Give them a piece of the world wrapped up like a gift -- a big, beautiful, new book

December 12, 1993|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Staff Writer

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.

Photography

"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.

Broadway/Show biz

"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!"

'S Wonderful!

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