Pages of holiday cheer

'Tis the season to savor coffee-table tomes

December 22 1997

Pages of holiday cheer

'Tis the season to savor coffee-table tomes

December 22 1997

Pages of holiday cheer

'Tis the season to savor coffee-table tomes


Apart from summer vacation, the winter holidays may be the only time when people actually achieve the leisurely state of mind required to crack open those lavish tomes sitting on coffee tables throughout the land. This year’s crop of gift books is particularly varied and appealing. Highlights selected by Maclean’s editors and writers:

Most photographers who set out to capture the diverse beauty of Canada focus on scenery. William DeKay had something different in mind: chronicling the daily lives of country people.

Down Home: A Journey into Rural Canada (Stoddart,

$40) is the result of his year and a half, 80,000-km trek across the country in a camper.

And it is a gorgeous, loving portrayal. Another book sticks to the more conventional landscape formula—but is a winner nonetheless. Darwin Wiggett Photographs Canada (Whitecap, $45) was produced by an Albertan who had never travelled east of Manitoba before he embarked on an eight-month, 10,000-km expedition. As a result, such icons of the landscape as Peggys Cove, N.S., and Percé Rock,

Que.—presented in lush double-page spreads—seem startlingly fresh.

Three books published in British Columbia show off Western Canada in all its rugged glory. The Rocky Mountains (Raincoast, $85) is the most visually arresting of the three. Japanese photogra-

pher Shiro Shirahata—who has made a career of shooting the major mountain ranges of the world—turns his lens on the magnificent Rockies and adjacent Columbia Mountains. Giants: The Colossal Trees of Pacific North America (Raincoast, $39.95), by Audrey Grescoe with photographer Bob Herger, is an unusual compendium of big-tree lore. More than just tree-huggers will appreciate this stunningly illustrated book, which details—among other things— the medicinal uses of yew. The Great Bear Rainforest: Canada’s Forgotten Coast (Harbour, $39.95) provides an in-depth, unapologetically conservationist look at the B.C. coastline that stretches 400 km south from Alaska—the world’s last unharvested stand of temperate rain forest.

Faces of the Flood: Manitoba’s Courageous Battle Against

the Red River (Stoddart, $39.95) and A Red Sea Rising: The Flood of the Century (Winnipeg Free Press, $29.95) both emphasize the human, often heroic, face of the disaster: soldiers and civilians hefting sandbags, embattled residents fighting the floodwaters. Red Sea, assembled by Winnipeg Free Press staff, is more compre-

hensive and amply illustrated. Faces, with a well-written text by Jake MacDonald and Shirley Sandrel, is more anecdotal—and a better-designed showcase for the photos, by Tom Thomson.

The teenage friendship of two camp counsellors, Margaret Atwood and Charles Pachter, eventually evolved into a memorable collaboration. In 1980, the two released 120 handprinted copies of Atwood’s linked poems about a Canadian pioneer woman, accompanied by Pachter’s silkscreen prints, in The Journals of Susanna Moodie. Now, Toronto publisher Macfarlane Walter & Ross has published a $40 facsimile. Atwood’s distillation of Moodie’s Canadian experience and Pachter’s striking figures in a haunted wilderness stand the test of time—without too much strain on the wallet.

The subtitle of Elvis Stojko’s Heart and Soul (Hushion, $39.95) is In His Own Words, and the Richmond Hill, Ont., native uses them to make a good case for his unusual skating style. But Heart is overwhelmed by hundreds of toosimilar photographs of the three-time world figure-skating champion in action—at compe-

titions or on dirt bikes, snowmobiles and personal watercraft. More captivating is Oksana Baiul’s Secrets of Skating (McClelland & Stewart, $39.99). Baiul, an orphan from Ukraine, won a world championship at 15, captured Olympic gold at 16 and, barely three years later, nearly killed herself and a companion in a late-night car crash and was convicted of drunk driving. That last fact did not make it into Secrets, but then, coffee-table books are judged more by their beauty than their brains—and this one is graced with original and candid photographs.

A Woman’s Place: Seventy Years in the lives of Canadian Women (Key Porter, $36), edited by Sylvia Fraser, features wideranging articles and graphics from Chatelaine magazine, with such illustrious bylines as June Callwood and Barbara Frum. Some pieces are fascinating time capsules— among them “Packing a Box for a Soldier?” from 1941. But other subjects, such as 1963’s “Why Are Women So Hard on Each Other?” are timeless.

In the immensely readable, richly illustrated Alexander Graham Bell:

The Life and Times of the Man Who Invented the Telephone (Ingram, $60), Edwin S. Grosvenor and Morgan Wesson describe the solitary work habits of the great innovator, who had a summer home on Cape Breton Island for more than 30 years.

In addition to the telephone, Bell invented a device to measure hearing ability (his name is incorporated in the unit of sound measurement, the decibel) , the metal detector and the respirator. He also pioneered methods of teaching the deaf and coined the term “greenhouse effect” in a 1914 essay on global warming.

Vancouver-based painter Norval Morrisseau is one of the greatest native artists Canada has ever produced.

With its essays and reproductions of his surreal works, Norval Morrisseau: Travels to the House of Invention (Key Porter, $39.95) transports the reader to the artist’s world of aboriginal myths and dreams.

Anyone who has been to Giverny, the country home of French impressionist Claude Monet from 1890 to 1930, remembers the spell of that sublimely beautiful place. Monet’s House: An Impressionist Interior (Random House, $49) captures the splendor—the blazing yellow dining room, the Japanese prints, the pond that inspired many works.

While Monet was painting lily pads,

Pablo Picasso was yanking Western art into the 20th century. The first bursts of his accomplishment are explored and celebrated in Picasso:

The Early Years, 1892-1906 (Yale, $60). The catalogue for a major Picasso exhibition still on at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Picasso covers the artist’s early work in Barcelona, his blue and rose periods, and the nudes that preceded his historic leap into cubism.

Egon Schiele: The Leopold Collection, Vienna (Yale, $83.95) is a spectacular companion volume to an exhibition of the turn-of-the-century

Austrian artist’s work on view until Jan. 4 at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. The book’s 152 plates include female nudes and self-portraits imbued with a psychological and sexual tension that startled bourgeois society. The intelligent, non-jargony text pays homage to Schiele’s prominent role in the expressionist movement before he died at 28, a victim of the 1918 flu epidemic.

The Greatest Works of Art of Western Civilization (Thomas Allen, $70) is an idiosyncratic volume by Thomas Hoving, former director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Hoving revisits 111 paintings, tapestries, sculptures and frescoes—masterpieces that he says “bowled me over visually and emotionally.” Each reproduction is accompanied by an erudite yet chatty

discussion of the artist and why the piece retains its power.

The hundreds of black-and-white photos in The British Century (Random House, $90) are so superb in quality, comprehensive in reach and evocative of time and place that they almost obscure the text by historian Brian Moynahan. Among the jewels in the crown are shots of Lawrence of Arabia standing before his men, mounted on camels, and of sombre scholars looking over the books in the roofless library of bombed-out Holland House during the Blitz. But

Moynahan’s beautifully written, anecdote-rich history is a match for the illustrations. Eyes of the Nation (Knopf, $100), meanwhile, provides a narrative in pictures of 505 years of American history. Compiled by the curators of the Library of Congress, along with photo editor Vincent Virga and historian Alan Brinkley, this pictorial museum features everything from rare prints of the original manuscript for The Star-Spangled Banner to a

frame of Michael Jackson’s 1983 Thriller video.

Egypt has exerted a fascination over Western observers since Herodotus, the fifth-century BC Greek historian, visited a civilization already thousands of years old. Ancient Egypt (Raincoast, $39.95) responds to that mysterious pull with a comprehensive, color-

fully illustrated tour of one of the world’s most important societies. Leading Egyptologists, under the general editorship of David Silverman, offer separate articles on topics ranging from art and hieroglyphs to the role of women and the cult of the dead, buttressed with maps, time charts and a glossary of terms.

The thought of ships at sea evokes images of romance and tragedy. Lost Liners (Little, Brown, $75), by American oceanographer Robert D. Ballard and Canadian writer-editor Rick Archbold, does so with grace and style. The impeccable text, focusing on such famous sunken ships as the Titanic, Lusitania and Empress of Ireland, is matched by fabulous photographs and illustrations.

A few new books feed the continued appetite for Italian food. With River Cafe Book (1995), London restaurateurs Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers created a British culinary sensation. Now, they present more rustic Italian cooking—along with bold design and lively photos— in River Cafe Book Two (Random House, $50). Another London restaurant team, Antonio Carluccio and his wife, Priscilla, have produced Carluccio’s Complete Italian Food (Raincoast, $49.95). With beautiful landscape and gastronomic pictures, it is a veritable Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know about Italian Food. Meanwhile, in Marcella Cucina (HarperCollins, $49.50), Marcella Hazan, the queen of Italian cooking in North America, offers reflections on ingredients and dishes as well as recipes in a classic package.

Foodies of all stripes will find much that fascinates in The Visual Food Encyclopedia (Québec/Amérique, $29.95). The book covers the culinary waterfront, with entries on everything from angelica (an herb used to flavor pastries) to alkekengi (a fruit also known as Cape gooseberry)—all in a superbly designed package. Meanwhile, The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia (Firefly, $75), by veteran wine writer Tom Stevenson, is an excellent reference. Filled with pho-

:os and maps, it profiles virtually every wine region in the world—including Eastern China—as well as producers and the wines themselves.

After more than six decades of hits and headlines, Frank Sinatra is in the win;er of his years. Sinatra: The Artist and the Man (Random House, $45), by lohn Lahr, elegantly takes stock of his legacy. The book is an expanded version )f an essay written for The New Yorker, wrapped around 100 black-and-white photos—many published for the first time. The text offers few new details, but s effective in summing up Sinatra’s genius as a singer and exploring the effusive kindness and sometimes brutal excess that mark his private life.

Few picture books are as breathtaking as Eye to Eye: Intimate Encounters with the Animal World (Random House, $59.95), the latest showcase of work by acclaimed Dutch photographer Frans Lanting. Exquistely packaged in three sections—animals solo, in pairs and in groups—the :olor-rich close-ups leap from the page, uncluttered by captions. Less glamorous but also captivating is Mother Nature: Animal Parents and Their ifoung (Greystone, $34.95), by Saskatoon writer Candace Savage, and featurng work by various photographers. Savage has scoured dozens of scientific studies and distilled them into telling tidbits, such as the fact that males assist n child care in only five per cent of non-human mammal species.

Bruce Fogle’s The Encyclopedia of the Cat (Firefly, $49.95) details everything from the evolutionary origins of felines, to their domesication more than 4,000 years ago, to which creeds to buy today. The attractively designed ?uide chronicles cats in religion and culture.

\s well, it provides insights into biology and beîavior. Cat lovers will purr with pleasure.

In May, 1996, a furious blizzard on Mount Everest claimed the lives of eight climbers and recame the subject of Jon Krakauer’s best-seller Into

Thin Air. Full of lore and science, Everest, Mountain Without Mercy (Ranlom House, $49), by Broughton Coburn, is both a documentary of that tragedy md the heroic tale of a successful climb to the summit through the Death Zone )y American David Breashears and his Everest Imax film expedition. The riumphant climb leader was Jamling Norgay, son of sherpa Tenzing Norgay A’ho guided Edmund Hillary to the summit in 1953. Haunting photographs and :risp text tell a gripping story of life and death at the top of the world.

Celebrated in films and rock festivals, Tibet is definitely a hot spot of the 90s. Toronto photographer John Stratton goes beyond the stereotypes in Hbet: Journey into a Still Land (Dundurn, $59.99). Ninety-eight phoographs document Stratton’s three visits in the late ’80s, enchanting the reader with images of farmers and yak herders, monks and children, and offering i stunning look into The Forbidden Kingdom, c