I come from a bookish family. We didn't just read books, we owned them. It was no small thing, having your own collection. This was my father's side of the family, Manhattanites with overflowing bookcases and the seeming inability to throw anything away. When it came time for a birthday or the holidays, my family gave books as gifts. I didn't welcome this when I was kid because I didn't like reading much. But I did enjoy drawing and looking at pictures.
My mother's family lived in Belgium and from the time I was about 10 years old, I connected with aunts and uncles by looking at Tintin and Asterix collections—and, my favorite, Gaston LaGaffe. The text was in French but I could follow the gist of the story, and looked for queues to laugh from my French-speaking relatives. Comic books weren't lowbrow to them—either that or they were lowbrow—but these editions were a far cry from the flimsy, paperback comic books I knew back home. These were bound in sturdy, hardcover editions. They were legit.
Some of my Dad's relatives have paired back their libraries and have turned to the Nook or the Kindle. I haven't made that move—I still like the feel of books—but I can appreciate why people prefer reading on a tablet. If you're thinking of tackling The Power Broker or What It Takes, yeah, a Kindle makes a lot of sense unless you want to risk throwing your back out.
But there's a special kind of book whose power cannot be replicated on an iPad or a computer, and that's the kind that Taschen makes. To call Taschen's art books "coffee table" books is limiting not to mention vaguely insulting. Yes, some of them are so massive they are like pieces of furniture, but a Taschen book is like a volume from the Library of America on steroids; it's aim nothing short of being definitive. Taschen looks to clear the field. And so their volumes—from affordable compilations on pop culture, art, and erotica, to collector's editions that sell in the hundreds or thousands of dollars—feel like portable museums. And in many cases, Taschen's museum-like retrospectives are better served in an oversized volume—like The Art of Pin-Up—than on the walls of an art gallery.
So if you're looking for that killer last-minute gift, do yourself a favor and consider these five bomb-ass titles:
You want definitive? Well, 75 Years of Marvel Comics: From the Golden Age to the Silver Screen ($200.00) is a Hulk of a book. It's cartoonishly big. I love the layout, the way text and picture combine to tell a story. The full page reproductions are especially great, bigger and bolder than they appeared in their original format. One of the most irritating trends in reissues of old comic books is that the color gets altered. I suppose it is improved but most often—and the reproductions of Neal Adams' Batman comics come to mind—they spoil an essential aesthetic of the original. But in this volume, the original colors are heightened, not replaced.
And when, on occasion, there is a new color process, it is fuckin' fabulous:
Book is just buckets of fun.
The Rolling Stones ($150.00).
Does the world really need another Stones book? Well, when it's given the Taschen treatment, sure it does. This heavyweight volume not only includes gorgeous photography but a wonderful catalog of album covers and magazine covers which really leaves you a comprehensive impression of the group's career. Oh, and it also includes intelligent essays from the likes of our pal, Luc Sante, who writes, in part:
As the years drew on, the photographic record of the Stones became nearly as important as the phonographic. For a long time, there were no music videos, while television appearances were intermittent, so magazine coverage had a weight that may be difficult to appreciate today…The Stones didn't just write and perform great songs, they also sustained a continually evolving performance that included photo shoots, interviews, films, police-blotter items, nightclub paparazzi snaps, profiles in Tiger Beat, society columns, condemnations from the pulpit…They constructed a collective identity, a five-headed literary character that remains as singular an artistic achievement as their music.
Understanding the World: The Atlas of Infographics ($69.99) What I know from Infographics doesn't go much beyond what my pal Craig Robinson has been blessing us with for years now. So I had a lot of fun with this one, which tells you a little about a lot. Dag, learning' is fun. This book is as inventive as it is informative, smartly designed, too.
The Art of Pin-up ($200.00) is one big slice of cheesecake, indeed, a ridiculous, glorious compilation. At $200 it's an investment but after spending some time with it—and books this thorough aren't meant to be rushed through—it feels like money well spent. Just a marvelous artifact.
Curated, as are many of Taschen's fine erotica titles, with expertise and care by Dian Hanson.
It's big sexy and big fun.
["October 19, 1960. Thirty-one-year-old Jacqueline Kennedy was magnetic on the campaign trail. While her travel had been limited due to her pregnancy, she reemerged on an important swing through New York City, culminating in a ticker-tape parade down 5th Avenue."]
Okay, I was leery about this one. The marriage of Norman Mailer's seminal essay "Superman Comes to the Supermarket" with a picture book sounds like the ultimate vanity project. So I was unprepared for just how overwhelming the combination of text and images are—this book feels more like immersing yourself in a sensory-overload documentary. The pictures add dimension to Mailer's text and yeah, the writing still shines:
For once let us try to think about a political convention without losing ourselves in housing projects of fact and issue. Politics has its virtues, all too many of them — it would not rank with baseball as a topic of conversation if it did not satisfy a great many things — but one can suspect that its secret appeal is close to nicotine. Smoking cigarettes insulates one from one's life, one does not feel as much, often happily so, and politics quarantines one from history; most of the people who nourish themselves in the political life are in the game not to make history but to be diverted from the history which is being made.
If that Democratic Convention which has now receded behind the brow of the summer of 1960 is only half-remembered in the excitements of moving toward the election, it may be exactly the time to consider it again, because the mountain of facts which concealed its features last July has been blown away in the winds of High Television, and the man-in-the-street (that peculiar political term which refers to the quixotic voter who will pull the lever for some reason so salient as: "I had a brown-nose lieutenant once with Nixon's looks," or "that Kennedy must have false teeth"), the not so easily estimated man-in-the-street has forgotten most of what happened and could no more tell you who Kennedy was fighting against than you or I could place a bet on who was leading the American League in batting during the month of June.
So to try to talk about what happened is easier now than in the days of the convention, one does not have to put everything in — an act of writing which calls for a bulldozer rather than a pen — one can try to make one's little point and dress it with a ribbon or two of metaphor. All to the good. Because mysteries are irritated by facts, and the 1960 Democratic Convention began as one mystery and ended as another.
There you have it. You should also consider Film Noir: 100 All-Time Favorites ($49.99), Rock Covers ($69,99), Francois Truffaut: The Complete Films ($14.99), Bigger is Better: The Ultimate Tom of Finland ($200); The Big Book of Pussy 3D ($39.99) and, of course, The Big Penis Book 3D ($39.99). But this is just a sampling. Dig Taschen's website for more eye candy or stop into one of their stores.
[Photo Credits: Marvel images via © MARVEL/ Courtesy TASCHEN; all other covers Courtesy TASCHEN; picture of Keith Richards is by Bent Rej; picture of Mick, by David Bailey; the Guide to Coffee © Lokesh Dhakar 2010; Pin Up calendar art by Hanson Petty courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York, and the George Petty Estate; the photo, "Zoe Mozert painting Jane Russell for The Outlaw film poster" © Marianne Ohl Phillips Collection; the image of Jackie Kennedy is by ©Henri Dauman/daumanpictures.com. All rights reserved.]