Table for Twelve

From bar mitzvah memories to video game worlds, this year's coffee-table books offers sentimental journeys

Considering its subject, Video Game Art (Assouline, 300 pp., $29.95) is surprisingly thick with text. That's because it's the brainchild of a novelist, 28-year-old Nic Kelman, who strives to make the case for this ever expanding genre as a genuine art form, drawing analogies to film, myth, and literary epics. Even for the gaming averse, though, a flip through these pages is revelatory, suggesting the sheer range of intricate dream-scapes and brain-tickling phantasms buried amid the clichéd ghouls and fembots. Some of the anime-influenced characters bear a striking resemblance to Blythe, a saucer-eyed doll briefly manufactured and then discontinued in 1972. New York photographer Gina Garan resuscitated the cult of Blythe a few years ago, making her a fetish object in the U.S. and (of course) Japan. In Blythe Style (Chronicle, 160 pp., $19.95 paper), Garan fashions this inanimate ingenue as an haute couture model for Japanese Vogue, dressing her in outfits by Prada, Dior, and Vivienne Westwood, among others. Blythe looks particularly alienated in a trio of futuristic ensembles by Isabel Toledo; swathed in a fuzzy blue Sonia Rykiel wrap, she emits plangent melancholy.

Photographer Laurie Simmons has spent much of the last 29 years probing "the confusion between ourselves and our possessions." Her earliest work meshed nostalgia with cultural critique, depicting dolls trapped in their eerily familiar dollhouse world, surrounded by miniature renderings of domestic consumer goods. Walking Talking Lying (Aperture, 155 pp., $50) moves selectively through Simmons's career as an object observer, homing in on her doll works, her eerie ventriloquist dummies (female versions bear her own face), and her jarring images of partly human things, like a walking handbag or a book on legs.

Candida H Libraries (Schirmer/ Mosel, 272 pp., $99.95) invokes the awe and orderliness of the world's great libraries. People are almost entirely absent from her photographs; the only inhabitants of these enormous chambers (some modern and stark, others decorative and breathtaking as a cathedral) are the silent books. Umberto Eco's accompanying essay argues that, if the library is a model of the universe, per Borges, then "we must try to transform it into a universe on a human scale." Not that literature should have limbs, as in Simmons's tableaux (though wouldn't that be fun?), but that a reading room should be synonymous with pleasure: a place to fondle spines, gaze at illustrated volumes, and dawdle over skittering thoughts.

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