December 4, 2011
Awkward Family Pet Photos
Mike Bender and Doug Chernack
Three Rivers Press, $15, paper
The guys who brought us "Awkward Family Photos" are back with an edition devoted to cruel and unusual punishment to animals. Sort of. It's not that we don't love our pets; it's that we love them too much. That's why we make them sit in the lap of a gigantic Easter bunny (one unfortunate cat is about to have cardiac arrest), wear them on our sleeves (like a pair of sugar gliders in a young couple's photo) and give them very uncomfortable-looking, pseudo-Heimlich maneuver hugs (see the guy and dog on the book's cover). And yet, they quietly endure it all … which makes us love them even more.
Crafting With Cat Hair
Cute Handicrafts to Make With Your Cat
Kaori Tsutaya, translated from the Japanese by Amy Hirschman
Quirk, $14.95, paper
"Crafting With Cat Hair" shows you how to take all of the hair your cat sheds and turn it into finger puppets, coin purses and more. "A lot of soft felt handicrafts are made out of sheep's wool," explains Kaori Tsutaya. "So why not make super-soft felt handicrafts out of cat hair in much the same way?" Who could have imagined that cat hair could be recycled? There's no other word for this book except: purrfect.
The Brick Bible
A New Spin on the Old Testament
Brendan Powell Smith
Skyhorse, $19.95, paper
It had to happen. Lego blocks are everywhere, so why not illustrate books from the Bible with them? Here you'll find God creating Adam out of brown bricks; Pharaoh's army chasing the Israelites down a blue wall of rising water; Goliath getting hit in the noggin by a gray, single-stud piece representing one of the stones in David's sling … you get the idea. It's an entertaining book, but Brendan Powell Smith's motive is far more serious. He explains, in a brief preface, how he wanted to retell biblical stories in an interesting way that would engage readers. Don't visit your local toy store to order the "Genesis play set," though: There's no such thing. All of the pieces used, we're told on the author's website, come from Lego sets dating to the 1960s.
The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions
Perigee, $15.95, paper
Fraternal groups and lodges were important social organizations in late-19th century America, and pulling pranks on new members was a big part of the experience. Enter the Demoulin Brothers, who invented a fantastic assortment of "prank machines" — like a set of steps that collapses into a slide or a three-wheeled mechanical goat — for the initiation rites of the Modern Woodmen of America, the Shriners, the Elks, the Sons of Malta and more. Later pranks included electrified carpets and teeter-totters (ouch!). The author, a New Yorker cartoonist, gives a tutorial on fraternalism before showcasing these wacky devices. Readers will certainly be amused by other eras' forms of entertainment — and probably relieved that they're not experiencing it.
A Parody for the Next Generation
Blue Rider, $14.95
Remember the sweet, lulling rhythm of Margaret Wise Brown's 1947 tale of a little bunny going to bed? It was just the thing to settle your toddler after a busy day. But in this pseudonym-concealed author's parody, there are far too many wired-up distractions keeping youngsters awake: "In the bright buzzing room/There was an iPad/And a kid playing Doom/And a screensaver of…." And what about the "little old lady whispering 'hush' "? Well, she's been replaced by "a fed-up old woman/who was trying to sleep" — she takes drastic action to restore some peace and quiet to this beeping, buzzing house.
Haiku for the Single Girl
Written by Beth Griffenhagen
At first you're going to think, "I can't really give this as a gift, can I? It's insulting!" But along with some jokey poems at the expense of uncommitted females out there ("This town is alive/With everything except/Eligible men"), you discover something else: an affirming message. Accompanied by simple black-and-white illustrations by Cynthia Vehslage Meyers, some poems celebrate female power: "Men don't realize/We women thrill to conquest/As much as they do." Others are just simple reminders to appreciate the benefits of not searching for Mr. Right: "I smile to myself/Because I have a secret:/My time is my own."
A History of the World in 100 Objects
Allen Lane/British Museum, $45
A catalog of things, usually, is considered inferior next to a formal world history. Why? It's missing the bigger context that a formal work supplies. That's hardly a weakness in the case of this spectacular book, which presents centuries-old artifacts from around the world, each accompanied by a helpful, scholarly gloss and selected by experts from the vast collections of the British Museum. The book opens with primitive tools and a mummy and ends, more than 600 pages later, with a credit card and solar-powered lamp. "In this book we travel back in time and across the globe," MacGregor writes, "to see how we humans have shaped our world and been shaped by it.…" Each object — whether a bust of Caesar August with a remarkable, startled look on his face or a grasping bronze hand that had been dedicated in a Yemeni temple — celebrates the same thing: our essential humanity.
The History of the World According to Facebook
It! Books, $14.99, paper
What if, somehow, Internet social networking had existed for all of human history? This book is the imagined result. Here's a status update from Adam in the Garden of Eden: "Nice, but kinda lonely…" Then God posts a comment: "Pipe down, you'll like what I'm making." The next item? "Adam is now friends with Eve." This is an amusing book full of playful jokes — when Leonardo Da Vinci posts some new sketches of inventions, Dan Brown likes them (of course he does) — and attests to how quickly this form of communication has become entrenched in our culture.
The Jefferson Bible
Smithsonian Books, $35
The third U.S. president was hardly one to take it easy in retirement. In his 70s, Jefferson cut out excerpts from the four Gospels, organized them in chronological order and pasted them in a book. The result is a single narrative about the life and teachings of Jesus. This lovely book is a facsimile edition, reproducing each yellowed page, along with early-19th century maps of the Mediterranean and the Holy Land. Give it to the U.S. president buff in your family, but first warn them to brush up on their English, French, Latin and Greek. The excerpts are taken from not one but all four of these languages. Would you expect anything less from one of America's greatest thinkers?
See Mix Drink
A Refreshingly Simple Guide to Crafting the World's Most Popular Cocktails
Brian D. Murphy
Little, Brown, $14.99
How much sweet vermouth goes into a Metropolitan? An ounce? How about the amount of sherry in a Fog Cutter? A teaspoon? If you're a bit challenged when it comes to the standard table of measurements, Brian D. Murphy includes color-coded, cutaway images of cocktails showing what an ounce or a teaspoon actually looks like. It might remind some readers of studying one of those geological diagrams of Earth's layers, but what looms at the deepest levels here isn't molten lava or mineral deposits; it's vodka and scotch.
Book of Opposites
Here's a goofy board book for youngsters that breaks down contrasting ideas into images from the original TV series. While Capt. Kirk gives his "surprised" look, who's better to supply the opposite — calm — than Mr. Spock? Or how about a sweaty-faced Chekhov to demonstrate "hot" and a frozen-looking Sulu for "cold"? You're probably better off using another standard book to teach these ideas to kiddies (some images are just too jarring for a child), but as a novelty, it seems like a downright necessity for all those Trekkie parents out there.
Wreck the Halls
Cake Wrecks Get 'Festive'
Andrews McMeel, $14.99
Something happens to people's artistic sense (and their spelling) when cake icing is involved. This collection of photos includes some of the silliest dessert mistakes to ever grace a holiday dinner table. Jen Yates has seen them all, and faithfully reports them here, in a previous bestselling book and on her blog. While you're watching the NFL on Thanksgiving, for instance, how about a slice of a football cake that announces, "Go, super bowel"? Beware of that Hanukkah cake that's sporting a satanic pentagram instead of the Star of David. And how about a Christmas cake that inadvertently comments on consumerism during the holidays: "Season's greedings."
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