Bookshelf: New crop of coffee-table books inspire great gift ideas

Recommendations for fans of music, photography and Christmas.
Courtesy of Phaidon

Credit: Phaidon

Credit: Phaidon

Courtesy of Phaidon

For those on your holiday gift list who are hard to buy for, you can’t go wrong with a coffee-table book carefully selected to match their interests. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

“The Christmas Book.” Encased in a red linen-like fabric and embossed with green and gold dots that form the shape of a mod Christmas tree, the cover of “The Christmas Book” (Phaidon, $49.95) is so tastefully festive it doubles as holiday décor when you place it on your coffee table.

Inside the handsome volume are 200 photographs — each to its on page and accompanied by text — of unrelated Christmas objects that range from the sacred to kitschy. One photograph may be of a 16th century stained glass window depicting the nativity and another could be a scene from Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Ideal for a hostess gift, it’s the kind of book you could enjoy piecemeal in spare minutes between holiday chores or get lost in on a rainy afternoon. Part of the pleasure in perusing it is the serendipitous juxtaposition of images — like a 1949 magazine ad for General Electric Christmas lights on one page and an exquisite 1745 rendering of a Christmas rose by Georg Dionysius Ehret on the next.

Courtesy of St. Martin's Press

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“Crowned.” Atlanta husband-and-wife duo Kahran and Regis Bethencourt aren’t your typical portrait photographers. With their company CreativeSoul Photography, they’ve carved a niche for themselves celebrating Black children’s beauty through costume and storytelling.

They first came on the national scene with the New York Times bestselling coffee-table book “Glory” in 2020 that focused on natural hair, and now they’re back with “Crowned” (St. Martin’s Press, $35). Subtitled “Magical Folk and Fairy Tales from the Diaspora,” it’s a gorgeous, colorful collection of photographs of children in elaborate costumes and hair styles that reimagine classic European fairytales like “Rapunzel,” African folk tales like “How the Zebra Got Its Stripes” and new stories like “The Skateboarding Princess.” Part of the book’s charm is its appeal to both children and adults.

Courtesy of Voracious Books

Credit: Voracious Books

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Credit: Voracious Books

“Johnny Cash: The Life in Lyrics.” Music icon Johnny Cash had roots firmly planted in country music, but his appeal stretched far beyond that world to encompass a multi-generational fan base across genres. Published to coincide with the 20th anniversary of his death, “Johnny Cash: The Life in Lyrics” (Voracious Books, $55) is chock full of photos, but the main focus is on his songs, beginning with 1954′s “Belshazzar” and ending with 2003′s “Like the 309.” The book contains the lyrics and backstories of 125 songs. Adding a poignancy to the book are photographs of Cash’s hand-written lyrics scrawled on sheets of blue-lined notebook paper. Son John Carter Cash, along with Johnny Cash biographer Mark Stielper, contributed the text.

Courtesy of Thames & Hudson

Credit: Thames & Hudson

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Credit: Thames & Hudson

“Lee Miller: Photographs.” The subject of an upcoming film starring Kate Winslet, photographer Lee Miller was a highly sought-after model in her youth who appeared on the cover of Vogue magazine. She was also the muse, protégé and lover of artist Man Ray. But eventually, she declared, “I would rather take a photograph than be one,” and she returned to Vogue as a photojournalist covering World War II. It was during this time she was famously photographed bathing in Hitler’s tub the day he died.

Aligned with the artists of the surrealist movement, Miller created high-contrast, black-and-white photographs that were dramatic, startling and provocative. “Lee Miller: Photography” (Thames & Hudson, $45) is a slim coffee-table book that spans her career from experimental work and fashion shoots to landscapes and portraits to gruesome depictions of war. The book includes an introduction by Miller’s son, Antony Penrose, who’s credited with keeping his mother’s legacy alive, and a foreword by Winslet.

Courtesy of Rizzoli

Credit: Rizzoli

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Credit: Rizzoli

“LL Cool J Presents the Streets Win.” Commemorating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, “LL Cool J Presents the Streets Win” (Rizzoli International, $55) is a must-have illustrated history for fans of the genre. Authored by LL Cool J, Vikki Tobak and Alec Banks, this hefty volume comes in at 336 pages and features 150 photographs taken at block parties, recording sessions and street performances. Sectioned by artists, the book highlights nearly 100 music-makers with Q&As, first-person accounts and oral histories. Says LL Cool J in the foreword, the book’s goal is “to ensure that the narrative was handed down to future generations straight from the people who created the culture.”

When buying books this holiday season, consider contributing to your community by purchasing from your local independent book store.

Suzanne Van Atten is a book critic and contributing editor to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. You can contact her at Suzanne.Vanatten@ajc.com.

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