This is the year of crafts. Unless it's the year of California wine. Or the year of celebrity photography, baseball nostalgia or the book made into a movie made into a book about the making of the movie.
A case could be made for any of those titles, from the looks of this year's gift books -- those lavish, expensive tomes so easily wrapped and beribboned and placed under the tree en route to the coffee table. Here are some that caught our eye from the tonnage published in time for the holidays.
"An Autobiography," by Richard Avedon (Random House, unnumbered pages, $100): Sometimes it seems that only the preternaturally beautiful -- Rudolf Nureyev, Cyd Charisse in motion -- manage to transcend the harsh, no-holds-barred style of this acclaimed photographer. But these celebrity photographs can be intriguing, often for the grotesque amount of sharp-focus detail -- just about every one of Jacques-Yves Cousteau's teeth can be examined; the wrinkles on the Duchess of Windsor's neck can be counted and labeled. But while it seems acceptable to inspect public figures in this way, when Mr. Avedon turns his camera on the anonymous -- inmates of a state hospital, the dead of the Italian catacombs -- somehow it turns just creepy.
"Neighbors," by Archie Lieberman (Collins, 160 pages, $40): This longtime photojournalist -- Archie Lieberman has been printed in Look, Life and elsewhere -- took an assignment in Scales Mound, Ill., in 1954 and eventually returned to live there. In affectionate, black-and-white photographs, he chronicles his neighbors, their picnics, their proms, their love of their land.
"Moments," by Roxanne Lowit (Vendome Press, unnumbered, $45): In Roxanne Lowit's world, there is uptown, with the Blaines and the Ivanas and all their ballet galas. There is downtown, with drag queens such as our own Divine -- with chum John Waters -- and other oh-so-outre spectacles. And there is Paris, with the fashion folk and their groupies. It's all here, in black and white, fascinating to those of us never invited to such fabulous happenings, accompanied by bons mots from those who always are: Fran Leibowitz, Sandra Bernhard, Karl Lagerfeld, etc.
"The Face of Mercy: A Photographic History of Medicine at War," (Random House, 272 pages, $40): This is an unblinking look at the personal ravages of war. In addition to battlefield photographs, there are heartbreaking pictures of amputees in physical therapy, the "Ruined Faces Club" of World War I veterans and arrowshot victims of the Civil War.
"Ansel Adams in Color," (Little, Brown, 132 pages, $50): The question here is: why? Ansel Adams so mastered the crystalline beauty of black-and-white landscapes that these photographs seem as sacrilegious as a colorized print of "Casablanca." The photographs are as perfectly detailed and as flawlessly composed as his more familiar black-and-white masterpieces -- perhaps it will just take time to get used to them.
"Icons: Creativity with Camera and Computer," by Douglas Kirkland (Collins, 96 pages, $27.95): In a sort of updated version of hand-tinting, Douglas Kirkland has scanned his own celebrity photographs into a computer, then digitally colored and modified them. Some are quite interesting -- Marilyn Monroe gets a gentle, pastel-dreamy treatment -- and others are just Warhol plugged in.
"Native Nations: First Americans," as seen by Edward S. Curtis (Bulfinch Press, 160 pages, $60): In what the publishers are calling "the book equivalent of high-definition television," this volume takes nearly hundred-year-old photogravures and scans, separates and reprints them. The results are warm, sepia-toned and quite beautiful; we think Curtis would be pleased. He spent 30 years of his life chronicling the Indians (at the expense of his health, finances and marriage) and produced a 20-volume work of photos and text plus 20 supplementary portfolios of larger plates.
"The Complete Lyrics of Ira Gershwin," edited by Robert Kimball (Knopf, 414 pages, $45): This volume has not just the famed "I Got Rhythm," "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" and "It Ain't Necessarily So" but also some obscure yet delicious lyrics that never quite made it to Broadway -- such as: "He's Oversexed!" featuring famed shrinks (the Viennese Sextet!) singing: "He's oversexed!/He's undersexed!/He hasn't any sex at all!/This sort of thing commences/When children scribble on fences!"
"The Variety History of Show Business," by the editors of Variety (Abrams, 224 pages, $39.95): There's no biz like covering show biz. And Variety has covered it all -- from hit flix to hick pix (the ones the sticks nixed). This retrospective of the colorfully written industry bible begins in 1913, when Cecil B. DeMille nearly single-handedly moves the film world from New York to then-unpaved Hollywood and ends 40 chapters later in 1992 with Johnny Carson's retiring. In between, you get Variety's take on major entertainment trends -- the Britification of Broadway, the political power of television (starting with the Kennedy-Nixon debates), the rise of the Hollywood agent.
"The Ziegfeld Touch," by Richard and Paulette Ziegfeld (Abrams, 352 pages, $49.50): Written by cousins of the great Florenz, this book traces the on- and off-stage exploits of this showiest of showmen. Oddly, though, the book fails to reproduce some of his most extravagant scenes in big enough display -- Ziegfeld's lavish scenes of human wedding cakes tiered with beautiful girls, endless spirals of dancing chorines and line upon line of top-hatted dandies scream out for double-trucks, fold-outs and other giant mediums. Still, the book has lovely reprints of program, sheet music and magazine covers -- I love that Vargas rendition of the "Follies Girl" and sketches of costumes and sets for "Show Boat" and other productions.
"The Who's Tommy: The Musical," by Pete Townshend (Pantheon, 176 pages, $40): An extended program with a CD of "I Believe My Own Eyes," this book chronicles "Tommy" from hit rock album to Tony Award-winning Broadway show -- in a quarter-century. No, it didn't die before it got old. The book contains the full libretto and lyrics, plus on-stage and behind-the-scenes photographs and text that includes the New York Times' morning-after rave review of opening night.
"Sondheim," by Martin Gottfried (Abrams, 192 pages, $49.50): Learn how Stephen Sondheim originally wrote the verse "Gee, Officer Krupke! Krup you!" in "West Side Story." After writing lyrics for others -- such as for Jule Styne's "Gypsy" -- Mr. Sondheim struck out on his own with such shows as "Follies," "A Little Night Music," "Sweeney Todd" and "Sunday in the Park With George." Befitting his origins, this book is heavier on text than photos.
"The Age of Innocence: A Portrait of the Film Based on the Novel By Edith Wharton," Martin Scorsese and Jay Cocks (Newmarket Press, 190 pages, $49.50): It has become standard in recent years for movie directors to release "making of" books. "The Age of Innocence" is a natural for this treatment -- it's a way of getting some more mileage out of movie stills featuring the exquisitely beautiful stars (Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder) and mixing in some archival antecedents -- paintings by James Tissot, suffocatingly furnished rooms, an 1857 recipe for roasting a canvas-back duck, etc.
"George Balanchine's The Nutcracker," by Joel Meyerowitz (Little, Brown, unnumbered pages, $29.95): This most fleet-footed of ballet companies, the New York City Ballet, can often make you wish for an instant replay -- so here it is. Great photos of the company dancers but, as in the movie, too too much of Macauley Culkin.
"Gettysburg," by Mort Kunstler and James M. McPherson (Turner Publishing, 128 pages, $24.95): Painting in a true-to-the-era style, Mr. Kunstler takes us from Lee riding north near Hagerstown on June 26, 1863, all the way to Lincoln's delivery of the Gettysburg Address about five months later.
For more, check out "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: The Civil War in Art," by Harold Holzer and Mark E. Neely Jr. (Orion, 336 pages, $60). Landscapes, seascapes, battles, funerals, escaping slaves, official portraits and the homefront are captured by artists who chronicled this war. The paintings are nicely reproduced.
"The Disney Villain," by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas (Hyperion, 232 pages, $45): Who says Disney is all sweetness and light? From Cruella De Vil (of "101 Dalmations") to Ursula ("The Little Mermaid"), some of the best Disney characters have also been some of the baddest. This is a terrific behind-the-scenes look at how the bad guys were created from the earliest sketches on to their final incarnation. The authors are two of the original "Nine Old Men" who worked with Walt himself. Great hologram of the beautifully wicked (or is she wickedly beautiful?) queen in "Snow White" on the dust jacket.
"The Wedding Dress," by Maria McBride (of course!) (Random House, 160 pages, $40): I've always thought of bridal magazines as the female version of pornography -- its only competition for illicit pleasures is anything by Martha Stewart. Now here's a hardbound volume devoted in fetishistic delight to The Wedding Dress. There's lip service paid to such weighty topics as the history of the wedding dress and the different shades of white (!), but that's dispensed-with quickly to get to the good stuff -- pictures of incredibly beautiful women in incredibly beautiful dresses.
"A History of Men's Fashion," by Farid Chenoune (Flammarion, 336 pages, $75): From Beau Brummel to today's rappers, men's fashion has not been the slow-to-change thing that it may seem, at least in comparison to women's fashion. Dandies and fops, bikers (the French call them "the blouson noir crowd") and zoot-suiters all get the full, academic treatment here. Academic? Yes. "The Philosophy of the Sweater" is one subheading.
"Exteriors," by Inger McCabe Elliott (Clarkson Potter, 168 pages, $40): Red barns. Pink art deco hotels. Silver mobile homes. If the interior design of your home is how you portray yourself to friends and family, then the exterior is your message to even passing strangers. Inger Elliott, a photojournalist and designer, nicely composes shots of both rural and urban homes and makes even crumbling windowsills and fire escapes look like intentional design.
"Living in a Dream," (Simon & Schuster, 180 pages, $60): Floor plans, elevations, cutaways, illustrations and photographs -- it's what you'd want to see from an architect building you a dream house, right? This book offers that and more for 12 of the most prime real estate in the world -- palaces and castles such as Versailles, Neuschwanstein, Alhambra and Peterhof. You could spend hours in fantasyland with this highly detailed book. The text is by 12 writers, including Pico Iyer (he did the Potala, the "Vatican" for Tibetan Buddhists) and Jan Morris (Windsor Castle).
"Joan Miro," by Carolyn Lanchner (Museum of Modern Art, 484 pages, $65): The year's blockbuster was the Joan Miro exhibit at the Modern. The often whimsical surrealist's paintings, sculptures, "painting-poems" and other artworks get the full, sweeping treatment in this volume. The ones you know -- the Constellation Series, the various Personages -- are here, as are lesser-known works that will surprise you if you think Miro is all thin squiggly lines over Colorforms.
"The Unknown Modigliani," by Noel Alexandre (Abrams, 464 pages, $75; $95 after Jan. 1): Unknown indeed -- these 450 drawings have never been published or exhibited. They are from the collection of the author's late father, Paul, a physician in France who was Modigliani's closest friend and only patron when the artist arrived in Paris in 1906. In addition to the drawings -- the nudes are particularly captivating -- there are letters and other personal memorabilia.
"American Self-Taught: Paintings and Drawings by Outsider Artists," by Frank Maresca and Roger Ricco (Knopf, 298 pages, $75): Finally -- an art book with an attitude! After so many pretty, precious volumes of the usual suspects, this book is refreshing with its works by unknowns -- a janitor, a convict and a street preacher among them -- most of whom choose brilliant colors and non-academic techniques. You'll probably find the next Grandma Moses on these pages. Lanford Wilson wrote the brash foreword.
"Camille Pissarro," by Joachim Pissarro (Abrams, 310 pages, $75): If you, like gift-book publishers, can't get enough of those impressionists, this volume by Pissarro's great-grandson is a nice addition to the more common Monet and Degas reprints. While his counterparts often celebrated the cafe society of Paris, Pissarro seemed more drawn to the peasantry of the countryside.
"That's the Way I See It," by David Hockney (Chronicle Books, 248 pages, $35): He paints. He speaks. This colorful -- in more ways than one -- artist has splashed his art in numerous media from painting to printmaking to stage design to, yes, faxing. The book reprints about 300 of his innovative works as well as his conversations over five years with editor Nikos Stangos.
"Pre-Columbian Art and the Post-Columbian World," by Barbara Braun (Abrams, 340 pages, $75): This book nicely pairs works by late 19th- and 20th-century artists -- Paul Gauguin, Henry Moore, Frank Lloyd Wright, Diego Rivera and Joaquin Torres-Garcia -- with pre-Columbian antecedents such as Mayan temples and Aztec imagery. It makes its case well, to the point that after a while it's hard to pick which of the works (often pictured side by side) came first.
"A History of African-American Artists," by Romare Bearden and Harry Henderson (Pantheon, 542 pages, $65): From accomplished Baltimore portraitist Joshua Johnston in the late 1700s, on to current artists such as sculptor Ed Wilson (represented locally with pieces at Lake Clifton and Douglass high schools), this book examines a wildly divergent group of artists whose only unifying characteristic is their race. There's a Hudson River school painter, one who experimented in cubism and others who represent just about every art trend in the last 200 years. The well-researched, well-written text is by the late Romare Bearden, an artist of note who died in 1988, and Harry Henderson, a writer who has collaborated with the artist in the past.
"The Art Pack," by Christopher Frayling, Helen Frayling and Ron Van Der Meer (Knopf, unpaged, $45): Who says art books have to be two dimensional? This hands-on "book" features pop-ups and cutouts and overlays and all sorts of other gewgaws designed to help you understand -- and play with -- everything from Calder mobiles to the "Golden Section" principle on which the Parthenon is based. Complete with other shortcuts to becoming art-aware, including a cassette, time line and flash cards of "Twenty Great Pictures" (from "The Book of Kells" to Francis Bacon's "Head VI").
"America's Traditional Crafts," by Robert Shaw (Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, 320 pages, $75/$95 after Jan. 1): If there's any remaining doubt about the art of crafts, this book should dispel it. The book celebrates the accidental beauty of everyday tools, furniture, textiles and other uniquely American folk art, including Shaker furnishings, cowboy boots, the modern-before-modernity Amish quilts and our own duck decoys.
"Women's Work: Textile Art From the Bauhaus," by Sigrid Wortmann Weltge (Chronicle Books, 208 pages, $40): It's the macho architects like Mies van der Rohe who tend to get all the attention when it comes to the Bauhaus, that remarkable design collective that flowered in Germany from 1919 to 1933, when the Nazis forced the progressive school to close. This volume highlights the often ignored contributions of craftswomen who, although trained in other artistic disciplines, were automatically shunted over into textiles because that was considered "women's work." Their work proved to be as forward-looking and influential in modern design as their more famous brothers' buildings and furniture.
"The Ideal Home: The History of Twentieth-Century American Craft, 1900-1920," edited by Janet Kardon (Abrams, 304 pages, $49.50): The first of a planned multivolume survey by the American Craft Museum, this nicely illustrated book looks at the currently in-vogue Arts and Crafts movement. Photographs and illustrations of Stickley furniture, Tiffany glass, Frank Lloyd Wright homes and furnishings and other lesser-known hallmarks this movement devoted to a reverence for material and craftsmanship are interspersed with essays by scholars in the field. There's also an extensive resource list -- of schools, communities, producers and presses -- with an Arts and Crafts focus.
"Look at the Land: Aerial Reflections on America," by Alex MacLean (Rizzoli, 176 pages, $50): Taking a long view that turns many of the scenes into almost abstract art, this hauntingly beautiful book shows us both the ravages of pollution (industrial smokestacks) and the enduring splendor (autumnal Vermont) of this land. You might have seen some of these photographs earlier this year in the New York Times' Magazine.
"Okavango: Africa's Last Eden," by Frans Lanting (Chronicle Books, 168 pages, $45): This wetland in Botswana is home to a wondrous array of wildlife, captured in breathtaking photographs a regular contributor to National Geographic. Cheetahs and flamingos, impalas and zebras and, of course, elephants unwittingly array themselves against golden backdrops of their homeland for Lanting. The book ends with a plea for conservation that will have you pulling out your checkbook.
"Chesapeake Bay Schooners," by Quentin Snediker and Ann Jensen (Tidewater Publishers, 252 pages, $44.95): This may not be the prettiest book around -- don't look for color photographs -- but it's an exhaustive history of this uniquely American vessel. A fascinating look at the lost maritime history of our parts -- the ahead-of-their time Baltimore clippers (now that's what we could have named our football team), the long-lost shipbuilding culture of Fells Point and, finally, the diminished commercial importance of the lyrical schooners in favor of the less elegant yet more efficient freighters and barges and trucks.
"Chesapeake, the Eastern Shore: Gardens and Houses," by Taylor Lewis and Catherine Fallin (Simon & Schuster, 278 pages, $45): Yes, the water is beautiful, but so are the inland areas and even their interiors. Ah, to live at "The Reward" -- which got its name from a 1668 land grant Lord Baltimore made to two surveyors as payment for their services -- with its formal gardens, topiaries and English herb garden. Or the wildflower-carpeted property on Langford Creek. Or amid the black Welsh mountain sheep and fallow deer at lushly planted Wye Heights. Or . . . heck, we're not picky, we'd take any of these homes.
"The Brigade in Review: A Year at the U.S. Naval Academy," by Robert Stewart (Naval Institute Press, 122 pages, $39.95): This has the gloss of authorized biography, which of course it is -- how else do you get to spend a year at the Naval Academy without having to do all those push-ups? Still, the photos capture the poignancy of plebe summer, the surprising beauty of military precision, and the guts and the glory of scrambling up the lard-smeared Herndon monument to mark Commissioning Week.
"Way Out West," by Jane and Michael Stern (HarperCollins, 400 pages, $35): The first couple of kitsch go west and find themselves right at home among the chili parlors, buried Cadillacs and, uh, oysters of the frontier. A fun trip through the fashions (monster belt buckles and, of course, totally cool boots) and fantasies and critters and cowboys of this most mythic part of America. Complete with recipes for chili and chicken-fried steak, sources for duding up Western-style and directions to roadside attractions. (Next time we're in the area, we're goin' to Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kan., to see creator S. P. Dinsmoorin and his walk-through mausoleum.)
"The South: A Treasury of Art and Literature," edited by Lisa Howorth (Hugh Lauter Levin, 384 pages, $75): No corn-pone humor here. This is an entirely serious look at the South -- from the more predictable reprints of Faulkner and Carson McCullers to the less expected vantage points of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Red Barber. There's a nice and more than token number of contributions from Southern blacks sprinkled throughout the ages from Frederick Douglass to Alice Walker.
"Wine Atlas of California," by James Halliday (Viking, 400 pages, $50) and "The Wine Atlas of California and the Pacific Northwest," by Bob Thompson (Simon & Schuster, 240 pages, $45): From panoramic vistas of grapefields to the miniature artwork of the labels, wine offers a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. It's too bad these books came out in the same season, for it's tough to pick a favorite. (If the New York Times' wine guy, Frank Prial, can't choose between the two -- and he wrote the intro to James Halliday's book -- don't expect me to!)
Each can be called a beauty with a brain: Each offers a wealth of information on the various regions and the individual vineyards within each. Mr. Halliday, by focusing only on California and writing a longer book, goes more in-depth. Mr. Thompson includes Oregon and Washington, and lists hotels and other helpful hints for travelers.
"Golf Resorts of the World," by Brian McCallen (Abrams, 304 pages, $45): With stunning photographs by Mike Klemme, this book of Golf magazine's gold- and silver-medalist courses could turn any golf widow or widower into a willing accomplice. In addition to tips from the pros on the courses, there is information on the resorts, restaurants and possible side trips for those who want more than dawn-to-dusk golfing on their vacation.
"Baseball's Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon," by Neal McCabe and Constance MacCabe (Abrams, 198 pages, $29.95): Early in the century, sports photography mostly involved posing a ballplayer in a lifeless pose, often against a studio backdrop. Then Conlon, a newspaper proofreader and amateur shutterbug, began shooting actual baseball games in 1904, capturing such stars as Christy Mathewson in windup, Shoeless Joe Jackson with his Black Betsy bat and, of course, the Babe, swinging, following through and tipping his head skyward to watch another one go over the fences. Even Conlon's posed shots -- he preferred Lou Gehrig that way -- and his close-ups of faces and broken-fingered hands tell a story.
"Baseball Archaeology: Artifacts From the Great American Pastime," by Bret Wills (Chronicle Books, 112 pages, $29.95): Since hardly anyone can afford the ever-skyrocketing price tags on sports memorabilia, this may be as close as you get to such treasures as Brooks Robinson's glove, Mickey Mantle's jersey and the turnstile to the Polo Grounds. Some items photographed are on display in Cooperstown; others are from private collections.