A few teen titles (What’s Left of Me, and Ashfall & Ashen Winter) have shown up so far on my 2012 gift suggestion list, but no books for kids.
You’re in luck, though. A splendid list of suggested gifts for kids is available over on the Kids’ Blog.
Click on The False Prince to be taken to The True List.
Now, then. Pam in Processing saw me looking around for gift ideas, and mentioned Pets at the White House: 50 Years of Presidents and Their Pets by Jennifer B. Pickens. I realized that I hadn’t included any coffee table books–which I define as being chiefly pictorial, too big to fit in your purse or briefcase, and popular gift items. A serious omission.
The Pickens book has an introduction, in which we see Grace Coolidge’s raccoon and other pets that preceded the book’s fifty-year span.
The Kennedys, with whom the book proper begins, had 17 pets, setting a record that hasn’t been broken since. Every First Family has had at least a couple, though, saving the Obamas (just the one dog Bo), and they have four more years in which to adopt another animal.
Of course the cameras have been snapping down through the years, and we have here a different slant on presidential history.
Simon Winchester’s Skulls: An Exploration of Alan Dudley’s Curious Collection may strike you as too weird to be a coffee table book, but I say it fits. Alan Dudley is a British fellow who works with wood veneers in expensive cars. In his off-time, he collects skulls. Nick Mann has photographed part of the collection, and celebrated journalist Winchester has written an entertaining and knowledgable commentary.
The axolotl skull looks like a sugary crunch pastry, the sort of thing that people will be passing around on trays this month. But most of the skulls are more intimidating. Even the skull of the common house cat, with its “sharp, piercing canines, rows of scissorlike carnassials behind, and large orbits indicating acute night vision,” reminds me of the way our own cats have been treating the local rabbits.
The last run of a steam locomotive on the Norfolk and Western Railway occurred on May 6, 1960. Everyone knew that the end of steam was coming, and from 1955 to 1960 a commercial photographer named O. Wilson Link took pictures along the N & W line, particularly in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina.
O. Winston Link : Life Along the Line, a Photographic Portrait of America’s Last Great Steam Railroad gathers some of his pictures. A few are in color but most are black and white, and the book truly feels like a window into another world. If I were looking at nothing but locomotives, boredom would set in quickly, but I’m fascinated by the stations, the countryside, the N & W workers and the people in the communities along the line.
My favorite shot at the moment is Hawksbill Creek Swimming Hole, which is a variant on a more famous shot that you can see at, for example, the blog called It’s Nelly’s World. A woman and some kids are splashing around while a N & W train rolls by overhead. I like the less well-known version more, and it shows up bigger and better in this book than it does on the web. It’s even gloriously reproduced on the back of the book jacket. This is why people like coffee table books.