Coffee-table Books

Let’s talk coffee-table books.

I love them.

I can’t justify buying them.

I don’t have room for the ones I already own.

Enter the library’s oversized collection…

If books are portals to stories and information, generating wonder and inspiration, then oversize books multiply these feelings! They make a statement just sitting on the table and usually have striking covers that are works of art on their own. Here are two big, glossy coffee-table books I recently enjoyed. Hope they inspire you to lose yourself in one soon.

Birds by Tim Flach / Text by Richard O. Prum

This is my first review of a book I didn’t read. It’s 99% photographs. Striking, stunning, jaw-dropping photographs.

Flach is an acclaimed photographer with a unique and distinct style. He captures the essences and personalities of the animals he photographs. “Birds are a revelation.” is the first sentence of this impressive book and I don’t disagree. Their variety, colors, songs, and habits all add up to the fact that birds are a gift.

Here are my favorites. Yes, you can google them to see photos but they won’t be these photos, on thick, large, glossy paper. Trust me, you have to get this book and see which birds are a revelation to you.

  • The Inca Tern with it’s handlebar moustache.
  • The Eurasian Hoopoe is so showy!
  • The Golden Pheasant from China has been a gorgeous “symbol of auspiciousness and nobility for thousands of years.”
  • The Himalayan Monal has rainbow coloring.
  • The Superb and Pink-Headed Fruit Doves. Pink-headed!!!
  • Victoria Crowned Pigeons are frilly and lacy.
  • The Grey Crowned Crane is magnificent.
  • Philippine Eagles are “monkey-eating birds.” YIKES
  • The Gouldian Finch is rainbow sherbet colored.
  • The photo of the Hyacinth Macaw from behind, wings outstretched, looks like a blue angel. Otherworldly.
  • The Red Splash Jacobi and Kite Jacobi Pigeons look like they’re wearing fur hoodies!

Our National Monuments: America’s Hidden Gems by QT Luong

I went through this book three times before I even read anything. Luong’s photographs are stunning, depicting landscapes mostly in the western US. I’m glad I finally read the Introduction because it answered questions and revealed the urgency of showcasing these particular monuments.

First, what’s a National Monument vs. a National Park? I was used to thinking of a Monument as a physical place; the castle and fort in St. Augustine were the first to come to mind. But it turns out that Presidents have the power to create National Monuments from federally-owned land. The purpose is to set aside land and keep it from development and keep it for the people and the environment itself. President Carter created over a dozen monuments covering 56 million acres in Alaska!

Where National Parks have roads and amenities, most Monuments have neither. They’re open for anyone to hike or drive in (but you better be prepared and have a 4-wheel drive because you’re truly alone.)

The sites chosen in this book were targeted by former President Trump for “review” and in at least one case, for reduction in size. The author decided to document what we have – and what can be lost if developers win.

Luong’s photographs are exquisite. Here’s my dream National Monument road trip: seven states and countless moments of awe and wonder.

We’d start in Maine in the summertime at Katahdin Woods and Waters. It’s unbelievably pretty and a dark sky location. Luong has a photo of the Milky Way and stars, and it’s so dark they’re reflected in the water below.

From there we head west to Montana and the Upper Missouri River Breaks. It looks pretty much exactly like it did when Lewis and Clark floated by. Of course there were people here enjoying all it had to offer long before Lewis and Clark set out, and Luong is good about reminding us of America’s early history.

West to Oregon and the beautiful Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, the only one specifically created for biodiversity. It has multiple settings, like forests and grasslands, and species that aren’t found anywhere else on earth. Oregon is so pretty!

No surprise that California has a bunch of National Monuments. The two I’d visit are Giant Sequoia and the Carrizo Plain. Sequoias! Coming from Florida I just can’t fathom them. But these photos, of towering trees and some old logging-era stumps do them justice.

The Carrizo Plain is magical. It literally looks like a Monet come to life. It’s located in the San Joaquin Valley and for a period of about 9 weeks the wildflowers do their thing. Blazing stars, hillside daisies and purple phacelia come together to create a living impressionist landscape.

We would then head east to Nevada and two dark sky sites (but the daytime views are stunning as well.) Basin and Range is 704,000 acres of freedom: no gas stations, no restaurants, no water, no paved roads. But the payoff? Unbelievable scenery, rock art and writings, and land art – Google “City” to check out an artwork built into the land.

Gold Butte is another dark sky site. It features petroglyph panels and the Devil’s Throat, a terrifying enormous sinkhole straight out of a horror movie. The disquieting Falling Man rock art is also located here.

Here’s a link to the Luong’s blog, where he describes his efforts to find the site – remember there are no signs or guideposts. One of the cool things about this book is that Luong describes his work, both the photography – how he captured certain images – and the drives and hikes and camps he experienced while taking these photos. He wants the reader to visit these sites to see for themselves, but he also is always quick to remind us to be respectful. He is a true conservationist.

Utah is next on our itinerary, to Bears Ears which unfortunately was reduced in size from 1.3 million acres to 230,000. Valley of the Gods is as glorious as it sounds, all red rocks and heavenly purple skies.

South to Arizona to visit three sites: Vermillion Cliffs, Grand Canyon-Parashant and Sonoran Desert National Monuments.

The Cliffs are all pinks and purples, swirls and spirals. If you’re on Instagram you’ve seen The Wave, a dizzying, curving, striped landscape. It’s become so popular you need a permit to get in these days.

Here’s how the National Park Service describes the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument:

Take a lonely and rocky two-track road in a 4×4 to the edge of the Grand Wash Cliffs. Find a stunning solitary vista deep into the Grand Canyon. Relax in the shade of ponderosas at Mt. Trumbull. Touch ancient waters at Pakoon Springs in one of the driest places in the world. Parashant is remote. There are no crowds here. Be equipped to leave pavement, cell service, and the 21st century behind.

Luong has a photograph of the night sky in the Sonoran Desert and the tall saguaros reaching up out of the sand add an eerie element. It’s beautiful.

The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument would be my last stop but you can’t really road trip it to the Pacific. Take a virtual tour like I did – NOAA and other sites have photos and videos that will blow your mind.

https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/pacific-islands/habitat-conservation/marianas-trench-marine-national-monument

Luong wrote the afterword on Earth Day 2021. One year and two days later I am posting this review. He’s doing his part to protect and conserve our lands and I respect him for his talent, passion and dedication.

Listen to QT Luong and ‘tread lightly but conserve loudly.’

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