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This weekend: Ry Cooder, holiday book guide

December 3, 2011 |  6:05 am

OK, OK. Maybe they're not together in the same issue -- more on that later -- but this weekend's book coverage includes Times’ book critic David L. Ulin’s fascinating conversation with musician Ry Cooder about his newfound career as a short-story writer. Cooder's book "Los Angeles Stories" (published by City Lights) brings to the printed page the same storytelling process that inspired his so-called California Trilogy of albums “Chavez Ravine,” “My Name Is Buddy” and “I, Flathead.” Ulin calls the stories "deftly rendered” as they offer a panorama of the city between 1940 and 1958, the year the Dodgers came to town. We've got an excerpt of Cooder's story "All in a Day's Work" here.

Other reviews in Sunday Arts & Books offer a virtual travelogue of interesting  places and people. Times Theater critic Charles McNulty looks at James Wolcott, Vanity Fair’s “takedown artist extraordinaire,” as he recounts growing up in '70s New York and his friendship with critic Paulene Kael in "Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York." Carolyn Kellogg reviews “Salvage the Bones,” the pre-Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi-based novel that just won the National Book Award for fiction. The author, Jesmyn Ward, Kellogg notes, “wanted to write about poor, black rural Southerners in such a way that the greater culture would see their stories....”

Out of Africa, this week, is our review of L.A. Times reporter Christopher Goffard’s “You Will See Fire: A Search for Justice in Kenya,” the true-life tale of American Catholic priest John Kaiser and his quest for social change in one of the most corrupt countries in Africa. Kaiser dies for his trouble, and that fact fuels Goffard's narrative, which our reviewer, Richard Rayner, calls “a moving and powerful” story.  The reporting for the book came from a three-part series of articles that Goffard wrote for The Times in 2009.  

And, lest we forget, next Wednesday marks the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor: We include an excerpt from “Pacific Crucible," Ian W. Toll’s history of the war in the Pacific during 1941-42. In her Not Just for Kids column on YA books, Susan Carpenter looks at Cassandra Clare’s “The Clockwork Prince: The Infernal Devices, Book Two,” in which the author blends "societal restraint and an otherworldly battle into a steamy steampunk drama."

Ok, so back to holiday books. This week we present our annual 28-page holiday guide of book choices and gift ideas (Section U in the print newspaper) along with reviewer lists, including thoughts from book critic Ulin on what titles to load onto that electronic device you may be giving someone, Carolyn Kellogg on what tablet devices are selling this season, Susan Carpenter on what’s hot for kids of all ages and Nick Owchar on compelling reads about history’s turning points.

Thanks for reading.

-- Jon Thurber, Book editor  

Image: Cover of the L.A. Times holiday books & gift ideas guide. Credit: Elvis Swift / For The Times