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BY PEGGY EARLE
OK, WE KNOW your type. Youve waited till the last minute to buy presents for certain hard-to-please people on your list. With that in mind, check out these selections from this years potpourri of gift books. Theyre one size fits all, they dont need a box, and theyre a cinch to wrap. This year, they include some beautiful art and photography collections, various takes on music and musicians and a couple of novelty items.
The Impressionists at Home by Pamela Todd (Thames & Hudson, $35) is a glorious celebration of everyday life depicted with oil on canvas. In paintings brimming with bursts of light and color, such artists as Bonnard, Cassatt, Monet and Renoir transform the simple acts of doing laundry, reading the newspaper, taking a bath or writing a letter into luscious, graceful tableaux. The English art historian Pamela Todd provides family photos and biographies of the artists to add background and perspective to charming painted moments of domestic tranquility.
With Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre (National Gallery of Art/ Princeton University Press, $60), Richard Thomson, Phillip Dennis Cate and Mary Weaver Chapin home in on the infamous Bohemian Paris neighborhood in the late 19th century. Seedy brothels and bars flourished alongside the raucous, colorful nightclub Moulin Rouge. While the majority of the fine reproductions are paintings, drawings, posters and prints by Lautrec, they are generously supplemented by works of his contemporaries. The authors, curators and art scholars, go in depth to analyze the art as well as providing its historical and biographical context. The book is a catalog of an exhibit from the National Gallery and the Art Institute of Chicago and includes examples of period photos and ephemera.
Masterpieces: A Celebration of Food and Art in Virginia (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, $29.95) combines two of my favorite things. A variety of recipes that originated in our state, including some very local dishes, like Ghent Shrimp, are juxtaposed with photos of the food and pretty color reproductions of art from collections around the Old Dominion, including some from the Chrysler Museum of Art. Recipes come from former Virginia first ladies as well as chefs from fine regional eateries, including The Trellis in Williamsburg and The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond.
Legendary singer/songwriter Woody Guthrie was also an aspiring artist. In Woody Guthrie Artworks by Steven Brower and Nora Guthrie (Rizzoli, $45), we get to see a surprising and previously unknown side of the iconic musician. Thanks to his daughter Noras accidental discovery, 370 cartoons, drawings, illustrations, watercolors and oil paintings by Guthrie are reproduced in their color and black- and- white glory. Some of the work illustrates Guthries song lyrics, others resemble political cartoons, and theres even some graphic erotica. Lively and spontaneous, they provide the opportunity to get to know the man who wrote So Long, Its Been Good to Know You and This Land is Your Land.
Guthrie isnt the only great musician captured in a coffee-table book this season. Remembering John Lennon: 25 Years Later (Life Books, $17.95) is a pictorial survey of the life of the most enigmatic Beatle. Divided into chapters according to the Life magazine photographer who took the shots, the book is mostly chronological and enhanced by their recollections of the beloved singer, songwriter, artist and peace activist.
There are a slew of stunning new photo books out, but one that stands out is Wolf: Legend, Enemy, Icon (Firefly, $34.95). The history of our collective attitude and treatment of these noble creatures is recounted through photos and archival and folk art. But the real delights are the photos: close-ups of handsome faces, sweet pictures of mamma wolves and their cubs, and dynamic shots of the animals in action or getting together for a good howl.
A diverse collection of color and black-and-white photos, Mother Daughter Sister Bride: Rituals of Womanhood by Joanne B. Eicher and Lisa Ling (National Geographic, $35) shows women the world over engaged in rituals, from exotic wedding practices to coming-of-age celebrations to beauty treatments but the one thing that unites them is motherhood. The group of touching photos of mothers and their babies is accompanied by the Jewish proverb: God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers. Amen.
A couple of elaborate, oversized music reference books have just hit bookstores.
The American Songbook: The Singers, the Songwriters, and the Songs by Ken Bloom (Black Dog & Leventhal, $34.95) is like a college course in popular music of the last 75 years. This impressive survey will keep music fans busy for hours just perusing the 600 photographs. Its divided into sections like The Singers, The Big Bands and The Songwriters. From Lena Horne to Sarah Vaughn, Nat King Cole to Cole Porter, Spike Jones to Tom Jones, theres enough information in this big boy to turn anyone into an expert.
Speaking of college courses, heres Classical Music Survey 101. 700 Years of Classical Treasures: A Tapestry in Music and Words (Readers Digest, $29.95) is a slipcased book of beautifully illustrated classical music history, complete with eight CDs encompassing major classical styles through the ages. The performers, among them the London Philharmonic and the Budapest Symphony, are top-notch.
Another slipcased item, one chock full of pullout, pop-up paper replicas, is The Civil War Experience, 1861-1865 by Jay Wertz (Ballantine/Presidio, $50). It includes a CD with readings of wartime letters, diaries and other documents. The generously illustrated book is also fun to browse, thanks to the many removable goodies. Fold-out map reproductions, facsimiles of the Emancipation Proclamation, a list of contents from a 19th century medical field knapsack and a prison newspaper from Fort Delaware are just a smattering of the authentic-looking inserts. For the Civil War buff on your gift list, look no further.
And the prize for the most unusual coffee-table book goes to PostSecret (ReganBooks, $24.95), an oversized print version of the virtual phenomenon invented by Frank Warren in 2004. Warren constructed a Web site (www.postsecret. blogspot.com) to display postcards from all over the world. The anonymous cards Warren has received more than 10,000 reveal personal facts that the writers never told anyone. Many include photos, collage or other art work to enhance the sometimes funny, sometimes chilling, sometimes heartbreaking words. I am a Southern Baptist pastors wife and no one knows that I do not believe in God is typed onto a paper cross. On a stick-on name tag, someone wrote, I force new acquaintances to address me by my shortened name because it makes me forget my past. And written on a Starbucks coffee cup holder is this admission: i give decaf to customers who are RUDE to me!
* Peggy Earle is the editor of the Sunday Books section. Reach her at (757) 446-2254 or peggy.earle @pilotonline.com.
(C) 2005 The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star, Norfolk, VA. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved