Between the Lines: Coffee table books for the holiday season

The cost of furniture being what it is, the question arises: Does anybody really place cups of coffee on their coffee tables? What about coasters? We think big books are more likely to end up there, so here we suggest a few that are suitable for holiday gift-giving. These and other big-book titles we’ll name in coming columns are spectacular, filled with first-rate photos, illustrations and informative text.

• “The Masters of Nature Photography,” edited by Rosamund Kidman Cox (Firefly, $45, 224 pages): These 120 amazing photos are from the portfolios of 10 wildlife photographers of the year, as named in global competitions sponsored by the British Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide. Elephants, sharks, stingrays, polar bears and other animals are the stars, but natural landscapes and underwater photography in Russia, Ireland, Sweden, Africa and other places are equally dramatic.

• “City Parks: Public Places, Private Thoughts,” edited by Catie Marron (Harper, $50, 304 pages): For this major project, photographer Oberto Gili visited 18 “most-loved” city parks, from New York to London, Calcutta to Kyoto. The photo spreads are paired with essays by well-known people who have special connections to the parks. Actress Candice Bergen writes about Griffith Park in Los Angeles, for instance, while humorist Ian Frazier reflects on Gorky Park in Moscow. Closer to home, San Francisco novelist Andrew Sean Greer says of the view from the Presidio, “Sometimes you get the day you want.”

• “Four Seasons of Travel” by the writers and photographers of National Geographic (National Geographic, $40, 320 pages): The idea was to visit “400 of the world’s best destinations in winter, spring, summer and fall.” Photography-wise, that worked splendidly, but the book goes way beyond that to serve as a global travel guide and trip planner. Text and sidebars offer residents’ inside tips, visitor information and much more. Bonus: A dozen personalities (Alec Baldwin, Cokie Roberts) offer memories of their special destinations.

• ‘Caught in the Act: Actors Acting” by Howard Schatz, Beverly Ornstein and Owen Edwards (Glitterati, $65, 303 pages): Schatz, who writes the “In Character” column for Vanity Fair, described various situations to 90 actors and asked them to react while he took photos of their expressions and body language. One set-up for John Leguizamo was, “You’re a young cop whose partner has drawn his gun on a guy with a knife, making one last try to get everyone to chill.” A set-up for Kathleen Turner was, “You’re a stage mother in training, at your son’s school play, desperately mouthing the line that he has forgotten.” Also, each actor writes a text block on the joy and angst of the craft.

• “Portraits of the American Craftsman” by Tadd Myers (Lyons, $29.95, 288 pages): After a four-year sojourn seeking out artisans in small workshops tucked across the United States, award-winning photographer Myers offers this “celebration of the handmade.” Text profiles of the artisans accompany the photos. Along the way we meet a surfboard maker in La Jolla, a blue jeans maker in Los Angeles, a knife maker in Arkansas, a boot maker in Oklahoma, and many others, including Art Ritchie, who builds amusement park carousels in Ohio.

• “America’s National Parks” by Bruce Foster, Dave Ember and Don Compton (W.W. West, $34.95, 22 pages): The first thing we learn is there are 58 national parks. The second thing is the book covers 18 of them, six as incredibly clever pop-ups, with art “in the style of 1930s WPA posters.” Educational, fun and bringing up the questions: How did they do that?

• “Custer” by Larry McMurtry (Simon & Schuster, $20, 179 pages): The foremost chronicler of the American West (“Lonesome Dove”) adds new perspective to our understanding of the frontier experience with this paperback edition of his 2012 biography of George Custer. The Army general and his soldiers in the 7th Cavalry Regiment perished in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, a.k.a. Custer’s Last Stand, in Montana Territory. In McMurtry’s words, the battle “closed the great narrative of American settlement.” His editor remarked, “Larry has been fascinated with Custer his entire life, so this has been a passion project for him.” The 150 rarely seen color photos and artworks add insight and drama.

Evanovich on video

More than 1,000 fans filled the Scottish Rite Center on Nov. 21 to see mega-best-selling romantic-suspense author Janet Evanovich in conversation with yours truly. She’s promoting her new Stephanie Plum novel, “Takedown Twenty” (Bantam, $28, 320 pages), which follows the New Jersey-based bounty hunter and her zany pals on their latest adventure. If you weren’t able to attend the event, do so vicariously via two videos at .

Out of Florida

When we think about the many ecologically minded novelists whose works are Florida-centric, the list invariably includes satirist Carl Hiaasen (“Bad Monkey”), humorist Dave Barry (“Insane City”), thriller writer Randy Wayne White (“Night Moves”) and the late John D. MacDonald, whose 21-volume Travis McGee series was published between 1964 and 1985 and helped raise the bar for mystery writers to follow.

Edgar Award-winner James W. Hall is another Florida writer concerned with the environment, as shown through the hero of his sometimes violent 13-title series, the taciturn beach bum known simply as Thorn. “He’s a Henry David Thoreau with a .357 magnum and a dark past,” Hall once told me. “He’s based on a certain kind of character I knew pretty well from years of living in the Keys – ‘Don’t tread on me; I don’t want to be connected to the grid; I came here to reinvent myself.’”

In “Going Dark,” Thorn goes undercover inside the Earth Liberation Front to thwart a plot to created a meltdown at Turkey Point, the nuclear power plant near Homestead, outside of Key Largo (Minotaur, $25.99, 304 pages). Along the way, he rescues his son from the band of true believers.

High adventure in the sun – what’s not to like?


If you have information on author appearances or other book-related special events, email it to bookmarks@sacbee.comat least two weeks before the event. To read the online calendar, go to Questions? Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128.