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The Gift of Reading 

Still have people to buy for? Consider these books as last-minute stocking stuffers.

Wednesday, Dec 19 2007
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Shortcomings

By Adrian Tomine ($19.95)

Bay Area comic artist Adrian Tomine collected a fan base over the past 15 years with his Optic Nerve series, first published in zine form, later bound and sold in the traditional manner by Drawn and Quarterly. Now, with his first graphic novel, he's poised for blowout mainstream success. Shortcomings gives voice to Tomine's antihero, Ben Tanaka, a cynical Japanese-American guy who lives in Berkeley, works listlessly at a movie theater, and lusts after white chicks when his girlfriend isn't around. As the 100-page book progresses, we watch Ben's relationship steadily decay. It's painful, sure, but spiced with humor, as he pokes fun at his own failures, and plays with the racial and sexual stereotypes that loop endlessly through his head. And the artwork is Tomine's best to date: In stark, precise black and white, his characters radiate dejected anger, blinding self-consciousness, and even, occasionally, awkward beauty. — Eliza Strickland

The Rejection Collection Vol. 2: The Cream of the Crap

Edited by Matthew Diffee ($22.95)

All too often, cartoons in The New Yorker fall into two categories: those that make no sense, and those that make sense but aren't very funny. After reading The Rejection Collection, a hilarious assortment of cartoons deemed unfit to print in the prestigious magazine, it's clear that this is more the fault of humorless editors than the cartoonists themselves. In his very entertaining introduction, Matthew Diffee explains that every week more than 40 cartoonists submit ten cartoons each to editors Bob Mankoff and David Remnick; a lucky few are notified that one of their cartoons will be published. That means, of course, every week The New Yorker rejects hundreds of drawn gags. Judging from the material in this collection, the rejects (at least the best ones) are way funnier than those that get approved. They also tend to be far cruder, which is probably why they didn't make the cut: There's the snowman with a carrot for a penis, the beggar with an ass for a head, and the subway commuter who implores a would-be suicide jumper, "Wait. There's another train right behind this one." Just as fun as the cartoons themselves are silly questionnaires — created specially for the book — which each cartoonist fills out and, invariably, doodles on. The strange answers and doodles show that New Yorker cartoonists are not only funny, but also perhaps a little disturbed. — Will Harper

Our Dumb World: Atlas of the Planet Earth

The Onion ($27.99)

I bet you didn't know Alabama re-legalized slavery back in 1987. Most people didn't notice because the slavery legislation was "tacked onto a seemingly innocuous school-segregation bill" that passed the Alabama state Senate by a vote of 34 to three-fifths. That's just one of many fun "facts" in The Onion's latest parody collection. Our Dumb World spoofs cultures around the globe to hilarious effect. Even the silly sight gags are laugh-out-loud: The section on the United Kingdom features a photo of "Sconehenge," which is a Stonehenge made out of breakfast pastries. "This stale monument is over 5,000 years old," the caption reads, "and it is still a mystery who baked it." There are jokes packed in practically every inch of this 245-page book, from the maps (a spot on Italy's map is identified as "Priest slipping roofies into holy water") to the demographics (46 percent of Romania's population is dead, 29 percent are undead, and the rest are "other"). — Will Harper

Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters: Defending the Earth with Ultraman and Godzilla

By August Ragone ($40)

For the geek in your life, or anyone else who is interested in Japanese culture and cinema, this is an intense and thoroughly researched book that goes behind the scenes of Godzilla, Ultraman, and tons of other sci-fi classics. Monsters is packed with rare and never-before-seen photographs of our favorite rubber-suited heroes and villains and the man who created them. Although San Francisco author Ragone delivers a few chuckles about how silly these films can look to modern viewers, he maintains a mostly reverential tone about his subject; this is the first book in English to document Tsuburaya's prolific television and film career. Among Tsuburaya's innovations was a technique now known as "suitmation," an alternative to the heavily used and sometimes-rough art of stop-motion animation. Smashing and stomping through Tokyo with giant monsters requires the deepest commitment and, through Ragone, Tsuburaya demonstrated the love and care required to pull it off. Monsters is not only an easy read, it offers insight into why the legacy of Godzilla, Ultraman, and others like them have endured. — Aaron Farmer

Cinema Now

By Andrew Bailey ($39.99)

The passing this year of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni on the same summer day knocked the wind out of film buffs worldwide, but the maestros long ago ceded the torch to a new generation of filmmakers. In Cinema Now, local writer Andrew Bailey spotlights 60 important or promising directors around the globe, from Fatih Akin to Zhang Yimou. Bailey's succinct text provides a pithy introduction to each artist, while the array of haunting images from their films and sets conjures a palpable air of mystery and longing. Well-chosen quotes from the filmmakers, such as this kernel of wisdom from Belgian director Jean-Pierre Dardenne (L'enfant), provide the perfect bridge between the prose and the pics: "In order to film what you want to show on a face or a body, you first have to decide what you want to hide." Cinema Now occupies a curious middle ground between reference book and coffee-table tome, neither of which it aspires to be. It is ideally suited, however, as a companion and inspiration for the Netflix subscriber with some appreciation for foreign films and who is ready to explore more exotic climes. A DVD of shorts and miscellany is included. — Michael Fox

The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution

By Alice Waters with Patricia Curtan, Kelsie Kerr, and Fritz Streiff ($35)

About The Author

Michael Fox

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Jennifer Maerz

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Meredith Brody

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Anneli Rufus

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Eliza Strickland

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Will Harper

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Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Bio:
Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" is a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly, which he has written for since 2007. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers... more

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Aaron Farmer

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Talia Kennedy

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