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Good reads for wise guys
What defines a gift book for a guy can be an elusive proposition in this age of increasing gender equality. Yet even factoring in the crossover effect, there are some topics that have historically drawn male interest. These wonderfully pictorial volumes should serve as awesome holiday gifts for favored men and boys.
Veteran filmmaker John Landis is the driving force behind the fantastic Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares. The focus here is on films that fall into the general categories of horror, sci-fi and fantasy, yet the comprehensive coverage ranges more broadly into related subgenres, such as the occult, fairy tales, dinosaurs and dragons. Landis provides pithy overviews for each subsection, plus captions for the hundreds of captivating classic production photos drawn from the Kobal Collection, a photo archive whose images span the cinematic era, from the earliest days to the latest releases. There are also some cool examples of movie poster art scattered among the visuals. Landis provides worthy interviews with some of the great genre creators (directors, actors, technical wizards), including John Carpenter, Christopher Lee, Rick Baker and the amazing special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen, who is now 91 and still rightfully revered for his achievements as a stop-motion model animator. A delicious romp through the film world, this book provides a nostalgic pull for anyone who grew up a fan of the great horror flicks. Needless to say, it’s a terrific gift item and endlessly browseable.
MAKING A LIST
From the team of “infomaniacs” responsible for Show Me How (2008) and More Show Me How (2010) comes Listomania: A World of Fascinating Facts in Graphic Detail. Colorfully designed and illustrated with whimsical cartoons, this major-league browser collects list upon list of straight-ahead traditional subjects (e.g., the Seven Wonders of the World) with many more esoteric but engaging ones, from beauty-queen scandals to strange building materials to dangerous tourist spots. The book’s basic sections are arranged somewhat loosely around human history and behavior, trends, measurements, places, art and entertainment, food and animals, yet its organization invites an all-but-random investigation of its wide-ranging contents. Fun and surprising reading, Listomania is sure to evoke exclamations of “Who knew?” among curious readers.
SALUTING THE DARK KNIGHT
For that certain comic-book superhero buff comes The Batman Files, an impressively priced and imposingly bound tome that celebrates the legend and lore of the Caped Crusader. Author and comic book historian Matthew K. Manning is responsible for pulling together this “archive” that is designed to serve as a replica of Batman’s own personal diary, also including top secret blueprints of his Batcave, Batmobile, uniforms and weapons; newspaper clippings from Gotham City, dating back to the murder of alter ego Bruce Wayne’s parents; plus in-depth dossiers on the Dark Knight’s nefarious opponents, among them the Riddler, Penguin, Joker and Mr. Freeze. The origins of Batman’s sidekick, Robin, are also detailed. Besides its “insider” textual approach, this collector’s-item-type package also reprints dozens and dozens of color panels extracted from the comics themselves, which showcase an interesting sense of the development of artistic style in the depiction of the Batman stories, first conceptualized by Bob Kane more than 70 years ago. This is the ultimate gift item for the inveterate Batman fan.
THE HIGHEST PEAKS
Sports books almost always make winning gifts for guys, and Mountaineers: Great Tales of Bravery and Conquest offers a compelling panoramic view of a sport that receives less coverage than it deserves. Produced in collaboration with the Smithsonian, and with an engrossing text written chiefly by Ed Douglas (with an assist from Richard Gilbert, Philip Parker and Alasdair Macleod), this volume uncovers a death-defying world rich with history and populated by determined, often idiosyncratic personalities, both male and female, who dedicate their lives to scaling the world’s highest mountain peaks. The photos alone are worth the book’s price, but the story told of mountain climbing’s development, its cultural and scientific importance, and its growth as an international competitive endeavor is equally valuable. There are fascinating sidebars on sherpas, innovations in equipment, pertinent books and movies, plus the big mountain peaks (Kilimanjaro, Mount Blanc, Matterhorn, etc.). More compelling, however, are the profiles of the climbers themselves—a contentious breed apart, often loners—who risk death with every summit they take on. Edmund Hillary and Reinhold Messner are perhaps the most recognizable names here, but learning about their somewhat lesser-known equals is both educational and thrilling.
RIDING THE RAILS
Trains formerly held the fascination of men and boys on a wide scale. While times have changed, and trains are lower-profile symbols of commerce and travel, they still attract interest, and Steam: An Enduring Legacy—The Railroad Photographs of Joel Jensen serves as proof. Jensen has been photographing trains and rail stations west of the Mississippi River for some 25 years, and this long-overdue collection of his work features black-and-white shots that capture the bygone majesty and sense of history inspired by these steam-powered machines, preserved and operated in the latter-day era by dedicated rail-fans. Besides the 150 photos, there are essays by John Gruber and Scott Lothes—both of the Center for Railroad Photography and Art—examining the economics and cultural importance of trains in America.
PICTURES FROM THE FRONT
Finally, in a nod to the Greatest Generation, comes A Soldier’s Sketchbook: From the Front Lines of World War II, which gathers the letters and sketches from the World War II experiences of young G.I. Joseph Farris, who served with the U.S. Army’s 100th Division in Europe. Farris, now in his 80s, went on to become a cartoonist for the New Yorker, and throughout his transformation from naive enlisted man to battle-tested vet, he was honing his craft as an artist, as the samples from his youthful wartime work attest. Besides the many letters home to his folks—from his days in basic training through his return to the States—Farris also provides a contextual narrative on the war’s progress. Also included are battle maps, poster art and archival photos portraying Farris and his buddies, the soldier’s life in general and some of the war’s leaders and generals. A Soldier’s Sketchbook offers a visually captivating perspective on WWII, as seen through the eyes of one young infantryman.