20 Spring/Summer Books by (and about) Bay Areans
Three new books for your summer reading list: 'The Premonition' by Michael Lewis; 'We Are What We Eat,' by Alice Waters; 'Of Women and Salt,' by Gabriela Garcia. (Images courtesy of @aspenwords, @penguinusa, and @annmariereads)

20 Spring/Summer Books by (and about) Bay Areans


It's time to stock up on fresh and enticing books from our local independent stores and get going on your summer reading.

Right now, it would be easy to focus exclusively on recent and upcoming titles from Bay Area authors and emerge with an amazingly unique and diverse pile to read.

There truly is something new for all tastes: Look out for Gary Kamiya's anthology featuring Bay Area writers loving and potentially leaving San Francisco; new books from local heavy hitters Michael Pollan and Michael Lewis; and novels about historic SF by Jazmine Dzarnik and Carol Edgarian. Happy reading!

New Non-Fiction by Bay Area Authors

If you devoured Michael Pollan's trip into psychedelics with 'How to Change Your Mind,' you won't want to miss his newest release, 'This is Your Mind on Plants,' which explores three more plant drugs: opium, caffeine, and mescaline.

(Courtesy of @michael.pollan)

The End of the Golden Gate: Writers on Loving and (Sometimes) Leaving San Francisco / edited by Gary Kamiya

Over the last few decades, San Francisco has experienced radical changes with the influence of Silicon Valley, tech companies, and more. Countless articles, blogs, and even movies have tried to capture the complex nature of what SF has become: a place millions of people have loved to call home, and yet are compelled to consider leaving. In this new collection, writers take on the Bay Area dweller's eternal conflict: Should I stay or should I go?

Edited by Cool Gray City of Love author Gary Kamiya and featuring essays by 25 notable local writers—including Margaret Cho, Beth Lisick, W. Kamau Bell, Daniel Handler, Peter Coyote, and Michelle Tea)—the anthology includes selections that celebrate the city's beauty and ever-changing nature, and ponders the many reasons its residents both stay and flee. These varied essays also chronicle the impact of the tech industry invasion and capture the lasting imprint of 1960s counterculture, as well as the fight to preserve the art, music, and other creative movements that make the City by the Bay so special.

// $18, drops May 25; endofthegoldengate.chroniclebooks.com

This is Your Mind on Plants / Michael Pollan

Of all the things humans rely on plants for—sustenance, beauty, medicine, fragrance, flavor, fiber—surely the most curious is our use of them to change consciousness: to stimulate or calm, fiddle with or completely alter, the qualities of our mental experience. In This Is Your Mind on Plants, Berkeley-based author Michael Pollan dives deep into three plant drugs—opium, caffeine, and mescaline—and throws the fundamental strangeness, and arbitrariness, of our thinking about them into sharp relief.

Based in part on an essay published almost 25 years ago, this groundbreaking and singular consideration of psychoactive plants, and our attraction to them through time, holds up a mirror to our fundamental human needs and aspirations, the operations of our minds, and our entanglement with the natural world.

// $28, drops July 6; michaelpollan.com

The Premonition: A Pandemic Story / Michael Lewis

Berkeley writer Michael Lewis' new nonfiction thriller chronicles the stories of those who were skeptical of early pandemic misinformation, pitting a band of medical visionaries against the wall of ignorance that was the official response of the Trump administration to the outbreak of COVID-19.

The characters you will meet in these pages are as fascinating as they are unexpected. A 13-year-old girl's science project on transmission of an airborne pathogen develops into a grown-up model of disease control. A local public health officer uses her worm's-eye view to see what the CDC misses, and reveals great truths about American society. A secret team of dissenting doctors, nicknamed the Wolverines, has everything necessary to fight the pandemic: brilliant backgrounds, world-class labs, experience with bird flu and swine flu…everything, that is, except official permission to implement their work.

// $30; wwnorton.com

The Cannabis Gardener: A Beginner's Guide to Growing Vibrant, Healthy Plants in Every Region / Penny Barthel

Cannabis is as easy to grow as a tomato plant. If you live in a suitable climate and provide sun, water, and good soil, you can grow vigorous, beautiful weed in pots, raised beds, or your own yard. Not only is it an easy addition to your garden, it can also provide health and mood-lifting benefits.

Bay Area writer Penny Barthel teaches you how to choose which strains are right for you and how to cultivate the plants from seed to finished flower. Also included are recipes for savoring your harvest—think salves, tisanes, tinctures, cannabutter, and treats such as CBD gummies. David E. Presti, professor of neurobiology and psychology at UC Berkeley says, "If plants have IQ, cannabis is a genius. This lovely and practical book gracefully describes how to cultivate, support, encourage, and manifest the genius of this remarkable plant."

// $23; penguinrandomhouse.com

The Hard Crowd / Rachel Kushner

Rachel Kushner, author of vibrant novels including The Flamethrowers and The Mars Room, grew up in the Sunset District. In 19 razor-sharp essays, The Hard Crowd spans literary journalism, memoir, cultural criticism, and writing about art and literature, including pieces on Jeff Koons, Denis Johnson, and Marguerite Duras. Kushner takes us on a journey through a Palestinian refugee camp, an illegal motorcycle race down the Baja Peninsula, 1970s wildcat strikes in Fiat factories, her love of classic cars, and her young life in the music scene of her hometown, San Francisco. The closing, eponymous essay is her manifesto on nostalgia, doom, and writing.

// $26; rachelkushner.com

The Murders That Made Us: How Vigilantes, Hoodlums, Mob Bosses, Serial Killers, and Cult Leaders Built the San Francisco Bay Area / Bob Calhoun

Author, journalist, and former punk wrestler and peepshow emcee Bob Calhoun shines a light on the 170-year history of the SF Bay Area told through its crimes and how they intertwine with the city's art, music, and politics. From its earliest days when vigilantes hung perps from downtown buildings to the Zodiac Killer and the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, murder and mayhem have shaped the city into the political and economic force that it is today. The Great 1906 Earthquake shook a city that was already teetering on the brink of a massive prostitution scandal. The Summer of Love ended with a pair of ghastly drug dealer slayings that sent Charles Manson packing for Los Angeles. The 1970s came crashing down with the double tragedy of Jonestown and the assassination by an ex-cop of gay icon Harvey Milk.

// $20; ecwpress.com

By the Light of Burning Dreams: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the Second American Revolution / David Talbot

New York Times bestselling author David Talbot, whose Season of the Witch is a Bay Area history must-read, and New Yorker journalist Margaret Talbot illuminate "America's second revolutionary generation" in this gripping history of one of the most dynamic eras of the 20th century. Based on exclusive interviews, original documents, and archival research, the book explores critical moments in the lives of a diverse cast of iconoclastic leaders of the radical movement: Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers; Heather Booth and the Jane Collective, the first underground feminist abortion clinic; Vietnam War peace activists Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda; Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and the United Farm Workers; Craig Rodwell and the Gay Pride movement; Dennis Banks, Madonna Thunder Hawk, Russell Means and the warriors of Wounded Knee; and John Lennon and Yoko Ono's politics of stardom.

// $29, drops June 8; harpercollins.com

Rock and Roll Explorer Guide to San Francisco and the Bay Area / Mike Katz and Crispin Kott

From the heady days of Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s to today, SFand the Bay Area have provided a distinctive soundtrack to the American experience that has often been confrontational, controversial, enlightening, and always entertaining. Perhaps best known for the '60s psychedelic scene starring the likes of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, and Janis Joplin, the region's rock and roll history twists and turns. The first wave SF punks wrought the Avengers and Dead Kennedys; punk later gripped the East Bay, giving us Green Day and Rancid.

The Bay Area is also where music history happened to artists from almost everywhere else: It is here that the Beatles played their final concert, and here that the Sex Pistols fell apart; the Clash recorded much of their second album, and a drug-addled Keith Moon passed out during a concert by the Who. A guide to the places that shaped the local scene and world-famous sound, the Rock and Roll Explorer Guide to San Francisco and the Bay Area will take you to where music makers lived, rocked, performed, recorded, met, broke up, and much more.
// $25; rowman.com

West Portal / Benjamin Gucciardi

Poet Benjamin Gucciardi (I Ask My Sister's Ghost) grew up in West Portal, which is also one of the names of the Pillars of Heracles—the entryway to the afterworld. Drawing on William Carlos Williams's assertion that "the local is the only thing that is universal," West Portal investigates the Bay Area's urban and rural landscapes along with the memories and people that reside here. Interweaving the narrative of the death of the poet's sister with the environmental and socioeconomic realities of the current moment, the poems in West Portal illuminate the experience of loss, and the attempt to create meaning in the wake of devastation.

// $15, drops July 30; uofupress.lib.utah.edu

Food + Cookbooks by Bay Area Authors

'We Are Each Other's Harvest' examines the history of Black farmers and the community's connection to American land from Emancipation to today.

(Courtesy of @ohemareads)

We Are What We Eat: A Slow Food Manifesto / Alice Waters

The grande dame of California cuisine, Alice Waters urges us to take up the mantle of slow food culture, the philosophy at the core of her life's work. When Waters first opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley in 1971, she did so with the intention of feeding people good food during a time of political turmoil. Customers responded to the locally sourced organic ingredients, to the dishes made by hand, and to the welcoming hospitality that infused the small space.

Over years of working with regional farmers, Waters and her partners learned how geography and seasonal fluctuations affect the ingredients on the menu, as well as about the dangers of pesticides, the plight of fieldworkers, and the social, economic, and environmental threats posed by industrial farming and food distribution. So many of the serious problems we face in the world today—from illness, to social unrest, to economic disparity, and environmental degradation—are all, at their core, connected to food. Waters argues that by eating in a "slow food way," each of us—like the community around her restaurant—can be empowered to prioritize and nurture a different, and better, kind of culture.

// $26, drops June 1; penguinrandomhouse.com

We Are Each Other's Harvest: Celebrating African American Farmers, Land and Legacy / Natalie Baszile

SF Writer's Grotto member Natalie Baszile brings together essays, poems, photographs, quotes, conversations, and first-person stories to examine Black people's connection to American land from Emancipation to today. In the 1920s, there were more than one million black farmers; today there are just 45,000. Baszile, who wrote the best-selling novel Queen Sugar, explores this crisis through the farmers' personal experiences. In their own words, middle aged and elderly Black farmers explain why they continue to farm despite systemic discrimination and land loss. The "Returning Generation"—young farmers who are building upon the legacy of their ancestors—talk about the challenges they face as they seek to redress issues of food justice, food sovereignty, and reparations.

Author Ibram X. Kendi says, "We Are Each Other's Harvest is a groundbreaking and amazing collection of voices that reveal Black people's devotion to agriculture. Expressing our contributions to the world from ground up, it is a tribute to our ancestors and a gift for us and the future. May these words free our soul indefinitely, while keeping our roots strong."

// $30; nataliebaszile.com

The Essential Napa Valley Cookbook / Edited by Jess Lander

Created in partnership with Feed Napa Now, The Essential Napa Valley Cookbook will enable Wine Country lovers to enjoy some of its iconic dishes at home. Featured restaurants and recipes include Gott's ahi burger, Mustards' meatloaf, and Charlie Palmer Steak's lobster corn dogs. Each recipe also has a suggested wine pairing from a Napa Valley producer, selected by Napa Master Sommelier Desmond Echavarrie.

Seventy-five percent of proceeds of this cookbook will go directly to restaurant workers of the participating restaurants who have been devastatingly affected by Covid-19 and subsequent restaurant shutdowns throughout the past year; the remaining proceeds benefit the efforts of Feed Napa Now.

// $40; available for pre-order at napavalleycookbook.com.

New Fiction by Bay Area Authors

'The Bohemians' is a novel based on the life of the young, budding photographer Dorothea Lange and her creative circle in 1920s San Francisco.

(Courtesy of @jdarznik)

The Bohemians / Jasmin Dzarnik

The Bohemians captures a glittering and gritty 1920s San Francisco with a cast of unforgettable characters inspired by real life. In 1918, a young and bright-eyed Dorothea Lange arrives in SF, where a disaster kick-starts a new life. Her friendship with Caroline Lee, a vivacious, straight-talking Chinese American with a complicated past, gives Dorothea entrée into Monkey Block, an artists' colony and the bohemian heart of the city. Dazzled by Lee and her friends, Lange is catapulted into a heady new world of freedom, art, and politics. A vivid and absorbing portrait of the past, it is also eerily resonant with the contemporary themes of anti-immigration sentiment, corrupt politicians, and a devastating pandemic. The gift of friendship and the possibility of self-invention persist against the ferocious pull of history.

Iranian-American Darznik's debut novel, Song of a Captive Bird, was a New York Times Book Review "Editors' Choice" book and a Los Angeles Times bestseller. She is a professor of English and creative writing at California College of the Arts.

// $28; jasmindarznik.com/about

Afterparties / Anthony Veasna So

Seamlessly transitioning between the absurd and the tenderhearted, balancing acerbic humor with sharp emotional depth, Afterparties offers an expansive portrait of the lives of Cambodian-Americans. As the children of refugees carve out radical new paths for themselves in California, they shoulder the inherited weight of the Khmer Rouge genocide and grapple with the complexities of race, sexuality, friendship, and family. The stories in Afterparties, "powered by So's skill with the telling detail, are like beams of wry, affectionate light, falling from different directions on a complicated, struggling, beloved American community," says George Saunders. The book, which offers insight into the intimacy of queer and immigrant communities, is a Roxane Gay's Audacious Book Club Pick.

The Stockton-raised author's book is published posthumously after his death in 2020. His writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in the New Yorker, The Paris Review n+1, Granta, and ZYZZYVA.

// $28, drops August 3; harpercollins.com

Vera / Carol Edgarian

New York Times bestselling author and San Franciscan Carol Edgarian delivers an astonishing feat of imagination, a grand adventure set in 1906 SF—a city leveled by quake and fire—featuring an indomitable heroine coming of age in the aftermath of catastrophe and her quest for love and reinvention. Vera Johnson is the uncommonly resourceful 15-year-old illegitimate daughter of Rose, notorious proprietor of SF's most legendary bordello and ally to the city's corrupt politicians. Vera has grown up straddling two worlds—the madam's alluring sphere replete with tickets to the opera, surly henchmen, and scant morality, and the violent, debt-ridden domestic life of the family paid to raise her. In Vera, Edgarian creates a cinematic, deeply entertaining world, in which honor and fates are tested; notions of sex, class, and justice are turned upside down; and love is hard-won.

Edgarian wrote the New York Times bestseller Three Stages of Amazement and the international bestseller Rise the Euphrate. She is cofounder and editor of Narrative, a nonprofit digital publisher of fiction, poetry, and art, and Narrative in the Schools, which provides free libraries and writing resources to teachers and students around the world

// $28; caroledgarian.com

Victories Greater than Death / Charlie Jane Anders

On the heels of much acclaim for her adult books The City in the Middle of the Night and All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders dips her toes into YA waters with this new sci-fi adventure trilogy Ms. Magazine named one of its Most Anticipated Reads for 2021. The book centers around Tina Main, an average teenager, beloved daughter, and keeper of an interplanetary rescue beacon.

Locally, Anders is well-known for hosting and curating the much-loved Writers with Drinks literary event series. Her TED Talk, "Go Ahead, Dream About the Future," got 700,000 views in its first week. With Annalee Newitz, she co-hosts the podcast "Our Opinions Are Correct."

// $19; charliejaneanders.com

In the Event of Contact / Ethel Rohan

Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, Rohan lives in SF where she received her MFA in fiction from Mills College and is a member of the San Francisco Writer's Grotto. Her new book, In the Event of Contact, contains 14 gripping short stories set in Ireland, England, and America. Among them, a scrappy teen vies to be the next Sherlock Holmes; an immigrant daughter must defend her decision to remain childless; a guilt-ridden woman is haunted by the disappearance of her childhood friend; and a cantankerous crossing guard celebrates getting run over by a truck.

// $17, drops May 18; ethelrohan.com

The President and The Frog / Carolina de Robertis

From the acclaimed author of Cantoras comes a novel about the power of memory and the pursuit of justice. At his modest home on the edge of town, the former president of an unnamed Latin-American country receives a journalist in his famed gardens to discuss his legacy and the dire circumstances that threaten democracy around the globe. Once known as the Poorest President in the World, his reputation is the stuff of myth: a former guerilla who was jailed for inciting revolution before becoming the face of justice, human rights, and selflessness for his nation. Now, as he talks to the journalist, he wonders if he should reveal the strange secret of his imprisonment: While held in brutal solitary confinement, he survived, in part, by discussing revolution, the quest for dignity, and what it means to love a country, with the only creature who ever spoke back--a loud-mouth frog.

An author of Uruguayan origin, de Robertis has written five novels, teaches at SF State University, and lives in Oakland.

// $25, drops Aug. 3; penguinrandomhouse.com

The Wonder Test / Michelle Richmond

Escaping New York City and the espionage case that made her question everything, recently widowed FBI agent Lina Connerly returns home to sell the house she has inherited in Greenfield, California. With her teenage son Rory, Lina hopes to reassemble her life, reevaluate her career, and find a clear way forward. Adrift and battling insomnia, she discovers that her father's sleepy hometown has been transformed into a Silicon Valley suburb on steroids, obsessed with an annual exam called The Wonder Test. When students at her son's high school go missing, reappearing under mysterious circumstances on abandoned beaches, Lina must summon her strength and her investigative instincts, pushing her own ethical boundaries to the limits in order to solve the crimes.

Richmond is the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels and story collections, including The Marriage Pact, Golden State, The Year of Fog, and Hum.

// $26, drops July 6; michellerichmond.com

Of Women and Salt / Gabriela Garcia

From 19th century cigar factories to present-day detention centers, from Cuba to Mexico, Gabriela Garcia's Of Women and Salt is a kaleidoscopic portrait of betrayals―personal and political, self-inflicted and those done by others―that have shaped the lives of extraordinary women. A haunting meditation on the choices of mothers, the legacy of the memories they carry, and the tenacity of women who choose to tell their stories despite those who wish to silence them, this is more than a diaspora story; it is a story of America's most tangled, honest, human roots. "Garcia captures the lives of Cuban women in a world to which they refuse to surrender and she does so with precision and generosity and beauty," says author Roxane Gay.

The daughter of immigrants from Cuba and Mexico, Gabriela was raised in Miami and currently lives in the Bay Area. She is a long-time feminist and migrant justice organizer who has also worked in music and magazines.

// $27; gabrielagarciawriter.com

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