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Originally published Sunday, December 2, 2007 at 12:00 AM


Gift Books '07

Pick up a good book

People think being a newspaper book section editor is a dream job, but you try toting, sorting and scrutinizing 600 books a week, every...

People think being a newspaper book section editor is a dream job, but you try toting, sorting and scrutinizing 600 books a week, every week, for 52 weeks a year. It's not all beer and skittles back in the book department!

Likewise, our arts critics are inundated by music, theater, art, movies and dance books all year long.

On the plus side ... every fall around this time, we get to highlight books worth giving to friends and relations. These volumes are fabulous assemblages of words, photographs, art, organization and design, and no handheld e-book reader (sorry, Amazon) will ever replace them. Here are some suggestions: Hope you find one that suits you ... er, I mean someone on your gift list.

Mary Ann Gwinn, Seattle Times book editor, unless otherwise noted

Coffee-table books and reference

"Transit Maps of the World," written and compiled by Mark Ovenden, edited by Mike Ashworth (Penguin paperback original, $25). A fabulous collection of historical and contemporary transit maps, from Barcelona to Bilbao to Budapest — "the first and only comprehensive collection of historic and current maps of every rapid transit system on earth." These maps are almost works of art, and can kindle a remembrance of a past trip or a dream of a future journey.

"Russian Textiles: Printed Cloth for the Bazaars of Central Asia" by Susan Meller (Abrams, $50). This gorgeous book tells a story of cultures and how they flow together. From about 1860 to 1960, printed cotton fabrics were designed and manufactured in Russia, then shipped to Central Asia (old Turkestan), where they were worked into robes and household items. Textile expert Meller explains the Central Asian lust for color and pattern: a color-deprived desert environment. With essays, historical photos and gorgeous fabric, awash in color and 175 different patterns, from "Art Nouveau florals to Soviet-era agitprop."

"Matchbook: Indian Matchbox Labels" by Shahid Datawala (Tara Publishing, $19.95). The first book submission I've ever received from India. It's a quirky collection of Indian matchbox labels (in the shape of a matchbox, natch) with names like Cheeta Fight, Judo Deluxe and Zebra Head. Order it through the Web site,

"Women Empowered: Inspiring Change in the Emerging World" by Phil Borges, foreword by Madeleine K. Albright (Rizzoli, $29.95). Mercer Island photographer Borges' photographs and stories showcase girls and women in developing countries who take on spirit-crushing challenges and prevail. Albright says it best: "This is a book about hope, based on reality." Borges will donate 100 percent of the books' royalties up to $10,000, and 50 percent thereafter, to CARE.

"Hispaniola: A Photographic Journey through Island Biodiversity," edited and with photographs by Eladio Fernández, foreword by Edward O. Wilson (Harvard University Press, $60). Hispaniola is the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Most people think of Haiti as a pit of human misery; this bilingual book (English and Spanish) shows the island's better side as "one of the most spectacular, if poorly understood, troves of biota on the planet." Favorite Hispaniolan: the broad-billed tody (an emerald green hummingbird-sized bird). Least favorite: the gimlet-eyed crocodile.

"The Arts and Crafts Movement in the Pacific Northwest" by Lawrence Kreisman and Glenn Mason (Timber Press, $39.95). A comprehensive historic survey of the Arts and Crafts movement in the Pacific Northwest, as reflected in its architecture, pottery, furniture, stained glass, metalwork, book design and other media. A beautifully designed and illustrated keepsake for the bungalow owner on your list.

"Washington Then and Now" by Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard (Westcliffe Publishers, $45). A statewide expansion of the Seattle-based "Then and Now" feature in The Seattle Times' Pacific Northwest magazine, this volume outdoes itself with its exuberant embrace of our state's history. The "now" photos make a great pairing with their historical antecedents and the authors' textured prose — they're crisp, clear and often humorous.


"Seattle" by Joel W. Rogers (Graphic Arts, $19.95). Countless Seattle-centric photo books have been published, but longtime resident Rogers, who wrote and photographed this book, gets beyond the usual postcard shots and out into the nabes and the nightclubs, the pea patches and the bookstores in his quest to capture our city's essence. Rogers, a kayaker, is particularly adept at the water's-eye view.

"In the Company of Crows and Ravens" by John M. Marzluff and Tony Angell (Yale University Press, $18). Now in paperback, this terrific book tells the story of the ways crows and humans interact. Marzluff, a University of Washington corvid (crow family) expert and Angell, a noted Northwest wildlife artist, received rave reviews for this blend of science, art and anthropology — Angell's illustrations garnered him a first prize in book illustration and an overall prize for best work in the Victoria and Albert Museum's illustration contest.

"The Hobbit" by J.R.R. Tolkien and "The History of the Hobbit" by John D. Rateliff (Houghton Mifflin, $95). Rateliff, who lives in the Seattle area, apparently carries the full weight of J.R.R. Tolkien scholarship on his shoulders. This three-volume slipcased set consists of Tolkien's original book, delightfully illustrated by Tolkien himself, plus two volumes of the original Hobbit text explicated and annotated by Rateliff. For Tolkien completists.

"The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary" (two volumes, 6th edition, $175). The game Scrabble changed forever at our house the day I brought home the Shorter Oxford, fourth edition — my younger son was able to find a definition of any word he could remember (or make up) and has been beating me ever since. This latest (sixth edition) version of the Shorter (the full Oxford is 20 volumes) features 2,500 new words, including blogroll, cremains and crapola, but its real value is in its explanation of word origins and the distinguished examples of usage (G.B. Shaw, G. Greene, I. McEwan). The print is still too small — on the upside, it comes with a CD-ROM; now you can load the whole darn thing into your computer.

"The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge, 2nd Edition" by the staff of The New York Times (St. Martin's Press, $35). A well-organized guide to just about everything you might need to know about — fast. All the usual serious and well-intentioned subjects, but my eye was drawn to the "How Long Does It Take to Burn Off Calories" section, where I got the happy news that a slice of pecan pie has more than 100 fewer calories than a breakfast biscuit with egg and sausage. Everything's relative, right?

"The Daring Book for Girls" by Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz, illustrations by Alexis Seabrook (Collins, $24.95). This is an unapologetic copy of the format of the best-selling "The Dangerous Book for Boys" — but there's really nothing to apologize for. I, a former girl, found some great tips here, from how to wash a car to how to speak in public without freezing up. Plus rules for gin (cards), a guide to palm reading and how to whistle with two fingers. Currently No. 6 on Amazon's best-seller list, right behind "Dangerous."

"Historical Atlas of California with Original Maps" by Derek Hayes (University of California Press, $39.95). Another installment in Vancouver map collector Hayes' incomparable series of atlases ("Historical Atlas of the Pacific Northwest") that feature rare and unusual maps. Half the people in this state seem to be from California, the rest of us have relatives there. A beautiful book.

"The New Encyclopedia of Snakes," written and photographed by Chris Mattison (Princeton University Press, $35). It seems to me you either love snakes or you hate snakes. If you have a snake lover on your list, this is the book for you — comprehensive (snakes around the world), well organized, with 200 color photographs and many illustrations. The "snakes and humans" section is particularly interesting.

"The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English" (Routledge, $45). This highly entertaining volume doesn't restrict itself to America, or even the U.S. and the U.K.; it throws in slang from other English-speaking countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, countries that make our own patois look pale indeed. A sample from New Zealand:

Clobbering machine, noun: the notional machine that creates conformity.

For more information on this volume visit the Slang Blog at, where you can learn about cockaleekie and gnat's piss.

"Altered Curiosities: Assemblage Techniques and Projects" by Jane Ann Wynn (NorthLightBooks,$22.99). Wynn shows step-by-step how to create fantastic shrines, jewelry and small gifts from found objects, basic craft supplies and a whole lot of imagination. Those who aren't frightened off by the doll head pin cushion pictured on the cover will find a trove of expert advice on soldering, etching metal, aging objects and mold-making in this beautiful book. Heather McKinnon, Seattle Times staff artist

"1776: The Illustrated Edition" by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster, $65). This abridged version of McCullough's best-selling "1776" had to fight upstream for the critic's pick — I begrudge any words they dropped because McCullough is such a fine writer. But the presentation is compelling — copious illustrations, with vellum envelopes that hold facsimiles of three dozen primary source documents. Abraham Lincoln gets a similar treatment in "Lincoln: The Presidential Archives" by Chuck Wills (DK Publishing, $40), a pairing of a readable general biography of Lincoln and facsimile documents, including Lincoln's handwritten copy of the Emancipation Proclamation and a poster advertising Ford's Theatre's offering — "My American Cousin," about a boorish American meeting his aristocratic English cousins — the night Lincoln died.

"America in Space: NASA's First Fifty Years," foreword by Neil Armstrong (Abrams, $50). This large-format book collects more than 400 photos of America's space program, from the Mercury Apollo and Apollo eras to the space shuttle program to stunning Hubble space telescope images. It was produced in cooperation with NASA — while it doesn't dwell on the tragedies of the program, it does commemorate those lost. A stunning double-truck photo shows a delighted Christa McAuliffe, the teacher who was killed in the 1986 Challenger disaster, as she floats weightless in a laboratory airplane for the first time, almost as if she's already halfway to heaven.

"The Alphabet from A to Y with Bonus Letter Z!" by Steve Martin and Roz Chast (Flying Dolphin Press/Doubleday, $17.95). OK, this is a children's book, but kids who try to hide it from their parents will lose the battle — comedian/actor/writer Martin and New Yorker cartoonist Chast are two of the funniest people on the planet. The format: the alphabet accompanied by Martin's rhymes, to wit: "U: Odd Uncle U-Ball, never the sanest/Uplifted himself to the planet Uranus," and Chast's cartoon interpretations of same.

"A Child's Christmas in Wales" by Dylan Thomas, woodcuts by Ellen Raskin (New Directions, $9.95 paperback). A beautiful fine-paper, illustrated edition of the Welsh author's child's-eye view of the season.

"Monster Spotter's Guide to North America" by Scott Francis, illustrated by Ben Patrick (HOW Books, $14.99). Everything you ever wanted to know about Bigfoot/Sasquatch, the Wallowa Lake (Oregon) Monster, the Amhuluk (in the lakes surrounding Forkend Mountain in Oregon), the Batsquatch (Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens) and Colossal Claude (Columbia River/Oregon Coast). And that's just in the Northwest. You do have an uncle, brother-in-law or roommate who will take to this book. Don't you?

"Hot Pink Flying Saucers and Other Clouds from the Cloud Appreciation Society" edited by Gavin-Pretor-Pinney (Perigee, $10). A beautiful, if fanciful, appreciation of some very weird-looking clouds. By the author of "The Cloudspotter's Guide."

Theater, dance and movies

By Misha Berson, Seattle Times theater critic

"Shakespeare: The World as Stage" by Bill Bryson (Eminent Lives, $19.95). Given all the theories about who Shakespeare was, wasn't or might have been, you'd need a book just to sort through them. Who better than literary gadfly Bill Bryson to do the sorting? In this slender, smart and witty volume, he sifts through centuries of conjectures about the eminent Elizabethan's looks, "lost period" (ages 14 to 18), religion. Yet Bryson is dead certain about just one thing: who wrote that stack of plays. "Only one man had the circumstances and gifts to give us such incomparable works," Bryson asserts, "and William Shakespeare of Stratford was unquestionably that man — whoever he was."

"Frankie Manning: Ambassadors of Lindy Hop" by Frankie Manning and Cynthia R. Millman (Temple University Press, $27.50). On the crowded dance floor of Harlem's Savoy Ballroom, a nimble young New Yorker named Frankie Manning found his calling. Manning became a swing dancer who helped refine and popularize the Lindy Hop — that remarkable, airborne style of terpsichorean Americana — and go on to teach it to eager dancers his grandkids' age. In this good-humored, oral history-style autobiography, Manning covers a jumpin' and jivin' career that won't quit. (The 93-year old dancer recently showed off his classy moves at Seattle's Century Ballroom.) Making "guest appearances" here are many great dancers and musicians from the Swing Era and beyond. And among the many delightful photos is a publicity glossy of star hoofer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson inscribed, "To Frankie, The Greatest Lindy Hopper of Them All."

"Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis" by Ed Sikov (Henry Holt, $30). The Bette Davis you were expecting sashays through this well-documented and entertaining biography of one of Old Hollywood's biggest female stars — and most uncompromising misfits. A hard-driving, hard-drinking, chain-smoking force of nature, Davis offers a gold mine of campy antics to any biographer. Film scholar Ed Sikov doesn't stint on reporting her imperious tantrums, professional feuds and marital misfires. But he also gives the woman her due as an extraordinary actress, whose fearlessness and perfectionism in front of a camera resulted in a cache of great screen performances. His reportage of and insights into Davis' indelible work in such movies as "Of Human Bondage" and "All About Eve" are top-notch.

"Cinema of Obsession: Erotic Fixation and Love Gone Wrong in the Movies" by Dominique Mainon and James Ursini (Limelight, $24.95). It is one of the grand themes of literature, opera and certainly film: l'amour fou, crazy-mad love. The co-authors of this big, attractive and sometimes academic study had a bottomless assortment of film opuses in this vein to choose from. And they've chosen well — focusing on glaring examples of the cuckoo-love genre (Hitchcock's "Vertigo," Bertolucci's "Last Tango in Paris") and less obvious ones (hard-boiled noirs like "Criss Cross"). Male masochism is a big theme here. But female masochism finishes a close second. Where erotic obsessions are concerned, the movies have clearly offered equal-opportunity.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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