Another year passes, and finding good gifts for that favorite guy only gets tougher. Books can be a solution, though, since their subject matter ranges as widely as the different types of guys on anyone’s shopping list. Sports books are always big, and this season has produced several of note, but the practical guy and the guy who likes to laugh are also covered. There are even a couple of books about cowboys—and deep down inside, that’s every guy.
The love of the game
The publishers of Sports Illustrated continue to dazzle at holiday time with their beautiful, oversized treatments on major sports, and The Golf Book: A Celebration of the Ancient Game is no exception. Typical of the book series, the sport is generally broken down into eras, with accompanying facts on achievers and achievements interspersed with articles by members of SI’s roster of past and present first-rate journalists, including Dan Jenkins, Rick Reilly, George Plimpton, Frank Deford and the legendary Herbert Warren Wind, who offers a sobering review of Arnold Palmer’s controversial antics at Amen Corner during the 1958 Masters. The photos, by SI’s many award-winners, are often breath-taking: PGA Tour rookie Tiger Woods staring meaningfully into the camera; Palmer and Jack Nicklaus sharing a poignant post-round moment; Pebble Beach’s gorgeous oceanside 18th hole; and much more. The ladies receive some coverage, too (Mickey Wright, Annika Sorenstam, Paula Creamer, etc.), plus there are endless sidebars focusing on equipment, golf in pop culture, the game as played by our presidents and, in one really surprising photo, the game as played by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro! Roy Blount Jr.’s marvelous foreword, “We’re Talking Golf,” provides etymological clarification of golf’s colorful terminology.
ESPN’s Bill Simmons is a basketball freak. He’s also a lively, sharp-witted, delightfully cynical writer who has exhaustively poured his heart and soul into The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy. This hefty tome can’t be consumed at a single sitting, but it’s damn enjoyable to start reading on any random page. Simmons is relentless, offering cogent historical views of the game’s great teams; sharp statistical analysis; smart assessments of important trades and critical big games; plus the infamous Simmons “pyramid,” which ranks the game’s best-ever 96 players. Simmons is a smart aleck, but he’s also doggedly thorough with his facts and writes with authority—and that includes his almost scholarly insistence on footnotes, which is where a lot of his wit is embedded.
Sports on the big screen
In The Ultimate Book of Sports Movies: Featuring the 100 Greatest Sports Films of All Time, Ray Didinger and Glen Macnow—both Philadelphians with solid sports media backgrounds—offer descriptions of movies ranging from Rocky (#1) to The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (#100). For each film, the authors include backstory sidebars, contemporary critical reactions and evaluations of pivotal scenes. Interspersed throughout are related essays covering, for example, great sports movies for kids and rankings of actors based on their portrayals of famous athletes, plus interviews with various individuals involved in one way or another with the films, such as actors Bob Uecker (Major League) and Dennis Quaid (The Rookie). Black-and-white photos throughout enhance the already impressive coverage.
Be a know-it-all
The guy who wants to get his macho mojo back will certainly have an interest in The Indispensable Book of Practical Life Skills: Essential Lessons in Everything You Need to Be a Fully Functioning Adult . True, there are touchy-feely (i.e., girly) things in here, but there are also many how-tos of a kind that used to define the man in our society, like jump-starting a car, splitting logs, dealing with emergencies, being handy around the house, plus outdoorsy stuff like camping and . . . skinning a rabbit? Illustrated usefully, and with lucid, step-by-step descriptions, this guide covers a lot of other take-charge, know-how-to-git-’er-done situations. (Softer guys can use the book to learn how to bake bread.)
Big laughs from The Onion
Since its founding in 1988, the hilarious satirical newspaper The Onion has gained a loyal national following and increasing cultural cachet as an outlet for scathing social and political humor. Our Front Pages: 21 Years of Greatness, Virtue, and Moral Rectitude from America’s Finest News Source is a terrific oversized browsing item, reprinting—mostly in full color—the front pages of every issue from inception through the 2008 presidential election. “Clinton Vaguely Disappointed By Lack of Assassination Attempts,” says one headline from February 2001, and anyone who loves The Onion—and we know you’re out there—knows that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Wrap it up and give it to the guy who knows what funny is.
Author and card player James McManus’ Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker is an erudite, well-researched and fully referenced history of the French parlor game that morphed into an American obsession in the mid-19th century. Ranging from the revolver-toting days of Wild Bill Hickok to smoky 20th-century Vegas backrooms to the modern age of online gaming, McManus’ work gains broader texture in its linking of play-for-pay card games to various aspects of American society, not least of which are politics and leadership. Hence we learn, among many other things, that President Obama availed himself of poker night while a state senator in Illinois—and acquitted himself well. President Nixon was also notably good playing cards during his World War II service. McManus’ thesis connects gambling to the American character, and given the domestic millions won and lost daily in its various forms, who could say otherwise? An informative glossary of terms is appended.
Channel your inner cowboy
Finally, there’s Jim Arndt’s How to Be a Cowboy: A Compendium of Knowledge and Insight, Wit and Wisdom, a book with a title that speaks for itself. Gorgeous photos are the hallmark of this modest-sized gem, but Arndt, a noted commercial and art photographer, breaks his pictorial coverage down via chapters that also offer cowboy facts and lore, ranging from apparel to the cowboy milieu (ranch, range, rodeo) through cowboy music and the wit and wisdom of the great cowboy philosopher Will Rogers. Cowboys in pop culture are covered in a subsection called “The Cowboy Way,” which presents fun rundowns of great movies and novels and features cool old black-and-white photos of icons such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Nevertheless, it’s the rich color camerawork that really compels, and Arndt’s classy shots of elaborately designed boots, shirts, blue jeans and hats, plus peripheral cowboy gear, are enough to make a guy chuck the 9-to-5 and head out to the wild, wild West.