I'll read pretty much any kind of coffee table book, and it's not just because the big pictures are easy on my tired old eyes. There's something about the fact that someone feels passionately enough about their own obscure, ephemeral, overly precise area of interest to create an elaborate, glossy, pictorial homage to it... well, it just warms my heart.
If you asked me which coffee table book I've lusted after in my heart (in a not entirely impure, but not entirely pure, way), it would have to be Hand to Earth by Andy Goldsworthy. Ever since I saw this book in a gallery bookstore several years ago, I haven't been able to get Goldsworthy's art out of my head.
Goldsworthy is an environmental installation artist. What this means is that he creates temporary pieces of art, usually in a natural setting and frequently on a grand scale, using only materials found in nature. The pieces are left to degrade and decompose of their own accord, and the only remaining record of the fact that the piece ever existed is the photograph Goldsworthy takes of it. Luckily for us, Goldsworthy's work has found enough of an audience that his photography has been compiled into several large, gorgeous (albeit expensive -- sigh) books.
When you look at Goldsworthy's installations, it's hard to believe that the only materials used were rocks or leaves or twigs. He uses no mortar, no dyes, no glue -- only his own painstakingly acquired ability to understand these materials intimately enough that he can coax them into taking on fantastic forms. This gift is coupled with a level of patience that astounds me.
(If you want to see this patience in evidence, rent the wonderful feature-length documentary Rivers and Tides, which follows Goldsworthy around the world as he creates several installations. There's a protracted scene in which he attempts to create an elaborate hanging sculpture of breathtaking delicacy, using nothing but fragile pieces of straw. He does this outdoors, at the mercy of every passing breeze. When I watched this movie in the theatre, you could actually HEAR the audience holding its breath, then exhaling en masse in frustration as the sculpture disintegrated over and over and over. And over. And over. I won't tell you how the scene ends.)
So there you go. I bet you thought all I cared about were books, hm? Look at me! I'm the Queen of Cultchah.
ETA: Oh, cripes. It just occurred to me that this post might be interpreted as a pathetic gift request, what with the holidays and all. It's not! I swear! You use your hard-earned money to shop for your loved ones, or better yet, get yourself something pretty. (Unless you're Rusty, in which case go for it, mon frere.)