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12-18-05, 09:25 AM #1
Best books in a year of war, anxiety
Best books in a year of war, anxiety
- Oscar Villalon, Chronicle Book Editor
Sunday, December 18, 2005
This was the year of the war.
Titles stacked up on Iraq, Afghanistan, Islam, neocons, leftists and terrorism. Books arrived on wars past and their effects today, sometimes offering us parallels for understanding the present bloodletting.
This was true of both nonfiction and fiction. For every The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq and Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq -- to name a couple of the titles on our list of the best books of 2005 -- there was a Shalimar the Clown and The March (to name two more).
Anxiety seems to drive these searches for answers and truths. Even this year's Harry Potter novel ended on a note of uncertainty, looking toward tribulations to come.
On a much brighter note, the Bay Area furthered its claim as the country's most fertile region for writers.
Not even counting the National Book Award-winning (war) novel Europe Central by William Vollmann (who, as his oeuvre would suggest, spends as much time in San Francisco as in his home of Sacramento) or Adam Hochschild's inspiring Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves, which was an National Book Award finalist in nonfiction, there was a lot of excellent work published, as our selections bear out.
Among them is interesting work on dark themes, from Amy Tan's Saving Fish From Drowning and Mary Roach's Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife to Alan Kaufman's Matches and Daniel Alarcon's War by Candlelight.
Also, there were two notable books on San Francisco's shadowy worlds -- an anthology of noir fiction and a guidebook on noir films set here.
Must be something in the air. Or a war going on.
The following list reflects books reviewed between Dec. 19, 2004, and Dec. 11, 2005, in Book Review.
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann (Knopf; 465 pages; $30): Science writer Mann suggests that Europeans weren't greeted with pristine American wilderness because native populations left a much deeper mark on the continents than supposed.
1776 by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster; 386 pages; $32): Two-time Pulitzer winner McCullough follows the Continental Army through a single fateful year.
Against Depression by Peter Kramer (Viking; 416 pages; $25.95): Kramer, author of "Listening to Prozac," makes the case that depression is pathology.
The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa by Michael Kimmelman (Penguin Press; 245 pages; $24.95): The New York Times chief art critic turns his attention to everything from Impressionist Pierre Bonnard to Bob Ross of afternoon television fame.
American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies by Michael W. Kauffman (Random House; 528 pages; $29.95): Kauffman's account of Lincoln's assassination, its confused aftermath and the histories of the men who followed Booth to their destruction.
American Gothic: A Life of America's Most Famous Painting by Steven Biel (Norton; 215 pages; $21.95): The director of the program in history and literature at Harvard University traces the history of Grant Wood's iconic painting.
American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin (Knopf; 721 pages; $35): Through Oppenheimer's life, Bird and Sherwin shed light on the uneasy partnership between science and politics in America. This excavation work makes the book a standout in two genres: biography and social history.
And a Time to Die: How American Hospitals Shape the End of Life by Sharon R. Kaufman (Scribner; 400 pages; $2 : Kaufman, professor of medical anthropology at UCSF, uncovers in her book an improvised yet often intractable medical system that craves order when it comes to patients' dying but struggles with conflicting technologies, protocols and commitments.
The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq by George Packer (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 467 pages; $26): The New Yorker writer's account of the role of neoconservative policymakers in pushing the war in Iraq and how it was administered.
At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention by David Rieff (Simon & Schuster; 270 pages; $24): How journalist and author Rieff came to reconsider his embrace of interventionism.
Baghdad Journal: An Artist in Occupied Iraq by Steve Mumford (Drawn & Quarterly; 224 pages; $34.95): Watercolors depicting Mumford's observations on four visits to Iraq since the U.S. invasion.
Big Cotton: How a Fiber Created Fortunes, Wrecked Civilizations and Put America on the Map by Stephen Yafa (Viking; 398 pages; $25.95): Yafa chronicles everything from the domestication of cotton 5,550 years ago in Asia, Africa and South America to the rise of denim, the most American of fabrics, and today's controversial bioengineering.
Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times edited by Kevin Smokler (Basic Books; 281 pages; $14.95 paperback): Essays by 25 young or youngish contributors that directly or indirectly "argue that the sky is not caving in on American literature."
Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves by Adam Hochschild (Houghton Mifflin; 467 pages; $26.95): A history of the abolitionist crusade and its significance on future activism.
California Rising: The Life and Times of Pat Brown by Ethan Rarick (University of California Press; 501 pages; $29.95): Political journalist Ethan Rarick's biography of the founder of a political dynasty and arguably the most successful Democrat in the state's history.
Campo Santo by W.G. Sebald; translated by Anthea Bell (Random House; 225 pages; $24.95): These 16 prose pieces and essays offer an overview of the central themes that would emerge from the late Sebald's novels.
Children at War by P.W. Singer (Pantheon; 269 pages; $25): A detailed analysis of the use of child soldiers around the world and an explanation of why child soldiering has become epidemic.
Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light by Mort Rosenblum (North Point; 291 pages; $24): Rosenblum traces chocolate from its origins on plantations in the impoverished tropics to its finish in the finest chocolate shops of Europe and America.
The Coldest Winter: A Stringer in Liberated Europe by Paula Fox (Henry Holt; 133 pages; $1 : The author of "Borrowed Finery" looks back at the year she spent in Europe after World War II.
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond (Viking; 560 pages; $29.95): The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Guns, Germs and Steel" provides a guided tour of failed human societies.
Come Back to Afghanistan: A California Teenager's Story by Said Hyder Akbar and Susan Burton (Bloomsbury; 339 pages; $24.95): Concord teen's story of returning to Afghanistan with his father, who was summoned to serve in Hamid Karzai's administration.
A Court Divided: The Rehnquist Court and the Future of Constitutional Law by Mark Tushnet (Norton; 384 pages; $27.95): Tushnet, a constitutional law professor at Georgetown University, examines the politicization of Supreme Court appointments.
A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 by Simon Winchester (HarperCollins; 448 pages; $27.95): A look at plate tectonics and the San Francisco calamity by the author of "Krakatoa."
Cutty, One Rock: Low Characters and Strange Places, Gently Explained by August Kleinzahler (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 155 pages; $19): Award-winning San Francisco poet Kleinzahler writes of his childhood, his move west and the pain of reaching back to remember it all.
Dictionary Days: A Defining Passion by Ilan Stavans (Graywolf Press; 228 pages; $17): Renowned scholar, writer and public intellectual Stavans probes the secrets of words and what these secrets have meant to him.
Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke by Peter Guralnick (Little, Brown; 748 pages; $27.95): Biography of the best-selling pop musician by the author of "Last Train to Memphis."
Epileptic by David B. (Pantheon; 361 pages; $25): In this unsettling graphic-novel memoir, comic artist David B. portrays the strains put on his family by his younger brother's seizures, and then by his brother's worsening mental health.
The Farewell Chronicles: How We Really Respond to Death by Anneli Rufus (Marlowe; 267 pages; $14.95 paperback): Rufus examines the messy feelings we are expected to have -- and those that we are ashamed to have -- when faced with the death of someone we know and love.
Farmworker's Daughter: Growing Up Mexican in America by Rose Castillo Guilbault (Heyday; 164 pages; $20): Guilbault's memoir recounts a classic saga -- that of an immigrant family working hard to make real the American dream.
February House by Sherrill Tippins (Houghton Mifflin; 317 pages; $24): Tippins recounts the bohemian scene of a Brooklyn Heights boardinghouse in the '40s that was home to Carson McCullers, Wystan Auden, Benjamin Britten, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Jane and Paul Bowles.
Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood by Bill Hayes (Ballantine; 290 pages; $23.95): San Francisco writer Bill Hayes' meditations on science, his sisters and his longtime partner who is HIV positive.
Generation Rx: How Prescription Drugs Are Altering American Lives, Minds and Bodies by Greg Critser (Houghton Mifflin; 308 pages; $24.95): Critical investigation of the pharmaceutical industry by the author of "Fatland."
The Geneticist Who Played Hoops With My DNA: And Other Masterminds From the Frontiers of Biotech by David Ewing Duncan (Morrow; 282 pages; $25.95): Duncan profiles seven scientists on the cutting edge of biotechnology, today's most controversial science.
The Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906: How San Francisco Nearly Destroyed Itself by Philip L. Fradkin (University of California Press; 432 pages; $27.50): Veteran Bay Area environmental journalist Fradkin argues that the city did not heed the warnings of previous earthquakes and fires and allowed the vicious struggles for power that followed the disaster to further tear it apart.
The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time by John Kelly (HarperCollins; 364 pages; $25.95): Kelly combines the skills of a medical writer with those of a historian to tell how one-third of Europe's population disappeared in the 14th century.
Happiness: The Science Behind Your Smile by Daniel Nettle (Oxford University Press; 216 pages; $21): A biological psychologist argues that our unending quests for life's big and little perks -- a new iPod, a tenured professorship -- have little or no impact on our happiness.
Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House; 421 pages; $27.95): The Atlantic Monthly correspondent's report on life for Marines and U.S. Special Forces in various global hot spots.
In Search of the Promised Land: A Slave Family in the Old South by John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger (Oxford University Press; 286 pages; $23): The story of one slave family's struggle to find a place in a world ravaged by systematic inhumanity and injustice, based on family letters, government documents and an autobiography.
Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk; translated by Maureen Freely (Knopf; 384 pages; $26.95): Novelist Pamuk's memoir of the Turkish city and his life there as a young artist.
Last Chance in Texas: The Redemption of Criminal Youth by John Hubner (Random House; 304 pages; $25.95): Hubner, a San Jose journalist, follows two students through a juvenile program for felons that boasts half the recidivism rate of violent offenders in other Texas programs.
Like a Fiery Elephant: The Story of B.S. Johnson by Jonathan Coe (Continuum; 486 pages; $29.95): Biography of the late experimental British novelist, by the author of "The Closed Circle."
The Lost Night: A Daughter's Search for the Truth of Her Father's Murder by Rachel Howard (Dutton; 272 pages; $24.95): Chronicle contributor Howard's memoir of her father's slaying in Merced.
Melville: His World and Work by Andrew Delbanco (Knopf; 416 pages; $30): Biography of the American writer by the chairman of American studies at Columbia University.
Mind: A Brief Introduction by John R. Searle (Oxford University Press; 326 pages; $26): Most of "Mind" is devoted to the exposition of UC Berkeley professor Searle's ideas on the nature of the unconscious, perception, the self and free will.
Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin by John Hope Franklin (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 384 pages; $25): Life story of the great historian and African American scholar.
My Detachment: A Memoir by Tracy Kidder (Random House; 192 pages; $24.95): Account of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author's tour of duty in Vietnam.
Nature Noir: A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra by Jordan Fisher Smith (Houghton Mifflin; 220 pages; $24): Smith, a ranger in the Sierra for 14 years, condemns equally the bureaucrats who dictate the fate of the American River and the lowlifes who despoil its canyons.
New Art City: Manhattan at Mid-Century by Jed Perl (Knopf; 641 pages; $35): Survey of New York City's art world by the New Republic critic.
The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life by Tom Reiss (Random House; 433 pages; $25.95): Reiss' biography of Lev Nussimbaum -- pseudonymous biographer, journalist and author of "Ali and Nino."
The Oxford History of Western Music by Richard Taruskin (Oxford University Press; six volumes, 4,560 pages; $699): The culmination of 10 years of labor by Taruskin, a professor at UC Berkeley since 1987 and the most important and influential musical thinker of our day for nearly as long.
Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety by Judith Warner (Riverhead Books; 317 pages; $23.95): Warner argues that despite allegedly limitless choices and their best efforts to create the good life for their children, American mothers are filled with anxiety and regret.
Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships and Our Families by Pamela Paul (Times Books/Henry Holt; 304 pages; $25): Paul reports on how the ubiquity of porn, thanks to the Internet, is damaging relationships.
Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 by Tony Judt (The Penguin Press; 878 pages; $39.95): Judt describes how Europe constructed a new historical identity out of the ruins of World War II.
Reading, Writing and Leaving Home: Life on the Page by Lynn Freed (Harcourt; 232 pages; $22): Bay Area author and South African expat Freed's memoir on the writing life.
The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard (Doubleday; 416 pages; $37): Account of the 1914 expedition down an Amazonian river that nearly cost the Rough Rider his life.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius by Leo Damrosch (Houghton Mifflin; 566 pages; $30): Biography of the French philosopher, and finalist for the National Book Award.
San Francisco Noir: The City in Film Noir From 1940 to the Present by Nathaniel Rich (The Little Bookroom; 167 pages; $17.95 paperback): Rich, an editor at the Paris Review, analyzes 41 noir movies -- "The Maltese Falcon," "Out of the Past," "D.O.A." -- set in San Francisco.
Shake Hands With the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda by Roméo Dallaire (Carroll & Graf; 562 pages; $16.95; paperback): Dallaire's personal account of the Rwandan genocide is like a crime-scene report. His story is both horrifying and necessary.
Silent Snow: The Slow Poisoning of the Arctic by Marla Cone (Grove Press; 246 pages; $24): Cone did five years' research and took dozens of trips to various Arctic settlements to uproot the cause and effect of this vast Arctic paradox.
Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach (Norton 311 pages; $24.95): The Oakland author of "Stiff" investigates whether there is such a thing as a human spirit, and if so, what happens to it when we die.
Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq by Larry Diamond (Times Books/Henry Holt; 375 pages; $25): Stanford political science professor Diamond's memoir about the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.
Them: A Memoir of Parents by Francine du Plessix Gray (Penguin Press; 530 pages; $29.95): Du Plessix Gray's memoir of her glamorous, generous, devious, treacherous, spectacularly successful, self-deceiving and self-aggrandizing parents.
Trawler: A Journey Through the North Atlantic by Redmond O'Hanlon (Knopf; 346 pages; $25): O'Hanlon, the poet-wag of natural science, joins a fishing boat headed into the North Atlantic and a hurricane in this rambunctious adventure.
Two Lives by Vikram Seth (HarperCollins; 503 pages; $27.95): Seth's story of his great-uncle Shanti and great-aunt Henny, whose lives neatly spanned the past century, and whom World War II both devastated and brought together.
When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America by Ira Katznelson (Norton; 256 pages; $25.95): Columbia University professor Katznelson's history of racially skewed federal government policies embedded in landmark New Deal and Fair Deal legislation.
The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood by David Thomson (Knopf; 402 pages; $27.95): More than a simple narrative of the rise of the film industry, Thomson's book is a profound and often humorous and poignant set of essays that examines Hollywood movies with a wide lens.
Edmund Wilson: A Life in Literature by Lewis M. Dabney (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 639 pages; $35): The "authorized" biography of 20th century America's perhaps best-known literary critic.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (Knopf; 227 pages; $23.95): National Book Award-winning memoir of the author's life after the death of her husband, author John Gregory Dunne.
Yosemite in Time: Ice Ages, Tree Clocks, Ghost Rivers by Mark Klett, Rebecca Solnit and Byron Wolfe (Trinity University Press; 140 pages; $45): Photographers Klett and Wolfe and writer Solnit revisit and rephotograph iconic images taken of the national park over the past century.
12-18-05, 09:26 AM #2
72 Hour Hold by Bebe Moore Campbell (Knopf; 319 pages; $24.95): Campbell's novel of a mother and her bipolar daughter navigating mental illness and its social implications in black America.
Angry Black White Boy: Or the Miscegenation of Macon Detornay by Adam Mansbach (Three Rivers Press; 335 pages; $12.95): Bay Area author Mansbach's novel of a young man who arrives in New York as a white freshman, gets a job driving a cab and begins to rob his white fares at gunpoint, but only after he unleashes a rain of racial punditry.
Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel (Henry Holt; 365 pages; $26): Mantel's dryly amused yet bestial and gothic black comedy about a circle of suburban British spiritualists.
Big Cats by Holiday Reinhorn (Free Press; 215 pages; $14.95 paperback): Reinhorn's story collection examines dysfunction, family and culture and generation gaps.
Blinding Light by Paul Theroux (Houghton Mifflin; 438 pages; $26): A 50-year-old travel writer discovers a drug that gives him amazing insight and creativity -- and temporary blindness.
Carnivore Diet by Julia Slavin (Norton; 299 pages; $23.95): Slavin's first novel tells of a beast menacing the political aristocracy in the leafiest neighborhoods of Washington, D.C.
A Changed Man by Francine Prose (HarperCollins; 421 pages; $24.95): A skinhead joins a human rights group presided over by a Holocaust survivor to "help you guys save guys like me from becoming guys like me."
The Closed Circle by Jonathan Coe (Knopf; 367 pages; $25): Coe's sequel to his '70s coming-of-age novel, "The Rotter's Club," set in England at the turn of the 21st century.
Collected Stories by Carol Shields (Fourth Estate/HarperCollins; 597 pages; $29.95): All of the late Shield's previously published short fiction incorporated into one volume.
The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson (Andrews McMeel; 1,456 pages; three volumes, slipcased; $150): Mammoth collection of the newspaper comic strip that ran for more than 10 years.
Crawl Space by Edie Meidav (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 445 pages; $26): Bay Area author Meidav's novel of an elderly man who survives a trial for crimes against humanity during World War II and returns to the French town where the crimes occurred.
Dancing in the Dark by Caryl Phillips (Knopf; 214 pages; $23.95): A fictionalized account of the life of early 20th century entertainment star Bert Williams.
The Devil's Wind by Richard Rayner (HarperCollins; 342 pages; $24.95): Los Angeles author Rayner's novel of desire and revenge, set in 1950s California and Nevada.
The Diviners by Rick Moody (Little, Brown; 567 pages; $25.95): Moody's satire about Hollywood players trying to produce a script about water dowsers -- a script that doesn't exist.
Europe Central by William T. Vollmann (Viking; 811 pages; $39.95): National Book Award-winning novel about the lives of various Russian and German officers during World War II.
Fascination: Stories by William Boyd (Knopf; 277 pages; $24): The author of "Any Human Heart" wades neck deep into the swamp of humanity to bring us 14 stories of desperation and desire, doing so in sharp, precise and often very funny writing.
Follies: New Stories by Ann Beattie (Scribner; 305 pages; $25): Beattie's middle-aged characters try to deal with aging parents, childhood memories and both flourishing and failing relationships.
God Lives in St. Petersburg and Other Stories by Tom Bissell (Pantheon; 212 pages; $20): Tales of Americans abroad, set in the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and the other 'stans of Central Asia.
The Good Wife by Stewart O'Nan (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 312 pages; $24): O'Nan's story of a young wife who waits decades for her husband to be released from prison, all the while trying to shape some sort of life for herself.
The Great Inland Sea by David Francis (MacAdam/Cage; 247 pages; $23): Francis' novel of obsessive love set in 1950s America, Mexico and the 1940s Australian outback.
The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw (Riverhead; 378 pages; $23.95): First novel by Aw, set in Malaysia, where the author was raised until he went to England for college.
Here Is Where We Meet by John Berger (Pantheon; 241 pages; $24): Berger's 27th book -- part autobiography, part fiction -- is a series of loosely connected musings about what it might be like to meet up again in old age with those who meant the most to you as a child.
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (Norton; 250 pages; $23.95): Krauss' novel about a mysterious Spanish-language manuscript and its effect on a handful of people.
The History of Vegas by Jodi Angel (Chronicle Books; 174 pages; $19.95): Angel's first collection of fiction, its stories mostly populated by street-smart adolescents.
House of Thieves by Kaui Hart Hemmings (Penguin Press; 237 pages; $22.95): San Francisco writer Hemmings' first collection of short fiction, set among Hawaii's upper-class private schools and private clubs.
The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea (Little, Brown; 499 pages; $24.95): Urrea's tale about a girl in 19th century Mexico who becomes a saintly young woman with the power to heal and to inspire insurrection.
The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh (Houghton Mifflin; 333 pages; $25): Ghosh's novel about a love triangle set in India's Sundarbans, a 200-mile archipelago reshaped daily by the confluence of the river Ganges and the sea.
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami; translated by Philip Gabriel (Knopf; 436 pages; $25.95): Murakami's novel of a teen boy searching for his mother and sister.
Last Night: Stories by James Salter (Knopf; 134 pages; $20): Salter's exquisite distillations of, mainly, failed love and the maneuverings inherent in close relationships.
Little Beauties by Kim Addonizio (Simon & Schuster; 242 pages; $23): San Francisco poet Addonizio's first novel, about a former beauty pageant princess and an obsessive-compulsive hand-washer, a pregnant teenager and the teen's unborn and all-knowing daughter.
Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis (Knopf; 309 pages; $24.95): Ellis' novel about fleeing with family from the menace of the city for the supposed calm of the suburbs.
The Magic Keys by Albert Murray (Pantheon; 256 pages; $24): Murray relates the further adventures of a young man known as Scooter, this time as a married man in '40s New York City.
The March by E.L. Doctorow (Random House; 363 pages; $25.95): Fictional retelling of Sherman's march through the South; a finalist for the National Book Award.
Matches by Alan Kaufman (Back Bay Books; 245 pages; $13.95 paperback): San Francisco author Kaufman's tale of an American serving in the Israeli Defense Forces.
Memories of My Melancholy *****s by Gabriel García Márquez; translated by Edith Grossman (Knopf; 115 pages; $20): A 90-year-old man falls in chaste love with a teen girl in a brothel in this tale by the Nobel laureate.
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco; translated by Geoffrey Brock (Harcourt; 469 pages; $27): Eco relates the twilight days of Giambattista "Yambo" Bodoni, a 60ish antiquarian book dealer, who loses his memory after an accident.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (Knopf; 288 pages; $24): Set in England, the futuristic story of a society where human clones exist.
Nice Big American Baby by Judy Budnitz (Knopf; 285 pages; $23): Budnitz's collection of stories turns on how little people know about each other, even -- or especially -- when they're related by blood.
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy (Knopf; 311 pages; $24.95): The author of the Border Trilogy novels returns in this tale of a man on the run from hit men and drug runners.
No Direction Home by Marisa Silver (Norton; 289 pages; $23.95): Silver's first novel is the story of ordinary people struggling through an altogether unglamorous existence in Hollywood's long shadow.
On Beauty by Zadie Smith (The Penguin Press; 446 pages; $25.95): Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, Smith's satire of two university families -- the mixed-race, politically liberal Belseys and the black, right-wing, anti-affirmative action Kippses.
Ordinary Heroes by Scott Turow (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 371 pages; $25): A retired crime reporter investigates a World War II court-martial involving his late father.
The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia (McSweeney's; 200 pages; $20): Southern California author Plascencia's first novel about lost love and the creation of a woman made entirely of paper.
Responsible Men by Edward Schwarzschild (Algonquin Books; 332 pages; $23): Schwarzschild's first novel, the story of a kind, goodhearted, divorced father who is also a con man.
San Francisco Noir edited by Peter Maravelis (Akashic; 297 pages; $14.95 paperback): Anthology of hard-boiled short stories by local writers such as Michelle Tea, Peter Plate and Barry Gifford.
Saturday by Ian McEwan (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday; 294 pages; $26): Set against a London protest against the Iraq War, McEwan's novel details the seemingly random events that shatter a neurosurgeon's life.
Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan (Putnam; 475 pages; $26.95): A group of friends journey from San Francisco to Burma, only to get lost in the jungle.
Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie (Random House; 398 pages; $25.95): The backstory of a Muslim tightrope walker who slays a former U.S. ambassador in Los Angeles.
Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap (Grove Press; 250 pages; $19.95): Lapcharoensap's first story collection presents a Thailand peopled with paint-thinner-huffing adolescents and destitute Cambodian refugees.
The Sound of Blue by Holly Payne (Dutton; 336 pages; $23.95): San Francisco author Holly Payne's novel about the recent war in the Balkans.
The Stone That the Builder Refused by Madison Smartt Bell (Pantheon; 747 pages; $29.95): Bell's novel closes a three-volume cycle about the Haitian revolution at the turn of the 19th century, history's only successful revolution by slaves.
A Sudden Country by Karen Fisher (Random House; 366 pages; $24.95): Romance and loss among settlers heading out to Oregon in the 19th century.
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li (Random House; 206 pages; $21.95): First book of short stories by Chinese emigre and Oakland resident Yiyun Li.
Tokyo Cancelled by Rana Dasgupta (Black Cat/Grove; 383 pages; $13.95 paperback): Dasgupta's first novel relates the various tales of travelers stranded overnight in a nameless airport.
Tooth and Claw: Stories by T.C. Boyle (Viking; 284 pages; $25.95): A collection of Boyle's recent fiction, which appeared in the New Yorker, McSweeney's, Playboy and Harper's.
War by Candlelight: Stories by Daniel Alarcon (HarperCollins; 189 pages; $23.95): Oakland writer Alarcon's story collection features tales of Peru's gritty street life.
When It Burned to the Ground by Yolanda Barnes (Sarabande Books; 213 pages; $14.95 paperback): First novel about the inhabitants of a neighborhood besieged by a riot like that of L.A. in '92.
Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender (Doubleday; 209 pages; $22.95): Short fiction ranging in theme from budding sexuality to keeping a miniature man as a pet.
Zorro by Isabel Allende (HarperCollins; 390 pages; $25.95): San Rafael author Allende's retelling of the story of California swashbuckler Diego de la Vega.
Collected Poems by Jane Kenyon (Graywolf Press; 357 pages; $26): Compilation of the late poet's four volumes of verse as well as her translations of Anna Akhmatova.
The Collected Poems of Kenneth Koch (Knopf; 761 pages; $40): Verse by the late World War II vet, English lit teacher and short-story writer and playwright.
Everything Is Burning by Gerald Stern (Norton; 96 pages; $23.95): Stern, now in his 80s, offers these 63 brief poems in his 15th collection.
Star Dust by Frank Bidart (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 84 pages; $20): Wellesley professor and Bakersfield native Bidart's new collection, a finalist for the National Book Award.
E-mail Oscar Villalon at email@example.com.
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