This season’s crop of coffee-table books delivers more than just pretty pictures. For the person on your gift-giving list who has everything, consider one of these books designed to inspire, entertain and educate.
From the University of Georgia Press, “Inspired Georgia” takes a thoughtful look at our state through the prism of poems and photographs by writers and artists with ties to the area.
The collection of previously published poems represents a significant number of local literati, including co-editor Judson Mitcham, Thomas Lux, Janisse Ray, Jericho Brown, David Bottoms, Kevin Young, Natasha Trethewey and Coleman Barks. Subjects run the gamut from “An Ode to Silence” by Megan Sexton to a broken engagement by Erin Ganaway to a meditation on the color blue — or azul — by Judith Ortiz Cofer.
Among the photographs are fresh looks at predictable scenes — a diner, a high school homecoming, a country fair, a red barn. But there are surprising finds, too: Christina Hadley’s moody, snowy shadow play; Laura Noel’s mesmerizing abstract; Joeff Davis’ playful lake scene.
And in the center is a stunning spread of moody, square-format landscapes by Diane Kirkland of some of our state’s natural jewels, including Mount Arabia, Ossabaw, Lake Burton, Sapelo and the Chattahoochee River. (Edited by Judson Mitcham, Michael David Murphy and Karen L. Paty. UGA Press. $34.95)
‘Plant: Exploring the Botanical World’
What better way to spend a dreary winter afternoon than paging through gorgeous, full-color pictures of flowers? Not just flowers, but roots, stems, leaves, seeds and fruits, too, captured in 300 images of sketches, paintings, photographs, carvings, engravings and pressings that date from 1352 B.C. to the present.
Among the artists are familiar names: Robert Mapplethorpe, Leonardo da Vinci, Ellsworth Kelly, John James Audubon, M.C. Escher, Edward Steichen, Beatrix Potter, Charles Darwin, Georgia O’Keeffe and Emily Dickinson.
But the greatest joy comes from stumbling upon the unexpected, like the haunting 1895 X-ray print (by Gaston Contremoulins and Charles Remy) of chrysanthemums created shortly after the technology was developed or the glorious, seemingly contemporary painting of a field of dark purple irises on gold-foiled paper by Ogata Kōrin from the early 18th century. (Phaidon Press Inc. $59.95)
‘Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders’
The website devoted to unique, arcane and downright bizarre places, things and events around the world is now available in book form. Organized by continents and countries, this fascinating compendium of peculiarities is designed to amaze.
Where else might one learn about the storm prognosticator made from a carousel of leeches by surgeon George Merryweather? It debuted at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, and a reproduction is on display at the Barometer World Exhibition museum in Devon, England.
Or the Fireball Festival, a high-spirited event in which participants fling flaming fuel-soaked rags at one another every Aug. 31 in Nejapa, El Salvador.
Atlanta doesn’t escape scrutiny. Among its oddities is the Crypt of Civilization at Oglethorpe University, a room-sized time capsule established in 1936 and sealed until the year 8113. The items then-President Thornwell Jacobs and archivist Thomas Peters saw fit to preserve for future mankind include a potato masher, set of false eyelashes, dental floss and the steel plates used to print the Atlanta Journal. (Edited by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton. Workman Publishing. $35)
‘Motown: The Sound of Young America’
This photographic chronicle of Motown Records — from its beginnings in 1959 Detroit with Berry Gordy’s first label, Tamla, through the Supremes years, the Hollywood era, the debut of the Jackson 5 and the heyday of Stevie Wonder — provides a fascinating look behind the scenes of the studio that defined an era and forever changed the sound of popular music in America.
The hefty, 400-page book is stuffed with full-color photos of vintage album covers, publicity shots, early club performances, TV appearances and candid shots taken backstage, in hotel rooms and recording studios. Photos of a baby-faced Michael Jackson, a teenage Stevie Wonder and an intensely focused Marvin Gaye are particularly arresting.
But it’s more than just pretty pictures. The history is thoroughly researched and beautifully crafted by author Adam White, whose preface on the 1967 riots that devastated Detroit is a heart-stopping piece of writing. (By Adam White with Barney Ales. Thames & Hudson. $60)
‘In the Company of Women’
Ideal for teen girls and young adult women, this inspiring book encapsulates the stories of more than 100 creative women in the areas of design, visual arts, culinary arts, literature and show business in short Q&As about the lessons they’ve learned on their journeys to success. Some are well known: writer Roxane Gay, Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney and “Portlandia,” comedian Cameron Esposito, musician Neko Case and Issa Rae, creator and star of the HBO show “Insecure.”
Others are lesser known, such as Savannah baker Cheryl Day, Athens potter Rebecca Wood and Decatur illustrator Sarah Neuburger, who answers her questions in graphic form. (By Grace Bonner. Workman Publishing. $35)