Gift Guide: Art & Culture

January Magazine’s Holiday Gift Guide 2006 concludes with selections of books focused on various aspects of art & culture. Suggestions in fiction are here. Children’s books are here. Non-fiction is here and cookbooks can be found here. You can see the lead item to this feature here.

24: Behind the Scenes by Jon Cassar (Insight Editions) 168 pages
I’m an addict. I am a 24 junkie. I have fallen prey to the endless loops of plot and switchbacks and snippets of character development that all add up to riveting television. I know I’m not alone. There are zillions of people like me, and that’s why there’s a book like 24: Behind the Scenes. A sort of making-of-behind-the-scenes photo album, this book was created by the show’s primary director, Jon Cassar. It contains scores of photos snapped by the people who make the show. Structured to follow the five seasons, it’s filled with trivia, images of the always-serious actors out of character — sometimes even smiling, a facial expression that happens rarely, if ever, on the show. Most of the photos are accompanied by a telling caption — with spoilers galore — which is my way of telling that if you’ve yet to watch the show (and plan to), then maybe hold off on reading this until you’ve watched all five seasons. This is a book any 24 fan will lose himself in, and be delighted to do so. It’s the perfect gift for someone who’s hopelessly hooked on 24. — Tony Buchsbaum

Advertising Now. Print edited by Julius Wiedemann (Taschen) 640 pages
Yes, I work in advertising, as my January bio so proudly states. So I sometimes gravitate toward books about marketing and design. This one is a doozy, filled cover to cover with some of the best print advertising created by anyone, anywhere, in recent years. (No, none of my own work is in here.) Rather than just page after page of images, though, this book is really a look at the state of print (that is, magazine) advertising today, with the ads themselves divvied up into logical sections including Business & Retailers, Food & Beverage, Health & Beauty, Home Care & Hygiene, Media (no ampersand!) and others. Slipped between these sections are illuminating essays by the guys driving the industry today (no, there are no women here; I wonder what that means). Simply a superb book for anyone interested in advertising — and a meaningful slice of contemporary culture that shows us how creatively we talk to ourselves. — Tony Buchsbaum

The Art of Bond by Laurent Bouzereau (Harry N. Abrams) 240 pages
No one can deny the allure of James Bond. From a purely cultural standpoint, 007 is a major influence, from cars to clothing to gadgets to other action films. There have been dozens of books about the Bond mystique, but The Art of Bond is the first to look at the phenomenon from the point of view of the people who perpetuate it, film after film. Created as a documentary on paper, this book deconstructs the Bond movies into their distinct pieces: script, locations, production, music, marketing and such. Author Bouzereau, a filmmaker who specializes in the documentaries usually found on DVD, has spoken to dozens of the people involved in making the Bond films. What emerges is a kaleidoscopic, wide-ranging conversation about how the films are made, element by element. It covers the older Bond films as well as the newer ones (including the latest, Casino Royale). Above all, what comes through is the dedication of these people as filmmakers. Argue with a particular film’s story or acting or ratio of drama to comedy ratio, but there’s no argument that the series, as a whole, is the most successful of its kind. This book pulls back the curtain, if you will, to reveal not how one film was made, but how Bond on film was created by author Ian Fleming, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, directors Terence Young and Guy Hamilton, composer John Barry and designers Maurice Binder, Robert Brownjohn and Ken Adam — not using some nefarious plot, but just by the seats of their visionary pants. — Tony Buchsbaum

Atomic Ranch: Design Ideas for Stylish Ranch Homes by Michelle Gringeri-Brown (Gibbs Smith) 192 pages
Remember the house from The Brady Bunch? Sure the show was hokey and kitschy and the plots were hackneyed and simplistic and the kids’ were overly moral and goody-two-shoes-sacherine-sweet, but the house… it was rocking. Early 60s rancher style, floating staircase, raw rock feature wall, bright cartoony paint coloring the broad flat planes of the kitchen, clerestory windows. Now think of that house as if Mr. Brady had designed it after downing a couple of peyote buttons with a scotch chaser and you’ll have an idea of what’s between the covers of Michelle Gringeri-Brown’s Atomic Ranch. Although strictly speaking it might be difficult to nail down just what quintessentially makes a ranch style home a rancher, if you think floor to ceiling windows, open plans, large slopping expanses of roof and bauhaus simplicity of form then you won’t be far off the mark. Atomic Ranch gives us page after page of glorious examples of the form and a bit of the history of the style thrown in for good measure. Wire frame chairs, velvet paintings, tiki heads, Jetsons-inspired furniture, Rat Pack sensibilities, gleaming vinyl and a load of other stuff that pretty much defined the era of the rancher make all Atomic Ranch not only a architectural history lesson, as America started to define its post-war self, but also a short lesson in pop culture. — David Middleton

California Country Style by Diane Dorrans Saeks, photographs by David Duncan Livingston (Chronicle Books) 216 pages
Like a lot of books featuring the results of high end interior design, California Country Style is a pretext of connection. OK, sure: the houses are all in the country and they’re all in California but, for the most part, the connection ends there. That is, if you thought there was a style evocative of the California country before you read California Country Style, you won’t afterwards. It’s all here. All of it good. All of it breathtakingly photographed. From starkly beautiful contemporary homes, to cozy but elegant cottages, historic mansions, you name it. What connects them all is near perfection, at least as styled for the book. “In the country,” Saeks writes in her introduction, “self-expression is in the air.” And while this may be true, a bankroll and the skills of a really great decorator don’t hurt much, either. This is a book for those that like to drool and savor and those that like to plan for flavor. The houses included may all be in California, but they’ll inspire your own designs wherever you live. — Linda L. Richards

Cartoon Modern: Style and Design in Fifties Animation by Amid Amidi (Chronicle Books) 200 pages
In the 1950s, American cartoons went though a kind of Renaissance. “Animation artists conceived of a bold visual style that was derived from the modern arts, assimilating and adapting the principles of Cubism, Surrealism, and Expressionism into the realm of animation and in the process expanding and redefining the notion of the art form.” Cited are such influences as Picasso, Matisse and Miro and these influences and this new style is evident thoughout Cartoon Modern. Just take a look at Hanna-Barbera’s Fred Flintstone and try not to think of a Picasso. The wonky nose, the hair splattered atop his head, the round body… Hey, come to think of it, Fred even looks a bit like Picasso. There is something about the simple line forms, the flat bold colors and the raw, energetic expression of form that made 50s animation feel so new and different than anything seen before. But unlike the Italian Renaissance, where there was a movement in art from the simplistic to the realistic, animation in the 1950s went the other way. Gone, for the most part, was the lush realism that Disney had come to popularise, only to be replaced by a simpler, more abstract form. Cartoon Modern quickly goes through 19 of the major animation studios of the 1950s, profiling their style, storyboards, characters and artists. Many of them not only working to produce animated shows or features but also working in the lucrative field of advertising — Walt Disney Studios being a prime example. Through such characters as Lippy the Lion, Mr. Magoo, Yogi Bear, Puss ‘N Boots and classic features like Warner Bros. What’s Opera, Doc?, Terrytoons’ Flebus and Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, Cartoon Modern shows how animation from the 1950s has continued to entertain and inspire us right into the 21st century. — David Middleton

The Complete Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy introduction by Max Allan Collins (IDW Publishing) 2006
In the introduction to The Complete Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy, novelist and pop culture commentator Max Allan Collins writes, “The Dick Tracy strip was one of the most popular, influential comics of the 20th Century. Young boys in particular were attracted to Chester Gould’s crafty mix of violence, humor and melodrama. I know because I was one of them.” This personal touch sets the tone for this beautiful collection of the original strip that ran between 1931 and 1933. Labelled as Volume One — later volumes will carry still more strips and more Gould ephemera. Also included is an interview with Gould by Collins and Matt Masterson. “Matt is undoubtedly the foremost Dick Tracy fan of all,” writes Collins, “and it was his idea to put a tape recorder in front of Chet and get a record of some of the anecdotes, reflections, and opinions that Tracy’s creator had so often shared with us, the two luckiest Tracy fans who ever lived.” This affection contributes a great deal to this fabulous volume but, of course, the strip would stand alone. This is an absolute must-have volume for anyone who considers themselves a fan of the seminal detective. — Lincoln Cho

Field Guide to Dreams by Kelly Regan (Quirk) 282 pages
You’ve dreamt of mud (Or monsters. Or your mother.) What does it mean? What would Freud say? Not happy with that? How about Jung? What does the dream mean in a cultural context? What images are related to that of the mud? (Or monsters? Or your mother?) Field Guide to Dreams is both deeply complex and strikingly simple. All of these images and interpretations of common dream themes, boiled down into a book that will fit easily in one hand. The book’s small size should make it simple to demystify the dreams you can’t wait until morning to interpret. Best of all this time of year: Field Guide to Dreams would fit nicely in a generous stocking. — Linda L. Richards

The Golden Section: Nature’s Greatest Secret by Scott Olsen (Walker and Company) 2006
It is in everything that surrounds us, from the art we create to the DNA that acts as blueprint for all living matter, to the structure of the universe itself. It is all at once mathematical, scientific and mystical. It is a principle which nature follows and art imitates. Known as the golden section, the golden mean, the golden cut, the divine ratio or simply phi, it not only builds the world we live in, but acts as a basis for symmetry, proportion and beauty. Small, simple, concise and extremely informative The Golden Section unveils what philosophers, scientists and artists had kept secret for centuries for fear that it would be seen as quackery. Illustrated throughout are examples of the golden section as it relates to just about everything. Beijing’s Forbidden City, credit cards, the bicycle, the soda can, a pack of cigarettes, music, the violin, the human body, the arrangement of seeds in the head of a sunflower, ladybugs: all based on the principle of phi. After reading The Golden Section you’ll never look at the world in the same way again. — David Middleton

An Incomplete Education by Judy Jones and William Wilson (Ballantine) 720 pages
They say you don’t know what you don’t know, and this book was written to answer “they.” The third edition of a book originally published in 1987, An Incomplete Education assumes there’s a whole lot of stuff we just don’t know, and the authors have set about to answer those questions — even though we don’t know what they are. Their thought, apparently, is that the world has changed in the last few years, and there’s a lot to catch up on, or refresh, or relearn. For example, what’s the difference between the Balkans and Caucasus? Between fission and fusion? Is postmodernism dead? Truly, this book is just too much fun, and not nearly as esoteric as I’ve made it seem. The indispensable facts, provided in short essays, are divvied up into a broad range of categories such as American Studies, Economics, Science, Religion, World History, Film, Literature, Music and others. A casual flip-through reveals bios of Andy Warhol and Frank Stella on one page, an article on Citizen Kane on another, a breakdown of Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey, an examination of Italy’s geopolitics, an essay about the life and influence of Louis XV … It goes on and on, pretty much challenging you on every page not to learn something new. I don’t know if this book will turn an incomplete education into a complete one, but it’ll help. — Tony Buchsbaum

Individuals: Portraits from the Gap Collection (DK Adult) 256 pages
The Gap has joined the companies pushing for a cure for HIV/AIDS through the Product(red) program. The profits from Individuals: Portraits from the Gap Collection will go directly to that organization. The book is a look at the superb celebrity photography The Gap has used in its advertising. As much as it’s a look at these unforgettable faces, it’s also a glimpse at how the world’s best photographers work. We’re talking about actors, musicians, authors, designers, even the photographers themselves. Each image is a stunning work. Equally intriguing are short pieces on the nature of individuality by Tama Janowitz, Willie Nelson, Missy Elliot, Sharon Stone and Veronica Webb. There’s also a revealing foreword by Gap founder Don Fisher. Superb photographs. Insightful essays. Oh, and an exclusive CD of 15 songs used in The Gap’s television ads, performed by the likes of Madonna, the O’Jays, Louis Prima, Bill Withers, Seals & Crofts and John Legend. This holiday season, it’s a great buy — and it’s a great cause. — Tony Buchsbaum

In Praise of the Needlewoman: Embroiderers, Knitters, Lacemakers, and Weavers in Art by Gail Carolyn Sirna (Merrell) 2006
Art books compiled around a central theme are either terrific or terrible. The deciding factors tend to be based on two things: who is doing the compiling and who is doing the publishing. In Praise of the Needlewoman wins on both counts. Publisher Merrell is no slouch in the art book publishing department. In fact, they are almost certainly one of the world’s leading art publishers. Author Gail Carolyn Sirna is a herself a needleworker of some repute and her CV includes a lifetime achievement award from America’s National Academy of Needlearts. In her introduction to the book, Sirna writes that it was her passion for needlework that led her to art that portrayed it. This twinned passion — needlework and art — compelled Sirna to enrol in the honors program at the National Academy of Needlearts. Sirna writes that In Praise of the Needlewoman evolved from her honors research for this program. The collection is wonderful. A tribute, in a way, not just to needleworkers, but to women in general. As Sirna says, “For peasant and princess, cave dweller, and career woman, needlework has been a most gratifying endeavor for the human being, especially women.” What I enjoyed most about this collection were the little known works by well known artists: paintings I would likely have never had occasion otherwise to see. Renoir, for instance, seems to have been fascinated by women sewing and, as we see, he approached the subject often and from many angles. Vermeer, Cassatt, even Dali in a lucid mood. The works by little known artists are equally enjoyable and all are tied together by the author’s expert comments. — Monica Stark

Inside Ferrari by Maurice Hamilton, photography by Jon Nicholson (Firefly) 2006
Inside Ferrari is a book that seems made for gift giving. An impressive profile — it’s big and heavy — filled with pictures of what is arguably the sexiest car ever built (an inordinate amount of them red). There are words in Inside Ferrari, but the focus here is on Jon Nicholson’s graphic images. Nicholson is one of the top Formula One photographers in the world, and it shows. These are insider photos: photos taken by someone who not only understands the sport, he has access to all the right places, carte blanche at all the right races. The title is a little misleading: one would expect to see the inside of the Ferrari plant or design HQ, where the cars are dreamed up and then created. Inside Ferrari makes a fast trip there, but mostly concerns itself entirely with the Ferrari racing team. Hamilton writes: “Ferrari’s symbol is a prancing horse; the racers are the rampant stallions, and the showroom stock, the progeny.” — Lincoln Cho

The Museum of Lost Wonder by Jeff Hoke (Weiser Books) 2006
Flipping through Jeff Hoke’s The Museum of Lost Wonder you are at first confronted by an incongruous series of thoughts, ideas and imagery. Metaphysics, alchemy, science, religion and mysticism all vie for equal attention. But start to read and the picture soon comes — if not entirely clear — then at least into focus. A sort of repository for questions and a celebration of human ingenuity, turning the world you know inside-out with some well-outside-the-box thinking, The Museum of Lost Wonder practically sucks you into its vortex of fascinating ideas and bold visuals. Laid out like the a cross between a graphic novel and an alchemist’s notebook and full of interesting art and projects that you can actually cut out of the book and make, The Museum of Lost Wonder is filled to bursting with thought-provoking musings — Who are we? Why do we do the things we do? — and activities designed to guide you toward challenging the status quo and independent thinking. Nicely produced, well written and as essential as any book on philosophy, Museum is the perfect book for someone with more questions than they may currently have answers for, and may just answer some of those questions they had long been searching for the answers to. — David Middleton

An Orgy of Playboy’s Eldon Dedini introduction by Dennis Renault (Fantagraphics) 239 pages
You might not know his name but you know his work, especially if you’re a male who ever spent any time at all over the last 45 years in the company of a Playboy magazine. Though he was capable of a wide variety of illustrative styles, the one we were most familiar with was joyous, loose and delicately ribald. In the introduction to An Orgy of Playboy’s Eldon Dedini, Dennis Renault shares this quote: “In 2005, in describing Dedini’s art, [Playboy cartoon editor Michelle Urry] is quoted as saying, ‘The image is basically who Eldon himself is; a font of originality, a cornucopia of fun and probably, overall, the finest cartoon watercolorist in the world. His grasp of mythology, classical art, pop culture and comics in nonpareil.” All of these things are apparent in the 100s of reproductions of Dedini’s work for Playboy collected in this book. Fans will be delighted: each cartoon is given a full page of this coffee table book, resulting in larger and better reproductions than their original Playboy printing. A bonus DVD, Dedini: A Life of Cartoons a documentary by Anson Musselman, is also included, making this package a real tribute to Dedini, who died in January 2006 at 85. — Lincoln Cho

Stylepedia: A Guide to Graphic Design Mannerisms, Quirks, and Conceits by Steven Heller and Louise Fili (Chronicle Books) 2006
The title is not perfectly explanatory, describing as it does a book that’s not quite as good as the one under discussion. Let me rephrase that: Stylepedia is an amazing compendium — encyclopaedic in nature — on all things to do with graphic design, through history and into the present. It is not exhaustive — if it were, it would not fit between these two very attractive covers. However, if it were exhaustive, it would not be nearly so engaging a read. And the book is engaging; a sort of rapid-fire tour through the history, development and evolution of contemporary graphic design. A must for the initiated. Everyone with even the remotest interest in the discipline or claim on the title needs a copy of Stylepedia within easy reach on their desk. — Linda L. Richards

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