There are gorgeous books for all tastes among the season’s gift options

December 9 2002


There are gorgeous books for all tastes among the season’s gift options

December 9 2002


There are gorgeous books for all tastes among the season’s gift options


Love of one’s country, nature, art, travel, adventure, sports, food—these are the things that sustain us. In the cold, dark months, we indulge in them when we can, and think about them when we can’t. Lavish picture books can provide much vicarious sustenance in winter. Some of the season’s best gift prospects, selected by Maclean’s writers and editors:

CANADA’S SUBLIME scenery is celebrated in Roberta Bondar’s Canada: Landscape of Dreams (Douglas & McIntyre, $29.95). The book showcases the passion and photographic skill of Canada’s first woman astronaut in space, who travelled from sea to sea to sea for her ode to the Canadian wild. Bondar’s pictures are accompanied by brief texts from such well-known Canadians as Oscar Peterson and Silken Laumann.

Outdoor enthusiasts will savour In the Footsteps of Grey Owl: Journey into the Ancient Forest (McClelland & Stewart, $39.99). The text and more than 100 pictures by Gary and Joanie McGuffin chronicle the couple’s three-month, 1,900-km canoe journey through central Ontario waterways once travelled by Englishman Archie Belaney, better known for posing as native naturalist Grey Owl. A riveting travelogue matched by gorgeous photos of plants, animals, misty forests and serene lakes and rivers.

Toronto’s architecture is often dismissed as bland. That may be so, but Toronto: Photographs by Tim Peters (Firefly, $59.95) makes a strong case for the city’s visual vibrancy. Peters has that rare gift—taking the familiar and showing it in a new light. His large-format book portrays the country’s biggest metropolis as a highly varied place of both glass-and-steel canyons and quaint gingerbread houses. Its arresting images could even convert Toronto haters.

The delicate and precise art of map-makers is on display in Derek Hayes’s full-colour Historical Atlas of Canada (Douglas & McIntyre, $75). As you turn the pages and move through history, the country takes graphic shape—mainly in its geography, but also politically, as boundaries are established

and borders created. So New Brunswick and Nova Scotia emerge in their real shapes, labelled “New Scot Lande,” in a 1624 map by William Alexander. The book presents history through the eyes of explorers—an enticing way to see the country.

Especially in a year bereft of weighty—in the good sense of the word—political books, John Duffy’s Fights of Our Lives (HarperCollins, $55) is a politics junkie’s dream gift. With its glossy thick paper and numerous pictures, it has the look and feel of coffeetable fare. But don’t be fooled. Duffy, a political strategist currently engaged in making Paul Martin the next prime minister, understands what it takes to win elections in a bipolar country such as Canada. And he has the talent to make the past seem immediate. The conceit of the book is that five elections put an indelible stamp on the coun-

try, and that each time Canadians chose wisely. One could quibble with his conclusion, but Duffy succeeds wonderfully in making the mechanics of politics both fascinating and instructive.

During one of his diatribes against the Kyoto Protocol, Alberta Environment Minister Lome Taylor referred to those in favour of the greenhouse gas-limiting accord as “those Suzuki-ites.” So Taylor probably wouldn’t enjoy the latest book from David Suzuki and co-author Amanda McConnell, The Sacred Balance: A Visual Celebration of Our Place in Nature (Douglas & McIntyre, $55). It has nothing to say about Kyoto per se, but springs from the same world view underlying Suzuki’s support for the accord: everything on earth is connected to everything else. The book explores that interconnectedness in its text, quotations from literature, poetry and myth, and in 125 stunning colour photographs. Suzuki’s identification of seven elements essential to human life—earth, air, fire, water, biodiversity, love and spirit—might strike some as a tad New Age-ish. But as he explores each element chapter by chapter, the scientist in him is never far beneath the surface.

British historian Thomas Pakenham is entranced by trees. Remarkable Trees of the World (McArthur & Co., $50) is the result of Pakenham’s journey to photograph “the world’s most dramatic trees.” Each of the 60 he’s chosen has a rich tale. Among them is a sacred fig tree in Sri Lanka that dates from the 2nd century BCE and started as a cutting from the tree under which Buddha is said to have sat and found enlightenment. The lone Canadian entry is of a majestic Sitka spruce on Vancouver Island saved from logging. The book is a tree hugger’s dream.

E.J. Hughes (Douglas & McIntyre, $75) showcases the work of the popular B.C. artist, who works mainly in stylized realism. The book, companion to a Hughes retrospective at the Vancouver Art Gallery opening on Jan. 30, and with text by VAG senior curator, Ian Thom, spans the 1930s to the present—Hughes, now 89, still paints

watercolours. His land and seascapes combine vibrant colour with a keen eye for detail—and a palpable love of the West.

From abstraction to realism, intimate scale to complete environments, the work in Vitamin P: New Perspectives in Painting (Phaidon, $95) shows that at the moment, anything goes. The vibrant reproductions of work by 114 artists reveal the influence of photography, digital media, advertising, film and cartoons, as well as the venerable history of the medium itself. Even if you skip the tiny and sometimes incomprehensible text, Vitamin P is a satisfying crash course in contemporary painting.

For a hockey fan it was a neat idea, and for the rabidly loyal Leaf Nation possibly the greatest one since artificial ice. On Dec. 8, 2001,12 hockey photojoumalists were turned loose in Toronto’s Air Canada Centre to capture every moment of an NHL game day. A Day in the Life of the Maple Leafs (HarperCollins, $65) has text by hockey writer Andrew Podnieks and 272 arresting photos of the morning skate, post-game interviews and everything in between, including the Zamboni driver. Best of all for the true Leaf fan, the home team won the game, 4-3 over the New York Rangers.

For gardeners and wannabes, the easy

choice this season is the The Botanical Garden, Volume I: Trees and Shrubs and Volume 2: Perennials and Annuals (Firefly, $95 each). Produced by Martyn Rix and Roger Phillips, the books combine straightahead pictures with detailed information. A prize for garden-lovers.

The Academy Awards: The Complete History of Oscar (Thomas Allen & Son, $59.95), by Gail Kinn and Jim Piazza, is as bombastic, and as tacky, as its subject. From the black glitter cover to the pastel display copy, it’s about as tasteful as Cher’s wardrobe. But the tome is bursting at the seams with juicy trivia and embarrassing quotes from

acceptance speeches. It also serves as a handy, if hefty, reference containing everything you ever wanted to know about the Oscars.

Former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman seems determined to deny the adage that if you recall the Sixties, you weren’t really there. “Mick, Keith and Charlie are forever telling people to check things with me,” Wyman writes in Rolling With The Stones (Tourmaline, $80), “as I’m the only one who really remembers what happened.” Even better, Wyman also put some 3,000 photos in his history of the band. With professionals providing the glitter, and Wyman’s home snaps, the intimate details, the book is a storehouse of Stones’ material.

A Day in the Life of Africa (Publishers Group Canada, $69.95) is a stunning 288page showcase for the work of 100 international photojournalists who all took their pictures on Feb. 28, 2002. It’s the first day-inthe-life book to focus on an entire continent-one of 53 nations and 720 million people from more than 800 ethnic groups— not just one nation. Profits go to AIDS education. In Sahara (McArthur & Co., $45), Michael Palin recounts his 16,000-km trek through territories bordering the great desert and other countries. It was a dangerous journey, thanks as much to politics as to terrain. But as in his four previous travelogues, Palin, the ex-Monty Python star turned writeradventurer, proves excellent company. He was accompanied by photographer Basil Pao, whose work illustrates the book. But with Inside Sahara (McArthur & Co., $50), nearly 300 of the colour photos Pao took on the trip get deservedly more expansive play.

From 35,000 km away, the earth is an exquisite thing. And, on the evidence of Planet Earth (Knopf, $60), serene. This stunning, large-format book is a collection of 150 satellite photos of the planet. The richly coloured pictures are striking and unusual-some are like abstract art. Eye candy for earthlings. In Heaven & Earth: Unseen by the Naked Eye (Phaidon, $75), microscopes and telescopes are brought together to shed new light on our world and beyond. The thick volume bulges with photos of cityscapes taken from space and a revealing glimpse of Jupiter’s moon Callisto, first discovered by Galileo in 1610. At the other end of the spectrum are closeups of DNA molecules, skin and seeds, all paired with brief, informative texts. A book that is as educational as it’s beautiful.

Those who keep truffles and Espelette pepper in their larder are in for a journey of inspiration with Eric Ripert and Michael Ruhlman’s A Return to Cooking (Thomas Allen, $79.95). Ripert, 37, chef of New York’s acclaimed Le Bernardin, takes us to home kitchens of the Napa Valley, Puerto Rico, Vermont and Sag Harbor, with an artist and photographers in tow. This lush cookbook presents a veritable feast while allowing Ripert to share his vast knowledge.

Australian native David Thompson first visited Thailand two decades ago, and it was the beginning of a love affair with a smouldering cuisine. Thai Food (Ten Speed, $60) is more than an encyclopedic selection of Thai recipes; Thompson, a sort of honorary Thai who divides his time between London and Bangkok, devotes 89 pages to the country’s culture and food history.

In his third cookbook, Vancouver restau-

Lavish picture books can provide much vicarious sustenance in winter-arid a great deal of holiday joy

rateur John Bishop goes with a seasonal theme. The receipes in Simply Bishop’s: Easy Seasonal Recipes (Douglas & McIntyre, $45), co-written with the chef at Bishop’s Restaurant, Dennis Green, are easy to make and elegant, emphasizing fresh local ingredients. But you don’t have to live in B.C. to prepare—and enjoy—many of the dishes.

Mario Batali, the most engaging chef on Food Network Canada, is a big guy with a big personality and a New York restaurant, Babbo, that’s a huge success. Now, he offers up some signature dishes in The Babbo Cookbook (Random House, $60). Batali’s recipes, like grilled quail with braised dandelions and blood oranges, are as bold and unpretentious as the man himself.

Martin Yan’s Chinatown Cooking (HarperCollins, $49.95), the companion to a series on Food Network Canada, is both an excellent survey of Chinese food and a fascinating look at 11 Chinatowns around the world, including those of Vancouver and Toronto. Yan, a native of Guangzhou, China now based near San Francisco, worked at one of his first North American Chinese restaurants in the town of Brooks, Alta. The book combines recipes with the stories of the Chinatowns where he found inspiration, li’il