Book Review - Making book

Put a page-turner under the tree this year

Whether you’re holiday gift shopping for that person who has everything or just looking for something to buy your own selfish self, look no further than your local bookstore for something different. Shelves are filled this time of year with an eclectic selection of tomes designed to appeal to everyone — including the mental midgets on your list who haven’t cracked a book since college exams.Here’s a suggestion: Don’t just buy the latest Oprah pick or “Chicken Soup” release. Broaden Aunt Gertrude’s mind with something a little less ordinary. The following is a round-up of new releases from CL’s recommended reading list:

Hang out your hearing flaps and let me give you the skinny on Straight From the Fridge, Dad — A Dictionary of Hipster Slang (Broadway Books) by self-proclaimed hipster Max Decharne. Decharne has compiled and defined phrases and words from film noir, pulp fiction, the beat movement, jazz, jive, swing and more for all us squares. In many cases, books, movies and songs — from Dashiell Hammett’s private-eye novels to B movies to songs by Cab Calloway (who himself penned his own hipster slang dictionary, the out-of-print “hep slang”) — are cited for examples of correct usage and to pinpoint a word’s date of origin, though it in no way provides definitive etymologies. For instance, Decharne cites the word “jack” as in money from a 1929 novel Little Caeser. And he has “cool” traced back to 1924. It’s one sharp-as-a-tack little dictionary full of hipster slang for all the cool cats, real gone daddies, dungaree dolls and cute little muffins on your gift list. It’ll put you in touch with your inner hepcat faster than you can say Maynard G. Krebbs.

Most will buy Les Daniels’ Wonder Woman: The Golden Age (Chronicle Books) before actually cracking open the book, since this “masterpiece edition” comes boxed with a Barbie-sized action figure — golden lasso included. But once they’re done helping Wonder Woman tie up Ken, they’ll discover a slim but highly fascinating hard-cover history of the heroine’s 1940s heyday. Central to the story is her creator, William Moulton Marston, a Harvard-educated Ph.D. whose maverick theories on female superiority, exuberant personality and unusual lifestyle led him out of academia and — after having invented the lie detector — toward the hardly respectable world of comics. While advancing his radical feminist beliefs, Marston also filled the series with plenty of female bondage (no wonder the woman was a hit with the typical — read: male — comic readers), and only later assumed feminist iconography. Full of colorful illustrations and surprising facts, The Golden Age reveals a true story that’s often stranger than its accompanying fantasy.

More coffee-table book than reference guide, The Book of Rock (Thunder’s Mouth Press) dispenses with any high-minded claims of definitiveness in favor of pure packaging and a healthy dose of subjectivity. Philip Dodd’s decidedly British-leaning 512-page compendium of the genre’s most influential artists — for better (Buddy Holly) or worse (Garth Brooks) — is an easy-on-the-eyes celebration of an art form that’s always been as much about visuals as music. And the A-Z format allows for downright bizarre juxtapositions of talent on facing pages. Our favorite: a wan, hunched-over Harry Nilsson practically rubbing shoulders with a mud-covered Trent Reznor.

Relieve the stress of the holidays with a little black magic. The Little Voodoo Kit: Revenge Therapy for the Over-Stressed (St. Martin’s Press) puts a modern spin on the ancient practice of casting curses, helping you focus the dark forces on unwelcome relatives, micro-managing bosses, bad drivers and the like. The kit comes with a spell book by Jean-Paul Poupette, a cute little cloth voodoo doll and a color-coded stick pen set. One caveat: Be sure the recipient of this gift bears no grudges against the giver, just in case it works.

Much has been written about New York City’s fitful resurgence as a movie-making hub ever since it was abandoned for Hollywood’s fabricated studio skyscrapers back in the ’30s. With Celluloid Skyline: New York and the Movies (Knopf), James Sanders — co-writer of New York: A Documentary Film with Ric Burns — pays lavish tribute to what he calls the “mythic city” and how it diverges sharply from gritty everyday reality while embodying the looming romanticized metropolis familiar to much of the rest of America. Illustrated with hundreds of fascinating production shots culled from studio archives and private collections, Celluloid Skyline thrives on a panoramic attention to detail and a sweeping perspective that can only come from an unrelenting emersion in the subject matter.

Absorbing the sheer glut of information and visual stimuli in Ric Burns’ sprawling New York: A Documentary Film can be disorienting — a little like emerging from a Manhattan subway station on a strange street corner. The new soft-cover edition of New York: An Illustrated History (Knopf) is here to help. This less cost-prohibitive ($35) version serves as both a handsome companion piece and a useful guide to the Emmy-winning PBS series. Assembled by Burns and co-writer James Sanders with help from series co-director Lisa Ades, the book retains the personable vignette/essay-style format of its small-screen inspiration, punctuated by a vibrant mix of 500 black-and-white and color illustrations. Pair this with Sanders’ Celluloid Skyline for the perfect post-9-11 morale booster.

Husband and wife team Monte Farber and Amy Zerner present The Enchanted Astrologer: Your Personal Oracle (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press), yet another in their series of oracle and tarot books. This one combines all the fun and insight of astrology and Tarot, without all the complicated charts or tricky Tarot spreads. It’s just a deck of cards and a book of answers. Meditate on a question regarding love, career or life in general. Then pick a single card from the deck of 36 cards, which are based on the astrological signs, nodes and planets and look up the meaning of the card in the companion book for insight into your problem. The cards, based on NEA grant-recipient Zerber’s fabric paintings and tapestries, are hypnotic if not beautiful. And amazingly, it’s not all otherworldly hoo-hah: The card method works, say Farber and Zerner, because it’s based on the science of Chaos Theory and Jung’s Theory of Synchronicity.

Mark Twain: An Illustrated Biography (Alfred A. Knopf), written by Geoffrey C. Ward and Dayton Duncan and based on a documentary by Ken Burns, is a great book for even marginal Twain fans. Chock full of sepia-toned prints, writing excerpts, family history and more, this is a comprehensive yet easy-to-read compilation on that colorful figure, “the man who created American literature,” Mark Twain. The book traces Twain’s life from obscurity to his early rambling days as a gold prospector to his first literary success in his early 30s to his many bad investments to his love and familial devotion. It touches on all the important aspects of Twain’s life and captures both his humorous and serious sides.

Photographer Deborah Samuel has taken the average dog photo and turned it into high art with the coffee table book dog (Chronicle Books). You won’t see any baskets full of cutesy pups or pooches in sunglasses, this is definitely not that type of book. Instead, the rich, intense photography looks more like Mapplethorpe portraits than something by Anne Geddes. Capturing the personalities of dogs in black-and-white, Samuel isolates the grin of a French bulldog, the panting tongue of a Jack Russell and the nose of a Great Dane. The perfect book for someone who already believes dogs are half-human, and for those who don’t, they will after seeing the soul in the eyes of Rolland the bullmastiff.

Feeling a strong urge to rummage through late screen legend Marlene Dietrich’s closet but afraid of subsequent jail time? Marlene Dietrich: Photographs and Memories (Alfred A. Knopf) is a legal and attractive alternative. Compiled by Jean-Jacques Naudet, the book lushly reproduces nearly 300 photos of the German-born, androgyny-popularizing actress and her wardrobe. Captioned by her daughter, it also includes several adoring love letters written to Dietrich. As Edward G. Robinson puts it in the introduction, “She is the quintessential sex goddess; she is also the quintessential German hausfrau.” If you say so, Ed.

Hole-dwellers rejoice! The essential companion to the much-anticipated film has arrived. The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring Visual Companion (Houghton Mifflin) is filled with the expected majestic images sure to delight moviegoers and Ringwraith fanatics alike, yet it is the detailed map of Middle-earth and extensive character history and analysis that place this companion book in the company of Lady Galadriel. Ring-virgins do not despair; the visual companion carefully explains the ancient history of One Ring, the difference between an elf and a dwarf and is sure to get you in the Hobbitan spirit.

Contributors: Tray Butler, Jane Catoe, P’nina Mossman, Andisheh Nouraee, Jerry Portwood, Hobart Rowland, Roni Sarig.??