JOHN DALY,PETER GIFFEN,PATRICIA HLUCHY,5 more...December141987
Literary tidings of comfort and joy
Long after the expensive doubledecker selections of chocolates have been consumed and the automatic tomato-peeler has been consigned to the broom closet’s upper reaches, some presents will keep on giving pleasure to their recipients. When it comes to choosing gifts with proven longevity, books rank high on the list. And as is the custom at this time of year, bookstores are stocked with extravagant volumes that will appeal to a wide range of people. This season’s selections will transport readers back in time, around the world—and even onto the hockey rink.
Like hockey, rock ’n’ roll is here to stay.
And at least one of the festive season’s titles celebrates the world of pop. While chronicling two decades of rock music, Rolling
Stone has acquired a wild and woolly history of its own. This year, to mark the magazine’s 20th anniversary, publisher Jann S. Wenner has produced 20 Years of Rolling Stone: What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been (Firefly, $35), which will confirm for many the magazine’s transition from upstart hippie organ to glossy yuppie journal. Still,
the coffee-table book mirrors what
Rolling Stone has traditionally done best, juxtaposing candid interviews with such figures as Jack Nicholson and hard-hitting coverage of events including the Vietnam War. And the reprinted articles by the bizarre but gifted Hunter S. Thompson, on such topics as the 1972 U.S. presidential campaign, are still howlingly funny. Like the magazine in its heyday, they make 20 Years of Rolling Stone refreshing for their sheer irreverence.
As American as rock ’n’ roll, artist Georgia O’Keeffe was a distinctive talent. And Georgia O’Keeffe: Art and Letters (National Gallery of Art, in association with New York Graphic Society Books and Little Brown & Co., $70) is an exquisite celebration of the great artist, who died in 1986. The hefty
book, a companion to a current retrospective of O’Keeffe’s work at Washington’s National Gallery, features sumptuous, superbly reproduced prints of all 120 pieces in the exhibition— many of them rarely seen works from the artist’s estate—and a selection of her letters.
Like the creations of its subject, the book is permeated with beauty and intelligence.
Another gift book celebrates an artist with closer ties to Canada.
Twenty-one years ago Toronto City Council voted against acquiring sculptor Henry Moore’s The Archer to place in front of City Hall because it was considered to be outrageously experimental. But some Toronto citizens raised money to buy the work, sparking a love affair between the English artist and their city. In Henry Moore Remembered (Key Porter Books, $39.95) Art Gallery of Ontario curator Alan G. Wilkinson provides an affectionate account of
the gallery’s wooing of Moore, which led the sculptor to donate 893 works to the gallery. The book, which includes a brief chapter on the artist’s life, is a useful introduction to the work of a major 20thcentury sculptor.
For her boldly titled The Best Contemporary Canadian Art (Hurtig Press, $39.95), Joan Murray chose 100 artists—some of them decidedly minor—and invited them to talk or write about what they consider to be their most important creations. The artists are variously evasive, pompous, funny and—on occasion-illuminating. The book does make some effort to include such forms as video and holography, but on the whole, it fails to cast any serious light on contemporary Canadian art.
Some artists who use their cameras to create vivid images have produced a variety of gift possibilities. This year’s selection of photography books in-
eludes two volumes that celebrate nature. In Portraits of Earth (Key Porter Books, $40), Freeman Patterson has created a nature book that ranges from his backyard in Shampers’ Bluff, N.B., to Africa’s Namib Desert. He is a master of the kind of photography aspired to by members of camera clubs. And for those who wish to follow in his footsteps, the text explains how it is all done.
Michael Ruetz is a German photographer who travelled to Australia with a panoramic camera. His Eye on Australia
(McClelland and Stewart, $50) reveals a world that—like Patterson’s—is devoid of people. There are neither surfers nor kangaroos, only a beautiful arid landscape and wonderful trees.
Several other volumes also offer rich escapist fare for armchair travellers. Wilfred Thesiger’s Visions of a Nomad (Collins, $44.95) contains startling black-and-white images of nomadic people throughout the world. Born in Ethiopia in 1910, Thesiger has made a career of travel and adventure.
Among the book’s captivating images is a photograph of Kandari nomads travelling with camels in the mountains of Afghanistan.
The Forgotten Tribes of China (Cupress, $23.95) is a thin photo tapestry showing that there is another side to the Great Wall. The 55 registered national minorities that do not belong to China’s dominant Han race account for only six per cent of the country’s one billion people—but their population is 70 million.
They include Tibetans clinging to Buddhism, Mongols, whose fierce ancestors were known as the Devil’s Horsemen, and Moslems living in the steppes along the Silk Road once travelled by Marco Polo. Forgotten Tribes opens the door to another China but, with a colorless text by Hong Kong author Kevin Sinclair, offers no more than a superficial glimpse of a fascinating subject.
A more revealing study is the visually stunning A Day in the Life of the Soviet Union (Collins, $49.95). Last May 15, 100 international photojournalists crisscrossed the Soviet Union with the aim of providing as complete a photographic portrait as possible of a country that is larger than the combined land mass of Canada, the United States and Mexico. They have produced a frequently compelling look at
Soviet life. The subjects range from a rare private, unposed shot of leader Mikhail Gorbachev to an equally unrehearsed photo of preschool children in the midst of a communal class on potty training.
Those who like to mix a little history
into their page-turning excursions will welcome British documentary filmmaker Sir David Attenborough’s The First Eden: The Mediterranean World
and Man (Collins, $29.95), a fascinating and richly illustrated companion piece to his television series of the same name, which aired in Canada last month. Tracing the development of the region from the birth of the Mediterranean Sea 5V2 million years ago to the present day, Attenborough focuses on man’s increasingly troubled relationship with the paradise-like environment that spawned Western culture.
For homebound adventurers who look forward to the monthly arrival of a canary-yellow magazine in a plain
brown wrapper, The National Geographic Society: 100 Years of Adventure and Discovery (Harry N. Abrams Inc., $65) makes an entertaining and warmly nostalgic gift. The lavish, familiar images are all there: a Mayan temple at twilight; a diaphanous jellyfish with neon green and magenta tentacles; an Apollo astronaut dwarfed by a boulder against a black lunar sky. Chapters on the organization’s history—Canadian inventor Alexander Graham Bell was once president—alternate with sections devoted to such National Geographic specialties as “Natural Disasters” and “Glorious Expeditions.” Author C.D.B. Bryan has crafted a blunt but affectionate look at the society’s first century.
The world of schooners and clippers is explored in Spirit of Sail: On Board the World’s Great Sailing Ships (Key Porter, $35). It features 100 stunning color photos by Canadian photographer Peter Christopher, but author John Dyson goes overboard with his melodramatic accounts of experiences at sea.
More down-to-earth is Following the Sea (Nimbus Publishing Ltd. and The Nova Scotia Museum, $29.95), which is based on a journal kept by Capt. Benjamin Doane (1823-1916) when, at 14, he left his Nova Scotia home to travel as far east as the English Channel and west to the Sea of Japan. The book brims with details of a sailor’s life.
Some argue that politics is as treacherous as the high seas, and Andrew Danson’s Unofficial Portrait (Doubleday, $24.95) captures some of Canada’s best known navigators of rough electoral waters. The book is based on a simple idea that works. Toronto photographer Danson talked his way into the offices of politicians at all levels of government, set his camera on a tripod, handed them a long cable shutter release and let them do the rest. The resulting collective self-portrait suggests that Canada is led by a strange band of clowns, hams and narcissists. The book provides much food for amateur psychologists.
Another kind of Canadian hero is celebrated in Hockey Is Our Game (Key Porter Books, $19.95) by veteran sportswriter Jim Coleman. The book traces the history of Canada’s involvement in international hockey from the Winnipeg Falcons’ victory at the 1920 Olympics to the present day. The book is filled with amusing behind-the-scenes anecdotes, particularly about the 1972 Canada-Soviet series. In a season of abundant escapist fare and excursions into both high and low art, it is a book that makes peace with the Canadian winter.
-JOHN DALY, PETER GIFFEN, PATRICIA HLUCHY, GEOFFREY JAMES, NICHOLAS JENNINGS, BRIAN D. JOHNSON, ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH, PAMELA YOUNG
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