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2007 Gift Guide

Books

Pages and pages of ideas for holiday giving

 

Various Lit

Forget about silkscreened T-shirts, mix tapes, or even the Sharper Image catalog of wonders; there’s nothing as personal as a book. For every personality, for every reading level, there’s a book out there waiting to provide that lucky Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa celebrant with a few hours—maybe a few weeks—of pleasure. To help you unlock that potential for joy, here are a few tips for books to buy this holiday season.

For your globe-trotting, hop-scotching pal, wherever the hell he is these days: Autonauts of the Cosmoroute (Archipelago). This bizarre, touching little travelogue tells the story of Julio Cortozar’s and Carol Dunlop’s 33-day journey along the Paris-Marseilles freeway in 1982 in journals and drawings that capture the mess and muss of travel.

For your hot granny: No one loves a late bloomer quite like a sassy older lady, so indulge her naughty sweet tooth with Bowl of Cherries (McSweeneys), 90-year-old Millard Kaufman’s hilarious (and ribald) debut novel about a young man who bumbles from one misadventure to another before landing in a prison cell in Iraq.

For your Colbert-watching, Truthdig.com-reading, Nation-subscribing, anger-fatigued friend who believes there’s nothing left to learn about this craven world: It all makes sense—Katrina, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the Israeli wall, Halliburton—in Naomi Klein’s authoritative polemic The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Metropolitan), which explores the relationship between shock therapy (economic or military) and the spread of free-market ideals. Package it with Blackwater (Nation) by Jeremy Scahill, and stand back while your friend’s head explodes.

For your friend, the smart-ass: No one gave lip as wittily and as well as Ogden Nash. Even today’s hipsters could learn a thing or two from him in The Best of Ogden Nash (Ivan R. Dee), a gigantic compendium of the late New Yorker writer’s best light verse.

For the poetic, cumulus- headed soul in your life: Michael O’Brien might just be the best-kept secret of the poetry world. Sleeping and Waking (Flood Editions) is about to change that: These spare poems about love, life in a city, and the in-between states of our lives drape as delicately as Japanese wall-hangings.

For Dad, who hunkers down with one big biography: Outside of Robert Caro’s narrative on the life of LBJ, John Richardson’s ongoing study of Picasso is probably the most ambitious and magnificent biographical project in the world. His latest volume, A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932 (Knopf), follows the sacred master/monster out of World War I and up to the summits of fame.

For your nature-loving friend: Eliot Weinberger’s metaphysical essay collection An Elemental Thing (New Directions) provides a stirring glimpse into the way societies around the world live in tune with the seasons, while Rebecca Solnit’s collection Storming the Gates of Paradise (University of California) explores the politics of place with a stylish remove reminiscent of early Joan Didion.

For the dedicated fictionista in your circle: Dinaw Mengestu’s heartbreaking, exquisitely made The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (Riverhead) tells the story of three African refugees making their way in Washington, D.C., long after they’ve given up on realizing their wildest American dreams.

For your sister, the aspiring physician: Jerome Groopman is the best-thinking doc’s physician. His new book, How Doctors Think (Houghton Mifflin), meditates on the most pressing issues of hospital care today with a palpable humanity and clear-eyed realism.

For your favorite bookie, thug or all-around tough guy . . . with a brain: Demonstrate your respect for his Machiavellian mind with Sacred Games (HarperCollins), Vikram Chandra’s wonderful thriller about a Sikh police inspector pursuing an overload in and around Mumbai (now Bombay), when gangsters got so powerful they took over part of Bollywood and began scripting their own mythology.

For your friend, the atheist: Even the firmest nonbeliever will get a chuckle out of A.J. Jacobs’ quirky The Year Living Biblically (Simon & Schuster), his tale of living the Bible as literally as possible.

For your friend, the (enlightened) Bible-thumper: Write a sweet card praising his or her open-mindedness, and enclose a copy of Christopher Hitchens’ razor-sharp God Is Not Great (Twelve).

For the journaler in your life: Stare straight down into the powerful filament of Joyce Carol Oates’ working mind with The Journals of Joyce Carol Oates: 1973-1982 (Ecco), which were written during a period when she published an astonishing 29 works of fiction, criticism and poetry.

For your do-gooding friend: In Poor People (Ecco), William T. Vollmann traveled the globe, from Cambodia to Sacramento, asking the people he met, “Why are you poor?” The impressionistic, rhetoric-free book that results is a kind of Let us Praise Famous Men for our time.

For your lover: There is a rightness and terrible melancholy to every sentence of Hisham Matar’s debut novel, In the Country of Men (Dial Press), which tells the story of a young boy who is entrusted with a secret much larger than him.

—John Freeman

John Freeman is president of the National Book Critics Circle. This article first appeared in the Weekly Alibi in Santa Fe, N.M.

Cookbooks

Alice Waters quietly revolutionized the way restaurants approach choosing and cooking foodstuffs, although it’s taken a while for the food-service world at large realize the beauty of her simple tenets of buying locally and using what’s fresh as possible. In her newest book, The Art of Simple Food (Clarkson Potter), she gives a fresh perspective on this approach while combining it with straightforward tips and techniques for the home cook. It’s an easy-to-follow kitchen primer that taught an old hand like me a thing or two, and Alice: I promise I’ll plant that garden next year.

Michael Ruhlman takes a similar approach in The Elements of Cooking (Scribner), although it’s a more classically (meaning French) oriented approach, with an Elements of Style-style glossary forming the bulk of the book. Ruhlman’s Soul of a Chef is a classic; this bids fair to join it.

Much as I resist the celebrity tie-in, Jamie Oliver’s Cook With Jamie (Hyperion) goes with you into your home kitchen, and is as endearing a writer as he is a TV host. Written with simplicity but encouraging plenty of style, it’s probably his most enjoyable volume so far.

My favorite food books have narratives at their heart, and a good recipe is nothing more than a specific story in which the reader is invited to participate. Judith Jones understood this as she learned to cook, and when, as a young editor at Knopf, she recommended the much-rejected first manuscript by Julia Child. The Tenth Muse (Knopf) is Jones’s memoir of working with Child, Jacques Pépin, Marcella Hazen, James Beard and many other cookbook writers, chronicled alongside her own progress in the kitchen in an armchair book that will send you hungrily to the stove.

Beard himself is appropriately recelebrated with the reissue of Beard on Food (Bloomsbury), a recipe-enhanced essay collection that takes us back to the glory days of a half-century ago, when food stood on its own, non-TV-enhanced merits and we weren’t afraid to throw lots of butter at it. Beard was a charming, compelling writer whose work will never go out of style.

You’re at your farm or a farmers’ market, ready to choose the ingredients for tonight’s meal. How to Pick a Peach by Russ Parsons (Houghton Mifflin) guides you, just as the title suggests, through a season-by-season survey of what’s fresh, what will taste best—and how you might prepare it. The Year of Eating Dangerously (St. Martins) is Tom Parker Bowles’ high-spirited romp through exotic locales, written with self- deprecating wit even while celebrating what’s tasty and unusual out there, assuming you’re prepared to deal with dogs and bees as gustatory potential.

Culinary school is all well and good, but nothing replaces learning to cook in the family kitchen. Laura Schenone, whose A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove won a James Beard Award, follows a single recipe through the history of her own family in The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken (Norton), going back to roots in Liguria as she explores a history of food as well.

A couple of new recipe books transcend the genre. The ever- reliable Mark Bittman weighs in with How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (Wiley), a thousand-pager that breaks down the recipes by category (soup, pasta, legumes, etc.) and further notes cooking times and variations. More than 2,000 recipes, presented with Bittman’s characteristic clarity, are good for main courses and accompaniments alike.

American Masala by Suvir Saran and Raquel Pelzel (Clarkson Potter) is a what-I-cook-at-home tome by the chef of New York City restaurant Dévi, and combines Indian techniques and recipes with American favorites, which is why you’ll find variations on macaroni and cheese and fried chicken, variations made tasty by the bold use of aromatic spices and inventive techniques.

Dinner isn’t complete without wine, and Sterling Publishing has two excellent books. One is the finest general overview, the Windows on the World Complete Wine Course: 2008 Edition by Kevin Zraly, a plain-spoken, informative tour of what you need to make the selection easier and the enjoyment profound. And The Complete Bordeaux by Stephen Brook is a handsome volume for more advanced study, giving a history and detailed overview of France’s most celebrated district.

Eating healthier means baking healthier, and Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads (Ten Speed Press) takes a narrative approach to a variety of tasty breadstuffs, from classic loaves to dessert styles and even bagels. Nicely illustrated, easy to follow, it will inspire you to break out the yeast and start kneading. Which gets you ready to tackle some of Bubby’s Homemade Pies by Ron Silver and Jen Bervin (Wiley). I have a friend who lives near and swears by Bubby’s in Manhattan, and the fantastic array of recipes you’ll find in this book even exceed what she finds there. Gooseberry Crumble, Mince Pocket Pies with Clotted Cream, even pork pie variants are here.

A companion restaurant tie-in is Junior’s Cheesecake Cookbook by Alan Rosen & Beth Allen (Taunton), which does the same for my favorite pastry. Start with the classic New York style, then branch into brownie swirls, a Boston cream pie cheesecake and many many more, all with the most mouth-watering photos alongside.

Finally, finish your meal with good cup of tea. After you read the beautifully written, impressively researched book The Story of Tea by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss (Ten Speed Press), you’ll see a thousands-of-years history behind every leaf.

—B.A. Nilsson

Children’s

We have a problem in our house: Bags of holiday books have arrived for me to review, and it looks as if my children will not let me return any of them. While that might not be a great thing for my checkbook, it’s wonderful for those of you looking to buy special books for your special someones this holiday season.

Let’s start with the delightfully titled Whopper Cake, by Karma Wilson and Will Hillenbrand (Margaret K. McElderry, $16.99). First off, how can you not simply love to say that, let alone imagine what it might encompass. My soon-to-be-2-year-old son will not let this book out of his sight. It’s a sing-song rhyming story about a zany Granddad who shows off his undying love, and his unique baking skills, for a very special Grandma.

Another charmer is Castle on Hester Street, by Linda Heller (Simon & Schuster, $15.99). The 25th anniversary printing of this 1982 classic features new, vibrant illustrations by Boris Kulikov. Little Julie gets to hear all about how her grandparents immigrated to this country—both the straight, sobering version offered by Grandma Rose, and the delightfully embellished version given by Grandpa Sol. What makes this such a treat is the respect it gives to fact while acknowledging the magic of legend.

Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity, by Mo Willems (Hyperion Books, $16.99), is the sequel to Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale. What makes Willems’ books so special is not just the stunning photography that serves as a backdrop for his colorful sketches of Trixie and her favorite stuffed toy, but the wry details.

In Chester, by Melanie Watt (Kids Can Press, $16.95), your more observant giftees will get a kick out of Chester the cat’s notes, which are scribbled all over the book, letting us know such things as: Chester is the real star of a book that’s supposed to be about a mouse; the dedication should really be to Chester; Chester is actually the writer and illustrator, and the book costs a million dollars. . . . The idea of a warring author and her feline pet is played out with a lot of wit and a series of very funny illustrations.

Children of all ages will enjoy the sijo poems in Tap Dancing on the Roof, by Linda Sue Park (Clarion Books, $16). Sijos, which originated in Korea, have a fixed number of stressed syllables, usually divided into three or six lines, and contain a hidden twist or joke at the end. Take “Art Class,” for instance:

Keesha says my fish doesn’t look like anything she’s ever seen.

‘Flowered fins? Plaid scales? And the tail—tie-dyed weirdo green?’

In this ocean, I am Queen. That tail, my dear, is aquamarine.

The ever prolific Cynthia Rylant weighs in this holiday season with Mr. Putter & Tabby See the Stars (Harcourt, $14), in which an old man deals with his food-induced insomnia on a midnight walk with his cat. Arthur Howard’s colorful illustrations and Rylant’s cheerful prose bring life to two subtle love stories, one between human and feline, the other between two old- time neighbors.

I tend to hate toys or books that promote their ability to teach—you know, baby rattles that “promote spatial learning” or blocks whose packaging extols their ability to help Pookie problem-solve—so I was a bit skeptical about The Periodic Table: Elements With Style! created by Simon Basher and written by Adrian Dingle (Kingfisher, $8.95). Was this going to be one of those faux-fun books whose real purpose was to ram chemistry down one’s throat? Fear not! This whimsical yet highly informative book has each element take on a personality. For instance, Lithium explains, “The lightest of all metals on the periodic table, and the first, I am a real soft touch. You can easily slice me with a knife. . . .” Carbon brags, “Hah-yah! Wherever you look, I’m there. Like a ninja, there’s no escaping me.” Sure, all the relevant scientific facts about each element are included, but the beauty’s in the telling, which makes chemistry come to life for kids of all ages. (Yikes, did I actually say that?)

For older children, The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion, $16), What the Dickens by Gregory Maguire (Candlewick, $15.99), and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Little, Brown, $16.99) are must-haves this year. The Wednesday Wars deals frankly with a 7th grader’s battles with peer pressure, bullies, and having to read Shakespeare outside class, all while the family business is in turmoil and the Vietnam War rages. As with Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, Schmidt displays an uncanny knack for understanding how adolescents deal with friendship and coming of age.

Maguire’s book is the story of rogue tooth fairies known as skibbereen. Coming from the author of Wicked, it’s not surprise that the book ably combines the touchingly poignant with the comical, making for a rich read. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is about Junior, a medically-challenged budding cartoonist who leaves his Spokane Indian reservation in order to attend an all-white school in a neighboring farm town. Junior’s battles—with his health, and with the prejudices of his own people and his new schoolmates—help him to discover strengths he never knew he had, and will resonate with readers who are struggling with their own expectations.

For those of you who long for classics, either real or soon-to-be, there are two selections worth mentioning. If You See a Fairy Ring (Barron’s, $16.99) is a treasury of classic fairy poems, illustrated with magical detail by Susanna Lockheart. And traditionalists take heart; in The Annotated Secret Garden (W.W.Norton, $35), Frances Hodgson Burnett’s timeless classic is made all the more memorable, and relevant, with a fascinating introduction by Gretchen Holbrook Grezina, who, not so incidentally, is the author of the definitive Burnett biography. Nevertheless, for all the explanations and historic details, readers will come away from The Secret Garden, as they should from all of this year’s holiday suggestions, with the belief that “Magic is the brining about of unbelievable things through an obstinate faith that nothing is too good to be true.”

—Laura Leon

Graphic Novels

This year has been an extremely busy and diverse year for graphic novels, but the work of two stand-out writers should be nestled tightly in the stockings of every comic geek—for these three writers have wormed their artful prose, full of social and political commentary, deep into the heart of mainstream comic-book writing. Plus, their stuff is sort of weird.

Warren Ellis has notoriously perverted the mainstream for years now with his political attacks, sci-fi slants, and scathing social lampoonings. This year Ellis brought the politics to a boil with his hilarious take on terrorist-fighting superheroes, Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E Vol.2-I Kick Your Face (Marvel Comics, $19.99). H.A.T.E. stands for “Highest Anti Terrorism Effort.” Made up of the Marvel universe’s throwaway bit players, the H.A.T.E. team’s agents are charged with fighting UWMDs (“Unusual Weapons of Mass Destruction”). The team hysterically discovers that they are actually funded by the Beyond Corporation, which works for the world’s most devious terrorist organization, S.I.L.E.N.T., and are forced to go rogue. Who knew? This sarcastic slapstick romp might not be easy to swallow for superhero worshipers but does show off what can be achieved when stereotypes are manipulated.

With Thunderbolts: Faith in Monsters (Marvel, $24.99), Ellis also had a chance to add to Civil War, one of the largest comic-book events of the summer, where superheroes in the Marvel universe are forced to register themselves with the United States government. In Thunderbolts, Ellis presents a government so obsessed with capturing rogue superheroes that they commission super-villains to go about capturing and imprisoning or registering them. Ellis tells a story of power and corruption with a zeal no other comic writer could.

Ellis’ nonmainstream triumph of the year has to be Fell Vol.1: This Feral City (Image Comics, $19.99), his noir collaboration with 30 Days of Night artist Ben Templesmith. The book tells the story of Detective Richard Fell, who has transferred over the bridge from the big city to a decaying, decrepit district called Snowtown. Fell tries to preserve his own humanity while doing good in a place dominated by all sorts of bad. Templesmith’s art, all gloomy and iridescent, will haunt you.

Templesmith also produced one of the most sardonic, entertaining graphic novels of the year in Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse (IDW Publishing, $19.99). I’ll let him explain, from a Templesmith interview with comic Web site Newsaram.com: “Basically, the book centers on a sentient maggot. Bored with his own dimension and eternally feasting on the bodies of dead gods there, he uproots in the search for a nice comfy, yet slightly not so dull world. He finds earth, tends to inhabit corpses which he animates, develops an English accent, addictions to Guinness, cigarettes, strong women. Routinely gets himself dragged into preserving the cosmic order of things for no other reason than everyone and everything else are incompetent useless morons.” Trust me, there is nothing out there like it.

Finally, for the more mainstream comic-book connoisseur, there is Ed Brubaker, crime novelist turned comic writer, whose work has produced some of the best runs at Marvel in a long time. Captain America by Ed Brubaker Omnibus, Vol.1 (Marvel, $74.99) collects a 25-issue run of what has been the best comic book running for two years straight. Brubaker expertly examines the life and struggles of a man uprooted from his own time and left to deal with a foreign, futuristic present. Classic villains such as Red Skull have never been better written or more devious.

The sleeper graphic novel of the year has to be The Immortal Iron Fist Vol.1:The Last Iron Fist Story (Marvel, $14.99). Written by Brubaker and indie scribe Matt Fraction, and drawn by David Aja, The Immortal Iron Fist beautifully and cleverly reimagines one of Marvel’s forgotten superheroes. Drug out of the ’70s, when the book was first created, a D-level character is reshpaed by Brubaker and Fraction into one of the most-interesting, best-written comics heroes out there, and they prove that it’s not the name of the book that matters but who is writing it.

—David King

dking@metroland.net

Music Books

Put another log on the fire, pour a holiday beverage, and then what? How about get out your bass guitar! Christmas Classics For Bass and Christmas Songs for Bass (Hal Leonard, $9.95 each) finally invite solo bass guitar into the family circle.

To complete the longstanding essentials for a rock trio, here are two more. Classic Rock Drummers (Hal Leonard, $19.95), by Ken Micallef and Donnie Marshall, explores the techniques of 11 drummers (including Ginger Baker, Charlie Watts and Keith Moon). It includes a CD with musical examples and lessons. Neville Marten’s colorful Guitar Heaven (Collins Design, $29.95) tells the stories of 50 famous electric guitars and the players who became associated with them.

With Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer (Faber & Faber, $30), Chris Salewicz chronicles the life of a man who he first encountered while the author was covering the Clash. Counting Strummer as a friend, Salewicz proves his literary mettle by not backing away from the subject’s contradictions and darker recesses; the result is a resonantly human portrait. Roughly concurrent with the Clash were the Specials, who helped bring on a ska revival. Ska’d For Life (Sidgwick & Jackson, $24.95), by Specials bass player Horace Panter, offers a history of the band, set amid the U.K. punk movement and its aftermath. Also from the ’80s, Bongos leader Richard Barone has penned a worthy memoir, Frontman (Backbeat, $19.95). Subtitled “Surviving the Rock Star Myth,” the chronicle is refreshingly candid about the lures and traps of the music business, as well as the undying romance of creating and performing songs. The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting (Voyageur, $21.95) is an oral history by Jim Walsh, who deftly weaves a wide range of voices and perspectives into a compelling tale.

There are also the mainstays. With Can’t Buy Me Love (Harmony, $27.50), Jonathan Gould has created a hefty and riveting critique of the Beatles’ entire catalog. John Blaney’s Lennon and McCartney Together Alone (Jawbone, $27.95) picks up after the band folded, covering John’s and Paul’s output. Then there’s The Unreleased Beatles (Backbeat, $34.95) by Richie Unterberger, which will dazzle even the most knowledgeable fan with the breadth of unreleased music and film footage. Bob Dylan: Intimate Insights (Omnibus, $22.95), by Kathleen Mackay, is a sort of companion piece to Dylan’s own Chronicles; she talks to many of the musicians who showed up in Dylan’s book, trying to shed new light on events otherwise passed over or shrouded in mystery. Million Dollar Bash (Jawbone, $19.95) is Sid Griffin’s highly detailed account of Dylan and the Band’s Basement Tapes.

Iggy Pop: Open Up and Bleed (Broadway, $23.95) is Paul Trynka’s impressive biography of the man who answered to the name Jim Osterberg while growing up in Michigan. Jimmy Page: Magus, Musician, Man (Hal Leonard, $25) is an unauthorized biography by George Case, but is so well researched that the absence of new interviews with the guitarist is no hindrance. Blair Jackson’s Grateful Dead Gear (Backbeat, $34.95) is a glorious tour through their assortment of instruments, from custom to vintage, fully detailed and rolled into the history of the band. Edited by Richard Peabody, Kiss the Sky (Paycock, $15.95) offers 60 pieces of fiction and poetry, all of which are in some way touched by Jimi Hendrix. They’re not about him, but they’re inspired by him in a multitude of ways.

They called themselves “America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine,” and 20 years of Creem are celebrated in a book bearing the same name, and assembled by Robert Matheu and Brian J. Bowe (Collins, $29.95), with every page turned up to 11. Dominic Priore’s Riot on Sunset Strip (Jawbone, $29.95) is a wonderfully sprawling history of the music that came spilling out of Hollywood, from folk to garage to psychedelic freakouts. Longtime Metroland contributor Carlo Wolff moved from Albany to Cleveland more than 20 years ago; he celebrates his fondness for the city’s music scene with Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories (Gray & Co., $19.95), in which musicians, promoters, DJs and fans from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s tell their tales.

Producers are also the subject of a number of recent books. Heading the list is Mick Brown’s Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector (Knopf, $26.95). This is on par with Peter Guralnick’s Presley books; Brown has the skills to set Spector against the popular culture of the time, examine the fractious childhood that shaped the emotionally troubled man, and fully describe the intricacies of his multilayered pop confections. Phil Ramone’s Making Records: The Scenes Behind the Music (Hyperion, $24.95) offers a wide swath of anecdotes, covering everyone from Sinatra to Dylan. With White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s (Serpent’s Tail, $18), Joe Boyd, producer of such British acts as Fairport Convention and Nick Drake, proves to be an incisive and stylish writer who was present for everything from Pink Floyd’s first recordings to Dylan going electric at Newport.

John Peel: Margrave of the Marshes (Chicago Review, $19.95) is the autobiography Peel was working on when he died three years ago. This much-loved British DJ famously championed everyone from Captain Beefheart to the Undertones to the White Stripes. The book was completed by his wife, Sheila Ravenscroft. Joe Carducci’s Enter Naomi (Redoubt, $24.95) is a personal inquiry into the life of photographer Naomi Petersen (1964-2003), who was part of the Los Angeles music scene that coalesced around the SST label.

A number of groundbreaking musicians are featured in new books. Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators (Process, $22.95) finds Paul Drummond unearthing the history of these pioneers of psychedelia. The Many Lives of Tom Waits (Omnibus, $25.95), by Patrick Humphries, offers an Englishmen’s view of Waits’ life and work. Robert Scotto’s Moondog: The Viking of 6th Avenue (Process, $24.95) is exhaustively researched and rich with thoughtful insights. Accompanied by a CD, this is both a perfect entry point to Moondog’s music, and an essential for those already familiar with the blind composer, born Louis Hardin in 1916, who created an enormous, vibrant, and still underexplored body of work during his 83 years.

Nashville wasn’t always called Music City, and Craig Havighurst’s Air Castle of the South (University of Illinois, $29.95) chronicles the pivotal role that radio station WSM had in making “Music City” the capital of country music. Live Fast, Love Hard (University of Illinois, $29.95) is a biography of Faron Young, a potent force in Nashville for more than four decades, by Diane Diekman.

On the jazz front, Frank Alkyer has edited The Miles Davis Reader (Hal Leonard, $24.95). This impressive volume collects interviews, features, photos, and reviews that appeared in Downbeat from 1946 to the present. New York Times jazz critic Ben Ratliff’s Coltrane: The Story of a Sound (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24) is just what the title indicates: an examination of the evolution of Coltrane’s music and the shadow it casts 40 years after his death. Pathways to Unknown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn and Chicago’s Afro-Futurist Underground 1954-68 (University of Chicago, $25) accompanied an exhibit of the same name, and is a glorious full-color feast of original album cover artwork, assorted paper documents and ephemera from the realm of jazz iconoclast Sun Ra.

At The Grammys! (Hal Leonard, $29.95) is by Ken Ehrlich, who has been producing the show since 1980. Besides describing how it comes together, he also offers up some of the trials and tribulations that go hand in hand with events of this magnitude, amplified by star egos. And of course things also go right, emotions soar and eyes well up with tears. For the reference shelf, there’s The Rock & Roll Film Encyclopedia (Applause, $19.95) by John Kenneth Muir. The volume contains the expected entries organized by film title, actor and musician, along with fictitious movie bands and an assortment of thematic genres (everything from “cover art” to “Vietnam”). Chris Epting’s Led Zeppelin Crashed Here (Santa Monica Press, $16.95) offers a tour of North American rock & roll landmarks. A pleasure even for armchair travelers, the book is divided into chapters covering concert and festival venues, death sites, famous recording locations, and more.

On the pure fun front is Hold Me Closer, Tony Danza (Sasquatch, $12.95). Subtitled “And Other Misheard Lyrics,” the book was assembled by Charles Grosvenor Jr. from more than 100,000 examples sent to his Web site by happy citizens around the globe. Hecky Krasnow (1910-1984) is associated with fun by the children’s songs he produced. Perhaps most famously, he fought an extremely reluctant record label to get “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” recorded. It was a massive success, and his work today is much more well known than his name—something that his daughter, Judy Gail Krasnow, sought to address with her book Rudolph, Frosty and Captain Kangaroo (Santa Monica Press, $24.95).

The most unexpected and uplifting book this year is Mingering Mike (Princeton Architectural Press, $24.95) by Dori Hadar. Four years ago, Hadar made an amazing discovery at a Washington, D.C., flea market. He found a bin filled with album after album by a fictitious soul superstar named Mingering Mike. They all had hand-drawn covers and unplayable cardboard records inside. Hadar tracked down the man who created them more than 30 years earlier, and the resulting book is a loving tribute to the power of music, the dream of reaching out to others, and the importance of happenstance.

—David Greenberger

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