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‘Inferno’ is like a vacation — a brain vacation

Thu, 27 Oct 2016 20:23:47 UT

The movie presents us with a series of popular destinations, all of which are photographed exquisitely, and over and over we find ourselves thinking, “Oh, I’ve been there! I remember that!” Or “That looks great, I have to go there.” [...] as we’re admiring the sights, people are shooting at Tom Hanks. [...] if you put monetary considerations aside (which is a little like pushing a gorilla to the side), the movie almost qualifies as an act of collective altruism: Director Ron Howard and a talented cast set out to entertain — and succeed — all the while knowing that their reputations are not exactly going to be enhanced by this enterprise. The movie begins the festivities by throwing us into a surefire situation. A nice young doctor (Felicity Jones) tells him that his head was grazed by a bullet, that someone tried to kill him, and that the trauma has resulted in a temporary state of amnesia. Next thing you know, an assassin shows up at the hospital, and the doctor is pushing a very tired, disoriented symbols professor down the stairs, out the door and into the cab. For the sake of our children and our children’s children, he wants to kill half the people on the planet. Not only are private assassins in pursuit, but so are the Italian police, members of an elite security firm and emissaries of the World Health Organization. Shifts in plot and character reversals arrive with a will of their own, and it becomes entertaining just to watch the actors try to find logical justifications for the utter nonsense coming out of their mouths. Brown tosses garbage out of a speeding car, and each time, the actors catch it and arrange it beautifully before it hits the ground. The movie wants us to believe that a Swiss WHO doctor is Langdon’s great love, and of course that makes sense, not because Langdon would ever meet such a woman, but because we saw the same actress — Knudsen — with Hanks in “Hologram for the King.” [...] if that were to happen, you’d want costume designer Julian Day picking out your clothes.

Recommended reading, Oct. 30

Thu, 27 Oct 2016 17:12:16 UT

Television A Biography Thomson has written an enthralling and very necessary book about a complex medium. Nonstop Metropolis University of California Press; 224 pages; $49.95 hardcover; $29.95 paperback Solnit’s third in a series of atlases devoted to great American cities is both an exquisite piece of art and an insightful portrait of a wonderful, maddening place. Ecco; 528 pages; $26.99 Boyle uses the Biosphere 2 experiment in the 1990s as a springboard for a novel about science, sex and the difficulty of maintaining balance, be it ecological or psychological. In Dermansky’s melancholy but sharply witty novel, a young woman arrives in San Francisco for a funeral and experiences the strange duality of visiting a place she once lived.

Literary guide, Oct. 30

Thu, 27 Oct 2016 17:04:36 UT

Recipes and Stories From a Modern Diner. 3 p.m. Borderlands Books, 866 Valencia St., S.F. Elizabeth Lesser “Marrow.” 4 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Andres Neuman “How to Travel Without Seeing.” Laurence A. Rickels “The Psycho Records.” 5 p.m. City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave., S.F. (415) 362-8193. Mike Stax “Swim Through the Darkness,” 7 p.m. Green Apple Books 506 Clement St., S.F. (415) 387-2272. Mac Barnett “The Magic Wand.” Frances Dinkelspiel Tangled Vines: Greed, Murder, Obsession, and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California. 12:30 p.m. Book Passage, One Ferry Building, S.F. (415) 835-1020.; 6 p.m. $131.40 includes a Chinese feast. Constance Hale “The Natives Are Restless: A San Francisco Dance Master Takes Hula Into the Twenty-First Century.” 7 p.m. Diesel, 5433 College Ave., Oakland. 7 p.m. Diesel, 2419 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur. 7:30 p.m. Kepler’s Books and Magazines, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park. Terri Tate “A Crooked Smile.” 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Diane Ehrensaft, Lisa Kenney “Creating Gender Sensitive and Inclusive Environments for All Children and Teens.” A Celebration of Elena Ferrante A tribute to the “Neapolitan Novels.” 5 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Isaac Fitzgerald, Wendy MacNaughton Knives & Ink: Michael Krasny “Let There Be Laughter: A Treasury of Great Jewish Humor and What It All Means.” 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Jeremiah Tower, Amanda Haas Table Manners: Gerald Nachman “Showstoppers!” 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. 11 a.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. 5 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera.

‘We Gon’ Be Alright,’ by Jeff Chang

Wed, 26 Oct 2016 20:48:30 UT

Late in Jeff Chang’s third book, “We Gon’ Be Alright,” a collection of mostly low-energy essays that too frequently reads like a Current Events for Dummies textbook about resegregation, he writes of himself: “You are the Asian American face of hip-hop scholarship, or some such s— like that.” “We Gon’ Be Alright” is structured in seven arbitrary sections that content themselves to narrate the recent past, ranging from the student protests at the University of Missouri and Yale to skirmishes over affirmative action to the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. In an essay titled “Vanilla Cities and Their Chocolate Suburbs,” Chang speaks of the black experience as one of categorical poverty and strife. Yet Chang, who directs the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford, seems unaware of urban spaces in America — beyond the segregated Bay Area — where black communities are thriving, places as far away as Atlanta or Brooklyn, but also closer to home in parts of Los Angeles. [...] he is silent about the complicated loyalties and realities of the kind of educated and upwardly mobile black professionals who are themselves displacing the poor all over Washington, D.C., and Harlem. [...] if Chang, a Hawaiian of mixed-Asian ancestry with a penchant for ebonics, struggles to visualize 21st century black people in all of our fullness and contradiction, it is a symptom of a larger flaw of sensibility. To borrow James Baldwin’s phrasing from “Everybody’s Protest Novel,” one gets the impression he can’t help but apply to whatever matter is at hand a relentless tsk-tsking that is “moral, neatly framed, and incontestable, like those improving mottoes found hanging on the walls of furnished rooms.” Like Coates, though, he hits on his most engaging, expressive prose when using the second person to access his own life experiences and youthful identity crises before panning out to the broader complexity of Asian Americanness in general. “You and your folks put Tabasco sauce in your saimin and ate your BBQ mix plate with chopsticks,” he writes with real feeling. Sometimes you scroll through your Facebook page, and your Black or Chicano friends have posted a video or a quote or a news item of Black or Chicano folks doing something beautiful, ironic, or sad under the line ‘I love us.’

Inside story: Abbi Jacobson’s sly peek into pockets of the famed

Wed, 26 Oct 2016 20:48:22 UT

The writer, actor and illustrator has made the purse and pocket contents of famous figures — both real and imagined — the focus of her new coffee-table book, “Carry This Book.” Each spread features the nuanced bric-a-brac and personal effects of characters ranging from rap mogul Jay Z to Albert Einstein. For Jacobson, one of the creators and stars of Comedy Central’s “Broad City,” choosing which people to profile was an early challenge. For fans of “Broad City,” it will come as no surprise that Jacobson’s book is filled with humorous asides and details that reflect the candor and vibe of her hit television show. Drawn in vibrant colors, the pages of “Carry This Book” reveal that Vogue Editor in Chief Anna Wintour is a fan of Chipotle burritos, and that Kanye West keeps all of his thoughts neatly secured on a portable thumb drive. While I was researching him, I didn’t know that while a lot of stuff he said was hugely inspirational and important, a lot of it was also really racist to a lot of other people. The spread for drag queen and reality show host RuPaul, for instance, includes a script for an episode of “Broad City’s” upcoming fourth season. Before their show on Comedy Central, she and Glazer would often perform at the New York City wing of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, and Jacobson says that her improvisatory tendencies have carried into her art. In “Carry This Book,” she makes an effort to point out mistakes on the page, circling where one of her markers went dry or a spot required heavy erasing.

Paul Beatty wins Man Booker Prize for ‘The Sellout’

Tue, 25 Oct 2016 21:57:20 UT

The novelist Paul Beatty has become the first American to win the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the world. Beatty was awarded for his biting satire “The Sellout,” which The Chronicle named one of its top 10 books of 2015.

‘Ghosts’ author Telgemeier at Comix Experience

Tue, 25 Oct 2016 18:03:11 UT

Raina Telgemeier’s career started as a student at Lakeshore Elementary School in San Francisco, turning in her book reports in graphic novel form. The young adult author went on to publish “Smile,” “Drama” and “Sisters,” plus the “Babysitters Club” graphic novel reboots. Telgemeier will be signing books at Comix Experience on Divisadero in San Francisco, with a special private Q&A for members of the store’s Kids’ Graphic Novel Club.

Weekend booking: Maria Semple

Tue, 25 Oct 2016 17:30:17 UT

Fans of that rollicking novel can see just how funny when she appears in conversation with author Kelly Corrigan (a wit in her own right) at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27, at Book Passage in Corte Madera. Dinner (and wine) will be served — along with a signed copy of the novel, all for $65.

Booksmith to expand

Fri, 21 Oct 2016 18:56:45 UT

[...] Act Marketplace opened in 2014 in the former Red Vic Movie House. In addition to allowing us to expand our offerings, we’re ultimately going to be able to have a dedicated community events space, which is something that the Haight can always use more of. Camden Avery, the Booksmith’s lead buyer, said the store will feature a mix of children’s books, cookbooks, design and gardening books, and literary best-sellers. Once we complete the build-out after the year’s end,” he said, “we’ll increase the offerings strategically to round out sections that seem to work well in the space, probably with expanded offerings of culinary and children’s titles. The Legacy Business Registry & Preservation Fund gives landlords financial incentives to extend the leases of older, designated businesses.

‘The Terranauts,’ by T.C. Boyle

Thu, 20 Oct 2016 17:06:34 UT

Popular culture abounds with tales of individuals — or even entire societies — trapped under glass, physically cut off from the rest of the world but still under the scrutiny of ever-present watchers. From Stephen King’s “Under the Dome” to Andy Weir’s “The Martian,” from “The Truman Show” to “The Simpsons Movie,” novels, films and television series have explored what it means literally to live in a bubble. The author of “The Harder They Come,” “A Friend of the Earth,” “The Tortilla Curtain” and 12 other novels uses the Biosphere 2 experiment in the 1990s as a springboard for a novel about science, sex and the difficulty of maintaining balance, be it ecological or psychological. Set in 1994 at a desert site 40 miles from Tucson, “The Terranauts” opens just as eight scientists — four women, four men — are about to be selected to spend the next two years sealed within Ecosphere2, a prototype of a possible space colony, a 3-acre compound complete with five biomes, including a simulated ocean. Handsome, articulate and possessing a highly charged libido, Ramsay handles public relations for the project, spinning a vision of dedicated teamwork and scientific innovation while secretly calculating the odds of sleeping with each of his female crewmates. Boyle finds a deep vein of humor in their reactions to events extraordinary and mundane, sympathetic to their struggles but attuned to their foibles and shortcomings. Boyle has had a long-standing fascination with charismatic leaders whose single-minded visions bring turmoil and tragedy upon themselves and others. Think of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey in “The Inner Circle,” Frank Lloyd Wright in “The Women” or cereal tycoon John Harvey Kellogg in “The Road to Wellville.” What works best in the book is the detail with which Boyle portrays the nitty-gritty of life inside an enclosed environment, in which nothing comes in and nothing goes out, except sometimes damning words and images. The author has demonstrated his interest in environmental issues before, especially in novels such as “San Miguel” and “A Friend of the Earth,” and he does a fine job here of depicting the day-to-day operation of an experimental living arrangement. “The Terranauts” definitely has surprises in store for readers who stick with it, but like the project it describes, the narrative sometimes feels claustrophobic and extended past its optimum length.

‘Future Sex,’ by Emily Witt

Thu, 20 Oct 2016 17:05:51 UT

[...] she fixes her keen reporter’s eye on the male lead, Spanish performer Ramon Nomar, who’s just finished shooting his climactic scene: Like a long-distance runner who has just crossed the finish line, he walked it off, moving his arms in circles, wiping the sweat from his face with his arm, and taking deep breaths. Seeking the future of sex in our culture, she shrewdly examines the past, weaving a brief history of pornography into her present-day experience, touching on the antiporn feminist movement, the movie “Deep Throat” and pioneering performer/director Annie Sprinkle. Uncoupled and straight, she’s stuck in sexual adventure mode — sleeping with some of her friends, who in turn sleep with other friends — not by choice, like the polyamorous young Google employees she later profiles, but “by accident.” An Ivy League scholar and cultural critic who’s written for the New Yorker and the New York Times, Witt questions the whole industry of coupling: weddings, gift registries and baby-making, the universal approval that comes with having a family. Witt is a journalist and keeps an observer’s distance from her subject, even while trying out an “anonymous online sexual encounter” via private webcam. After attending a hip sex party in a rented loft south of Market Street, Witt remains coolly intellectual: “I was still thinking of myself as just a visitor … someone undertaking an abstract inquiry but not yet with true intention.” The definition of sex as something essentially private and “sacred” breaks down as people experience economic and sexual autonomy through their devices. Living in San Francisco is “like visiting a planet made of pastel marzipan,” Witt says, her tone verging on snarky when describing the beautiful people on Valencia Street.

‘Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas’

Thu, 20 Oct 2016 16:56:01 UT

Like the trilogy’s first two entries — “Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas” and “Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas” — the New York installment is eccentric and inspiring, a nimble work of social history told through colorful maps and corresponding essays. [...] this book is full of interesting juxtapositions. It’s a cliche, but I’m still awed by the remarkable diversity, the amazing parks, the indie movie theaters, the subways, the food. Do I love “Nonstop Metropolis” because its talented, imaginative writers and artists seem to have similar feelings? Who wouldn’t be fascinated by a map that charts the riots that occurred during the Civil War, the Vietnam era and the 1977 blackout? There’s a map, for instance, that shows the correlation between an epidemic of fires in the Bronx in the 1970s and the rise of hip-hop. In a complementary essay, philosopher Marshall Berman, who died in 2013, puts it succinctly: “Our first rappers know something that Hegel said modern men and women had to learn: they know how to ‘look the negative in the face and live with it.’” The book’s most idiosyncratic map illustrates the influence that Staten Island’s Asian population had on the Wu-Tang Clan, the hip-hop group whose albums were infused with references to martial arts and Eastern religions. In bright yellows and reds, it shows the locations of the borough’s Chinese Scholar’s Garden, Shaolin Kung-Fu Temple and WuShu Martial Arts Center. Inspired by the local mores and the kung-fu movies he saw in Times Square, a 20-something RZA didn’t “leave his basement” for three years in the 1990s, according to the map, “making all the Wu’s breakout albums and their beats.” In an interview with Jelly-Schapiro, RZA talks about how New York’s least famous borough shaped his group’s singular worldview: “Our slang became isolated; we had our own thing.”

Recommended reading, Oct. 23

Thu, 20 Oct 2016 16:20:37 UT

Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South At once poignant and rigorous, Macy’s extraordinary book is a compassionate dual biography and a forthright examination of codified racism. In the sixth novel in her “Dublin Murder Squad” series, we see a murder investigation through the eyes of an abrasive mixed-race, working-class detective worn out from the harassment she’s endured from the rest of the Murder Squad. Knives & Ink Chefs and the Stories Behind Their Tattoos (With Recipes) Greetings From Utopia Park Surviving a Transcendent Childhood Hoffman’s eloquent, funny and profound memoir chronicles her coming of age in Iowa’s Utopia Park at the Maharishi’s national headquarters, her gradual disillusionment and the part of Transcendental Meditation that tugs her back.

Literary guide, Oct. 23

Thu, 20 Oct 2016 16:20:27 UT

2 p.m. Brentwood Community Center, 35 Oak St., Brentwood. Headlands Center for the Arts, 944 Fort Barry, Sausalito. 4 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Kim Shuck & Friends A celebration of the poetry of Susan Sibbet. 2 p.m. Bird & Beckett Books & Records, 653 Chenery St., S.F. (415) 586-3733. David Bodanis “Einstein’s Greatest Mistake.” Commonwealth Club, 555 Post St., S.F. (415) 597-6705. Leland Faust A Capitalist’s Lament: Julian Guthrie “How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight.” Commonwealth Club, 555 Post St., S.F. (415) 597-6705. Eliot Weinberger, Stephen Sparks “The Ghosts of Birds.” Unveiling the Essential Elements of Food. Lafayette Library and Learning Center, 3491 Mt. 7:30 p.m. Kepler’s Books and Magazines, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park. Kimberly Ford discusses Joan Didion “Play It As It Lays.” 1 p.m. Kepler’s Books and Magazines, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park. Candice Shy Hooper “Lincoln’s Generals’ Wives.” Commonwealth Club, 555 Post St., S.F. (415) 597-6705. 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. St. John’s Presbyterian Church, 2727 College Ave., Berkeley. Kiersten White, Elys Dayton, Jessica Cluess White’s “And I Darken,” Dayton’s “Traveler,” and Cluess’ “A Shadow Bright and Burning.” Andrea Beaty “Ada Twist, Scientist!” 4 p.m. Books Inc., 3515 California St., S.F. (415) 221-3666. 7 p.m. Diesel, 5433 College Ave., Oakland. In Deep Radio Angie Coiro welcomes Jewelle Gomez, author of “The Gilda Stories.” Kepler’s Books and Magazines, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park. Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff, Kiersten White, Jessica Cluess, and Arwen Elys Dayton Kaufman and Kristoff’s “Gemina,” White’s “And I Darken,” Cluess’ “A Shadow Bright and Burning.” and DAyton’s “Traveler.” Tom Stienstra “The Mighty T, from Glacier to Golden Gate.” Commonwealth Club, 555 Post St., S.F. (415) 597-6705. Mario Batali “Big American Cookbook.” Terrapin Crossroads, 100 Yacht Club Dr., San Rafael. (415) 927-0960.; 7 p.m. $66 single; $92 couple. Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Rd., Santa Rosa. 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. 7 p.m. Diesel, 2419 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur. 7:30 p.m. Kepler’s Books and Magazines, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park. Anna Raeff, Lisa Graley Raeff’s “The Jungle Around Us” and Graley’s “The Current that Carries.” Ian Scheffler “Cracking the Cube.” Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. David Bodanis “Einstein’s Greatest Mistake.” 7:30 p.m. Kepler’s Books and Magazines, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park. Grace Bonney and contributors “In the Company of Women.” Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. 6 p.m. Diesel, 5433 College Ave., Oakland. The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Forumulas. Andrea Beaty “Ada Twist, Scientist.” 2 p.m. Kepler’s Books and Magazines, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park. 7:30 p.m. Kepler’s Books and Magazines, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park. 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. 1 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. 3 p.m. Books Inc., 301 Castro St., Mountain View. Lisa Miranda “Witch Dancer Book 2: A Mind of Wind and Storm.” 11 a.m. Diesel, 2419 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur. Ian Scheffler “Cracking the Cube.”

‘Cruel Beautiful World,’ by Caroline Leavitt

Thu, 20 Oct 2016 16:19:54 UT

In Caroline Leavitt’s 11th novel, “Cruel Beautiful World,” student protests, Sharon Tate’s gruesome murder and burning draft cards provide a vivid backdrop to a tender story of two orphaned sisters and how their lives diverge and then intersect again in unexpected ways. At the novel’s start, the reader meets 16-year-old Lucy Gold, a free spirit with “a wild corona of blond hair” and a penchant for fiction who falls for her English teacher. Older by 18 months, Charlotte is the levelheaded one with her future clearly defined by her academic and professional aspirations. Since their parents’ sudden death when the girls were small, Iris, their closest living relative, has served as the sisters’ mother figure of sorts. [...] the delicate seams of this trio swiftly begin to unravel within the novel’s opening paragraph: Lucy runs away with her high school teacher, William, on a Friday, the last day of school, a June morning shiny with heat. “Cruel Beautiful World” rotates largely between Lucy, Charlotte and Iris, with their stories effortlessly unfolding before and after Lucy’s abrupt departure from Waltham, Mass. Through the couple’s multiple exchanges, mostly within the claustrophobic confines of their ramshackle house in a remote pocket of rural Pennsylvania, Leavitt delivers a credible portrait of an abusive relationship — psychologically, physically and sexually.