Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas crackers: some gift ideas from Bellemeade Books

There's an amazing variety of gift books available this holiday season, ranging from a memoir of life with John and Yoko during 1969's Bed in for Peace (above) to a new telling of the Canterbury Tales by illustrator Seymour Chwast. All of these previously-reviewed suggestions are available here on Bellemeade Books through the Amazon search box, and there's still time to order these books to read them yourself before wrapping!

Gail Renard, to her own teenage amazement, was invited by John and Yoko to participate in their Bed Peace event. She was a 16-year-old Beatles fan in 1969, and claimed to be a "student journalist" for her school paper to get access to the hotel at which the entourage was staying. The Lennons eventually asked her to join in, and she was there for the entire eight days taking care of Yoko's five-year-old daughter and participating in the first recording of "Give Peace a Chance." John looked after her –- sending her home every night to her mother who had spoken to him on the phone and insisted that there were to be no drugs or sex while her daughter was around. Her 2010 book about the Bed Peace was published in Britain with the title Give Me A Chance --the result is a fab memento of an (increasingly) long-gone rock era.

Greil Marcus's foray into the Van Morrrison mysteries, When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison, is a cross-cultural romp of influences, judgments, and fractured emotional responses to Van's work. Is it too much? Yes, and not enough, too. Its thick, wild and wooly theorizing is more a product of Marcus's love of Van's music than any rational trip through Morrison's catalogue. Fans will understand. Abandoning a linear narrative opens the book to complaints of Marcus's personal obsession, messy and strained connections, and sheer confusion. But his approach-of-tangents gets to the core of why Morrison's music has an appeal more to individuals than a mass audience: at its best it's a vision. (One can Imagine the mystical, yearning Yeats attempting to fill stadium seats, decades of touring behind his work.) Whether Morrison himself intends it so, it's a wonder his music still makes it to the marketplace at all.

In the early 1970s photographer Charles Gatewood compiled a book of images he titled Sidetripping, 90 photographs that capture the oblique angles of human nature: glimpses that more often require a second look, a quick scene captured out of the corner of the eye that one may have only imagined. On assignment in London with Rolling Stone writer Robert Palmer to do a feature story on William Burroughs, in 1972, Gatewood approached Burroughs with the assembled photographs The literary loup-garou agreed to write Gatewood an introduction to the book, and the photographer was overjoyed. Gatewood writes in a postscript at the RealityStudio site: "In 2011 am producing a deluxe William Burroughs book with Dana Dana Dana editions in San Francisco. It will be a handmade artist’s book containing all the best photos from our 1972 shoot, plus previously unpublished photos of William Burroughs with Jimmy Page in 1975."

First published as a children's chapter book in 1963, The Crows of Pearblossom is a story Aldous Huxley created for his niece in 1944 while she was staying with the Huxleys in the Mojave desert.
In this new Abrams picture-book edition with illustrations by Sophie Blackall, Mr. and Mrs Crow are still bedeviled by the snake who lives at the bottom of their tree and steals their eggs. The new book is meant for kids ages four to eight, and if there are any parallels to Brave New World it's that the world may not be all that it seems. As a Christmas gift to his young niece Olivia during World War II, Huxley's story has dark edges that were likely meant as an introduction to the adult world that faced very uncertain challenges ahead.

This version of The Canterbury Tales, like Chwast's The Divine Comedy before it, is certainly not for purists -- the eternal argument when artifice meets true art Filled as it is with profound differences between men and women, romantic betrayal that barely pays lip service to monogamy, jealousy taken to lethal extremes and the medieval love of fables, the Canterbury Tales are as modern as Chwast's fine artwork. There are plenty of beheadings, repeated bursts of flatulence and, as the cartoon Chaucer explains, action “complete with swash and buckling.” There is also a cross-cultural expanse to the epic storytelling, with biblical figures, Greek gods, Roman emperors and Arabian legends all represented within this graphic condensation of Chaucer’s classic into tales that are often as little as a few panels each.

For those who enjoy tripping down rock's memory lane, David Bowie (...remember him?) now gets the ultra-glam treatment in a coffee-table slab of his own. Any Day Now: David Bowie The London Years 1947-1974 (Adelita Publishers) is an eye-popping collection of memorabilia (and a memento of a gallery show) that should remind readers of a certain age that the '70s -- in the UK, at least -- certainly seemed ... well, a bit more colorful than here in the drab, Nixon-browed USA at the time. Bowie has always been a smart businessman -- he was the first to offer a stock offering in his musical back catalog -- and it seems only natural at this point to expect the Diamond Dog to approve this extravagant look back in mascara at the early years.

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