Tom Sawyer and Mark Twain meet in San Francisco in "Black Fire," Robert Graysmith's fascinating account of that city in the 19th century. Other highlights among this month's new releases by Bay Area authors include fiction, poetry, a study of love from the French point of view and a book of images now in a time capsule orbiting the Earth.

  • "Black Fire: The True Story of the Original Tom Sawyer -- and of the Mysterious Fires That Baptized Gold Rush-Era San Francisco" by Robert Graysmith (Crown, $26, 288 pages). Before Tom Sawyer was a fictional hero, he was a real-life one -- an 18-year-old "torch boy" who raced ahead of San Francisco's volunteer fire brigade, carrying torches to light the way. This intriguing history by Bay Area journalist and author Graysmith ("Zodiac") documents the fires, set by a mysterious arsonist known as "The Lightkeeper," which burned in the city six times between 1849 and '51. A decade later, Mark Twain -- then a reporter for the city's Morning Daily Call -- met Sawyer in a San Francisco steam bath.

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    Graysmith, whose drawings illustrate the book, links the people, places and events that led Twain to write his first book.

  • "The Last Pictures" by Trevor Paglen (University of California Press, $27.95, 208 pages). Every artist hopes to create works that will endure, but UC Berkeley's Paglen aimed high with "The Last Pictures." The artist/scholar compiled a collection of 100 black-and-white photos that were etched on a disc and sent into orbit aboard the EchoStar XVI satellite last month. Expected to circle the Earth for 4.5 billion years, the images in this unique time capsule reflect art, nature, technology, political movements and views of space from Earth.

  • "How the French Invented Love: Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance" by Marilyn Yalom (Harper Perennial, $15.99, 416 pages). Do the French understand love better than the rest of us? Yalom, a professor of French and senior scholar at Stanford's Clayman Institute for Gender Research, suggests that they do. Exploring key events in literature, philosophy, art and drama, she traces the history of l'amour from 12th-century courtly love to contemporary films by Claude Lelouch. In chapters on Molière, George Sand and Alfred de Musset, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, Yalom makes her case with considerable insight.

    Robert Graysmith, author of "Zodiac" and "Zodiac Unmasked", views cryptographs used by the Zodiac killer, Friday, Feb. 23, 2007, in San
    Robert Graysmith, author of "Zodiac" and "Zodiac Unmasked", views cryptographs used by the Zodiac killer, Friday, Feb. 23, 2007, in San Francisco. The Zodiac killer is blamed for at least five murders in 1968 and 1969 in the San Francisco Bay Area. He was never caught, though many, including Graysmith, believe he was Arthur Leigh Allen, a Vallejo man who who died in 1992. The $80 million film, "Zodiac," based on the 1986 true-crime book by Graysmith, was shot in 2005 in the San Francisco Bay area. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) ( Ben Margot )

  • "The Bird that Swallowed its Cage: The Selected Writings of Curzio Malaparte" adapted and translated by Walter Murch (Counterpoint, $24, 144 pages). Murch, a Marin-based film editor and sound designer who earned Academy Awards for his work on "Apocalypse Now" and "The English Patient," makes his mark as a translator in this volume of short works by Italian author Curzio Malaparte. As a journalist, Malaparte wrote from the front lines of World War II; poet Robert Hass has called him "one of the most startling and unexpected chroniclers of the violence of the 20th century," adding that Murch's translations are "tone-perfect."

  • "Nearly Nowhere" by Summer Brenner (PM Press, $15.95, 173 pages). Georgia-born, Bay Area-based Brenner, whose earlier books include the noir thriller "I-5," returns with this relentlessly paced novel, which opens in New Mexico. Kate, an artist, and her teenage daughter, Ruby, are just scraping by, when the arrival of a troubled drifter turns their lives upside down. Robbery and murder lead to the wilds of Idaho, with the final showdown involving a gang of Neo-Nazi survivalists. "Nearly Nowhere" exerts a powerful grip right to the end.

  • "I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus: A Breathers Christmas Carol" by S.G. Browne (Gallery Books, $14.99, 199 pages). Andy Warner's been held captive for a year in a zombie research facility in Portland, Ore. Disguised as Santa, he breaks free -- and thus begins the newest chapter in the satirical "Breathers" saga by San Francisco's Browne. Hilarious, horrifying and just in time for the holidays, it's a must for anyone who can't get enough of the undead.

    michael, michael, michael: Mrs. Dalloway's presents "Three Michaels," with Michael Chabon, Michael Pollan and Michael Lewis, Dec. 10, 7:30 p.m., in Berkeley's Roda Theatre, www.mrsdalloways.com,

    The Top Ten: 2012 was a great year for Bay Area authors. Here are 10 of the year's finest, still available at your local bookseller: "Telegraph Avenue" by Michael Chabon; "A Hologram for the King" by Dave Eggers; "Some Assembly Required" by Anne Lamott (with Sam Lamott); "Monstress" by Lysley Tenorio; "The Great Animal Orchestra" by Bernie Krause; "Equal of the Sun" by Anita Amirrezvani; "What Light Can Do" by Robert Hass; "I'm Your Man" by Sylvie Simmons; "Subversives" by Seth Rosenfeld; and "Waging Heavy Peace" by Neil Young.