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ROCK AND ROLL ALWAYS FORGETS

By Chuck Eddy

Duke University Press

352 pp., paper, $24.95

Chuck Eddy glides through music criticism like a grumpy fanatic. Each article included in Rock and Roll Always Forgets — culled from Eddy’s vast back catalogue of music journalism articles, beginning with the early 1980s — is packed with cultural references, touchstones, facts, witty asides, a dash of snark, and acknowledgments of once-obscure acts. Yet, he approaches each band like he’s the first to have discovered it. He’s a musical anthropologist, but also, archeologist, digging up the remains of musicians past, lest we forget. Take a piece on a Marilyn Manson show, written in 1996. More than simply describing the stage and the crowd (which he does, expertly: “[they] wore too much black makeup, but they didn’t scare me — most seemed to be upper-middle-class Catholic school teens from the burbs…”). He wanders near profundity, dissecting Manson’s overall persona, his ticks, his own cultural references, and those who came before him, namely Alice Cooper, but a great many more. Most importantly, Eddy alludes to why that all matters in the least. (Emily Savage)

 

TROPIC OF CHAOS

By Christian Parenti

Nation Books

295 pp., hardcover, $25.99

Through historical research and on-the-ground reporting in Kenya, war-torn areas of Afghanistan, and other regions marked by intense conflict, Christian Parenti offers an unusual and compelling analysis of violence through the lens of the environment. Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence teases out the idea that increasingly unstable weather patterns stemming from climate change have fueled conflict throughout impoverished areas of the Global South. In the savannahs of northwest Kenya, for instance, deadly cattle raids have intensified as intertribal warfare heats up in the face of water scarcity. Recurring droughts and floods in Afghanistan have made it exceedingly difficult for farmers raise traditional crops, making them increasingly reliant drought-resistant poppy — the raw ingredient for heroin — for economic survival. Parenti also turns a sharp eye upon the repression, surveillance, and counterinsurgency that first-world nations have employed to combat growing violence in water-scarce, conflict-ridden regions, and calls for a more enlightened approach. (Rebecca Bowe)

 

CAFE LIFE SAN FRANCISCO

by Joe Wolff

Interlink Books

224 pp., paperback $20

Small quirks in this guide to the city’s cafes and coffeehouses — the sixth in a series that includes Sydney, New York, and Venice — will let you know its not strictly, strictly for locals. Java Beach is lumped in with more gearhead-oriented Mojo Bicycle Cafe and Ninth Avenue’s Arizmendi Bakery is filed under the catchall “Sunset District and vicinity.” The introduction’s discussion of “San Fran” versus “Frisco” versus “the City” is one that became boring long ago. But those things matter little. In-depth histories of some of your favorite cafes, from Java Beach to Philz’ to Caffé Baonecci are lucid looks at the facts and rewards of small entrepreneurship in the city. And Roger Paperno’s loving photography of velvet crema and foccacia sheets combines with words to create an ode to the city’s third spaces that any caffeine-laptop addict will appreciate in their stocking. (Caitlin Donohue)

 

LIONS OF THE WEST: HEROES AND VILLAINS OF THE WESTWARD EXPANSION

By Robert Morgan

Algonquin Books

497 pp., hardcover, $29.95

Biography can be the best history; stories of the people who changed the world (for better, and often for worse) are more compelling than turgid texts of dates and places. Lions of the West recounts the development of the American frontier from the end of the Revolutionary War to the Civil War era through the lives of 10 men. Yeah, all men. In fact, Morgan (by choice or by the longtime bias of American historians) makes it appear as if all of the great and evil deeds done as the nation moved Westward Ho were the province of the male of the species. At times, the profiles are a bit over the top (I don’t really care that much about Kit Carson’s personal life.) Overall, though, it’s a detailed, lively, and informative book that minces no words, especially when discussing the theft of much of the southwest from Mexico. San Franciscans will enjoy learning who Stockton, Sloat, Castro, Winfield, and a few other streets were named after. (Tim Redmond)

 

VHS: ABSURD, ODD, AND RIDICULOUS RELICS FROM THE VIDEOTAPE ERA

By Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher

Running Press

272 pp., paper, $14

Found Footage Festival founders and comedy writers Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher are apparently the Indiana Joneses of VHS, unearthing remarkable video package cover art that would otherwise be relegated to hoarder basements, bonfires, and anywhere else the worst (a.k.a., the best) videotapes go to die. I salute these dudes, even though the captions they tag each page with aren’t always funny or necessary. Truly, the covers (soft-focus and garish, tacky and baffling) speak for themselves, direct dispatches from ye olden days, long before YouTube brought WTF-ness to anyone with an Internet connection. You see, children, back in the 1980s or 90s, home viewers had to seek this shit out: instruction in squirrel-calling, chair-dancing, seduction, hairstyling (“What the Heck Am I Going to Do With My Hair?”), baby-proofing, spotting counterfeit Beanie Babies, etc. Straight-to-video masterpieces (F.A.R.T.: The Movie). Horrible exercise fads (“Bunnetics: The Buttocks Workout”). Well-meaning but also ghoulish-looking self-improvement vids (“Face Aerobics”). Every page is magical. Your mind will be blown. (Cheryl Eddy)

 

BI-RITE MARKET’S EAT GOOD FOOD

By Sam Mogannam and Dabney Gough

Ten Speed Press

297 pp., hardcover, $32.50

Bi-Rite Market is the ultimate neighborhood grocery. Shockingly small (with ambition to expand), it’s jam-packed with the best in organic produce, meats, cheeses, and artisan food products, much of it local. Now, Bi-Rite founder Mogannam has a new book loaded with recipes for such inviting delectables as white bean puree with prosciutto crespelle and strawberry rhubarb pie. But don’t relegate it to the cookbook category. Hewing to Bi-Rite’s mantra of creating community through food, the authors share extensive tips on shopping seasonally and locally for the healthiest and best-tasting products, no matter where you may live. You’ll learn what to look for at the grocery, storage and usage tips, and more. Well-illustrated sections feature produce (broken down by season), wine, beer, cheese, deli meats, butchery, baked goods, and even farmer profiles. Bonus: stay tuned for Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones, Bi-Rite’s ice cream and frozen treats recipe book from its renowned creamery, out this April. (No word yet on whether it’ll tell us how to beat the ever-present line outside.) (Virginia Miller)

 

DAMNED

By Chuck Palahniuk

Doubleday

247 pp., hardcover, $25

Welcome to Hell, as seen through the eyes of 13-year-old Madison Spencer, the daughter of a jet-setting yet eco-hyperconscious movie starlet and philanthropist. This is Dante’s Inferno meets The Breakfast Club, a film that overtly informs the plot and its main characters. As in Palahniuk’s breakout novel Fight Club, it’s hard distinguish between reality and perception as Maddy leads readers past the Vomit Pond, across Dandruff Desert, and right into Satan’s black Town Car. As she recalls her final weeks on earth, you’re pretty sure that she didn’t really die from a marijuana overdose. Clearly, things are not what they seem as the novel looses an American teenager’s perspective on modern life in both the underworld and earthly realm, with wry commentary on everything from pop culture and capitalist excess to the defeated religions whose fallen gods roam Hades. The gags alone — like the telemarketing and chatroom porn the damned deliver to Earth, and Hell’s endless loop of The English Patient — make this a tough book to put down, all the way to its slightly unsatisfying conclusion. (Steven T. Jones)

 

BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2011

edited by Alison Bechdel

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,

352 pp., paperback $25

Chris Ware’s textbooky flowcharts; Angie Wang’s Technicolor, spiraling pistil-armed super-flower-heroine; Peter and Maria Hoy’s intricately plotted cause-and-effect grid art — the sixth year of this hardcover assemblage of the year in superlative strip art soars as a holiday gift for your fave comic nerd. Visual trickery and innovative page staging aside, many of the graphic narratives in this book hold up on plot alone. An excerpt from Kevin Mutch’s Fantastic Life effectively mines zombie philosophy, dating paranoia, and begging drinks off your service industry friends for comic gold. Many of the best pieces, perhaps indicative of the graphic novel mood these days, explore the darker side of the human psyche. But what graphic novel fan is unfamiliar with complicated? (Caitlin Donohue)

 

THE TIPSY VEGAN

By John Schlimm

Lifelong Books/Da Capo

164 pp., paper, $17

Every time I think we’re past the stereotype of the sullen, uptight vegan, I get another comment like, “Wait, don’t you only eat vegetables?” Why yes, I do eat plenty of veggies, but I also eat decadent dishes such as The Tipsy Vegan‘s Party Monster Pancakes, loaded with the sweet nectar of amaretto and drenched in syrup. This book is a carnivorous teetotaler’s nightmare, boasting 75 boozy recipes stuffed with everything from “beer to brandy” for the liquor-loving vegan cooks among us. It’s not, as I initially imagined, a book on vegan cocktails — that would be far too easy. Written by John Schlimm (Ultimate Beer Lover’s Cookbook), a member of “one of the oldest brewing families in the United States,” the book includes booze-infused treats for parties, brunch, and supper: fried avocados, slur-baaaaked peaches with Cointreau, “Bruschetta on a Bender” — all of which kind of sound like stoner food to me. An nice touch: glossy food porn shots on every page. (Emily Savage)

 

PROJECT DOG

By Kira Stackhouse

self-published

352 pp., hardcover, $34.99

Local photographer Kira Stackhouse experienced an inspiration so intense that she ditched her high-profile marketing job to pursue it: she would photograph specimens of the 50 most popular canine breeds officially registered with the American Kennel Club (“purebred dogs”) that had been purchased from professional breeders — and pair them with photos of the exact same kinds of dogs found in local dog rescues and shelters. The purpose was to start a dialogue about the effects of professional breeding and highlight the many kinds of dogs available for adoption (and also to change peoples’ perceptions about rescue dogs). But a major part of the story — and what makes this book so fantastic — is the wonderful doggy photography and sumptuous layout. Dogs are posed, or pose themselves, against iconic Bay Area backdrops, accompanied by often hilarious, always revealing, biographies and profiles. Project Dog became an online sensation: this book cements its reputation. Available at www.projectdog.net. (Marke B.)

 

LISTEN TO THIS

By Alex Ross

Picador

384 pp., paper, $18

In the expanded paperback edition of his absorbing and erudite collection of essays, Alex Ross of the New Yorker writes what could be called his mantra as critic: “I have always wanted to talk about classical music as if it were popular music, and popular music as if it were classical.” Ross listened exclusively to classical until he was 20, something he admits may sound “freakish.” But whether he’s describing Björk in her recording studio in Iceland, or composer John Luther Adams’ sound and light installation in Alaska, Ross draws from an immeasurable well of knowledge and plunges into his subject with gusto. He can find commonalities between Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song” and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, clear away the myths that have clouded both Franz Shubert and Bob Dylan, and thoroughly explain why OK Computer and John Cage’s 4’33” are equally astonishing. Informative, eye opening, Ross is every lover of music thrown harmoniously into one. (James H. Miller)

 

MY FAMILY TABLE

By John Besh

Andrews McMeel Publishing

272 pp., hardcover, $35

To know anything about New Orleans’ dining scene is to know John Besh. As one of Nola’s great chefs, he has a number of restaurants, including the acclaimed August, elevating local cuisine in forward-thinking ways. His original book My New Orleans is a striking post-Katrina tome to one of the greatest cities in the world and its vibrant culinary history. It’s a gorgeous coffee table volume packed with photos of the region’s people, places, and foods — more than 200 recipes from Mardi Gras specialties to gumbo, many with a contemporary twist. Besh just released, My Family Table, with welcoming, everyday recipes he cooks with his family that are healthy, fresh, simple, and heartwarming. Besh’s star power (Iron Chef champion and James Beard award-winner that he is) never dominates. Like New Orleans, it’s a visually beautiful book, but this time themed by “School Nights,” “Breakfast with my Boys,” and recipes like “Curried Anything” or “Creamy Any Vegetable Soup.” Closing with the key element of cooking, the communal, he writes: “If asked what my last meal would be, I’d reply, ‘Any Sunday supper at home, cooked with love, for people I love.'” (Virginia Miller)

 

FOUR SEASONS OF YOSEMITE: A PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNEY

By Mark Boster

Time Capsule Press

128 pages, hardcover, $34.95

John Muir would have loved this book, the spectacular result of a passionate love affair with Yosemite National Park involving all of the principals in this impressive project. Muir helped glorify and preserve Yosemite with his voice and pen. Robert Redford, who fell in love with Yosemite as an 11-year-old boy recovering from a mild case of polio, wrote an eloquent introduction to the book. Photojournalist, Mark Boster was smitten by the beauty and grandeur of the Yosemite when he first visited the park as a child with his family. He spent a year in the park detailing its seasonal changes in more than 100 magnificent pictures. “I felt the breezes, analyzed the light, listened to the sound of the rivers and falls, and tried to capture the images that moved me,” he writes in his introduction. Catherine Hamm’s delicate haiku add a poetic touch to many scenes. (The two principals who brought this project to life with loving care are Narda Zacchino, a former editor of LA Times and the Chronicle, and Dickson Louie, a former executive at both those papers. Zacchino serves as publisher and editor and Louie as president and CEO of Time Capsule Press, which specializes in creating books by using the archival content of newspapers and magazines.) Available at www.fourseasonsofyosemite.com (Bruce B. Brugmann)

 

THE PDT COCKTAIL BOOK

By Jim Meehan

Sterling Epicure

368 pp., hardcover, $24.95

Few bars have made as much impact on the New York cocktail (and thus the international) scene than PDT. Known as an early mover in the speakeasy trend, PDT revives classic recipes and invents new ones in the classic spirit. Bartender Jim Meehan put PDT on the map, and he’s since gone on to write about drink and educate bar managers and tenders everywhere. In the PDT Cocktail Book, he shares more than 300 cocktail recipes in a comprehensive collection inspired by classic tomes like The Savoy Cocktail Book. There are recipes from generations of hard-working bartenders, tips on glassware, bar tools, equipment, garnishes, techniques, a listing of seasonal ingredients, even a spirits primer. In keeping with PDT’s connection to neighboring Crif Dogs who serve creative dogs in the bar, there’s a section of hot dog recipes from big-name chefs who are regulars at the bar, including David Chang (Momofuku), Wylie Dufresne (WD-50), and Daniel Humm (Eleven Madison Park). From the comfort of home, cook up a Mason Dog fried in cornmeal and huitlacoche (corn smut/fungus, a Mexican specialty) to go with the Little Bit of Country cocktail, which mixes bourbon, maple, and jalapeño. (Virginia Miller)

 

EVERYTHING IS ITS OWN REWARD: AN ALL OVER COFFEE COLLECTION

By Paul Madonna

City Lights

240 pp., hardcover, $27.95

Like Ben Katchor’s classic “Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer,” local artist Paul Madonna’s “All Over Coffee” — published every Sunday in the Chronicle and on essential Web zine The Rumpus (www.therumpus.net) — draws me into a psychic space that is at once serene and troubled, surreal and hyperreal. The effect comes as much from the drawing style as the dreamlike non-narrative: both are direct descendants of Winsor McKay’s “Little Nemo.” Madonna gets an extra chills-up-the-spine boost from his illustrations of semi-familiar San Francisco architecture and intersections, lucid as etchings of bleached Kodachrome shots. For this second collection of the strip, he broadens his nib to include not only the City by the Bay, but Paris, Rome, Buenos Aires, and Tokyo. Overheard quotes, snatches of philosophical discourse, interior monologue snippets, existential doubts, random observations, and short stories are floated over the images to capture a peculiarly lovely eddies in the zeitgeist.

 

I DON’T WANT TO KILL YOU

By Dan Wells

Tor

320 pp., paperback, $11.95

Some of this is sick shit. You need a warped sense of humor and a love for random violence to enjoy the tale of a young man who lives with his mom in a mortuary and fights a demon made of black goo who takes over the minds and bodies of humans. But it’s a different type of thriller — complete with its own kinda sweet moments of teenage love and angst — and it’s packed with great detail. (Did you know that undertakers use Vaseline to fill up bullet holes? Cool.) John Wayne Cleaver, perfect name for a demon hunter, is a sociopath who is beastly to his mother and can’t get along with the other kids . Except for a super-hot chick who he thinks must be a demon, otherwise why would she like such a loser geek? The demon is nasty and gouges out eyes, cuts off tongues, sticks bodies on poles … you gotta check it out. (Tim Redmond)

 

RICE AND CURRY: SRI LANKAN HOME COOKING

S.H. Fernando, Jr.

Hippocrene Books

224 pp., paperback, $19.95

After a tongue-inflaming visit to the East Village’s fantastic Sigiri restaurant in NYC a couple weeks back, my interest in — and lust for — spicy Sri Lankan treats like kiri hodhi (coconut milk gravy), rossam (coriander-tamarind broth), kool (seafood soup), Jaffna goat curry, and ulundu vai (savory donuts) was, er, inflamed. Fortunately for me, author “Skiz” Fernando recently spent a year on the island rediscovering his roots and delving into the varied cuisine (later serving as a guide for that cheeky culinary colonist Anthony Bourdain). The punchy, informative Rice and Curry is the result, and includes nice introductions to Sri Lankan geography and history, as well as tips on what to stock in your cupboard to achieve the certain Sri Lankan “oomph” that sets the cuisine apart from Indian. A particular passage that profiles Leela, Fernando’s aunt’s ancient maid, offers some real insight into the island’s food tradition and customs — and yields a marvelous, corruscating crab curry from her hometown of Chilaw, just in time for Dungeness season. (Marke B.)

 

HEDY’S FOLLY: THE LIFE AND BREAKTHROUGH INVENTIONS OF HEDY LAMARR

By Richard Rhodes

Doubleday

261 pp., hardcover, $26.95

An author best-known for his 1986 Pulitzer-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Richard Rhodes might seem like an unlikely biographer for movie stunner Hedy Lamarr, who lit up Golden Age films like Cecil B. DeMille’s 1949 epic Samson and Delilah. But her above-average qualities (she was called “the most beautiful woman in the world”) extended beyond the superficial. After escaping her gilded-cage marriage to an Austrian munitions magnate, Lamarr found success — and five more husbands — in Hollywood; between roles, she started inventing “to challenge and amuse herself.” During World War II, she got serious about her hobby. Showbiz circles led her to avant-garde musician George Antheil, renowned for his groundbreaking composition for 1924 short Ballet Mécanique. As Rhodes writes, “[Lamarr] began thinking about how to invent a remote-control torpedo to attack submarines just at the time she met Antheil, who knew quite a lot about how to synchronize player pianos.” Together, the “charming Austrian girl” and “the bad boy of music” worked on that torpedo, as well as “spread-spectrum radio,” an innovation that paved the way for contemporary wireless technology. Unlikely? Yes. Fascinating? Indeed. Never underestimate a beautiful woman — or a skilled writer’s ability to humanize complicated characters and bring drama to a tale loaded with tech-speak. (Cheryl Eddy)

 

COME, THIEF

By Jane Hirschfield

Knopf

98 pp., hardcover, $25

As it happens, one of Bay Area poet Jane Hirschfield’s passages currently adorns the famous Kahn and Keville auto repair shop’s marquee in the Tenderloin: “What some could not have escaped/ others will find by decision/ each we call fate.” Well, you could never blame her for not thinking big. As a well-known and approachable poet, she sports a blurb from O, The Oprah Magazine on this, her ninth collection, the first in six years since releasing her arresting After. And while her slightly witchy, be-scarved, grandiloquent persona screams marketable poetess, there’s some understated magic in her latest poems. These ones are full of plums and glass and vague Zen spells that give off, in their overall effect, an rueful, anticipatory sigh. Some childlike wonder seeps in: “Another year ends./ This one, I ate Kyoto pickles,” says “Washing Doorknobs,” my favorite from the collection. “But one thing you’ll never hear from a cat/ is Excuse me” goes “A Small-Sized Mystery.” Sometimes you can almost Hirschfield her straining for ambiguity, the poems’ heavy life lessons tearing through her delicate webs of observation. Still, each poem here showcases Hirschfield’s incisive power. (Marke B.)

 

PLENTY

By Yotam Ottolenghi

Chronicle Books

287 pp., hardcover, $35

Recently I returned to London, eating my way extensively through the city. One of my gustatory highlights was Yotam Ottolenghi’s beloved bakery and restaurant, Ottolenghi (with four locations). Not only were his baked goods otherworldly delights, his straightforward but elegant dishes using pristine ingredients were among the freshest and satisfying of my London travels. Plenty, his new cookbook, is a cleanly designed book with vivid photos of recipes like broccoli gorgonzola pie and mushroom herb polenta. Most impressive? Ottolenghi’s recipes are 100% vegetarian. The meat-free aspect is barely emphasized, and one feels no lack in the diverse range of flavors (with Middle Eastern influences) presented. Since 2006, Ottolenghi has penned the UK Guardian’s vegetarian column — and he’s not even a vegetarian! This speaks to how respected he’s become as a chef in his use of veggies and grains. Plenty shows this talent off, but most importantly delivers approachable, easy-to-replicate recipes to tickle our palates. (Virginia Miller)

 

HILLBILLY NATIONALISTS, URBAN RACE REBELS, AND BLACK POWER

By Amy Sonnie and James Tracy

Melville House

201 pp., paper, $16.95

Gazing back in time to the era when the Black Panthers were serving up free breakfast to low income youth and coming into the crosshairs of COINTELPRO, few may be aware that an interracial coalition of radical organizers included a contingent of poor white southerners bent on fighting capitalism in solidarity with communities of color. Written by a cofounder of the Center for Media Justice and a longtime San Francisco housing activist, this detailed bit of radical history spotlights the organizing efforts of poor whites, transplanted from rural Appalachia to the low-income Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, to build coalitions of poor people in solidarity with civil rights leaders. Groups like Jobs or Income Now (JOIN), the Young Patriots, and Rising Up Angry launched campaigns against neglectful landlords and cops who brutalized their youth. They represented the white arc of the multiracial Rainbow Coalition, initiated by the Black Panthers in Chicago as “a code word for class struggle.” Bizarre as it may seem, “It became common to see [Panther] Fred Hampton ‘give a typically awe-inspiring speech on revolutionary struggle, while white men wearing berets, sunglasses, and Confederate rebel flags sewn into their jackets helped provide security for him.'”

(Rebecca Bowe)

 

MR. KILL

By Martin Limon

Soho Press

376 pp., hardcover, $24

Korea in the 1970s. The United States has 50,000 troops in country, mostly near the Demilitarized Zone, and they don’t always behave. In general, the Korean authorities allow the military to police its own — but when a young Korean woman is brutally raped on a train to Seoul, and the assailant appears to be an American, all hell breaks loose. Martin Limon lived in Korea for ten years, and he does a (fairly) good job of presenting a portrait of the Cold War tensions between the two supposed allies. There’s a little bit of American bias — the author is former military himself — and his potrayal of Korean society isn’t as sensitive or oddly loving as John Burdett’s descriptions of Thailand in the Bankok 8 series. Limon’s great storytelling and his lively and compelling protagonists, Sergeants George Sureno and Ernie Bascom, pull readers past those issues. Perfect gift for someone who likes international crime thrillers. (Tim Redmond)

 

THE RECIPE PROJECT

By One Ring Zero

Black Balloon Publishing

116 pp., hardcover, $24.95

It’s part cookbook, part music journalism, part rock opus, and hell, part coffee table book. The Recipe Project (subhead “A Delectable Extravaganza of Food and Music”) is a concept spearheaded by New York-based gypsy-klezmer act One Ring Zero. The band’s co-founders, Michael Hearst and Joshua Camp, created songs using the recipes of well-known chefs (Mario Batali, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Chris Cosentino) as the word-for-word lyrics. The meals themselves served as musical influence; each recipe inspired a different sound. While the songs are not likely ones you’d listen to say, on a long lonesome drive, they do have a glint of childlike glee. It’s conceptual. The true genius of this project is its overall cohesiveness. It’s an all-in-one package. Follow the recipe, listen to the song, get some interesting background factoids. The Recipe Project also includes full recipe playlists, articles by rock journalists, and some pretty interesting interviews with chefs. (Emily Savage)

 

CARY GRANT: DARK ANGEL

By Geoffrey Wansell

Arcade Publishing

192 pp., hardcover, $24.95

Back in print (it was originally released in 1996), this paen to the dapper star of North By Northwest (1959), An Affair to Remember (1957), Notorious (1946), His Girl Friday (1940), and approximately 10 zillion other classic films is somewhere between a biography and a coffee-table book. It’s worth picking up for the lavish black-and-white photos alone, illustrating the span of Cary Grant’s career with film stills, behind-the-scenes shots, and the occasional almost-candid image (did he ever take a bad picture)? The accompanying text is straightforward, but — as its title suggests — doesn’t shy away from Grant’s well-documented countercultural experiments. (“Grant became so enthusiastic about the value of LSD that he extolled its virtues during the shooting of his next picture.”) Nor does it gloss over Grant’s vices (he smoked 30 to 40 cigarettes a day) and sometimes troubled personal life (he was married five times). But the book’s chief focus is Grant’s brilliant career. As Stanley Donen, who directed him three times, remarks to author Geoffrey Wansell, “He’s thought of as a man who achieved a certain elegance and savoir faire. But in truth he was a fantastic actor.” (Cheryl Eddy)

 

NATURAL HISTORY OF SAN FRANCISCO BAY

By Ariel Rubissow Okamoto and Kathleen M. Wong

University of California Press

352 pp., paperback, $24.95

Drag queens, beat poets, burlesque dancers, hyphy rappers, dot com techies — the human species of the Bay Area have been well-documented, but information on the non-human dwellers of the bay itself has been left to scattered guidebooks, obscure blogs, and academic sources. Authors Rubissow Okamoto and Wong have collected a wealth of biological and environmental information in their book, published this November. The cross-country saga of the striped bass, the hidden beauty of eelgrass, the varied contentions of the California water wars are presented in highly readable, easily digestible sections. The emphasis here is on environmental impact and recent conservation developments — I did not know that it’s officially dangerous to eat more than one pound a month of fish from the bay! — and the history of decades of restoration triumphs and setbacks is related sleekly and straightforwardly. Absorbing all the information in this illuminating primer helped me appreciate the seething loveliness and churning forces that make up the place I call home. (Marke B.)