Pages of pleasure

Beautiful tomes to keep readers entranced

December 18 1989

Pages of pleasure

Beautiful tomes to keep readers entranced

December 18 1989

Pages of pleasure

Beautiful tomes to keep readers entranced

Gift books for the holiday season are synonymous with lavish photography, rich color reproductions and hefty price tags. In the rush to secure the perfect present, consumers can easily be swayed simply by sumptuous packaging. But too often, such books lose their appeal after the initial browse—and wind up on the coffee table instead of a reader’s lap.2 The best ones offer visuals that are provocative as well as pleasing—or combine interesting pictures with intriguing contents. A sampling compiled by Maclean ’s staff and contributors:

The advent of the small 35-mm camera 65 years ago helped foster a new breed of photographer. In Our Time: The World as Seen by Magnum Photographers (Penguin, $70) provides a selection of that work by 60 photographers while serving as a capsule history of major events of the past five decades. Five photographers, including giants Henri CartierBresson and Robert Capa, created the Mag-

num Photo Agency in April, 1947. The 400 evocative photos—ranging from scenes of the Spanish Civil War to celebrity portraits—illustrate the philosophy of founder Cartier-Bresson, who emphasized that a photo must capture “the decisive moment.”

By contrast, most of the celebrity portraits in Rolling Stone: The Photographs

(General, $69.95) forgo spontaneity for artifice. Rolling Stone magazine has always had a split personality: part journalistic organ and part of what singer Joni Mitchell once called “the star-maker machinery.” That schizophrenia is reflected in the book’s color and black-andwhite photographs, many of which seem designed to enhance the carefully cultivated im-

ages of the subjects. But some pictures, including those of George Wallace’s sullen pose in a wheelchair, Madonna’s alabaster back and Mick Jagger’s scrawny chest, are revealing in the best tradition of photojournalism.

After last spring’s publication of The Andy Warhol Diaries, a treadmill excursion into celebrity gossip, a new book shows that there was much more to the late prince of pop art than meets the Instamatic eye. Warhol (Prentice-Hall, $65) combines a definitive biography with a vivid collection of the artist’s work— ranging from soup-can pencil sketches to a silkscreened skull. American art critic David Bourdon, a close friend of Warhol’s, writes a lucid, detailed chronicle of his life and art, evenly

paced with illustrations. The book is a lush object that reveals astonishing depths behind the legendary shallowness of the artist who became more famous than his art.

Personal fame and artistic achievement also marked the life of an earlier American painter, Jackson Pollock, who became a cult figure in the 1950s. U.S. playwright Tennessee Williams once said that Pollock “could paint ecstasy as it could not be writ-

ten.” In Jackson Pollock (Prentice-Hall, $90), U.S. author and art history professor Ellen Landau provides a fascinating account of the life of the introverted yet volatile artist, complemented by handsome reproductions of his dramatic works.

Another strikingly attractive tome is Georgia O’Keeffe: In the West (Random House, $135). Featuring 98 color reproductions of O’Keeffe’s New Mexico work, it captures the artist’s richest images of burnt sunsets, rusty hills and sunbleached bones that have come to define the American southwest. Whether in stunning landscapes or haunting objects, such as a floating deer’s skull, O’Keeffe’s desert paintings have a stark, lingering beauty.

With his spritely, luminous painting of elegant society parties, festive sailing regattas and the sun-drenched Riviera, artist Raoul Dufy

(1877-1953) captured all the -

charm and chic of French life. Dufy was also an accomplished stage designer and a prolific decorative artist, whose sumptuous fabric, tapestries, murals, book illustrations and ceramics were part of his crusade to beautify the world. Raoul Dufy (Prentice-Hall, $100), a beautifully illustrated volume, exemplifies Gertrude Stein’s observation that “Dufy is pleasure.”

Pleasure of a different sort is evident in the

work of painter Mary Pratt. In the 1960s, when her husband, Christopher Pratt, was one of Canada’s rising young painters, Mary Pratt wrote in her diary: “My only strength is finding something where most people would find nothing.” In time, she began to paint the routine somethings of domesticity—baked apples on tin foil, eviscerated chickens. Now an established artist, she is celebrated in Mary Pratt

(McGraw-Hill Ryerson, $65). With its vivid reproductions, the book is an engaging tribute to a woman who has unapologetically affirmed that home is where the art is.

The performing arts are less frequently celebrated in picture books, which makes Dance Canada: An Illustrated History (Douglas & McIntyre, $60), the first comprehensive treatment of the art form in this country, doubly welcome. Written by Vancouver critic Max Wyman, the book follows Canadian ballet and modem dance from their wobbly beginnings 50 years ago through to the present day. The book combines invaluable black-andwhite photographs with an anecdotal and often amusing text. The sheer scope of the

final chapters on the current

dance scene results in sketchiness, but, on the whole, Wyman’s book is impressive.

The season’s landscape and nature giftbooks are another fertile source of viewing pleasure. Voyaging with the Whales (McClelland and Stewart, $39.95) goes beyond the usual wistful look at the beautiful leviathans. For eight years, author and biologist Cynthia D’Vincent has followed humpback whales on their annual 30,000-mile migration from Alaska to Hawaii. Along the way, she has produced spectacular photographs of rarely observed behavior and evidence of a more tightly knit social structure than previously believed.

To the untrained eye of the outsider, the Canadian Prairie can appear to be a vast, homogenous and ultimately boring environment. In his new book, Heartland: Prairie Portraits and Landscapes (Douglas & Mclntryre, $40), photographer Ottmar Bierwagen presents the West as a place of stunning variety, and its people as down-to-earth and independent. Prairie-born journalist Mark Abley has written a competent text.

Landscape on a more intimate scale figures in the many books on gardens native and foreign. The Glory of the English Garden by Mary Keen (Little, Brown, $49.95) proves that if an Englishman’s home is his castle, then the surrounding land is his kingdom. With alluring photographs of preserved or restored gardens, and an engaging text pruned of botanical jargon, the author follows England’s horticultural heritage from medieval times to the present. At best, Canadian gardens can only stretch back a few generations, and even many of the most established gardens are still works in progress. In a Canadian Garden by Nicole Eaton and Hilary Weston (Penguin, $45) surveys 35 of the most impressive privately owned gardens in the country. The book gives a glimpse of the verdant finery that Canadians have extracted from an often-ungenerous climate. But the accompanying essays often have a cloying sentimentality.

Long before there were gardens, there was inhospitable wilderness. Peter C. Newman’s Empire of the Bay: An Illustrated History of the Hudson’s Bay Company (Penguin, $45) is a compelling reminder that the company’s push for beaver pelts was the force that explored, charted and colonized much of Canada. Newman interweaves the visual material— maps, drawings and paintings—that he found

while researching his three-part history of the company with a fascinating account of the scientists, missionaries, Arctic explorers and gentlemen adventurers who manned the outposts from which many of Canada’s cities grew.

As cities mushroomed across North America, so did travel between them. Grand Hotels of North America (McClelland and Stewart, $75), which details the histories of dozens of the continent’s most impressive hostelries, is a reminder of a bygone era when many hotels combined opulent designs with expensive materials. While many of the establishments in the book—including Alberta’s Banff Springs—are still in operation, their service and furnishings have become less extravagant. The stories behind these architectural landmarks, most of them built between 1860 and 1940, provide an eye-opening profile of an earlier age of travel.

The past also is charmingly evoked in Queen Mary’s Photograph Albums (McClelland and Stewart, $24.95). When she died in 1952, Mary, wife of King George V and grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II, left 33 albums of photographs taken by members of her family and official photographers. The selection casts the austere matriarch in a surprisingly relaxed and domestic light. Images of royal children at the seaside, shot slightly out of focus with their feet cut off, vie with pictures of King George V in a bowler hat digging a potato patch. One bucolic scene—with farm animals—shows Her Majesty with cane, gloves and fur stole, which the Queen captioned “me and my pig.”

That photo was taken in 1942, when Mary, by then Queen Mother, had been evacuated to the country to escape wartime London. With 1989 marking the 50th anniversary of the start of the Second World War, a steady barrage of war books has come rolling off publishers’ presses. Some of the most impressive are atlases—a great help in sorting out the myriad conflicts of the war. The Chronological Atlas of World War II by Barrie and Frances

Pitt (Lester & Orpen Dennys, $39.95) illustrates every month of the war with a world map locating major events and lucid thumbnail descriptions, while The Times Atlas of the Second World War, edited by John Keegan (Harper & Collins, $59.95), concentrates on military campaigns. Another large-format book, Marching to War, 1933-1939, introduced by Martin Gilbert (Penguin, $24.95), features photographs and commentary originally published in The Illustrated London News. The book amounts to a fascinating popular history of the rise of Hitler and Mussolini.

On the premise that “history is just yesterday’s current affairs,” the 1,296-page Chronicle of the World (Raincoast, $59.95) reduces human history to a giant compendium of newspaper-style stories. Ranging from man’s beginnings (“Early humans stand tall on rear legs”) to the end of the Second World War (“Atom bomb wipes out Japanese city”), the crisply written, lavishly illustrated Chronicle is, despite its daunting bulk, a surprisingly enjoyable tome. From the horrors of war to the serenity of an English garden or the joyful lunge of a humpback whale, giftbooks offer worlds of wonder between covers.