Today, I want to highlight some new gorgeous and thoughtful gift books that will provide hours of delight.
Sacred Places of a Lifetime: 500 of the World's Most Peaceful and Powerful Destinations by National Geographic. This is for fans of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love and a wonderful companion to last year's Journeys of a Lifetime. This is definitely not just for the religious - it's full of places where you can commune with nature, find a serenity for the soul or just marvel at the incredible architectural beauty of a cathedral or the stillness of a temple. The photography is absolutely stunning! I feel a calmness just turning the pages. Scattered throughout the book are global top 10 lists such as the Top 10 war memorials, or Top 10 Stained Glass Windows or Top 10 Sacred Mountains (opposite a gorgeous photo of Mt. Fuji - a perfect segue into my next pick).
Annie Leibovitz at Work. Her work is iconic and in this book, she writes about the inspirations and the techniques behind her photos, whether she's shooting Hollywood stars, politicians, nudes or the Queen of England. This isn't just a coffee table book with photos, nor a memoir. But for anyone interested in photography or Leibovitz herself, it's an invaluable look into her craft. I love the quote that is part of the jacket:
The first thing I did with my very first camera was climb Mt. Fuji. Climbing Mt. Fuji is a lesson in determination and moderation. It would be fair to ask if I took the moderation part to heart. But it certainly was a lesson in respecting your camera. If I was going to live with this thing, I was going to have to think about what that meant. There weren't going to be any pictures without it.
Odysseys and Photographs: Four National Geographic Field Men by Leah Bendavid-Val, Gilbert M. Grosvenor, Mark Collins Jenkins and Viola Kiesinger Wentzel.
Keeping on the topic of photography, this beautiful coffee table book is almost a chronicle of 20th century photography as seen through the profiles of four men who worked for National Geographic, starting with the black and white photography of Maynard Owen Williams who, "literally invented the personality of the National Geographic field man" and during the first half of the 20the century shot everything from tribal life in Greenland to giant Afghan Buddhas. If you have a budding or avid photographer on your list - do check out the National Geographic Photography Field Guides which are terrific reference books, filled with great tips for improving your shots. Each focuses on a different style of photography and is for use with digital and traditional cameras.
For the birders on your list, there is also a guide to Photographing Birds.
Shakespeare and Modern Culture by Marjorie Garber
A new take on Shakespeare - Garber looks at ten plays and how they have influenced 20th century culture, "from James Joyce's Ulysses to George W. Bush's reading list". (He had a reading list????) Full of pop culture photos and interesting juxtapositions of historical moments against contemporary stagings of Shakespeare's plays.
And finally, if Shakespeare is too cerebral, there's Bat-Manga: The Secret History of Batman in Japan by Chip Kidd. I'm not a manga or comic book fan at all, but even I think this book is quite cool. This is the first appearance in English translation of a series of strips from 1966 that took the Batman story and developed it for a Japanese audience. The stories were written and drawn by manga master Jiro Kuwata and while the characters of Batman and Robin are clearly identifiable, the storylines and the whole look of the strips are different and quite fascinating. Like a manga book, it's read from the back to the front and the collection includes lots of photographs of Japanese Batman toys and collectibles. A really great gift idea for a comic-crazed teen or that thirty year old friend still living in his parent's basement.
And another suggestion for a graphic work that will appeal to all ages - check out Australian Shaun Tan's Tales from Outer Suburbia. It's a collection of short, short stories that are all uniquely illustrated (the stories continue in the artwork) and it's quirky, very funny and utterly original. Kids will read it on one level, adults on another but both will equally enjoy it.