Gift books transport readers to the past, the exotic and the beautiful
Gift books transport readers to the past, the exotic and the beautiful
Coffee tables across the land will soon groan under the weight of a new batch of picture books. And those volumes will continue to give pleasure long after the holiday credit-card bills have rolled in. A sampling from this season’s crop reviewed by Maclean’s writers and editors:
Karen Kain: Movement Never Lies (McClelland & Stewart, $40), an autobiography written with Stephen Godfrey and Penelope Reed Doob, is a surprising book. The 43-year-old prima ballerina’s memoir delivers far more than pretty pictures—over 100 of them— capturing the glamor, beauty and hard work of a career spanning a quarter-century. Movement Never Lies is an unsentimental and absorbing self-examination of the dancer’s life, from early success (and her eight-year relationship with dancer Frank Augustyn) to her deep, mid-career depression to her present serenity. Along the way, Kain describes her friendships with the greats of the ballet world, particularly Rudolf Nureyev and Erik Bruhn, and details the inner workings other profession with honesty and intelligence.
Figure Skating: A Celebration (McClelland & Stewart, $40) has something for all skating fans, but it is especially useful as a primer for those unfamiliar with the sport. Author Beverley Smith briefly profiles the stars, chronicles the history and describes how to distinguish between the various jumps and spins. Photographs from a variety of sources ably illustrate her text. On the subject of the always-controversial judging, Smith records that, while still erratic, the marking system has historically been a lot worse. What a scary thought.
Winter (Stoddart, $50) by Pierre Berton takes as its starting point the fact that most adult Canadians hate it. “The only thing they hate more is other people’s image of Canada as a snow-covered waste,” he writes. The Yukon-born author details our love-hate relationship with the cold season, including a personal memoir and touching photographs of his young self in Dawson City. André Gallant’s terrific
pictures—nearly 200 of them—are interspersed with Berton’s essays on hockey, carnivals, William Notman’s faked winter photographs and what Berton calls the “denial of winter” syndrome—the escapist stampede to fake beaches in the West Edmonton Mall and real ones in Caribbean countries. Stay in and read it by the fire.
Between Two Cultures: A Photographer Among the Inuit (Penguin, $50), with a text by Maria Tippett, showcases the photographs of |
London art dealer Charles !
Gimpel, who took hundreds of black-and-white pictures during visits to Canada’s Far North between 1958 and 1968. Gimpel became obI sessed with chronicling a disappearing way of life, | photographing Inuit domes1 tic scenes and hunting expeditions, as well as white administrators and adventurers. Although clearly the work of an amateur, Gimbel’s pictures, together with Canadian historian Tippett’s wellresearched commentary, provide a refreshingly candid portrait of a people in transition.
Northern Lights: Masterpieces of Tom Thomson and the jroup of Seven (Key Porter, $50) by Joan Murray offers new insights nto some well-known art and artists. Murray’s arrangement of paintngs and sketches—some as well-known as Thomson’s The West Wind, Dthers only recently available for public viewing—illustrates the transi;ion from sketch to canvas, or the way the artists influenced each ather. Ironically, in a book showcasing creators associated with the image of Canada as Northern Wilderness, the greatest eye-openers
are Lawren Harris’s luminous urban scenes.
Train Country: An Illustrated History of Canadian National Railways (Douglas &
McIntyre, $45) offers an elegiac excursion through the glory days of rail travel. Focusing on the steam age, Montreal historian Donald MacKay and retired CN publicist Lome Perry shunt between dutiful history and rhapsodic
trivia—“the steam engine spoke its own lan-
guage,” they write, a repertoire of 40 distinct
sounds, not including the whistle’s 19 “signature tunes.” There is a certain monotony to the book’s 150 black-and-white photos, drawn mainly from CN’s archives. But for rail buffs, Train Country is essential fare.
Hindenburg: An Illustrated History (Penguin, $65), with text by Rick Archbold and paintings by Ken Marschall, is an opulent, loving recreation of the era of the great gas-filled dirigibles. With details that only true devotees of the airships could provide (or want), the book describes launch after launch, crash after crash, from Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin’s 1900 debut flight to the fiery demise of the Hindenburg in 1937. Hydrogen certainly had its drawbacks: modern air travellers would hardly be enthused by the prospect of crossing the Atlantic in close proximity to seven million cubic feet of the highly flammable gas—especially when the aircraft, as in the Hindenburg’s
case, included a smoking room. But hydrogen had its advantages, too, permitting quiet, luxurious travel.
The Atlas of Shipwrecks and Treasure (Penguin, $39.99) appeals to the perennial fascination with the precious cargo lying at the bottom of the sea. British salvage expert Nigel Pickford locates 1,400 wrecks, from ancient to modem times. With alluring photographs, drawings and maps, the book’s first section presents the history of 40 of those ships and the riches they yielded—or, in many cases, still hold. Then, in a gazetteer, the book locates and briefly describes all the others, many with no known history of salvage attempts.
Hunting Dinosaurs (Random House, $55) by photographer Louie Psihoyos comes after the spate of books that gushed forth in the wake of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park. Psihoyos travelled to sites around the world to photograph dinosaur remains and the people who hunt for them. The book has its quirky side: a series of photos show prominent paleontologists posing with the skull of the combative 19th-century American fossil-hunter Edward Drinker Cope.
National Geographic: The Photographs (National Geographic Society, $50) mixes archival and contemporary photographs from the venerable magazine. The book is roughly grouped according to the themes of wildlife on land and water, cultures in the United States and elsewhere, and science—everything from the body to outer-space bodies. The text tells behind-the-scenes stories of just how those photos were taken, but the always arresting shots are the real story.
Spirit of the Land: Sacred Places in Native North America (Penguin, $55) is a landscape book with a difference. Making spiritual sense out of nature’s abstract designs, Saskatoon-bom photographer Courtney Milne visits 54 sacred places, from the flesh-pink clefts of Arizona’s Antelope Canyon to the mossy depths of the Queen Charlotte Islands. But Milne’s real love is light itself, the way it can paint agate swirls on the water’s surface or rainbows in a quartz crystal. This
is a book of transcendent beauty.
The Russian Century: A Photographic History of Russia’s 100 Years (Random House, $63) features a lively text by English historian Brian Moynahan that chronicles a nation from the last days of the Romanovs and the Bolshevik Revolution, through to the Cold War, the glasnost era and more recent developments. But the real strength of the book is the black-andwhite images by Russian or Soviet photographers unearthed by researchers Annabel Merullo and Sarah Jackson in various archives, museums and private collections. As poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko writes in his foreword, this visual history is “a mirror smashed by wars and revolutions whose fragments suddenly have grown together again and contain in their depths all that was once reflected in them.”
Golf, The Greatest Game (HarperCollins, $85) and Arnold Palmer, A Personal Journey (HarperCollins, $59) both brim with fascinating photos—but both also suffer from the reverential flavor of the authorized product. Golf is an official book of the U.S. Golf Association, a loving history of the game that makes only a pass at its Scottish roots and a mere nod at Canada. Arnold Palmer relives the career of one of the greatest players in history, and features his own essay on the game. “There are no referees to blame; no opponents to thwart a good shot,” he writes. “The challenge is pure—the golfer against the course and his own standard.” But small is still beautiful: arguably the
season’s best book on the sport is David Gould’s The Golfer’s Code (Fairchild, $22.99), which, despite being pocket-width, offers the big picture on mies and traditions of the ancient game.
Baseball (Knopf, 486 pages, $75) by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Bums is a companion volume to the fascinating, but interminable, PBS series of the same name. The book is about the size of second base—only heavier. Like the series, it is divided into nine “innings” and traces baseball from its murky beginnings in 19th-century America through the Black Sox scandal, the Negro Leagues, Ruth and Cobb, Maris and Mantle, Rose and Aaron, free agency and collusion. The scouting report: strong on the archival past (in text and wonderfully evocative photos), weaker on the last couple of decades, with a peculiar lack of interest in most teams not based in New York City or Boston—including all-but-absent Toronto and Montreal. □
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