Big Things for Christmas By David Pitt, December 2005
In life, there are three constants. Five minutes after you've spread out your picnic feast on the red patchwork blanket, it will begin to rain. If you call someone from the IT department to come look at your malfunctioning computer, it will fail to malfunction for as long as they are in the room.
And, when you go to visit someone, they will have, in their living room, a coffee table. So here are some oversized (coffee table) books you can get them for Christmas.
Sports fans will enjoy Driven From Within (Atria), by Michael Jordan with Tinker Hatfield, edited by Mark Vancil. (I think I've got that elaborate credit sequence correct. Remember the days when a book was written by one person?) Jordan is one of the most recognizable names in sports - he played pro basketball for a few years, and did some acting, and some other things, too - and here he pays tribute to the men and women who inspired him. You know how most books have a page of thank-yous titled Acknowledgements? Think of this book as one long Acknowledgements section: thanks, everyone, Jordan is saying, for helping me. The book's layout is a little startling, what with its numerous font sizes and colors, but dedicated sports fans will gladly make their way through the visual semi-confusion. And only a cur would point out that it's a little weird that Jordan's co-writer, Hatfield, is a vice president at Nike, with whom Jordan has a lucrative partnership.
If you know someone who's all hyped up about paintings and sculpture and whatnot, and you've been wishing there was some big book of art you could give them, you're in luck. The Collins Big Book of Art (HarperCollins), edited by David G. Wilkins, is more than 500 full-color pages of, well, art. Cave drawings, carvings, sculptures, paintings, pop art - it's a massively illustrated, and lightly informative, chronicle of the way mankind has expressed itself throughout the ages. A very beautiful - and, incidentally, very heavy - book. Also beautiful, and considerably easier to lift, is Walking the Bible: A Photographic Journey (William Morrow), by Bruce Feiler. It's the companion to Feiler's television series of the same name; like the series, the book takes us to the birthplaces of the world's three major religions. It's a story told mostly in pictures, and it is, quite simply, breathtaking.
Collectors will get a big kick out of two books from Miller's. Collecting Diecast Vehicles, by auctioneer and diecast-vehicle expert Peter Rixon, is a comprehensive and downright fascinating introduction to this exciting, and sometimes lucrative, pastime. The book is smartly organized, with sections devoted to individual toy makers, types of vehicles, and the basics of collecting: what to look for, the importance of original packaging, stuff like that. I'm a sucker for books like this - I just like to look at the pictures and read about the wonderful toys - and, let me tell you, this one is just great.
So is Movie Collectibles, by Rudy and Barbara Franchi. It's pretty much the same as Rixon's book, except that the authors talk about movie posters, props, promotional material, autographs, and so on. The explanatory text, like Rixon's, is tight and informative. But, of course, the book is mostly visual, and some of the visuals - like a 1933 King Kong jigsaw puzzle, or a 1977 plastic Jaws 2 glass - are enough to make you salivate. (Sorry. Did I drip on you?)
Fans of animated TV series The Simpsons and Family Guy will be excited to receive these two books. Family Guy: The Official Episode Guide Seasons 1-3 (HarperCollins), covering every episode that aired - plus one that didn't - during the original run of the series, is chock full of behind-the-scenes info, quotes from the show's creators, "stuff that might have slipped by" (funny stuff you might have missed the first time around), and plenty of hilarious snippets of dialogue from each and every episode. It's a lot of fun, and a perfect companion piece to the series.
Nearly identical in format is The Simpsons: One Step Beyond Forever! (also HarperCollins), which covers seasons thirteen and fourteen of the long-running sitcom. (Previous seasons were dispatched with in earlier episode guides.) The book is essential reading for fans of the show, and do I really need to add anything to that? Well, perhaps one thing: it's nice to see that the publisher, and the books' creators, respect their fans enough to put together something that is colorful and entertaining.
Have you seen the brilliant satirical newspaper The Onion? Well, whether you have or haven't, The Onion Presents Embedded in America (Three Rivers Press) is the sixteenth collection, including every issue of the paper published between October 2003 and November 2004. The writers of The Onion, who are clearly among the cleverest and funniest writers in the business, create totally fictitious news stories that seem, at first glance, like they might be real. "Bush Addresses 8.2 Million Unemployed: 'Get A Job,' " says one headline. "Yahoo Launches Soul-Search Engine," reads another. I can't quote some of the funniest headlines, or some of the most hysterical stories, because the language gets, in places, a little ... raw. The Onion isn't for kids. It's for adults, particularly adults who follow the news and who can - you gotta hope, anyway - tell bogus news from the real deal.
Finally, Christmas at the New Yorker (Modern Library) draws from eighty-odd years of holiday-themed material published in the respected magazine. Stories, poems, autobiographical tidbits, many of them written by some of the biggest names in the literary galaxy: Updike, Mencken, Nash, Trillin, Keillor, Thurber. And cartoons, of course, by such legends as Charles Addams, whose darkly humorous drawings look at ordinary things from creepily unusual angles. This is one of those books you just sink right into.
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