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This article was published 22/12/2018 (523 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Face it — holiday shopping usually isn’t much fun. Never mind the long lines or the perils of parking — simply figuring out what to get someone can be a chore in and of itself.
If you’re scrambling to find a last-minute gift for someone on the nice list, consider some of this year’s coffee-table book offerings — they look good, they’re plenty of fun to peruse and could even spark some compelling conversations...
Annie Pootoogook: Cutting Ice
By Nancy Campbell
McMichael Canadian Art Collection/Goose Lane Editions, 174 pages, $45
Annie Pootoogook broke barriers with her coloured pencil and ink drawings depicting life in her Inuit community of Kinngait, and then "down south" (south of the tree line), before her body was found in the Rideau River in 2016.
This collection of Pootoogook’s art, the legacy program of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection's exhibit of the same name, reveals a life, a place, a culture and an environment in transition. At her remote northern home formerly known as Cape Dorset, her pictures of women gathering whale meat on a rocky shore, killing a freshly caught fish and bringing home a seal for supper are presented alongside a kid playing Nintendo, Dr. Phil on TV, a man abusing his partner, a box of Ritz crackers and a couple making love.
The cycles of addiction and abuse as well as celebrity are laid bare, showing Pootoogook at the centre of attention after winning the prestigious Sobey Art Award in 2006, images of bagpipes, a castle and a self-portrait with her hair standing on end on a trip to Scotland, meeting then-governor general Michaëlle Jean and drinking beer in Montreal.
Curator Nancy Campbell shares some of Pootoogook’s life story and offers a brief history of Inuit art in Canada. As Winnipeg prepares for the 2020 opening of the Inuit Art Centre, Annie Pootoogook: Cutting Ice is a sharp introduction.
Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany
By Jane Mount
Chronicle Books, 224 pages, $35
This utterly charming book really is the gift that keeps on giving. Not only is Bibliophile a delight to read, but it instantly inspires the desire to read more, to seek out the authors and works detailed in its colourful pages.
Dividing them into categories such as Dystopia, Love & Romance and Nature & Animals, Hawaii-based artist Mount draws stacks of books that illustrate the genre (Margaret Atwood’s Oyrx and Crake, Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient and Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf, for some Canadian examples) with mini-biographies of some of the authors on the facing page.
There are sections for striking libraries, beloved bookstores (McNally Robinson gets a mention, but only in reference to New York offshoot McNally Jackson), bookstore cats and writers’ rooms, plus themed quizzes that ask you the to pair the food or the fictional planet with the story.
Seeing a familiar spine in Mount’s cheerful illustrations of must-read titles gives you a little jolt of joy — and more joy still comes from the idea of all the unfamiliar ones still left to crack open.
Bobby: My Story in Pictures
By Bobby Orr
Penguin Random House, 224 pages, $37
As a young boy with visions of a career in the NHL dancing in my head, my worship of Bobby Orr was such that I used to practise his penmanship so I could make my autograph look like his.
But even with my NHL dream long extinguished, there is something in this deeply personal photo album that takes me back to the awe I had, and that the hockey world shared, for the game-changing greatness of No. 4.
We see grainy images of life in Parry Sound, Ont. We are taken inside the dressing room where we witness everything from the curving of his stick to the sips from the Stanley Cup. We bear witness to the X-rays of his damaged knees and the tears when the Bruins retired his jersey. And yes, we not only get the iconic shot of the mid-air celebration of his game-winning overtime goal, but also his perspective on that defining moment.
Orr will forever be a hockey legend. And in case anyone still doubts how great and graceful he is and remains, take a look at the dedication he pens to the Humboldt Broncos — that tragedy came while this book was being written.
Guitars and Heroes: Mythic Guitars and Legendary Musicians
By Julien Bitoun
Firefly, 256 pages, $30
Behold the tools of the gods: with them, they shall bend, pluck and strum their way into the hearts of the adoring masses...
Telling the tales of the personal favourites of dozens of big-name (and not-so big name) musicians, Guitars & Heroes lends equal weight to both halves of the equation.
Part entertaining history lesson, part hardcore music geek thesis, the text can be a slog for those less initiated. A sample, from the entry on Joe Satriani: "The design remains similar to that of the Strat but the body is more rounded, and the guitar has a Floyd Rose vibrato arm and two DiMarzio humbucker pickups with a low level of output similar to vintage PAFs..."
Or you can just look at the pretty pictures of these cool guitars and the men and women who wield them.
Harry & Meghan: The Royal Wedding Album
Thomas Allen & Son, 160 pages, $25
With months to go before the spring arrival of England’s Baby Sussex, royalty buffs can put down the half-knit baby booties and relive the romance and 2018 nuptials of parents-to-be the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (also known as His Royal Highness Prince Harry and the former Meghan Markle).
Of the numerous keepsake-type souvenir books documenting their whirlwind courtship and glitzy (but tasteful) May wedding, this is one of the best; it scores high marks for both gawkability and content.
The six chapters combine photographs and text documenting Harry and Meghan’s childhoods, their love story, charity work and occasionally angst-filled nuptials. The appendix includes some selected text from the royal wedding’s order of service — a nice touch, but anyone who’s really wild about Harry just wants to see him with a babe-in-arms. Expect that to be next year’s Royal Baby Keepsake Album.
A History of Video Games in 64 Objects
By World Video Game Hall of Fame
HarperCollins Canada, 352 pages, $34
When I was young, I wanted an Atari 2600. My cousins had one, and during our visits to Saskatoon, I was enthralled by the variety of games and amazed at the on-screen magic produced by a single joystick and one button. But my parents held firm: too expensive, it will rot your brain, etc.
Then, unexpectedly one Christmas, there it was, in all its black plastic, faux wood, orangey-red-button glory. Of course by then one friend had an Intellivision, another had a ColecoVision... and the race was on.
From a 1940s pinball machine through cultural touchstones (Dungeons & Dragons, Pong, the hand-held Simon, Space Invaders and Mortal Kombat), and into the Pokemon Go fad, A History of Video Games in 64 Objects delivers on its title via items from the archives of the Strong National Museum of Play in New York state.
The book’s smart design and solid (if sometimes uninspired) photography is, however, is often dragged down by its unfortunately dry writing (perhaps due to the collective nature of the authorship).
Ultimately, each of the 64 objects highlighted provides an in-depth, bite-sized chunk of history, to be served up before the next game begins.
Infinite Wonder: An Astronaut’s Photographs From a Year in Space
By Scott Kelly
Viking, 320 pages, $45
Commander Scott Kelly has done something no other astronaut in American history has — spent a year in space. And during that time (spent on the International Space Station) Kelly, who also has a love of photography, documented his experience through images.
The photos made him a social media sensation (he now has more than one million followers), and it’s easy to see why people flock to his page; mostly taken from around 400 kilometres above Earth, the images showcased in his new book Infinite Wonder: An Astronaut’s Photographs From a Year in Space are both mind-boggling and stunning.
Sunrises and sunsets, the Northern Lights, famous cities and pieces of planets and galaxies are each more beautiful than the last, and Kelly’s keen eye and skilled composition only enhance that.
He also includes photos of his work life on board the International Space Station as well a written preface; both provide a unique insight to a lifestyle few people know about first-hand.
Johnny Cash: The Life and Legacy of the Man in Black
By Alan Light
Smithsonian, 216 pages, $54
Country legend Johnny Cash was one of the 20th century’s most iconic musicians, about whom plenty has been written by serial biographers, friends and family members. Heck, the Man in Black penned two of his own entries, 1983’s Man in Black: His Own Story in His Own Words and 1997’s Cash: The Autobiography.
American music journalist Alan Light adds to the canon with Johnny Cash: The Life and Legacy of the Man in Black, presenting his take on Cash’s life that weaves its way through an impressive collection of artifacts and unpublished material from the Cash family archives.
This handsome book, which features an introduction by country star Brad Paisley, compiles images of Cash-related artifacts, hand-written notes as well as previously unseen photographs of the man, his band and his family.
While it’s an ideal gift for the Johnny Cash fanatic in your life, it would also provide countless hours of entertainment for even the most casual Cash fan.
The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables: The Enchanting Island That Inspired L.M. Montgomery
By Catherine Reid
Timber Press, 280 pages, $35
To many people around the world, Canada isn’t just represented by a police officer wearing red serge, but also by an orphaned girl with red braids getting into mischief and adventures while skipping around the lanes and forests of rural Prince Edward Island.
Anne Shirley, better known as Lucy Maud Montgomery’s titular Anne of Green Gables, may be a fictional character, but she springs from a very real place. And while many enjoy the series of coming-of-age books and subsequently visit P.E.I. to see Anne’s homeland, most can’t — and that’s where this book comes in.
Here the enchanting island province joins Anne in a book filled with photographs of not only the places where Anne "lived" in the pages of the books but, not coincidentally, also where Montgomery grew up and began writing about the spunky girl who worked her way into the hearts of her fellow characters and readers around the world.
It’s not just the photos that make this book a delight both for fans who have and haven’t been to P.E.I., but also the many writings by Montgomery that are included, both from her books of fiction and her journals — as well as many photos of the times taken by Montgomery herself.
You may want to read about Anne Shirley all over again.
More Abandoned Manitoba: Rivers, Rails, and Ruins
By Gordon Goldsborough
Great Plains Publications, 280 pages, $35
Picking up where its 2016 predecessor Abandoned Manitoba left off, this hefty history book explores another 28 repurposed provincial sites, as visited by local ecologist-broadcaster Gordon Goldsborough.
His passion for history and rotten buildings is authoritative, authentic and comes through loud and clear in a sequel that, again, is more text than visuals. But both do a great job of fleshing out the backstories of places either long gone or abandoned. Completed in June 2018, More Abandoned Manitoba features stories on spots from the Conestoga Campground, Pointe du Bois and York Factory to Winnipeg’s Masonic Temple.
The ongoing decline of Manitoba’s wooden grain elevators and specialized museums and commemorative markers is of particular concern to Goldsborough, who says he’s still got 253 more Manitoba sites on his "to-find list" — which likely means another road trip and a circumquel is in his future.
Particle Physics Brick by Brick: Atomic and Subatomic Physics Explained… in Lego
By Dr. Ben Still
Firefly Books, 176 pages, $25
It’s a perfect metaphor for explaining how big things are made up of little things: Lego bricks can be built into almost anything, and atoms can be built into, well, everything in the universe.
Particle Physics Brick by Brick takes that metaphor seriously, leading the reader through scores of concepts in modern physics. Building on initial discussions of subatomic particles as represented in basic Lego bricks and the forces that govern the universe, Dr. Ben Still explores antimatter, symmetries across space and time, how particles have been theorized and later detected, and much more.
While it’s marvellous to see how Lego-constructed "particles" can be put together with others to form atoms of various elements, occasionally it isn’t always clear what the bricks "mean" — such as when different coloured bricks are used for the same kind of quark without an explanation.
Overall it’s a good companion for the student or the curious Lego fan.
—David Jón Fuller
Wine Trails: United States & Canada
By Lonely Planet
Lonely Planet, 256 pages, $29
Savvy travellers know that when it comes to planning an ideal getaway, the Lonely Planet series of books are practically indispensable — the gold standard for trip planning. And with Wine Trails: United States & Canada, the information provided is as useful as it is handsomely presented, with picturesque photos from numerous North American wine regions and wineries.
The book is laid out into "40 perfect weekends in wine country" that span 15 of the 50 American states as well as Canadian wine regions in Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Columbia (which is split out into Okanagan North, Okanagan South and Vancouver Island). The state of California alone, meanwhile, gets 14 entries; other American regions featured include Washington State’s Walla Walla, North and South Willamette in Oregon as well as wine country in Missouri, Idaho, New Jersey, Vermont, Texas and beyond.
Each chapter, penned by wine professionals located throughout North America and beyond, offers a stylized map and brief introduction to the region at the outset, as well as profiles of a number of area wineries. Suggested places to eat and stay, as well as non-wine-related things to do, are also included.
Consider Wine Trails a great gift idea for the wine lover in your life who’s always got a travel bug.
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Updated on Tuesday, January 8, 2019 at 11:50 AM CST: Updates publisher info re: Annie Pootoogook title.
12:21 PM: Adds detail re: context of Annie Pootoogook book.