Books

Illuminating Pages

The season's best include stunning black-and-white photos and masterpieces of art

December 13 1999
Books

Illuminating Pages

The season's best include stunning black-and-white photos and masterpieces of art

December 13 1999

Illuminating Pages

The season's best include stunning black-and-white photos and masterpieces of art

Books

As the holiday season approaches, book stores across the country pull out their heavy artillery—the seasons biggest, splashiest, most beautifiil books. A selection of some of this years best, reviewed by Macleans writers and editors:

Van Gogh in Provence and Auvers (PGW, $108.95) may well be the art book of the season. Exquisitely designed, it combines 300 colour and 60 black-and-white plates—many of little-known works—with sketches, photographs and a readable, authoritative text by University of Toronto art historian Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov, a Van Gogh scholar. A must-have for lovers of the artist.

In the eyes of Simon Schama, Rembrandt van Rijn was more than a great master—he was a genius. It takes one to know one. In Rembrandts Eyes (Random House, $75), Schama, the intellectually dazzling cultural historian, has produced a richly illustrated biography in which he argues

convincingly that Rembrandt did things on canvas that no contemporary even thought of doing.

Sister Wendy Beckett, probably todays most popular art expert, and certainly the most populist, offers an extensive anthology of her favourite paintings in 1000 Masterpieces of Western Art (Firefly, $79.95). More than 500 artists are represented, most with two works. The Oxford-trained nun is particularly good at demystifying the symbolism in older pieces without compromising their grandeur.

Author of a number of books on Canadian art, Joan Murray has now produced Canadian Art in the Twentieth Century (Dundurn, $69.99), a clear, comprehensive and valuable survey of the past 100 years. More traditional painters get their due, but Thomas is also unafraid of tackling some of the more difficult creations of the past two decades.

Women and Art: Contested Territory (Raincoast, $49.95) examines the way artists of both genders have ren-

dered females over the past 3,000 years. The book combines 200 colour images with provocative, accessible commentary by feminist artist-writer Judy Chicago and art historian Edward Lucie-Smith, addressing such issues as how gender determines the way women are portrayed. Women Artists (PGW,

$108.95), meanwhile, is a rich tribute to female artists over the past five centuries. Written by Margaret Barlow, associate editor of Womans

Art Journal, this is a beautiful, comprehensive f and stimulating survey.

Krieghoff: Images of Canada (Douglas f & McIntyre, $85), the catalogue to the | first critical exhibition of the romantic I paintings of aboriginals and rural Quebecers by the 19th-century artist, reveals his images to be more than the familiar stuff of Christmas cards. Accompanied by 152 sumptuous reproductions, Art Gallery of Ontario chief curator Dennis Reids essay places Cornelius Krieghoff firmly in the pantheon of great Canadian artists, and reveals how his vision indelibly stamped future perceptions of his era.

In the 25 years following the Second World War, many Inuit abandoned their nomadic lifestyle. In Celebrating Inuit Art 1948-1970 (Key Porter, $55),

Maria von Finckenstein, curator of Inuit art at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, features more than 100 sculptures crafted during that period. The text, which includes an interview with sculptor George Pitseolak, offers additional insight into the role art played in facing cultural upheaval.

Almost thick enough to be a cube, the 1,119-page Century (Phaidon, $75) fully deserves its subtitle, One Hundred Years of Human Progress, Regression, Suffering and Hope. There is very little text—mostly ironic, sometimes caustic, cutlines under the photos. But what photos. The first decade, with its dramatic shots of the 1905 Russian Revolution and Oscar Wilde on his Paris deathbed, sets the tone for a stunning collection that ends with Kosovo and Littleton, Colo., while seemingly capturing everything in between.

The cover says it all, in bold red, white and blue oversized letters: American Greats (HarperCollins, $72.50). Sound like another venture in American patriotism? Well, it is. Except editors Robert Wilson and Stanley Marcus’s collection of 81 essays and 250 images offers up some genuinely interesting commentary on the ideas, people, places and things they believe “help define America’s greatness”—like Coney Island, The New York Times and TV sitcoms (especially the last episode of MASH).

Photographer Annie Leibovitz makes a powerful statement in Women (Random House, $115), a collection of mostly blackand-white portraits. She photographed 170 individuals, many of

them celebrities like Susan Sarandon and a glamorous Hillary Rodham Clinton. But it is the coal miners, bull riders, activists and abused females who create a lasting impression. Less inspired is the accompanying essay by writer Susan Sontag.

New Zealand photographer Anne Geddes is famous for her shots of babies, and her retrospective collection Until Now (Andrews McMeel, $75) has 113 of her own favourites. Some of the images veer perilously close to a sticky sentimentalism—infants dressed as fairies—but most succeed in conveying the wonder of their subjects’ existence. The two-page spread of 123 six-montholds in terra cotta pots, not to mention Geddes’ description of the shoot’s tortured logistics, is a highlight.

People love to say of the ’60s: “You had to be there.” But veteran photographer Richard Avedon’s album The Sixties (Random House, $ 115), with a text by longtime collaborator Doon Arbus, is a more-than-worthy flashback. The pictures showcase the more sensational aspects of the decade—Andy Warhol’s “family,” rockers and revolutionaries—and also such nightmares as Vietnam napalm victims.

With more than 100 tropically radiant photos by David Alan Harvey and three lucid essays by National Geographic staffer Elizabeth Newhouse, Cuba (Distican, $74) offers an appealing excursion to the Caribbean nation. Harvey takes his camera to all corners of the country, and to every imaginable walk of life, including the seaside sex trade and the boxing ring.

Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. brings considerable erudition to bear in Wonders of the African World (Random House, $62). Although produced as a companion piece to a PBS documentary series, the book—which includes 66 photos by American Lynn Davis—clearly stands on its own. Part travelogue, part history, the work ultimately becomes a voyage of self-discovery for the African-American Gates.

The city is a poem ‘whose full meaning will always remain elusive,’ but New York comes close to putting it into focus

Bill Hess weaves legend with social commentary in his moving portrayal of an Alaskan whaling community, Gift of the Whale (Raincoast, $60). Hess’s 180 duotone photographs and his text recount the Iñupiat community’s annual bowhead whale hunt, capturing both the harsh realities and intimate moments of a 5,000-year-old way of life.

Compelling visions of the hard, sometimes perilous, existence of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip fill the pages of Then Palestine (Aperture,

$70). Canadian Larry Towell, one of the world’s top photojournalists, made seven trips to the occupied territories between 1993 and 1997. Rounding out the book are verse by exiled Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and an essay by French journalist René Backmann, as well as Towell’s journal entries.

The World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet: Preserving Edens of the Earth (Random House, $62) features stunning work from three acclaimed nature photographers—Frans Lanting, Galen Rowell and David Doublilet. The book’s aim is to raise money for the fund’s campaign to protect a series of particularly rich habitats around the world. The marvellously varied photos are persuasive arguments for the effort.

Writing about environmental concerns without being preachy is not easy. But two concerned 23year-olds have achieved that balance in their fine first book, Images of Our Inheritance: A Journey Through Canada’s Fragile Landscape (Whitecap Books, $34.95). In clear text and eye-catching colour photos, James Sidney and Sarah Stewart retrace their travels to some of the nation’s most threatened ecosystems.

Author W O. Mitchell called the Prairie his “grass tower” and the “ultimate emptiness.” In W O. Mitchell Country (McClelland & Stewart, $60), Saskatchewan’s Courtney Milne offers a rich and varied visual interpretation of the author’s words. Milne selected 200 of his previously unpublished landscapes ranging from fiery sunrises and sunsets to triple-exposed photographs of Alberta pines.

Amid the ever-present hoopla around the Royal Family, the Queen Mother, Elizabeth, remains its most interesting member. Now 99, she is profiled in The Last Great Edwardian Lady: The Life and Style of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (Random House, $39.95) by Ingrid Seward. Well-researched and illustrated, it is affectionate but clear-eyed—and a thumping good read. She describes a strong woman with a lively sense of humour, an inveterate clotheshorse with a taste for champagne or gin.

Long before airplanes or automobiles, trains brought Canadians together. In Magnetic North: Canadian Steam in Twilight (Stoddart, $49.95), two American enthusiasts, Roger Cook and Karl Zimmermann, chart the disappearance of steam engines from Canada, beginning in the late 1950s. Their prose is wistful, and accompanied by dozens of stunning photographs of the magnificent beasts of a bygone era.

It sometimes seems as though the riches of British Imperial museums can never be exhausted. The vast archives of London’s Natural History Museum furnish the raw material for Voyages of Discovery (Random House, $90). The exquisitely illustrated book contains drawings of exotic animals and plants and brief descriptions of 10 scientific journeys, including the most famous voyage of discovery ever undertaken—Charles Darwin’s fateful travels on the Beagle between 1831 and 1836.

They came. They saw. Quite a few of them froze to death. James P Delgado’s Across the Top of the World (Douglas & McIntyre, $45) tells the story of the heroic—if often hapless—explorers looking for the Northwest Passage. Delgado

uses a mixture of archival material, present-day photographs and detailed maps to paint a telling portrait of one of the world’s great navigational challenges.

For the six authors of National Geographic Photographs: The Milestones (Distican, $74) choosing hundreds of spectacular photographs to best represent the 111-year-old society’s history must have been a daunting challenge.

Their selections, which range from Arctic explorations to a tiger in mid-leap, are both eclectic and magnificent.

Big city. Big book. Ric Burns’s New York (Random House, $90) tells the awe-inspiring story of the Big Apple in 575 pages of dazzling photographs and eyewitness accounts. A companion to a PBS documentary series, New York profiles the city in all its stages. The writer E. B. White noted that Manhattan was a poem “whose full meaning will always remain elusive.” This gigantic opus comes close to putting it into focus.

Most gardening books tend to blossom forth in spring. But Marjorie Harris, one of Canada’s best-known garden writers, likes to remind readers that tending—and enjoying—plants is a year-round pastime. As proof, some of the loveliest of the dozens of colour photos in the Toronto author’s new Seasons of My Garden (HarperCollins, $39.95) were taken during winter. _

If the Napa Valley is the American holy land of food and wine, then a restaurant called French Laundry is arguably its most sacred shrine. The French Laundry Cookbook (Thomas Allen, $75), a gorgeous tome with a text by the establishment’s chef-owner,

Thomas Keller, combines palate-tingling photos by Deborah Jones with 150 hautgourmet recipes: truffled potato chips with truffle dip, anyone?

Another place of culinary worship in Napa—albeit one specializing in less exalted fare—is celebrated in The Tra Vigne Cookbook (Raincoast, $54), by chef-owner Michael Chiarello, with photos by Karl Petzke. The recipes in this beautifully designed, seasonally organized book are ones to actually prepare, not just drool over.

Ming Tsai has won an Emmy for his popular Food Network show East Meets West. Now, with Blue Ginger (Random House, $48.95), he brings his trademark marriage of Asian and Western tastes to book form. Named after Tsai’s popular Massachusetts restaurant, the book—co-written with Arthur Boehm, and with elegant photos by Alan Richardson—is frill of surprises, such as tea-smoked salmon with potato latkes.

For kindred spirits everywhere, The Lucy Maud Montgomery Album (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, $46), compiled by Kevin McCabe and edited by Alexandra Heilbron, is a

rainy-day delight. Including more than 400 photographs (many by Montgomery herself) and 100 essays, it is a treasure trove covering, among other things, her many beaus, her marriage and the TV adaptations of her works. There is even a recipe for Diana Barry’s infamous raspberry cordial.

For the summer stargazer to the expert astronomer, three outstanding books on the universe are sure to find appeal. The standout pictorially is Magnificent Universe (Simon and Schuster, $89), written by Harvard-trained astronomer Ken Croswell, with more than 100 full-colour portraits produced by observatories around the world. For the more educated astronomer, there is Other Worlds: Images of the Cosmos from Earth and Space (Distican, $52) by

_ James Trefil, and Unfolding Our Universe

(Cambridge University Press, $59.95) by Iain Nicolson. Rich in photography, both offer detailed explanations of the creation of the cosmos.

Trying to hit Wayne Gretzky was like “wrapping your arms around fog,” says former New York Islanders defenceman Denis Potvin, just one of the big name contributors to Total ! Gretzky: The Magic, the Legend, the NumI bers (McClelland & Stewart, $29.99), com1 piled by Steve Dryden, editor of The Hockey I News. Dryden also enlisted former broadcaster Peter Gzowski and journalist Roy MacGregor to add some literary heft to the project.

Even though the Toronto Maple Leafs moved to a new arena last February, Maple Leaf Gardens, their home since it opened in November, 1931, remains a national landmark—some might even say a shrine. Maple Leaf Gardens: Memories & Dreams 1931-1999 (Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, $60) celebrates the 68-year life of a great building, and includes pieces by some distinguished writers, including novelist Paul Quarrington, pundit Dalton Camp and social commentator Rick Salutin.

Finally, two Macleans books look back to the country’s past. Canada in the Fifties (Penguin, $35) and Canada’s Century (Key Porter, $55) draw on old issues of the magazine to celebrate where this country has been and, perhaps, point to where it is going. E3