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Buy one of the following items Michael Gant mentioned in his article:

'Time Stands Still: Muybridge and the Instantaneous Photography Movement' by Phillip Prodger

'River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West' by Rebecca Solnit

'Surf Culture: The Art History of Surfing' by David Carson

'The Mysterious Death of Jane Stanford' by Robert W.P. Cutler

'San Francisco Bay: Portrait of an Estuary' by John Hart and David Sanger

'The Legend of Fire Horse Woman' by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

'The Art of Burning Bridges: A Life of John O'Hara' by Geoffrey Wolff

Warner's 'Butterfield 8' DVD

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Glow Little Bookworm: From surfers to ornithologists to literary dipsomaniacs, there's a tome for every one.

2003 Gift Guide

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The Power of the Pen

With E-novels still only a distant dream, there is no better present than a good old-fashioned book

By Michael S. Gant

AS AN intellectual fetish object, nothing beats a book. The technology of the printed word on the fungible page has dominated human communications for more than 500 years and isn't ready to be supplanted by E-books just yet (although E-commerce makes them easier than ever to buy). Real books are permanent, portable and, best of all, easy to wrap.

I like the idea of thinking globally and reading locally, which means picking books by local authors or from local publishers, or with some kind of close-hand association. That also means spending time at the nearest bookstore (and browsing is a gift that satisfies the giver as well as the receiver), although most titles can be obtained online as well.

Two of the best volumes of 2003 are connected to local museums. Time Stands Still: Muybridge and the Instantaneous Photography Movement by Phillip Prodger (Oxford, $38). This oversized paperback is the catalog for the sensational Cantor Arts Center show earlier this year at Stanford about pioneer photographer Eadweard Muybridge and the 19th-century effort to capture movement on film.

The copiously illustrated book reproduces the high-speed photographs that Muybridge used to break down the motion of animals and people into frozen instants of time--allowing viewers to analyze continuous processes as discrete parts. (Available online through Amazon and the other standard book sites, but better yet, pick up a copy at the gift store at the Cantor Art Center and take in the current show of Hudson River painters.)

A perfect match to Time Stands Still is San Francisco historian Rebecca Solnit's River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West (Viking, $25.95; Amazon sells the two together for under $48), a dazzling high-wire act of intellectual history linking Muybridge to 20th-century breakthroughs in how the modern world views time and space.

The other cool catalog of 2003 is Surf Culture: The Art History of Surfing by David Carson (Gingko Press, $29.95 paper), which details the recently concluded exhibit at the San Jose Museum of Art. More than a guide to the items in the show (which ranged from surfboards to photos to album covers to paintings and sculptures), Surf Culture is an art object all by itself, showcasing Carson's skills as a graphic designer.

Speaking of Stanford, the university press's most unusual release this year has to be Robert W.P. Cutler's The Mysterious Death of Jane Stanford ($29.95 cloth). In 1905, in a hotel in Hawaii, Jane Stanford, wife of railroad magnate and philanthropist Leland Stanford, died under mysterious circumstances. The initial coroner's report said that she had been poisoned, but the by the time the story hit California, the grand dame's demise was chalked up to heart failure. Cutler, an M.D., unravels the evidence--not to finger the killer but to show how Stanford's first president, David Starr Jordan, orchestrated a century-long cover-up of the crime.

For anyone who appreciates the wildlife that manages to survive in our development-crazed world, UC Press has just issued San Francisco Bay: Portrait of an Estuary by John Hart and photographer David Sanger ($34.95, cloth). This coffee-table tome takes readers on a tour of the bay (from the Sacramento Delta to Alviso), capturing both the birds and mammals of the region and also the human encroachments (some benign, some destructive) that have molded the unique estuarine system.

Just out in time for some quality holiday reading is Santa Cruz author Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston's novel The Legend of Fire Horse Woman (Kensington, $23 cloth). Houston, who gained fame with Farewell to Manzanar, a memoir of her childhood experiences in the internment camps during World War II, revisits the camps in fictional form, but the story has been expanded to cover three generations of women, starting with a young bride being sent from Japan in the early 1900s to live with her new husband in San Jose's Japantown.

Novelist John O'Hara never visited San Jose as far as I can tell from reading Geoffrey Wolff's The Art of Burning Bridges (Knopf, $30 cloth), but this is by far the best literary biography I've read in years--and that's excuse enough. Wolff, author of The Black Sun and The Duke of Deception, reanimates the long-since-forgotten author of some of the 20th-century's bestselling books (Ten North Frederick, From the Terrace, Pal Joey) in all his warty glory.

By turns pugnacious--he famously punched out a midget (or "gruff Lilliputian," as Wolff puts it) in New York's posh 21 club--and charming, O'Hara, even in the depths of dipsomania, clung to the discipline of a daily session with his typewriter, like a drowning man clutching at a lifesaver.

A good companion to The Art of Burning Bridges would be a vintage paperback edition with lurid cover art of O'Hara's most famous novel, Butterfield 8, easily obtainable at most any used bookstore (Recycled Book Store, 1066 The Alameda, San Jose, is a good bet). For the hat trick, toss in a DVD (better than the VHS at capturing the CinemaScope framing, and under $20 from amazon.com, cduniverse.com or the like) of the 1960 film version with Elizabeth Taylor and Laurence Harvey consuming vast quantities of scenery.


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From the November 20-26, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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