1. All Brave Sailors, by J. Revell Carr (Simon & Schuster, $26): The problem with The Life of Pi, as with most fiction, is that it's fiction. Real-life sagas of shipwreck survivors -- in this case, a pair of British merchant marines who drifted, starving, for months -- deliver indisputably authentic thrills.
2. The Gate, by François Bizot (Vintage, $14): Communism kills yet again as revealed in this literary -- if a bit Gallically self-indulgent -- memoir of an ethnologist who was studying Buddhism in Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge took power, took him prisoner, and launched a reign of terror.
3. Sextrology, by Stella Starsky and Quinn Cox (Harper Resource, $19.95): Sagittarian women are explosive and gay Gemini men are scenesters, say the astrologer coauthors of this big fat namedropping reference book (Quincy Jones is a Pisces), in which the skies decree what happens when who gets with whom.
4. World on Fire, by Amy Chua (Anchor, $14): Inspired by the murder of her aunt -- a wealthy Chinese businesswoman in the Philippines -- Yale Law School's Chua examines the ugly causes and effects by which economically powerful ethnic minorities and foreigners doing commerce abroad are so often massacred.
5. Homicide Special, by Miles Corwin (Henry Holt, $25): Journalist Corwin spent a year riding along with LAPD homicide detectives striving to solve sundry murders including those of a Russian prostitute, Mrs. Robert Blake, and UC Berkeley grad/gangster's daughter Susan Berman.
6. England's Thousand Best Houses, by Simon Jenkins (Viking Studio, $65): From Shugborough to Powderham, from Cockermouth to Winkburn, the edifices in this illustrated guide include castles, abbeys, and John Lennon's childhood home -- an "extremely modest work of 20th-century Liverpool architecture" that is "considerably more genteel than the McCartney house."
7. Home to Stay, by Daniel Gordis (Three Rivers, $13): A California family's yearlong sabbatical in Israel was idyllic at first, as lasting peace seemed to be at hand. Then the intifada started, and -- as Gordis reveals in this journal of sorts -- all priorities shifted, as did his definition of "home."
8. Swimming to Antarctica, by Lynne Cox (Knopf, $24.95): As articulate as she is athletic, record-breaker (and UCSB grad) Cox writes in this aquatic memoir about being the first to swim the Strait of Magellan, the Bering Strait, and the Cape of Good Hope, among other wet feats.
9. Chasing the Sea, by Tom Bissell (Pantheon, $24.95): Five years after ditching his Peace Corps post abruptly in a fit of crazed lovesickness, Bissell returned as a journalist to the Uzbekistan he left and finds it the same, yet changed, as revealed in this heartbreaking yet hilarious account of a tormented land.
10. The Vintage Readers Series (Vintage, $9.95): Sick of having to admit you still haven't read any Murakami? These newly released samplers -- Vintage Amis, Vintage Naipaul, et al. -- select the best of Nabokov, Cisneros, Munro, and many more so that you don't have to.
What the Fork - January 19, 10:29 AM
Culture Spy - January 18, 10:25 AM
What the Fork - January 17, 1:52 PM
Culture Spy - January 11, 9:55 AM
What the Fork - January 3, 2:06 PM