FIVE FOR THE WANNABE BLOGGER
This year, the mainstream media latched onto bloggers and blogging and ran article after article about the latest Web fad, even though Weblogs — self-published online journals — have been around since well before the new millennium. Here are five books to turn readers from rookies into experts.
Blogging, by Biz Stone (New Riders, $29.99). From the basics to syndication: One word — user-friendly. Easy to read and understand, and true newbies will enjoy the visuals.
The Weblog Handbook, by Rebecca Blood (Perseus, $14). This one’s more theory than how-to, in which one veteran blogger shares her experiences and ideas about what does and doesn’t work in blogging and in the blogging community.
Blog On, by Todd Stauffer (McGraw-Hill/Osborne, $29.99). Is your loved one’s blog hosted by Greymatter or Movable Type? This book offers step-by-step instructions for those who still prefer printed manuals to online ones.
We’ve Got Blog, by the editors at Perseus Publishing (Perseus, $20). Oooh … bloggers on blogging. This collection of articles by Web designers, journalists, and Web enthusiasts gives the real lowdown on the people behind the screens, opinionated talk about the state of the craze, advice on how to do it right, and a huge link section to all the blogs cited in the book.
Running Weblogs with Slash, by Chromatic, Brian Aker, and David Krieger (O’Reilly, $34.95). Perfect for Web geeks who just have to do the programming themselves. (On the other hand, O’Reilly also has Essential Blogging for those who are less advanced.) — Jennifer L. Leo
FIVE FOR FINGER-POPPERS
The best way to expand a jazz library is to hire good librarians. Whitney Balliett must be good, if reading him sometimes seems better than being there. The New Yorker writer’s survey, Collected Works: A Journal of Jazz 1954-2001 (St. Martin’s, $24.95), is impressive not only for its breadth, depth, and accuracy, but because Balliett is such a jaw-droppingly fine stylist. If an essential collection exists, it’s this.
And then there’s Living with Music: Ralph Ellison’s Jazz Writings (Modern Library Classics, $13.95). The former trumpeter, composer, and, oh yes, author of one of the 20th century’s most important novels, lived musically. His very personal collection includes nonfiction, fiction, and correspondence — proving the oft-made declaration that all of Ellison’s writing was in fact jazz writing.
We know it’s the American art, but let’s not forget that Canada’s in America, too — especially with great Canadian imports such as piano master Oscar Peterson around. Peterson, a Ken Burns neglectee, is a charmer musically, so it’s no surprise that his self-told life story, the aptly titled A Jazz Odyssey (Continuum, $29.95), is a charmer too.
With Arranging the Score: Portraits of the Great Arrangers (Continuum, $19.95), the elegant, buoyantly erudite essayist and lyricist Gene Lees offers a series of typically loving and meticulous pieces on the undersung craft of arranging.
The reissue of Studs Terkel’s 1957 classic, Giants of Jazz (New Press, $22.95), should make Terkel fans into jazz fans, and vice versa. This great listener and absolute aficionado hears from thirteen giants, many of whom were his pals. This book turns them into the reader’s pals, too. — Jonathan Kiefer
FIVE FOR THE CARTOON QUOTIENT
For the world-weary adult, comics can still hit the spot. Here are some of this year’s most provocative words-and- pictures books for grown-ups.
9/11: Emergency Relief, edited by Jeff Mason (Alternative Comics, $14.95). This anthology of responses to 9/11, assembled at breakneck speed to benefit the Red Cross, is a raw, eloquent, introspective graphical diary of how established and cutting-edge comics artists across the nation struggled with the crisis. Destined to be an important document for future generations.
Bruised Fruit, by David Choe (DRIPS Inc., $20). Crammed with passionate, color-drenched, graffiti-inspired paintings, cityscape drawings, photo collages, and bits of personal prose, this is a book into which readers can dive repeatedly and surface with something new every time. Choe’s work is furious creativity uncompromised and unleashed.
Sketchbook Diaries, Vol. 2, by James Kochalka (Top Shelf, $7.95). Alternative cartoonist Kochalka hit it big (for an alternative cartoonist, that is) with his first collection of the four-panel strips that comprise his personal journal. Whimsical, poignant, and often hilarious, these volumes chronicle his life in Vermont with his wife and cat. Wildly popular, so get a copy while you still can.
Happy End, by Actus (Actus Independent Comics, $21.95). This little-known Israeli comics collective puts out consistently impressive and powerful books. Its latest full-color volume treats themes of alienation and absurdity with high-quality artwork in several distinctive styles, each with its own spookily surreal point of view.
20th-Century Eightball, by Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics, $19). If they loved Ghost World, they’ll devour this new collection of Clowes’ earlier short work, culled from his ongoing comic book, Eightball. This volume bursts with cynical, mean-spirited, wickedly funny commentary on such subjects as art school, sexual frustration, self-importance, and phoniness in all its forms. — Karen Eng
FIVE FOR FANTASISTS
In science fiction and fantasy fiction, a hero always fights for high stakes, and there is no bigger prize than the planet. Some want to conquer it, some want to save it, and some — well, some want to destroy it. Here are five books that look at the lighter side of world destruction and domination.
In Terry Pratchett’s latest Discworld novel, The Last Hero (Harper Collins, $19.95), octogenarian warrior Cohen the Barbarian pays a house call on the Disc’s gods to return something he stole a long time ago: fire. Properly barbarianlike, his plan involves burning down their palace, which, in turn, would also destroy the planet they oversee. Meanwhile, in Rudy Rucker’s Spaceland (Tor, $24.95), it isn’t just a planet but an entire universe that’s in peril when Silicon Valley technophile Joe Cube’s latest piece of experimental gadgetry unleashes gooey red aliens from the fourth dimension.
Not everyone’s out to destroy the world; some just want to rule it. In Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (Harper Collins, $7.99), the old deities of yore fight to reclaim the world they once ruled from their modern electronic replacements: gods of cell phones and microwaves and Internet modems. And Orson Scott Card’s latest installment in the “Ender’s Game” saga, Shadow Puppets (Tor, $25.95), finds the children who saved the world from alien insects playing politics to grab control of earth’s governments. Finally, a teenage girl becomes a pawn in a struggle between two opposing warlords to rule the mysterious titular archipelago of Clive Barker’s Abarat (Harper Collins, $16). — Michael Rosen-Molina
FIVE FOR THE VERSIFIED
Your dear Aunt Jane is interested in “poems.” She’s been leaving Billy Collins soundbites on your voicemail. When you mention that there are better poets around, she looks doubtful. Try these:
If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, by Ann Carson (translator) (Knopf, $27.50). The sparse design of this handsome book accentuates the talismanic quality of the fragments that Sappho left us. Carson’s translations balance the classical and the contemporary: “you came and I was crazy for you/ and you cooled my mind that burned with longing.”
New Collected Poems, by George Oppen (New Directions, $37.95). Aunt Jane might not care that Oppen was one of America’s foremost modernists. But, being no dummy, she’ll respond to Oppen’s craft: “And all the air before her — what the wind brings past/In the bright simpleness and strangeness of the sands.”
Selected Poems, by Giuseppe Ungaretti (Farrar Straus & Giroux, $30). Ungaretti was an Italian raised in Egypt, and the reader feels the heat of those countries in these short, tough, yet romantic poems: “The flesh-pink of the sky/awakens oases/in the nomad of love.”
As Ever, by Joanne Kyger (Penguin, $20). This selection is a solid introduction to Kyger’s work. She uses line-spacing and quiet, elegant phrasing to produce poems of power and depth: “I want a smaller thing in mind/Like a good dinner/I’m tired of these big things happening.”
Collected Works, by Lorine Niedecker (University of California, $45). Soothe Jane by comparing Niedecker to Emily Dickinson. Niedecker’s poems, too long neglected, are sensual, witty, and true: “Beautiful girl/pushes food onto her fork/with her fingers.” — Owen Hill
FIVE FOR FRINGE-DWELLERS
If the notion of an entire country being on the same page seems creepy, 2002 yielded a few great escapes from the collective experience:
The Floating City, by Pamela Ball (Viking, $23.95). Set in 1890s Hawaii, this novel charts the story of Norwegian immigrant (and imposter) Eva Hanson while weaving in the waking nightmare of Hawaii’s imposed destiny. Bid farewell to guiltless tourism.
Hobo, by Eddy Joe Cotton (Harmony, $22). Undeniably self-conscious but with just enough heart and iconoclasm to be disarming, this memoir, subtitled “A Young Man’s Thoughts on Trains and Tramping,” comes with a glossary of hobo jargon.
Instant Karma, by Mark Swartz (City Lights, $11.95). This incendiary little novel about a man plotting to blow up a library yearns for substance, which it sometimes finds in footnotes that trawl beneath its text like an intelligent news banner. This is outsider art in written form.
California Dreaming, by Lawrence Donegan (Atria, $24). A British journalist and ’80s pop star (“I hadn’t worshipped anything since the Smiths broke up”) recounts his stint as a salesman at the world’s largest used-car lot in Silicon Valley.
Lake Effect, by Rich Cohen (Vintage, $23). Relationships change quietly in this memoir of a time before the general commoditization of friendships, when the interpersonal was more of a connection than a business transaction. Perhaps this is the most isolating knell of all. — Susan Compo
FIVE FOR DOWNSIZED DINERS
Despite plummeting stock prices and a soaring jobless rate, your friends and family still need to eat. Here are five ways to help them survive these tough times.
The Big Book of Soups and Stews, by Maryana Vollstedt (Chronicle, $19.95). Costing only pennies per serving, hearty soups and stews can fill empty tummies for days. The author shares tips and techniques on everything from basic stocks and broths to finishing touches and toppings, with all manner of slurpy fare in between.
Eating to Save the Earth, by Linda Riebel and Ken Jacobsen (Celestial Arts, $9.95). Saybrook Graduate School faculty member Riebel and strategic planner Jacobsen show how to save the planet and some bucks, too, with tips on using less energy in preparing meals, conserving water and reducing waste, and finding joy through composting.
Emergency Food Storage & Survival Handbook, by Peggy Dianne Layton (Prima, $15). What if things really fall apart? The author offers a simple and economic step-by-step program for planning, purchasing, and storing a three-month supply of food, water, fuel, and other vital necessities.
The Great North Korea Famine, by Andrew S. Natsios (United States Institute of Peace, $19.95). Between 1994 and 1999, almost three million Koreans starved to death. Natsios discusses political machinations that thwarted international humanitarian efforts to end the famine — and makes us grateful for whatever we’ve got.
Let Us Eat Cake, by Sharon Boorstin (ReganBooks, $24.95). When Marie Antoinette was told that the poor had no bread, she reportedly said “Let them eat cake.” The guillotine — it’s a good thing. Boorstin explores a different side of “just desserts” in this memoir/cookbook that focuses on female bonds created by both food and friendship during the best and worst of times. — Vicki Cameron
FIVE FOR KNOW-IT-ALLS
They always want the last word, so here are five ways to ensure that they’ll always get it. (Don’t say you weren’t warned.)
The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, by David Thomson (Knopf, $35). Dish and dish again. By turns scholarly and sly, this hefty who’s who proffers nuts and bolts and more on actors and directors by the hundred, with Kevin Costner pointedly omitted.Turn! Turn! Turn! by Richie Unterberger (Backbeat, $19.95). Hundreds of interviews with the likes of John Sebastian, Judy Collins, and Donovan along with long years of record-collecting fueled this monumental folk-rock chronicle by an Express contributor. Look for a second volume in 2003.
Choice Cuts, edited by Mark Kurlansky (Ballantine, $26.95). This exhaustive from-the-horse’s-mouth anthology includes Gault and Millau’s essay on nouvelle cuisine, written when it was still nouvelle. Other foodists afoot include Pliny the Elder (on thyme), Elizabeth David (on toast), and Pablo Neruda (on french fries).
She Bop II, by Lucy O’Brien (Continuum, $24.95). Ah, girls with guitars. Newly revised, this compendium of women in rock, pop, and soul honors the famous, infamous, and should-be-famous with a journalist’s verve and feminist flair. From Oakland’s Pointer Sisters to Shonen Knife to Björk, it’s got a few dudes thrown in for context.
The Ultimate Guide to Fellatio, by Violet Blue (Cleis, $14.95). A Berkeley author offers the ultimate omnibus of etiquette, anecdotes, illustrations, anatomy lessons, fantasies, worst-case scenarios, lipstick tips, and other unusual angles on a topic about which, as you’ll see, there’s always more to learn. — Anneli Rufus
THE FOOLPROOF FIVE
Some books just beg you to buy them as gifts. Then they dare you to resist reading them before you wrap them up.
A Lifetime of Love, by Leonard Nimoy (Blue Mountain Arts, $24.95). Yes, that Leonard Nimoy — it’s his sixth volume of poetry, and the poems are about life and love, though vigilant readers will find the occasional reference in these verses to the words “space,” “moon,” “stars,” and “other worlds.”
The Breast Book, by Maura Spiegel and Lithe Sebesta (Workman, $13.95). With more than six hundred illustrations including Sharon Stone’s deep cleavage and tasteful topless renderings by Tintoretto and Titian, this artful brick-sized book uncovers the female breast in history, culture, kitsch, and beyond.
Extreme Encounters, by Greg Emmanuel (Quirk, $15.95). Any insomniac will enjoy this perky précis of exactly what happens to human beings, in a biological sense, when they are drowning, burning, buried alive, being bitten by piranhas, going over waterfalls in barrels, and much more.
A Guide for Grown-Ups, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Harcourt, $9.95). Dig the warmth, wisdom, and occasional wistfulness in these quotations from The Little Prince and other works by the much-adored French flying ace who disappeared on a mission over the Mediterranean in 1944.
Reel Shame, by Christopher Holland and Scott Hamilton (Stomp Tokyo, $14.99). If there’s going to be a book about horrible movies and the big Hollywood stars who appeared in them (check out Diane Ladd in Carnosaur and Henry Fonda in Tentacles), it had better be funny, and this one is. — Anneli Rufus