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Documentary filmmaker and historian Ken Burns believes that photographs are portals “not just to a different time and space but also to dimensions and possibilities within myself.” Through photographs and illustrations, these books are guaranteed to transport you.

Apollo Remastered

Book jacket image for Apollo Remastered by Andy Saunders

Apollo Remastered: The Ultimate Photographic Record is a weighty, large-format coffee table book that beams readers right into its cosmic world. The original NASA film from the Apollo missions (which includes some 35,000 images) has been safely secured inside a frozen vault at the Johnson Space Center, but new technology has allowed digital restoration expert Andy Saunders to painstakingly remaster this treasure trove of photographs, many of which have never been published. The results are pure magic, full of clarity, sharpness and color that make readers feel like part of the team—a far cry from those grainy images that were broadcast on TV at the time. 

During their spaceflights, many astronauts were shocked by how moved they felt looking back at Earth, and readers will see why. Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell notes, “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it.” Apollo 9’s Rusty Schweickart recommends reading this book at night, surrounded by darkness and silence, to allow the gleaming spacecraft and spacesuits to shimmer and shine.

Our America

Book jacket image for Our America by Ken Burns

In the tradition of Walker Evans’ groundbreaking 1938 book, American Photographs, Ken Burns has assembled a collection of his favorite images in Our America: A Photographic History. “I’ve needed forty-five years of telling stories in American history, of diving deep into lives and moments, places and huge events, to accrue the visual vocabulary to embark on this book,” he writes in his introduction. 

These black-and-white photographs are arranged chronologically from 1839 to 2019, with only one on each page for full visual impact. They’re labeled by date and place (at least one for each state), with fuller explanations at the back of the book, and they are mesmerizing, drawing on a multitude of personalities, emotions and events. The images depict the brutally scarred back of an enslaved man, decomposing bodies at Gettysburg, frozen Niagara Falls, a 1909 game of alley baseball in Boston, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Elvis onstage and, finally, a stunning portrait of Congressman John Lewis from 2019.

Illustrated Black History

Book jacket image for Illustrated Black History by George McCalman

For Illustrated Black History: Honoring the Iconic and the Unseen, artist, designer and creative director George McCalman created 145 original portraits spotlighting Black pioneers in many fields, each accompanied by a short biographical essay. Moving alphabetically from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to cinematographer Bradford Young, McCalman uses a bold array of acrylics, watercolors, pen and ink and colored pencils, to capture each personality in an individualized way. “I document body language, I document exuberance, I document pain,” he writes. “I draw like a reporter because I am a reporter.” 

McCalman began this project by challenging himself to paint one such portrait every day for a month, and the result overflows with energy and color. His choices are inspiring and well-rounded, running the gamut from Frederick Douglass and James Baldwin to activist Alicia Garza and food journalist Toni Tipton-Martin.

My Travels With Mrs. Kennedy

Book jacket image for My Travels With Mrs. Kennedy by Clint Hill

Despite the mountains of books already written about the Kennedys, I couldn’t put down My Travels With Mrs. Kennedy, a conversational memoir and very personal photo album by Clint Hill. A former Secret Service agent who served under five U.S. presidents, Hill was present during John F. Kennedy’s assassination and later assigned to the first lady and her children. He’s written other books about those experiences, including several with his wife and co-author, Lisa McCubbin Hill. 

This book was sparked by the process of cleaning out the garage of Hill’s home in Alexandria, Virginia, going through boxes of memorabilia, including a forgotten steamer trunk. Dialogue between the co-authors makes the book immensely readable as they discuss their discoveries and Hill’s memories. Numerous photos bring each scene to life, capturing intimate moments that reveal the first family’s personalities, especially that of Jackie. Of their relationship, Hill writes, “It wasn’t romantic. But it was beyond friendship. We could communicate with a look or a nod.”

The Only Woman

Book jacket image for The Only Woman by Immy Humes

The Only Woman is a unique gallery of group portraits that contain a lone female figure surrounded by men. There’s Marie Curie, for instance, with her head in her hand, looking downright bored among a group of suited scientists at a 1911 conference in Belgium. There’s 9-year-old Ab Hoffman, who earned a spot on a Canadian hockey team for one season in 1956 because her coaches hadn’t noticed her gender. In a 1982 photo, a white male U.S. Army Diver candidate sneers at Andrea Motley Crabtree, a Black woman who made the training cut when he didn’t. “Most of the men hated me being there,” Crabtree recalls. “He couldn’t understand how I was better than him.” 

Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Immy Humes provides concise commentary throughout her collection, which spans from 1862 to 2020. She speaks to “the pleasure of spotting them, and then, most of all, the mystery of them: What was she doing there?”

Affinities

Affinities book cover

In need of some creative downtime? Curl up with the hefty Affinities: A Journey Through Images From the Public Domain Review and lose yourself in a delightfully imaginative, visionary game. The book’s 350-plus pages contain a miscellany of images arranged to showcase unexpected similarities. For example, one section features the shapes of outstretched arms as seen in a 16th-century drawing of a mechanical arm, an image of the Borghese Gladiator sculpture, a John Singleton Copley painting and—of all things—a photo of damage sustained to the bow of the HMS Broke during a World War I battle. 

With images old and new from around the world, all selected from the archive of the Public Domain Review, this is a book designed for random perusal. Some images come with suggested paths to different pages, creating a sort of chutes-and-ladders effect. As explained in the introduction, the result is “a maze of rootlike cut-throughs that allow you to move through the book in different ways, to disrupt the sequence and carve through your own serpentine trajectory.”

The armchair historian’s wish list isn’t a tough nut to crack. Just give them a great book.
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 Everything, Beautiful

In a world unspeakably darkened by crisis, it might seem trifling to even think about appreciating, cultivating or devoting our attention to beauty. Focusing on beauty might even read as an act of oblivious privilege. But perhaps a fuller contemplation of what beauty is, can be and has been, and what it can mean in our everyday lives, is in fact one step toward repairing massive-scale damage. Writer and illustrator Ella Frances Sanders believes it is. In Everything, Beautiful, she envisions learning to see beauty as a curative, even redemptive process, “like putting a delicate, very broken vase back together.” No matter how broken our world, it is nevertheless full of “tiny, beautiful things,” she writes. “Some are so invisible or silent that you may never see or understand them, but they are there.” Through text, illustration and guided prompts, Sanders upends and expands our notions of beauty and urges us to notice the ingredients for beauty that are all around us, such as “light, slowness, and the kind of air temperatures that feel like honey.”

Lost Places

I live in a boomtown where every old structure seems to either meet the wrecking ball or get a second life via adaptive reuse. Paging through the images in Lost Places, I’m swept into another world, one where the vestiges of America’s past are left, silent and uninhabited, to be transformed by weather and time. Heribert Niehues’ photographs of abandoned cars, houses, gas stations and other structures tell a story about our country’s past. They are also suffused with mystery: What lives did these places once contain? Who last passed through these doors? Scenes of decaying diner interiors are among the spookiest, with guests’ checks, condiment containers and fry baskets left behind. Car buffs will enjoy Niehues’ many images of rusted-out, early- to mid-20th-century models. Many of the abandoned edifices captured here fell victim to the interstate system when it rerouted travel in the 1950s and ’60; one wonders what of our present might be left behind a century from now, as climate change remaps the landscape.

Forever Beirut

Forever Beirut, a cookbook with accompanying essays and stunning photographs, was conceptualized by Barbara Abdeni Massaad as a way to help her beloved home country in the aftermath of a terrible 2020 explosion at the port of Beirut. In response to disaster and economic collapse, the book passionately preserves the treasures of Beirut’s culinary heritage, with recipes for favorites such as kibbeh, a dish of ground lamb, beef or vegetables kneaded together with bulgur; man’oushe, a traditional flatbread; mezze, small dishes served together such as chickpeas and yogurt; and semolina cake. This is the stuff of my culinary dreams: food that is aromatically spiced, uncomplicated and yet bursting with flavor, served to the reader within a deep, loving sociocultural context.

Look a little closer, and you’ll find beauty lurking in unexpected places. The three books in this month’s lifestyles column will help you spot it.

By the mid-20th century, Pablo Picasso’s paintings and sculptures were turning heads in France and Germany, ushering in cubism, a new artistic style that challenged older styles. At this same moment, American art was dominated by a devotion to realism and the old masters, and therefore resistant to and repulsed by the “modern art” of Picasso. In 1939, that all changed when the newly opened Museum of Modern Art in New York City held an exhibit titled “Picasso: Forty Years of His Art,” featuring pieces that two Americans, who never met, worked tirelessly to make available to the public. Hugh Eakin’s Picasso’s War tells the scintillating tale of how John Quinn, Alfred H. Barr Jr. and others brought Picasso’s work to America and changed the face of American art.

Irish American lawyer Quinn championed modernist novels and poetry and avant-garde art, introducing Americans to William Butler Yeats and T.S. Eliot, as well as to Marcel Duchamp’s painting “Nude Descending a Staircase.” A great collector, Quinn had a “growing aversion to what he called ‘dead art,’” Eakin writes, and wanted to promote painters and writers who could “express the values and forces of his own time.” Although he personally never understood cubism, he believed that “American art needs the shock that the work of some of these men will give.” After he met Picasso, the artist started reserving his best work for Quinn, who built a modest collection. Quinn dreamed of opening a museum devoted explicitly to modern art, since the Metropolitan Museum of Art excluded such art as “degenerate.” He never saw his wish come true, however. He died of cancer in 1924.

In 1926, Barr took up Quinn’s vision for such a museum, aided by wealthy patrons who shared Quinn’s hope. Three years later, Barr opened the Museum of Modern Art using pieces from Quinn’s collection, striving to build a collection of premier work by the most important modern artists. He worked incessantly to open a show devoted to Picasso, but he was hampered at several turns by challenges from Parisian art dealers and even by Picasso himself. By the late 1930s, though, as Adolf Hitler’s campaign against so-called degenerate art ramped up and museums and galleries in Paris began removing and hiding certain paintings, Picasso and his dealer, Paul Rosenberg, tried to get as many of the artist’s paintings as possible to America. Such forces enabled Barr to put on his 1939 Picasso exhibit and to secure a place in the American cultural world not only for Picasso but also for the Museum of Modern Art, which flourished following the Picasso exhibit.

Eakin’s rapturous storytelling makes Picasso’s War a spellbinding, page-turning read about this illuminating chapter in cultural history.

Hugh Eakin’s rapturous storytelling makes Picasso’s War a spellbinding, page-turning read about the fight to bring Picasso’s art to America.
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 Breadsong

Kitty and Al Tait may not be the first to write of the redemption and delight that can come from watching yeast and heat transform mere water, flour and salt into beautiful, delicious creations. But their memoir-cum-cookbook, Breadsong: How Baking Changed Our Lives, is the most charming version of that story I’ve yet come across. In it, the father-daughter team tells their origin story in alternating points of view before sharing over 50 recipes, both savory and sweet. As a young teen, Kitty began experiencing terrible depression and anxiety. Nothing seemed to help, until Al baked a no-knead loaf, sparking Kitty’s curiosity. In no time at all, the duo had opened what has become a tremendously successful family bakery in their tiny village in Oxfordshire, England. Their story is as heartwarming as it gets, accentuated by Kitty’s lively voice and infectious grin splashed across the pages along with her dad’s adorable illustrations. There’s a recipe for a caramel-covered Happy Bread here, which says a lot about this joyful book. Definitely follow Kitty, who’s now 17, on Instagram @kittytaitbaker for dopamine hits, too.

Things to Look Forward To

When my daughter was young, we enjoyed many books featuring Sophie Blackall’s cozy illustrations; the Ivy & Bean series was a particularly big hit. How fun to come across Things to Look Forward To, Blackall’s new picture book for all ages (that best and rarest of all genres). Not surprisingly, this project grew out of bleak days during the COVID-19 pandemic and was nudged along by community input via social media. Some of the assembled things to look forward to are as common as the sun coming up; in fact, that is literally one of them. Who can argue with coffee, finding something you thought you’d lost or seeing the sea? Other experiences here are a bit more nuanced (doing your taxes, looking at maps) or whimsical (drawing on eggs, flowers that look like brains!). What’s certain is that you can’t page through this book without feeling a renewed sense of appreciation for the everyday, and that’s something all of us can use, every day.

Nectar of the Gods

For a decidedly elevated sort of toga party, be sure to consult Nectar of the Gods. The work of mythology podcaster Liv Albert and beverage consultant Thea Engst, and brought to colorful life by illustrator Sara Richard, this book pairs inventive cocktail recipes with soupçons of Greek and Roman myth. Take, for example, Pandora’s Jar (yes, in fact, it was originally a jar, not a box!): a gin, blueberry and creme de violette concoction. Calypso’s Island Iced Tea, designed to bring out the sexy nymph in each of us, seems like the perfect poolside sipper: hibiscus iced tea, vodka, lemon juice and simple syrup. For a more complex and decadent drink, try the Phaedra Phizz, and pour one out for its ill-fated namesake.

A warm loaf of bread, a mythologically charged tipple: These and other delights give readers something to look forward to in this month’s lifestyles column.
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As art historian Catherine McCormack points out in Women in the Picture: What Culture Does With Female Bodies, galleries and museums are full of paintings and statues of women in various guises and genres. Indeed, there are so many that we rarely take time to consider the implications of how they are depicted. We see a Madonna, and we think, “That’s a Madonna.” Few question how the Madonna is depicted, or even why the Madonna is depicted.

McCormack wants us to ask these questions, but she also wants us to consider by whom and for whom an artwork was created. She examines four archetypes of women in Western European art—Venus, the Madonna, the damsel in distress and the monstrous woman—to examine their impact on not only how we look at art but also how we view women in general.

Because so much of this art was created by male artists for male clients, McCormack argues, we have become accustomed to viewing these images through male eyes. As a result, when we see Titian’s “Rape of Europa,” we see a technically brilliant, erotically charged depiction of a myth, not the terror and brutality of the rape that is about to take place. When we see a Madonna, we see an idealized vision of motherhood, not how that mother is trapped by her hearth and home. Sphinxes, witches and gorgons, McCormack believes, are not existential threats to male heroes but the projection of misogynistic fears of powerful women.

McCormack’s purpose is twofold. First, rather than ditching Western European art, she wants us to engage with it critically, deliberately and honestly so that we can begin to recognize the impact of the male artist’s perspective and reinterpret his art with fresh eyes. Second, she wants to encourage women artists to take these subjects and represent them in ways that expose their realities to future generations. As a result, Women in the Picture is a thought-provoking call to action for artists and viewers alike.

Catherine McCormack looks closely at four archetypes of women in art to examine not only how we look at art but also how we view women in general.

Mother’s Day is coming up, and these books are great for those who want to give or receive something more exciting than a greeting card. Memoirs about unconventional moms, artistic explorations of the mother-child bond and a new take on midlife make excellent food for thought—and crafting and design guides will inspire new creativity. These books celebrate motherhood in its many guises and, no matter what kind of mother you have (or are), offer something for everyone.

Ayelet Waldman, author of the Mommy-Track Mysteries series and two novels, is also known for her essays, including a New York Times piece in which she said she loved her husband more than her children. In a subsequent “Oprah” appearance, she emphasized that her love for husband Michael Chabon doesn’t negate her love for her children and that it’s OK to find motherhood frustrating and guilt-inducing. In Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, Waldman calls for an end to unreasonable “supermom” expectations via well-written essays framed with political and historical context. While her style may be too over-the-top for some, she asks an important question: “Can’t we just try to give each other a break?”

Dreams from their mothers
In Not Becoming My Mother: And Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way, Ruth Reichl, memoirist and editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, reveals that, the year her late mother would’ve turned 100, she decided to open a box of her mother’s diaries and letters. Reichl felt she had to, as recompense for using oft-hilarious stories about her mother (so-called “Mim Tales”) in her books. The result is a finely crafted recounting of her mother’s struggles as a woman who, although smart and accomplished, felt marriage was the only road to being acceptable. Nonetheless, Reichl writes, “Mom showed me that it is never too late to find out how to [be happy].”

Hollywood agent Sam Haskell grew up in Mississippi, where his mother Mary’s guidance laid the foundation for his entertainment career. Promises I Made My Mother, with a foreword by Ray Romano (one of Haskell’s clients), includes chapters based on her advice, including “Always Seek Understanding” and “(Don’t Be Afraid to) Stand in the Light.” It worked: Haskell went from the mailroom to Worldwide Head of TV at William Morris and created the “Mississippi Rising” benefit for Hurricane Katrina survivors, building strong relationships all the while.

Here’s looking at her
From New Jersey to Mumbai, LIFE with Mother captures all sorts of moments in motherhood. This photographic tribute offers images of mothers and children at play, on the way to school, at milestone ceremonies and more. Famous moms (including Shirley MacLaine and Diana, Princess of Wales) share the pages with not-so-famous ones, and text and quotes add dimension. Readers will smile at the book’s final, hopeful image: Michelle Obama and daughter Sasha, exuberant, at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

The Artist’s Mother: The Greatest Painters Pay Tribute to the Women Who Rocked Their Cradles takes a fine-art-inspired approach to the mother-child bond. National Book Award winner and New Yorker staff writer Judith Thurman notes in the introduction, “A mother’s gift is, ultimately, the example of steady, impartial discernment that each of us needs to create a self-portrait. And in whatever style they painted their mothers, the artists on these pages gratefully returned that deep gaze.” Indeed, these portraits—a museum-worthy collection including works by Constable, Picasso, Kahlo, Cassatt, Warhol, and, of course, Whistler—can only be the result of astute observation. Each entry includes insight about the painters’ and mothers’ lives, too.

Like a new woman
“Are you really going out like that?” is a question no one enjoys hearing. Longtime stylist Sherrie Mathieson is here to help with Steal This Style: Mothers and Daughters Swap Wardrobe Secrets. The “Never Cool” images are groan-inducing, but the “Forever Cool” photos depict women who look stylish and comfortable. Mathieson’s voice is friendly and respectful, and she honors the women’s taste by, say, preserving a jacket-shape but recommending a different color. This is a useful guide for women who want a clothing makeover.

For a full life makeover, Suzanne Braun Levine recommends setting new goals and enjoying one’s “second adulthood” in 50 is the New Fifty: 10 Life Lessons for Women in Second Adulthood. As the first managing editor of Ms. and a contributing editor to More, Levine knows her topic. She writes of the Fertile Void (a sort of emotional menopause) and Horizontal Role Models (women who have been there, done that) as important aspects of this exciting time. These terms explain commonalities among women, and the 10 lessons provide ways to consider and change individual situations. 50 is the New Fifty is an illuminating read for women of all ages.

Hi, Mom!
Doree Shafrir and Jessica Grose saw comedy in maternal email and text messages and started PostcardsFromYoMomma.com; two weeks later, the site had 100,000 unique visitors. The site is going strong, and now there’s a book based on the concept. Love, Mom: Poignant, Goofy, Brilliant Messages From Home contains 200 missives in categories like “I Do Actually Like Your Hair!” and “I Hope You Have a Hat With Ears.” The emails are a hoot, ranging from sex-related revelations to musings on recipes. A fun read for mom-email recipients and those who send them.

For designing mothers
The latest book from the Martha Stewart Living team is a DIYer’s delight. From beading to tin-punching, Martha Stewart’s Encyclopedia of Crafts: An A-Z Guide with Detailed Instructions and Endless Inspiration means readers will never again want for a project. Each topic (e.g., Botanical Pressing) includes a history of the craft, descriptions of tools and supplies, and projects (autumn-leaf curtain, pansy coasters, seaweed cards). Photos offer inspiration, and mini-tutorials should help prevent missteps. A crafting-table must-have.
Mothers-to-be can harness the nesting instinct with the aptly named Feathering the Nest: Tracy Hutson’s Earth-Friendly Guide to Decorating Your Baby’s Room by “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” design star Tracy Hutson. Mouth-watering photos of wonderfully appointed rooms are accompanied by expert advice on everything from refinishing furniture to choosing a mattress. There are how-tos, color palettes and sourcing details for four styles (vintage, contemporary, traditional and international). Eco-friendly options are on-point, and the final chapter—featuring the nursery in Hutson’s home—demonstrates that her book will help readers create a space that’s both kind to the Earth and welcoming to baby.

Linda M. Castellitto writes from North Carolina.

Mother’s Day is coming up, and these books are great for those who want to give or receive something more exciting than a greeting card. Memoirs about unconventional moms, artistic explorations of the mother-child bond and a new take on midlife make excellent food for thought—and crafting and design guides will inspire new creativity. These […]

Though pointing, clicking and sharing by people of all ages and skill levels has never been easier or quicker, thanks to the digital technology available these days, it’s still a wonderful thing to experience works by an accomplished artist, to page through a large-format book featuring images by someone who has made it their vocation to convey an emotion or capture something new or unexpected, beautiful or thought-provoking—whether in paint or on film. This quartet of coffee-table books offers the opportunity to take just that sort of foray into the world of visual art.

Photorealism, revisited
Norman Rockwell’s paintings—vibrant slice-of-life creations—are essential to any study of American pop culture. But while Rockwell’s illustrative talents are well-known, an important aspect of his process is perhaps less so: any paintings done from 1930 on were first photographs.

Ron Schick’s Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera is filled with images of the people and places that served as inspiration (and models) for the artist’s work. Many of those models were friends and neighbors; it’s fun to spot Rockwell himself mugging for the camera here and there, too. Thoughtful, detailed text by Schick provides fascinating, often humorous behind-the-scenes tidbits about each photo-turned-painting, plus information about everything from his advertising clients to lighting techniques. For example, when creating “Maternity Waiting Room, 1946,” Rockwell couldn’t find sufficiently stressed-out models, so he visited a Manhattan ad agency, where he found plenty of anxiety-ridden men to photograph.

Paging through Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera is a smile-inciting, nostalgia-inducing experience that surely will inspire renewed admiration for Rockwell’s skill: the finished works are all the more realistic when viewed in concert with their photo counterparts.

An anglophile’s delight
Mary Miers, a writer who specializes in architecture and formerly worked in the field of architectural conservation, puts her experience and expertise to excellent use in The English Country House: From the Archives of Country Life. The book is a feast of photos, and a tribute to the fine homes that have been featured in Country Life, a U.K.-based magazine that’s been published since 1897. The 400-plus images of 62 homes ranging from medieval castles to modern mansions frequently offer close-up shots of sumptuous details. For example, the Claydon House in Buckinghamshire is a Rococo delight, complete with carved chimney-pieces and colorful friezes. East Barsham Manor, in Norfolk, is a castle of molded brick, complete with gatehouse and three-story tower. And then there’s Baggy House in Devon, a cliff-top villa that’s thoroughly modern. Essays by British architectural historians provide additional detail and help to make this book a fine reading and viewing experience for aficionados of design, architecture, history, the U.K., the art of photography or some combination of the above. The English Country House is a gorgeous tour that’s sure to inspire craving for a hot cuppa.

An extraordinary museum tour
In celebration of the reopening of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Medieval and Renaissance Galleries, Medieval and Renaissance Art: People and Possessions, by V&A curators Glyn Davies and Kirstin Kennedy, takes readers on a personal tour of the museum’s objects and role in European art and history. The book’s chapters include Makers and Markets (about the working and trading conditions for artists in medieval and Renaissance Europe), Devotion and Display (religious objects and rituals) and People and Possessions (weaponry, music, “self-expression through ownership”). There are colorful photos on nearly every page, many of them close-ups; the ones in the Ornaments section are particularly fascinating in terms of opulence and detail.

Those who have visited the Victoria and Albert Museum in London will surely find this a worthy souvenir of a visually thrilling trip through art and history; those who haven’t will get a rare opportunity to live with the museum’s pieces and scrutinize them to their hearts’ content.

A portrait of the maritime artist
John Singer Sargent, a painter in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is best known for his portraits, but as Richard Ormond explains in the introduction to Sargent and the Sea, written with Sarah Cash, his marine-life and seascape paintings have until recently been just a “forgotten episode of Sargent’s art.” When he was in his late teens and early 20s, the artist produced a number of works—in oil, charcoal and watercolor—depicting the sea, ships and other maritime topics: “scenes from the seashore and rustic subjects from the countryside.” Sargent and the Sea was conceived and created in concert with a Corcoran Gallery of Art exhibit that will travel to Houston and London in 2010. Paging through this handsome volume gives readers the opportunity to observe and experience Sargent’s evolution as an artist and a person, to read and marvel as his detailed charcoal renderings of ships give way to lushly colorful paintings of children at the beach and languorous nudes—a fascinating preview of the style and subjects to come.

Linda M. Castellitto takes (amateur) photos in North Carolina.

Though pointing, clicking and sharing by people of all ages and skill levels has never been easier or quicker, thanks to the digital technology available these days, it’s still a wonderful thing to experience works by an accomplished artist, to page through a large-format book featuring images by someone who has made it their vocation […]
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Two ambitious new books recreate the full museum experience between two covers, making the world's artistic masterpieces accessible to all.

THE TREASURES OF EUROPE
Anyone who has ever battled the camera-wielding scrum in front of the Mona Lisa knows that a visit to the Louvre Museum in Paris can be exhausting. Now a handsome new book containing color images of every single Louvre painting on permanent display, The Louvre: All the Paintings, offers a chance to explore the world’s most-visited art museum at a gentler pace.

The Louvre’s permanent collection—3,022 pieces in all—covers European paintings from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. The book is divided into the Italian, Northern, French and Spanish Schools, and each of these is arranged by artist in a rough chronological fashion, allowing the reader to observe as, for example, the brilliant blues and reds of the Italian Renaissance slowly give way to the duskier hues of the Low Countries. Many pages only display numerous small images clustered together, showing the common characteristics of the work of a single artist or period, such as the smooth, O’Keeffe-like spareness of Pierre Henri de Valenciennes’ 18th-century townscapes. Four hundred select masterpieces are given larger images and descriptive paragraphs, and these are the real strengths of the book: The images are rich and sharp, the descriptions thoughtful and clear. An accompanying DVD allows readers to browse all the paintings by school or artist and to see the book’s tinier paintings at a slightly larger size. Altogether, this is a fascinating overview for anyone looking to learn more about the grand old European masters.

ART THROUGH THE AGES
The Art Museum
offers a museum experience of an entirely different order. It is an astonishing book, not just because it displays the entire history of world art from the earliest cave paintings to the latest nominees for the Turner Prize, but also because it takes so much space to do it. Weighing nearly 18 pounds and measuring 13 by 17 inches, this is not a book that will fit on most coffee tables, but despite its unwieldy size, it is an exciting, nearly perfect collection of the greatest visual art in human history.

The Art Museum is divided into 25 “galleries” (representing different regions and eras) and 450 smaller “rooms” (representing specific schools, artists or genres), along with special “exhibitions” devoted to specific works or themes. It displays more than 2,500 works of art: paintings, sculptures, tapestries, the interiors and exteriors of buildings, pottery, furniture, photographs and much more. The most impressive “rooms” are the two-page spreads displaying actual rooms or other locations, such as the stunning wide-angle photograph of the ruins of Persepolis. Most rooms contain a handful of representative examples on a theme; every image is perfectly legible and has a substantial, lucid description. While some of the topics are conventional—Netherlandish Portraits, Maya Sculpture, Surrealism—many are more innovative. For example, Room 426, on “Systematic Documentation,” introduces us to artists who obsessively photographed the same objects—cinemas, water towers, Memphis streetscapes—over and over. The scope of the book encourages readers to make unexpected connections, as when rooms devoted to African masks and carvings usher us into a section on the Cubists, hinting at the affinities between the two. Indeed, given the scale of its ambition and achievement, perhaps we should be grateful that The Art Museum is as compact and user-friendly as it is.

Two ambitious new books recreate the full museum experience between two covers, making the world's artistic masterpieces accessible to all. THE TREASURES OF EUROPEAnyone who has ever battled the camera-wielding scrum in front of the Mona Lisa knows that a visit to the Louvre Museum in Paris can be exhausting. Now a handsome new book […]
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Are you trying to tackle a towering gift list? Never fear! No matter who you’re shopping for, the right book is waiting.

WHITE HOUSE HISTORY
As an elementary school student, I had the good fortune to be part of a private White House Christmas tour led by my classmate’s aunt, who was First Lady Pat Nixon’s press secretary. Decades later, I continue to be fascinated by the White House, and The White House: The President’s Home in Photographs and History is indeed a mesmerizing tour, boasting 278 photographs along with a highly readable, informative text by photography critic Vicki Goldberg.

Here’s a sampling of the intriguing photos within these pages: a biplane about to land on the White House lawn in 1911, flown by a student of the Wright brothers; smoke billowing out of the White House during a 1929 Christmas Eve fire that erupted as President Hoover and his wife hosted a party for the children of their staff; a press secretary in 1957 using office equipment that was crammed inside a bathroom; Betty Ford dancing barefoot on top of the Cabinet Room table; Caroline Kennedy visiting President Obama in the Oval Office as they inspect the desk that her father once used.

There’s something interesting on every page of this comprehensive photographic journey.

PILGRIMAGE TO SAN DIEGO
Perhaps, like me, you’ve heard about Comic-Con for years and wondered what it’s all about. Here’s an insider’s look at the “world’s largest pop-culture event,” in the form of both a new documentary and this companion book by Oscar-nominated director Morgan Spurlock, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope.

Think of this convention as Halloween on steroids, as adults, families, geeks, comic creators and fans dress up as their favorite super­heroes and comic characters and meet and mingle, all gloriously captured in living color by photographer Alba Tull. Also present are legends and pioneers of the business, such as Stan Lee (the comic book creator of Spider-Man), Iron Man, Thor and other superheroes.

Leafing through this colorful portrait gallery is like wandering through the convention floor and having a quick chat with the fans. Why do they come? What do they love? What do they talk about? “Battlestar Galactica” actor Richard Hatch sums up Comic-Con like this: “People want to come and feel part of something—feel connected to the greater world and be part of this magical industry that has kind of been a savior, I think, for a lot of people’s lives.”

WORLD’S BEST AND WEIRDEST
The RecordSetter Book of World Records is the sort of book that my three teen and almost-teen children are bound to devour. Authors Corey Henderson and Dan Rollman founded their own website (RecordSetter.com) in 2008 after finding the submission process for the Guinness Book of World Records both limiting and overly daunting. Their website’s goal is to invent, beat and discuss world records, and the founders’ philosophy is that “everyone on earth can be the world’s best at something.”

The website itself is fun, creative and inclusive, as is this book, which features records, interviews and tips for setting and beating new records. There’s no end to the inventive feats celebrated, such as: fastest time to open a bag of Skittles and sort them by color (21.5 seconds); most KISS songs named in one minute (45); largest group to sit on balloons and pop them at once (117 people); and most text messages sent and received in a single month (200,052)—a record set by a 19-year-old who, not surprisingly, developed blisters on his thumbs.

Let’s just say that this book is the perfect party gift!

MINDING YOUR P’S AND Q’S
Move over, Ann Landers and Dear Abby. As Philip Galanes explains, his popular New York Times column is “Not Your Mummy’s Advice Column.” He’s collected many of the outrageous questions he’s received and answered in Social Q’s: How To Survive the Quirks, Quandaries and Quagmires of Today.

The book is arranged into chapters addressing dilemmas related to social situations, public transportation, work, romance, family and money matters, all with wonderful titles such as “Step Away from That Keyboard! E-mails, Texts, and the Three Commandments for E-Living.” With the holidays soon to be here, you’ll learn whether you have to keep shelling out gifts to teenaged relatives who never bother to thank you for them. “Move on,” Galanes advises. Is it okay to approach a fellow commuter on whom you have developed a crush? He tells this questioner, “It’s a free country, Brooke. So long as you keep your clothes on.” (He adds a few cautionary notes, however).

Galanes dishes out reasonable, well thought-out answers to these questions and more. This book is a fun romp through other people’s problems, regardless of whether you face them yourself.

PATRIOTIC PAINTINGS
On a more nostalgic note, here’s a lovely compendium for anyone who’s a fan of Norman Rockwell, American history, literature and music. Included in Norman Rockwell’s Spirit of America are 100 color and 50 black-and-white illustrations painted by Rockwell, as well as eight color plates that are separate, ready-to-frame prints. The inspiring paintings are accompanied by excerpts from songs, stories, speeches and more from our nation’s history.

These glimpses into our country’s past are great fun to peruse, and an excellent education for younger readers, who can take a look at an old-fashioned voting booth, a drugstore soda counter, a stern schoolmaster and a crooning barbershop quartet. The literary excerpts feature plenty of well-known names, such as Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Martin Luther King Jr., Laura Ingalls Wilder and O. Henry. Cuddle up with this collection on a cold winter’s night, and you’re bound to stumble upon some hidden gems, such as Ogden Nash’s ode to being a father, which includes lines like these: “But all children matures / Maybe even yours. // You improve them mentally / And straighten them dentally.”

The rest of the poem is equally delightful, and just one of the many treasures found in this literary and artistic collection.

Are you trying to tackle a towering gift list? Never fear! No matter who you’re shopping for, the right book is waiting. WHITE HOUSE HISTORYAs an elementary school student, I had the good fortune to be part of a private White House Christmas tour led by my classmate’s aunt, who was First Lady Pat Nixon’s […]
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Surround yourself with the creative vision on display in a variety of new art books. Curl up with essays likely to change or challenge your outlook, or dip into survey books for old favorites and new discoveries. As photographer Elliott Erwitt explains, “It’s about reacting to what you see, hopefully without preconception.”

Start with a new edition of The Art Book, a massive A-to-Z collection first published in 1994 and now updated with 70 new artists and 100 new artworks. The volume’s large format and 600 color illustrations make it a joy to peruse, a fun, informative juxtaposition of classic and contemporary, with everything from Da Vinci and van Gogh to Warhol’s “Marilyn.” The latest additions are varied and eye-catching, such as Thomas Demand’s “Kitchen,” a photo of a life-size cardboard reconstruction of the farmhouse kitchen where Saddam Hussein was found hiding in 2003.

The Art Book is indeed a grand anthology, featuring paintings, sculptures, photographs, performance art and installations. Each page or spread spotlights a work of art and its artist. Brief glossaries define technical terms and artistic movements; there’s also a list of museums and galleries where the works can be found. This diverse assortment is guaranteed to fascinate and provoke a variety of art lovers.

THROUGH THE LENS

Also comprehensive, yet more narrowly focused, is another massive volume, Roberto Koch’s Master Photographers, filled with 20 game-changing artists from the 20th century. Editor Koch devotes 22 pages to each photographer, including an introduction, short biography and a collection of phenomenal photographs with brief commentary.

The artistic range is broad, from the joyful humanity captured by Elliott Erwitt to the iconic Depression portraits by Walker Evans. Englishman Martin Parr “has made supermarkets, country fairs, and working class beaches his own personal trenches,” brilliantly capturing, for instance, a woman biting into a burger at Disneyland in Tokyo.

In stark contrast are the haunting political statements by James Nachtwey, such as the brutally scarred face of a Rwandan death camp survivor, the dying body of a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan or the horrific sight of a skeletal famine victim crawling through dirt in the Sudan.

A TRAINED EYE

Two new books will help art lovers fully appreciate the artistic world’s vast array of styles and goals, the first being John Updike’s Always Looking: Essays on Art. The prolific novelist published two companion books before his 2009 death (Just Looking and Still Looking), and this new collection is accompanied by more than 200 color reproductions. Most of these exhibition reviews first appeared in The New York Review of Books.

Updike’s noted treatise, “The Clarity of Things,” tackles the question, “What is American about American art?” in a discussion exploring artists such as John Singleton Copley and Winslow Homer, along with more modern names like Joseph Stella and Mark Rothko. Reading these insightful essays feels like wandering through notable galleries with Updike as your docent, leaving his audience informed and fulfilled.

PAST MADE PRESENT

For a more lighthearted but no less valuable learning experience, dive into Will Gompertz’s What Are You Looking At? The Surprising, Shocking and Sometimes Strange Story of 150 Years of Modern Art. A former director of the Tate in London and now BBC arts editor, Gompertz explains his hope to offer “a personal, informative, anecdotal and accessible book that takes the chronological story of modern art (from Impressionism to now) as the basis for its structure.”

In these highly readable essays, Gompertz calls Cézanne “the greatest artist of the entire modern movement,” and his description of Duchamp’s creation of his famous urinal (called “Fountain”) reads like a short story, concluding, “It is Duchamp who is to blame for the whole ‘is it art’ debate, which, of course, is exactly what he intended.” His final chapter, “Art Now,” makes mention of Shepard Fairey’s Pop Art treatment of a 2008 Barack Obama poster and British street artist Banksy. Gompertz writes, “I suspect if Marcel Duchamp were alive today he would be a street artist.”

AMERICAN LANDSCAPE

For an in-depth look at one artist, try Georgia O’Keeffe and Her Houses: Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu by Barbara Buhler Lynes and Agapita Judy Lopez. This absorbing book shows how O’Keeffe’s two New Mexico homes and their surroundings affected her art, comparing, for instance, a photograph of a patio and door with the painting that it inspired, “Black Door with Snow.”

When O’Keeffe purchased Ghost Ranch in 1940, she wrote her husband, Alfred Stieglitz: “I would rather come here than any place I know. It is a way for me to live very comfortably at the tail end of the earth so far away that hardly any one will ever come to see me and I like it.” Five years later she purchased Abiquiu and restored it, using that house in winter and Ghost Ranch in summer. This book is filled with photographs, art reproductions and numerous anecdotes about O’Keeffe and the luminous art she produced in these special places.

Surround yourself with the creative vision on display in a variety of new art books. Curl up with essays likely to change or challenge your outlook, or dip into survey books for old favorites and new discoveries. As photographer Elliott Erwitt explains, “It’s about reacting to what you see, hopefully without preconception.” Start with a […]
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Caldecott. Sendak. Mo. They’re giants in the field of children’s literature, and they are the subjects of three 2013 releases, two at the hands of noted historian and scholar Leonard Marcus—Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawingand Maurice Sendak: A Celebration of the Artist and His Work—and one introduced by the legendary Eric Carle, Don’t Pigeonhole Me!, a Mo Willems collection. Anyone who follows children’s book illustration with interest could spend many happy hours exploring these entertaining books, each one appealingly designed and providing fresh insight into the celebrated illustrators featured therein.

THE LIFE OF A PICTURE-BOOK LEGEND

Both the late Maurice Sendak and author-illustrator Mo Willems have been recognized multiple times by the American Library Association with either Caldecott Honors or the big award itself, the Caldecott Medal. That award wouldn’t be possible without British illustrator Randolph Caldecott, the subject of Leonard Marcus’ new biography for young readers, Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing.

As a young man in England, where he was born in 1846, Caldecott made a living as a bank clerk, doodling while on the job; Marcus even treats readers to several of those sketches in this art-filled biography, as well as previously unpublished drawings from the illustrator’s last sketchbook. After he landed his first editorial illustration assignment for a London monthly in 1872, his career accelerated and he became known for his lively illustrations, eventually finding success with picture books in England and the United States. It was in the States that he died while traveling, one month shy of his 40th birthday, and was buried in Florida.

Caldecott is remembered today for his innovative work in merging text and art to tell one seamless story. It’s for this reason that the American Library Association named the award in his honor in 1938. Prior to his time, children’s books included illustrations that made no effort to extend the story told by the words. Caldecott put page-turns to work to add drama, increase tension and establish unique rhythms, and he introduced story elements in his illustrations that were not mentioned in the text, further expanding a book’s storytelling possibilities. This, at the time of Walter Crane and John Tenniel, was revolutionary.

Marcus’ exploration of Caldecott’s pivotal contributions to picture books make this juvenile biography an essential read for picture book lovers of all ages. He tells the story of Caldecott’s life with great reverence (and thorough research), and those who appreciate good design may linger over such things as the thick, cream-colored pages and the endpapers filled with Caldecott’s picture book illustrations.

THE WORK OF A WILD THING

One of numerous illustrators inspired by Caldecott was Maurice Sendak. He often spoke during his lifetime about his deep respect for Caldecott’s work, even naming his 1989 anthology of essays on writing and illustrating for children Caldecott & Co. Recently, Abrams published Maurice Sendak: A Celebration of the Artist and His Work, a lavish volume edited by Leonard Marcus and released in conjunction with a June 2013 Society of Illustrators exhibition of Sendak’s work.

This one is a must-have for Sendak fans, a compelling tribute to the famed illustrator. It includes 12 essays from art collectors, librarians, editors, fellow illustrators and more. Featuring the private collection of art curators Justin G. Schiller and Dennis M.V. David, the book treats fans to rare drawings, posters, lithographs, sketches, commercial art and design work of all types. Some previously unpublished photos are also on display; Sendak mimicking a Wild Thing doll, circa 1970, captures an impish joy.

The essays in this in-depth volume, many giving us compelling peeks into Sendak’s personality, are not to be outdone by all the rare artwork on display. Author-illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky, whom Sendak taught at Yale, contributes an outstanding essay, writing about Sendak’s energy and conviction as a lecturer and teacher, as well as his disdain for those who condescended to children’s books: “He believed that art can be for children,” Zelinsky writes, “that it mustn’t be treacly or pandering, and that it should be as rich and good as the art that adults want for themselves.”

SKETCHES FROM ONE OF TODAY'S BIGGEST STARS

Like this Sendak tribute, Don’t Pigeonhole Me!—a look at two decades of Mo Willems’ sketches—is aimed squarely at adults. “Mo Willems is a master of the doodle, sketch, cartoon, and scribble,” writes Eric Carle in the book’s foreword. In the introduction, Mo explains that the book—which even shows the birth of the Pigeon, his most famous protagonist—is a culmination of decades of making art that is “purely mine, free from any restrictions, without regard for those who will eventually see it.”

Well, his fans can see it now, and it’s worth their time. It opens with sketches from the early ‘90s and takes readers all the way up to recent sketches made on the butcher paper laid out on the kitchen table in his home, where visitors are encouraged to sketch. Readers see Mo’s personality from just about every angle in this collection of his minimalist cartoon sketches. Some are particularly clever and funny; others, obscure and mildly to moderately amusing. “I was so tired,” Willems writes about the sketches in the “Wise Things” chapter, the most refreshing of them all, “of rendering jolly round-headed scamps that my subconscious just wanted to kill them.” This was the phase, he explains, where an Edward Gorey influence snuck up. The youngest of Pigeon fans need not apply, but for adults, it’s a trip.

The holiday season draws nigh. Consider any—or all, if your pocketbook allows—of these books great gift choices for the picture book fans in your life.

Julie Danielson conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.

Caldecott. Sendak. Mo. They’re giants in the field of children’s literature, and they are the subjects of three 2013 releases, two at the hands of noted historian and scholar Leonard Marcus—Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawingand Maurice Sendak: A Celebration of the Artist and His Work—and one introduced by the legendary Eric […]

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