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Artful Traveler: Last Minute Books (For You)

By Bobbie Leigh

Call them personal presents, something special for  you not for those on your holiday lists.    Here are some  2011  choices  among  hundreds of  great new books…  but these  are ones not to give away, to keep  handy on your  bookshelves as each has special charms and flair.

THE FOOD 52 COOKBOOK; 140 Winning Recipes from Exceptional Home Cooks by Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs (William Morrow)  is crammed with  recipes. They have been  collected by two women with busy professional lives who still have fun in the kitchen.  Together they have tested  recipes and  described them  in casual, easy-to-follow language. In a recipe for creamy mushroom soup,  you are reminded to “ beautifully and  precisely  chop mushrooms.”  The “Tips and Techniques” little additions are  witty and fun such as “ we halved the spices in the sauce because we’re wimps.”   Another is “Make this (a great beef stew  with  a secret ingredient- anchovies) a day ahead—its flavor will  improve and you can  enjoy the stew without thinking of all the dishes you have to wash.”



 SERIOUS EATS,  A Comprehensive Guide to Making & Eating Delicious Food Wherever  You Are by Ed Levine ((Clarkson Potter)  is not serious at all. Instead, it’s a handy guide to great places to eat across the country and 50 recipes ranging  from breakfasts and burger to barbecue and bakeries.  Levine gives you one more example- as if you needed one- to go to Martha’s Vineyard—Mrs. Blakes pies  or to Portland, Oregon, for Apizza Scholls for pizza with just the right blend of creaminess and tang.  (One disagreement—New York’s Shake Shack burgers, immensely popular but  in contrast to Levine’s opinion,  they don’t set the standard in the Big A.)



THE PERFECTLY IMPERFECT HOME: How to Decorate and Live Well  by Deborah Needleman  with illustrations by Virginia Johnson(Clarkson Potter) is another must-keep. Needleman’s approach is almost Tolstoyan. The great Russian master once wrote that “art begins where that ‘tiny bit’ begins.”  Needleman’s  focus exactly.  Just make a few tiny changes and the room looks new.   Instead of photographs,  the  “tiny” as well as big bits are fancifully illustrated with  watercolor images.  One of the best sections is on lighting. “Beautiful rooms tend to have soft pools of light that come from a variety of sources.,” she says.  Read that chapter and your overhead  lights  will  surely  have a tragic afterlife.

A HISTORY OF DESIGN FROM THE VICTORIAN ERA TO THE PRESENT: A Survey of the Modern Style in Architecture, Interior Design, Industrial Design, Graphic Design, and Photography by Ann Ferebee with Jeff Byles (  Norton Professional Books)  is  a compact  survey volume.  Each chapter starting with “Victorian Design, The Industrial Revolution Precipitates a Crisis in Style”  to the final one about  “Late Modern Design, Remaking Modernism for the Information Age”  explores  how modern design has molded  how we live.  Ferebee  demonstrates the ways evolving modern design has reflected  global  societal and political change. The approach is chronological,  global, definitely not- academic,   and especially interesting for anyone who  is fascinated by the new challenges  of green building  and a new urban topology.

Most of the new artbooks promoted for Christmas are coffee table tomes meant to be admired but not read in bed.   Probably the most impressive is the new Phaidon Press THE ART MUSEUM, more than 1,000 pages, featuring 2,500 works of art.  Almost three-inches thick,  you need a sturdy  coffee table to support this 20 pound behemoth.



So think  thin and consider the  remarkable  new book by the Frick’s Deputy Director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator, Colin B. Bailey: FRAGONARD’S PROGRESS OF LOVE AT THE FRICK COLLECTION.  Fragonard (1732-1806) was commissioned to create four large canvases by Louis XV as an expression of love for his mistress the Comtesse du Barry.  The panels are the prize of  The Frick Collection and lovingly described by Bailey. They also offer a little window into understanding the complex worlds of  art, royal patronage, and whose taste counted in eighteenth-century France. The panels,  as Bailey writes, establish a sequence of chase, courtship, to  the final panel, “Love Letters”  where the mood is tender and suffused.  “The statue of an unshod matron holding  a heart in her hand was a familiar trope for friendship; the ivy combing the pedestal symbolized friendship and fidelity in marriage as did the spaniel,” writes Bailey.  The messages intended by the artist become much clearer with Bailey’s explanations.  The illustrations, especially the details are stunning. If all you know about Fragonard is his  1767 “Swing,” you are in for a great treat.

And just in case  you are wondering where to place your order,  please  keep in mind that in 1945 we  had 333 independent bookstores in this country; in 2011, fewer than 30.


Bobbie Leigh has written for many national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, and Departures. Currently she is a New York correspondent for Art & Antiques.

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