Pages of beauty and fascination

There is a something for every interest in the new crop of gift hooks

December 18 1995

Pages of beauty and fascination

There is a something for every interest in the new crop of gift hooks

December 18 1995

Pages of beauty and fascination

There is a something for every interest in the new crop of gift hooks


The time of luxury and indulgence has arrived— and so has a wide range of sumptuous gift books. A sampling of this holiday season’s finest, selected by Maclean’s writers and editors:

Christopher Pratt: Personal Reflections on a Life in Art (Key Porter, $75) is a lavish mini-retrospective, enabling a reader to trace the artist’s development from his conventionally detailed early works to the stark, mysterious images of his mature paintings. Pratt, who lives and works in a Newfoundland outport, illuminates more than 200 reproductions of his paintings and drawings with his own words—in wry, sometimes candid observations taken from his diaries, poems and essays.

The Art of Mary Pratt: The Substance of Light (Goose Lane Editions and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery $65), pays homage to the painter once dubbed “the visual poet of the kitchen” in a hand some volume written by Beaverbrook curator Tom Smart. Included in the book are the Newfoundland realist’s best-known images of fish, food and fire, as well as more obscure works. Smart traces Pratt’s evolution from outport mother and wife painting impressionist-style still lifes to fully realized artist.

The Group of Seven: Art for a Nation (McClelland & Stewart, $50) celebrates the 75th anniversary of Canada’s most famous painters. In his engaging text, National Gallery of Canada curator Charles C. Hill dusts off the familiar myths about the artists and retells their story with fresh detail—from the bitter opposition to them at the time of their first show in 1920 to their later days of glory. The Group of Seven includes all of the 178 paintings from a major retrospective mounted this year by the National Gallery.

The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait (Manda, $55) is an indispensable volume for fans of the perennially popular Mexican artist, who died in 1954. The book includes an actual reproduction, complete with 70 watercolor illustrations, of the diary that the tormented painter kept for the last 10 years of her life. It is followed by translations of the entries and commentary by Kahlo expert Sarah M. Lowe.

Cézanne and the Provençal Table (Manda, $56) isa sublime pairing of a sumptuous cuisine with the landscapes and still lifes of one of Western art’s towering painters. Jacqueline Saulnier and Gilles Plazy focus on Paul Cézanne’s lifelong dedication to painting the beauties of his native Provence. Alongside reproductions of his

work are Jean-Bernard Naudin’s exquisite photographs of the area and its robust dishes. Recipes for 50 of them are included.

In and Out of the Kitchen: In Fifteen Minutes or Less (Raincoast, $25) sounds like a pedestrian, add-a-can-of-mushroom-soup sort of cookbook, but nothing could be further from the truth. Gorgeous photographs and master British cook Anne Willan’s seemingly straightforward recipes demonstrate the beauty of simplicity.

Umberto’s Kitchen: The Flavours of Tuscany (Douglas & McIntyre, $35) comes alive in 150 easy to moderately difficult recipes and 75 inviting photographs of Italian interiors, landscapes and dishes. Vancouver restaurateur Umberto Menghi’s anecdotes of growing up in Tuscany, where he recently opened a cooking school and hotel, add flavor. Armchair travel and gustatory gratification in one volume.

Chinese Cuisine (Firefly, $35) de-

mystifies its subject, suggesting that good Chinese food is no more difficult to cook than good Italian food. Author Susanna Foo, who was born in an Inner Mongolian village and now runs a restaurant in Philadelphia, offers an eclectic array of recipes. Forget pineapple chicken. Foo’s dishes include One-Hundred-Corner Crab Cakes and Turkestan Lamb Soup with Mung Beans. This is a handsome cookbook, but not so fancy it cannot get messed up on the the cutting board.

The Martini (Raincoast, $37.50) celebrates the civilizing influence of the classic American cocktail, which is enjoying a renaissance. Like the drink itself, the book is compact, sexy and elevating. Illustrated with luscious photographs and art, it examines the martini’s origins, its role in literature and film, and the great debates over its formula. Defining Martini Culture as “grace under pleasure,” author Barnaby Conrad III has concocted the ultimate gift-with-a-twist for those who make a fetish of mixing the perfect martini, as if it were rocket science.

At Home in Canada (Penguin, $55) proves that it takes only an eye and some creativity, but not necessarily money, to have an appealing residence. Written by Nicole Eaton and Hilary Weston, and with wonderfully candid photographs by Joy von Tiedemann, the book includes some unlikely subjects. Alongside the comfy country residence of author Mordecai Richler and his wife Florence there is the vibrant house, filled with native crafts, of Chief Cy Standing and

Ava Hill on Saskatchewan’s Wahpeton Dakota Reserve. Writers’ Houses (McClelland & Stewart, $72) satisfies the voyeur in everyone. Beautifully evocative photos by Erica Lennard capture the spirit of place in the homes of such writers as Dylan Thomas, Alberto Moravia and Virginia Woolf.

The essays by Francesca Premoli-Droulers mingle biographical detail and literary lore as they explore each author’s special connection to a house, whether a simple cottage or a splendid mansion.

Superior, Journeys on an Inland Sea (Stoddart, $50),

Canoescapes (Stoddart, $50) and The Great Canoes (Douglas & McIntyre,

$27.95) are the kind of richly illustrated books canoeists love to dream over when lakes and rivers are frozen solid. In Superior, Gary and Joanie McGuffin chronicle a 3,200-km circumnavigation of the largest of the Great Lakes. Travelling mainly by canoe and kayak (but also by ski and snowshoe), the McGuffins explored sea caverns, outran storms and drifted under awe-inspiring cliffs. Canoescapes collects the oil paintings of Bill Mason, the country’s great master of canoe lore. Mason, who died in 1988, was a skilled if somewhat old-fashioned landscape painter who could catch the spirit of a storm or waterfall with an immediacy photography can rarely match. The Great Canoes is native photographer David Neel’s fascinating view of traditional canoe building along the coasts of British Columbia and Washington State. These large, seagoing canoes carved from single cedar logs were in danger of disappearing, but in the past decade their construction has become the focus for a cultural revival.

Inuit: Glimpses Of An Arctic Past (Canadian Museum of Civilization; $34.95) provides a fascinating historical view of a resourceful people who have inhabited the breathtakingly beautiful, if forbidding, Canadian Arctic for the past 1,000 years. Authors David Morrison and Georges-Hébert Germain use more than 225 photographs and original illustrations to focus on the Copper Inuit of the Central Arctic in 1909 and 1910—the last time that the Inuit of that region lived free from a host of outside influences, including the RCMP and Christian missionaries. The book serves as a primer on traditional Inuit survival skills, division of labor and games. There is even a section on sex and friendship, which helpfully explains how Inuit wife-swapping—a practice that alternately shocked and titillated early European explorers—often played a crucial role in preventing conflict.

People, Legends in Life and Art (Douglas & McIntyre, $60) showcases a series of portraits from the archives of Roloff Beny, the famed Canadian-born photographer who died in 1984. Known for his luminous landscapes and architectural photographs, Beny was nevertheless a keen observer of people. This collection includes images of unknown artisans and peasants as well as famous people. Beny did

not, however, allow his wellknown snobbery to compromise his art. As friend and biographer Mitchell Crites notes in the text, “Roloff studied the ‘architecture of faces.’ ” Jerusalem: An Archaeological Biography (Random House, $63) is a gift-book rarity, a glossy pictorial with frontpage relevance. The “navel of the world” to medieval Christians, and capital city to three religions, Jerusalem’s symbolic importance is wellknown. But author Hershel Shanks begins his wide-ranging tour of its archaeological treasures with a detailed examination of the city’s physical setting. In so doing, he makes evident the strategic importance of the site that drove the Israelites to seize it in about 1000 BC and the Israelis in 1967, to mention only the first and last of Jerusalem’s 23 known conquests. A thoroughly readable study of the city’s turbulent history, Jerusalem is also informative about the Mideast’s unchanging realities.

Gift of Wings (Stoddart, $50) contains photographs taken by writer Carl Hiebert during his two cross-Canada flights. Striking and unusual as many of the images are—a maple-leafshaped moonscape created by gypsum mining near Windsor, N.S., for example—they pale beside the author himself. Hiebert, 48, has been a paraplegic since breaking his back in a hang-gliding accident 14 years ago. He finds release from his condition when he takes to the air in a modern ultralight airplane— he is the first to have flown one across Canada. The title of this optimistic book is exquisitely apt for Hiebert, and its most moving photograph is of him flying past his empty wheelchair.

Spitfire (Stoddart, $39.95) is a celebration of the most storied fighter plane of the Second World War. Author Robert

Bracken spent nine years collecting reminiscences from Canadians who flew Spitfires in the Battle of Britain, at Dieppe and during D-Day. The perspective of half a century lends a matter-of-fact air to their first-person stories, whether of shooting down the enemy or of being shot down themselves, that makes them all the more affecting. The pilots seem to have had only one thing in common: to a man, they loved that airplane.

Diamond Dreams (little, Brown, $54) is a lavish, colorful family album of faces and moods, homerun swings and fastballs starring such greats as Berra, Maris, Koufax, DiMaggio and Puckett. During his 30 years with Sports Illustrated, Walter looss became known as one of the most accomplished sports photographers in America—and this pictorial saunter down baseball’s memory lane shows why. The nostalgic text by syndicated columnist Tom Boswell is laced with anecdotes.

Tsar: The Lost World of Nicholas and Alexandra (Little, Brown, $70) mixes contemporary photos with family-album mementos that trace the life of the Tsar, his wife and five children. The intelligent text by Peter Kurth follows the couple from childhood to marriage to coronation to abdication to their squalid murder in Siberia by their new Communist masters. An intimate portrait of a family emerges—a family set apart from the misery of their countrymen but still fascinating for their exotic isolation.