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'Coffee-table books" don't have any special size or topical requirement. They do, however, need to have some sort of lasting power — or they won't sit beside the television remotes for long.

The following selections, released over the past few months, range from a self-published local stunner to a very nontraditional graphic-novel beauty. We hope at least one will intrigue the hard-to-buy-for on your holiday gift list.

Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty

Peter Collier and Nick Del Calzo

Artisan, $45/hardcover

The first living serviceman to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War, 26-year-old Fort Collins resident Salvatore Giunta takes a spot in this newly revised third edition of Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty. Giunta's medal is one of 3,458 given out since the award's establishment by Congress 150 years ago, and his story and those of 143 of his fellow recipients are told alongside stunning black-and-white portraits (by Colorado photographer Nick Del Calzo) in this 300-plus-page collection.

A 90-minute DVD of historic footage and first-person reflections, and letters from all five living presidents, accompany the book, and part of the proceeds benefit the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. — Kirsten Akens

The Windows of Grace and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church

Pearl "Spot" Holmes, Chrystal Hutka, Phyllis Kester, Marianna McJimsey

$50/hardcover (Copies can be ordered at 328-1125, graceststephensepiscopal.org)

A good art book needs a few simple things: large, focused, in-color images and information to aid the digestion of said images. But even these simple things can go wrong, and this self-published volume could have been a prime example. It's not.

The Windows of Grace and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church is, in fact, gorgeous and full of fascinating information. No need to feel like an outsider, O Non-Christian: This book serves anyone, and well. Each window or series is perfectly dissected, complete with notes on its symbolism, accompanying Biblical passages, and facts on the windows' donors and artists. A map in the back charts each window's place in the church.

And that's the best part: This is a real place in our own backyard. It's time we start fussing over its windows, and not its tumultuous recent history. — Edie Adelstein

Far Flung Places: The Photography of Barbara Sparks

Essays by John Nichols, Susan Zwinger and Roddy MacInnes

University of New Mexico Press, $45/hardcover

Barbara Sparks has traveled to many exotic places and captured lovely black-and-white photographs, per her medium, in those places. Yet the one image from this book — released with the Sparks exhibition now on display at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center — that took my breath away, was the delicate "Ribbon Sky" shot in New Mexico.

The image, featuring gradations of gray cirrus clouds above a low mountain, is perfectly summed up by Zwinger in the afterword with, "Through these images, we think in mountain time ... From the five-day life of a rose bloom, to the centuries of a Taos piñon forest, to the millennia of a bristlecone pine." — Edie Adelstein

Habibi

Craig Thompson

Pantheon, $35/hardcover

The graphic novel is established as a genre in its own right, but Craig Thompson's Habibi threatens to redefine it again. This brick of a book — 665 pages — can't be called a story for the ages, only because it is so emphatically of our time.

In a reimagined Middle East that partakes both of Third World poverty and First World privilege, a love story of refreshing complexity struggles to unfold on pages that are sometimes literally aswim in a sea of trash. Other pages burst with Qur'anic calligraphy, making a mishmash of the horrifying and comic, depraved and sublime. With Habibi, Thompson is a storyteller and artist come into his own, wielding the lavish inkwork and the obsessively sensitive mind that turned his memoir Blankets into a smash hit, combined with a story as solid and ethereal as Alhambra marblework. — Claire Swinford

Great Works: 50 Paintings Explored

Tom Lubbock

Frances Lincoln, $29.95/hardcover

Good writing means good thinking, a friend recently theorized. While that appears obvious, it's soundly illustrated in my reading of Tom Lubbock's essays on art.

Lubbock, I discovered, is an art-writing god, on par with the mythical Yve-Alain Bois. Before passing away this year, Lubbock was a beloved art critic for England's Independent, and wrote brainy, beautiful essays about various works. Fifty of these make up this supremely intelligent book, which I knew had to be good when I saw the works Lubbock picked (two being Toulouse-Lautrec's tender "The Bed" and Goya's haunting "The Dog.")

Upon reading though, it's clear that Lubbock is creating, himself, as he comments. There are no bland history lessons or vapid descriptions on art, but elegant theories and savvy observations. Lubbock's approach on a certain painting, as well as his highly articulate language, are staggeringly unique and well-crafted. — Edie Adelstein

scene@csindy.com

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