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Gift Books to Delight and Enthrall

by Ketzel Levine
Dec 2, 2005

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Humility, thy name is "The Best Gift Books of 2005." Can you imagine a more humbling assignment?

Do you think they've given me enough rope?

Alas, that will have to do for a disclaimer, because there isn't enough real estate on this Web site for me to walk you through the regret-ridden landscape of the gift books I didn't choose.

Please! Don't misunderstand me. I am enthralled by the winners. But when you omit little ditties like the awe-inspiring Oxford Atlas of the World or — may the higher powers strike me dead! — The Complete New Yorker, well, an explanation is due.

If a book has been elaborately featured by my on-air colleagues, it ain't here. (Goodbye, Calvin & Hobbes! So long, The Elements of Style Illustrated!) If it's part of a collection that might require an additional purchase, it's history. (Not so elementary, Volume 3 in the New Annotated Sherlock Holmes! Je regret, A Life Of Henri Matisse, Vol 2!)

If its appeal seemed too specialized, particularly in a popular genre, it's gone. (But not forgotten, Stanley Kubrick Photographs 1945-1950!) And if the book sold out so fast that only promissory post cards are still available (mazel tov, Little Nemo in Slumberland!), I let it go.

(How's that for subterfuge; just snuck in eight more!)

To keep from losing my mind, I've had to narrow my definition of a "gift book." While firmly believing that any well-written book is a gift, I've favored books that were inherently aesthetic and beautifully produced. Trying to discern what kind of books people might not buy for themselves, I chose those I thought more of an indulgence, rather than those needed to stay sane. (Consequently, you'll find no novels, memoirs or short stories. Yes, I will burn.)

So now, if you're ready, I'll take you through old maps and contemporary art galleries, courtside at the NBA, inside the minds of raucous high schools kids, and into the embrace of poems. I've made certain to provide you with baby-boomer nostalgia, music lovers' notes, and nourishment for your favorite gardener's soil and soul.

Drum roll, please!

Under the category, "I Can Dream, Can't I?" here's the non plus ultra gift book of 2005....

'Atlas Maior of 1665'

Phantasmagoric sea monsters, Saxons in drag and very naughty cupids are only part of the delights in this astonishing reproduction of 17th century Dutch cartographer Joan Blaeu's 1665 Atlas. Described as "the largest and most expensive book to be published during the 17th century" — be forewarned, it still needs its own altar today — this mesmerizing reference text takes us wandering through painstakingly realized, make-believe landscapes that are lusciously reproduced in other-worldly blues, saturated saffrons, and Middle Earthian greens.

Frankly, if you're as besotted as I am with this 25 pound, $200 mother lode of maps, it's time to start dropping hints, sending out group e-mails, or failing that, skip eight new hardbacks and buy it for yourself.

For a less grandiose but no less stunning indulgence for geography lovers, how about...

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'Cities of the World: A History in Maps'

'One People: many journeys'

'Woman in the Mirror: The Photographs of Richard Avedon, 1945-2004'

'Woody Guthrie Artworks: The Journals, Drawings and Sketchbooks of an American Original'

'Still Looking: Essays on American Art'

'Basquiat'

'Dear New Girl or Whatever Your Name Is'

'Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and The Women Who Created Her'

'Hoops: Four Decades of the Pro Game'

'Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling, and a World on the Brink'

'Classic Cats by Great Photographers'

'Bedside Book of Birds'

'The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden'

'100 Great Poems of the Twentieth Century'

'Beethoven: The Universal Composer'

'The Rescue Artist'

'Exposure'

About the Author

Ketzel Levine is a senior correspondent for NPR, reporting for Morning Edition. With an academic background in music, a working relationship with sports, and a passion for plants and animals, she brought her many interests to bear in crafting this gift book list.

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