Books Make Timeless Gifts

By Laurel Busby
Staff Writer

For the art or book fan on your gift list, John Evans, co-owner of Diesel, the bookstore located in the Brentwood Country Mart, shared some of his favorite picks this holiday season.

Art and Coffee-Table Books

1. Landscapes: John Berger on Art by John Berger, $26.95, Verso. Last year, John Berger’s book of essays on portraiture was a bestseller, and this year, Berger has tackled landscapes. Kirkus Reviews noted “these worldly essays are timeless, inspiring works of critical observation,” while Evans said that the book will appeal to lovers of both art and literary criticism.


2. Float by Anne Carson, $30, Knopf. A boxed set of 22 chapbooks of poetry and prose. Vanity Fair says the collection, which cover a variety of topics and can be read in any order, are “like snowflakes of literary litheness,” while The Daily Telegraph notes, “She designs her books to make you rethink entirely the way you read.”

3. Central by Virgilio Martinez, $59.95, Phaidon Press. Cooking and the landscape of Peru come together in this book that combines photos from the mountains to the ocean with rich descriptions of the cuisine from each region. “One of the most stunning books I’ve ever read,” according to The Latin Kitchen. “The text captivates and the photos transport.”

4. Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe, $24.95, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Bill Gates describes this book as “a wonderful guide for curious minds,” and Evans said it combines strong graphics with intriguing facts about how things work, ranging from writing sticks like pens and pencils to power boxes. The New Yorker review noted, “Like any good work of science writing, [Thing Explainer] is equal parts lucid, funny and startling.”

5. Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees by Beth Moon, $49.95, Abbeville Press. The world’s oldest trees photographed against the night sky illuminate this book. “The images are just haunting,” Evans said. “One of my favorite books of the year.” He noted that a second book, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate— Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben ($24.95), covers how trees experience the world and is a good companion book for Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees.


6. A History of Pictures: From the Cave to the Computer Screen by David Hockney, $45, Abrams. This work is a “history of art book by one of the greatest artists painting today,” Evans said. Hockney describes a picture as the only way to communicate what we see, and in collaboration with art critic Martin Gaylord, A History of Pictures explores the varied ways that artists have visualized our world.

7. The Art of Movement by Ken Browar and Deborah Ory, $50, Black Dog and Leventhal. Stunning photos display more than 70 New York dancers frozen in time and yet fully embodying movement. “It’s a celebration of the human body in its expressiveness,” Evans said. “The photographs are unbelievable.”

8. Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, $29.95, University of California Press. Nonstop Metropolis is the third work in a series that also profiles San Francisco and New Orleans. Combining fact and fancy, the book includes both real and invented maps and offers a cultural history of New York. “It’s a fascinating, new creative way to look at one of the iconic global cities,” Evans said.

9. Love in Vain: Robert Johnson 1911-1938, by J.M. Dupont (author) and Mezzo (illustrator), $29.95, Faber & Faber. A graphic novel depicts the life of blues guitarist Robert Johnson, “who supposedly encountered the devil at a crossroads and sold his soul,” Evans said. Although Evans is not normally a fan of graphic novels, “this is just beautiful,” he said, “and looks like wood-block prints.” The text provides the history of Johnson, a supremely influential guitarist in blues and rock ‘n’ roll.

10. Ed Ruscha and the Great American West by Karin Breuer (editor), D.J. Waldie (con-tributor) and Ed Ruscha (contributor), $55, University of California Press. Using reproductions of Ruscha’s paintings from 1956 through the present, the book also includes maps, photography and etchings in a survey of his exploration of the landscape of the West. His works feature the gas stations, parking lots and swimming pools of today, but also address the historical past of buffalo, teepees and covered wagons. Additionally, essays by Breuer and Waldie are included, plus an interview with Ruscha.


1. Every Man a Menace by Patrick Hoffman, $25, Atlantic Monthly Press. This mystery offers a twisting plot filled with “noirish” characters in the drug trade in Cambodia, Thailand, San Francisco and Miami, Evans said. While in mysteries the plot often overwhelms the characters, this title incorporates both seamlessly with the “thrill of a tightly woven plot plus fine stylish writing,” Evans said. “It’s a blast for anybody.”

2. Moonglow by Michael Chabon, $28.99, Harper. Equal parts memoir, biography and fiction, Moonglow interweaves many true stories from novelist Chabon’s grandfather’s life with his own fictional imaginings. The story grew from a week Chabon spent with his grandfather just before his death in 1989 and includes tales from World War II and the American space program. Booklist deems it “a masterful and resounding novel of the dark and blazing forces that forged our tumultuous, confounding and precious world.”

3. The Mothers by Brit Bennett, $26, Riverhead Books. First-time author Bennett details the life of a 17-year-old struggling to deal with the death of her mother and a surprise pregnancy in a Southern California African-American community. The plot is intense, and the complex characters include women who hold onto hope despite their challenges. “The writing is stunning,” Evans said. “It’s a very emotional, smart and wise book.”

4. Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple, $27, Little, Brown. By the author of last year’s bestseller Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, this funny, insightful novel is ideal for “a person who loves to read entertaining tales of contemporary life,” Evans said. Set in Seattle, the novel, according to the New York Times, includes “all kinds of details, painful and perverse and deeply droll,” in “another tour de force.”

5. The Six of Crows Duology boxed set by Leigh Bardugo, $37.98, Henry Holt and Co. A dark fantasy adventure filled with magic, mischief and fun, this two-book set would appeal to fans of fantasy and science fiction from young adults on up, Evans said. Written by an Angeleno, the New York Times bestseller Six of Crows and its sequel Crooked Kingdom cover the adventures of six outcasts, who plan a heist in the first and battle for revenge in the second book. “It’s well-plotted and just a beautiful, great gift,” Evans said.

Diesel is located at 225 26th St., Santa Monica. Call (310) 576-9960 or visit

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