinth.

Insight Editions, $45, hardcover, 192p., 9781608878109

Art & Photography

Dancers After Dark

by Jordan Matter


Photographer Jordan Matter, author of Dancers Among Us, takes his subjects out of the studio again in Dancers After Dark, this time after sunset and without their clothes. Captioned with the location and exact time each photograph was taken, the images here are stunning in their variety and ingenuity. Matter shoots his dancers all over the world, often in highly public places like the steps of the New York Public Library or a train platform in Berlin, as well as more deserted locales, like a sheep pasture in England's Cotswolds or the middle of an icy river in Steamboat Springs, Colo. The grace and athleticism of the human form is on full display here, and each photograph demonstrates daring, vulnerability, teamwork and creativity. Behind-the-scenes stories also provide a peek into the breathless process behind notable photographs. Dancers After Dark is a riveting collection of images that will inspire readers to live fully, joyfully and without fear. --Richael Best, bookseller, The Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: Dancers After Dark showcases nude dancers displaying athleticism and artistry in stunning nighttime photographs.

Workman, $19.95, paperback, 256p., 9780761189336

Picture This: How Pictures Work

by Molly Bang


First published in 1991, Picture This: How Pictures Work starts with a question: "How does the structure of a picture... affect our emotional response?" In the revised and updated 25th-anniversary edition of her work, author and illustrator Molly Bang uses pictures made of cut construction paper to attempt to answer this deceptively simple question.

Bang begins by illustrating the story of Little Red Riding Hood in its utmost simplicity, probing into how variations in shape, color and placement make viewers feel when each are seen in the context of the well-known fable. These reductive, over-simplified illustrations prove Bang's ultimate conclusion on the relationship between pictures and emotions. "We see pictures as extensions of the real world," she writes.

Picture This is as much a lesson in understanding pictures created by others as it is an invitation to improve one's own craft. Beautifully designed, with simple colors and words placed carefully to emphasize the illustrations they are meant to describe, Picture This will delight any artist, art aficionado or reader of picture books. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: The 25th-anniversary edition of a classic art book uses simple graphics to explore the relationship between pictures and emotion.

Chronicle, $22.99, paperback, 152p., 9781452151991

Yokainoshima: Island of Monsters

by Charles Fréger


Yokainoshima is a lushly beautiful collection by photographer Charles Fréger (Wilder Mann: The Image of the Savage), with commentary by experts on his Japanese subjects. Yōkai are "spirits, ghosts and other monsters," or, literally, "bewitching apparitions." On Yokainoshima, the "island of monsters," and in Japanese culture, these gods and ghosts emphasize links to other worlds, in which humans are not the only inhabitants.

The bulk of Yokainoshima is filled with nearly 200 glossy color images of masked and costumed performers representing specific yōkai in grassy fields, beaches, forests and snowfields. Standing alone, these powerful, vibrant photographs offer stories and evoke emotions. Descriptions of the depicted characters, groups and customs (located at the back of the book) elucidate the mysteries offered by the images: seasonal rites requesting fertility, abundance and protection. Short essays portray a culture defined by its spirits, monsters and connections, enriching Fréger's striking visual art. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A rich collection of photography explores the Japanese mythology that both celebrates and protects longstanding traditions.

Thames & Hudson, $40, hardcover, 256p., 9780500544594

Out of Season: The Vanishing Architecture of the Wildwoods

by Mark Havens


International photographer Mark Havens celebrates Wildwood, N.J., a seaside resort city with the largest concentration of mid-century modern hospitality architecture in the United States. Out of Season: The Vanishing Architecture of the Wildwoods is a meticulously designed, oversized book boasting 112 photographs of Wildwood's distinctive buildings, considered to be preeminent examples of the Modernist architectural subgenre. Cheaply constructed yet outrageously embellished, motels such as the Satellite, the Monaco and the Kona Kai flaunted their neon lights and brightly colored stucco. Their lowbrow status made them easy prey for demolition when architectural styles changed. As an artist, Havens works to "decelerate or suspend the irreversible flow of time" and thus arranges the photographs, taken over 10 years, according to location and time of day. This gives the sense of time passing and documents the unfortunate deterioration of the endangered structures. Two edifying essays precede the photographs, and the collection includes an appendix of buildings photographed but now demolished. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore

Discover: An elegy to hotels and motels once the height of style and now famous for their kitsch appeal.

Booth-Clibborn Editions, $55, hardcover, 224p., 9781861543783

Retro Photo: An Obsession

by David Ellwand


Professional photographer David Ellwand collects vintage photographic equipment. In this dazzling coffee-table book, he shares more than 100 cameras from his treasure trove, as well as the images created with them. The full-color, glossy pages packed with diverse brands, styles and ages of cameras are sure to tantalize any photography buff. For younger shutterbugs, the film camera may be a foreign monster, but a love of seizing moments in time through pictures is all that's needed to find beauty in these classic machines. The creative approaches to his art, both in the shooting and the processing of snapshots, is wondrous to behold for anyone, but inspiring and motivating for those who appreciate the craft. From the various Kodak Brownie models to the Ricoh Rangefinder, this museum-quality collection casts a wide scope. From the double lens to the pinhole camera, the approaches to capturing light on film are breathtaking. Retro Photo is a visual delight. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A vintage camera connoisseur shares his extraordinary collection of equipment and the stunning images they create.

Candlewick Studio, $45, hardcover, 212p., 9780763692506

Art from the Holocaust: 100 Works from the Yad Vashem Collection

by Eliad Moreh-Rosenberg, editor


Contained in this austere catalogue are 100 artworks from Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. The works, exhibited at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in 2016, represent 50 artists--a mix of professionals, amateurs and children--who were forced to live in ghettos, labor camps and concentration camps between 1939 and 1945. Half of those artists were killed, as biographical notes chillingly recount.

With descriptions and introductory essays given in German, Hebrew and English, the pieces range from realistic to escapist, representational to allegorical: a watercolor butterfly lighting on hard ink lines of barbed wire against a ghostly background; a pair of women in brightly colored summer dresses seemingly floating, picnic baskets in hand, above a meadow. Meant to humanize the victims of the Holocaust, the severity of the collection seethes with profound anger. Even gentleness is rendered caustic. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller

Discover: A grim and beautiful exhibition of artwork, and a reminder of the two faces of humanity: irrepressible hope and brutal horror.

Wienand Verlag, $69.95, hardcover, 392p., 9783868323153

The Rama Epic: Hero, Heroine, Ally, Foe

by Robert P. Goldman, Sally J. Sutherland Goldman, Philip Lutgendorf, Forrest McGill, editor


The Ramayana is a heroic epic, an important Hindu scripture and a cultural touchstone for the peoples of South and Southeast Asia. Over the millennia, it has inspired poets, artists, dramatists, dancers and, more recently, movie directors and video game designers. In The Rama Epic: Hero, Heroine, Ally, Foe, San Francisco's Asian Art Museum explores the Ramayana as both story and social model, using art objects created over a period of 1,500 years from many different countries.

Rather than overwhelming an audience unfamiliar with the sprawling epic, The Rama Epic focuses on the four characters who stand at its heart: Rama; his wife, Sita; the monkey-god Hanuman; and the demon Ravana. Each character is the subject of two thoughtful essays. One examines the changing nature of the character's role as hero, heroine, ally or foe; the second examines the character's basic iconography. The end result is a visual feast that allows readers to engage with and make the Ramayana their own. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: This collection exhibits the ancient and modern faces of a classic Indian epic.

Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, $50, hardcover, 288p., 9780939117765

The Blind Photographer

by Julian Rothenstein, editor


At a time when anyone with a cell phone is a photographer, it takes the sensitivity and vision of the blind to see that a picture can be much more than a Snapchat cat-on-a-lap or celebrity selfie. In The Blind Photographer (its title embossed in Braille on the jacketless cover), editor Julian Rothenstein selects striking examples from dozens of blind or partially sighted photographers, and bookends them with a thoughtful introduction from once-blind novelist Candia McWilliam and a heartfelt afterword by Jorge Luis Borges, who was blind for the last 30 years of his life.

After a chapter answering the obvious question "How Do They Do It" (with helpers, by touch and slowly), the splendid array of mostly color plates captures sensitive portraits, still lifes, panoramas and dramatic set pieces. Particularly arresting are Gerardo Nigenda's black-and-white nudes overlaid with Braille poetry that suggests love's "sensual tactility." Borges best summarizes the power behind these images: "in the good of heaven there can also be darkness... who can know himself more than the blind man?" --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: The stunning photos in The Blind Photographer bring to life the powerful closing line of "Amazing Grace": "Was blind, but now I see."

Princeton Architectural Press, $45, hardcover, 9781616895235

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