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WISH LIST There are two kinds of gift books: the coffee-table book and the bathroom book. One has the cool cover and arty pics for people to gasp over at parties. The other has teeny bits of content that you zip through while transacting your effluvia. Of course, rents in San Francisco being what they are, for many the toilet now doubles as the coffee table. We don't judge. In any case, here are five new books from Bay Area authors and publishers that will make your friends feel sophisticated and brilliant.
Thea Hillman's supercharged For Lack of a Better Word (Suspect Thoughts Press, 192 pages, $16.95 paper) is definitely more bathroom (or purse) than coffee-table reading, with lots of short, provocative essays. But it's also a book your friends would be proud to have on display. Partly a memoir of Hillman's child- and adulthood with a hormonal imbalance and the painful process of coming to identify as intersex, For Lack is also about Hillman's evolving relationships: with the queer community, her lovers, and her mom. In Hillman's world, the surer you become about who you are, the more vulnerable you get.
Instant City 5 (102 pages, $8 paper) straddles the privycoffee table divide pretty handily, thanks to its gorgeous cover and interior art and some razor-sharp short fiction and essays. The literary journal's focus is San Francisco, and the latest installment takes crime as its theme. So Stephen Elliott muses (in a fetish club) on the burglars he knew as a kid, and Sona Avakian explores how a husband's illicit cigarette can turn into an affair with a snake woman. Morbid Curiosity czar Loren Rhoads leads readers on a tour of San Francisco crime scenes, and Richard J. Martin teaches the Fisherman's Wharf hustle.
Another brilliant hybrid is Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects with Unexpected Significance (Princeton Architectural Press, 176 pages, $17.50 paper). Edited by Joshua Glenn and Carol Hayes and featuring several Bay Area contributors, Things is chock-full of gorgeous color illustrations, but the text is equally illuminating. Each miniessay details the writer's love affair (often tortured) with a particular object, and the fact that it's frequently a piece of mass-produced crap doesn't lessen the revelatory power of this compulsive read.
Edited by Michelle Tea, the anthology It's So You: 35 Women Write about Personal Expression Through Fashion and Style (Seal Press, 300 pages, $15.95 paper) is in a similar vein, its contributors sharing anxieties about having the "right" clothes, being taken seriously, sending "a message." The collection would be worth picking up just for the brilliant neuroses of Beth Lisick and Jennifer Blowdryer. But you also get Samara Halperin's tragically failed attempt to fit in by wearing an Izod shirt and Ali Liebegott's doomed romance with a pair of slippers. Plus, there are comics and cutout dolls. And wherever your giftee puts this book, people will linger over it, laughing as they identify with the sartorial traumas detailed.
Finally, your friends will probably want to put local science fiction hero Rudy Rucker's Postsingular (Tor Books, 320 pages, $25.95) on public display it'll make them look smart but they'll end up reading it while curled into a little ball on the bathroom floor at 3 a.m. anyway. It's fast-paced and subversive: nanomachines dismantle all life on Earth and send everyone to a virtual world, and you're still only on page 20. Postsingular turns the singularity, the mythical moment when we all transcend our humanity and become cyberer, into something much weirder and more ambivalent. Just as other cyberfiction is becoming more cautious in its predictions, Rucker takes wilder and wilder leaps into outer possibility.