Books to Give, Books to Get 

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What Happens in the East Bay Stays in the East Bay

Why spread it around when you can keep it local? This year, support East Bay authors -- such as CoCo County's Jonnie Jacobs, whose new thriller The Only Suspect (Kensington, $23) is about a doctor who claims to have regained consciousness one morning in his car, in a ditch, with blood under his nails, unable to remember his actions over the past twelve hours. Then oops -- his wife turns up dead. ... Hey, even a killer's stony heart would melt into a puddle of sweet quivering goo after reading Hitched! (Thunder's Mouth, $14.95), a collection of thirty personal essays by men and women who took part in last year's gay marriages at San Francisco City Hall. Edited by Walnut Creek's Cheryl Dumesnil, Hitched! not only captures a historic moment, but brings together beautiful, sincere love stories. ... In a lit-fic vein, The Pagoda in the Garden: A Novel in Three Parts (Other, $23.95) by Berkeley's Wendy Lesser, is set in 1901/1926, 1956, and 1973-75, and thoughtfully and humorously describes the romantic experiences of three youngish Americans in England. ... Those who dread holiday high-jinks altogether would welcome Strength in the Storm: Creating Calm in Difficult Times (Nilgiri, $14) by the late spiritual icon Easwaran, who in 1967 launched a for-credit meditation course at UC Berkeley. Using bullet-point summaries and personal anecdotes, his newly rereleased book shows how to establish mental focus and inner peace for the betterment of the self and the world. ... Give a lasting and lyrical bit of Berkeley with The Addison Street Anthology: Berkeley's Poetry Walk (Heyday, $14.95), edited by Robert Hass and Jessica Fisher. The verses implanted on each of the downtown street's 126 panels are reproduced here accompanied by interesting tidbits about their writers' lives. -- Kim Hedges

Geekster's Paradise

Whether they're geeky or cool -- or cool in a geeky sort of way -- some of your loved ones would just rather read about numerals and nematodes than about, say, Lolita in Tehran. They can chew on the barely graspable concept of infinity -- not as a vague linguistic or literary term but as a strict mathematical concept -- with John D. Barrow's The Infinite Book (Pantheon, $26). ... Lofty doesn't begin to describe the stratospheric workings of Stephen Hawking's mind; in God Created the Integers (Running, $29.95), he introduces mathematical breakthroughs that have changed history, from Euclid and Archimedes to Alan Turing, explaining with terrifying precision how geniuses such as these deciphered nature's formulae. ... Gambling isn't a game when it's a sure thing: In Fortune's Formula (Hill & Wang, $27), William Poundstone recounts the saga of three math whizzes who accidentally discovered how to beat Las Vegas at its own game and also to make money in the stock market, risk-free, by manipulating the rules to their own advantage. ... We take for granted certain "constants" that define how our universe is structured: things such as pi, and the speed of light. But in The Constants of Nature (Vintage, $15), the prolific John D. Barrow investigates these, asking whether our so-called constants actually need to be the way they are -- or is it all a cosmic accident? ... Our evolutionary ancestors look a lot like us in World Atlas of Great Apes and Their Conservation (UC Press, $45). Edited by Julian Caldecott and Lera Miles, it's a haunting and incredibly beautiful overview of gorillas, chimps, and orangutans, with detailed reportage on biology and conservation efforts. ... From auks to yellow-chevroned parakeets and beyond, Jonathan Alderfer's Complete Birds of North America (National Geographic, $35) is the ultimate field guide, packed with sketches and range maps for each species, plus much more, including phonetic renderings of birdcalls. -- Anneli Rufus

Books for Boxed Sets

Planning on getting a book to go along with that boxed-set edition for the music/film lover in your life? If not, maybe you should. It's a good idea. The Lord of the Rings trilogy goes nicely with the Sean Astin and Jay Layden New York Times best-seller, There and Back Again: An Actor's Tale (St. Martin's, $14.95). Astin, who played the Hobbit Sam Gamgee (and Mikey in The Goonies), creates a compelling account of the making of the epics while giving insight into a deep, underestimated actor, as it turns out. ... But why leave boxed-set gifts up to the Man to compile for you? The Best Music Writing 2005 (Da Capo Press, $15.95) invites you to create a personalized set of CDs for any and every audiophile on your list. Guest-edited by Bay Area darling JT Leroy, this year's collection covers topics ranging from Robert Christgau on postmodern minstrelsy to Dave Eggers on Big Country. ... Spike Lee's That's My Story and I'm Sticking to It (Norton, $25.95) begs to accompany a DVD catalogue of controversy wrapped in big red, black, and green bows. As told to film critic and producer Kaleem Aftab, Lee's story of his rise from She's Gotta Have It through his development as a filmmaker tackling some of America's toughest issues in Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever, onto becoming a part of the American cinematic tradition with Bamboozled and The 25th Hour is strengthened by interviews with noteworthy African-American artists and public figures including Halle Berry and the late Ossie Davis. ... The nighttime is the right time for so many aesthetes, and a sensual starter kit of Jami Bernard's The X List: The National Society of Film Critics' Guide to the Movies That Turn Us On (Da Capo, $17.50) wedged between a copy of Talk Dirty to Me and The Opening of Misty Beethoven would make a very merry Christmas indeed. -- D. Scot Miller


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