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Sunday, December 15, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Donn Fry

Coffee-Table Books Perk Up The Season -- Wide Variety Of Volumes Provide Gift-Giving Option

Have you begun to get desperate yet? Are you feeling panicky when you think about all the Christmas shopping you haven't finished?

Perhaps you've reached the stage where a well-chosen gift book looks like a good alternative to the sweater you can't find or the bathrobe that's on back order. Or, perhaps a nice book of the coffee-table persuasion was what you had in mind in the first place.

Gift books timed for the Christmas season have been stacking up in this office for weeks - in fact, so many have accumulated that I hardly have room for my chair. I need the space back, and you may need some gift suggestions, so below you'll find a selection of new titles that might include just the book you need.

This will be a two-week process. Today you'll find books about photography, art and architecture, places around the world, celebrities and, for lack of a more precise term, a category we'll call "potpourri." Next Sunday, we'll examine books about nature and the environment, animals, Americana and sports - as well as a group of books related to our Northwestern corner of the nation.

PHOTOGRAPHY

- "Passage," by Irving Penn (Knopf, $100). If any coffee-table book this season is worth a three-figure price, this is it. It's a stunning collection of 469 photographs (71 in color) by a major American artist who has photographed everything from Vogue models to aborigines in New Guinea. -- "Redheads," by Joel Meyerowitz (Rizzoli, $39.95/$24.95). Another influential photographer offers 63 portraits - all of folks with red hair: young, old, male, female. A compelling collection. -- "America in Passing," by Henri Cartier-Bresson (Little, Brown, $75). The French master of capturing the spontaneous moment has selected 99 black-and-white images from 40 years of photo assignments in the United States. -- "A Life in Photography," by Rollie McKenna (Knopf, $50). An American photojournalist best known for her portraits of poets and artists offers a selection of 40 years' work, along with reminiscences about her subjects. -- "LIFE: Faces," commentary by John Loengard (Macmillan, $29.95). A former LIFE picture editor has selected the best human portraits to appear in the magazine since 1936, which makes it an international Who's Who of photo talent. -- "10,000 Eyes" (Thomasson-Grant, $50) is the American Society of Magazine Photographers' celebration of the 150th anniversary of photography with a collection of the best work by its most talented members. -- "Safe Conduct," by Paul Ickovic (International Center for Photography/University of Washington Press, $29.95) is a fascinating collection of black-and-white photos by a Czech-American photographer who returned to the country of his childhood following the revolution of 1989. With an essay by Czechoslovakia president Vaclav Havel. -- "Flora Photographica," by William A. Ewing (Simon & Schuster, $50). As the subtitle says, this is a collection of "masterpieces of flower photography from 1835 to the present." -- "Colors of the Deep," by Jeffrey L. Rotman and Joseph S. Levine (Thomasson-Grant, $45), explores the world's coral reefs through 120 close-up color photographs that seem both surreal and abstract. -- "Pictures of Peace," edited by Kim Zorn Caputo (Knopf, $60), is a collection of black-and-white photos by 35 leading photographers (Annie Leibovitz, Herb Ritts, Susan Meiselas, etc.) answering the question: "If the world were at peace, what would you shoot?" -- "Shooting Back," selected by Jim Hubbard (Chronicle Books, $14.95). This paperback collection, with an introduction by child psychiatrist Robert Coles, features photos taken by the children of homeless families in Washington, D.C. -- "Thoughts on Human Dignity and Freedom" (Universe Publishing, $25.95) brings together 50 color photographs from around the world, with a foreword by Arthur Miller, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Amnesty International. -- "The Great British," by Eve Arnold (Knopf, $40), is the American-born photojournalist's portrait of her adopted home's many people - from Queen Elizabeth to Rex Harrison to West Indian immigrants.

ART & ARCHITECTURE

-- "Georgia O'Keeffe: The New York Years," edited by Doris Bry and Nicholas Callaway (Knopf, $100). This final volume in a trilogy, a sumptuous addition to the earlier "One Hundred Flowers" and "In the West," reproduces O'Keeffe's paintings from 1916 to 1932, the period when she met and married photographer Alfred Stieglitz. -- "19th-Century Watercolors," by Christopher Finch (Abbeville, $95), is a huge study examining the watercolor paintings of artists ranging from J.M.W Turner to Winslow Homer, with 255 of the 365 reproductions in full color. -- "Total Design: Objects by Architects," by Dorothy Spencer (Chronicle Books, $45), is a lavish survey of the chairs, desks, lamps, and other objects created by architects to fill the interiors of structures they have designed. -- "Contemporary Japanese Sculpture," by Janet Koplos (Abbeville, $40), is a study of the development of abstract sculpture in Japan during the past 30 years. -- "Architecture: The Natural and the Manmade," by Vincent Scully (St. Martin's, $40). This survey of the history of architecture is a one-volume distillation of the major work of the eminent Yale architectural historian, with more than 500 photographs and illustrations. -- "Russian Design and the Fine Arts 1750-1917," by Evgenia Kirichenko (Abrams, $75), is a large, beautiful survey of the emergence of a "Russian style" and its effect on everything from architecture to jewelry design. -- "Robert Smithson Unearthed: Drawings, Collages, Writings," by Eugenie Tsai (Columbia University Press, $45). An art historian evaluates the works on paper by the influential late artist who is best known for his outdoor earthworks. -- "Women of Fashion: Twentieth-Century Designers," by Valerie Steele (Rizzoli, $45). A fashion historian offers a lavishly illustrated survey of the influential women designers in a field often thought to be dominated by men. -- "Charles Bell: The Complete Works 1970-1990," by Henry Geldzahler (Abrams, $45), is a fascinating and beautiful survey of the work of an artist acknowledged to be the master of photorealist still lifes. Ever seen a portrait of a pinball machine? See it here. -- "Durer's Animals," by Colin Eisler (Smithsonian, $75), is a study of the Renaissance master's drawings, paintings and engravings involving animals. With more than 600 beautiful illustrations. -- "100 Contemporary Architects: Drawings & Sketches," selected by Bill Lacy (Abrams, $49.50). This interesting study focuses on the creative process itself - the doodles, drawings and paintings in which architects work out their ideas before a final plan comes together.

PLACES

-- "Egypt," by Mary Cross (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $65), is a photojournalist's large and beautiful portrait of the contemporary nation, from its teeming cities to its vast deserts. -- "The Spanish World," edited by J.H. Elliott (Abrams, $65). A team of scholars provides a portrait of the first European superpower and its legacy throughout today's Hispanic world. -- "Eternal Spain: The Spanish Rural Landscape," photographs by Robert Frerck, text by Alastair Reid (Abrams, $75). This is a beautiful volume with 125 color photos and a text by a longtime writer for The New Yorker. -- "Texas on a Roll," (Thomasson-Grant, $50). Subtitled "Images of Texas by Texas Photographers," it's a lavish and colorful photo survey of the Lone Star State by 89 members of the state's chapter of the American Society of Magazine Photographers. -- "Australia Wide," by Ken Duncan (Collins, $40). An Australian photographer captures his nation in 140 stunning color photographs shot in a panoramic wide-angle format. -- "Palestine: A Photographic Journey," by George Baramki Azar (University of California Press, $49.95 hardcover, $24.95 paperback). This is a chronicle of the intifada, by a photographer who has covered the region for a decade. -- "Diary of an Arctic Year," by Stephen J. Krasemann (Chronicle Books, $35), is a photographic chronicle of plants and animals in the harsh and fragile environment at the top of the world. -- "Hillerman Country," text by Tony Hillerman, photographs by Barney Hillerman (HarperCollins, $39.95). The writer best known for his mysteries involving a pair of New Mexico Indian detectives profiles the American Southwest, with color photos by his brother, a longtime professional photographer. -- "Landmarks of San Francisco," by Patrick McGrew (Abrams, $49.50) is a straightforward collection of architectural photographs - some in color, most in black-and-white - documenting more than 200 San Francisco homes and buildings that are protected as landmarks. -- "Berlin Between the Wars," by Thomas Friedrich (The Vendome Press, $45), is a history of Berlin during the Weimar Republic, told largely through historic black-and-white photographs. -- "Baja!," text by Doug Peacock, photographs by Terrence Moore (Bulfinch, $40), is a portrait of the natural world and the people on the 800-mile Mexican peninsula south of California. -- "The Spirit of Scotland," by Simon McBride (Viking, $29), is a collection of beautiful color landscape photographs that capture the rugged and remote country north of England. -- "My Love Affair with Miami Beach," with photographs by Richard Nagler and introduction and commentary by Isaac Bashevis Singer (Simon & Schuster, $30), is a fascinating profile of Miami's "South Beach" community of aging Jewish immigrants living in the midst of an Art Deco wonderland. -- "Islandgods," with text by Richard Bangs and photographs by Pamela Roberson (Taylor, $39.95), will be a favorite with the armchair traveler: a fascinating series of profiles of remote and exotic islands, by a well-known adventure-travel specialist. Know much about Lombok? Find out about it here.

CELEBRITIES

-- "Lady Day: The Many Faces of Billie Holiday," by Robert O'Meally (Arcade, $29.95), is a liberally illustrated portrait of the jazz-singing icon who tragically died at 44. -- "The Rolling Stone Book of Comedy," with text by Bill Zehme, photographs by Bonnie Schiffman (Bulfinch, $35), is a collection of miniprofiles and Leibovitz-like photo portraits of comedians ranging from George Burns to Whoopi Goldberg to Robin Williams. More interesting is "Comedians," by Arthur Grace (Thomasson-Grant, $39.95/$24.95), which covers many of the same folks but with a more substantial text and a wider range of compelling black-and-white photographs, both backstage and in performance. -- "Humphrey Bogart: Take It & Like It," by Jonathan Coe (Grove Weidenfeld, $30), attempts to define the Bogart mystique with a reappraisal of his acting career and 150 black-and-white photographs. -- "A Man and His Art: Frank Sinatra," with introduction by Tina Sinatra (Random House, $35). "His art," in this case, is not pop singing, but painting. This colorful collection of Old Blue Eyes' paintings, done mostly in the 1980s, looks like the singer's attempt to emulate every abstract style of the 20th century. -- "The Birth of Marilyn," by Jeannie Sakol (St. Martin's, $25). This year's entry in the ongoing cannibalization of the late star's life is a lame collection subtitled "The Lost Photographs of Norma Jean by Joseph Jasgur," which were taken in 1946 when Marilyn Monroe was shooting for starlet status. -- "Walking With Garbo," by Raymond Daum (HarperCollins, $25), is a profile of the late screen legend by a friend who accompanied her on frequent walks through Manhattan over a 20-year period.

POTPOURRI

-- "Wooden Boats: From Sculls to Yachts," by Joseph Gribbins (Grove Weidenfeld, $24.95), is a photographic celebration of wooden vessels, from antiques to new beauties, while a more comprehensive study of the history and renewed interest in wooden boats can be found in "Wooden Ship: The Art, History, and Revival of Wooden Boatbuilding," by Peter H. Spectre and David Larkin (Houghton Mifflin, $45). -- "World War II: America at War 1941-1945," by Norman Polmar and Thomas B. Allen (Random House, $35) is a quick reference, arranged encyclopedia style, by a pair of military historians. -- "Little Friends," by Philip Kaplan and Andy Saunders (Random House, $50), is a profusely illustrated volume subtitled "The Fighter Pilot Experience in World War II England." -- "The Circle of Life," edited by David Cohen (Harper San Francisco, $39.95), brings together 200 photos from leading international photographers who focused, as the subtitle says, on "Rituals from the Human Family Album." With an introduction by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and an afterword by Peter Matthiessen. -- "The Reader's Companion to American History," edited by Eric Foner and John A. Garraty (Houghton Mifflin, $35), is an encyclopedic compendium of issues, events and people who have played roles in the history of the United States. -- "The Thirty-six Immortal Women Poets," with introduction, commentaries and translations by Andrew J. Pekarik (George Braziller, $45/$24.95) is a beautiful sampling of works by 36 women poets and novelists who flourished in Japan's imperial court from the ninth to 13th centuries, illustrated with ukiyo-e prints by Chobunsai Eishi (1756-1829). -- "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," by Lewis Carroll (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $34.95/$16.95), is a beautiful edition just available in large-size paperback and still available in hard cover. Illustrated with 75 haunting wood engravings by the masterful Barry Moser. -- "The Ultimate Guitar Book," by Tony Bacon (Knopf, $35), is a beautifully photographed compendium of the stringed instrument, from 16th-century lyres to the latest guitar synthesizers, with looks along the way at the favorite instruments of everyone from Segovia to Les Paul to Mark Knopfler. -- "The Discoverers," by Daniel Boorstin (Abrams, $75) is a beautifully illustrated two-volume boxed set that examines the people and ideas through history that have shaped our world, by the Librarian Emeritus of Congress. -- "The Real World," edited by Bruce Marshall (Houghton Mifflin, $35), is a richly illustrated volume that sets out to show how geography, properly understood, can provide answers to many of the world's most pressing questions. -- "Going Strong," by Pat York (Arcade, $35), is a collection of 70 brief profile-interviews with people over the age of 75 who are still leading active, productive lives. Most are celebrities (Julia Child, Sir John Gielgud), but others, such as British gardener Sidney Smith, are real folks. -- "Vehicles," by Nigel Hawkes (Macmillan, $39.95), is an illustrated celebration of man-made modes of transportation since the invention of the wheel.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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