A Good House Is Never Done
by John Wheatman
Published by Conari Press
152 pages, 2002

"As I am fond of telling my students and clients, a good house is never done. I have learned to recognize the look of panic that flits across some faces when I make this statement." Named one of America's top designers by House Beautiful, John Wheatman approaches home design with an eye to evolution. His spaces are inviting: as though they are meant for living, not just admiring. In A Good House Is Never Done Wheatman shows us some of the gorgeous spaces he has designed and shares with us his thoughts as he created them as well as making suggestions towards flexibility and growth. A lovely little book.

Beach Houses
by Michael Webb
photographs by Roberto Schezen
Published by HarperCollins
192 pages, 2002

What better time to dream about running away to live at the beach? Michael Webb and Roberto Schezen bring us 21 of the most lovely oceanside homes in the United States. And while the houses run the gamut -- quaint remodeled cottages to post-modern gothic mansions and everything in between -- all of them illustrate why so many of us share this dream. "Partly," Webb explains in his introduction, "it's the thrill of sharing space with something wild and beautiful that can easily turn destructive, of enjoying a view that constantly changes but can never be spoiled. And partly it's the city dweller's fantasy of living close to nature, stripping off his clothes, and going as nearly naked as local custom allows."

by Robert Bateman
Published by Penguin Canada
176 pages, 2002

It's hard to imagine that there's anyone in the western world who isn't familiar with the art of Robert Bateman. He has breathed painted life into all manner of wildlife and even signed prints of his work that number in the high thousands are hotly collected and shown in many homes with pride. Bateman is a respected artist and an amazing technician. But, above both of these important things, after even the most cursory glance at his work, it's obvious that he loves and respects the creatures he renders so carefully. As he writes in his introduction to Birds, his latest book: "If I have one hope, it is that everyone will take a closer look at the natural world, and in my view, birds are the place to start." In Birds he starts with what is to him the beginning: the view from his window on Saltspring Island and the eagles, herons, kingfishers and hummingbirds he sees from his window each day. From Saltspring we move to the Pribilofs, north of the Aleutians in the Bering Sea: horned and tufted puffins and auklets, three varieties. From there to the tundra, the Rockies, the African savanna, the tropical Americas, and so forth, around the world in a painted salute to the avian world such as never before seen. Bateman tells us that what he has created is not intended to be a field guide or even a reference, "but a portfolio of sketches and paintings, as well as field diary of the enriching hours I have spent with Birgit, observing birds on many continents." In any case, it's an extraordinary record -- both visual and written -- by one of the most respected wildlife artists of his generation.

Bowled Over: A Roll Down Memory Lane
by Gideon Bosker and Bianca Lencek-Bosker
Published by Chronicle Books
128 pages, 2002

Gideon Bosker consistently delivers charming little books that are equal parts kitsch, culture watch and art. He contributed to Atomic Cocktails, Patio Daddy-O, Highballs High Heels and others. So it's unsurprising that Bowled Over, a kitchsy, artsy, informative tribute to the world of bowling, would be wonderful in a sweet and happy way. As appropriate to the subject matter, the design here is pure and innocent 1950s, with archival photos of old bowling alleys, ads for vintage bowling paraphernalia (pinsetters, balls, shoes, you name it), pictures of bowlers and bowling teams from days gone by. In between all this garish fun, the authors manage to cram in lots of information about the history, development and various bits of stuff you-never-thought-you-wanted-to-know-but-gee-it's-interesting-anyway of bowling. If there's a bowler in your life, Bowled Over is a must for the gift list.

The Complete Chicken
by Pam Percy
Published by Voyageur Press
144 pages, 2002

Ever wondered how to say "cock-a-doodle-doo" in Serbo-Croatian? Thought about the differences between Cochin and Cubalaya hens? Considered how the "cocktail" got its name? If you said "no" to all or most of these questions, you're like most people. I mean, really: who cares? The answer: you will. More than you know. Pam Percy's The Complete Chicken is a fabulous, fascinating book, meant to keep you riveted to the coffee table for hours accumulating millions of factoids about our humble, feathered pals. The cover says, "complete" and it is.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Buddhism
by Gary Gach
Published by Alpha Books
410 pages, 2002

"Enlightenment has never been easier!" screams the tagline of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Buddhism, a neatly boiled-down version of the teachings of the Buddha. "So imagine Siddhartha sitting there, at the culmination of a seven-year quest, now the most fully-realized being ever in human history, so happy! finally having found complete freedom from all mortal suffering." A consultant to the Buddhist Film Society and the Unified Buddhist Church as well as former arts and religion editor for AsianWeek, author Gary Gach knows his stuff. Just as importantly for this book, he writes sharply, cleanly and well. Gach's writing is elegant and sparse and the message is boiled down, never dumbed down and never, ever boring or dry. Aside from a strict adherence to the Idiots series format, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Buddhism could have been published by anyone. Except, of course, it probably wouldn't have sold as widely.

From Our House to Your House
by Martin Parr
Published by Dewi Lewis Publishing
96 pages, 2002

From Our House to Your House is a weird little book. Magnum photographer Martin Parr is a rabid collector as well as a world renowned shutterbug. The book is really nothing more than his collection of personalized holiday greeting cards from, dating from the 1940s almost to the present. Really: nothing more. There is no introduction, no explanation, no kind of text beyond what is shown on the cards themselves: Stuff like "Merry Christmas from the Renshaws" and "Once a Year the pages Turn." In the press material accompanying the book -- unfortunately, not in the book itself -- we are told that author Parr "views the postcard and cards that we create ourselves as significant social documents which deserve far more attention than we currently give them." That would be the royal "we" because Parr himself has given them a lot of attention, most notably in Boring Postcards and Boring Postcards USA. As entertaining as From Our House to Your House is, the addition of comment from Parr -- one of the most respected photographers in the world -- would have added a great deal.

I Stand for Canada: The Story of the Maple Leaf Flag
by Rick Archbold
Published by MacFarlane, Walter & Ross
185 pages, 2002

There aren't too many books about Canada that will make Canadians misty. It's true! The patriotism practiced by our cousins to the South tends not to touch those who live above the 49th parallel. And there's no real good reason for this, other than the fact that history, as taught in Canadian schools, tends to bore students practically to tears rather than inspire them to stand to the flag and salute. If all these things are true, then I Stand for Canada ranks among the best books on Canadiana ever published. And if that's true, it deserves a spot under a lot of Canadian trees this holiday, and we don't mean outside. I Stand for Canada is the story of the Canadian flag, how it was developed, how it was initially received and it what it means today.

James Bond Movie Posters
by Tony Nourmand
Published by Chronicle Books
207 pages, 2002

For fans of 007. For film buffs. For wannabe secret agents who didn't quite make the cut. James Bond Movie Posters is a celebration of the fictional character who is "every man's hero and every woman's fantasy." James Bond Movie Posters opens with 1962's Dr. No and follows through chronologically to 1999's The World Is Not Enough. And while that sounds like 21 posters representing 21 movies, each section contains posters from many of the countries in which the film opened. And, due to cultural and religious differences, the posters themselves are actually quite different. "Bond's image," writes author Nourmand, "is adapted to suit various national preconceptions in different campaigns worldwide." In the US, for instance, he's usually looking quite casual, in the UK he's almost always in a tux and, in South America, he quite often sports a five o'clock shadow. No imitations...

Retro Ride: Advertising Art of the American Automobile
by Tony Swan
Published by Collectors Press
176 pages, 2002

Our love affair with the automobile can generally be traced back to the glamorous advertising most of us grew up with. Sure, television ads are cool, but nothing beats the snapshot of life that is the printed car ad. People living in the moment, happy on that trip to the Grand Canyon, a romantic night at the opera, a picnic in the park or just traveling along the highway with the family, all in the company of that object of desire: the chrome-plated, curve-fendered, shiny technological four-wheel marvel we know as the American car. All this nostalgia is brought to life with Tony Swan's Retro Ride. Starting with ads from the early 1920s through to 1965, Retro Ride is stuffed full of some of the finest examples of the art of the automobile. Guaranteed to put a smile on the face of that car buff or collector of automobilia. With their attention to producing such beautiful books, few do it as well as Collectors Press.

Style by Saladino
by John Saladino
Published by Frances Lincoln
208 pages, 2002

"The reason many people seek help in designing their interior space ... is, I believe, because we live in a world in which people are taught how to read and how to calculate, but are not taught how to see." John Saladino has spent his life teaching himself to see. One of the world's most respected interior designers, in his introduction to Style by Saladino, the author tells us that this lack of sight is something he wishes to help rectify "and to awaken an awareness of the potential for beauty in your surroundings." To this end, Style by Saladino is broken into two main parts: Part One deals with Saladino's thoughts on various design principles: Axis, Scale, Illusion, Light and Color. Part Two places these principles into houses that the author has actually done. If read in sequence, as the author would perhaps have you do, the effect is stunning. Seeing things the way Saladino would have us see them. But even if you grab the book off a nearby coffee table and dip in at random, Style by Saladino is a gorgeous book, easily appreciated by a large number of people.

Souvenir of Canada
by Douglas Coupland
Published by Douglas & McIntyre
144 pages, 2002

No one could have written Souvenir of Canada other than Douglas Coupland. Earnest and whimsical, sincere and scathing, youthful and wise, Souvenir of Canada is one part art book, one part grown-ups' alphabet book and all parts entertaining and, occasionally, even enlightening. The book is anchored by 11 still life photographs Coupland writes he made for several reasons, "the simplest one being that I wanted to create images understandable only to Canadians. Americans should look at these photos and think, 'Huh? Everything looks familiar, and yet nothing is familiar.'" There are images by other photographers, as well. Evergreen trees and garbage cans, mountain vistas and crack dens, ocean views and abandoned cars. As always, Coupland's sharp writing and pithy observations make this one an absolute keeper. As part of his comment on the now-defunct Miss Canada pageant: "Canada has managed to reach a form of social Valhalla. Good for us. But the moment we rest on our laurels is the moment it all turns to crap. Instantly. Eternal vigilance is indeed the price of liberty."


The Worst-Case Scenario Five Book Set: Survival, Travel, Dating & Sex, Golf, Holidays
by Joshua Piven, David Borgenicht and Jennifer Worick
Published by Chronicle Books
5 book set, 2002

The secret to the endurance of The Worst Case Scenario books is in the duality of their nature. Read quickly and randomly and they're hugely funny. However, at the heart of all of these books, there's some very good and useful stuff. Since we're being seasonal here, we can look specifically at The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Holidays: While most of us will never have to learn how to escape a runaway parade balloon or help get someone out of a chimney, the advice on how to deal with a canceled flight or how to drive in a blizzard might actually be useful, as will the section on treating mistletoe poisoning in pets and humans. Repurposing a fruitcake, resizing a Christmas tree and making an emergency menorah are all covered. It's pretty safe to say that, in the five book set, a little bit of just about everything is covered, as well.

The Vastu Home
by Juliet Pegrum
Published by Duncan Baird Publishers
160 pages, 2002

Were you intrigued by feng shui, but found it just too last millennium? Interior designer and yoga instructor Juliet Pegrum brings us Vastu Vidya, the Indian equivalent of feng shui, broken down in a way that those of us looking for a little peace without a lot of work can understand. In her introduction, Pegrum writes: "By introducing the spirit of Vastu into your home, you will be taking positive steps toward the creation of living spaces blessed with positive energies that uplift the spirits and energize both body and mind, a home whose outer beauty is a true reflection of its inner harmony." The fact that the book is gorgeously illustrated with lovely color photographs contributes to its peaceful gift factor.