Not only are they a snap to wrap, books make the best presents. From juicy bios to bibliophile delights to journeys that inspire wanderlust and simply beautiful coffee-table tomes, Nathalie Atkinson has scanned the shelves and found the right read for everyone on your list
Read what you binge
Lure Netflix addicts away from the screen with these
I’ll Be There For You: The One About Friends by Kelsey Miller (Hanover, 304 pages, $33.50)
This rewinds to the must-see TV years and dives into how the 1990s sitcom (and “the Rachel” haircut) became a phenomenon. Could it be any more up their alley?
The House Witch (Adams Media, 256 pages, $22.99) by Arin Murphy-Hiscock
A compendium of charms, crafts, everyday spells and herbalism to practise at home (just like cousin Ambrose).
Ma’am Darling: Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown (FSG, 432p, $36.50)
A cheeky prismatic bio of the imperious misbehaving princess that’s saucy and (mostly) factual – just like The Crown.
The Moscow Sleepers by Stella Rimington (Bloomsbury, 320 pages, $36)
Who can you trust? Dame Stella, the former director-general of MI5 (yep, she’s basically M) and author of the latest Liz Carlyle espionage escapade.
Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana by Michael Witwer et al. (Ten Speed Press, 448 pages, $66)
Expert D&D historians weigh in with this definitive visual history of the role-playing game including paintings, ephemera and scripts.
Snoop Dogg: From Crook to Cook by Snoop Dogg and Ryan Ford (Chronicle, 192 pages, $34.95)
The rapper shares his unique cooking skills and favourite meals, including the original recipe for gin and juice. Martha had better watch out.
Text Me When You Get Home by Kayleen Schaefer (Dutton, 288 pages, $32)
Dynamic duo Rachel Brosnahan and Alex Borstein forged a powerful and complex bond onscreen; here, Kayleen Schaefer delves into female friendships, from her own to those in pop culture such as The Golden Girls to Pitch Perfect and the Ghostbusters reboot.
Between the covers
These titles will delight the most devoted bibliophile
The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands by Huw Lewis-Jones (University of Chicago Press, 256 pages, $60)
A prologue by Philip Pullman introduces writers and filmmakers (e.g. Joanne Harris, David Mitchell), who share the maps and even personal sketches that inspire and orient their storytelling worlds.
Born to be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey by Mark Dery (Little, Brown, 512 pages, $45.50)
A deeply researched biography of Gorey’s life and the vision that underpins his deadpan Victorian gothic sensibility.
A Note of Explanation by Vita Sackville-West, illustrated by Kate Baylay (Chronicle, 48 pages, $27.95)
In print for the first time since 1924, a previously unknown story that, much like her lover Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, is about a mischievous and fashionable time traveller. It was recently rediscovered in miniature within Queen Mary’s dollhouse at Windsor Castle.
The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (Anansi, 128 pages, $40)
This lovely oversized picture book restores the language of the natural world to the lexicon by combining exquisite artwork with lyrical acrostic poems.
The Annotated Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, Owen Hill, Pamela Jackson and Anthony Rizzuto (Vintage Crime, 512 pages, $34)
So a scholar, a poet and a crime writer walk into a bar … In this case, it’s no joke: This dream team parses the sources, influences and inspirations that informed Raymond Chandler’s writing to deepen both understanding and appreciation of his archetypal novel.
The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition by Ursula LeGuin (Saga Press, 1,008 pages, $80.99)
An incredible visual feast, plus a never-before printed Earthsea story.
I’m with her
Empower and entertain with stories about diverse women
The Art of Feminism: Images that Shaped the Fight for Equality, 1857-2017 by Helena Reckitt (Chronicle, 272 pages, $65)
A comprehensive international survey ranging from Judy Chicago, Carrie Mae Weems and Sethembile Msezane to 150 years ago with early women’s suffrage.
Girl Squads by Sam Maggs and Jenn Woodall (Quirk Books, 272 pages, $21.99)
Looks at 20 dynamic duos who stuck together and changed history.
Inge Morath: An Illustrated Biography by Linda Gordon (Prestel/Magnum Foundation, 192 pages, $65.95)
The globe-trotting Austrian-born journalist photographer (later married to Arthur Miller) was among the first women to join the Magnum Photos agency.
The Log Driver’s Waltz by Wade Hemsworth and Jennifer Phelan (Simon & Schuster, 40 pages, $21.99)
The lyrics of familiar the Canadian folk song are reimagined by Toronto artist Jennifer Phelan, and interpreted with a twist: The girl in the story is headstrong and independent. It pleases completely.
Beyoncé in Formation: Remixing Black Feminism by Omise’eke Tinsley (University of Texas Press, 216 pages, $26.95)
An insightful cultural reading of the performer combined with memoir – and the next best thing to attending Omise’eke Tinsley’s popular undergraduate UT Austin undergraduate course in Beyoncé Feminism/Rihanna Womanism.
Jell-O Girls by Allie Rowbottom (Little, Brown, 288 pages, $36.50)
This personal history by a descendant focuses on the lives of the women in the iconic brand owner’s family dating back to her great-great-great-uncle’s purchase of the jiggling gelatin from its original inventor in 1899. It’s a mesmerizing, and at times dark, family history and sociology of the gem-coloured dessert and its legacy.
Proust’s Duchess by Caroline Weber (Knopf, 736 pages, $47)
Everything you ever wanted to know about Parisian Belle Époque elegance, excess and inequities, and the trio of women who became the fictional Countess in search of lost time. It also includes recently discovered two lost essays by Proust about Parisian high society.
A deep dive into music, film and more
Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop by Vikki Tobak (Clarkson Potter, 288 pages, $54)
A chronological journey of the creative process that features the photographers behind imagery that shaped a global culture, such as Gil Scott Heron photographed by Gerald Jenkins, with essays by RZA, Bill Adler, Young Guru and Fab 5 Freddy.
The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together by Adam Nayman (Little White Lies/Abrams, 320 pages, $50)
The hefty coffee-table tome combines essays and insight on every Coen film by Canadian critic Adam Nayman, with background material and interviews with long-time creative collaborators. Do not burn after reading.
Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story by Chris Nashawaty (Flatiron Books, 304 pages, $34.99)
Bill Murray, Michael O’Keefe and Chevy Chase share stories of improv, juvenile gags and the new style of comedy coined in this unlikely blockbuster with a critic who’s also a superfan.
On Vinyl by Lorenz Peters (Conundrum, 80 pages, $15)
High Fidelity, but make it neurotic: a graphic novel about a dusty record store, the pursuit of a holy grail collection and nostalgia.
Iconic Magazine Covers by Ian Birch (Firefly Books, 256 pages, $49.95)
This story behind the initial brief and creative process to reach the final choice of so many arresting covers forms a record of design and cultural trends over the decades.
How to Raise a Plant by Morgan Doane and Erin Harding (Laurence King, 112 pages, $24.99)
This quirky easy-to-follow grower’s guide turns black thumbs green.
Behind the lens
Before there was Instagram, there was photography
Gordon Parks: The New Tide (Early Works 1940-1950) by Philip Brookman (Steidl, 304 pages, $65)
Charts the evolution and social conscience formed in the breakthrough early years of Gordon Parks’s seven-decade career.
Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous by Christopher Bonanos (Henry Holt, 400 pages, $42)
An analysis of the news photographer’s times, photos and techniques as well as of his publicity-hungry persona, this is the biography the pseudonymous Arthur Fellig – self-anointed "official photographer for Murder Inc.” – deserves.
Dreamer With A Thousand Thrills: Tom Palumbo by Patricia Bosworth (PowerHouse, 240 pages, $75)
This monograph by award-winning author Patricia Bosworth (and Tom Palumbo’s widow) about the mid-century fashion and news photographer puts his range and career evolution on display, with rediscovered portrait sessions of famous subjects such as Mia Farrow, Miles Davis and Jack Kerouac.
All About Saul Leiter by Margit Erb, Pauline Vermare and Motoyuki Shibata (Thames & Hudson, $34)
Elliptical images and his own quotes highlight the artist dubbed “Zen master of street photography” and his poetic manipulation of light, saturation and colour.
Fashion Climbing: A Memoir with Photographs by Bill Cunningham (Penguin Press, 256 pages, $36).
The unpublished autobiography that the legendary milliner turned street style photographer left behind includes his personal pictures and musings.
This Is No Dream: Making Rosemary’s Baby by James Munn, photographs by Bob Willoughby (Reel Art Press, 208 pages, $67.50)
On the film’s 50th anniversary, this study and the unseen behind-the-scenes saga is almost as unsettling as the movie itself.
Pages by design
The perfect addition to the aesthete’s bookshelf
One-Track Mind: Drawing the New York Subway edited by Ezra Bookstein and Jeremy Workman (Princeton Architectural Press, 157 pages, $34.95)
This book is a glimpse into the continuing encyclopedia history of the New York subway stations’ architectural elements, rendered in ink drawings, which Philip Ashforth Coppola began in 1984 and includes his deeply researched anecdotes.
The Minard System by Sandra Rendgen (PA Press, 176 pages, $86)
Information graphics and nerds of data design will devour this catalogue of detailed reproductions and analysis of technique in the 19th-century engineer Charles-Joseph Minard’s work.
Typeset in the Future by Dave Addey (Abrams, 264 pages, $46)
Deconstructing the genre design of classic science fiction using concept art and film stills.
W.A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design by Bruce Kennett (Letterform Archive, 496 pages, $125)
The first major monograph of the foundational figure in American graphic design who united the full range of applied arts – type design, calligraphy, printing, even puppetry – into a single and prolific career, with meticulously assembled and reproduced examples of his work.
Fins by William Knoedelseder (HarperCollins, 308 pages, $36.99)
“A greyhound is more graceful than an English bulldog,” industrial designer Harley Earl once said. This tale of his iconic sleek rear fender stylings and the rise of the U.S. automotive industry is a reminder of happier times at GM and will thrill the enthusiast who can rhyme off every classic car in American Graffiti.
The Eye by Nathan Williams (Artisan, 448 pages, $65)
The Kinfolk magazine co-founder gets dozens of designers, editorial directors and tastemakers to dish on how they shaped their aesthetic, from mentors and decisive moments to the books they read. An inspiring collection for creative professionals.
The Man in the Glass House: Philip Johnson, Architect of the Modern Century by Mark Lamster (Little, Brown, 528 pages, $TK)
An essential new bio of the influential modernist icon’s complex personal and professional life.
Style with substance
The paper accessory that goes with every outfit
The Fashion Chronicles by Amber Butchart (Mitchell Beazley, 288 pages, $27.99)
Fashion historian Amber Butchart explores the style of history’s best-dressed. Marchesa Casati, Georgiana Cavendish and Fela Kuti are included alongside more familiar faces, making it a refreshing change from the usual suspects.
Making the Cut: Stories of Sartorial Icons by Savile Row’s Master Tailor by Richard Anderson (Thames & Hudson, 208 pages, $54)
The Row is what unites kings and dukes with rockers such as Mick Jagger, Hollywood royalty like Cary Grant and mere deep-pocketed mortals. Or as The Tailor & Cutter trade journal said in 1860: “A man cannot make love with any kind of conviction unless he is wearing a coat cut within half a mile of Piccadilly.”
Sara Berman’s Closet by Maira Kalman and Alex Kalman (HarperDesign, 128 pages, $34.99)
A chronicle of their mother/grandmother’s personal effects and wardrobe-as-biography becomes a tender family memoir.
Pink: The History by Valerie Steele (Thames & Hudson, 208 pages, $66)
Charting the symbolism of pink from Marie Antoinette through Legally Blonde and the Women’s March hat.
GingerNutz Takes Paris by Michael Roberts (MW Editions, 80 pages, $37.50)
This book follows the further adventures of the orangutan supermodel inspired by Vogue creative director Grace Coddington.
Charles James: Portrait of an Unreasonable Man by Michèle Gerber Klein (Rizzoli, 254 pages, $50)
The inventive American couturier that Cristobal Balenciaga praised as the “only one in the world who has raised dressmaking from an applied art to pure art," was fascinating – and often his own worst enemy, as this raw portrait shows.
Dior by Roger Vivier by Elizabeth Semmelhack (Rizzoli, 384 pages, $115)
The Bata Shoe Museum’s senior curator surveys the fruits of a working collaboration between these two masters of craft, and goes up close with their lavish jewel-encrusted creations.
Martin Margiela: The Women’s Collections 1989-2009 by Alexandre Samson (Rizzoli, 162 pages, $75)
On the heels of the retrospective exhibitions in Paris and Antwerp, Belgium, and the documentary We Margiela, there is at last a visual record of the Belgian fashion genius’s 20 years at the helm of his brand. It shows how profound his impact on fashion we now take for granted, from his attempts at disrupting the traditional fashion retail calendar to creative reuse of materials and garment deconstruction.
Food for thought
Take kitchen skills up a notch with these guides
The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African-American Culinary History of the Old South by Michael Twitty (Amistad, 464 pages, $35.99)
Cook and culinary historian Michael Twitty’s memoir explores the intersections of race and his own ancestry and identities (gay/Jewish/African-American) through food. An important book, and the James Beard Foundation’s book of the year.
Ship to Shore: Straight Talk from the Seafood Counter by John Bil (Ambrosia, 394 pages, $34.95)
Recipes and a how-to manual that includes choosing shellfish and responsible farming practices from the beloved Canadian oysterman, who died this year.
The Sourdough School by Vanessa Kimbell (Octopus, 208 pages, $26.99)
When it feels like everyone’s kneading, waxing poetic about a precious lump that smells like socks or comparing notes on gut microbes, this primer gets aspiring home bread-bakers started. Pun intended.
Wine Reads edited by Jay McInerney (Grove Atlantic, 320p, $41.95)
Call it bright lights, big beefy reds: In this anthology the novelist-slash-wine columnist collects evocative wine writing beyond AJ Liebling. Keep a corkscrew handy.
The Waiter by Matias Faldbakken (Gallery, 256 pages, $32.99)
A clever and melancholy satirical novel set in a formerly grand Oslo restaurant that’s seen better days is perfect fodder for foodies who are also Wes Anderson fans.
It pairs well with:
The Nordic Baking Book by Magnus Nilsson (Phaidon, 576 pages, $59.95)
The acclaimed Swedish chef behind the restaurant Faviken Magasinet explores the baking culture and traditions of Scandinavia, with both sweet and savoury treats.
These will fit in every traveller’s carry-on bag
The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid by Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco (Workman, 112 pages, $28.95)
It features 100 geographic curiosities around the world.
The White Darkness by David Grann (Doubleday, 160 pages, $27)
A stand-alone book of David Grann’s riveting New Yorker story about the Ernest Shackleton devotee who attempted to retrace the explorer’s footsteps and cross Antarctica on foot.
Jimmy Nelson: Homage to Humanity by Jimmy Nelson (Rizzoli, 528 pages, $165)
A stunning journey to 34 remote Indigenous communities across five continents and into the lives of the subjects, their environments and traditions. It’s an immersive 3-D media experience, since each of the legendary photojournalist’s images is scannable to trigger audio and video files.
The Lives of Jack London by Michel Viotte and Noel Mauberret (Firefly, 256 pages, $35)
This scrapbook of behind-the-scenes anecdotes and photos chronicles the journalist and author’s far-flung travels. They’re organized by location, from Polynesia to Panama and across Canada, and highlight the work each journey inspired him to produce.
Ocean Meets Sky by Terry Fan and Eric Fan (Simon & Schuster, 48 pages, $21.99)
The bestselling Canadian author and illustrator siblings (of The Night Gardener) are back with a lush and quietly majestic quest story about Finn, who sets off to fulfill a story told by his late grandfather.
African Twilight: The Vanishing Rituals and Ceremonies of the African Continent by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher (Rizzoli, 872 pages, $200)
Fifteen years of fieldwork in two slipcased volumes that document rare ceremonies, nearly half of which have already disappeared.
As Kingfishers Catch Fire: Books & Birds by Alex Preston (Corsair, 200 pages, $36.99)
An original and literary look at the birdwatching experience that evokes mood and place, with each ornithological chapter devoted to an avian species.
Niche non-fiction that will deliver the win on trivia night
Nine Pints by Rose George (Henry Holt, 368 pages, $39)
The journalist Rose George tackles the business, ethics and science of blood, from its ancient practices of bloodletting and leeches to the history of the first mass blood-donation system.
An abecedary of ingredients by the owners of the historic Paris apothecary L’Officine Universelle Buly. It’s like a cookbook for skin care that’s as gorgeous as their beauty-product packaging, with calligraphy and botanical illustrations that make it feel like an antiquarian find.
The Tangled Tree by David Quammen (Simon & Schuster, 480 pages, $39.99)
Charles Darwin famously used an image of a tree for his revolutionary theory of how new species arise. David Quammen doesn’t just think there are more branches, he questions the image and digs up the underlying concept entirely, while illuminating the history of theories in evolutionary science.
The Element in the Room by Mike Barfield (Laurence King, 64 pages, $23.99)
An inventively illustrated book for kids and adults alike.
A Scented World by Claire Bingham (TeNeues, 224 pages, $85)
Olfactory journeys to the places that inspire fragrance, with profiles of leading perfumers working today and how they formulate fragrance by combining memory, art and science.
She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions and Potential of Heredity by Carl Zimmer (Dutton, 672 pages, $40)
A dazzling romp through laboratories, history and ancestry that gets at the big genetic questions that shape our species.