Perfect Pairings or the Singly Sensational: Lovely and Lavish Gifts for Holiday Giving

By Betsy Burton and Mona Awad with Guest Appearances by Margaret Brennan Neville and Anne Holman

Seldom does a community receive a gift as glorious as our new Natural History Museum of Utah. And what could be better for the whole family than a membership, or tickets to visit, paired with a book from TKE that will enrich the experience? No book fills the bill better than The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True (Free Press, $29.95) by the formidable, world-famous scientist Richard Dawkins whose reputation is belied by the family-friendly contents of this page-turning, graphically intriguing (illustrations by Dave McKean) tale of scientific experiments, facts, discoveries, all designed to show the dazzle of scientific reality—just as does NHMU! Or, on a global note, another treasure for the whole family, not brand-new but breathtaking, is Smithsonian’s Natural History: The Ultimate Visual Guide (DK, $50) which features, in glorious color, the full and formidable complexity of the flora and fauna that swim or fly below or above and otherwise inhabit our earth. Encyclopedic, compendious, and chockfull of dazzling photographs.
To break science down into elements, just as the different floors and spaces of the museum do, The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Gray and Nick Mann (Black Dog and Leventhal, $29.95) shows us the elements of the Periodic Table in context, the lavish photos and companion text detailing their properties, yes, but also their locations and, interestingly, their uses, however quirky. Another book that addresses a particular section of the museum, again not brand-new (it came out last fall), but a must after wandering among the towering skeletal forms of those most amazing extinct creatures and seeing their shadow-shapes on the museum’s canyon-like half walls, is The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs by Gregory S. Paul (Princeton, $35), a critical addition to the library of amateur paleontologists, old or young. And Evolution: The Human Story by Dr. Alice Roberts (DK, $30), a doctor, anatomist, osteoarchaeologist, and anthropologist, not only takes us back 8 million years and shows the sweep of evolution from primates through Hominids, hunters and gatherers, to Neolithic, but also reveals the amazing models and cutting-edge research that inform in a whole new way.

For the library of the bird lover, Bird Watch: A Survey of Planet Earth’s Changing Ecosystems by Martin Walters (Chicago, $45) is an illustrated tour of endangered birds and their habitats from the tropics to the deserts, the northern forests to the Mediterranean to ocean islands. Stunning and frightening—especially in light of the next on our list, On Rare Birds, by storyteller and artist nonpareil Anita Albus (Lyons, $24.95), a blend of natural history expertise and investigative reporting that tells tales of disappearing species in witty, graceful prose, wonderfully illustrated. Finally, step outside the museum to peer at the night sky through their wonderful telescopes, or give the whole family a Stellarscope (sculptures jeux, $50), an actual star-finder for both hemispheres!

For the literati in your life, there is a deliciously perfect pair of literary novels that, wrapped in a single package, would make any fiction lover’s heart beat fast. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (Knopf, $23.95), which just won this year’s Man Booker Prize, and Booker Prize-winning Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table (Knopf, $26), both small, wonderfully told tales with memory as a theme, are quite simply the best of the best this year. Hats off to Knopf! For a darker sensibility, pair either with We the Animals by Justin Torres (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $18), another small and incandescent book about boys, or with Turn of Mind, by Alice LaPlante (Atlantic Monthly Press, $24) a brilliant literary mystery that inhabits the most interesting mind we’ve come across in years. And the most spectacular (and expensive) literary gift of the year is the wondrous new 3-volume deluxe boxed set of The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights (Penguin, $200). A. S. Byatt said of this new translation by Malcolm C. Lyons, “Sweet, sad, obscene and marvelous.”

For the literary seafarer, lover of Patrick O’Brian and C. S. Forester, we have much to recommend. Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch (Doubleday, $25.95) tells the tale of a young boy rescued from the jaws of a tiger by the owner of a Victorian menagerie only to be sent to sea with his friend. His adventures on the high seas, rousing, exuberant, and gripping, are by turns harrowing and haunting, and are laced with a humanity that explains its Booker Prize nomination. Or, there’s Nathaniel Philbrick’s Why Read Moby-Dick? (Viking, $25) a lovely little book that brilliantly evokes not just the great classic itself but also the sea and ships. Pair it with a deluxe paperback copy of Melville’s Moby-Dick (Penguin, $18) or with Moby-Dick in Pictures (Tin House, $39.95 in paper, $69.95 slip-cased in hardcover), Matt Kish’s intense, vibrant re-imagining of America’s most famous tale—an absolute tour-de-force and the perfect gift for the avant-garde artist, the seafarer, or the literary junkie, evocative as it is of Melville’s watery, tempest-tossed world and of the men who attempted to control it.

And for the lover of the erudite, the abstruse, the mysterious, what better gift than the slyly satanic tale of conspiracies and forgeries, shadowy intrigues, clandestine gatherings and flagrant anti-Semitism that the world-famous Umberto Eco has wrought in The Prague Cemetery (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27) Pair it with Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 (Knopf, $30.50), another huge and convoluted, abstruse and suspenseful novel mixing themes of religious fanaticism and Orwellian intrigue, and you have the most mesmerizing and menacing duet of literary thrillers imaginable.

Leaving the world of literary fiction, your local literati might love Jonathan Lethem’s The Ecstasy of Influence (Doubleday, $27.95) which, in a series of sparkling essays on everything from Bob Dylan to 9/11, book tours to film to art to comics to politics, attempts to place writers inside the context of the culture in which they live and work. For an interesting cultural arc, pair Lethem’s latest with a posthumous collection from a previous generation, Higher Gossip: Essays and Criticism by John Updike (Knopf, $40). Like all of Updike’s work, this is layered, intriguing, brilliant in its evocation of the moment. Essays on contemporary writers, of course, on art, on humor, on culture in general make an admirable match for The Ecstasy of Influence. Or, for that matter, for A. N. Wilson’s Dante in Love (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, $35), a lucid, illuminating, and thoroughly readable examination not just of Dante’s life and work, but of the world in which his genius came of age. Like Updike—and for that matter Lethem—Wilson writes nonfiction with a brilliance one thinks of as the stuff of the best fiction. Finally, for beloved bibliophiles of any stripe, pair Books: A Living History (Getty, $34.95) by Martin Lyons with On Rereading by Patricia Meyer Spacks (Belknap, Harvard, $26.95), or give either singly. The former is a lovingly illustrated and fascinating history of books from bibles to chapbooks, encyclopedias to Anime, the Codex to the e-book, while On Rereading lingers on the individual pleasures (and sometimes the disappointments) waiting to be experienced when one picks up a beloved book for the second (or third or fifth) time.

For poetry lovers, we have a slew of temptations. Beginning with the classics, the newly translated The Iliad by Homer (Simon & Schuster, $35) is a must. Stephen Mitchell offers a reinvigorated interpretation of this epic, exhilarating work that Tolstoy dubbed a miracle—an essential not merely for the poetry lover, but for anyone interested in revisiting one of the most enduring works of literature. For the more exotically inclined poetry enthusiast, The Conference of the Birds illustrated by Peter Sis (The Penguin Press, $27.95) is a confluence of haunting lyricism and lavish visual delight. Sis’ luminous illustrations breathe new life into this classic 12th century Persian poem. Straddling both the classic and the contemporary worlds, Nox by Anne Carson (New Directions, $35) is perfect for the poetry aficionado. Infamous for her hybrid poems that marry the ancient to the avante-garde, Carson has created a groundbreaking, beautifully assembled work that is an epitaph to her brother, superimposing it on a translation of Poem 101 by Catullus “for his brother who died in the Troad.” Part poem, part physical object, an utterly original work from an artist whom Ondaatje once called the most exciting poet writing in English today.

Moving into the great and glorious world of contemporary poetry, one would do well to pick up Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry by David Orr (HarperCollins, $25.99). Orr takes the reader on an erudite and impassioned tour of the ever-exciting, if daunting, realm of modern verse, encouraging us not to be afraid—ideal for the modern poetry enthusiast and the poetry curious alike. Pair with Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins (Random House, $24), a must-have for the contemporary poetry buff. Using his abundant lyrical gifts to confront the eternal themes of love, loss, life and death, the former U.S. poet laureate reminds us why he was once referred to as “America’s most popular poet.” Lovers of the lyrically unorthodox will no doubt be soul-soothed by Jim Harrison’s Songs of Unreason (Copper Canyon Press, $22), a philosophical collection from the ever-adventurous and idiosyncratic poet and novelist that brims with life-affirming verse. And for a lyrical and local offering, try Terrible Grace by Susan Sample (Finishing Line Press, $14), a lovely, slim volume of haunting, imagistic meditations on grief rendered in verse at once razor-sharp and beautifully mellifluous.

The film buff in your life might covet a book TKE just named best-packaged book of the year, The Film Book: A Complete Guide to the World of Cinema by Ronald Bergan (DK USA, $25). While it’s true that one can’t judge a book by its cover, this mix of, among many other things, film history, insider gossip, photos, lists of 10 (best films, best directors, etc.), all encased in a reel box (a real tin reel box) is as good as its packaging promises. As is Harry Potter Page to Screen: The Complete Filmmaking Journey, by Bob McCabe (Harper, $75) which reassures those who may be worried that we might be finished with Harry Potter. This 540-page, full-color, coffee table book is full of “never seen before ” artwork, insider secrets, photographs and cinematic details  that faithful Muggles will love. And for those more interested in the politics of film, Hollywood Left and Right: How Movies Shaped American Politics by Steve J Ross (Oxford, $29.95) is a deeply researched look at the ways Hollywood stars influenced the course of the nation, sometimes driving it left, sometimes right. Pair it with My Song: A Memoir by Harry Belafonte with Michael Shnayerson (Knopf, $30.50) to deliver a liberal education on the history of film—not to mention music.

For the philosophically bent, those with a meditative (perhaps slightly morbid) turn of mind, a perfect gift would be Losing It by William Ian Miller (Yale, $27), a wry, philosophical examination of the experience of growing old that is part classic intellectual inquiry, part anxious lamentation. Equally ideal for the grim philosopher in your life is A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza’s Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age by Steven Nadler (Princeton, $29.95). Nadler tells the story of philosopher Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise, a publication once denounced as having been penned by the devil himself. A must-have for anyone curious about the nefarious and notorious origins of our modern beliefs. Moving from hell to virtue, Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed by Howard Gardner (Basic Books, $25.94) traces the changes in our relationship to virtues over the course of history. A great read for anyone curious about the evolution of our most fundamental values. And for the lavishly philosophical and the foodie alike, My Last Supper, The Next Course by Melanie Dunea (Rodale, $39.99) examines the philosophical quandary of death through the lens of dinner. Dunea asks 50 of the world’s chefs and culinary celebrities what their last meal on earth would be, complete with drink, music and companion choices. The answers are disarmingly simple in some cases (fish cooked by her grandfather for Rachael Ray) and positively Roman in others (fois gras and caviar for Wolfgang Puck)—a fascinating philosophical meditation on death, which awakens our sense of what it is to be alive.

Speaking of food, for the epicure in your life, Larousse Wine (Clarkson Potter, $65) will intoxicate connoisseurs and enthusiasts alike. Beautifully illustrated with regional maps of the world’s wine regions, this stunning compendium offers a grand and glorious look at the grape—a lavish, gustatory treat for oenophiles as well as the wine-curious. Moving from wine to the all-important matter of dinner, Bocca Cookbook by Jacob Kenedy (Bloomsbury, $45) is a must-have for both the gourmand and the voracious. A famed London restaurateur, Kennedy offers an alluring, appetite-inducing culinary trek through regional Italy—from Bolognan sausages to Venetian risotto to fried Roman street food—complete with gorgeous, eat-off-the-page recipes. Though dinner is in itself a celebration, sometimes one needs a little more oomph. For the entertainer in your life, Martha’s Entertaining by Martha Stewart (Clarkson Potter, $75) is another must-have, offering easy and sumptuous tips for the celebratory affair. Abundant with gorgeous illustrations and picture-perfect recipes, Martha’s elegant and classic style evokes the festive aspect of any occasion.

When it comes to holiday cooking, it’s sometimes best to bring in the big culinary guns. For the aspiring chef, Holiday Dinners with Bradley Ogden by Bradley Ogden (Running Press, $30) offers 150 gorgeously festive recipes to grace your table and fill your holidays with edible memories. And a lavish gift for both the culinary enthusiast and bibliophile, Menus for Chez Panisse with art by Patricia Curtan (Princeton Architectural Press, $40) offers a beautifully illustrated retrospective of one of America’s most celebrated culinary institutions. This artfully rendered, mouth-watering collection of menus provides as much gorgeous sustenance as the meals they describe.

For the home cook and the gastrophile alike, The Great American Cookbook by Clementine Paddleford (Rizzoli, $45) is a reissued American culinary classic that cannot be missed. Paddleford, the first-ever American food journalist, takes an edible journey through America state by state—the first and greatest book of regional American cuisine, now revised and updated for today’s home cook. Moving from the classic to the contemporary, American Flavor by Andrew Carmellini (HarperCollins, $34.99) offers a culinary trek through American cuisine as it is today—from regional delights to ethnic delectables. Part madcap travelogue, part mouthwatering cookbook—a must for the adventure-hungry… or the merely hungry.  For those for whom weekend bliss is found in the kitchen, The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Weekends by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift (Potter, $40) cannot be missed. Offering 100 sumptuous recipes—from the leisurely and lavish to the earthy and comforting—this is an ideal gift for anyone for whom the journey of cooking is more than the destination. Both the comfort food lover and hopeful chef will be made happy by Made in America: Our Best Chefs Reinvent Comfort Food by Lucy Lean and Joseph Bastianich (Welcome Books, $45). This illustrated bible of contemporary culinary comfort food offers a bevy of traditional American favorites reinterpreted by the best chefs in the country.

Those who love hearth and home, particularly those arts and crafts houses that abound in our city, are likely to covet Greene & Greene: Developing a California Architecture by Bruce Smith and Alex Vertikoff (Gibbs Smith, $50), a lavish and learned look at the architecture so frequently evidenced in many of Salt Lake’s more beautiful bungalows. The straightforward elegance of style of Greene & Greene is unmistakable and fascinating to study. And on a very different note, the same publisher has given us the ideal gift for those who own second homes and cabins, The Cabin Companion (Gibbs Smith, $24.99); just leave it on the counter for guests to write in and to read owners’ instructions and advice on everything from House Rules to Fishing Holes, to Utilities. At the other end of the spectrum, Living in a Modern Way: California Design 1930-1965 edited by Wendy Kaplan (MIT, $60) features everything from furniture to graphic design, jewelry to fashion to textiles and accompanies an L.A. County Museum of Art exhibition. Pair it with a plane ticket! Finally, to bring the indoors outside (or vice versa) American Eden by Ward Graham (Harper, $35), subtitled “from Monticello to Central Park to our Backyards: What Our Gardens Tell Us about Who We Are,” is a definitive and beautifully illustrated look not only at gardens in history but those who created them, blending art, biography and story into a new kind of cultural history.

For those who find their beauty in art, and for the Renaissance fiend in particular, The Louvre: All the Paintings by Erich Lessing and Vincent Pomarede (Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, $75) is THE ultimate gift. This lavishly illustrated compendium offers a page-turning tour through the museum’s masterpieces minus the crowds and velvet ropes. Still decadent and of the period, The Renaissance Portrait: From Donatello to Bellini edited by Keith Christiansen and Stefan Weppelman (Yale University Press, $65) features beautiful illustrations from a landmark exhibition in Berlin as well as incisive essays on the artists and their works—perfect for anyone interested in this fascinating, groundbreaking period in the history of art.  Another literary and visual treat for the art-lusty, Renaissance People: Lives that Shaped the Modern Age (Getty, $39.99) provides a dazzlingly illustrated look at the period through portraits of its most significant figures—artists, intellectuals and rulers—bringing the Renaissance alive through words and pictures.

Lovers of movement and light will delight in Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement by Richard Kendall and Jill DeVonyar (Royal Academy of Arts, $65), perfect for devotees of Impressionism. Abundantly illustrated with sketches and paintings of the artist’s infamous study of dancers, this work details the story behind Degas’ haunting and luminous images. Moving from Impressionism to Modernism, from luminary brush strokes to revolutionary pencil scratches, Picasso’s Drawings 1890-1921: Reinventing Tradition by Susan Grace Galassi (Yale University Press, $60), will please Picasso lovers and Modernist enthusiasts alike. This literary and visual compendium provides a gloriously illustrated, in-depth look at one of the pioneering artist’s most significant mediums—a work which no art lover’s shelf should be without. For both the artistic and the literary woman in your life, Forbidden Fruit: A History of Women and Books in Art by Christine Inmann (Prestel USA, $29.95) offers a beautifully illustrated cultural history of women reading. From medieval trailblazer Christine de Pizan to Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, these literary women come alive through lavish reproductions of renowned artworks which illuminate their achievements as well as the fascinating worlds they inhabited.

Finally, bring the arts home, literally, for the artisan in your house, with Design*Sponge at Home by Grace Bonney (Artisan, $35) which is chockfull of ingenious ideas and techniques to transform not just rooms but furniture, flowers, any-and-everything.
For those who prefer their pastimes to be active, this is a BIG year for BIG sports books, our favorite being Guts and Glory: The Golden Age of American Football by Neil Leifer (Taschen, $49.99). This is the perfect present for anyone who remembers when football was hard work and the players were truly heroes—it even opens with quote from Vince Lombardi. Sports Illustrated has two new collections this season, The College Basketball Book and The Baseball Book (both from Hachette, $29.95) both jam-packed with up-to-date photos and facts from two of America’s favorite pastimes. And new for boxing fans is Sugar Ray Leonard’s new memoir, The Big Fight: My Life in and Out of the Ring (Viking, $25.95). For those of you who have already visited the first 50, Chris Santella has Fifty More Places to Fly Fish Before You Die (Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, $24.95). And not to be outdone, The Onion offers up The Ecstasy of Defeat with a foreword by Anabolic Steroids (Hyperion, $21.99). SCORE!
The ideal match for the Western History buff in your life would be Kearny’s March: The Epic Creation of the American West, 1846-1847 by Winston Groom  (Knopf, $27.95) our own Will Bagley’s So Rugged and Mountainous: Blazing the Trails to Oregon and California 1812-1845 (University of Oklahoma, $45). Singly or together, these wondrous tales of a nation hell-bent on expansion combine the sweep of history and storytelling in ways guaranteed to delight the armchair historian of the West.

If local color is of historical interest, pair Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism by Terry Givens and Matthew Grow (Oxford, $34.95) with a signed copy of William Adler’s profoundly moving The Man Who Never Died: The Life, Times, and Legacy of Joe Hill, American Labor Icon (Bloomsbury, $30), books that tell engrossing, but very different tales of two men in the West who died violently, one a polygamous Mormon theologian who was murdered, the other a labor hero hung for a murder he probably didn’t commit.

For those stricken with wanderlust, pair a plane (or train or bus) ticket with The New York Times 36 Hours: 50 Weekends in the USA and Canada (Taschen, $39.95), taken from NYT’s weekly sojourns, and thumb-indexed for user ease (TKE is on page 418!). This wonderful—and colorful—compendium will fuel trip after trip, whether in your car or your imagination. And if trains are your passion and maps your art of choice, browsing through Railway Maps of the World by Mark Ovenden (Viking, $35) takes you from the railroad systems of Corinth to the Trans-Siberian Express, Canada’s Intercontinental Railroad to the Underground of London—and you don’t even have to leave your chair. Finally, for armchair adventurers made of sterner stuff, the Smithsonian’s lavishly illustrated Mountaineers by Ellen Nanney (DK, $40) is peopled with history’s famous climbers and explorers from Caspar Wolf to Tenzing Norgay, Lucy Wallace to Kitty Calhoun, and will fill many hours of adrenalized interest.

Last but by no means least, for those who want to end your holiday not with a bang but a giggle, look no further than Ellen Degeneres’ Seriously…I’m Kidding (Grand Central, $26.99). It’s a little about her life and a lot of laughs. Having a hard time expressing yourself? Let Chewbacca say it for you in his new book, How to Speak Wookiee: A Manual for Intergalactic Communication (Chronicle, $16.95). For example, “aargh-arghoo wooush!” means “You look fabulous!” Don’t worry, it comes with its own translator. And we know you’ll agree that no holiday will be complete without, Shatner Rules: Your Guide to Understanding the Shatnerverse and the World at Large by (who else?) William Shatner (Dutton, $21.95). You’ve been warned. Finally, another offering from The Onion, one designed to complete your holiday joy, is Christmas Exposed (Quirk, $12.95). Give yourself plenty of time to read this one before you wrap it; or better yet, buy one for your coffee table too.

Happy Holidays to one and all—and happy reading!

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