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Gift titles: The year’s best coffee-table reading
Extinct Boids; Underwater Dogs; Totally Mad; The Day in Its Color; My Ideal Bookshelf; World’s Best Travel Experiences
 
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xtinct Boids
by Ralph Steadman (Bloomsbury, $50)
“You will know the sad fate of the famous flightless dodo,” said Jessica Hamzelou in New Scientist. But what about the needless smut or the blue piddle? Asked for a single rendering of an extinct bird, gonzo illustrator Ralph Steadman drew 100, hence this “wonderful” collection of drawings, all executed in Steadman’s inimitable spattery style. Steadman didn’t limit himself to the “straitjacket of reality,” said James Gorman in The New York Times. “He also kept releasing imaginary birds from his mind,” and the “open-mouthed joy” his work elicits owes in part to the chance to puzzle over whether his double-banded argus or red-mustached fruit dove were real.  

Underwater Dogs
by Seth Casteel (Little, Brown, $20)
And here we thought we knew our dogs, said Stephan Lee in EW.com. All that changed in early 2012, when the first of Seth Casteel’s underwater photographs appeared online and instantly went viral. Now comes a book that showcases more than 80 of Casteel’s “gorgeous, energetic snapshots,” many of them capturing man’s best friend “in a primal state we rarely get to see.” Few of the models are simply cute; most “look like predatory sea monsters.” Not a mere pet portraitist, Casteel is “exploring the unknown,” said Matthew Bell in The Independent (U.K.). He never knows what image he’ll get when he jumps in a pool with his camera and a ball. “The result, from the point of view of the ball, can be quite alarming.”

Totally Mad
edited by John Ficarra (Time Home Entertainment, $35)
Mad magazine was, back in the day, what The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are now—insightful, sarcastic, and spot on,” said Barbara Barnett in SeattlePI.com. It’s thus fitting that Colbert co-wrote the introduction to this collection of choice cuts from Mad’s six decades of mischief. These equal-opportunity offenders “left no stone unsatirized: politics, celebrity, movies, and television.” Though previous Mad volumes were more comprehensive, this one’s “somehow cozier” and “more behind the scenes,” said Jacqueline Cutler in the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger. Five essays from staffers detail Mad’s cultural impact, and memorable covers, printed on card stock, make for some eyebrow-raising posters. 

The Day in Its Color
by Eric Sandweiss (Oxford, $40)
Most professional photographers continued shooting in black-and-white long after the 1935 introduction of Kodachrome, said Liesl Bradner in the Los Angeles Times. But amateur Charles Cushman embraced color technology, and from 1938 to 1969, he crisscrossed the country with his camera, documenting the nation’s streetscapes, landscapes, and inhabitants in thousands of color slides. Sorting through that trove, historian Eric Sandweiss selected some 150 images that “gorgeously resurrect a lost time,” said Geoffrey Johnson in ChicagoMag.com. Yet Sandweiss can’t decipher Cushman—can’t answer why, for instance, his wife shot him in 1943. Or why they remained together another 26 years.

My Ideal Bookshelf
by Thessaly La Force and Jane Mount (Little, Brown, $25)
Bookshelf porn has never caught on in the U.S. the way it should, said Christopher Borrelli in ChicagoTribune.com. But anyone who relishes a chance to glimpse what the great and the good are reading will admit that this work is a new classic—a volume “so addicting and thoughtful it makes a solid mainstream case for bookshelf porn.” The concept is “as simple as it is intriguing,” said Alexander Nazaryan in the New York Daily News. Authors, actors, and other cultural celebrities were asked to take a snapshot of “a small shelf of books that represents you.” Artist Jane Mount provided “loving renditions of each book spine,” and her paintings are paired with interviews. You feel as if you truly get to know these people.

World’s Best Travel Experiences
(National Geographic, $40)
Whether you’re playing armchair traveler or plotting an actual expedition, the “eye-popping photography” in National Geographic’s big new travelogue is guaranteed to entice, said Karen R. Long in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The 400 featured locations include “spots you’d expect”—like the Great Wall and the Grand Canyon—but also vivid glimpses of the Okavango Delta in Botswana and of Tallinn, Estonia. “Informative sidebars” and page-long lists of regional attractions “complete this compelling package,” said Scott Coffman in the Louisville Courier-Journal. If your family is “the type that tosses its gear into knapsacks and takes off for high adventure,” you might want to make room for a hardcover. 

 

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