Gifts: our selection of books to place under the tree

Like every year at the dawn of the holidays, Focus shares with you its choice of cultural items to offer to your loved ones.

Marilyn Museum

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Here you are ready to enter into a unique literary device, the fruit of seven years of meticulous investigation in the photographic archives (1944-1962) of the one who was one day called Norma Jeane Baker then became Marilyn Monroe. It is a place where the images are central and yet never appear (here we sometimes think of An overweight young man by Eugène Savitzkaya, dedicated to Elvis Presley, barely undercover). Anne Savelli indeed invites us here to follow the guide (to what extent is he a neutral or even reliable narrator?) of a fictional museum devoted to the construction of an icon by interposed real portraits (taken by André de Dienes , Eve Arnold or Richard Avedon), but also to all the potential off-cameras of these posing sessions, where everything was at stake in terms of intimacy, predation or latent melancholy. In the pas-de-deux between photographer and model, the trap could sometimes close on one, hypnotized by the one who atomizes the film and incarnates, sometimes on the other, drugged at those moments when she became eternity, where she hoped to escape the sordidness of a not-so-glamorous existence once the spotlights went out. Beyond fragmenting a hall of mirrors in the land of deceptive appearances, exhausting it in the Perecquian sense (an exercise in which Savelli has excelled since Lafayette decor), the author often holds up the mirror to us spectators, stuck in the web of representations and imperatives of seduction (“That is to say where we are, as soon as it comes to talking about the girl and her body”). Persistent retinal helping, Marilyn Museum is dazzling vertigo, not just aimed at fans of the actress.

By Anne Savelli, Editions Inculte, 432 pages. Price: 20.90 euros.


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Back last spring with the endearing Everything can happen, Romeo Elvis is now the subject of a beautiful photo book of almost 200 pages. It must be said that the material was not lacking. Martin Gallone and Nicolas Catalano accompanied and documented each stage of the journey of the Brussels resident. Including when he was still a young aspiring rapper. Friends since ESA 75, photography school in Brussels, the three never let go. And Martin Gallone and Nicolas Catalano for being present each time to shoot the pivotal moments of one of the most dazzling trajectories of Belgian rap, “from Brussels to New York, from village festivals to festivals with 100,000 spectators, from youth centers to the Zenith tour”.

By Roméo Elvis, Martin Gallone and Nicolas Catalano, Editions Michel Lafon, 192 pages. Price: 29.95 euro.

The complete Lonesome Dove saga

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With its fresco Lonesome Dove published in the USA between 1985 and 1997 (1986 Pulitzer Prize), Larry McMurtry, co-screenwriter of Secret of Brokeback Mountain, signed “the end of the western”. History of Texas Rangers in a stammering state, the five volumes of the cult series are brought together in a collector’s box, goodies included.

By Larry McMurtry, Éditions Gallmeister, translated from English (United States) by Laura Derajinski, Richard Crevier and Christophe Cuq, 3248 pages. Price: 65 euro

The detail that kills: little precision of style from Marcel Proust to Rihanna

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What je-ne-sais-quoi could forever be a game-changer in an outfit? What if artists, even inadvertently, had something to teach us about this? Armed with their keen sense of observation and solid cultural knowledge, the partners in style Elisabeth Quin and François Armanet go through the cupboards of it-girls Where it boys (from Debbie Harry to Marvin Gaye, from PJ Harvey to Edward Norton), from headwear to lingerie. Through emblematic portraits (like Greta Garbo in the company of a lion), we rediscover moments when elegance was played with a scarf or oilskin. Here is a fashion book with a whole lot of panache… and which will perhaps save you – who knows – from receiving yet another pair of Scottish socks next year!

By François Armanet and Elisabeth Quin, Éditions Flammarion, 312 pages. Price: 29.90 euros.

Treasure Island

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The stories of pirates would not exist without this matrix of which all pop culture still respects all the codes and clichés established in 1881 by Stevenson. All the more reason to reread this mythical island and make it discover to the youngest, helped by the way in which Riff Reb’s visually magnifies the said codes and clichés conveyed by Jim Hawkins, Long John Silver and other Billy Bones. Dozens of illustrations by a specialist in the sea, the genre and Stevenson.

By Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Riff Reb’s, Éditions Daniel Maghen, new translation from English by Jean-Jacques Greif, 304 pages. Price: 39 euro

The World of Maus

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35 years ago, Art Spiegelman published a monumental graphic novel on the Holocaust. At the crossroads of literature, documentary and contemporary art, Maus and his bestiary brought the unspeakable to life. A sign of the times, the beginnings of fascism identified by Vladek, the central character of the story, are reappearing today. And it is no coincidence that the Pulitzer Prize finds itself at the center of a culture war, in Tennessee in particular, where a county recently withdrew it from the school curriculum. Two good reasons for the academic Hillary Chute to bring together texts by journalists, writers and historians which help to better understand by what spells – laughter and the contrast between the subject and its mode of representation in particular – Spiegelman succeeded in this great book on memory and trauma. As the novelist Philip Pullman writes, “Maus is a masterpiece, likely to engender mystery and pose more questions than it answers”.

Texts compiled by Hillary Chute, Éditions Flammarion, 432 pages. Price: 28 euro.

The Secret History of Kate Bush (& the strange art of pop)

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It’s one of the most unexpected hits of the year. All it took was one scene in the series Stranger Things so that the Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush returns to the top of the charts, more than 30 years after its release. The perfect timing for the young publishing house Le Gospel, which publishes, for the first time in French, The Secret History of Kate Bush (& the strange art of pop). Originally released in 1983, Fred Vermorel’s book contrasts so much with the usual pop biographies – baroque writing, obsessive style – that it has become cult.

By Fred Vermorel, Éditions Le Gospel, translated from English by Adrien Durand, 160 pages. Price: 20 euros.

Back to America

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During the 1930s and 1940s, Farm Security Administration photographers – including Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans – criss-crossed the United States to document the living and working conditions of Americans mired in the Great Depression. These images of gas stations, rodeos, urban scenes, picnics, factories, etc. largely nourished our imagination, in the same way as Hollywood cinema of the time. An imaginary in black and white. Hence the surprise to discover the artisanal colorization work carried out by Sébastien de Oliveira on 200 of these shots. The effect is striking. Dressed in color, the American way of life gains in sensuality what it loses in mystery.

By Sébastien de Oliveira, Editions du Chêne, 256 pages. Price: 40 euros.

book covers

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Covers tell us as much about the books they cover as they do about how their sponsors want to sell them, and to whom.” Clémence Imbert retraces in a richly illustrated work the history of the dressing of books in the 20th century, from graphic challenges to commercial issues, from the few letters aligned to the craziest colorful delusions.

By Clémence Imbert, Editions Imprimerie Nationale, 280 pages. Price: 59 euros.


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With his panoply of colored or black and white poscas, Mathieu Van Assche extracts his collection of old photographs from the vernacular and oblivion to take them to mysterious or carnivalesque terrain. What, certainly, to observe with a more informed eye the future Christmas meetings… Who knows what disturbing mask could cover for posterity the taciturn Aunt Germaine or the fiancé of your cousin, if the artist passed by there?

By Mathieu Van Assche, CFC Editions, 112 pages. Price: 22 euro.

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Gifts: our selection of books to place under the tree