The Gift of Reading

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


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)

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

The Atomic Bazaar: The Rise of the Nuclear Poor

By William Langewiesche ($22)

Upon unwrapping The Atomic Bazaar on Christmas morning, a pall may fall over your gift-giving extravaganza. For starters, the cover of Davis resident William Langewiesche's book features a shopping cart emblazoned with a radioactivity symbol — not exactly an image that meshes with the commercial spirit of Noel. Then again, a book detailing how the United States continues to blunder in its efforts to stem nuclear proliferation isn't a holly-jolly read. But Langewiesche's grit, thoroughness, and journalistic competence is simply awe-inspiring and his unadorned writing is compellingly readable. You won't be able to put the book down as Langewiesche criss-crosses Russia and the mountains of Pakistan tracing the routes of a nuclear smuggler and examines the rise and fall of nuclear sugar daddy A.Q. Khan. In the end, you'll learn how, in the very near future, the poor man's atomic bomb will, in fact, be an atomic bomb. A few glasses of eggnog may help you deal with that reality. — Joe Eskenazi

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