Clothing too personal? Jewelry too grand? Gym memberships too… judgmental? Books are the perfect gift for those infuriatingly picky souls who are impossible to shop for; you may not be able to count on their good taste, but you can always impress them with yours. So whether your giftee’s obsessions run to Brazilian drag queens, The Sopranos, or the very best in food porn, here are our picks for the season’s most present-able readings.
HOLLYWOOD CANDID: A PHOTOGRAPHER REMEMBERS
Murray Garrett, with an introductory note by Bob Hope
Filled with gossipy asides (”Richard Burton and Mike Todd were the only men Elizabeth Taylor married whom she truly respected”), the veteran celeb photog captures old Hollywood in telling moments rare in today’s publicist-manipulated age.
THE SOPRANOS: A FAMILY HISTORY
Fans of the hit show will love this collection of cast interviews, character profiles, and episode guides. But true addicts will gobble up trivia like surveillance transcripts doctored with black marker, Anthony Jr.’s school psychologist’s evaluation, and a college recommendation letter for Meadow Soprano that touts her ”very good family.”
NEW YORK FRIARS CLUB BOOK OF ROASTS
Barry Dougherty, foreword by Alan King
Roast-joke writer for nearly a decade, Dougherty turns the raunchiest, most brutal zingers into a literary laugh-fest in this year-by-year summary (from Clyde Fitch in 1907 to Jerry Stiller in 1999) of the infamous club’s roasts and dinners honoring comedy’s best.
Germano Celant and Harold Koda with Susan Cross and Carole Vail
This lavish tie-in — featuring Samuel L. Jackson, Richard Gere, and countless supermodels in the designer’s minimalist creations — will be in every self-respecting fashionista’s canon long after the current Armani retrospective at New York’s Guggenheim Museum ends.
Vivienne Tam with Martha Huang
Model Kimora Lee Simmons may have pronounced it ”China Chick” at a recent fashion show, but no matter: This crimson-themed style guide engagingly melds the history of cutting-edge Eastern culture with designer Tam’s own life journey.
LINGERIE: A LEXICON OF STYLE
Corsets and fishnets and G-strings — oh, my! Supporting garments take center stage in this cheeky ode to underwear. Filled with both factual and visual tidbits (including every variation on ”knickers”), this compilation is as sartorially enlightening as it is entertaining.
Whether it’s a shot of a kneeling wrangler with ”Jesus Saves” emblazoned on his spurs, or a desolate cabin whose sparseness is interrupted by a bottle of commercial dishwashing liquid, the dusty details of life in the rural Southwest by Markus (an EW contributor) make Madonna’s latest incarnation look about as authentic as vinyl cowboy boots.
EIKO ON STAGE
Eiko Ishioka, with an essay by Francis Ford Coppola
With credits that include the astonishing costume designs for The Cell, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and M. Butterfly, Ishioka is a master at mixing an East-West aesthetic with bold presentation. And while this compilation delves into the stories behind her works, the photos are stunning on their own.
SIMPLE TO SPECTACULAR
Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman
It’s a yummy idea: Using a central recipe, four-star chef Vongerichten and The New York Times‘ ”The Minimalist” columnist Bittman team up to provide recipes and techniques for preparing various items with four escalating degrees of complexity (e.g., tuna tartare evolves into tuna spring rolls with soybean coulis).
HOT SOUR SALTY SWEET
Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
Travel, photography, and culinary cohorts Alford and Duguid supplement their rich recipe collection (featuring everything from nuoc cham to jungle curry) with personal anecdotes and an understanding of Southeast Asian cultures gleaned from their travels along the Mekong River.
Nan Kempner, photographs by Quentin Bacon
Perennial hostess with the mostest Kempner serves up menus she’s collected from a few of her well-connected friends. But don’t expect homey soup-mix recipes lifted from splattered index cards — these are strictly elegant meals (created, for the most part, by her cronies’ personal chefs).
JULIA’S KITCHEN WISDOM
Julia Child with David Nussbaum
Not sure how to flip an omelette? Puzzled by the difference between poached and shirred eggs? Still don’t know what the hell to do with that artichoke? Get the final foodie answers from the master herself.
THE NAKED CHEF
You won’t find any shots of the British culinary hottie au naturel here, but Oliver — who espouses a ”strip it bare, then make it work” cooking philosophy — showcases his streamlined style in recipes for cream tarts, spicy couscous, and farfalle with artichokes.
Written and illustrated by Ian Falconer
The charming story of a culturally astute, hyperactive piglet who throws herself into sand-castle building and museum gawking with equal aplomb is paired perfectly with clever illustrations by veteran New Yorker illustrator and set/costume designer Falconer.
THE WAY THINGS WORK KIT
David Macaulay, models by David Eckold
A companion to Macaulay’s best-selling The Way Things Work, this rainy-day must-have (not to mention parent-sanity saver) is filled with enough strings, sticks, gears, and gadgets to illustrate the scientific principles behind everything from a pinball machine to a land yacht.
LITTLE LIT: FOLKLORE & FAIRY TALE FUNNIES
Edited by Art Spiegelman & Francoise Mouly
Literary pedigrees and visual artistry (from the likes of Chris Ware and Walt Kelly) combine in this witty compendium of classic tales in comic-book form (in The Princess and the Pea, royals wonder if the prince is a commitment-phobe; the Humpty Dumpty denouement includes a glue gun).
THE COMPLETE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA
Celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobeand let the kids on your gift list know that there was life before J.K. Rowling, with this seven-book gift edition featuring recolored art (by original illustrator Pauline Baynes).
Frances Mayes with Edward Mayes, photographs by Bob Krist
For the wanderlust-dusted fans of Frances Mayes’ best-selling travelogues Under the Tuscan Sunand Bella Tuscany, here’s a sun-drenched photo gallery of the Mayes’ years in Cortona. Under such headings as baci (kisses) and la festa (celebration), luscious recipes interspersed with images capture the slow, sweet life in Italy.
Christopher Pillitz, text by Paul Theroux, preface by Caetano Veloso
Argentinean-born photographer Pillitz extracts the hedonistic essence of the beach scene in the land of coffee, carnivale, and catwalkers. In black-and-white shots of everyone from cruising teens to primping cross-dressers, he illuminates a locale that is, in Theroux’s words, ”reeking with pheromones.”
CAPTAIN CORELLI’S ISLAND: CEPHALLONIA
Andy Harris, photographs by Terry Harris
Check out the historic Greek island of Cephallonia — where bouzouki bars and nightclubs coexist with oleander bushes and rock tombs. And while you’re at it, don’t miss the wonderful novel that started the obsession, Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres, the basis for next year’s movie starring Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz.
From close-ups of rubbery, fluorescent orange frogs frozen in midair to stunning vistas of a sun-splashed lake at dawn, star nature photographer and conservationist Lanting trains his creature-loving lenses on the wilds of such places as Hawaii, Madagascar, and Costa Rica. Don’t miss the shot of a macaque infant that bears a striking resemblance to Ben Stiller.
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS: PLAYS 1937-1955; TENNESSEE WILLIAMS: PLAYS 1957-1980
Edited by Mel Gussow and Kenneth Holditch
This two-volume edition features the complete texts of the playwright’s works (from A Streetcar Named Desireand Cat on a Hot Tin Roofto The Mutilated and Orpheus Descending) — as well as essays and cast lists from many of the original stage productions.
A LIFE IN THE 20TH CENTURY: INNOCENT BEGINNINGS, 1917-1950
Arthur M. Schlesinger
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Schlesinger offers not only the memoirs of his first 30-odd years but a fascinating account of America’s social and political culture at the time — complete with insider portraits of the Roosevelts and ”Wild Bill” Donovan.
REFLECTIONS IN BLACK
Chronicling African-American life from 1840 to the present — and featuring more than 100 previously unpublished images — this first comprehensive history of black photographers includes shots of Muhammad Ali, Amiri Baraka, Miles Davis, and Dinah Washington.
THE POSTCARD CENTURY: 2000 CARDS AND THEIR MESSAGES
Featuring every imaginable image from Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis (1927) to brightly thonged beachgoers (1990), this collection of postcards from the past century includes fascinating transcripts of the personal messages written on each dispatch.