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The holidays are here, and publishers are parading out their finery — in the form of beautiful, captivating gift books. USA TODAY’s Jocelyn McClurg recommends 10 of the season’s most dazzling print offerings. Each deserves a big bow on top.
1. Night Vision
By Susan Tyler Hitchcock
National Geographic, $40
What it’s about: From blazing neon cityscapes to luminescent images that capture nature’s nocturnal secrets, these spectacular photographs reveal the world at play (and at peace) after dark.
What’s to love: Everyone’s a (smartphone) photographer these days, but this sensational collection shines a bright light on why National Geographic’s professionals are still the best in the world.
‘The Art of Harry Potter’
2. The Art of Harry Potter
By Marc Sumerak
What it’s about: The Harry Potter books didn’t become a multi-billion-dollar movie franchise through sheer wizardry; this lavish volume unveils the artwork — paintings, drawings, computer-generated models, costume sketches and set designs — that brought J.K. Rowling’s imagined world to life on the big screen.
What’s to love: For HP and film geeks, it’s a behind-the-curtain peek at true movie magic, courtesy of Warner Bros. and production designer Stuart Craig and his team.
3. Obama: An Intimate Portrait
By Pete Souza; foreword by Barack Obama
Little, Brown, $50
What it’s about: Souza, chief official White House photographer for Obama’s two terms, was on hand for history — documenting our first black president, and a pretty photogenic one at that.
What’s to love: Souza’s book, an instant best seller, includes many iconic images we’ve seen before, but its most poignant moments are the least public — like one of the president and his daughters frolicking in the snow at the White House. (And for pint-size Obama fans, there’s Dream Big Dreams, Souza’s kid-friendly collection of presidential snaps; $21.99.)
‘Obama’ by Pete Souza
4. Super Tuscan
By Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar
What it’s about: The husband-and-wife team who star in Extra Virgin on the Cooking Channel (and run The Tuscan Gun cafe in Brooklyn) offer “heritage” Tuscan recipes — antipasti, soups, seafood, cocktails and, of course, pasta.
What’s to love: Corcos, who grew up in Tuscany, and Mazar, an American actress and his partner in the kitchen, say “It’s Italian!” with a friendly Brooklyn hipster vibe in their new cookbook — Potato Gnocchi with Buttery Red Sauce, anyone? Yum.
‘Picador ‘Modern Classics Series 02’ includes works by Joan Didion, Susan Sontag, Hilary Mantel and Barbara Ehrenreich.
5. Picador Modern Classics, Series 02: Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion; Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag; Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich; Giving Up the Ghost: A Memoir by Hilary Mantel
Picador, $16 each
What it’s about: Non-fiction works by four important female writers get the “Modern Classics” treatment with new fit-in-your hand hardback editions featuring Cecilia Carlstedt’s evocative cover illustrations of each author.
What’s to love: These literary gems are the perfect stocking-stuffer size for the serious reader on your list; you’ll look smart wrapping up one or all of them.
‘Endangered’ by Tim Flach
By Tim Flach
What it’s about: Flach’s cinematic photographs of threatened and endangered species, from the cuddly to the un-lovely, include polar bears, elephants, pandas, Monarch butterflies, Partula snails and Siamese crocodiles.
What’s to love: Aside from the photographic artistry, what makes this educational book so powerful is the way it connects on an emotional level — particularly piercing is a close-up of a chimp’s fingernails(!).
7. Vogue Living: Country, City, Coast
Introduction by Hamish Bowles
What it’s about: Wondering how the other half (well, really, the 1 percent) live? Vogue provides entry to the exclusive homes and gardens of an international array of designers, artists, society doyennes and celebrities (including Cindy Crawford and Stella McCartney, to name two).
What’s to love: Yes, this is a Vogue title, but Living is the season’s true glamour girl — sumptuous, romantic, worthy of the $100 price tag.
‘Vogue Living: Country, City, Coast’
8. Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore
By Terry Newman
What it’s about: Do clothes make the writer? Author Newman thinks so, as he checks out the wardrobes of everyone from Oscar Wilde to Virginia Woolf to Zadie Smith to Tom Wolfe, he of the dandified three-piece white suits.
What’s to love: Rumpled writers are rarely associated with sartorial splendor, but this eye-opening peek into famous authors’ closets makes quite a fashion statement.
St. Martin’s Griffin
9. Upside-Down Dogs
By Serena Hodson
St. Martin’s Griffin, $19.99
What it’s about: Doggone cute canines go belly up in Hodson’s irresistible collection of wiggly, giggly canines with all four legs in the air.
What’s to love: OK, it’s the mandatory shout-out to dog lovers. (Where, oh where, is this year’s Shop Cats?) Even this feline fan was ready to hand out indiscriminate belly rubs after pawing through these topsy-turvy people-pleasers.
‘A Paris Year’
St. Martin’s Griffin
10. A Paris Year: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World
By Janice MacLeod
St. Martin’s Griffin, $24.99
What it’s about: MacLeod, an artist, re-creates the journal she kept during a year in the City of Light, with jottings, photos and colorful sketches of the people she meets, the sights she sees, and the cafés, markets and shops she visits.
What’s to love: Every page offers a tempting taste of Paris and its allure. Très charmant.
Chimpanzee hands, from ‘Endangered.’
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