Good Investments; 5 Books Worth the Hefty Price Tag

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“Books are expensive.”

I hear that almost every day at my bookstore.  The fact is people aren’t happy with the increasing prices of books, with new hardcovers pushing towards $30 and paperbacks edging slowly towards $20.  While I sympathize with these readers, I do like to make two points.  First, the bang for your buck with a book is hard to beat.  While $20 will buy you a ticket  (maybe two) to a movie theater for 90 minutes of entertainment, a book that costs the same amount will entertain you for hours more, and can be passed on or read again and again.  Second, there are certainly books that justify a high price tag.

I’m not always a fan of these large format hardcovers.  Call them whatever you’d like – coffee table books, “gift” books, keepsake volumes – many are simply too expensive for most people or not well-produced.  There are some exceptions, however.  These five volumes are favorites of mine, published in the last few years.  If you’re willing to invest your tax refund in some books or expand your personal library, these titles are certainly worth a look.

The Clash by the Clash – 45.00 – Grand Central Publishing

Written by the surviving members of the band–Topper Headon, Mick Jones, and Paul Simonon–this comprehensive work is packed with more than 300 photos as well as personal memorabilia, and is being published to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the band’s first U.S. album release.

Written by the surviving members of the “Only Band That Matters”, The Clash has a lot going on under it’s bright pink cover.  On top of the nearly 400 pages and 300 pictures, the 60,000 words tell the story of The Clash in their own words – and seemingly on their own terms.  There isn’t a sentence that feels like it was written by a ghostwriter or neutered by an editor.  From the formation of the group in the 70s to the disintegration after Combat Rock, none of the conflict or controversy is glossed over.  Even Joe Strummer gets in as an “author”, as quotes and interviews from the late musician are used in the book. As Richard Marcus said in his review, while this may prove not to be the definitive book about the band, it is “only one that matters.”

Captain America Omnibus, Vol 1 by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting – 74.99 – Marvel Comics

Collecting Brubakers first 25 landmark issues of “Captain America” in one titanic tome, plus the “Captain America 65th Anniversary Special” and “Winter Soldier: Winter Kills,” this deluxe hardcover is packed with extras and features the story that sent shockwaves through the entire Marvel Universe: the death of Captain America.

Man, this is some good comic booking right here.  Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting have received near-universal acclaim for their run on Captain America, and it is well deserved.  The creative team blends classic Marvel (like the Cosmic Cube) with creative new threads, and Epting’s art is gorgeous throughout.  The story feels pulpy and gritty (especially for a mainstream superhero book), and Brubaker’s handle on all the characters is spot-on.  Marvel didn’t skimp on the extras in the book; on top of the 27 issues, there are interviews with the creative team, one of Ed’s scripts, cover roughs, variant covers, issue layouts, sketches, Marvel Encyclopedia entries and other various bits and pieces.  One of the best examples of well-done modern comics is this volume, and this is one of the few truly must-own Omnibus/Absolute editions put out by the big comic publishers.

The Oxford Project by Peter Feldstein and Stephen Bloom – 50.00 – Welcome Books

In 1984, photographer Peter Feldstein set out to photograph every single resident of his town, Oxford, Iowa. In 2004, Feldstein decided to do it again and invited writer Stephen Bloom to join him. Together they went in search of the same Oxford residents Feldstein had originally shot two decades earlier.

I’ve already written quite a bit about the Oxford Project, but I want to mention it again here since it is certainly worth the price.  In concept and execution the book is, in my opinion, flawless.  This is the best depiction of life in small-town America that I’ve seen in any medium.  If you are a photography or biography fan, you will not be disappointed.

Rogue Leaders by Rob Smith – 60.00 – Chronicle Books

In 1982 George Lucas saw potential in the fledgling videogame industry and created his own interactive-entertainment company. Twenty-five years and dozens of award-winning games later LucasArts has earned a prestigious place in the industry and in the hearts of gamers everywhere. Rogue Leaders is the first substantive survey of a videogame company; a deluxe compilation that traces its history through never-before-published interviews.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Chronicle Books publishes many of the best-looking, best-produced books on the market today.  Rogue Leaders may be the best one they’ve put out yet.  Few books have been produced that chart the history of the (relatively young) video game industry, and following the birth and growth of LucasArts is a treat.  As someone who grew up playing the SCUMM and early Star Wars games, the book is a trip down memory lane.  The focus of the book is largely on the staff and development of games, and assumes a familiarity with LucasArts’ body of work.  Hundreds of pieces of concept art, screenshots, and interviews – many published here for the first time – round out Barry’s smartly written text.

The Story of Sugarloaf by John Christie – 50.00 – Down East Books

This is the dramatic story of the development and history of Sugarloaf ski resort from its beginnings as a hand-cleared path to an international ski and golfing resort of world renown. Many colorful people of international prominence are profiled, including Emile Allais, Jean Claude Killy, Billy Kidd, and Les Otten.

Of course, my affection for both the subject and author of this book may color my opinion a bit.  Still, The Story of Sugarloaf is a fantastic achievement.  The first definitive history of one of Maine’s premiere ski resorts, the volume collects sixty years of history and over 100 archival photos in a beautiful hardcover package.  The author, long involved with the resort, provides a charmingly written insider’s look at the development of the mountain from a single winding trail (Winter’s Way, if you’re keeping score) to the world-renowned four-season resort that exists today.  Easily a must own for Sugarloafers and Maine skiers, the book warrants a look from anyone who spends part of their year sliding downhill on skis or a board.

What did I miss?  Any other expensive must-own books?  Do you refuse to even consider spending more than $50 on a book, no matter what?  Let me know in the comments.

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5 responses to “Good Investments; 5 Books Worth the Hefty Price Tag

  1. This is a great list. In particular, I’d love to see THE OXFORD PROJECT.

    I’d have to add what I think is the only book I’ve ever spent more than $50 on: LOST GIRLS by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie (http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781891830747). I am a huge Alan Moore fangirl, but this goes beyond that–this is just a stunning piece of work. Gebbie works in dozens of artistic styles, each of them perfect for the writing and executed flawlessly. And Moore is, as always, at the top of his writing game, even when sifting through subjects like porn, pedophilia, and art with a capital A. I bought this the day it came out and have read it multiple times since. Plus, you’ve got to love a book that takes so long to make that the author and artist end up getting married after publication (okay, maybe that’s not exactly what happened, but they did get married). It’s permanently out of stock now, but I’d recommend tracking it down to any comics fans.

  2. Agreed on LOST GIRLS. It is an epic work, and Moore at his best writing. Stunning and sometime experimental art as well.

  3. This winter I fell in love with a compact OED at a used bookstore ($100, magnifying glass intact in the little drawer). I wavered and wavered but couldn’t justify spending that much; a few days later my brother gave it to me for Christmas.

    It is without a doubt the greatest thing I own.

  4. I’ll ditto the OED — although I used it more often when I had access to the CD-ROM version in college. The compact is nice, but I still covet a complete edition (it’s the wanna-be professor in me).

    The four volumes of the Complete Sandman ($100 each) are amazing and worth it for the high quality printing and sharper colors.

  5. Pingback: Asylum by Christopher Payne | Brews and Books

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