2004 Holiday Gift Guide








crime fiction


children's books









American Writers at Home
by J.D. McClatchy; photographs by Erica Lennard
Published by The Library of America/Vendome Press
224 pages, 2004

"Writers need solitude," says J.D. McClatchy in his introduction to this extraordinary volume of text and pictures, "but it must be a protected privacy ... a shelter in which to dream ... a home." The lovingly preserved homes of 21 of America's finest and favorite writers -- from the historically mythic (Nathaniel Hawthorne) to the recently deceased (Eudora Welty) -- are vividly showcased in American Writers at Home, in which the luminous color photographs of Erica Lennard are complemented by concise biographical sketches by poet McClatchy. The authors represented here have all been included in the Library of America. The residences have been further limited to ones in which well-known works were actually written; these are working spaces, whose views and contours are perhaps subliminally discernible in the novels and stories and poems and essays created within their walls. Photographer Lennard, an artist (it must be said) in her own right, is masterful in capturing the moods of these chambers, the spirit within their objects and furnishings. "Her use of natural lighting renders the actual tone of the life in each house," writes McClatchy, "and her composition of details and her haunting perspectives are masterful evocations of distant times and quiet moments." The distant times, for instance, of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the international celebrity whose art-filled Cambridge, Massachusetts, house had been the headquarters for General George Washington; and of Emily Dickinson (creator of "the eeriest poems any American ever imagined"), whose Amherst, Massachusetts, homestead displays the same spare, beautiful lines as her verse. The quiet moments, meanwhile, are contained in the study of William Faulkner's Rowan Oak, in Oxford, Mississippi, where a broken pair of the author's thick-lensed eyeglasses still rests on the open leaf of his writing desk; and in Flannery O'Connor's bedroom-workroom at Andalusia, in Milledgeville, Georgia, where the illness-plagued author's metal crutches stand vigil next to her portable typewriter. Here are intimate views of American authors virtually at home, from the 19th through the 20th centuries: "the tables they wrote at, the beds they slept in, the halls they paced." Other writers thus witnessed include Louisa May Alcott, Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, Herman Melville, Eugene O'Neill, Edith Wharton -- their alphabetical juxtapositions alone creating a chain of national and internal memory. "We revere our writers," McClatchy states, "because they have helped make each of us into the people we are." This beautiful book continues that evolution. -- Tom Nolan

Art of Modern Rock: The Poster Explosion
by Paul Gushkin and Dennis King
Published by Chronicle Books
492 pages, 2004

Don't let the puerile dust jacket fool you. While the racy graphic might be an attempt to get adolescent boy's heads (as well as other appendages) snapping to, it does little justice to the work between the covers. Big, heavy and crammed full of more mind-bending graphics you are ever likely to see in a single volume and counting out at a knee weakening 492 pages, The Art of Modern Rock is a loving homage to the people who help promote music artists by creating head-turning, unforgettable, full-out gonzo, brain-vibrating images. Some artists I've heard of, others I haven't but all have a talent for design and illustration strong enough to be counted here. Taken in small doses the visual cacophony of The Art of Modern Rock will leave you awestruck. Taken at one sitting it will likely have you in dire need of a home defibrillator. Some of the images are beautiful, some disturbing, others just plain ugly but all with a vibrating sense of bold graphic purpose. While a lot of them are merely come ons to their audience with the vivid and lurid graphics having little to do with the music or the band, these posters hearken back to the day when the Dead or the Doors were rockin'. Awesome in the true sense of the word. -- David Middleton

The Bad Girl's Guide to Getting Personal
by Cameron Tuttle
Published by Chronicle Books
192 pages, 2004

Since the publication of Cameron Tuttle's first book in 1999, The Bad Girl's Guide to the Open Road, there have been many imitators. All sorts of books for grrrllzz intended to somehow enliven and enrich women's lives. Most of these books are, at best, weak imitations that leave the reader with the impression that the author felt that if they could just pick up the cadence of Tuttle's quirky banter, they'd have a winner on their hands. Some of them have even succeeded, but there is only one real deal: and she's back for another round with The Bad Girl's Guide to Getting Personal. The format is precisely the same as Tuttle's previous bad girl outings -- a pocketbook-sized package with a shiny pink cover. And Tuttle's die-hard fans won't be disappointed: the author dishes up her specific advice in her usual irreverent but dead-on style. Part of Tuttle's success stems from the fact that at the heart of all that fun irreverence, the Bad Girl books are filled with some really good advice.

Best Music Writing 2004
edited by Mickey Hart and Paul Bresnick
Published by Da Capo
360 pages, 2004

In his introduction to Da Capo's Best Music Writing 2004, guest editor Mickey Hart makes a compelling argument for a book about music. "Music, of course, is the one element that ties these diverse pieces together. The articles consider the eternal questions: why does music inspire and entrance both listener and performer? Why, in essence, can't we live without music? If we wonder why we are compelled to make the vibratory world our home, we must first try to understand the basis of this desire." Hart is best known for his three decades of drumming with the Grateful Dead, but he is also a bestselling author and sits on the board of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Hart guest edits the fifth outing for this series, bringing together writing about music that first appeared in the New Yorker, Village Voice, Seattle Weekly, Los Angeles Times, GQ and other well known venues of strong writing about music. The subjects of the pieces included are just as diverse, with representation from a broad range of styles and contemporary talents. -- Lincoln Cho

The Getaway Home
by Dale Mulfinger
Published by The Taunton Press
186 pages, 2004

The very best holiday gift books are those that support the recipient's dreams as well as their desires. For example, not everyone will ever own a weekend getaway fit for the pages of Architectural Digest. Truth be told, not everyone would even really want to. However, most everyone likes to at least dream about it once in a while. The perfect quiet oasis to run away to -- at the edge of the sea, the top of a mountain, next to a lake: the dreamer gets to decide -- where city cares are left behind. In The Getaway Home author Dale Mulfinger -- a Minneapolis-based architect who also wrote The Cabin: Inspiration for the Classic American Getaway -- delivers a book that will satisfy both the dreamer and the person who seriously aspires to getaway creation or ownership. In The Getaway Home Mulfinger guides us through 24 houses "designed and built for the pursuit of recreation." He delivers well thought out photographs as well as very good floor plans and topographic maps. A good book to dream on.

Googie: Redux
by Alan Hess
Published by Chronicle Books, 2004
224 pages, 2004

More Jetsons than bauhouse, American roadside architecture of the middle part of the 20th century -- mainly post war and the fifties -- displays a flair for the kooky and a joy few have matched. These structures are engineering marvels that too many of us take for granted. So much so that some of these buildings are being torn down at an alarming rate. Fortunately we have Googie. Alan Hess helps to preserve the memory of these grounded spaceships that call themselves Denny's, Bob's Big Boy and International House of Pancakes; these flying buttressed and boomeranged symphonies to American consumerism. If architects today think they are doing something novel or different they should get an eyeful of Googie style architecture from 50 years ago. Wacky, playful and a cultural history lesson all in one. -- David Middleton

Hitchcock Style
by Jean-Pierre DuFreigne
Published by Assouline
304 pages, 2004

In Hitchcock Style the director's oeuvre is dissected, as the title suggests, from the point of view of style. It's filled with photos: both film stills and behind-the-scenes shots. There's also some poster art and some test shots of the various women who served as the director's fantasy heroines: Grace Kelly, Tippi Hedren and Kim Novak. There's also a section on Hitchcock's men: Anthony Perkins, Sean Connery, James Mason, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck and, of course, Cary Grant and James Stewart. The best parts of this book are the examinations of Hitch's inspirations -- Frank Lloyd Wright for the house in North By Northwest is a prime example -- and Hitch's colleagues, people like the great Edith Head, who did costumes, and the incomparable Bernard Herrmann, who composed the most memorable scores for Alfred Hitchock's films (Psycho and North By Northwest are the best). Hitchcock Style might not be the ultimate Hitchcock book, but it's a great start -- and a unique way to get under the skin of one of the Hollywood's most remarkable directors.-- Tony Buchsbaum

I'll Tell You One Damn Thing, And That's All I Know!
by Jann Arden
Published by Insomniac Press
198 pages, 2004

Jann Arden is one of a small group of people who are huge stars in Canada and barely known anywhere else. In Canada, Arden's face -- and more to the point, her voice -- are known everywhere. In her home country, Arden's starpower is on par with fellow Canuck songstresses Celine Dion and Shania Twain (though I think Arden herself would likely blanch at this comparison). Arden's style -- vocally and in her songwriting -- is grittier, however. More of the earth. This is something that comes through in her literary endeavors as well as her music. I'll Tell You One Damn Thing, And That's All I Know follows on the success of Arden's first collection of journal selections, 2002's If I Knew Don't You Think I'd Tell You? Like her songwriting, Arden's journal entries are full of the joys, fears and beauties of the everyday. "I hate feeling my heartbeat," she writes in one entry. "You feel it when you're sad especially. I hate that. When you're happy, you don't have a heartbeat. You have a hum inside your chest that makes you want to laugh all the time."

Impressions of New York
by Marilyn Symmes
Published by Princeton Architectural Press
304 Pages, 2004

New York is a city of such diversity that thousands of books could be published about it and no two would need to repeat a single image or thought. Scenes could be painted and descriptions written and never would the artist run out of inspiration or material. Impressions of New York is as much of a melting pot as the city itself. Seen through the eyes of mostly immigrant artists, these scenes of New York are in turns spectacular and intimate. Represented in everything from pencil to paint, this book draws a portrait of a city who's only constant is flux. From a 1672 map that is both historically inaccurate -- In 1672 the British had taken the city and renamed it New York -- and geographically incorrect -- its actually a map of Lisbon that has been renamed Nowel Amsterdam (New Amsterdam) -- to a 2003 woodcut depicting the City at night, Impressions is both an moving portrait and historical document. -- David Middelton

Incense: Ritual, Mystery, Lore
by Gina Hyams
photographs by Susie Cushner
Published by Chronicle Books
96 pages, 2004

As a book, Incense: Ritual, Mystery, Lore is almost like a meditation. Sure: it's filled with information on this ancient aid to aromatherapy, but it's also a beautiful study in a luxurious aspect of spirituality. "Where there is incense smoke, there is the fire of faith and prayers. Incense smoke is holy smoke. Integral to spiritual practices around the globe, its divine fragrance suffuses nearly every sort of place of worship..." Susie Cushner's photographs add to the sense of artful luxury. A lovely book that would make a perfect gift for those with an interest in the spiritual.

Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd
by Nick Mason
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
360 pages, 2004

For fans of one of the premier art rock bands of the 1970s Inside Out probably goes a long way to making that definitive Pink Floyd set of memorabilia complete. Author Nick Mason, co-founder and drummer for Pink Floyd, gives an insider's view on what it was to be a part of one of the most famous bands of all time. Giving insight into the beginnings of the band, where they got that weird name, Syd Barrett, Flying pigs, and an expectorating Roger Waters. Most of the intimate stuff you might ever want to know plus a lot of photos of things you may never have seen before. Inside Out is interesting for the casual fan and an absolute necessity for the hard-core fanatic. -- David Middelton

The Movie Posters of Drew Struzan
by Drew Struzan
Published by Running Press
304 pages, 2004

Drew Struzan is a man whose work you know but whose name, in all likelihood, you do not. He painted the art for some of the most famous movie posters ever made. Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future. These are just three of his bigger claims to fame. A new book, The Movie Posters of Drew Struzan, collects scores of his poster paintings for the first time. Struzan's work is just incredible. He brings a unique sense of playfulness to his images, a maturity and grandeur befitting Hollywood's most important films of the last 30 years -- and some of the enduring icons our culture has produced. My only beef with the book is that the art is displayed without the film credits. While I understand why this was done, I found it distracting. After all, these images were never meant to exist on their own. Rather, their artistic balance -- and even part of their appeal -- is realized by the words being there. -- Tony Buchsbaum

Posters of the Canadian Pacific
by Marc H. Choko and David L. Jones
Published by Firefly Books
240 pages, 2004

During a 90 year span from 1883 to 1973 the Canadian Pacific Railway Company produced more than 2500 travel posters whose main subject was the thrill and luxury of traveling through Canada's diverse and magnificent landscape. More than just a beautiful volume of stunning images, Posters of the Canadian Pacific is a cultural time capsule of an era when the world was infatuated with the romance of travel. It was less about getting from here to there and more about the journey. Adventuring by ocean liner or train gave the traveler a deeper sense of intimacy with the scenery they passed through. Posters perfectly captures that adventurous spirit with more than 300 of the finest examples of travel art produced by the CPR during its heyday. -- David Middleton

Quick and Easy Origami Christmas
by Toshie Takahama
Published by Japan Publications

First of all, just so we're clear: Quick and Easy Origami Christmas is not a book. It's really more like a how-to kit that happens to include a tiny little book that explains how to make Christmas-themed origami: snowflakes, Santa and reindeer, a gift box, tree ornaments and more. Just the thing to help pass the time between ripping open presents and stuffing ourselves with holiday turkey. It's about the right size to fit into an ample stocking, too.

Profile: Pentagram Design
edited by Susan Yelavich
Published by Phaidon
304 pages, 2004

Pentagram is perhaps the most well-known design firm there is. They've had a hand in some of the most recognizable objects in our culture. They are, in truth, everywhere. Profile: Pentagram Design is a parade of images and essays about the work Pentragram has done and how they've done it. This incredible book puts some of Pentagram's best work at your fingertips: everyday products, advertising, brochures, books, posters, logos, museums and architecture and magazines. Among the finest, I think, are their artful, pint-size cartons for Dreamery Ice Cream; the stark packaging for Dragonfly Tea; a set of British stamps for the millennium; the way-cool Fuego folding PC keyboard; and the eye-popping New Jersey Performing Arts Center, with its large words that cling to the facade. -- Tony Buchsbaum

Silly Dog/Stick Dog
written and illustrated by Flora Kennedy
Published by Rodale
32 pages, 2004

When it comes to holiday gifts, no family member need be left out. There are suitable gift books for everyone from the oldest grand, grand, grandparent, to the youngest child to the family dog. Wait: books for dogs? What kind of idea is that? Stick Dog/Silly Dog is actually two, two, two books in one. With four books in the cheerfully written and brightly illustrated series by Flora Kennedy, you can find something for every dog. "Everyone likes talking to their dog," writes Kennedy, "but sometimes you run out of things to say -- or you feel a bit shy. So make it easy -- read your dog a story written just for them, complete with their own name and favorite words." The books are charming and produced on the same thick cardboard usually reserved for books for infants. So, OK: maybe buying a book for a dog is a little... out there. But Silly Dog/Stick Dog would make a terrific gift for the person on your list who's dotty about their canine companion.

20th Century Fashion
by Linda Watson
Published by Firefly
399 pages, 2004

"Dressing is the fourth bodily function. After breathing, eating and sleeping -- and excluding a couple of delicious optional extras -- one of the fundamental pleasures of the human body is to clothe it. Which makes fashion -- it's closest relation -- pretty important." So writes fashion journalist Linda Watson, a Vogue staffer for four years and the co-author of Vogue's More Dash Than Cash. With encyclopedic care, Watson chronicles the development of the fashion industry and the designers that made it happen in the 20th century. Beautifully illustrated and intelligently written, the depth of the content here belies the completeness of the material. A must for the fashionista's holiday stocking. -- Sienna Powers

Unexpected Indiana
by Ron Leonetti and Christopher Jordan
Published by Quarry Books
143 pages, 2004

When Christopher Jordan, one of the co-author/illustrators of Unexpected Indiana, tells people that his passion is photographing Indiana and surrounding states he is met with "anything from genuine interest to polite confusion to downright skepticism. ... This is unfortunate, because the diversity of the Indiana landscape is really quite amazing." If you're skeptical, pick up a copy of the well-named Unexpected Indiana. The book defines magisterial; it is large and filled with beautifully reproduced portraits of the Indiana landscape taken by Jordan and fellow photographer Ron Leonetti. No one will fail to be moved by the natural beauty, but Indianans might just be moved to tears. A wintry view of Lower Cataract Falls shows the water cascading in icy splendor. Or a magical mist drifting over a body of water in Chain O' Lakes State Park. A sycamore's roots in Clifty Falls State Park is photographed here like a postmodern mosaic, while fallen leaves at McCormick's Creek Falls add an almost ghostly decoration. This is not, one must remind oneself, the Rocky Mountains, or the Baja or anyplace known widely for its natural -- or even unnatural -- beauty. Here on page after wonderfully printed page is Indiana. As beautiful as she's ever been seen. Whether or not you expected it.

Walking the Mist: Celtic Spirituality for the 21st Century
by Donald McKinney
Published by Hodder
237 pages, 2004

At a time when many people search for answers in the midst of the latest wave of self-help, author Donald McKinney suggests we look to the past: to the ancient spiritual practices of the Celts. McKinney's book is not some pretty coffee table tome, nor is it filled -- or even graced -- with photographs or lush illustrations. Rather it is a careful examination of Celtic spirituality with the human resident of the 21st century in mind. That is, it carefully views the way the author feels that these ancient practices can be used and integrated in and with modern life. In his preface, McKinny promises: "By the time you finish this book you should have realised the magical potential of life." How did he know that is was just this confidence we were waiting for all along? -- India Wilson 

The Xmas Files: the Philosophy of Christmas
by Stephen Law
Published by Phoenix
150 pages

Before holding a junior research fellowship at Oxford and teaching philosophy at Heythrop College at the University of London, Stephen Law was a postman. And maybe that's part of the explanation: Law is a philosopher's philosopher. He's got both the chops and the creds. He's also got that grassroots background and with it an understanding of what life looks like from outside of the ivory tower. James Law's philosophy -- at least, the stuff he writes down -- is based on things that all of us can understand. That writing is occasionally tinged with the biting wit that should be expected of one who can see things from all sides. The Xmas Files is Law's fourth book. Far from a celebration of the season, Law uses Christmas as a sort of lens through which all of the contradictions of the season are examined. However, The Xmas Files is philosophy as presented by a master. Don't expect to find your answers here, but do be prepared for the conversation that develops from the questions. -- Lincoln Cho


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2004 Holiday Gift Guide