Fri, 20 Jan 2017 21:22:27 UTReading British author Rachel Cusk is like following a trail of tiny diamond chips, then stepping back to discover the trail has expanded into a vast, glittering mosaic. Oddly, the voice delivering this vision can sound close to robotic — measured, systematic, vacuumed of inflection, as if programmed to utter only strictest reportage. Cusk’s ninth novel, “Transit” (the second of a projected trilogy, commencing with her superb “Outline”), posits a narrator, Faye, a writer of approximately Cusk’s age, who has moved to London from the country with her two youngish sons following the breakup of her marriage. “Transit” is organized as a series of Faye’s conversations with individuals who crop up during her efforts to make a new life. In succession, they tell their stories: a former beau, a hairdresser, the building contractor, his assistant, a writing student obsessed with the painter Marsden Hartley, the “Chair” (his only name) of a handful of authors arriving to speak at a book festival in some unnamed, blighted, rainy city. Add in a hapless female friend too discombobulated for the fashion industry that employs her, another writing student compelled to rear a rare breed of dog, and a nameless, thoughtful man who provides momentary comfort to the racked and lonely Faye. [...] perhaps most disturbingly, Faye visits a male cousin whose ersatz good life — in a new marriage combining children from prior marriages — quickly and horribly reveals itself to be riddled with resentment and dysfunction. Here’s a gay youth on a beach in Nice, France, realizing his own budding identity: “He had felt both atomised and on the brink of discovery; both disappointed by what the world had revealed to him and in new, faltering correspondence with some of its elements.” Or she considers those exotic dogs: “...[flowing] silently over the landscapes, light and inexorable as death itself, encroaching unseen and unheard on [their] targets ... [suggesting] that the ultimate fulfillment of a conscious being lay not in solitude but in a shared state so intricate and cooperative it might almost be said to represent the entwining of two selves.” Yet the illusion of meaning recurred, much as you tried to resist it: like childhood ... which we treat as an explanatory text rather than merely as a formative experience of powerlessness. The chilly accuracy of Faye’s gaze cannot completely mask a concurrent, almost grieving compassion.
Fri, 20 Jan 2017 21:22:07 UTRecommendations from Copperfield’s Books Recommendations of recent books from the staffs of a rotating list of Bay Area independent bookstores. Fiction In this rich, daring and haunting novel, Miranda joins a handful of dedicated scientists on the isolated Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco as a nature photographer. Set in Iraq and Syria, with ISIL as a menacing backdrop, this novel beguiles us with charm as we enter a world rent with danger, heartbreak and confusion we Westerners can hardly imagine. What’s fascinating here is not just the information about how sugar works in the body and with diseases, but also the history and politics of the sugar industry. Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live, by Peter Orner: Many books have been written about what a particular writer loves to read, but few have taken us to the level Orner does, where insight and empathy flourish. Essays, by Michael Paterniti: Time to curl up with one of the finest essayists out there today, exploring subjects that intrigue him, from gigantism to genius chefs to earthquakes.
Fri, 20 Jan 2017 21:21:21 UTOn June 6, 2013, Britain’s Guardian newspaper published an explosive story revealing it had obtained official documents showing that the super-secret National Security Agency had been engaging in the “bulk collection” of phone bill records of millions of Americans. Three days later, in a video posted on the Guardian’s website, a 29-year-old employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, a firm contracted to provide tech support to the NSA, declared that he was the source of the documents. From a Hong Kong hotel room, Edward Joseph Snowden claimed the NSA was undermining privacy and democracy around the world. Snowden, already the subject of books, a documentary and a feature film, has been hailed as a hero. Epstein concedes that some of Snowden’s disclosures had positive results but contends that ultimately Snowden was no whistle-blower but was at the least a defector and, wittingly or unwittingly, even part of an elaborate Russian spy operation. (That seemed unlikely to start, and this week Obama commuted the prison sentence of former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning for leaking military secrets but did not act on Snowden’s request.) The book is also timely given the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee and newly inaugurated President Trump’s controversial comments about both Russia and U.S. intelligence agencies. Epstein is a veteran investigative journalist whose previous books have delved into the murky world of intelligence agencies, examining what he calls “the envelope of circumstances surrounding” events such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In Snowden, he employs this methodology in an effort to “walk back the cat,” in spy parlance, and solve the mystery of how a young analyst for the NSA pulled off “the largest theft of secret documents in the history of American intelligence.” Posting under his alias TheTrueHooHa, he boasted that he precision-shaped his body with weight lifting, practiced martial arts and had blond hair “with volume.” In May 2004, at age 20, Snowden enlisted in the Army Reserve as a special forces recruit. Epstein says he did not meet minimum CIA standards and suggests he got the job through his grandfather, a career Coast Guard man and top intelligence official. Rather than face a security investigation, Snowden resigned, which left his top secret security clearance intact. The CIA did not share personnel information with private firms, so Dell didn’t know why he’d left the CIA. Snowden decided to apply for a senior job in the NSA, hacked into the system and stole the entrance exam, a breach that went undetected for a year. (The NSA would say it had no record of that.) He began wearing a jacket to work with a modified insignia that showed the NSA eagle clutching AT&T phone lines. [...] order, Snowden managed to get passwords to 24 separate compartments of Level 3 documents so sensitive NSA officials call them “the Keys to the Kingdom.” The documents Snowden purloined from the NSA would be the basis for a spate of stories revealing an astonishing range of electronic spying not only by the NSA but by its British counterpart, the GCHQ. According to Epstein, Snowden had obtained no visas, “strongly” suggesting he was headed to Moscow all along. [...] this spy story leaves us with the most obvious facts — and troubling questions. The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), winner of the 2013 American Book Award.
Fri, 20 Jan 2017 21:19:59 UT[...] each one of those cigarettes meant something ... a signal, medication, a stimulant or a sedative, they were a plaything, an accessory, a fetish object, something to help pass the time, a memory aid, a communication tool or an object of meditation. Hens’ memories — spun as stories, for he is a piquant, enchanting storyteller — follow one after another, though not before they have been surgically dissected for elements of self-discovery lurking in that memory’s cigarette. [...] Will Self’s introduction is a gloriously mad prelude, dragging luxuriously, gratifyingly on tobaccos of “Stygian darkness and Samsonian strength,” which, the nicotine rapidly absorbed, jump-starts the nasty state of withdrawal, “and thus mistakes the relief of these symptoms” — firing up the next cig — “for the semblance of pleasure.” Hens’ stories are like immersions into post-post-World War II Germany, so add that particular light and air. Hens steals a puff, and in that first head rush detects “a living entity within me,” an out-of-body perception of self and well-being. While Hens searches for his addiction’s source — genetics, Freudian, exposure — and submits to hypnosis’ trance, he offers flashes of Cigarette Power: equipping the heroes of his novels with “distinctive tobacco wares,” like Black Devil brand, or relapsing to enjoy the nicotine “crackling in my brain like a thousand tiny explosions ... this magnificent firework,” even contemplating that “if something bad, something really awful happened, I could start smoking again.” Despite qualms that the last cigarette might extinguish his access to literarily fertile material, “Nicotine” is proof positive that Hens still has the stuff.
Fri, 20 Jan 2017 21:19:40 UTJohnson, who was born and raised in Marin County and has taught writing to teens, follows a group of kids as they struggle their way toward adulthood, but these are no ordinary kids. [...] under the constant tourniquet pressure from parents and teachers to succeed, and the even more relentless demands from peers to fall in line or risk social banishment, life becomes a tsunami waiting to unfurl. The novel begins with a tragedy in eighth grade, starring Calista, 13 years old, a bright girl who has a crush on Ryan, who believes his handsomeness has destined him for greatness. Any adult receiving a letter like that would know to grab hold of such depth, but at 13, Calista can’t risk following her feelings, she can’t become more outlier than she already is, and so, in the novel’s most tragic moment, she becomes complicit in a plot with the others to ruin the one boy who not only had real substance, but who really might have made her life richer. In her need to be liked, to be the kind of hip mentor she wished that she herself had had, she friends kids on Facebook, even as she is dealing with parents who tell her that her “homework is really out of line.” Johnson sprinkles in text messages, Facebook posts Hmm well u don’t want to be too cling. Under those headings boil hidden meanings, exhuming the teenage truth about social media, sex, alcohol and drugs. Impossibly funny and achingly sad, Johnson’s novel makes you remember every humiliation you ever suffered while in school, and every terrifyingly bad decision you ever made. There’s a reason why teenage years may be our most intense, and in this wise, dangerous, and yes, occasionally cruel debut, Johnson cracks open adolescent angst with adult sensibility and sensitivity. Adolescence here is a prison term, and if you’re lucky you can find your keys and get yourself out, as unscarred as possible, clutching your scrap of hope, realizing, as Calista says, that despite all that has happened, she “is going on and trying, like everyone, to live in this beautiful world.” The first of the South Korean author’s works to be translated into English, the book’s lurid and haunting story describes the shocking physical and psychological deterioration of an otherwise dutiful housewife who, to the shame of her social mores-abiding family, stops eating meat in an effort to transform herself into a tree. Critics called it “ferocious,” a “mesmerizing mix of sex and violence.” [...] the simultaneously grotesque and bizarrely beautiful images Han evokes throughout are unlike anything you’ll find in modern literature. In response, the southern city of Gwangju became the nexus of mass demonstrations and political unrest as students and unionized workers joined together to oppose the oppressive regime. In the words of one of the book’s characters, the army “had been given the means to drive a bullet into the body of every person in the city twice over.” Some sources estimate that anywhere between 200 (according to the military) and 2,000 (according to foreign press reports) civilians were killed during the massacre. [...] Han builds upon copious research and a return trip to her childhood home — she lived in Gwangju in the house of Dong-ho, one of her characters, until she was 9 — to reimagine the events that transpired over those hellacious days and in the years following the uprising. In hopes of finding a friend whom he was with during the demonstrations, Dong-ho joins a group of bleary-eyed middle school-through-college-age volunteers in a makeshift gymnasium morgue to separate out, tag and clean heaping piles of bloated corpses before they can be identified by relatives. In a 1990 interview with a professor writing a dissertation on the topic, a survivor speaks of the unimaginable beatings he endured at the hands of the police. [...] the voice of Dong-ho’s murdered friend, looking on as his body is thrown into a truck [...]
Fri, 20 Jan 2017 21:18:05 UTAnastasia Aukeman “Bruce Connor & the Rat Bastard Protective Association.” Blane Bachelor & friends “Lonely Planet Travel Anthology.” 2 p.m. Bird & Beckett Books & Records, 653 Cheneryt St., S.F. (415) 586-3733. www.birdbeckett.com. Laura Anne Gilman “The Cold Eye.” 3 p.m. Borderlands Books, 866 Valencia St., S.F. www.borderlands-books.com. Julie King “How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen.” Jonathan Moore “The Dark Room.” 3 p.m. Diesel, 5433 College Ave., Oakland. Will Schwalbe “Books for Living.” 4 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Walter Alvarez, Lisa Krieger “A Most Improbable Journey: A Big History of Our Planet and Ourselves.” Commonwealth Club, 555 Post St., S.F. (415) 597-6705. www.commonwealthclub.org. Henry Hampton and “Eyes on the Prize,” the Landmark Television Series That Reframed the Civil Rights Movement. 6:30 p.m. UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, 121 North Gate Hall Library, Berkeley. www.booksinc.net. Martin and Dorothy Hellman “A New Map for Relationships.” 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team. Will Schwalbe “The End of Your Life Book Club.” 7:30 p.m. Kepler’s Books and Magazines, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park. Tamim Ansari Road Trips: Brian Fishman, Kori Schake “The Master Plan: ISIS, al-Quaeda, and the Jihadi Strategy for Final Victory.” 6:30 p.m. Commonwealth Club, 555 Post St., S.F. (415) 597-6705. www.commonwealthclub.org. 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. An Orphan X Novel. 7 p.m. Books Inc., 74 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto. How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference In My Mood, My Marraige, and My Life. 7:30 p.m. Kepler’s Books and Magazines, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park. Colson Whitehead, Alexis Madrigal “The Underground Railroad.” Linda Carucci, Alice Medrich Carucci’s Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks: [...] Edition, and Medrich’s Guittard Chocolate Cookbook: Decadent Recipes from San Francisco’s Premium Bean-To-Bar Chocolate Company. Kepler’s Books and Magazines, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park. 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. 7 p.m. Books Inc., 74 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto. Will Schwalbe “Books for Living.” 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. YANovCon Kickoff Party Gretchen McNeil, Jessica Brody, B.T. Gottfried and Martha Brockenbrough are featured. 7 p.m. Books Inc., 601 Van Ness Ave., S.F. (415) 776-1111. www.booksinc.net. The host of “This American Life” shares stories and recordings offering a glimpse at his creative process. 7:30 and 10 p.m. Nourse Theater, 275 Hayes St., S.F. (415) 392-4400. www.cityarts.net. Pablo Hidalgo, Kemp Remillad Star Wars: 3 p.m. Kepler’s Books and Magazines, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park. YANovCon Young Adult Novelist Convention featuring Alexis Bass, Martha Brockenbrough, Jessica Brody, I.W. Gregorio, Ann Jacobus, Sephanie Kuehn, Gretchen McNeil, Neal Shusterman, Andrew Smith, Mariko Tamaki and more. 1-5 p.m. Millbrae Library, 1 Library Ave., Millbrae. www.smcl.org/yanovcon.
Fri, 20 Jan 2017 21:17:49 UTOddly enough, the fiercely libertarian Koch family owed part of its fortune to two of history’s most infamous dictators, Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler. The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, now in paperback, by Jane Mayer Even though he stood in the hot, congested airport among bodies squirming and sweating and hurrying to claim their luggage before anyone else, I determined that the imposing man, now walking toward me, was my host, a handsome man, probably in his mid-thirties, dressed casually — khaki pants, a pale-blue shirt. “At the Edge of the World,” a novel, now in paperback, by Tracy Chevalier
Fri, 20 Jan 2017 21:17:37 UTYet, if I say this is a novel “about motherhood,” it’s shunted off into women’s fiction, as if the building and dissolution of families is just domestic drama. In these intertwined stories of two women and the little boy they both love, readers also must face the different values we assign to human lives based on their economic power and their immigration status. The Berkeley of “Lucky Boy” is a loving mix of town and gown, progressive politics and serious privilege. Soli’s employer clumsily seeks sisterhood across class lines, sharing her birth video in one perfect moment of horrifying hilarity that will make local readers nod and cringe. Upon the birth of Soli’s son, Sekaran’s evocation of the sublime terror of parenthood is unmatched: He was smallest at night, when shadows lapped at his edges. When misfortune brings Soli’s undocumented status to the attention of law enforcement, her citizen son is whisked away. How else could one mother? Rishi’s more cautious approach to the challenging circumstances allows us crucial distance from Kavya’s emotional tunnel vision. More significantly, in the brutish monotony of her imprisonment, Soli narrows into a character more symbolic than individual, a circumstance with a human face. [...] these off notes do not sour the engrossing and wrenching story of the heartfelt fight over the fate of one lucky boy. Shanthi Sekaran has written a tender, artful story of the bravery of loving in the face of certain grief, and there’s nothing more certain than the eventual separation of every mother from her child.
Fri, 20 Jan 2017 15:00:00 UT
‘Let Them Not Say,’ a poem by By Jane Hirshfield Jane Hirshfield wrote this poem well before the presidential inauguration and without the event in mind. [...] she writes, “it seems a day worth remembering the fate of our shared planet and all its beings, human and beyond. Let them not say: they did not taste it. Let them not say: they did nothing. A kerosene beauty. Let them say we warmed ourselves by it, read by its light, praised, [...] it burned. Jane Hirshfield’s most recent books are the poetry collection “The Beauty” and Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World, both published by Knopf in 2015. Email: email@example.com
Tue, 17 Jan 2017 02:31:14 UTCity Lights, long at the forefront of progressive causes, is once again determined to challenge the status quo. Known the world over for defending its publication of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” (deemed obscene by the police), the North Beach bookstore has created a new section devoted to resistance reading in the Trump era. Pedagogies of Resistance, as the section is titled, “is designed to act as an educational course in revolutionary competence,” the store writes.
Fri, 13 Jan 2017 20:25:17 UTNo one had ever heard the song and lived, but Odysseus figured that if he got his men to bind him with rope to the ship’s mast, he’d be safe. Where addiction memoirs are often written from a place of safety, “Sirens” is not. In his mind, sober or not, Mohr is still bound to the mast, fighting. On the printed page, self-destruction and relapse are literal inches away. “Drugs and drink and strokes and heart surgery,” he says to his wife. In a restaurant, for example, when Mohr interviews another writer, he blurts out that he wants a scotch and soda. Chaotic inner conflict about the drink is stylized with line-breaks and combinationsofwords. On the tape all he hears is 45 minutes of “two writers talking shop, bulls—ing about books.” There’s a sadistic stepfather, and a mother who leaves her son at home with pizza money and boxed wine. [...] the hole is big enough to let blood clots travel through to his brain, causing potentially fatal strokes. Forsmann, in real life, invented the cardiac procedure that would eventually plug the hole in Mohr’s heart. “Sirens” gives a picture of Mohr’s life as a balancing act with real danger and consequences. There’s nothing at all calcified or fossilized here, and Mohr makes himself likable and compelling and charming, with a real ear for fast-moving unsentimental language.
Fri, 13 Jan 2017 18:57:44 UTJohnson, who was born and raised in Marin County and has taught writing to teens, follows a group of kids as they struggle their way toward adulthood, but these are no ordinary kids. [...] under the constant tourniquet pressure from parents and teachers to succeed, and the even more relentless demands from peers to fall in line or risk social banishment, life becomes a tsunami waiting to unfurl. Any adult receiving a letter like that would know to grab hold of such depth, but at 13, Calista can’t risk following her feelings, she can’t become more outlier than she already is, and so, in the novel’s most tragic moment, she becomes complicit in a plot with the others to ruin the one boy who not only had real substance, but who really might have made her life richer. In her need to be liked, to be the kind of hip mentor she wished that she herself had had, she friends kids on Facebook, even as she is dealing with parents who tell her that her “homework is really out of line.” Johnson sprinkles in text messages, Facebook posts Hmm well u don’t want to be too cling. Under those headings boil hidden meanings, exhuming the teenage truth about social media, sex, alcohol and drugs. There’s a reason why teenage years may be our most intense, and in this wise, dangerous, and yes, occasionally cruel debut, Johnson cracks open adolescent angst with adult sensibility and sensitivity. Adolescence here is a prison term, and if you’re lucky you can find your keys and get yourself out, as unscarred as possible, clutching your scrap of hope, realizing, as Calista says, that despite all that has happened, she “is going on and trying, like everyone, to live in this beautiful world.”
Thu, 12 Jan 2017 22:59:46 UTBarber, an artist and teacher, pointed out that in that same week “there were probably a half dozen other gatherings, exact same idea — maybe not artistic necessarily, but just brainstorming, political; what are we going to do; how are we going to react.” The group has formed organically, with each person contributing skills toward the project and helping to define its vision. Whereas the Trump plan is written to be vague and to just electrify people and flatten out meaning, art is already something that does that: The core began to meet weekly; among its 15 members are an activist, an elementary school teacher, a neuroscientist and a software designer. An open meeting is scheduled for noon Saturday, Jan. 14, at Royal Nonesuch Gallery, where the project is in residence through Feb. 15. The gallery will also host the 100 Days Action Inaugural Ball on Jan. 20; anyone can take the oath of office over the book of their choice. Why There Are Words celebrates its seventh anniversary with readings by Tamim Ansary (“Road Trips”), Rebecca Foust (“Paradise Drive”), Joan Frank (“All the News I Need”), Kate Milliken (“If I’d Known You Were Coming”), Joshua Mohr (“Sirens”), Naomi J. Wiliams (“Landfalls”) and Olga Zilberbourg, author of several books of fiction in Russian, and music by Turk & Divis (7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12, Studio 333, 333 Caledonia St. Sausalito, $10). Diesel, A Bookstore presents its Fresh and Best Poetry series, with Tongo Eisen-Martin (“Someone’s Dead Already”) and Wendy Trevino (“Brazilian Is Not a Race”) (7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, 5433 College Ave., Oakland, free). Writers With Drinks features Sara Benincasa (“Real Artists Have Day Jobs”), Jeff Chang (“We Gon’ Be Alright”), Antonio Garcia Martinez Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley, Wendy C. Ortiz (“dreamoir”), Aya de Leon (“Uptown Thief”) and comedian Jennifer Dronsky, with guest host Baruch Porras Hernandez (7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St., $5-$20). www.writerswithdrinks.com. Bay Area Writers Resist, in concert with an international movement and co-presented by nearly a dozen local organizations, presents an evening of readings with a lineup that includes Jane Hirshfield, Bich Minh Nguyen, D.A. Powell, Ishmael Reed, Kevin Simmonds and many others, a benefit for International Institute of the Bay Area, Southern Poverty Law Center and Transgender Law Center 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 15, Starline Social Club, 2236 MLK Jr.
Thu, 12 Jan 2017 20:47:49 UTWhat binds Roxane Gay’s 21 short stories in “Difficult Women” is that they are told with direct, plainspoken intimacy — the same voice that makes her personal essays so compulsively readable. Gay treats the power dynamics of gender, economics and race with a clear-eyed sobriety regardless of whether everything else in the world of the story is tinged with magic. Gay references the tropes of onscreen romantic comedies and dramas and wields their narrative strategies to say something more interesting about the connections between people than the source material does. With his initially funny rap-fueled fetish of black women, he would read broadly — like a villain in a made-for-television movie — if sexual violence of every kind were not so appallingly common and underreported in our actual world. The resulting political fiction indicts white supremacy and patriarchy. Gay’s stories sometimes rely on shorthand in lieu of actual conversations, defying a rule of contemporary literary fiction that dictates finding the universal through the particular. [...] in “Bone Density,” about a marriage in which both spouses are having affairs, a narrator says, “I’ve cooked us dinner and we’ve made the small talk married people who know each other too well make.” An inclination to combine fairy tales with social critique is one that the author has followed since her small-press debut story collection “Ayiti.” The addictive, moving and risk-taking stories of “Difficult Women” provide a release valve for our collective dark anxieties and fantasies.
Thu, 12 Jan 2017 20:34:52 UTTed McKay was about to put a bullet through his brain when the doorbell rang. “Kill the Next One,” a novel by Federico Axat The box arrived on my doorstep, small and unassuming. “A Word for Love,” a novel by Emily Robbins It began with a spark, an electrical break like the first murmur of a weakening heart that would soon unhinge the body, until its conflagration at last consumed the whole building. “Night of Fire,” a novel by Colin Thurbon