Five lush books on nature, animals and "Little Women."
Sometimes you just want to give someone a big, lavish, glorious book. Here are five recommendations:
"Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright!" selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Britta Teckentrup. (Nosy Crow, $40.)
Reading a short passage every morning is an excellent way to start the day. Some people read from religious texts; I've been reading daily entries in a nature journal, but poems are another good possibility. This collection, selected by Scottish author, publisher and bookseller Fiona Waters, centers on animals, mostly wild, a few tame. Bullfrogs and dragonflies, monkeys and giraffes, owls and elephants, bears and fleas. The poems she collected are from all over the world, one a day for a full calendar year. Britta Teckentrup's digital illustrations are both startling and gorgeous. The arresting tiger image on the cover stares right out at you from the jungle foliage, inviting you in.
"The Art of the National Parks," by Fifty-nine Parks. (Earth Aware, $45.)
Fifty-nine Parks is an artist collective in Texas that got its start printing posters for rock concerts — some of the artists still do that, but the group has also branched out into other areas. This book is a collection of posters they commissioned and screen-printed, celebrating the country's national parks. It's a lovely conglomeration of styles from artists all over the world — some give a nod to the WPA posters of old; some are beautifully realistic, some are highly stylized. Glenn Thomas' sun-dappled forest of redwoods in Sequoia National Park looks like a primeval paradise. Dan McCarthy's star-studded night sky above Zion National Park is beautiful and mysterious. Elle Michalka chose pinks and greens to represent the buttes of Theodore Roosevelt Park; the line of horses racing across the bottom of her poster looks wild and free. A percentage of the proceeds of poster sales is donated to the national parks system.
"Shop Cats of China," by Marcel Heijnen. (Thames and Hudson, $24.95.)
Cats serve a practical purpose in the small, cramped shops of China — they kill mice. But cats being cats, they do so while looking regal, insouciant and as though they are the ones employing the shopkeeper, rather than the other way around. This collection of photographs and haiku is a wonderful glimpse into the world of Chinese commerce — mom and pop bodegas, restaurants, grocery stores, butcher shops. And in each photo, sometimes a bit hard to find (but worth hunting for), an unsmiling, superior, impassive cat. Dutch photographer Marcel Heijnen has lived in Asia for nearly 30 years, and these intimate photos don't just make me want to travel to Beijing — they make me, a lifelong dog owner, want to get a cat.
"Little Women," by Louisa May Alcott, curated by Barbara Heller. (Chronicle Books, $40.)
I have read "Little Women" so many times beginning at such an early age that I feel as though the four March girls are my own sisters (and that I, in some way, am Jo — never forget that my parents named me Laurie Jo for a reason). This edition contains the novel in full, augmented by physical reproductions of the book's letters, manuscripts and poems, tucked into glassine envelopes that you can pull out and read. Written in old-timey scripts, the ink turned sepia (presumably from age), the paper also looking aged, these are as close as you're going to get to actual letters from Marmee and Meg and the others. Laurie's handwriting in his goodbye letter to Jo is appropriately flamboyant, decorated with flourishes and curlicues.
The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky. (Folio Society, $80.)
Seven stories by the Russian master, including "White Nights" and the novella-length "Notes from the Underground," have been deftly translated by David Magarshack,introduced by none other than Joyce Carol Oates and encased in a sturdy black slipcase. Stark black and white engravings by Harry Brockway reflect the book's dark and wintry mood. Dostoevsky, Oates notes, understands the "tragic predicament" of humans: knowing that love is the highest value, yet rejoicing in their own wickedness. "It was Easter Monday," begins "The Peasant Marey. "The air was warm, the sky blue, the sun high, 'warm' and bright, but I was plunged in gloom." Dig in. No better winter reading than this.
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