As predictable as the swallows showing up at Capistrano and the newspaper boy at your door when you don't have the money, the Great Holiday Sports Book Blizzard of 1976 has arrived on schedule.
A reader could easily be covered up by this literary snowfall. But, happily, a blizzard also carries with it some plusses—mainly a certain camaraderie in dealing with adversity. So be it with the Great Book Blizzard, with the winners deserving of new and comfortable lives on coffee tables and book shelves.
The quantity and quality this season is mostly on the side of outdoor books—birds, fish, land, nature, adventure. Nothing notable on baseball and basketball rears its jacket, although 200 Years of Sport in America touches on these games and a lot more and gets high marks for its reach.
Out of the avalanche, 20 books emerge as worthy gift candidates. If there is not a volume here that would bring yelps of delight from people on your list, there's something wrong with the people.
•Pick of the litter is a thoroughly exquisite work, The Swamp (Norton, $19.95). If ever something needed celebrating, it is these lowly, spooky places alive with creepy crawly things. As author-photographer Bill Thomas says, "I guess people have always associated swamps with mosquitoes, water moccasins, rattlesnakes and swamp monsters. Swamps have a beauty that's generally overlooked." Which may be why a half dozen publishers turned down Thomas' idea.
Thomas' photography is gorgeous and haunting. A shot of Okefenokee and its reflections is a classic; ditto a sunset over the East Glades. There are perhaps 20,000 swamps in this country, estimates Thomas, who lives next to one in Nashville, Ind., and the time has come to realize that swamps need love, too, that they should be something more than the province of unscrupulous subdivides or sites for airports. Thomas shows us why, compellingly.
•For thousands of John Steinbeck devotees, Steinbeck Country (American West, $18.50) by Steve Crouch will produce a holiday glow. In photos and words, it portrays the area in California that was the setting for much of Steinbeck's work. There's a lovely picture of the Salinas River, which is not a notable river, but of which Steinbeck wrote. "You can boast about anything if it's all you have." The book's glories are its color photography and gentle text, but it also distinguishes itself in the often more difficult area of black and white pictures.
•200 Years of Sport in America (McGraw-Hill, $24.95) by Wells Twombly makes no claim of being definitive. Good. Definitive usually means dull. Not so this volume. It's a warm, smooth and sometimes irreverent look at sport by a man who loves the game but doesn't swallow the malarky. Rather, he revels in it.
•In The Adventurer's Guide (McKay, $9.95) by Jack Wheeler, the author pleads for people to aspire to live above the crowd; to enjoy the climb and forget about the top. Wheeler has scaled mountains and lived with head-hunters and jumped off cliffs. He wants us to come and do likewise. Says Wheeler, "I want you to be a hero to yourself."
•Three books offer views of what it's like to really live with nature. A Home in the Wilds (Taplinger, $9.95) by Kathrene Pinkerton was first published in 1939. Repackaged, it's the wonderful tale of a city girl and her news-papering husband who quit to live in the Canadian bush. Sigurd F. Olson's Reflections from the North Country (Knopf, $7.95) is a nifty volume in which the author epitomizes the lure of the outdoors by quoting a friend, camped out in a gale with only one poncho for two people: "I've been happier but I can't remember when." Hal Borland's Book of Days (Knopf, $10) ponders all sorts of things wild and beautiful, including skunk cabbage, asparagus, yellow jackets and opossums. It's a diary, set down with style and class.
•The Worlds of Ernest Thompson Seton (Knopf, $25), edited by John G. Samson, displays the paintings, drawings and words of Seton and his romanticized view of nature. Seton, a perfectionist, was much concerned with illustrating exact numbers of feathers, but nonetheless he wound up with an impressionistic rendition.
•This is a good year for birds. Best of all is the ambitious and authoritative The Audubon Society Book of Wild Birds (Abrams, $35) by Les Line and Franklin Russell. To Say it is remarkable is to damn it with faint praise. Even for many of us who have little more knowledge of birds than crows, gulls and pigeons and have certainly never cared whether the South American upland goose ever ventures below 11,000 feet (only rarely), this book of birds photographed in natural habitat is joy squared. More scholarly but less a visual delight (no photos although the illustrations by Ad Cameron are excellent) is Birds—Their Life, Their Ways, Their World (Abrams, $18.50) by Christopher Perrins. For those who want to watch birds and even want to plan a vacation around the endeavor, there's Roger Tory Peterson's Dozen Birding Hot Spots (Simon and Schuster, $9.95) by George Harrison. Another superior work is The Bird Decoy (The University of Nebraska Press, $17.95), edited by Paul A. Johnsgard. Ironic, isn't it, that this fully American creation involves deceit?
•Fish are much in the swim again in 1976. The Lore of Sportfishing (Crown, $29.95) by Tre Tryckare and E. Cagner is technical, encyclopedic and beautiful, telling not only of hundreds of fish but of everything related to fishing, including hooks, lines and electronic sounders. The Fresh & Salt Water Fishes of the World (Knopf, $25) by Edward C. Migdalski and George S. Fichter, with illustrations by Norman Weaver, is similarly striking, although it deals almost entirely with the fish themselves. Both books are exceptionally handsome. And while there may already be more books on fly tying than the subject deserves in the scope of human events. The Essential Fly Tier (Prentice-Hall, $12.95) by J. Edson Leonard is a splendid example of the genre as is The Fly Tyer's Almanac (Crown, $12.95), edited by Robert H. Boyle and Dave Whitlock, which is an authoritative and handsome compendium of the latest advances and developments in this exacting art form.
•Any auto race fan will cheer at Great Auto Races (Abrams, $45) by Peter Helck, which details the sport since the invention of the car, when people foolishly said it would scare horses, kill people and pollute the air.
•The second edition of The Complete Book of Boating (Prentice-Hall, $14.95) by Ernest A. Zadig is a winner as a reference work and each section certainly starts with the basics: "A cruiser is a boat in which you are able to cruise...."
•And The Pro Style (Prentice-Hall, $17.95) by Tom Bennett is perfect for the football fan who craves to know the latest on stacks, slants, stunts and misdirection.
•Now the ultimate snob gift: The two volume Encyclopedia of Sport (republished by Gale Research of Detroit) which encompasses 1,287 pages and brings you up to the moment in sport—as of 1897. It costs $85 and only 300 sets are available. The ordinary-looking books include info on the aardvark, agouti, and on through badger baiting, gazelle stalking, tent pegging and whippet racing. Happy blizzard!