Friday, December 10, 2010

Santa's on his way: gift ideas from BellemeadeBooks

It's fifteen days before Christmas. Did you forget anyone on your twice-checked list? Or maybe you've just decided to have another nog and wander online until inspiration strikes, and "accidentally" discover something for yourself at 3 a.m.? In any event or whichever method you choose to shop, Santa's on his way -- that nimble and quick elf waits for no one.

Here are some titles published in the past year that have been reviewed in BellemeadeBooks. Order right here through the search box and then relax. Have a gingerbread cookie and think how you'll be spending the plastic cash your Aunt Emily just sent in her holiday card.

Above: Drainspotting, Remo Camerota (Mark Batty Publishers) is a brick-sized photo collection of customized storm-drain covers, created in Japan for municipal waterworks. These unique artworks are presented in a less-than-coffeetable size format (six-by-six inches) that weighs considerably less than the originals. Besides being an unexpected and attractive art, the result has been a beneficial civic program, a great example of how the demands of politics, the needs of communities, and the aesthetics of art can combine -- and a reminder how rarely they do, too.

Just Kids (Ecco/Harper) is a valentine to the blossoming relationship Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe shared until Mapplethorpe's death in 1989. The memoir, newly published in a paperback edition, is Patti being tough and tender, romantic in the way artists often remember their own struggle, and filled with the people who made music and art their passion in New York of the 1970s. Robert's drawing and photography develops its challenging reputation as Patti begins to sing her own music, and this became a common creative bond that propels them in their personal life as much as their careers. For Patti the book allows her to wrap her troubles in dreams, even as the threadbare bohemian life becomes a distant memory through rock and roll.

Label 228, compiled by Camden Noir (Soft Skull Press) One man's stickable art is another's graffiti; it's a toss-up if these labels by Mecro, Zoso, Kegr, Robots Will Kill! and others are permanent treasures. The disposable nature of a label suggests they're not meant to be -- the viewer's appreciation here depends on the images' inclusion in book format, away from the ephemeral encounter at street level. If the irony of this is lost on the artist, to the viewer looking through Label 228 it's an irony that assumes its own art form.

The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson (Random House) Wilkerson's approach to the story of her move back South (from Chicago to Atlanta) is a tale inspired less by Studs Terkel than Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath figures as a writing model, focusing on the stories of three main characters around which larger ideas are woven. In a nod to the book's cinematic scope Wilkinson also name-checks the director Robert Altman as a reference point of interwoven characters and their stories.

The Book of Frank (WAVE Books) CAConrad's one-man tent show of poetry is not for the faint of heart, the weak of mind, or who fear leaps of imagination. Each of his books is a high-wire act of love and transformation performed without a net -- Jonathan Williams' perceptive axiom reading makes hair grow in your palms and makes you blind seems just as good a review of CAConrad's work as any, and just as pertinent to The Book of Frank, in a new and expanded edition just published by WAVE Books.

Life, Keith Richards (Little, Brown Publishers) As it turns out, for the Rolling Stones time really is on their side after all. Determined to grow older -- if increasingly wrinkled -- with some dignity intact, Keith Richards has been wandering around the bookstores and TV talk shows with a new book in tow, disarmingly titled Life, filled with stories that somehow amaze with how different the world seemed back then. Now, when the only parental outrage Katy Perry can generate is her outfit on Sesame Street, tales of the Stones in 1960s/1970s America seem positively other-worldly.

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