The 2013 holiday season brings a choice selection of gift books that appear tailor-made for basic male interests. Football? Comic books? Bikini-clad supermodels? Somebody’s dad, brother, husband or uncle is going to be very pleased this year.
The only gift item here devoid of pictures is The Book of Men: Eighty Writers on How to Be a Man. Curated by novelist Colum McCann, the editors of Esquire and Narrative 4—a literary nonprofit launched last spring—this collection features fairly offbeat, often unbelievably terse contributions that aim to shed light on male identity and behavior. Most of the writers are men—some well known, others not so much—but women are represented as well. The latter group includes Amy Bloom, who serves up a charming slice-of-life tale about a white man of modest means in romantic pursuit of a black jazz singer 20 years his junior. James Lee Burke, Salman Rushdie and former NYPD cop Edward Conlon are just a few of the many male contributors, with material touching on sexuality, war, ethics, race and the manly struggle for emotional growth.
Photographer Matt Hoyle’s Comic Genius: Portraits of Funny People is one of the most appealing photo books in recent memory. After drawing up a wish list of his favorite comedians, Hoyle invited each of them to collaborate in a creative photo shoot that produced animated, often hilarious portraits. Ninety comedy icons are represented, including Steve Martin, Jim Carrey, Tina Fey, Mike Myers, Conan O’Brien, Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, Mindy Kaling, Kristen Wiig and Steve Carell, plus legendary vets like Don Rickles, Joan Rivers and Mel Brooks. There’s also a welcome shot of the late, great Jonathan Winters. Produced in close studio quarters, these portraits capture less about the comedians themselves and more about their individual comedic styles.
Any guy who’s been keeping an eye on the PBS series “Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle” will doubtless be enthralled by its companion volume, Superheroes! Capes, Cowls, and the Creation of Comic Book Culture. This rich history of the rise and development of the American comic book industry is written by NYU arts professor Laurence Maslon in collaboration with the documentary’s filmmaker, Michael Kantor. The book features interviews with the artists and writers responsible for conceiving and crafting comic books through the decades—especially in the popular superhero genre. Plus, there are hundreds of full-color illustrations that lead the reader through the Depression-era origins of the art form and on to its expanding pop culture importance. There’s also a good deal of material on how comic book art has changed with the times, reflecting war, social upheaval and shifting artistic tastes.
FOURTH AND GOAL
Produced under the auspices of the Library of Congress and with sharp text by writer Susan Reyburn, Football Nation: Four Hundred Years of America’s Game takes its place as an essential popular sports history. A surefire gift idea for that couch-potato football guy, this book deftly melds social history with a super-fan’s sensibility about great modern-day players and auspicious moments on the field. Coverage is comprehensive, from the sport’s nascent development in rural Colonial times, to its growth in colleges in the late 19th century, through its eventual explosion as a billion-dollar professional pursuit. The feast of archival material includes photos, drawings, reproduced magazine and newspaper excerpts, cartoons, advertising and more. This one should be under the Christmas tree just in time for the NFL playoffs.
MADE BY HAND
Even in our highly computerized modern world, there remains a deep respect for hands-on craftsmanship. With that in mind, photographer Tadd Myers set out for mostly rural outposts where dedicated men and women still rely on manual labor to achieve great things. The result is Portraits of the American Craftsman, a rare pictorial journey across America, with Myers visiting 30 small studios and workshops where handmade items such as hats, pipes, surfboards, knives, rifles, gun holsters, banjos, boots and brooms are lovingly produced by old-fashioned artisans. Small-town Texas and Vermont get paid multiple visits, as do Chicago and Nashville, and one surprising journey takes Myers to Colorado, where Billings Artworks metallurgy shop hand-renders each and every Grammy Award. Text by Eric Celeste provides background on these old-school industries and explains how the work is actually done.
Finally, there is Sports Illustrated Swimsuit: 50 Years of Beautiful, a doorstopper of a volume that is loaded with personal testimony and historical narrative about Sports Illustrated’s famous swimsuit issues, as told by the editors, photographers and models who made it happen. It’s no surprise, however, that the engaging text is blown away by the gorgeously printed photos, which capture the moments when cover girls such as Cheryl Tiegs, Elle Macpherson and Heidi Klum moved from mere models to international icons. A subsection focuses on athletes as models (Danica Patrick, Lindsey Vonn), including husband-wife teams, notably golfer Phil Mickelson and his bikini-clad better half, Amy, in a charming 1998 shot that predates Phil’s rise as PGA great and the couple’s heroic, public battle with Amy’s breast cancer. The ladies emerge as timeless stunners, but so does this richly designed book, which celebrates glamour photography and SI’s commitment to doing it with class for half a century.