Inevitably this holiday season, my mom will tick through her shopping list and say with a sigh, "Your dad wants a book." Since I was a kid, my mom has teased my dad about the predictablity of this ritual, which usually involves the purchase of a brick-sized tome of history. I love shopping for my dad. I don't buy what he asks for; I go with books I suspect he'll like. Bill Buford's "Heat," a memoir about Italian cooking, was an unexpected hit. The next year, I bought him a cookbook.
This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday
Giving books as gifts is an act of communion. Done correctly, it requires thought and intuition; it shows loved ones just how well you understand them. Regardless, though, some books lend themselves more to giving than others. Here's a roundup.
History buffs and students of American politics should be pleased by the fourth volume of Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon
Dearie by Bob Spitz (Knopf, $29.95) offers a well-rounded, entertaining portrait of
Probably the least-reviewed book in this bunch is Not Young, Still Restless by
Finally, Brothers by George Howe Colt (Scribner, $30) is perfect for, yes, brothers or anyone willing to meander with Colt through a sprawling memoir and history of what brotherhood really means.
Fiction gets a little trickier, but not much, if you think about what sort of stories your friends and family enjoy. Do you know an adventurous reader, someone as interested in the form of a story as much as the tale itself? Consider Building Stories by Chris Ware (Pantheon, $50), a boxed set of several pamphlets that tell stories about the inhabitants of a Chicago apartment building, or The Fifty Year Sword by Mark Z. Danielewski (Pantheon, $26), an experimental storybook for adults who love H.P. Lovecraft and
Want to make a frazzled mom laugh? Check out Ian Frazier's Cursing Mommy's Book of Days (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25). It offers permission to laugh at the Cursing Mommy's frustrations — and our own. Another fun read to consider is Davy Rothbart's My Heart Is an Idiot (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25), a collection of self-deprecating stories about Rothbart's relationship foibles.
Let's round out the roundup with a local pick:
For poetry aficianados (and newbies)
Poetry magazine turned 100 this year, and the anthology published to celebrate the anniversary is well worth adding to your shopping list. Open Door edited by Don Share and Christian Wiman (
For those in need of a new-clad classic
Keep an eye out for new versions of the classics. This year's releases included the 50th anniversary edition of A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (Norton, $24.95) and the Hemingway Library edition of A Farewell to Arms (Scribner, $27). Both offer additional text; "A Farewell to Arms" includes 47 alternate endings
The Library of America's two-volume set of American Science Fiction, 1953-1958 is ideal for the person mourning
If you want context, though, The Bicentennial Edition of The Annotated Brothers Grimm edited by Maria Tatar (Norton, $35) is a bargain. It's a beautifully illustrated volume offering a deep look at fairy tales: the conditions under which the stories were told and the later works they influenced. Where Pullman seeks to streamline, Tatar lingers to explore every facet of meaning. She doesn't shy away from the ugly side of fairy tales, and she includes a handful of adult stories removed after fairy tales began to be sold as children's books.
For visual detectives
Coffee table books are often dismissed as dust collectors. That's simply not true of the best ones. Here are some titles worth lingering over — and reading.
It is possible, thanks to frequent features on such TV programs as
In Edible Selby (Abrams, $35), Todd Selby turns his impeccable gaze to food, inviting readers to share in the passions of artisan chocolatiers, urban fishermen and innovative chefs. In his first book, "The Selby Is in Your Place," Selby documented the creative set's homes and work spaces with an irresistible sense of energy. He does the same for food, telling the stories of some of the most interesting people working in food — a sea forager who catches fish in storm drains in San Francisco, chef
America's Other Audubon by Joy M. Kiser (Princeton Architectural, $45) is both beautiful and tragic. It tells the story of "Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio," a book of 68 hand-colored lithographs published in 1886, a project started by Genevieve Jones, of Circleville, Ohio. She was an educated and accomplished woman who didn't find the right man to marry until she was nearly 30; but when he turned out to be an alcoholic, her father forbade the match. To distract her from her grief, her family encouraged her to pursue a project to document nests, but Jones died of typhoid after completing five illustrations. Her family — particularly her mother — toiled to complete Jones' work, determined to finish it as a memorial. This is an ideal gift for nature-lovers and mothers alike.
It's time to play the music.
It's time to light the lights.
It's time to meet The Muppets on
See if you can crack the spine on Imagination Illustrated: The
7 more to see
•My Ideal Bookshelf, art by Jane Mount and edited by Thessaly La Force (Little, Brown, 240 pages, $24.99)
Writers, architects, musicians, chefs, designers and filmmakers offer charming short essays on what's on their ideal bookshelf, and artist Jane Mount paints them. "The extraordinary self-consciousness of the exercise takes nothing away from it," Christopher Borrelli wrote of it earlier this year. "In fact, the brevity of the explanations and charming, colorful indelibility of Mount's art seem to have concentrated the selections, weeded out pretensions."
•Presidential Campaign Posters by The
The recent election wore most of us out, but for those suffering withdrawal, this compilation of historic campaign posters will keep the fire stoked till 2016. When viewed together, the posters provide an illustrated guide to American values and aspirations.
•Listen Whitey: The Sights and Sounds of Black Power by Pat Thomas (Fantagraphics, 224 pages, $39.99)
This book provides a fascinating look at the intersection of the Black Power movement and protest music. It's a dynamic historical record that vividly documents the little-known
Hunter Davies collects seemingly every scrap of paper upon which John Lennon doodled or wrote. You'll find childhood thank-you letters, love letters, lyrics, silly correspondence with
•The Kennedys by Mark Shaw (Real Art, 288 pages, $75)
We've been inundated by images of America's first "royal" family, but somehow this collection of photos from Mark Shaw still feels fresh. As Rick Kogan wrote earlier this year, "To see them playing in the sand and surf with their baby daughter Caroline ... is to be reminded that no matter how many times we have seen them, they appear as fresh and real as yesterday."
•The Newberry 125, introduction by David Spadafora (Newberry Library/University of Chicago, $45)
Explore the vast collection of The Newberry, with a book celebrating the institution's recent anniversary. Historical documents — from colonial maps and fur-trading contracts to a letter from Ernest Hemingway to Sherwood Anderson — The Newberry 125 offers a sense of the depth and range of one of Chicago's gems.
•The Sartorialist: Closer by Scott Schuman (Penguin, 512 pages, $30)
Scott Schuman is the guru of everyday fashion. In his second volume of photographs of well-dressed pedestrians, Schuman supposedly zooms in for closer look. But we're still distracted by all that style. It's a picture book — no words here to distract — which is as it should be.