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All Graphic Novels & Comics Coverage

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Jordan Crane’s graphic novel Keeping Two, which took him 20 years to complete, pays very strict attention to form. Over the course of 300-plus pages, Crane rarely strays from a simple six-panel grid, arranging the action in neat squares that move down and across the page with an almost mesmeric energy and speed. With this structure, a rhythm builds, as does an understanding between cartoonist and reader, so that when Crane begins to blur the lines between past and present, reality and memory, truth and imagination, you lean forward and hold on for one of the most memorable comics-driven rides of the year. 

Keeping Two follows a couple in the midst of what seems to be a minor argument, driven in part by a book the pair read aloud to each other during a long car trip. This book-within-the-book is about a couple coping with a profound loss, and the story’s themes of heartbreak and recovery immediately impact the lives of the couple reading it. They begin to imagine tragedies unfolding in their own reality, tragedies that may turn out to be all too close. 

Crane uses vibrant, hypnotic color, with bright greens suggesting life, growth and rebirth but also illness, nausea and unease. As the story swings between these two tonal poles, Crane’s intense focus on form and composition allows him to transition seamlessly between perspectives, often within the space of a single panel. The boyfriend’s household chore becomes his girlfriend’s reading life, becomes the life of the story she’s paging through and then back again—and the reader is never lost in these shifts. It all feels like part of an ever-fluctuating meditation on life, loss, love and all the states of uncertainty, panic and longing in between. 

Beautifully realized and assembled, Keeping Two is a remarkable work and one of the year’s best graphic novels.

When Jordan Crane begins to blur the lines between past and present, reality and memory, truth and imagination, you must lean forward and hold on for one of the most memorable comics-driven rides of the year.
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Ten wayward people walk into an acting class, including a married couple who finds their relationship growing stale, a single mother who worries she’s not good enough and a man convinced he needs to be more assertive at work. In the class, a man named John Smith promises to draw out who each person really is, allowing them to reinvent themselves in the realm of make-believe so they can reshape their realities outside the classroom.

It’s this straightforward catalyst that launches Nick Drnaso’s mesmerizing graphic novel (after Sabrina, a finalist for the Booker Prize). But Acting Class is interested in more than just following a set of characters as they gain a new lease on life. Through clean, minimalist linework, Drnaso builds a world we think we understand. Then, slowly and methodically, he breaks it all down—and with it, our understanding of the human condition.

Certain imagery in Acting Class conjures up the poseable nature of toys, such as vignettes framed in cutesy, brightly colored storybook motifs, or doll heads surrounding a character’s portrait. As the students work to apply Smith’s teachings to their lives, Drnaso visually and narratively blurs the line between fantasy and fiction. Party “scenes” in the class become actual parties, with scope and dimension to match. In the same way, the characters begin to feel the class’ sense of play and fun blending with their own real-world desires, needs and insecurities. Exercises and experiments become charged with emotion, and make-believe becomes shockingly real.

As Drnaso interrogates the ways in which we pretend, pose and allow ourselves to be the playthings of others and society at large—whether we want to admit it or not—Acting Class becomes a stirring, incisive exploration of human nature.

Nick Drnaso builds a world we think we understand. Then, methodically and slowly, he breaks it all down—and with it, our understanding of the human condition.
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The unifying theme for the latest batch of comics and graphic novels is the blending of two worlds that are usually thought of as separate: fiction and reality, artists and material, families and their ancestors.

Confronting the truth
Even before you peek inside, it’s clear that The Unwritten is an unusual book. The extremely cool cover, by Yuko Shimizo, shows someone reaching or falling out of a cloud of tangled words in the sky, through a blank distance and into an open book. Simple but wild, it also turns out to be a perfect reflection of the story. Volume 1 collects the first five issues of the ongoing series, a labyrinthine metafictional tale about the art and power of storytelling. The art is beautiful if not earth-shattering, but the plot takes serious risks—and is deeply rewarding. It hinges on Tom Taylor, the son of a man who wrote a Harry Potter/Books of Magic-type series of books, the star of which was named Tommy Taylor. The series ended without its final volume, on a cliffhanger, and fans are still rabid. Tom’s dad is long gone, but the younger Taylor still makes the comic-convention circuit, signing autographs and trying to maintain the boundary between his own personality and that of the fictional hero based on him. Mostly he succeeds. But when a probing question at one convention raises public suspicions about Tom’s real origins, the line between fiction and real life blurs. Add to that a creepy mansion, a mad vampire, a couple of possible femmes fatales, a hit man whose glove dissolves objects into words, a winged cat and Rudyard Kipling, and—well, we can’t wait for Volume 2.

Chabon’s Escapist comes to life
Like The Unwritten, The Escapists is about the joy of storytelling and the often insubstantial membrane that separates the fictional world from the physical one. Inspired by Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, it features a collaboration of artists bringing to life Brian K. Vaughan’s story of three youngsters who buy the rights to a long-dead comic book character, the Escapist, and attempt to revive him. The blend of styles works perfectly to move the story between the real world and the comic-within-the-comic, which naturally move along parallel tracks. The dark, large-paneled, painterly pages of the new Escapist book are simply gorgeous, and the interplay between the two worlds in the book is not only entertaining but also makes some sharp observations about the origins of inspiration, life’s impact on art and vice-versa, and the difficulty of recognizing which “reality” is more important. There’s also a charming introduction by Chabon.

One town, two worlds
Positioned for young readers, but with a richness of ideas and atmosphere that adults will equally enjoy, Mercury, the latest from Hope Larson (Chiggers), spans two worlds: a farm community in Nova Scotia in 1859, and the same setting 150 years later. In the first, Josey Fraser falls for the mysterious stranger Asa Curry, who turns up on her family’s doorstep with a proposition. While stealing Josey’s heart, he persuades her father to help him dig for gold on the family’s land, a project that leads eventually to disaster. A century and a half down the road, in the same spot, teenage Tara Fraser is struggling to work her way back into public school life after her family’s house, where she was home-schooled, burns down. The two stories converge when Tara comes across a necklace with a strange power to pull her toward history and a kind of multigenerational redemption. Larson’s spare line drawings are great at evoking movement and emotion—family tensions around a dinner table, for instance—and they lend themselves nicely to her touches of the supernatural.

A peek at the creative process

Anyone interested in how comics end up looking the way they do will be fascinated by Rough Justice, a behind-the-pages study of the work of Alex Ross, the legendary artist behind the Kingdom Come epic as well as various famous character re-imaginings. Through the pencil and ink sketches that eventually become Ross’ characteristically gorgeous paintings, you can see the artist experimenting with his characters, their expressions, costumes, postures and even the lines on their faces, all in the service of the larger story. How many crinkles should the Kingdom Come Superman have beneath his eyes? How much gray in the temples will look right? There are also proposals for new looks for reinvented characters, such as one story idea in which a disabled Batgirl spends some time in the Lazarus Pit and comes out healed but much darker. For fans, witnessing the artist/writer’s creative process at its very beginning is a treat, and it doesn’t hurt that the art looks incredible even in these embryonic stages.

Becky Ohlsen is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon.

The unifying theme for the latest batch of comics and graphic novels is the blending of two worlds that are usually thought of as separate: fiction and reality, artists and material, families and their ancestors. Confronting the truthEven before you peek inside, it’s clear that The Unwritten is an unusual book. The extremely cool cover, […]
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Graphic novels continue to break new ground, with recent works that run the gamut in both style and content. Here we take a look at four of the best new releases, ranging from a colorful tale of pirates and sea monsters to a close examination of democracy in America.

A CLASSIC TALE
It took Joann Sfar’s touch to make me finally fall in love with the story of The Little Prince. Sfar’s illustrated version of the classic by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is more playful than precious; the combination of his captivating artwork and the pared-down prose allows the story to sneak up on you rather than blatantly yanking your heartstrings. As drawn by Sfar, the mysterious prince from a tiny, faraway planet is adorable, wise and funny, rather than simply tragic. Sfar gives him depth and attitude, with tired shadows around his big blue eyes and subtle facial changes that express feelings it would be clunky to describe in writing. Sfar tells as much of the story as he can visually, employing words only when necessary, which gives the whole thing a feeling of restraint that the original lacks. In my favorite scene, the little prince meets a wild fox who begs to be tamed (“It means creating a bond,” the fox explains). So the prince tames him, but when it’s time to leave, the fox starts to cry. “So it hasn’t been worth it,” says the prince. “Oh yes it has,” the fox replies, and suddenly whole swaths of adult life make sense. (Sfar’s fox looks a lot like the namesake of his best-known book, The Rabbi’s Cat—angular, sly and prone to curling up expressively.)

ON THE HIGH SEAS
Similar in tone and in its rich color palette, The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier is, on the surface, a rollicking tale of pirates’ adventures on the open sea. But in fact it’s a story about loyalty, honor and keeping your promises. Walker Bean’s beloved grandfather has fallen ill after being cursed by a stolen skull; it’s up to Walker to return the skull to where it belongs and end the curse. But to do that, he has to keep the skull out of the hands of a creepy octopus man, a feisty pirate girl and his own father, among others. There are also huge, menacing lobster women and a ship that turns into a planetarium. Like all young boys trying to solve grown-up problems, Walker makes mistakes, but he also makes some very helpful friends, including a pirate boy named Shiv and, eventually, tentatively, that feisty pirate girl, Gen. Renier’s drawings are vivid and expressive, full of movement and sound, and the twist at the end of the story adds an unexpectedly heartwarming touch. Walker’s adventures will continue in Volume 2 of the series.

TRY, TRY AGAIN
At the other end of the graphic-novel spectrum is Good Eggs, Phoebe Potts’ memoir of her and her husband’s struggle to get pregnant. Her spare and simple line drawings invite you into the story; it’s mostly realistic, but with occasional flights of fancy that spring from Potts’ imagination. A discussion of a soul-sucking job, for instance, includes one panel showing a row of new college graduates on an assembly line, a “PhD factory,” as she puts it. And when she meets her future husband, something he says makes her draw herself being held aloft by little doves (who then drop her to the floor when he mentions having a girlfriend). It’s sweet, and effective. The writing is also excellent: sharp, clever, realistic dialogue with no wasted words. Potts grew up in Brooklyn, and her characters talk the way people talk in Brooklyn—always entertaining, and usually hilarious, even when the subject matter is serious. The story centers on her desire for a child, but it’s all the other things she discovers—about her own life, her priorities and values—while pursuing this desire that make the book so rewarding.

AN AMERICAN JOURNEY
Taking the search for fulfillment from the personal to the political is Maira Kalman’s And the Pursuit of Happiness, an investigation into the roots of democracy in America and how it has changed throughout our history. Kalman was inspired by the 2008 elections, and on inauguration day she went to Washington, D.C., to begin a sort of political-science travelogue. She gets a crush on Abe Lincoln, discovers you can patent a peach, chats with farmers and meets diplomats. The sketches and collages she uses to illustrate what she learns are placed opposite pages of her hand-written observations, which are spirited and funny, keeping the material from ever seeming dull. On the very early origins of America, for instance, she says, “Growing tired of the ocean, creatures migrated onto the land. Then came dinosaurs and motorcycles.” Which sounds about right. A few pages later, we learn, “Then came Commerce and Greed.” It’s a fast-paced tour, hitting all the highlights and the lowlights, and enhanced with Kalman’s sketches and paintings as well as archival photos, postcards, pages from old books and diaries, etc. There’s a lot to learn from this book, but reading it never feels like hard work.

Graphic novels continue to break new ground, with recent works that run the gamut in both style and content. Here we take a look at four of the best new releases, ranging from a colorful tale of pirates and sea monsters to a close examination of democracy in America. A CLASSIC TALEIt took Joann Sfar’s […]
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These three graphic novels might not seem to have anything in common, but in a sense they do: All three are written from the perspective of a lone explorer making his or her way through an unfamiliar landscape. One involves a woman tracing her heritage in an Israel that bears little resemblance to the country she’d imagined; in another, the child of Vietnamese immigrants digs into his parents’ past; and in the third a miserably single American man navigates the terrifying world of dating.

SEEKING TRUTH IN THE HOLY LAND
In her graphic memoir How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, Sarah Glidden runs the emotional gamut, from stubborn to weepy to giddy to furious and all the way back around. The book records a “Birthright Israel” trip she took several years ago; the Birthright fund pays for trips that give non-Israeli Jews their first introduction to Israel. Sarah went intending to “discover the truth behind this whole mess once and for all,” meaning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Packing her suitcase, she tells her boyfriend, “It’ll all be crystal clear by the time I come back.” But of course everything turns out to be more complicated than she expected. Between touring cultural sites and hearing wise counsel from various perspectives, Sarah finds that her convictions are shaken but her understanding deepened through her engagement with Israel. Given the complex material and the fairly text-heavy panels, Glidden’s clear and simply drawn illustrations, painted in watercolor, add just the right amount of emotional impact to the story.

A VIVID FAMILY HISTORY
GB Tran takes a much more impressionistic approach to memoir in his Vietnamerica: A Family’s Journey. The book, appealing enough in its black-and-white version but stunning in full color, describes Tran’s parents’ decision to leave Vietnam for America in 1975. In flashbacks and retold stories, Tran learns about what life was like for his mother and father when they were young children, what their parents were like, and how much they left behind when circumstances forced them to abandon the lives they had made and start from scratch. Tran is 30 when he returns with his parents to Vietnam for a visit shortly after the death of his last two grandparents. The combination of the young American’s disorientation and the many disjointed recollections he hears from various family members can be confusing if you try to follow the story in strict linear fashion; the key is to relax and let the gorgeous images wash over you. The wild, vivid pages here work the way oft-told and half-remembered family stories from long ago normally do; they’re more about conveying emotion than information.

HOPE AMONG THE RUINS
Daniel Clowes is great at many things, not least of which is leaving readers with a sense of alienation and vague disgust for humanity. But in Mister Wonderful he does something unusual: He transcends his customary gloom and despair to find hope. The story follows a guy named Marshall on a blind date. Marshall is divorced, unemployed and severely lacking in confidence. His scathing internal monologue as he sits at a coffee shop waiting for his date is painful to behold. Told in Clowes’ characteristically tidy style, with its neat rows of panels and straightforwardly drawn characters in plain, blocky urban settings, the story veers often into miniature fantasies, illustrated by miniature versions of the characters. When Marshall’s date, Natalie, appears and is charming, he can’t decide whether to be thrilled or to embrace the miserable certainty that she’s out of his league. But it turns out Natalie is equally fragile. Their delicate emotional parrying, complete with awkward misunderstandings, large and small faux pas and even a mugging, makes for a suspenseful and affecting read. The fact that the story comes down on the side of cautious optimism only increases its impact.

These three graphic novels might not seem to have anything in common, but in a sense they do: All three are written from the perspective of a lone explorer making his or her way through an unfamiliar landscape. One involves a woman tracing her heritage in an Israel that bears little resemblance to the country […]
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Four new graphic novels address the appeal of running away and the impossibility of escaping your past, for good or ill.

TRIUMPHANT RETURN
If you’re even vaguely interested in graphic novels, you’re probably aware that Craig Thompson has a new book coming out. Thompson’s 2003 graphic novel Blankets told an autobiographical coming-of-age story and floored everyone who read it, winning all kinds of awards and making a star of its author. His long-anticipated follow-up, the utterly engrossing Habibi, is at least as gut-wrenching and even more substantial in size and scope.

Just to be clear, this book is not for the faint of heart. In the first few panels, our nine-year-old heroine, Dodola, is sold into marriage by desperate parents whose village is suffering from drought. Dodola’s new husband is no brute, but even so . . . she’s nine years old. Thus begins her journey through the world as a headstrong and beautiful Arab girl. Fortunately for Dodola (and us), her husband is a scholar, and he teaches her to read and write. She learns the stories of the Qur’an, the work of the great poets, the Thousand and One Nights. Then, abruptly, marauding thieves kill her husband and kidnap the girl. She’s brought to a slave market, where she finds and rescues a three-year-old orphan boy, Zam. From then on their fates are linked. They escape and live for a while on a ship marooned in the desert, but their need for food and water leads them to be discovered and separated. Each of them endures years of torment, accumulating scars, grieving and longing for each other. It’s pretty brutal.

But it’s also beautiful. Dodola’s and Zam’s stories are interwoven with the stories they learned as children, the underpinnings of Islam. This lends not only beauty and texture but also meaning and redemption to their suffering, and Thompson’s handling of the religious elements—something that might have been awkward or controversial—is restrained and graceful. His black-and-white drawings, often incorporating Arabic script, are at times floaty and feverish but always perfectly clear. He breaks up dreamy exposition with tightly structured action sequences, and the pages couldn’t be prettier. As always, his economical writing is deeply moving. Habibi is a book not to be missed.

A CHILD’S-EYE VIEW
Another story of a childhood spent in hostile surroundings, Marzi by Marzena Sowa, takes the opposite tack. Marzi’s story, especially at first, seems like it could be happening almost anywhere. In fact it’s set in Poland during the 1980s, as the country was rebelling against communism. It’s only as Marzi grows up and gains understanding that the impact of the political situation starts to become clear. For most of the book she’s a wide-eyed, innocent daddy’s girl with completely typical attitude problems, arguments with her friends, difficulty eating her vegetables, fights with cousins and so on. It’s fascinating and often hilarious to see huge world-changing events like the Chernobyl explosion and factory-workers’ strikes from the point of view of a regular little girl absorbed in her own life.

A FINE ROMANCE
Entirely different but equally charming is The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston, a fictional memoir told in gorgeous full-color collages. With postcards, news clippings, ticket stubs, receipts, catalog pages and drawings that look like illustrations from vintage fashion magazines, Preston tells the coming-of-age story of Frankie, a bright young girl who graduates from high school in 1920 and goes to Vassar on scholarship after her father dies. She gets herself into numerous romantic entanglements, all of them ill-advised, and seems constantly on the verge of abandoning her dream of becoming a novelist. But Frankie is stubborn and scrappy, and she manages to take care of herself in a world where most girls like her just want to be taken care of. The happy ending is a little sudden, but it’s a pleasure to watch Frankie develop and learn to trust her nobler instincts until they pay off.

MERRIMENT ON MOTORBIKES
And finally, an idea I’m surprised hasn’t been tried before: a graphic novel adaptation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales—on motorcycles. This retelling is done by Seymour Chwast, one of the founders of the influential Push Pin Studios who has already adapted Dante’s Divine Comedy. His irreverent humor makes him an even better fit for Chaucer, who never left a good fart joke untold. And nothing goes better with fart jokes than motorcycle touring. (It’s not entirely clear just why the pilgrims are riding hogs, but that doesn’t matter.) Most everyone in these 24 travelers’ tales ends up being thoroughly mocked, both in the smartypants dialogue and in the simplified but pointed drawings. The book works either as an introduction to Chaucer’s original text or as an alternate take for those who’ve read it many times already.

Four new graphic novels address the appeal of running away and the impossibility of escaping your past, for good or ill. TRIUMPHANT RETURNIf you’re even vaguely interested in graphic novels, you’re probably aware that Craig Thompson has a new book coming out. Thompson’s 2003 graphic novel Blankets told an autobiographical coming-of-age story and floored everyone […]
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Books—especially great ones—beget other books. If you don’t believe it, check out the selections that follow. Providing new perspectives on past works, these critical studies, appreciations and fresh editions prove that classic pieces of literature are inexhaustible. Just right for the writer or devoted reader on your holiday gift list, the books below will make any bibliophile smile.

SHADOWING SHAKESPEARE
Few figures inspire more speculation than William Shakespeare. Richard Paul Roe, an accomplished scholar and lawyer, tackles one of the most intriguing Shakespearean what-ifs in his compelling new book The Shakespeare Guide to Italy: Retracing the Bard’s Unknown Travels. Addressing a controversial question—whether Shakespeare visited the country that provided the backdrop for many of his finest works—Roe tracked the dramatist’s 10 Italian plays back to their geographical roots. The author, who died in 2010, invested 20 years in the project.

Guided by the text of the Italian plays, which include Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest and Othello, Roe pinned down settings scene by scene only to discover that—after four centuries—the Bard’s descriptions of Verona, Venice and Padua are uncannily accurate. His conclusion: The playwright almost certainly visited Italy, a verdict that contradicts the accepted view that Shakespeare never traveled outside of England. This controversial conclusion is bound to cause tremors in the academic world, but Roe’s book is more than an inspired piece of literary detection. Beautifully illustrated with paintings, photos and maps, the volume offers an engaging look at life in 16th-century Italy. Roe is a delightful travel guide, and his search for “the secret Italy that lies hidden in the plays of Shakespeare” is fascinating from start to finish.

NAVIGATING A CLASSIC
Answering a question that has crossed the mind of many a reader, Nathaniel Philbrick offers an earnest argument on behalf of a classic in Why Read Moby-Dick?. In his compact critique, Philbrick casts himself as Herman Melville’s champion and sets out to prove that the novel is more than a quaint antique.

Philbrick, whose National Book Award-winning In the Heart of the Sea examined the historical events that inspired Moby-Dick, highlights themes, characters and symbols from the novel that take on new significance as the decades go by. In addition to an in-depth look at the crazed captain Ahab, this brisk volume has chapters on Nantucket, nautical matters and the influence of Nathaniel Hawthorne on Melville’s work. Facet by facet, Philbrick reveals what this vibrant novel has to tell us about the contemporary world. In an era when brevity sells books, Melville’s epic style can easily intimidate, but wise readers will heed Philbrick’s advice regarding the tale of the whale: Dive right in.

A FINAL WORD FROM UPDIKE
John Updike’s Higher Gossip: Essays and Criticism shows a player at the top of his game. The book was in the works when Updike died in 2009, at the age of 76, and serves as a superb retrospective of his genius.

Drawing on a remarkably broad assortment of sources—from Golf Digest to National Geographic—the pieces in Higher Gossip are a testament to Updike’s astonishing range. He writes with equal expertise about art and sports, analyzing Max Ernst and Vincent van Gogh with the same authority that he brings to discussions of Tiger Woods and Fuzzy Zoeller. In addition to his essays, the volume includes poems, forewords, introductions, letters and book reviews. Best of all, it features Updike’s insights into his own work, with pieces on the novels Gertrude and Claudius, Licks of Love and The Poorhouse Fair. “Gossip of a higher sort” is how Updike once defined a well-written review. As demonstrated in this final collection, he was a pro when it came to sharing inside information, writing in a way that was accessible yet always stylish.

A POSTMODERN MASTERPIECE
It’s a rare breed, indeed: Maus, Art Spiegelman’s graphic classic from 1986, simply can’t be cornered. A hybrid of historical narrative and illustrated storytelling, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book is based on the experiences of Spiegelman’s father, a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust to settle in New York City. In an ingenious twist, Spiegelman animalized his characters, casting Nazis as cats and Jews as mice in the maze that was Europe during World War II.

To celebrate the book’s 25th anniversary, Spiegelman has produced MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus, a scrapbook of sorts that explains how the masterpiece came to be. A family-album chapter contains pictures of the main characters (in human form), while an interview with Spiegelman’s father Vladek provides dramatic background. And the author himself answers all the pressing questions—why he took the Holocaust as his topic and the comic book as his medium. Meta­Maus comes with a terrific bonus DVD that features interviews, historical materials and the complete Maus.

TRANSLATING AN EPIC
In the family tree of Western literature, it’s one of the roots: The Iliad, Homer’s epic poem, is the source of countless symbols, themes and narrative conventions that have stood the test of time. Award-winning author Stephen Mitchell interprets the story for modern readers in his elegant new edition of the epic. Based on scholar Martin L. West’s work in assembling a definitive version of the Greek text, Mitchell’s The Iliad powerfully communicates the spirit and the spectacle of the classic story through a subtle poetic style that reflects the essence of the original.

Mitchell, who produced much-praised translations of The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke and Gilgamesh, brings fresh life to the tale of Achilles, Agamemnon and the Greeks’ sack of Troy, the bloody siege that lasted a decade. Whether you’re reacquainting yourself with the work or coming to it for the first time, you’ll find Mitchell’s interpretation of The Iliad intensely rewarding. Reader, enjoy the spoils.

A MAGICAL TALE TURNS 100
It’s hard to believe that the story of Peter Pan has been lightening the hearts of readers for a century. Celebrating the birthday of J.M. Barrie’s magical tale in high style, The Annotated Peter Pan: The Centennial Edition contains the complete text of Peter and Wendy, along with informative notes and essays. Assembled by Maria Tatar, chair of Harvard’s folklore program, this volume is a must for those who believe in the power of pixie dust.

Barrie’s mischievous imp made his first appearance in print in The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island, written in 1901 for the Llewelyn Davies family, whose puckish children served as sources for Peter’s personality. Only two copies of the book were made. Barrie gave one to the Davies clan, while the other made its way to the Beinecke Library at Yale University, where Tatar discovered it. The Annotated Peter Pan makes it available to readers for the first time, along with other rare Barrie treasures, including his screenplay for a silent movie. Critical commentary regarding the various treatments of Peter on stage and screen provide fresh perspectives on his character, while classic, full-color illustrations bring the text to life.

GROUNDBREAKING NARRATIVES
The Library of America’s gorgeous new boxed set, Harlem Renaissance Novels, pays tribute to a group of writers who left an imprint on the face of a nation through their fearless radicalism, taste for innovation and infectious energy. During the 1920s and ’30s, the writers of the Harlem Renaissance produced some of the country’s most significant literature. In two beautifully designed volumes—Five Novels of the 1920s and Four Novels of the 1930s—the collection brings together narratives from a range of writers whose works merit fresh examination.

Five Novels of the 1920s includes Jean Toomer’s classic Cane, a unique blend of poetry and prose that explores the author’s years as a teacher in Georgia, and Claude McKay’s spirited Jazz Age story, Home to Harlem. Four Novels of the 1930s examines different storytelling modes, from Langston Hughes’ beautifully crafted bildungsroman, Not Without Laughter, to George S. Schuyler’s sci-fi spoof, Black No More. Compiled by African-American studies expert Rafia Zafar, the classics get the lavish treatment they deserve in this impressive collection.

 

Editor's Note: The review of Steven Mitchell's translation of The Iliad has been updated to reflect the following corrections: Martin L. West's edition of The Iliad, published in 2000, was a restored Greek edition of the text, not a translation. Stephen Mitchell's translation is not the first published in the U.S. in the last 20 years; it was preceded by Stanley Lombardo's 1997 edition of The Iliad, published by Hackett Publishing Co.

Books—especially great ones—beget other books. If you don’t believe it, check out the selections that follow. Providing new perspectives on past works, these critical studies, appreciations and fresh editions prove that classic pieces of literature are inexhaustible. Just right for the writer or devoted reader on your holiday gift list, the books below will make […]
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What defines a gift book for a guy can be an elusive proposition in this age of increasing gender equality. Yet even factoring in the crossover effect, there are some topics that have historically drawn male interest. These wonderfully pictorial volumes should serve as awesome holiday gifts for favored men and boys.

HORRIBLY ENTERTAINING
Veteran filmmaker John Landis is the driving force behind the fantastic Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares. The focus here is on films that fall into the general categories of horror, sci-fi and fantasy, yet the comprehensive coverage ranges more broadly into related subgenres, such as the occult, fairy tales, dinosaurs and dragons. Landis provides pithy overviews for each subsection, plus captions for the hundreds of captivating classic production photos drawn from the Kobal Collection, a photo archive whose images span the cinematic era, from the earliest days to the latest releases. There are also some cool examples of movie poster art scattered among the visuals. Landis provides worthy interviews with some of the great genre creators (directors, actors, technical wizards), including John Carpenter, Christopher Lee, Rick Baker and the amazing special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen, who is now 91 and still rightfully revered for his achievements as a stop-motion model animator. A delicious romp through the film world, this book provides a nostalgic pull for anyone who grew up a fan of the great horror flicks. Needless to say, it’s a terrific gift item and endlessly browseable.

MAKING A LIST
From the team of ­“infomaniacs” responsible for Show Me How (2008) and More Show Me How (2010) comes Listomania: A World of Fascinating Facts in Graphic Detail. Colorfully designed and illustrated with whimsical cartoons, this major-league browser collects list upon list of straight-ahead traditional subjects (e.g., the Seven Wonders of the World) with many more esoteric but engaging ones, from beauty-queen scandals to strange building materials to dangerous tourist spots. The book’s basic sections are arranged somewhat loosely around human history and behavior, trends, measurements, places, art and entertainment, food and animals, yet its organization invites an all-but-random investigation of its wide-ranging contents. Fun and surprising reading, Listomania is sure to evoke exclamations of “Who knew?” among curious readers.

SALUTING THE DARK KNIGHT
For that certain comic-book superhero buff comes The Batman Files, an impressively priced and imposingly bound tome that celebrates the legend and lore of the Caped Crusader. Author and comic book historian Matthew K. Manning is responsible for pulling together this “archive” that is designed to serve as a replica of Batman’s own personal diary, also including top secret blueprints of his Batcave, Batmobile, uniforms and weapons; newspaper clippings from Gotham City, dating back to the murder of alter ego Bruce Wayne’s parents; plus in-depth dossiers on the Dark Knight’s nefarious opponents, among them the Riddler, Penguin, Joker and Mr. Freeze. The origins of Batman’s sidekick, Robin, are also detailed. Besides its “insider” textual approach, this collector’s-item-type package also reprints dozens and dozens of color panels extracted from the comics themselves, which showcase an interesting sense of the development of artistic style in the depiction of the Batman stories, first conceptualized by Bob Kane more than 70 years ago. This is the ultimate gift item for the inveterate Batman fan.

THE HIGHEST PEAKS
Sports books almost always make winning gifts for guys, and Mountaineers: Great Tales of Bravery and Conquest offers a compelling panoramic view of a sport that receives less coverage than it deserves. Produced in collaboration with the Smithsonian, and with an engrossing text written chiefly by Ed Douglas (with an assist from Richard Gilbert, Philip Parker and Alasdair Macleod), this volume uncovers a death-defying world rich with history and populated by determined, often idiosyncratic personalities, both male and female, who dedicate their lives to scaling the world’s highest mountain peaks. The photos alone are worth the book’s price, but the story told of mountain climbing’s development, its cultural and scientific importance, and its growth as an international competitive endeavor is equally valuable. There are fascinating sidebars on sherpas, innovations in equipment, pertinent books and movies, plus the big mountain peaks (Kilimanjaro, Mount Blanc, Matterhorn, etc.). More compelling, however, are the profiles of the climbers themselves—a contentious breed apart, often loners—who risk death with every summit they take on. Edmund Hillary and Reinhold Messner are perhaps the most recognizable names here, but learning about their somewhat lesser-known equals is both educational and thrilling.

RIDING THE RAILS
Trains formerly held the fascination of men and boys on a wide scale. While times have changed, and trains are lower-profile symbols of commerce and travel, they still attract interest, and Steam: An Enduring Legacy—The Railroad Photographs of Joel Jensen serves as proof. Jensen has been photographing trains and rail stations west of the Mississippi River for some 25 years, and this long-overdue collection of his work features black-and-white shots that capture the bygone majesty and sense of history inspired by these steam-powered machines, preserved and operated in the latter-day era by dedicated rail-fans. Besides the 150 photos, there are essays by John Gruber and Scott Lothes—both of the Center for Railroad Photography and Art—examining the economics and cultural importance of trains in America.

PICTURES FROM THE FRONT
Finally, in a nod to the Greatest Generation, comes A Soldier’s Sketchbook: From the Front Lines of World War II, which gathers the letters and sketches from the World War II experiences of young G.I. Joseph Farris, who served with the U.S. Army’s 100th Division in Europe. Farris, now in his 80s, went on to become a cartoonist for the New Yorker, and throughout his transformation from naive enlisted man to battle-tested vet, he was honing his craft as an artist, as the samples from his youthful wartime work attest. Besides the many letters home to his folks—from his days in basic training through his return to the States—Farris also provides a contextual narrative on the war’s progress. Also included are battle maps, poster art and archival photos portraying Farris and his buddies, the soldier’s life in general and some of the war’s leaders and generals. A Soldier’s Sketchbook offers a visually captivating perspective on WWII, as seen through the eyes of one young infantryman.

What defines a gift book for a guy can be an elusive proposition in this age of increasing gender equality. Yet even factoring in the crossover effect, there are some topics that have historically drawn male interest. These wonderfully pictorial volumes should serve as awesome holiday gifts for favored men and boys. HORRIBLY ENTERTAININGVeteran filmmaker […]
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Fathers usually don’t expect much for Father’s Day—a simple hug is plenty. But you could also acknowledge dad with a gift book, which these days might span topics from engineering to sports to cooking. The following selection of new books has dad and his modern-day versatility covered.

REACHING FOR THE SKY

From the publisher of last fall’s wonderful Mountaineers comes another richly illustrated volume that merges information on the lives of remarkable individuals with useful descriptions of their great achievements. Engineers, edited by Adam Hart-Davis, focuses on familiar names such as Robert Fulton, Eli Whitney, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison and other world-renowned innovators whose work dramatically changed human lives. But the coverage here—reaching back to the ancient world and through the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution, all the way to the Space Age—also extols many lesser known originators of essential engineering feats. The subject matter is far-ranging—aqueducts, ships, steam engines, electricity, airships, the automobile, architecture—in other words, any discipline that falls under the book’s titular category. Besides its plentiful photos and drawings, the text is loaded with informative sidebars and timelines. The technically inclined dad will love it.

LET’S GET COOKING

It’s hard to imagine cooking as an extreme sport, but that’s what we find in Daniel Duane’s How to Cook Like a Man: A Memoir of Cookbook Obsession. Duane is a Bay Area surfer-dude and writer whose entry into the world of fatherhood inspired him to play adventurous chef to his wife and two daughters. He embraces haute cuisine like an ancient warrior, inspired mainly by cookbook author and restaurateur Alice Waters, who happened to be Duane’s preschool teacher many years before. Duane eventually encounters Waters again when she hires him as a writer, but that episode is tangential to his epic crusade through thousands of recipes over an eight-year period. Specific food preps are recounted in some detail, but what Duane does with, say, duck fat, turnips, wild truffles or a whole cow stashed in his freezer is secondary to his fanatical Zen-like food rap and its effects on those around him. The book’s unexpected highlight: the description of a simple egg dish Waters whips up for Duane on the fly—served with a glass of Domaine de Fontsainte rosé.

THREE OF GOLF’S GREATEST

Veteran golf writer James Dodson’s American Triumvirate: Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and the Modern Age of Golf blends social history with biography, focusing on the game’s somewhat shaky mid-20th-century status, when its growth was hampered by the Depression and World War II. Golf’s saviors emerge with Snead, Nelson and Hogan, each born in 1912 and all achieving superstar status, their lively competitions helping to sustain the game’s popularity and eventually spurring a postwar period of prosperity in which tournaments became more plentiful and the purses much larger. Dodson makes the case that this trio provided the historical bridge to the ever-more-prosperous eras of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. More so, his authoritative prose profiles three distinctly different individuals—the gentlemanly Nelson, the maverick Snead and the somewhat misunderstood Hogan—whose love of the game was complete and whose career paths were unavoidably intertwined.

LONG DISTANCE JOURNEY

Scott Jurek is an ultramarathoner whose exploits were profiled in the 2009 bestseller Born to Run. Now this amazing runner tells his own story in Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramara­thon Greatness. With co-writer Steve Friedman, Jurek charts his difficult early life in rural Minnesota, where his mother was ravaged by multiple sclerosis and family dynamics were always challenging. Yet somehow he soldiered on, finishing college, becoming a physical therapist and, most importantly, finding fulfillment as a runner. Achievement in “shorter” marathons led to success in more grueling races, chiefly the Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile trek that Jurek won seven straight times. While his personal story is inspiring, the book also focuses on Jurek’s transition to a completely vegan diet. Recipes are included, as are training tips for amateur runners who want to step up their game.

RIDING HIGH

Humorist Dan Zevin, a 40-something father of two, finds himself totally digging his new wheels in Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad. “Have I told you my minivan has a built-in DVD player?” he gushes, as he embarks on his Brooklyn-based “Mr. Mom” phase. That’s a term Zevin strenuously objects to, but when your wife’s a New York City publishing bigshot and you’re the one hiring nannies. . . . Anyway, Dan’s a modern guy and a very funny writer—so as he narrates the family trip to Disney World, relates his experiences learning tennis and the guitar, relives his court date when he’s cited for not cleaning up after his dog, etc., other dads (and moms) will find plenty of humor in his misadventures. Besides philosophizing on changing priorities and other midlife concerns, Dan also has some endearing moments with his own dad, and those passages are justification enough for this entertaining volume’s Father’s Day relevance.

SUPERHERO TRIVIA

Finally, we have Brian Cronin’s Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent?, which should prove a popular gift for anyone who ever curled up with a comic book. From Batman and Robin to Archie and Jughead, comic book characters have a unique pop history that spans generations. Superfan and blogger Cronin pays homage through dozens of entertaining lists of names (e.g., “Fifteen Alliterative Comic Book Names Created by Stan Lee”), storylines (e.g., “Five Most Iconic Panels in Marvel Comics History”), cultural impact (“Six Bob Dylan References in Comic Books”), TV and movie trivia (“Four Interesting Ways That Actors Lost Out on Superhero Roles”) and more. If it all sounds deliciously geeky, it is.

Fathers usually don’t expect much for Father’s Day—a simple hug is plenty. But you could also acknowledge dad with a gift book, which these days might span topics from engineering to sports to cooking. The following selection of new books has dad and his modern-day versatility covered. REACHING FOR THE SKY From the publisher of last […]
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Best-of collections and one-of-a-kind compilations are as abundant as twinkling lights this time of year, and we’ve rounded up a few of the best new volumes. Mysteries, poetry, witticisms, mythology and more—there’s something for all kinds of readers.

Whether writing about the intrusiveness of email or the futility of the war we all wage against aging, Nora Ephron infused her essays with a confidential tone—a comforting, we’re-all-in-this-together quality that made the reader feel select. Ephron, who died last year, was a writer of extraordinary range, a journalist, novelist and author of screenplays who also blogged regularly for The Huffington Post. Her many dimensions are generously represented in The Most of Nora Ephron, an expansive new collection that, once dipped into, quickly becomes addictive.

Along with choice cuts from her acclaimed collections I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing, the book includes Ephron’s best-selling novel, Heartburn; the never-before-published play Lucky Guy; and the complete screenplay of When Harry Met Sally. . . . What’s not to like about this terrific anthology? As a compassionate commentator on the absurdities of everyday experience, Ephron is unrivaled. To read her is to love her.

MERRY LITTLE MYSTERIES

Otto Penzler, the prime minister of crime fiction, delivers the goods once again with his latest anthology, a collection of holiday whodunits that’ll have you eyeing the department-store Santa with suspicion. The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries is the 12th discerningly curated collection from Penzler, who owns the Mysterious Bookshop in New York City.

The book features 60 Christmas capers, including a number of forgotten and hard-to-find chestnuts. Penzler has sorted the stories into clever categories—pulpy, scary, classic, uncanny . . . the list goes on (who knew that Christmas was such a prime time for crime?)—and the result is a well-rounded anthology that represents the many facets of the mystery genre. There are old-fashioned tales of Sherlockian sleuthing, dark noir dramas and unsettling yarns along the lines of A Christmas Carol. With contributions from Agatha Christie, Damon Runyon, Donald Westlake and Mary Higgins Clark, Penzler’s new compilation is a future classic. Can you crack these Christmas cases? We dare you to try.

THE CLASSICS + GRAPHICS

There’s no denying it: College skirmishes with the masterworks of modern literature left many of us permanently scarred. Fortunately, a corrective has arrived. An extraordinary anthology of art inspired by prime pieces of literature, The Graphic Canon, Vol. 3: From Heart of Darkness to Hemingway to Infinite Jest will make readers forget old grievances and contemplate the classics anew. 

This remarkable anthology—the third in a series created by visionary editor by Russ Kick—focuses on 20th-century literature and features art by more than 70 contributors. It contains graphic adaptations of both time-tested works (“The Waste Land,” Ulysses) and contemporary fare (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle). High points include Dame Darcy’s hallucinatory take on Blood Meridian: stark, black-and-white drawings that accurately capture the fever-dream quality of Cormac McCarthy’s classic; and selected scenes from Infinite Jest, a group of colorful, in-your-face outtakes by Benjamin Birdie that serve as teasers for David Foster Wallace’s monumental work. A heady trip through the land of high literature, this mad, inspired anthology is sure to lure new readers to the canon while arousing curiosity in those already acquainted with it. 

AN AMERICAN COLLECTION

The latest entry in the much-praised poetry series that started 25 years ago, The Best American Poetry 2013 is a can’t-go-wrong-with-this gift for the literature lover on your list. Guest editor Denise Duhamel, herself an acclaimed poet, chose 75 pieces for this powerful new collection, and many of them articulate unmistakably native mindsets. Stephen Dunn’s bull’s-eye observation that Americans “like to live in the glamour between exaltation and anxiety” is one of many revelatory moments in his poem “The Statue of Responsibility.”

Other selections evoke a distinct sense of place. Emma Trelles’ vivid “Florida Poem” describes the humid, overripe environment of her home state: “ Gardenias swell, / breathing is aquatic and travel / is a long drawl from bed to world.” War—perhaps unsurprisingly—is also a recurring theme in the book. Sherman Alexie’s chilling “Pachyderm” features a Vietnam veteran confined to a wheelchair that’s “alive with eagle feathers and beads and otter pelts” and who has lost a son in Iraq.

A contemporary chronicle of the American experience, this visionary collection also includes poems by Kim Addonizio, Billy Collins, Louise Glück, James Tate, Kevin Young and the late Adrienne Rich.

Here’s to another 25 years of amazing poetry!

ANCIENT STORIES REBORN

In the intriguing anthology xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Kevin Wilson and a host of other notable writers re-imagine timeless tales from around the world. Edited by Kate Bernheimer, the collection presents ingenious retellings of a wide range of archetypal narratives, from ancient coyote myths to the story of the Trojan Horse to the tale of Sinbad the Sailor.

Newly interpreted, these classic stories take on fresh resonance for the reader. In “Demeter,” Maile Meloy modernizes the well-known myth, setting it in present-day Montana and giving the heroine a pharmaceutical habit and an ex-husband named Hank. Joy Williams spins an unforgettable yarn from the perspective of Odysseus’ loyal dog in “Argos,” while Elizabeth McCracken updates the terrifying Greek tale of a child-eating demon in “Birdsong from the Radio.” This one-of-a-kind collection serves as a testament to the open-endedness and staying power of great stories—and also to the world’s enduring hunger for them.

Best-of collections and one-of-a-kind compilations are as abundant as twinkling lights this time of year, and we’ve rounded up a few of the best new volumes. Mysteries, poetry, witticisms, mythology and more—there’s something for all kinds of readers. Whether writing about the intrusiveness of email or the futility of the war we all wage against […]
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The 2013 holiday season brings a choice selection of gift books that appear tailor-made for basic male interests. Football? Comic books? Bikini-clad supermodels? Somebody’s dad, brother, husband or uncle is going to be very pleased this year.

The only gift item here devoid of pictures is The Book of Men: Eighty Writers on How to Be a Man. Curated by novelist Colum McCann, the editors of Esquire and Narrative 4—a literary nonprofit launched last spring—this collection features fairly offbeat, often unbelievably terse contributions that aim to shed light on male identity and behavior. Most of the writers are men—some well known, others not so much—but women are represented as well. The latter group includes Amy Bloom, who serves up a charming slice-of-life tale about a white man of modest means in romantic pursuit of a black jazz singer 20 years his junior. James Lee Burke, Salman Rushdie and former NYPD cop Edward Conlon are just a few of the many male contributors, with material touching on sexuality, war, ethics, race and the manly struggle for emotional growth.

FUNNY GUY

Photographer Matt Hoyle’s Comic Genius: Portraits of Funny People is one of the most appealing photo books in recent memory. After drawing up a wish list of his favorite comedians, Hoyle invited each of them to collaborate in a creative photo shoot that produced animated, often hilarious portraits. Ninety comedy icons are represented, including Steve Martin, Jim Carrey, Tina Fey, Mike Myers, Conan O’Brien, Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, Mindy Kaling, Kristen Wiig and Steve Carell, plus legendary vets like Don Rickles, Joan Rivers and Mel Brooks. There’s also a welcome shot of the late, great Jonathan Winters. Produced in close studio quarters, these portraits capture less about the comedians themselves and more about their individual comedic styles.

MY HERO

Any guy who’s been keeping an eye on the PBS series “Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle” will doubtless be enthralled by its companion volume, Superheroes! Capes, Cowls, and the Creation of Comic Book Culture. This rich history of the rise and development of the American comic book industry is written by NYU arts professor Laurence Maslon in collaboration with the documentary’s filmmaker, Michael Kantor. The book features interviews with the artists and writers responsible for conceiving and crafting comic books through the decades—especially in the popular superhero genre. Plus, there are hundreds of full-color illustrations that lead the reader through the Depression-era origins of the art form and on to its expanding pop culture importance. There’s also a good deal of material on how comic book art has changed with the times, reflecting war, social upheaval and shifting artistic tastes.

FOURTH AND GOAL

Produced under the auspices of the Library of Congress and with sharp text by writer Susan Reyburn, Football Nation: Four Hundred Years of America’s Game takes its place as an essential popular sports history. A surefire gift idea for that couch-potato football guy, this book deftly melds social history with a super-fan’s sensibility about great modern-day players and auspicious moments on the field. Coverage is comprehensive, from the sport’s nascent development in rural Colonial times, to its growth in colleges in the late 19th century, through its eventual explosion as a billion-dollar professional pursuit. The feast of archival material includes photos, drawings, reproduced magazine and newspaper excerpts, cartoons, advertising and more. This one should be under the Christmas tree just in time for the NFL playoffs.

MADE BY HAND

Even in our highly computerized modern world, there remains a deep respect for hands-on craftsmanship. With that in mind, photographer Tadd Myers set out for mostly rural outposts where dedicated men and women still rely on manual labor to achieve great things. The result is Portraits of the American Craftsman, a rare pictorial journey across America, with Myers visiting 30 small studios and workshops where handmade items such as hats, pipes, surfboards, knives, rifles, gun holsters, banjos, boots and brooms are lovingly produced by old-fashioned artisans. Small-town Texas and Vermont get paid multiple visits, as do Chicago and Nashville, and one surprising journey takes Myers to Colorado, where Billings Artworks metallurgy shop hand-renders each and every Grammy Award. Text by Eric Celeste provides background on these old-school industries and explains how the work is actually done.

COVER GIRLS

Finally, there is Sports Illustrated Swimsuit: 50 Years of Beautiful, a doorstopper of a volume that is loaded with personal testimony and historical narrative about Sports Illustrated’s famous swimsuit issues, as told by the editors, photographers and models who made it happen. It’s no surprise, however, that the engaging text is blown away by the gorgeously printed photos, which capture the moments when cover girls such as Cheryl Tiegs, Elle Macpherson and Heidi Klum moved from mere models to international icons. A subsection focuses on athletes as models (Danica Patrick, Lindsey Vonn), including husband-wife teams, notably golfer Phil Mickelson and his bikini-clad better half, Amy, in a charming 1998 shot that predates Phil’s rise as PGA great and the couple’s heroic, public battle with Amy’s breast cancer. The ladies emerge as timeless stunners, but so does this richly designed book, which celebrates glamour photography and SI’s commitment to doing it with class for half a century.

The 2013 holiday season brings a choice selection of gift books that appear tailor-made for basic male interests. Football? Comic books? Bikini-clad supermodels? Somebody’s dad, brother, husband or uncle is going to be very pleased this year. The only gift item here devoid of pictures is The Book of Men: Eighty Writers on How to […]

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