Gift Guide: From Aretha to Mich. architecture, big books make great gifts

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer
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Brian D. Conway and James Haefner's handsome coffee-table book traces Michigan's outsized influence on architectural modernism.

Coffee tables look bare without a large, handsome picture book to attract the eye.

Such splashy purchases, however — often not cheap — can feel extravagant when buying for one's self. But they've got just the right touch of "special" to wrap in gorgeous paper and present to a favorite on your list. 

Some suggestions, just out this year:

Michigan architecture

"Michigan Modern: An Architectural Legacy" by Brian D. Conway with photographs by James Haefner. Visual Profile Books, $60. 

This is Brian D. Conway's second book on Michigan's decisive role in shaping architectural modernism, and it's a stunner. With luminous photographs by James Haefner, this 300-page volume takes us from the dawn of modernism at Cranbrook to the 2012 Eli and Edyth Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University. 

Conway notes the state was lucky to be blessed with considerable wealth, a dominant industry with tons of designers, and institutions like the University of Michigan and Cranbrook that hopped on the modernist bandwagon very early. "That kind of synergy," Conway said, "just wasn’t occurring anywhere else." 

Alexander Girard is best known for his textile design, but author Deborah Lubera Kawsky reminds us he built dazzling houses as well.

"Alexander Girard Architect: Creating Midcentury Modern Masterpieces" — Deborah Lubera Kawsky. Wayne State University Press, $39.99. 

Also tracing the state's impact on 20th-century design is Deborah Lubera Kawsky's lavishly illustrated new book on Alexander Girard, best known for his boldly patterned Herman Miller textiles and his work at the GM Tech Center. But Girard also designed interiors, as well as houses, one of which, the McLucas House in Grosse Pointe Farms, is the only surviving residence designed entirely by the architect. 

Working in Detroit until 1953, "Girard was a pioneer of midcentury modernism at a time when Detroit was the design center of the world," said Kawsky, a professor at Livonia's Madonna University, "not only in automobiles but in furniture, textiles, and architecture."

"Aretha: The Queen of Soul" by Meredith Ochs.


“Aretha: The Queen of Soul — A Life in Photographs” by Meredith Ochs. Sterling, $24.95.

Any devoted fan of the late Queen of Soul will want to check out Meredith Ochs' just-released book, which traces Aretha Franklin's life through 85 photographs and the author's commentary. Ochs, a radio deejay and commentator on National Public Radio, follows Detroit's favorite daughter from childhood through her spectacular commercial success, paying particular attention to the Queen's honors, awards and causes, including her passionate advocacy for civil rights. 

“Women Who Rock: Bessie to Beyonce. Girl Groups to Riot Grrrl” edited by Evelyn McDonnell. Black Dog & Leventhal, $35.

Yes, the dust jacket is bright pink, for better or worse, but the essays are all-encompassing, as the title suggests. Includes a range of writers, though accompanying portraiture may not be to taste. Each profile is written by a woman, with more than 100 in all. The subjects were chosen, as McDonnell says, both painstakingly and arbitrarily as she went about honoring “rock” as a verb, not a noun. 

“Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop” by Vikki Tobak. Clarkson Potter, $40. 

Hip-hop photographers share their contact sheets, paired with interviews and essays. Spans nearly 40 years. Also plenty of performance and audience imagery. There’s Fab 5 Freddy at a White Castle in the Bronx, 1982. Jump to 1993 for a never-before-seen photo of Tupac and Nas at a Club Amazon party in Manhattan. Time trip again to 2012 Atlanta and Gucci Mane on the set of the “Shooters” video. 

"Hindsight & All the Things I Can't See in Front of Me," by Justin Timberlake.

“Hindsight & All the Things I Can’t See in Front of Me” by Justin Timberlake. Harper Design, $40.

It’s his first book, in which he writes: “You have to dare to suck.” As a 2-year-old in Memphis, family lore goes, he harmonized nicely with Don Henley on the car radio. He revels in his years on “Saturday Night Live,” and his bromance with Jimmy Fallon. Of early ‘N Sync: “We had a lot of fun, and we really cared about what we were doing. We wanted to be good at it.” 


“Vivian Maier: The Color Work” by Colin Westerbeck. Harper Design, $80.

Remember the Chicago mystery nanny whose cache of some 150,000 prints, negatives, transparencies and rolls of undeveloped film were discovered at auction after her death? Her name was Vivian Maier and this book brings her meandering to life in color. One self-portrait says it all with a sliver of her face reflected in a hand mirror that rests on a bunch of yellow flowers on street brick, from 1975. 

This cover image released by  shows "Trees: Between Earth and Heaven," by Gregory McNamee and photographs by Art Wolfe.  (Earth Aware Editions via AP)

“Literary Chickens” by Beth Moon. Abbeville Press, $35. 

You heard that right. The New York photographer Moon has paired 52 gorgeous black-and-white portraits of heritage-breed chickens with literary excerpts. The beady-eyed gazes of every last one of the birds are fixed on Moon’s lens. Consider the Silver Phoenix female paired with this from Virginia Woolf’s “Night and Day”: “I’ve done my best to see you as you are, without any of this damned romantic nonsense.” 

“Trees: Between Earth and Heaven” photographs by Art Wolfe, text by Gregory McNamee, $75. 

Earth Aware Editions. Wolfe is a landscape photographer who has worked on every continent. Here, he puts us up close with a leopard lounging in a thorn tree in Botswana. He shares the colorful giant sequoias of California. Light dances through his images, as does the icy Moreno Glacier that serves as backdrop to the tops of Southern beech in Argentina. 

"Roland Mouret: Provoke, Attract, Seduce," a book by Alexander Fury and Roland Mouret.


“Roland Mouret: Provoke — Attract — Seduce” by Roland Mouret and Alexander Fury. Rizzoli. $95.

The French designer in conversation with fashion writer and historian Fury. This ode to Mouret and his company is more valuable for its Q-and-A text than the photos of various models and collections. It’s all very French: “You know, I’ve learnt everything about fashion in bed,” Mouret says. “Every body I’ve touched has taught me something about dressing it.”


“New York by New York” by Wendell Jamieson. Assouline, $250.

“Something’s always happening here. If you’re bored in New York, it’s your own fault.” So says Myrna Loy in this gifty, photo-driven tome with a foreword by Jay McInerney. Big moments and little ones are celebrated. It took a two-page spread to do justice in black and white to Bianca Jagger marking her birthday in 1977 by mounting a white horse for a walk into Studio 54, launching the club into the social stratosphere. 

"Pantone Foodmood," a cookbook edited by Guido Tommasi.


“Food & Drink Infographics: A Visual Guide to Culinary Pleasures” by Simone Klabin, edited by Julius Wiedermann. Taschen, $70.

Butchery in France, the principles of molecular gastronomy, the health benefits of sweet cherries and everything you need to know about chewing gum, all represented in fun visuals that often double as art in and of themselves. Some are historical, others comical. Many may also be useful in the kitchen or at the bar. 

“Pantone Foodmood” edited by Guido Tommasi. Guido Tommasi Publishing/ACC Distribution, $50. 

Drawing inspiration from the color experts at Pantone, these dishes urge home cooks to create with their eyes. Recipes are organized by color and each color is characterized by mood. Yellow includes mango pudding with panna cotta. Purple is beet and pumpkin ravioli. Savory asparagus tarts represent for green. 

The Associated Press contributed to this story.



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