Read Local: Chronicle Books Guaranteed to Please Everyone

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Artist Matthew Forsythe in the book The Where, The Why, and The How

New York City might be home to the big houses, but this scrappy city just happens to be the epicenter of publishing on the Best Coast. Join Alexis Coe every Wednesday for Read Local, a series on books produced in the Bay Area.

By now, you're likely making good progress on your Christmas shopping list. If not in execution, than at least in theory, right? With less than a week to go, store shelves are starting to look rather bare, so if you're still in search of good ideas, here are four great options from Chronicle books.

See also:
Holiday Gift Guide: 10 Picks from S.F. Booksellers
The Stunning Images and Moving Testimony of McSweeney's Refugee Hotel


You're likely to find these titles in most bookstores, but you can also head over to the local publisher's own outposts on Second Street, Union Street, and the Metreon.

For that special 4-10 year old in your life:

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We can't all live in Hawaii. Sure, the weather is nice, and there are plenty of tasty tropical fruits, but jobs are scarce and housing is expensive. Author Marilyn Singer more or less applies this kind of pragmatic advice to animals who have chosen habitats that have "less competition and more safety from predators." In A Strange Place to Call Home: The World's Most Dangerous Habitats & the Animals That Call Them Home ($16.99), blind fish find their way through the deepest, darkest caves and ice worms multiply by the billions in inhospitable glaciers. The habitats of 14 animals are explored through an arsenal of witty, charming, and downright weird poetic verse. Caldecott winning illustrator Ed Young offers simply stunning abstract paper cuts as he "celebrates some of these great adapters and the risky places they live."

For anyone 13-Infinity years old:

Chronicle tasked 75 of today's most-talented illustrators to address life's big questions, while working scientists penned the essays in The Where, The Why, and The How. A variety of mysteries guaranteed to engage both sides of your brain are explored in much more detail than you could ever get from a basic Google search, and yet the succinct information presented is not overwhelming. The topics themselves vary greatly in both seriousness and complexity, always in the form of questions: Why do we blush? Are there more than three dimensions? Is sexual orientation innate? Do immortal creatures exist?

I suggest you buy two copies of The Where, The Why, and The How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science by Jenny Volvoski, Julia Rothman, and Matt Lamothe ($24.95), lest you be tempted to keep the present all for yourself.

For the budding blogger:

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If my RSS feed was a meal, Oh Joy! would be the palate cleanser. Joy Deangdeelert Cho's blog posts are streamlined: Short, sweet, and beautiful. They greatly please me in the moment, but the content is light and often without consequence. I have no intention of unsubscribing, but I forget about it as soon as it's over.

When Blog INC: Blogging for Passion, Profit, and to Create Community ($16.95) arrived, I avoided it for weeks, worrying it would not be substantial enough to hold my interest, or informative enough for me to recommend to the many bloggers, both nascent and experienced, who are on my gift list.

My fears were allayed as soon as I opened the book. This is nothing short of an authoritative handbook that progresses alongside the blogger, from initial questions -- Tumblr or WordPress? -- to pragmatic business advice, like health insurance and understanding analytics. The abundance of useful information is interspersed with truly inspiring and interesting interviews with successful bloggers of every genre, including Emily Schuman of Cupcakes and Cashmere and Joel Henriques of Made By Joel.

For everyone, everywhere:

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Randy Cohen, the original writer of the New York Times' "The Ethicist," has organized his book in a palatable Q&A format, one that suggests you should read it over a long period of time, possibly in fits and bursts. I, on the other hand, could not put it down. I am not a person who enjoys advice columns, but there is so much to ponder in this book, so many issues that are far more complicated than the law of the land states or your grandmother advises, that I read it with a kind of interest some would apply to their favorite reality show. Cohen not only offers ethical musings and checks in with experts, but also offers short and long-term solutions. In this world, we rarely take time to really test our ethical compass in a diverse set of situations. In Be Good ($24.95), Cohen makes this useful exercise inordinately enjoyable.

Follow Alexis Coe on twitter @alexis_coe.

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