"A hundred years from now," wrote Graydon Carter in a note to his Spy magazine cofounder Kurt Andersen, "the graduate student sifting through the racks at the New-York
Historical Society will, with relish, throw himself upon old copies of Spy to get a feeling for what it was to be young and living in New York in the eighties."
Carter didn't realize just how fast the '80s would be over, or how quickly someone (Hyperion/Miramax) would be willing to pay good money (rumored to be $1 million) to have the Spy era memorialized (next month) in a book. Spy: The Funny Years ($39.95), a 304-page, fulsomely illustrated, jauntily designed homage to a New York minute (well, decade), returns the interested to a time when Ivan Boesky, Malcolm Forbes and Ivana Trump mattered. If this is not the season's ultimate illustrated gift book (too New Yorky, with dangerous levels of irony past their expiration date), it is the quintessential one, containing elements central to a category of books found near the front of most bookstores from Thanksgiving through Christmas Day.
The element most common to such books is that they are about something that is over—eras, styles, art schools, wars—or someone who is famously dead: Marilyn, often, but not this year (try Elvis). A second common element is that whatever the topic, it must've have earned generous (perhaps excessive) documentation during its time—something published, something printed, something photographed. And thirdly, it must appeal to buyers who have the wherewithal to spend up to $125 on a memento mori for Uncle Bob if not for their own coffee table.
An honest reckoning of this year's crop of illustrated gift books, however, cannot overlook a few that seem au courant and not (yet?) passé—handsome books on extreme sports and the art of the tattoo, for example; still others that have earned a near-perennial status—Oxford's books on wines, food and gardening; and those obligatory books on cityscapes—see AboveParis and Towering Mirrors, Mirroring Towers—which remind us of the precious and all too perishable beauty of skylines.
Cars, Planes, Choppers
Getting around ain't what it used to be: Corvette: America's Sports Car by Jerry Burton details an American design classic; even the book's plush red leather binding feels fast (Beaux Arts Edition/Hugh Lauter Levin, $75). Biker madness: Gottlieb Daimler produced the first one, and Motorcycle: Evolution, Design, Passion tells the subsequent story (Johns Hopkins, $35).
U.S. Air Force: A Complete History by Lt. Col. Dik Alan Daso is a seriously detailed official history for any military buff (Hugh Lauter Levin ($75).
Body Type: Intimate Messages Etched in Flesh by Ina Saltz (Abrams Image, $19.95). "Not only for tattoo aficionados, but for lovers of the written word." Such sports as body boarding, sky surfing and freemoto find their place in Stoked: The Evolution of Action Sports by Daniel Stark and Claudia Lebenthal (Empire Editions [Prestel, dist.], $125). Life noticed a "craze for skateboarding" in 1965, as Stoked explains.
There's no killing Superman. Sterling brings out two volumes of Superman comic strips—Superman: The Dailies 1939-1942 ($20) and Superman: Sunday Classics 1939-1943 ($14.95). DK counters with The Marvel Encyclopedia ($40), a compendium of all of Marvel's supercitizenry.
Roger Henrard was an industrialist, pilot and photographer. He took aerial photos of his beloved Paris for 40 years. Jean-Louis Cohen's Above Paris (Princeton Architectural Press, $50; at bottom) tells Henrard's story, and the story of the City of Lights. David Weinberg was drawn to the abstract qualities reflected on the surfaces of skyscrapers in three cities—Chicago; Dallas; Sarasota, Fla. Towering Mirrors, Mirroring Towers, published by Glitterati ($50), shows what he found.
Elvis at 21. So long ago. But thanks to RCA's hiring of photographer Alfred Wertheimer in 1956, the transit of the future King is documented, from Tupelo to the verge of Hollywood stardom (Insight, $65). Eric Meola was assigned the album shoot for the Boss's Born to Run album; Insight brings out the previously unseen photos ($39.95). Hit the trail with Singing Cowboys by Douglas B. Green—a virtual encyclopedia of bygone days, with profiles from Rex Allen to Bob Willis; includes a CD of 10 songs (Gibbs-Smith, $39.95).
Icons of Style
The Audrey Hepburn Treasures by Ellen Erwin and Jessica Z. Diamond (Atria, $49.95) has more than the classic face and figure of the actress; it also includes removable facsimiles of baby photos, call sheets, show-biz contracts and more. A nice complement to Donald Spoto's new biography, Enchantment (Harmony, Sept.). Even Cary Grant wanted to be Cary Grant, says Giorgio Armani in his foreword to the final word on the man who used to be Archie Leach, Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style by Richard Torregrossa (Bulfinch, $35). Punk rocker/poet Patti Smith cut an indelible figure in the downtown New York scene; photographer Frank Stefanko's pictures show why in Patti Smith: American Artist (Insight Editions, $39.95).
Tupac Shakur Legacy by Jamal Joseph (Atria, $45) includes a 60-minute CD interview with the rapper whose life and death have taken on near-mythic proportions. Photographer Christopher Makos documented some of Andy Warhol's seminal years in Warhol|Makos in Context (powerHouse, $60).