A Richard Avedon portrait is instantly recognizable; as a fashion photographer and as a chronicler of political and cultural figures, he had few peers. Avedon: Murals & Portraits (Gagosian/Abrams, $100) centers on four gigantic works (from 20 to 35 feet wide) created between 1969 and 1971. Each is a charged subject: The Chicago Seven; the members of the Mission Council in Saigon—“the eleven men who ran the Vietnam War”; Andy Warhol and the film stars of his Factory; and the extended Allen Ginsberg family (including father, poet Louis Ginsberg). The oversize, beautifully produced catalog includes working prints, magazine layouts, contact prints, and four-paneled foldouts of the murals. Informative essays by historian Louis Menand, journalist William Shawcross, Corcoran curator Paul Roth, and Ginsberg authority Bob Rubin add vital contextual contributions, and photo-historian Mary Panzer’s essay, “State of Emergency,” immerses you in Avedon’s work in the 1960s and 1970s.
Telegraph Avenue (HarperCollins, $27.99), by Michael Chabon, had me savoring every single page. This is a modern Dickensian novel about parents and children across several generations, but it’s also about home births, small stores fighting megamalls, and a love letter to vinyl records, blaxploitation and kung fu films. Archy and Nat run Brokeland Records, a store in the “borderlands” between Oakland and Berkeley. Their wives, Gwen and Aviva, run Berkeley Birth Partners. Each set of partners is under stress: business pressures, impending parenthood, and unexpected father-and-son reunions. There are guest appearances by a Hammond B-3 organ master (and his wise parrot), a black zeppelin named Minnie Ripperton, and State Senator Barack Obama (at a funky fund-raiser). The pages are crammed with colorful characters, great dialogue, audacious set pieces, and inspired riffs, descriptions, and metaphors worthy of the musical flights that suffuse these pages. In the words of another memorable character, Valletta Moore, “Stay fly, and do what you got to do”: buy this book.