Big Books

Colorful coffee table books are popular Christmas gift

Maybe printed books are going out of style. Maybe they’re on a long slippery slope that ends in oblivion. Odds are, however, that a lot of printed books will end up wearing a bow under a Christmas tree this season. Big splashy coffee table books featuring art, history or travel are special favorites with gift givers. And many books will be given not under the tree but in the recipient’s inbox.

With the rise of e-books and e-reader devices, you can sit at home and send a book to someone in a distant state, said Patricia Kisamore, assistant store manager at Barnes & Noble Perkins Rowe.

“It’s super simple. All you need is an email address,” she said.

Kisamore said it’s possible to browse the company’s website and give a book there when you electronically check out, or you can go in to the brick and mortar store and send an ebook from there. All you need is the recipient’s email address. Once the transaction is complete online, the recipient will get an email with instructions on how to download their gift to an e-reader or computer. Other online booksellers operate in the same fashion.

The process facilitates shopping in your pajamas, and it allows the procrastinator to send a gift at the very last minute since the transaction is almost instantaneous.

As easy as electronic shopping is, photography books and big format history books don’t lend themselves to the e-book format as readily as novels and children’s books. There are many excellent children’s books available in e-book form. If your child has an e-reader or iPhone or computer, they can read a book on their device.

Whatever format you choose, the first step is to select the book you want. With so many titles, that can be daunting online or in the store, so The Advocate reviewers have put together a few recommendations for coffee table books — some Louisiana titles are just wonderful this year — as well as some good choices for children.

Coffee Table Books

BAYOU PIGEON, LOUISIANA

SPIRIT OF THE ATCHAFALAYA

By Cliff “Chachie” Lagrange, Adam J. Landry, Geraldine “Cherry” Settoon, James J. “Jimmy” Landry and Patricia Landry Settoon

Illustrated by Stan Routh

Clifford Lagrange, $69.95

“Whereas one day, sometime between 1812 and 1815, Maxfield Ludlow paddled by a ‘live oak’ ridge on an unnamed bayou in a great foreboding swamp. He observed thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of passenger pigeons feeding and roosting in the live oak trees. ‘What is this place?’ he asked. Either a local French trapper or Native American traveling with his group replied, ‘Pigeon Bayou!’ Maxfield Ludlow’s map is the first known documentation of Pigeon Bayou on a map,” the book’s introduction reads. That’s the first taste of the kind of legend and lore the authors mix with standard history to cook up this entertaining book.

This Louisiana Bicentennial special edition is a huge book about the little place in Iberville Parish that is now called Bayou Pigeon. The book is 12 3⁄8 by 9 ¼ inches and runs to nearly 700 pages. It’s printed on high quality paper and is filled with photos, color and black-and-white, color maps, wonderful architectural-style renderings from Routh, page after page of history and stories of the people who settled this corner of the Atchafalaya Basin. Not one facet of life in Bayou Pigeon is overlooked. There’s religion, the military, law enforcement, schools and educators, officials and the ordinary people whose genius made Bayou Pigeon such an extraordinary place. It’s a bit pricey for a book, but well within the range of a good Christmas present. Anyone who loves Louisiana history will enjoy this book. If you’re from Iberville or any of the surrounding parishes, you’ll especially enjoy this thorough treatment of Bayou Pigeon’s history.

Greg Langley

GRAND COTEAU

Photographs by John Slaughter

University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, $49.50

Grand Coteau is peppered with historic buildings. Hardly more than three or four streets wide and not much longer, Grand Coteau has, in the words of resident Patrice Melnick who penned the introduction this book, “over seventy buildings included on the National Register of Historic Places.” Slaughter knows that but also notes, “Grand Coteau is not Williamsburg. It’s a lived-in town.” In assembling this photography collection, Slaughter draws on a portfolio from 35 years of his own time living in Grand Coteau. Most of the photos are color — transcendent scenes of some of the town’s 10 Catholic institutions, including St. Charles Jesuit College, St. Charles Borromeo Church, Our Lady of Oaks Retreat House and the Academy of the Sacred Heart. There are oak alleys, yes, but there is also a photo of Louise Eugenia Bellemin sitting behind the counter of the family grocery store, crocheting. There’s the simple weathered and rustic beauty of the Foraz House, with its symmetric porch dotted with potted plants. Slaughter’s camera finds a house fire, hurricane damage, a Mass in progress, a rare snowy day, tons of azaleas and other flowers, the sun bonneted Mary Louise Charles and her enigmatic smile, a solitary walker under the oaks, artists (there are many) at work, law officers keeping a wary eye and retreatants walking the Way of the Cross.

All of these photos are printed on fine quality paper, perfectly reproduced. The book is 12¼ inches by 11¼ inches. It’s a visual delight and an especially good gift for lovers of Louisiana.

Greg Langley

PERIQUE

Photographs
by Charles Martin

The Historic New Orleans
Collection, $25 softcover

You don’t think of Louisiana as a tobacco producing state, but a tiny tract of land in St. James Parish is home to one of the rarest crops on the planet — perique tobacco. This book of high quality black and white photographs is a companion to the exhibit of the same name that shows through Feb. 2, 2013, at the Historic New Orleans Collection, Williams Research Center, 410 Chartres St. in New Orleans.

Martin is from a family of perique farmers who have been producing the unusual “fermented” tobacco for generations. When he turned to photography to record images of his beloved River Parishes, bonfires, swamps and tobacco were all on the list. His images are of people framed in the immenseness of nature, of the details that make up planting, cultivating, harvest and processing of the rare crop, of hand labor, traditional tasks and specialized equipment.

A short introduction by Baton Rouge writer Mary Ann Sternberg succinctly explains the history and terminology of perique cultivation in Louisiana. This book and exhibit cast a spotlight on a place and crop unknown to most Louisianians, at once informative and beautiful.

Greg Langley

WORLD’S BEST
TRAVEL EXPERIENCES

400 EXTRAORDINARY PLACES

With recollections by Bill Bryson, Anna Quindlen and more with a foreword by Andrew McCarthy

National Geographic Society, $40

This lush collection of gorgeous photographs of 400 extraordinary places to travel makes one want to get their passport in order immediately. Divided into sections of “Wild Places,” “Urban Spaces,” “Paradise Found,” “Country Unbound” and “World Wonders,” the photos National Geographic are known for make you pore over each page and the descriptions and information boxes on how to get travel details on the destination make this a useful as well as a beautiful book. A great gift for the experienced traveler or one who dreams of traveling, the book also offers several top-10 lists for people interested in specific types of travel like volunteer animal rescue trips, pomp and ceremony, places to listen to music, romantic getaways, dance lessons and more. Personal recollections of their favorite places by different writers adds a personal note to this beautiful book.

Jill Arnold

MODERN HISTORY IN PICTURES

A VISUAL GUIDE TO THE EVENTS THAT SHAPED OUR WORLD

By R.G. Grant, Sally Regan and Susan Kennedy

DK Publishing and the
Smithsonian Institution, $30

From 1900 to the Libyan Civil War, this informative coffee table book breaks our history down into visual bites and with the use of fascinating historical photographs, charts, maps and meaningful quotes tells the story of our times. The book presents each topic in storyboard fashion by date, making it very easy to understand and follow. The use of photos of artifacts of the times with short biographies brings the information to life and makes it enjoyable for anyone interested in history. Interspersed in this march through the story of our times are sections on the art of the century, biographies of people who made history, such as Mahatma Gandhi, and popular culture like the very first World Cup. Organized by decades with an index and a very good timeline by year in the back, this is a book that will be picked up time and time again.

Jill Arnold

GREAT EMPIRES
AN ILLUSTRATED ATLAS

By Stephen G. Hyslop
and Patricia Daniels

National Geographic Society, $40

This coffee table book, divided into three sections, “The Ancient World,” “The Middle Ages” and “Modern Empires,” describes the great empires in history and traces the shift of power throughout the ages.

Using reproductions of period art, photographs of artifacts and important places, maps, timelines, diagrams along with the text, this dense book examines the leaders and the cultures that formed the thinking that drove the course of history. It also looks at how the change in war technology changed the empires’ fortunes. A fascinating and well-researched book, this would make a great gift for students of history, warfare or power in general.

Jill Arnold

JACKSON SQUARED

THE HEART OF THE QUARTER

Photos by Tom Varisco;
contributors: John Biguenet, John Carr, Will Crocker,
Jackson Hill, Nicole Biguenet Pedersen and Susan Sarver

Broken Levee Books,
$18 softcover

An introduction, foreword and a couple of brief essays are the text part of this book. And the text is printed atop photos — artistically — for there were so many good images that the designers just couldn’t give up any space to words alone.

The heavy paper used in this book gives the photos a softer, more pastel tone that is well suited to the carnival imagery that meets the eye in the French Quarter’s Jackson Square. Real statues compete with silver-painted street performers for tourists’ attention and there are street artists and musicians camped on the flagstones at all hours. The eclectic parade includes jugglers, passersby, dancers, maskers (some in fewer clothes than others), priests and more. Varisco points his lens at them all and captures evocative photos that invite the reader to smell the horses and hear the tap dancers. If you know what it means to love New Orleans, get a copy of this book.

Greg Langley

NEW ROADS
AND OLD RIVERS

LOUISIANA’S HISTORIC
POINTE COUPEE PARISH

Photographs by Richard
Sexton, text by Randy
Harelson, with Brian Costello

LSU Press, 192 pp., $45

By air, water and on foot, photographer Richard Sexton has captured beautifully the land, landmarks and people of Pointe Coupee.

Sexton’s attractive, color images of most of the parish’s 70 surviving antebellum structures make the reader want to venture inside and imagine its original residents going about their daily lives. Aerial photos show the importance of waterways to the parish whose name is French for “a place cut off,” referring to Pointe Coupee’s three oxbow lakes, which have separated from the Mississippi River over the centuries, according to the book’s jacket.

Still other photos capture the area’s people, from author Ernest Gaines and his wife, Dianne, to folks lining the street for one of the Mardi Gras parades, to parishioners at St. Ann Catholic Church, built in 1935.

The well-done book offers much more than photos, with Harelson and Costello’s text outlining the parish’s rich history, along with a Pointe Coupee timeline of important events from the Indians of 10,000 B.C., to the Pointe Coupee tricentennial in 2020. Simple color maps help the reader locate sites discussed.

A great gift for anyone interested in Pointe Coupee or more broadly, Louisiana’s history.

Judy Bergeron

CALENDAR

365 CATS 2013

Workman Publishing Company, Inc., $13.99

The beautiful fluffy white cat with the piercing blue eyes is named Panzer. He plays among colorful fall leaves on the Tuesday, Jan. 1 entry in this new desk, page-a-day calendar full of felines. The Turkish Angora lives in Edmonton, Alberta, with his owner, Meredith Smith. Fast forward to Monday, April 29, where local cat Sookie stares back at you. Catherine and Brent Whitehead of Baton Rouge rescued the black Bombay mix from a parking lot when she was still a kitten. Sookie’s now a year old, and “follows the Whiteheads everywhere,” according to her calendar page.

The cuteness continues day after day, with Phyllis, a kitten from Hong Kong; Mylene, a former show cat who’s retired to Texas, and lastly, a Russian blue dubbed Raleigh, who seems oblivious to the Happy New Year! party hat he’s wearing on Dec. 31’s page.

The photos, capturing the cats in action and inaction, showing their personalities and precociousness, should amuse cat lovers and non-cat lovers alike, while letting you know what day it is. And if you think your pet’s calendar material, there are directions at the front of the calendar for entering them in the calendar contest for 2014.

Judy Bergeron

Juvenile

TINY THE TEAPOT

By M.K. Ross

Tate Publishing,
$8.99 softcover

This is a sweet tale by Baton Rouge author M.K. Ross. It also carries a lesson. Mrs. Green collects teapots. She has some really fancy ones in her collection, but her favorite is a little, plain pot she calls Tiny. His tea is delicious. The other teapots are jealous, and when Mrs. Green sets Tiny on the burner, they begin to tease him and tear down his tea until he gets so mad he blows his top. That upsets Mrs. Green who puts Tiny back on the shelf for a while.

Tiny gets more chances, but the other teapots are relentless. He keeps blowing his top. It looks like Tiny’s done as a teapot until a wise and battered old teapot gives him some sage advice. Children will love the brightly colored illustrations and will learn a valuable less about holding your temper when others tease you — just as Tiny does.

Greg Langley

TOGETHER AT CHRISTMAS

By Eileen Spinelli,
with illustrations by Bin Lee

Albert Whitman & Company, $15.99

This children’s hard-cover book written in verse tells the tale of 10 mice huddled together outside on the cold, freezing snow-covered ground on Christmas Eve. One by one each mouse peels away from the huddle for a warmer location alone until they realize they’d rather be colder together than warm alone in a milkweed pod, for instance, especially on Christmas Eve. So they rejoin and sing carols and rejoice in each other until one mouse spies a hollow log large enough for them all. Not only are they warm together, but the log happens to be a cornucopia of berries for their Christmas meal. The drawings of the mice are precious and this sweet book reminds us that being together can be the best gift of all.

Jill Arnold

MERRY THE CHRISTMAS WITCH

By Bobbi Hess, illustrated by Anne Reid

Chef John Folse & Co., $20.95

Merry was born on Christmas Day, the only witch ever born on Christmas. She is so different from the other witches that they all dislike her. Merry doesn’t wear black, she wears red. She eschews a broom and rides around on a candy cane. She’s not mean, and she loves Christmas. When the head witch leaves the coven alone on the holiday, the other witches conspire to make Merry miserable by stealing the holiday, Grinch-like. It’s a good conceit for a children’s book, but the illustrations, while colorful, are a bit crude and poorly rendered. Still, children will enjoy Merry’s story. Hess is an Alexandria author.

Greg Langley

THE ART OF THE HOBBIT
BY J.R.R. TOLKIEN

By Wayne G. Hammond
and Christina Scull

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40; 143 pp.

Whatever he might have thought of himself as a writer, J.R.R. Tolkien did not see himself as anything but an amateur artist. Readers of The Art of the Hobbit might agree. Tolkien’s drawings of the figure of Bilbo Baggins, the main character and “hobbit” of the novel, are at best awkward and at worst, painfully out-of-proportion. Yet, as any reader of Tolkien’s work knows, the world he creates is the real main character in all of his books. And Tolkien’s depictions of that character — the landscapes, mountains and dwellings — are beautiful and highly evocative.

The Hobbit, as well as The Lord of the Rings series and the Silmarillion, are fairy tales, and Tolkien’s illustrations perfectly suggest that world of magic, evil and wonder. Some of The Art of the Hobbit will appeal only to die-hard Tolkien fans, such as passages that discuss the orientation of rivers in Tolkien’s drawings. Still, there is enough here to delight casual readers and the high quality reproductions of Tolkien’s illustrations alone make the book worth its $40 price tag.

Emily Beck Cogburn

THE YEAR COMES ROUND

By Sid Farrar, illustrated by Illse Plume

Albert Whitman & Company, $16.99

This charming hard-cover children’s book about the art of nature written in the art of haiku, a three-line poetry form originating in Japan, follows the seasons starting and ending with winter with sweet illustrations children will love.

A good way to introduce children to poetry, they will find the book insightful and thought provoking. The last three pages are dedicated to information about the four seasons and why and how they cycle through.

Jill Arnold

LINCOLN: HOW ABRAHAM LINCOLN ENDED SLAVERY IN AMERICA

By Harold Holzer

Newmarket Press for itbooks, an imprint of HarperCollins, $16.99; 224 pp.

There is nothing new to be said about Abraham Lincoln. Books have been written on every conceivable aspect of his life and presidency. Just as well, then, that Harold Holzer does not claim to make any startling new discoveries in Lincoln: How Abraham Lincoln Ended Slavery in America. His book for young adult readers is marketed as a companion to the new Steven Spielberg film.

Holzer provides a quick summary of the president’s early life before exploring Lincoln’s actions and thoughts (so far as they are known), regarding slavery.

Holzer has a clear-eyed view of the great man, acknowledging that Lincoln’s views on race would not be acceptable to modern readers.

He also points out some of the political machinations and heavy-handed tactics that Lincoln used, not only in securing freedom for African Americans, but also in trying to prevent, and later win the Civil War.

At the same time, Holzer makes it clear that Lincoln was indeed a hero as well as a shrewd political operator. The book brings home the fact that at that point in American history, only a man possessing both traits could have ended slavery.

Holzer does an admirable job of explaining situations and events while not talking down to his young readers. He only occasionally resorts to exclamation points and slightly overdramatic language. This solid overview should prove an educational and entertaining read for middle and high school students.

Emily Beck Cogburn