I’ve been thinking a lot about growing up lately. My 30’s have been entered. My mindset and lifestyle might be a figurative punk house, but I have the kind of jobs that grownups get, there’s some money in my savings account, and my hair is dyed a single color and cut relatively symmetrically. I shop from the grownups section of the thrift store and I own practical “work” shoes that had triple-digit price tags (before I got them on sale! ha!)
My late teens and early and mid-twenties were speckled with Michelle Tea’s plethora of writing and literary events around San Francisco. She was writing about lives like mine ( but in a really smart and creative way that made things like being dead broke or having mice seem a little romantic even when it was the worst), and was also cultivating this crazy extensive movement of writers in similar boats in the turbulent waters of unlikely to be published in the mainstream. I learned about so many awesome artists and writers! Thanks dude! My life is so much richer with all your work!
So I was really excited when I learned that How to Grow Up was coming out. It’s her first on a mainstream publisher, so I was really interested to see what this meant for an otherwise mostly indie and small press kind of author. I went to the book release event, bought the book, read it. Some of the chapters are ridiculously awesomely written! They are hilarious and relevant and poignant and all that. The book it “worth” the $ for those alone. My impression is that other chapters (none are bad, but some I wouldn’t consider “required reading”) might be a result of some weird thing with the publisher or the editor or something who was like “write me a whole chapter about XXXXXX” (even if there maybe needn’t be a whole chapter). Or “give me X more pages in this section!” There was also a weird inconsistency between the chapters re: how openly queer they were. It’s hard not to see everyone’s business in a small place like San Francisco, so I knew who many of her pseudonymous characters were standing in for– and Tea has the right to write a memoir however she wants to– but I had the distinct feeling that there may have been some editor action making sections seem way more hetero than they were originally intended to be– in an attempt to make the book more broadly appealing. I’m sure this happens all the time in publishing, but.
But over all, it was good! Check it out!
Just a quickie (even though I think this book deserves more) :
If you’re looking for a super-smart teen protagonist, good (both rich and witty) dialogue, and lots of feelings, check out Beau, Lee, The Bomb, and Me. Our protagonist Rylee is super-smart, but fat and an outcast at school– she ends up going on a surprise road trip to San Francisco with Beau, a bullied gay kid at her school, and Leonie, her bff (of circumstance) who’s basically the class ho with a heart of gold (and as it turns out, lots of really good qualities).
While I didn’t find the entirety of the story 100% believable, lots of the different parts are really heartfelt, interesting, and awesome. Read it. You’ll get through it in about a day, and you’ll totally be googling the author to see if there is more. check it outtttt! Or buy it. It’s on sale for under $7.
I kinda bought this one on impulse when I went on vacation and read though the book I brought faster than expected. Glad that happened!
If you like postmodern/experimental lit or queer lit or feminist lit or lit in general you should check this one out. There are two distinct parts and they’re about the same person but they’re both really different. The narrator is not always reliable, and don’t expect to ever fully touch down in the plot. But. What the author has done with language and feeling is really awesome, and was enough to keep me reading and fascinated. The idea of re-reading a book generally makes me feel a little sick inside (I will never be that person who says they’ve read Jkjsdfghkjl x many times because they love it so much), especially when we have so many choices– but I’m kinda tempted, now that I’ve got the plot down, to go back through this one and savor the language and style a little more.
The Tales of the City books were a big part of the wonderful literary freakshow that lured me (so passionately) to San Francisco over a decade ago. I loved that they were fast-paced and full of quirk– but still really, really real in their dealings with stuff like AIDS. They kept me awake, encouraged me to explore the city once I arrived, and made me feel so lucky to peer in on other people’s lives (even if they were fictional people).
The Days of Anna Madrigal marks the end of the series, as Anna is now an old woman (no longer independent, but still totally brilliant), and the other remaining originals are middle-aged (but not boring). Included elements and mentions are: more detail into Anna’s past, burning man, feminist blogging, San Francisco’s current gentrification…
I really enjoyed this book and had a hard time putting it down to do things like shower and go to work. Sometimes “final” books of series can feel like let downs, but this one didn’t. It’s up to the minute, tender, funny, and still a little mysterious. If you haven’t read its predecessors, read them first.
Get a copy here.
Yokohama Threeway is great because it’s funny. But it’s also low-commitment. Of the fifty-ish vignettes, few of them are longer than a couple pages.
The premise is embarrassing moments, like that one thing you did 6 years ago and are still cringing over. But 50-ish of them. And all of them make you think thank goodness it wasn’t me. Phew! They’re basically little 3-minute bursts of Maybe I’m not too fucked up after all (even if it’s a lie to yourself).
The cover of this book is so fairytale blah, but don’t let that deter you!
After her popular and outgoing twin’s death, shy and awkward Olivia and her parents have moved to an old Victorian in San Francisco to start fresh. Alas, the tragedy brings out the worst in each of her parents, their family structure continues to crumble, and Olivia feels terribly sad and alone.
BUT a bit of magic enters her life in a surprising way, and suddenly Olivia has some of the support she needs to start moving on. In addition to the magic, there’s a good deal of real-life stuff that is fairly interesting– and readers who know San Francisco will be amused by identifying different subtle landmarks (and piecing together the sometimes “creative” merging of them). The story is reminiscent of something that Francesca Lia Block might write, but the language is completely different.
In my opinion the mention of clothing brand names weaken the story a bit, as does the too-tidy ending. But all in all, it was a solid amusement that had me looking up the author as soon as I finished.
The cover picture is totally anachronistic.The story takes place in the 80’s, and somewhere in this YA novel’s 3o9 pages, it mentions big bangs and Aquanet (whereas the model has reasonable hair and totally 2000’s eyebrows). And what’s up with the ocean in the background? The meat of the story is in San Francisco’s Richmond District, and the ocean is only fleetingly mentioned like once. But gripes aside.
So Frances attends all-girl Catholic school and lives in a 1-bedroom apartment with her mom in the Richmond in SF (totally exciting fame moment if you live in the City). She’s super sheltered, and at 17, has really only been to the Richmond, Chinatown, and Downtown maybe a little bit. Her mom’s pretty strict and intense (and abusive), and plan is for Frances to take Calculus, get straight A’s, and go to Berkeley to become a doctor. The plan goes into action without much fanfare until oops, quiet, obedient Frances takes a public speaking class instead of Calculus and starts winning competitions. Her mom is pissed. In classic YA novel fashion, everything else collides too…
It’s a pretty typical coming of age story, the protagonist is reasonably likable, and she makes choices that you’ll support. Some of the plot was kind of meh, but you know. It won’t necessarily change your life– but the 1980’s san francisco scenery will make you happy.
get a copy here
I reserved this book from the library as soon as I finished Drinking At The Movies. Upon checking it out, I read it in like 2 seconds. This volume brings us from childhood to the present-ish, and back again. It’s in 3 segments:
1. Industry (crappy and awesome jobs through Wertz’s life. lots of food industry stuff that I could seriously relate to)
2. The Infinite Wait (moving to SF and getting a diagnosis and living and stuff. oh, san francisco. The author and I may have some different opinions about homelessness, but the rest was lovely)
3. A Strange and Curious Place (about the hometown and the hometown library. yay libraries.)
I liked this one just as much as I liked the other one; I pretty much sat down with it and didn’t get back up until I was finished reading it (when I was doing other things I was totally thinking about getting back to it). The illustrations are alluring, the pace is good, the plot is engaging, and I want more.
I really like this graphic memoir by Julia Wertz (of Fart Party, which is not about farts). I’m really tired and I have a headache so I’m not gonna write much– but if you like attractively illustrated creative & cynical misanthropes, awkward bluntness, and truth that is sometimes hilarious and sometimes sad, Wertz is totally your cartoonist. After finishing this book, I immediately sought out more.
Really, I’ve only read one book since August 15th? Kind of tragic, considering it only took a couple days to read. What was I doing, starting a new school semester and having a life or something?
August 16th was my ten-year anniversary in San Francisco. After stalking the place over the period of a few years in a number of ill-planned (but exhilarating) teenage trips here, I finally arrived with a couple suitcases, $300 of student loan money, and a chunk of credit card debt at age 20. When I arrived the air was thinner and colder that where I came from but I felt like I could fully breathe for the first time in my life.
Back then, in 2003, we didn’t have as much of an internet yet. You learned about a place through visits, hearsay, and literature– not the google. Shortly after arriving I used fake ID to go to a $10 benefit at 12 Galaxies I think for Tom Ammiano who was running for Mayor at the time. I learned about it on the Queer Things To Do In San Francisco website, which I leaned about from the Kill Rock Stars site (which if I recall, was purple and hella 1990’s at the time). I took Muni for like an hour and stood alone up on the balcony and watched all these people who I’d been reading books and articles by and about, listening to their cds for years. So much of the obscure stuff that I’d loved as a teenager came together on that stage that night (and apparently all the time around the city, I was thrilled to gradually learn). It wasn’t the sea lions and the golden gate bridge– it was this kind of energy, what these people (artists/queers) were doing and saying– the possibility and energy and politix that their work/art was creating that drew me in.
Compared to San Francisco’s present day circumstance of a jockish yuppie invasion, laughably high rents (fingers crossed my rent control continues), and so many wonderful memories getting replaced with high-end restaurants (that “gentrification” has reached such a point of ubiquity that it seems trite to complain about)– such magic/art/possibility was in the air then. I could feel it.
But, see, recently I read works by by ex/San Franciscans maybe 10 or 12 years my senior, and it turns out that 10 years ago (when I was all full of wonder) they felt the exact same way as I do now. For them, even then, it had gotten too gentrified and fake and yuppie compared to what they started off with. So I think a big part of it is perception. So many of us come to San Francisco to save ourselves. I did. And maybe after we’ve done the basic work of resuscitating, learning to breathe again, making memories in the process– we have time to look around and realize that things are actually fucked up? I’m not sure yet, I guess I’m still figuring it out.
What I’ve gotten so far is that it’s important to support the things that you think are important, if you can (book stores, independent businesses, arts). What I’m starting to get is that new things can be amazing, too. Not the bourgie yuppie crap that’s implanting itself on every corner these days– but new arts spaces, new writers, new organizations, new events. It’s so easy to get caught in a cycle of dwelling on how all the good things in the past are gone. Sure, lots of them are– but awesome things remain and are being born every day– and also, you can make them too.
I guess this was supposed to be a book review for The End of San Francisco. Maybe in some kind of slanted way, it is. I bought this book at Modern Times (which has moved into a smaller space on 24th street, and is currently contemplating whether it has a future or not). It’s a stream of conscious-y memoir about activism, abuse, queer family, San Francisco. It flows back and forth through time, sometimes on the same page without warning, which is fine. People and places are given their real names, and those with pseudonyms are easy to decipher. The book ends but I’m not sure that the story’s over.