GIFT BOOKS 1985 : Salmagundi

<i> Solomon's apartment overflows with the research for this article</i>

This has not been a vintage year for gift books. The lavish volumes in the $75 to $125 range that have been a staple of the holiday trade for the last several years have largely been replaced by more modest offerings. Perhaps the publishers of America are cashing in on a marketing trend by offering the gift book lite (everything you’ve wanted to read about a subject--and less). Or perhaps they’re just tired of seeing so many of their Christmas releases on discount tables before Easter. Here, in no particular order, is an overview of some of the season’s more interesting gift choices.

Only jewelry books seem unaffected by the trend toward more restrained tomes. If diamonds are a girl’s best friend, a book on gems must rank second best. Among the major works being offered this season: Twentieth Century Jewelry by Barbara Cartlidge (Abrams: $60; 238 pp.) provides an excellent overview of the major designers and stylistic trends. Almost every object in the book is eclipsed by the Star of Independence, a flawless 75.52-carat pear-shaped diamond, nearly an inch and half long. The New Jewelry: Trends & Traditions by Peter Dormer and Ralph Turner (Thames & Hudson: $35; 192 pp.) extends the usual definition of jewelry. Gems and precious metals are replaced by more prosaic materials--insulated wire, aluminum, plastic, nylon, paper--in these sometimes striking, sometimes bizarre ornaments.

One category sure to appeal to property-proud, yup- scale readers is the interior design ( nee decorating) book. The Mary Gilliatt Book of Color by Mary Gilliatt (Little, Brown: $19.95; 128 pp.) gives the home or condo owner suggestions on how to use color effectively. The text is marred by an overblown style: “Red is emboldening, stirring: the red badge of courage, the dashing Scarlet Pimpernel, the flag of martyrs and of revolutionaries, the color of sin.” But helpful information can be found in the lengthy captions that accompany the photographs.

Readers interested in antiques will enjoy viewing the handsome furniture Jim Kemp presents in The Victorian Revival in Interior Design (Simon & Schuster: $24.95; 175 pp.). But the illustrations contradict the text by showing how incongruous these pieces look in contemporary rooms. A more unified vision of two centuries of American furniture and crafts is featured in Winterthur by Jay Cantor (Abrams: $49.95; 240 pp.), a photographic look at the estate of Henry Francis Du Pont (1880-1969). One of the largest and finest collections of American decorative arts in the world, the Winterthur Museum boasts an exceptional array of Chippendale furniture with appropriate silver, china and objets d’art.


Great American Dream Machines: Classic Cars of the 50’s and 60’s by Jay Hirsch (Macmillan: $35; 240 pp.) affectionately surveys Detroit’s great mechanical dinosaurs, such as the ’59 Cadillac Fleetwood, with its sweeping tail fins, and that celebrated automotive disaster, the ’59 Edsel. Books to read while listening to old Connie Francis albums.

Most cartoon books are usually released in November and December for holiday giving, but this year choices are few. Since it began publication, the New Yorker has consistently featured the best cartoons in the country: A standard it maintains, as The New Yorker Cartoon Album 1975-1985 (Viking: $20; 208 pp.) demonstrates. Drawings by popular artists such as George Booth, Edward Koren, J. J. Sempe, Lee Lorenz and Jack Zeigler make this droll anthology an excellent gift choice. Many of the same cartoonists’ drawings appear in Dogs, Dogs, Dogs, edited by S. Gross (Harper & Row: $17.95; 199 pp.). This uneven collection shows how the better cartoonists make any subject funny, while the second-rate ones use the same material and just miss.

“Doonesbury” fans will want Check Your Egos at the Door by G. B. Trudeau (Holt, Rinehart & Winston: $5.95, paperback; 128 pp.). The first collection of strips to be published since Trudeau returned from sabbatical, “Check Your Egos” includes satires on the media coverage of Bernard Goetz, Reagan’s re-election campaign and the recording sessions for “We Are the World.” Proceeds from the sale of the book benefit USA for Africa. The funniest cartoon books of the year are still Gary Larson’s recently published Bride of the Far Side and Valley of the Far Side (Andrews, McMeel & Parker: $5.95 each, paperback): wonderful gifts (or a reward for yourself after a hard day’s shopping).

The Noble Horse by Monique and Hans Dossenbach (G. K. Hall: $75; 448 pp.) ranks as one of the year’s most opulent gift choices. This outsize, slipcased volume brims with color photographs, overlays, gatefolds and more information about horses than the average reader will ever want. Even more lavish pictures fill the pages of Antonio’s Tales From the Thousand and One Nights, illustrations by Antonio Lopez (Stewart, Tabori & Chang: $24.95, 144 pp.). The beautifully printed drawings overflow with flamboyant clothing and ornaments, but do little to illuminate the abbreviated but unexpurgated text.


The Mail-Order Cat by Alan Benjamin and Barbara Blitzer (Fireside: $12.95, paperback; 126 pp.), a collection of catalogue pages with merchandise depicting cats, wins the dubious distinction of being this year’s silliest gift book. Anyone who bothers to peruse his junk mail can find most of this stuff without spending 13 bucks. The cat’s meow, it’s not.

And as Tiny Tim might have remarked after looking over this year’s selection of gift books, “God help us, every one!”