The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb
This one is already on many year-end lists. And what’s not to like? Don’t expect any of the usual zany R. Crumb antics (other than a Rubenesque Eve). This version keeps close to Robert Alter’s literal translation, but Crumb still finds a way to breathe visual life into a very old story.
Pictorial Webster’s: A Visual Dictionary of Curiosities
Do you love dictionaries but hate words? Then this book is for you. It is exactly what it says on the cover — a collection of all the wonderful old engraved illustrations from the Webster’s of the 19th century. We’ll leave it up to you to decide whether the book “acts as a visual Finnegan’s Wake of 19th Century America” as its compilers claim. We’re still busy just getting lost in its pages. Samples here.
The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe
We recommend this coffee table book about the periodic table. Let us repeat that: we recommend this coffee table book about the periodic table. Even if you dozed your way through Chemistry class like we did, you won’t be able to resist this because it is a thing of beauty. Each two-page spread features a bevy of gee-whiz facts and a stunning layout. Perfect for the science nerds young and old.
The Little Prince Pop-Up
Once you see this, it will baffle you that no one thought of it before. Yes, some people find the whole book kind of creepy, but Saint-Exupéry’s simple yet vibrant illustrations seem designed to jump out of the page. A perfect pick for the kid on your list — or really anyone with a wide-eyed inner-child.
Walton Ford — Pancha Tantra
Walton Ford’s paintings are a dead ringer for J.J. Audubon’s famous natural history work, but he skewers his images with an Edward Gorey sense of humor. In these gorgeous but deliciously disturbing watercolors (see more in a recent Daily Dose) you’ll find all sorts of animal misbehavior. Taschen is selling the high-end edition of his monograph for $1,800, so at 40 bucks this is something of a steal.
Isabella Rossellini — Green Porno: A Book and Short Films
By now many of you have seen Isabella Rossellini’s Green Porno series (we like the squid best). This book collects all those shorts on a DVD, and features many more awesome/hilarious stills. Learning about the life-cycle of the humble anchovy was never this much fun… or so, so strange.
The Map as Art
Whether it’s checking traffic on a smart phone or confirming a subway connection, we all still rely heavily on maps. So the unique pleasure of The Map As Art is seeing these everyday tools reimagined by artists such as Julian Schnabel, Jasper Johns, Olafur Eliasson, and Ed Ruscha. There are maps made of household objects, globes made of matches, and much, much more. The Morning News has a gallery of a few of the best images.
Penguin Great Ideas Series #3
We hate to include two items from Penguin, but they really do own this category. Like the previous titles in the “Great Ideas” series, these books repackage short works from famous thinkers in a nifty, thrifty format that even a nonreader will love. The covers in the current crop have a lovely green hue to them. The irony of tarting up Trotsky is not lost on us, but the price (and novelty) points are hard to argue with. Their small size also makes them excellent stocking stuffers. Check out the forthcoming (and very purple) series #4, which is already out in the UK.
R. Sikoryak — Masterpiece Comics
Probably best known for his hilarious “Action Camus, Superman of Nihilism” illustrations, R. Sikoryak does cartoon parodies of the treasures of world literature. In this collection from Drawn & Quarterly, you’ll get Charlotte Brontë in the style of Tales from the Crypt, and The Metamorphosis as a Peanuts strip. Good, clean high/low-brow fun for the recovering English major.
Got other suggestions? Tell us about them in the comments.