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Books: Bound for the Coffee Table

Gifts certain to start some conversations.



"Hungry Planet: What the World Eats" (Ten Speed Press) $40.00

A gorgeously photographed and telling book, "Hungry Planet" is a beautiful depiction of our cultural differences. By visiting a representative family in 24 countries from Germany to Chad to Mali, photographer Peter Menzel and writer Faith D'Aluisio found an insightful way to peek into the world's different traditions, as well as a quiet way to make a statement. From celebrating a 14-year-old boy's birthday in the local pub in Great Britain to the open air Somalian meat market, it's amazing to see the contrasts. Each family is photographed with a week's worth of meals, and when you see the Americans sitting in their kitchens with corn dogs and frozen pizza, then flip to, say, the family from Ecuador with their grains and vegetables, squatting on a dirt floor, you can't help but feel like perfect is somewhere in between. Beyond the descriptions of their food-gathering and preparing, there are essays on food-related issues, family recipes and facts about each country. Anyone interested in travel and cultures will enjoy this raw look at consumption.

"Mantelpieces of the Old South" (The History Press) $34.99.

This simple book would likely intrigue anyone interested in architecture or the ghosts of the South. It presents one black-and-white photograph on each page taken from the Historic American Building Survey catalog at the Library of Congress. The survey intrigued photographer V. Elizabeth Turk and novelist William Baldwin, who selected about 200 of the images for this soft-cover book. Some rooms are furnished, like ones from plantations in South Carolina, others show paint peeling from the walls, or pillars standing on their own, without a house to support anymore. All look lonely and reflect the South that was, for better or worse. The book's detail shots and clean presentation are great. Less than stellar is the self-conscious introduction. It's nice to have more info about the photos in the index, but we don't need to know why the authors were drawn to a certain photo, we'd rather know why we should be.

"The Best Recipes in the World" (Broadway Books) $29.95

After his best-selling "How to Cook Everything," the PBS show of the same name, and his "Minimalist" column in the New York Times, Mark Bittman took on the enviable task of traveling the world for six years in search of recipes. Bittman, a journalist and untrained cook, believes in using as few ingredients as possible. The book is organized by category not country, so it's more of a resource guide than specialty cookbook. Meaning Korean, Thai and Mexican soups are presented on the same spread. Symbols let you know what can be made ahead, what takes 30 minutes or less and what can be served room temperature. The mammoth 750-page book also includes helpful charts (like of different types of vinegar) and definitions of foreign ingredients next to the appropriate recipe, not in the front where you will never reference it. Also a helpful section in the back organizes menus for different occasions, plus an index lists recipes by cuisine, perfect if you're craving a certain type of food.

"Essentially Lilly: A Guide To Colorful Holidays" (Collins) $30.00

If you live in pink and green, you're undoubtedly well-acquainted with Lilly Pulitzer. The ultimate prep, Pulitzer has cleverly revised her pastel palette originally popular in the '70s into a whole host of products for the new millennium. (Pulitzer sheets anyone?) This 200-page hard-cover book is full of Pulitzer's memories, family photos, and most useful, entertaining ideas for all four seasons of holidays. From Mardi Gras to Christmas (and her own birthday), Pulitzer shares food and drink recipes for each, plus fun info and ideas. The tips make it more than just a cookbook with info like "A Nawlins' natives' guide to Mardi Gras" and "Top ten kids' party planning tips," and even best Easter movies and her favorite romantic music for Valentine's Day. The devoted prep on your list will no doubt relish these playful entertaining ideas from the Palm Beach queen of pink and green.

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