Booking the Holidays 

Brice Marden in retrospect; Bruce Weber weighs in; and a garden fit for a king.

Life is short, art is long, and Christmas is here before you know it. Or you do know it, and you're under the gun what to get for that special someone. Here are some last-minute gift-book ideas. The category is fine art etc.

And what better way to start than with the canvases of Brice Marden? If you miss his retrospective at New York's Museum of Modern Art (through January 15th), visit the show at its next stop: the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, beginning in February. But if you can't make it to either city, see the next best thing: Plane Image: A Brice Marden Retrospective, edited by Gary Garrels (Museum of Modern Art, $65).

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Brice Marden is too contemporary for you, but there's nothing wrong with good ole modernism? Think back to its early days and the Société Anonyme, which organized U.S. exhibits of early-20th-century masters (such as Brancusi, Braque, Calder, Klee, Kandinsky, and Mondrian) and did so by putting things in the hands of artists, not museum curators. Katherine S. Dreier, Marcel Duchamp, and Man Ray spearheaded the group; read about it in Jennifer Gross' The Société Anonyme: Modernism for America (Yale University Press, $65).

More from Yale in the way of art: The subject isn't modernism, it's man's best friend in Best in Show: The Dog in Art from the Renaissance to Today ($45) by Edgar Peters Bowron, Carolyn Rose Rebbert, Robert Rosenblum, and William Secord. And if a dog isn't your best friend, how about a horse? No big secret that it has a history too -- an art history. Learn more in The Horse in Art by John Baskett ($45).

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Or is photography more your thing? The Brooks showed the work of Annie Leibovitz earlier this year. Have her work on hand at home on the printed page in A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005 (Random House, $75). Leave it to photographer Bruce Weber, however, to weigh in with the heaviest, priciest book on this list: Blood Sweat and Tears: Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned To Love Fashion (teNeues, $150). With box, the book comes to almost 10 pounds. As a stocking-stuffer? Forget it.

And speaking of fashion (and loving it) ... Cristobal Balenciaga, the late, great, Spanish-born, Paris-based couturier, gets the royal treatment in Thames & Hudson's Balenciaga Paris by Pamela Golbin and Fabien Baron ($85, paperback), as does designer Nicolas Gesquiere, who's been busy these days turning Balenciaga's house around. But you saw the head-turning shoes Gesquiere had his runway models recently wearing? If you didn't, here's an idea: See what's covered on the jacket of Shoes: A History From Sandals to Sneakers (Palgrave/MacMillan, $49.95) by Giorgio Riello and Peter McNeil. Foot fetishists, 'tis the season.

Off the Paris catwalk and into a Paris suburb for some great outdoors -- make that the magnificent outdoors as ordered by the Sun King himself, the subject of Ian Thompson's The Sun King's Garden: Louis XIV, André le Nôtre and the Creation of the Gardens of Versailles (Bloomsbury USA, $45). The book is handsomely designed, and it doesn't weigh a ton.

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Francophiles, this Christmas you've got yet another thing coming: French Island Elegance (Abrams, $40) by native Memphian Michael Connors, a noted authority on the decorative arts of the West Indies and past author of Caribbean Elegance and Cuban Elegance. In this latest title, he's again joined by photographer Bruce Buck, and in lieu of booking a trip to the Caribbean, page through Connors' splendid look at the art, antiques, and architecture -- colonial to contemporary -- of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Marie-Galante, St. Martin, and St. Barths. It's a good way this chilly holiday season to sit back, relax, and ... chill.


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