You Have to Laugh

In Selling It: The Incredible Shrinking Package and Other Marvels of Modern Marketing, Leslie Ware and the editors of Consumer Reports question sales pitches, claims about what a product can do and more. Their amusing review of outlandish marketing ploys turns a magnifying glass on advertisements from American Express to Rogaine. In the "Fire the Copywriter!" chapter, the authors chastise a Sanyo ad that proudly proclaims its cordless can opener's Y2K compliance; in "Medical Miracles" they point out that a Bausch & Lomb ad for Computer Eye Drops (designed to relieve eyes that have become strained by staring at a computer) suggests customers visit the company's Web site. (Norton, $15.95 paper 196p ISBN 0-393-32172-X; Jan.)

In their introduction to Buck Up, Suck Up... and Come Back When You Foul Up: 12 Winning Secrets from the War Room, political strategists James Carville and Paul Begala state, "If you buy this book and read it, you will not make $1 million—at least not because you bought this book." But they go on to say that readers will get "good, sound advice on how to win." They proceed to make good on their word, offering secrets from the Clinton campaign that range from "kiss ass"' to "reward risk more than you punish failure." Their good-natured approach is humorous and refreshing. Agent, Robert Barnett. (Simon & Schuster, $23 224p ISBN 0-7432-2422-1; Jan. 15)

Self-Healing with Humor and Other Medicines

Self-help satirist Andrew Boyd (Life's Little Deconstruction Book) manages to turn the affirmations genre on its head and still offer some inspirational wisdom in Daily Afflictions: The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in the Universe, a collection of brief meditations that urges readers to embrace sorrow and pain as the way to personal growth. Under tongue-in-cheeck headings like "Living a Worthless Life," "Keeping to the Dark Path," and "The Trajedy of Commitment," Boyd emphasizes that failure in work and love is a necessary part of conscious life, and that a person can recognize the darkness and futility of life yet still dive into it headlong. (Norton, $11.95 paper 128p ISBN 0-393-32281-5; Jan.)

Jeanne Achterberg (Imagery in Healing) has been researching mind-body medicine in the treatment of cancer since the 1970s, and developed the now well-known technique of guided imagery, a widely-practiced alternative therapy. When she was diagnosed with cancer of the eye two years ago, she refused all conventional treatments. Lightning at the Gate: A Visionary Journal of Healing, is a frank and intimate account of her own experience with cancer, which she has so far kept in check by having those around her practice guided imagery on her behalf, as well as a variety of other alternative treatments she discovered along the way. (Shambhala, $23.95 272p ISBN 1-57062-858-0; Jan.)

In question-and-answer format, Seeker's Guide to Self-Freedom: Truths for Living, by veteran self-realization guru Guy Finley (Design Your Destiny, Freedom From the Ties That Bind, Lost Secrets of Prayer), advises the reader on how to find his or her True Self, a level of self-awareness that allows one to transcend the anxieties and insecurities of everyday life and feel closer to God. Finley is Christian, but his guidelines are non-denominational and he cites teachings of non-Christian religions as well. Each chapter ends with spiritual excercises guiding readers to change defeatist ways of thinking. (Llewellyn, $12.95 paper 288p ISBN 0-7387-0107-6; Jan.)

Late but Not Least

Though production difficulties prevented full reviews of the young Scotland press's latest volumes, readers shouldn't miss Irene and Alan Taylor's doorstop-sized, decade-in-the-making assemblage of notable diary excerpts. The Assassin's Cloak: An Anthology of the World's Greatest Diarists gathers brief and often wonderful entries—by poets and philosophers, businessmen and barons—for each day of the year. On January 1st, for example, the "first real diarist" Samuel Pepys records how, on waking suddenly, he knocked his wife on the nose with his elbow; Katherine Mansfield deems her new diary "vile" but vows to keep it anyway; James Boswell relishes a romantic encounter; and the fictional Adrian Mole resolves to stop cleaning the tub with his mother's Buff-Puff. Spanning four centuries and addressing countless topics (from thoughtful reflections diary-keeping to gossip, politics and mundane musings) this book is for the expert and the dilettante, for the coffee table and the reference shelf. (Canongate Books [PGW, dist.], $35 684p ISBN 0-86241-920-4; Nov.)

From single Londoner of a certain age Sylvia Smith comes Misadventures, a compulsively readable series of vignettes that adds up to a comic and touching—if rather episodic—memoir. The tale of one woman's journey from working-class childhood through a slightly rebellious adolescence all the way to a bemused middle age, this debut work chronicles the author's unrewarding jobs and unfortunate dates, her experiences in grocery stores and the funny things she saw or her friend said with sly wit and a kind of dead pan grace. Each of the anecdotes (many of which are named for the person discussed therein) feature a brief introduction ("John was someone I met at a dance when I was twenty-five…Our relationship lasted precisely three dances") and while not all are satisfying, they are so short, so spare, that readers will find themselves unable to not proceed to the next. (Canongate Books, [PGW, dist.], $14 paper 248p ISBN 1-84195-095-5; Nov.)

In the recent wave of books related to the tragedy of September 11—Taliban histories, introductions to Islam, volumes of pictures and commemorative poems—New York September 11, by the famed Magnum Photos collective, stands out as haunting tribute to the city, to the emergency workers, to the dead, and to the Towers themselves. David Halberstam poignantly reflects on that "rarest" of moments—the kind that "separate[s] yesterday from today, and then from now"—in his introduction to the volume, while, in 70 color and 20 b&w photos (most reproduced on two full pages) the Magnum Photographers capture the terrible destruction—and, as in a shot of a sunset seen through the Ground Zero dust cloud—the terrible beauty of that day. A portion of the proceeds to go to the New York Times 9/11 Neediest Fund. (Powerhouse, $29.95 144p ISBN 1-57687-130-4; Nov.)

The Write Stuff

In his latest how-to, psychotherapist and writing coach Eric Maisel (Deep Writing, The Creativity Book) offers encouraging advice—and plenty of snappy admonishments—to writers caught in the quagmire of writer's block or the quicksand of self-doubt. There's a right way and a wrong way to think about the creative process, Maisel says, and Write Mind: 299 Things Writers Should Never Say to Themselves is designed to help writers firmly align themselves with the former. After a brief introduction, Maisel plunges into his numbered lessons: in #111, for example, the wrong mind whines, "I have no chance," while the right mind says, "I still have hope." All of his counsel sounds like what writers have been telling themselves all along, but Maisel hopes that hearing it from him will finally make it stick. (Putnam/Tarcher, $13.95 paper 144p ISBN 1-58542-136-7; Feb. 18)

When she was a senior in high school, Gayle Brandeis had an epiphany with a strawberry: instructed by a teacher to really look at the fruit, she wondered if she had every really looked at anything before. The poem she wrote that day "launched" her onto her "life's path" and changed her writing forever. In Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write, Brandeis uses fruit as a metaphor for sensual and creative exploration—and women's bodies, too—to meld writing advice and exercises with meditations that use produce to illuminate prose. ("Let your writing be like this feast [of a mango]—bold, sensual, unapologetic.") Cynics and skeptics beware: with its garden-lush prose and fervent guilelessness, this is a book for the open-hearted believer. (Harper San Francisco, $23.95 224p ISBN 0-06-251724-4; Mar.)

California Dreaming

From its prehistory to its incorporation into the Union, California: This Golden Land of Promise chronicles the state's past, its peoples and its landscapes, in a sumptuous oversized volume illustrated with nearly 500 paintings and photographs. The stories—of Spanish explorations, the rise of the missions, the "Golden Age" and the Gold Rush—are told in clear prose and enlivened by excerpts from the journals and letters of travelers and settlers. Joan Irvine Smith, great-granddaughter of Irvine Ranch founder James Irvine I and co-founder of the Irvine Museum, has teamed up with Jean Stern, the museum's executive director, to present a book that will please California natives and dyed-in-the-wool East Coasters (for whom reading The Grapes of Wrath is the closest they've come to the state) alike. (Seven Locks [800-354-5348], $50 368p ISBN 0-9714092-X; Feb.)

"On the right-hand side of the Indies there was an island called California, which was very close to the region of the Earthly Paradise." So reads a 1510 Spanish novel about a mythic land populated only by women; by the time Cervantes published Don Quixote some 100 years later, California "had evolved from an imagined to a real place," write editors Rose Marie Beebe and Robert M. Senkewicz. In Lands of Promise and Despair: Chronicles of Early California, 1535—1846, the editors gather together an impressive collection of primary documents—the writings of early California settlers, primarily, many of whom were Spanish or Mexican—to provide a rich early history of the region and the lives and the culture of the people who resided there. Illus. (Heyday, $21.95 paper 528p ISBN 1-890771-48-1; Jan.)

Fish and Birds

Besides being objects of wonder, hummingbirds, says Sheri L. Williamson in the Peterson Field Guide: Hummingbirds of North America, are unique to the New World, range in size from the smallest warm-blooded animal (Cuba's Bee Hummingbird) to outsizing songbirds (South America's Giant Hummingbird), can fly backwards and side to side, and still defy category among ornithological types. The habits, habitats, migratory patterns, physical traits, diet, mating practices, where to find them—in short, all the information that a good wildlife guide offers—are the stuff of Williamson's book. Clear, engaging prose and 180 full color photographs make this a natural for birdwatchers everywhere. (Houghton Mifflin, $20 paper 288p ISBN 0-618-02496-4; Jan. 17)

London's Thames River; a dump on the San Francisco Bay; Paris's Ile de la Cité; Manhattan's East River; and a minuscule pond in a Tokyo park near a "main defense establishment" are a few of the fishing sites featured in the anthology City Fishing. Most fishing guides (and people who fish) set their sights on the great outdoors—Montana, Oregon, Maine—anywhere but deep in the city. But these authors, including Ian Frazier, J.H. Hall, Dave Hughes and Charles Rangeley-Wilson, intrepid fishermen all, describe their urban fishing exploits with humor, graphic detail, social commentary and a peculiar sense of adventure. (Stackpole, $19.95 192p ISBN 0-8117-0357-6; Jan.)

January Publications

Beginning with a request to preteens to "please only read every third word," Willie Nelson proceeds to reveal his thoughtful, hilarious, raunchy inner world in his memoir The Facts of Life: And Other Dirty Jokes. As the title promises, the book is full of jokes, often preceded by no more introduction than, "Rinky wanted me to tell you this joke...." And, yes, some of them are fairly dirty. Other topics Nelson ruminates on include the stock market, the relative amounts of money Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan make from endorsements, the origins of the term "Outlaw Music," the virtues of dairy products and his favorite Biblical lines (e.g., " 'Physician, heal thyself'"). Non sequitur follows kooky non sequitur in this delightfully irreverent glimpse into the mind of an American classic. Fans and readers with ADD will love it. Photos not seen by PW. (Random, $21.95 224p ISBN 0-375-50731-0; on sale Jan. 8)

Botanical engravings, Dutch still lifes, paintings by Renaissance and modernist masters and 16th-century altar cloths illustrate this beautifully designed investigation of the provenance of our produce. Jonathan Roberts, a former Scotland trout farmer, economically and elegantly details how kiwifruit hailed from China (its Chinese name was "monkey-peach"); how preserved "garlands of celery" decorate 3,000 year-old Egyptian mummies; and how the eggplant is the sole edible member of the nightshade family (which includes tomatoes) originating outside the New World. The Origins of Fruit & Vegetables is as lush as a summer garden, and as hard to resist. (Universe, $22.50 228p ISBN 0-7893-0656-5; Jan.)

Lindley Farley's fond "treatise" on the evolving landscape of New York City takes the form of a cheerful picture book enlivened by Big Apple trivia and the occasional pop quiz (How many of the 11 SoHo and Greenwich Village streets whose names begin with B can one name?). Oddball New York features photographs of the city's buildings ("hi-rises on acid"), street signs (the intersection of avenues Miles and Davis), parks (Bennett Park, the highest point in the city at 265 feet above sea level) and landscapes (Rockaway Beach's boardwalk). For natives, transplants, and the merely curious, this playful volume is testimony to New York's attractions, both the celebrated and the unknown. (Quasi-Artwerks [], $19.99 108p ISBN 0-9713338-0-7; Jan.)

December Publications

Though paper was invented in China around 100—200 B.C., it took nearly a thousand years for Europeans to employ it—and Muslims were responsible for introducing them to the technology. Boston College professor of Islamic and Asian art Jonathan M. Bloom explores paper's early evolution and use in Paper Before Print: The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World, and argues that "much in the history of Islamic civilization in the Middle Ages... can be seen in terms of the conflicting claims of memory and written record." Accompanying Bloom's elegant prose are 48 color plates and 53 b&w illustrations—of maps, illustrated texts of Islamic poetry, pages of the Koran, and papermaking techniques. (Yale Univ., $45 320p ISBN 0-300-08955-4; Dec.)

Military veteran Clarence Knyfd presents a family story of his uncles who served in World War II in the compact Marching As to War, a modest but heartfelt volume detailing the wartime lives of eight of the author's uncles. While their experiences are far from unique, they nonetheless serve as a powerful tribute to all those who serve in the armed forces. This timely and touching memoir vividly portrays the pride, fear and sense of community felt by all soldiers. (C.R. Knyfd [45 Heights Rd., Midland Park, N.J. 07432], $12.25 paper 80p LOC 00-90754)