Express Reviews 

Book briefs for the month of November.

100 Suns
By Michael Light

Knopf, $45

From July 16, 1945 to November 4, 1962, the US government detonated 216 above-ground nuclear test bombs. For 100 Suns, photographer Light compiled one hundred images of these explosions from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the US National Archives in Maryland. Each of the photographs -- including six from the famous "Mike trial," in which the world's first hydrogen bomb was detonated in the Eniwetok Islands -- is labeled simply: the name of the test, the power of the bomb, the site of the test, and the year the test took place. Mike came just seven years after Hiroshima and vaporized the island of Eugelab, leaving behind a crater in the ocean floor a mile in diameter and 160 feet deep. The resulting conformations as seen in these photos are understandably brilliant and compelling, bringing to mind hot-air balloons, jellyfish, cotton balls, tornadoes, an artist's rendering of a fiery hell and, of course, mushrooms. But the images highlighting government observers of the trials are the most affecting. In "054 Erie," enlisted personnel turn their backs on the eruption with hands over eyes as if caught in a game of hide-and-seek, and in "064 Dog," military VIPs wearing safety goggles survey the detonation from the comfort of beach chairs on an officers' club patio, the immediate conflagration brightening not only their faces but the whole world around them. -- Rob Trucks

By Cecile Pineda

Wings, $16

If you've been feeling the need to venture beyond the "New Fiction" table at your local bookstore, consider this award-winning novel by a Bay Area writer and dramaturge, first published in 1985 but just reissued in paperback. On the surface, Face is the story of 36-year-old Rio de Janeiro resident Helio Cara who, running downtown to receive a telegram one day, takes a nasty fall on some rocks and ends up severely disfiguring his face. ("Too bad you couldn't land on your ass like anyone else!" an acquaintance later remarks.) Cara, very poor and unable to readily receive any medical attention for such a "cosmetic" problem, is then forced to try to carry on living in society either showing the world his damaged face or hiding it with a white handkerchief or a rubber mask. None of these routes proves particularly successful, and he is increasingly shunned by everyone from total strangers to his former employer to his own girlfriend. Eventually, a couple of solutions to his predicament present themselves, and the one Cara ends up choosing is surprising. Of course, a novel like this is not lacking in opportunities for deeper interpretations, with the broadest issue at hand being that of identity: both in terms of its disturbingly mutable nature and its relation to external appearance. Additionally, Pineda's descriptive powers -- employed liberally to illustrate such things as light, times of day, and the weather -- are nothing short of amazing; her language is mesmerizingly rich without ever going overboard. Beautiful, humorous, and engaging, Face is the complete package. -- Kim Hedges

The Meaning of Everything
By Simon Winchester

Oxford University Press, $25

About eight hundred years after recognizable English was first spoken, a group of wealthy British nobles thought it would be nice to sum it all up in one immense tome. Thus the Oxford English Dictionary was born. In his new book, The Professor and the Madman author Winchester relates the seventy years of bickering, disease, death, steadfast resolve and, yes, madness that went into the creation of the world's greatest dictionary. Winchester starts by detailing the conquests and communities that made English such a complex language, and briefly examines earlier efforts to corral this tongue into a single dictionary. En route to defining over 400,000 words (the previous record was 70,000), the OED's deluged editors massaged into meaning millions upon millions of quotations from literature and newspapers. Provided by eager volunteers, the quotations came streaming in from all corners of the globe, so that in some cases hundreds of quotes went into the etymology and definition of a single word: The listing for the deceptively simple-sounding "set," for instance, took months to complete. Although this saga lacks high drama, Winchester is apt at ferreting out telling details and distilling them into a compelling narrative. Fittingly, no sooner was the OED first unveiled in all its monumental glory than the editors began promising supplements and a second edition to catch up with the language that had already left it far behind.-- Scott Esposito

Who Sleeps with Katz
By Todd McEwen

Granta, $18.95


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