The Gift of Reading

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

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)

Alice Waters' latest book, the ninth to issue forth from her groundbreaking — literally, in the farming sense, as well as figuratively — Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, is the first not to include the eatery's name in its title. In some ways, as its title proclaims, this is the simplest of the books; there are no marathon, complicated recipes. She even apologizes in the introduction for Provençal-style fish soup: "It's one of the longest recipes in the book, but taken in parts it is not hard to make." Nothing in the book appears to be hard to make. It's divided into two parts, the first intended to teach basic kitchen skills, the second expanding on these techniques in order to enable you to eat delicious, healthful, seasonal food every day. In the 25 years since she published the Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook (still for me the most eccentric and erotic of her work), Waters' philosophy has evolved to the point where she can preach what is most difficult: simplicity. — Meredith Brody

GrassRoutes Travel Guides

San Francisco: New View of Yerba Buena ($18.95)

Oakland: The Soul of the City Next Door ($16.95)

Just in time for the holidays, GrassRoutes Travel has published two guidebooks that are perfect for Bay Area locals, visitors, finicky readers, and people who just plain have everything. These guides to San Francisco and Oakland give glimpses into the coolest breakfast nooks, dinner spots, places to hang out, nightclubs, hotels, and more. Looking for a free daytime outing? Try the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on the first Tuesday of the month. Want some apple pie or pumpkin-flavored ice cream? Try Fenton's Creamery in Oakland. Low on cash? Read the listings of inexpensive venues and activities. Written in brief paragraphs, each entry reveals whether a venue is cheap or pricey, if it's suited for solo or group outings, and even if it has free wireless Internet — perfect for almost anyone on your list. That's not all: These guides are great for the environmentally conscious crowd, too. Founded by Serena Bartlett, an award-winning author and filmmaker who has visited more than 25 countries, GrassRoutes Travel profiles businesses that benefit local environments and economies, according to its Web site. Both guides can be found at local bookstores or online at — Talia Kennedy

Millions of Women Are Waiting to Meet You: A Memoir

By Sean Thomas ($24)

Bongowoman seems perfect at first, then stands up — and she's six inches too tall for his taste. Chinalady5 turns out to be a stalker, gazing up at his window from between the trash bins below. Kate turns and implores him: "Would you bugger me?" But buggering disgusts him. Juanita is just too beautiful, flooding him with "that strange and sad feeling; that doomy vertigo." Armed with an assignment from a men's magazine to try Internet dating for a year and write about it explicitly, London journalist Sean Thomas set off on a laddish lark — but plunged headlong into an unexpected maelstrom of lifelong yearnings, searing regrets, fairy-tale fantasies, and secret fetishes (lesbian-dentistry porn among them) that had him jacking off all night for so many nights that he winds up hospitalized. The result is a grippingly honest explication of the postmodern Western male heart — and other parts wired inextricably to it. Fairy tales, incidentally, sometimes come true. —Anneli Rufus

Revenge of the Donut Boys: True Stories of Lust, Fame, Survival, and Multiple Personality

By Mike Sager ($16.95)

Twenty-five years ago, the foreword tells us, magazine writer Mike Sager set out to be the heir to Hunter S. Thompson. Revenge of the Donut Boys, his second collection of articles, certainly shows off his gonzo stylings. The fun he had while reporting — dishing with Roseanne Barr about her multiple personality disorder, watching Slayer's bass player hide his bong when his father popped into his new suburban home — gets translated to the reader through the book's jazzy, fast-paced prose. As a writer for Esquire, Sager had relatively easy access to celebrities and the super-rich, people like Ice Cube, football coach Mike Ditka, and dot-com billionaire Mark Cuban. But to his credit, he's equally interested in American archetypes. There's your average teenager, freaked out by the SATs and his principal's hot legs; there's a pair of sitcom character actors longing for true fame. He shows us their lives in minute detail and without judgment, letting readers decide for themselves what it all means in the end. — Eliza Strickland

Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name

By Vendela Vida ($23.95)

Local author Vida's 2007 novel, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, traces one woman's metamorphosis into a misanthrope through a slow arc of faith annihilation. Vida — who co-edits The Believer magazine — burdens her powerful heroine, Clarissa Iverton, with a series of crushing familial revelations. In the opening sequences alone, Clarissa's bonds to her father and her fiancé snap, driving her north of the Arctic Circle to Lapland in search of a mother who abandoned her years before. The geographical setting is the perfect icy backdrop for the daughter's journey, both in its bitter winter climate and in the bitter isolation she feels from the strangers she encounters. With a sharp eye for bruising detail, Vida turns a story of cruel indifference into a potent read, even for the eternal optimists on your shopping list. — Jennifer Maerz

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