Stumped for a holiday gift? Go to the bookstore.
In this season, publishers print a huge array of books to suit just about any interest. And choosing an actual book conveys a bit more thoughtfulness than clicking “buy” for a gift card.
Whether the people on your gift list love comic artists or Dutch Masters, Florida culture or global cuisine, the Wild Things or Dolly Parton, there’s a book for them.
Here are some of the brightest baubles on this year’s tree of books.
Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones
By Dolly Parton
Ten Speed Press, 327 pages, $50
Who is that glittering, golden, sweet-faced figure who lights up everyone’s holiday? No, it’s not the angel on top of the tree — it’s Dolly Parton!
Just in time for gift-giving, the uniter of our nation has a new book, and it’s delicious. “Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones” is Dolly’s gorgeously photographed, engagingly written answer to the question, “What does it take to make her look like that?”
Decade by decade, the book catalogs her costume archive, with details about when she wore the hundreds of outfits, all decked with enough spangles and flourishes to make Barbie look dowdy.
There are comments from the lead archivist (!) of her wardrobe and from designers, photographers and hairstylists who have worked with her, including Cheryl Riddle, who has styled Dolly’s wigs for 39 years and recalls one wig the singer nicknamed “Cupcake” that took six hours to style.
Dolly has come a long way from a little girl in the holler, putting mercurochrome on her lips because her daddy wouldn’t let them wear lipstick, to an avatar of over-the-top glamor trading stories about wigs with RuPaul.
She takes us along on the process with her winningly self-deprecating humor. Describing the first time she met her husband — in a Nashville laundromat, and she remembers exactly what she was wearing — she writes, “I had that blond hair, and he said I was the girl of his dreams — the kind of girl he had always wanted. He liked the movie stars, and I looked like one of those girls to him. And he still thinks I’m that pretty — but he’s half blind.”
Once Upon a Time in Florida: Stories of Life in the Land of Promises
Edited by Jacki Levine
Florida Humanities, 330 pages, $45
To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the invaluable Florida Humanities mined the rich archives of its award-winning magazine, Forum, to assemble this beautiful, multifaceted anthology of 50 essays about the Sunshine State.
The collection looks at the state from many perspectives — and looks at the perspectives of outsiders as well. There are pieces by such Florida literary lights as Harry Crews on the Okeefenokee Swamp and Lauren Groff on learning to love the state after she moved here.
Notable historians and scholars contribute as well: J. Michael Francis on the Fountain of Youth, Michael Gannon on the first Thanksgiving, Casey Blanton on travel writers and Florida, Gary Mormino on the citrus industry, Thomas Hallock on Jack Kerouac, Gary Monroe on the Highwaymen, Bob Kealing and Peter Gallagher on music in Florida and Jack Davis on the Gulf of Mexico and the Everglades.
Longtime readers of the Tampa Bay Times will see many familiar names among the contributors, including Dalia Colón, Eric Deggans, Jeff Klinkenberg, Bill Maxwell, Craig Pittman, Terry Tomalin and Jon Wilson.
Handsomely designed and packed with photographs, this wide-ranging anthology is a fine introduction for newcomers as well as a treasure trove for residents who want to better understand the state they’re in.
By Bill Watterson and John Kascht
Andrews McMeel, 72 pages, $19.99
From 1985 to 1995, Bill Watterson wrote and drew one of the most beloved and widely syndicated comic strips ever, “Calvin and Hobbes.” The story of a little boy and his pet tiger was cherished for its artistic quality, its sharp wit and its tender heart.
After a decade, at the height of the strip’s success, Watterson walked away, unhappy with the merchandising of comics. When he retired, he really retired — no public projects, no licensing of any “Calvin and Hobbes” merch, a tiny number of interviews, mostly silence.
Now, 28 years later, he is back with a “fable for grown-ups” called “The Mysteries.”
It’s not a comic book, and it involves neither tigers nor rambunctious boys. But it does take the visual beauty of the “Calvin and Hobbes” strips to greater heights, and its streamlined story shares the strip’s sometimes enigmatic humor.
It’s a simple tale, set long ago, about a city of people who fear the Mysteries that live unseen in the forest around them. So fearful are they that it dominates their lives. Their king sends his knights to find the Mysteries so they can understand them, with unexpected results.
Watterson wrote the story and collaborated closely with artist and caricaturist John Kascht on the eerily lovely black-and-white illustrations.