Take Five 

Shopping lists for the bookworms in your life.


This year, the mainstream media latched onto bloggers and blogging and ran article after article about the latest Web fad, even though Weblogs -- self-published online journals -- have been around since well before the new millennium. Here are five books to turn readers from rookies into experts.

Blogging, by Biz Stone (New Riders, $29.99). From the basics to syndication: One word -- user-friendly. Easy to read and understand, and true newbies will enjoy the visuals.

The Weblog Handbook, by Rebecca Blood (Perseus, $14). This one's more theory than how-to, in which one veteran blogger shares her experiences and ideas about what does and doesn't work in blogging and in the blogging community.

Blog On, by Todd Stauffer (McGraw-Hill/Osborne, $29.99). Is your loved one's blog hosted by Greymatter or Movable Type? This book offers step-by-step instructions for those who still prefer printed manuals to online ones.

We've Got Blog, by the editors at Perseus Publishing (Perseus, $20). Oooh ... bloggers on blogging. This collection of articles by Web designers, journalists, and Web enthusiasts gives the real lowdown on the people behind the screens, opinionated talk about the state of the craze, advice on how to do it right, and a huge link section to all the blogs cited in the book.

Running Weblogs with Slash, by Chromatic, Brian Aker, and David Krieger (O'Reilly, $34.95). Perfect for Web geeks who just have to do the programming themselves. (On the other hand, O'Reilly also has Essential Blogging for those who are less advanced.) -- Jennifer L. Leo


The best way to expand a jazz library is to hire good librarians. Whitney Balliett must be good, if reading him sometimes seems better than being there. The New Yorker writer's survey, Collected Works: A Journal of Jazz 1954-2001 (St. Martin's, $24.95), is impressive not only for its breadth, depth, and accuracy, but because Balliett is such a jaw-droppingly fine stylist. If an essential collection exists, it's this.

And then there's Living with Music: Ralph Ellison's Jazz Writings (Modern Library Classics, $13.95). The former trumpeter, composer, and, oh yes, author of one of the 20th century's most important novels, lived musically. His very personal collection includes nonfiction, fiction, and correspondence -- proving the oft-made declaration that all of Ellison's writing was in fact jazz writing.

We know it's the American art, but let's not forget that Canada's in America, too -- especially with great Canadian imports such as piano master Oscar Peterson around. Peterson, a Ken Burns neglectee, is a charmer musically, so it's no surprise that his self-told life story, the aptly titled A Jazz Odyssey (Continuum, $29.95), is a charmer too.

With Arranging the Score: Portraits of the Great Arrangers (Continuum, $19.95), the elegant, buoyantly erudite essayist and lyricist Gene Lees offers a series of typically loving and meticulous pieces on the undersung craft of arranging.

The reissue of Studs Terkel's 1957 classic, Giants of Jazz (New Press, $22.95), should make Terkel fans into jazz fans, and vice versa. This great listener and absolute aficionado hears from thirteen giants, many of whom were his pals. This book turns them into the reader's pals, too. -- Jonathan Kiefer


For the world-weary adult, comics can still hit the spot. Here are some of this year's most provocative words-and- pictures books for grown-ups.

9/11: Emergency Relief, edited by Jeff Mason (Alternative Comics, $14.95). This anthology of responses to 9/11, assembled at breakneck speed to benefit the Red Cross, is a raw, eloquent, introspective graphical diary of how established and cutting-edge comics artists across the nation struggled with the crisis. Destined to be an important document for future generations.

Bruised Fruit, by David Choe (DRIPS Inc., $20). Crammed with passionate, color-drenched, graffiti-inspired paintings, cityscape drawings, photo collages, and bits of personal prose, this is a book into which readers can dive repeatedly and surface with something new every time. Choe's work is furious creativity uncompromised and unleashed.

Sketchbook Diaries, Vol. 2, by James Kochalka (Top Shelf, $7.95). Alternative cartoonist Kochalka hit it big (for an alternative cartoonist, that is) with his first collection of the four-panel strips that comprise his personal journal. Whimsical, poignant, and often hilarious, these volumes chronicle his life in Vermont with his wife and cat. Wildly popular, so get a copy while you still can.

Happy End, by Actus (Actus Independent Comics, $21.95). This little-known Israeli comics collective puts out consistently impressive and powerful books. Its latest full-color volume treats themes of alienation and absurdity with high-quality artwork in several distinctive styles, each with its own spookily surreal point of view.

20th-Century Eightball, by Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics, $19). If they loved Ghost World, they'll devour this new collection of Clowes' earlier short work, culled from his ongoing comic book, Eightball. This volume bursts with cynical, mean-spirited, wickedly funny commentary on such subjects as art school, sexual frustration, self-importance, and phoniness in all its forms. -- Karen Eng


In science fiction and fantasy fiction, a hero always fights for high stakes, and there is no bigger prize than the planet. Some want to conquer it, some want to save it, and some -- well, some want to destroy it. Here are five books that look at the lighter side of world destruction and domination.

In Terry Pratchett's latest Discworld novel, The Last Hero (Harper Collins, $19.95), octogenarian warrior Cohen the Barbarian pays a house call on the Disc's gods to return something he stole a long time ago: fire. Properly barbarianlike, his plan involves burning down their palace, which, in turn, would also destroy the planet they oversee. Meanwhile, in Rudy Rucker's Spaceland (Tor, $24.95), it isn't just a planet but an entire universe that's in peril when Silicon Valley technophile Joe Cube's latest piece of experimental gadgetry unleashes gooey red aliens from the fourth dimension.

Not everyone's out to destroy the world; some just want to rule it. In Neil Gaiman's American Gods (Harper Collins, $7.99), the old deities of yore fight to reclaim the world they once ruled from their modern electronic replacements: gods of cell phones and microwaves and Internet modems. And Orson Scott Card's latest installment in the "Ender's Game" saga, Shadow Puppets (Tor, $25.95), finds the children who saved the world from alien insects playing politics to grab control of earth's governments. Finally, a teenage girl becomes a pawn in a struggle between two opposing warlords to rule the mysterious titular archipelago of Clive Barker's Abarat (Harper Collins, $16). -- Michael Rosen-Molina


Your dear Aunt Jane is interested in "poems." She's been leaving Billy Collins soundbites on your voicemail. When you mention that there are better poets around, she looks doubtful. Try these:

If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, by Ann Carson (translator) (Knopf, $27.50). The sparse design of this handsome book accentuates the talismanic quality of the fragments that Sappho left us. Carson's translations balance the classical and the contemporary: "you came and I was crazy for you/ and you cooled my mind that burned with longing."

New Collected Poems, by George Oppen (New Directions, $37.95). Aunt Jane might not care that Oppen was one of America's foremost modernists. But, being no dummy, she'll respond to Oppen's craft: "And all the air before her -- what the wind brings past/In the bright simpleness and strangeness of the sands."

Selected Poems, by Giuseppe Ungaretti (Farrar Straus & Giroux, $30). Ungaretti was an Italian raised in Egypt, and the reader feels the heat of those countries in these short, tough, yet romantic poems: "The flesh-pink of the sky/awakens oases/in the nomad of love."


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