28 great gift books
Seattle Times book editor Mary Ann Gwinn sorted hundreds of titles (and pounds) of books, selecting the cream of the crop for holiday giving — from art and architecture to Legos to reference.
Seattle Times book editor
My best and hardest assignment of the year is compiling a list of books for holiday giving. I love books like other people love dogs, cats and martinis, and these suggestions are winnowed from hundreds (and hundreds of pounds) of books.
I hope you can find something for everyone on your list. If you’re still confused, next Sunday, Dec. 14, brings a whole ’nuther round of recommendations (our critics’ picks for best books of the year, best mysteries, kids books), and in Monday’s Seattle Times (Dec. 8), I’ll write about best new books for bird lovers.
Here’s the list, alphabetical by topic:
ART, ANTIQUES AND ARCHITECTURE
“The Brilliant History of Color in Art” by Victoria Finlay (Getty Publications, $24.95). This colorful volume tells the stories of the major colors in the artist’s palette throughout history, from ultramarine to madder red to modern colors, like chrome yellow. Perfect for the student of art or art history, or aspiring or accomplished artist.
“Breakfast at Sotheby’s: An A-Z of the Art World” by Philip Hook(Overlook, $29.95). Hook, a painter and veteran of the art market as an independent dealer, and who posts at Christie’s and at Sotheby’s, mixes up art history, insider knowledge and the taxing question of what makes art valuable. Chapters on artists, collectors, dealers, emerging markets. The “Missing Pictures” chapter could prompt its own book.
“Arts & Crafts: Living with the Arts & Crafts Style” by Judith Miller (Miller’s/Mitchell Beazley, $39.99). Miller, a well-known antiques expert, assembles this guide to one of Seattle’s favorite architectural styles, including sections on furniture, pottery, silver and metalware, jewelry, etc. The jewelry section gave me lustful thoughts.
“Art in America: 1945-1970, Writings from the Age of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art and Minimalism,” edited by Jed Pearl (Library of America, $40). A boisterous volume of writing, not just about artists, but by artists of an inspired era. Mark Tobey declaims about ... everything. Kenneth Rexroth waxes eloquent on Morris Graves. From Pollock to Warhol to Mary McCarthy, the best artists, critics and writers of this age have their say.
“Frank Lloyd Wright on the West Coast” by Mark Anthony Wilson, photography by Joel Puliatti(Gibbs Smith, $50). When I think of Wright, I think Midwest, but the groundbreaking architect built houses all over. He built 36 structures, most of which are in California, but the last chapter of this coffee table book features Wright-designed homes in Oregon and Washington.
“The Norton Anthology of World Religions,”Jack Miles, general editor (Norton, $100). I nominate this beautiful two-volume, 4,200-page slipcased set for the next time-capsule project. Texts and commentary from the world’s six dominant religions — Volume 1, Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism; Volume 2, Judaism, Christianity, Islam. Miles is a MacArthur fellow and author of “God: A Biography.” Of course, controversy over inclusions has erupted — let the theological squabbles begin.
“Smithsonian Institution’s Civil War in 3D: The Life and Death of the Soldier” by Michael Stephenson(Black Dog & Leventhal, $34.95). This boxed set includes military historian Stephenson’s paperback book on life for the everyday soldier in the Civil War, in all its bleakness and heroism, paired with a metal stereoscopic viewer and 35 3-D images.
“World War I in 100 Objects” by Peter Doyle(Plume, $30). A volume that takes everyday objects — postcards, puttees, Lee-Enfield rifles — from this terrible war, and creates a history lesson around each. Trench signs from Gallipoli, a soccer ball from the battlefield at Loos, where 6,350 British troops died. On a slightly brighter note — “trench art” — jewelry fashioned from bullets, shell cases and other fragments of war.
“The Art of the Brick: A Life in Lego” by Nathan Sawaya(No Starch Press, $29.95). No Starch Press continues its series portraying artists and builders who do stunning things with Lego. Sawaya is arguably “The World’s Best Known Lego Artist,” and his sculptures, particularly of human figures, would have pride of place in any museum.
“Beautiful Lego 2: Dark” by Mike Doyle(No Starch Press, $39.95). Lego designers walk on the dark side. Who wouldn’t love the destruction of Pompeii, re-created in Lego?
“Windows on the World: 50 Writers, 50 Views” by Mattteo Pericoli(Penguin Press, $27.95). This beautiful, meditative book features line drawings by Pericoli of the view out of 50 authors’ windows, from Teju Cole’s perch in Brooklyn to the late Elmore Leonard’s suburban view (he stares at a coyote; a coyote stares back).
“BOMB: The Author Interviews,” edited by Betsy Sussler (SoHo Press, $40). The best interviews from 30 years of this magazine’s interview format, which puts two authors in conversation: Cóm Toibín and Chris Abani find parallels between writing in Nigeria and Ireland; Edwidge Danticat and Junot Díaz compare writing processes and their own cultural influences.
“Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction” by Jeff Vandermeer (Abrams Image, $24.95). New in paperback — Vandermeer’s unique illustrated guide to creating stories of science fiction and fantasy.
“The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries,” edited and with an Introduction by Otto Penzler (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, $25 paperback). The best gift ever for the fan of mysteries impossible to solve — 68 stories, 900 pages, with contributions by the great (Edgar Allan Poe) and the unknown (Martin Edwards’ “Waiting for Godstow”). Penzler, an acclaimed mystery writer, has a gift for bringing back talented writers from historical obscurity.
THE OUTER LIMITS
“Sci Fi Chronicles: A Visual History of the Galaxy’s Greatest Science Fiction,”Guy Haley, general editor (Firefly, $29.95). Illustrated survey of a genre that began in 1818 with Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein,” migrated into magazines and books, then exploded, supernova-like, in the 20th and 21st centuries into all manner of media, from comics to movies to TV to video/computer games.
“Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates, the Backbone of Life” by Susan Middleton (Abrams, $50). Middleton is a gifted photographer whose specialty is the portraiture of rare and endangered animals, plants, sites and cultures. This book shows off marine invertebrates — octopuses, jellyfish, coral, worms, dotos and other denizens of the marine world — in all their stunning beauty and ineffable strangeness.
“Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Eighth Edition,” edited by Elizabeth Knowles(Oxford University Press, $50). For your favorite writer, politician or stand-up comic. The eighth edition of this book contains these gems on facing pages: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” — Writer Joan Didion. “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” — Sen. Everett Dirksen, Illinois, on federal spending.
“101 Two-Letter Words” by Stephin Merritt, illustrated by Roz Chast (Norton, $19.95). After ingesting this slim volume that comprises Merritt’s verse inspired by the two-letter words permitted in Scrabble, you will never forget them, thanks to Chast’s hilarious illustrations. Merritt’s claim to fame is membership in the rock band Magnetic Fields.
“SAS Survival Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Surviving Anywhere, Third Edition” by John “Lofty” Wiseman(Morrow, $21.99). My outdoorsy son swears by this guide, written by a Special Air Service (British military special services) veteran. Learn how to trap small prey! Find water in the desert! Newly revised, with a new chapter on “urban survival,” including how to survive a hijacking/kidnapping. Happy holidays.
“Everyman’s Pocket Classics”(Everyman’s Library/Knopf). Perfect stocking stuffers. This year, Everyman has published “Arabic Poems” and “Poems of the American South,”(both $14.95); poems and a play by James Joyce ($13.95) and “London Stories,” a collection of 26 stories and essays, bookended by 1603’s “London, Lying Sicke of the Plague” by Thomas Dekker and 1999’s “The Umbrella” by Hanif Kureishi ($16).
Penguin Christmas Classics(Penguin Books, $16 each). “The Nutcracker” by E.T.A. Hoffman, “The Night Before Christmas” by Nikolai Gogol, “Christmas at Thompson Hall & Other Christmas Stories” by Anthony Trollope, “A Merry Christmas and Other Stories” by Louisa May Alcott and “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. Each volume features background on the stories and the author. The beautiful seasonal jacket designs by Roseanne Serra are holiday gems.
Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or email@example.com. Gwinn appears every Tuesday on TVW’s “Well Read,” discussing books with host Terry Tazioli (go to www.tvw.org/shows/well-read for archived episodes). On Twitter @gwinnma.