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Two friends plan to open children’s bookstore in Walnut Creek

Fri, 21 Apr 2017 23:33:00 UT

Marian Adducci and Shoshana Smith, friends from college, have plans to open a children’s bookstore in Walnut Creek — the East Bay city in which the online giant will soon have a brick-and-mortar store. “Especially when it comes to children’s bookstores,” Smith added, it’s a place to be a haven of creativity, that embraces curiosity and wants you to ask questions and explore. Flashlight Books would join a number of other children’s bookstores in the Bay Area, including Bel and Bunna’s Books in Lafayette, Mr. Mopps’ Children’s Books in Berkeley, Linden Tree Books in Los Altos, the Reading Bug in San Carlos and Hicklebee’s in San Jose. In their mission statement, Adducci and Smith write, Amazon is the greatest competitor to indie bookstores; they offer a level of instant gratification and convenience that we can’t. [...] they do not offer the kind of thoughtfulness, expertise and community relationship that a brick-and-mortar independent store can, and we believe that matters. Indie bookstores are having a resurgence,” they add, “and the localism movement has more people aware of the fact that where they spend their money matters. Adducci and Smith said they came up with the store’s name when hitting upon the same image: “a girl in her pajamas, covers pulled up over her head, flashlight lit as she reads late into the night.” Walnut Creek is such a great town,” Smith wrote, “with this walkable downtown full of independent businesses (and some chains, sure), connected to the BART, lots of young families, good schools, assisted-living homes and hospitals to bring book carts to, a beautiful library — it has everything we need as a business, for support, and I like to think that we would have everything it needs, as a community.



‘Killers of the Flower Moon,’ by David Grann

Fri, 21 Apr 2017 07:01:00 UT

Yet even here, white settlers continued to plunder their graves and launch vicious attacks on their settlements. After one particularly bloody raid, an Indian Affairs agent asked, “The question will suggest itself, which of these people are the savages?” Desperate and decimated, the tribe retreated to Oklahoma, where they bought land described by one observer as “broken, rocky, sterile, and utterly unfit for cultivation.” The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, his investigation into a mysterious string of deaths on the reservation in the early 20th century. The Department of the Interior declared many Osage “incompetent” and assigned them white guardians, who were in charge of “overseeing and authorizing all of their spending, down to the toothpaste they purchased at the corner store,” writes Grann. Guardians stole millions of dollars, in what one American Indian organization characterized as “an orgy of graft and exploitation.” Anna’s brother-in-law becomes convinced that Linnie was poisoned; after launching a private investigation, his house is bombed and he and his wife die in the explosion. [...] begins what becomes known as the Osage Reign of Terror. In 1925, as the bodies continued to pile up, J. Edgar Hoover, the newly installed director of the FBI, assigned Tom White to direct what would be one of the agency’s first major homicide investigations. White was a former Texas Ranger who favored cowboy hats and lacked any formal law enforcement training. Through old-fashioned sleuthing, White and his team — which included one of the first American Indian agents in FBI history — discovered that Hale had orchestrated the deaths to secure the oil rights of Anna’s family. Some of this history have been told before, though not by someone with the graceful touch of Grann, a staff writer at the New Yorker whose nonfiction debut, “The Lost City of Z,” was a runaway bestseller. Fred Ross and Grassroots Organizing in the Twentieth Century (University of California Press) and “Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing the Jobs (Most) Americans Won’t Do” (Nation Books).



Recommended reading, April 23

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 17:35:31 UT

Void Star Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 385 pages; $27 Set largely in the Bay Area, Mason’s science fiction novel is a far-ranging, globe-trotting tale of memory, mortality and artificial intelligence. The Evangelicals The Struggle to Shape America FitzGerald’s meticulous history chronicles the ascendancy of the Christian right. Edited by Eddie Muller and Jerry Thompson Akashic Books; 278 pages; $15.95 paperback Readers who know the city will relish its sense of place in this anthology; those who only know the stereotypes will be in for a pleasing eye-opener. City Lights; 80 pages; $17.95 In clean, crisp words and stark images, Madonna’s book describes a kind of living nightmare that began when he received an eviction notice from his landlord.



Literary guide

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 17:34:57 UT

Literary guide Margot Anaund “Love, Sex & Awakening.” 4 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Art Beck, Neeli Cherkovski, Aaron Shurin Poetry reading. 2 p.m. Bird & Beckett Books & Records, 653 Cheneryt St., S.F. (415) 586-3733. www.birdbeckett.com. 11 a.m. Book Passage, 100 Bay St., Sausalito. 5 p.m. City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave., S.F. (415) 362-8193. www.citylights.com. Laura Alice Watt “The Paradox of Preservation.” Steve Blake “Mastering Migraines, Parkinson’s Disease.” Commonwealth Club, 555 Post St., S.F. (415) 597-6705. www.commonwealthclub.org. 7 p.m. Books Inc., 74 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto. Commonwealth Club, 555 Post St., S.F. (415) 597-6705. www.commonwealthclub.org. The Racket Monthly reading series, with the theme “Drugs.” 7 p.m. Adobe Books, 3130 24th St., S.F. (415) 864-3936. www.adobebooks.com. Donna Seaman Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists. 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Stephen Tobolowsky “My Adventures With God.” Anselm Berrigan, Hoa Nguyen Poetry reading presented by Small Press Traffic. 7:30 p.m. Booksmith, 1644 Haight St., S.F. (415) 863-8688. www.booksmith.com. David Dalin “Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court.” Commonwealth Club, 555 Post St., S.F. (415) 597-6705. www.commonwealthclub.org. 7 p.m. City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave., S.F. (415) 362-8193. www.citylights.com. The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert’s Renegade Life. 7 p.m. Diesel, 5433 College Ave., Oakland. Kepler’s, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park. 7 p.m. City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave., S.F. (415) 362-8193. www.citylights.com. Vaddey Ratner “Music of the Ghosts.” 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. John Waters “Make Trouble.” Commonwealth Club, 555 Post St., S.F. (415) 597-6705. www.commonwealthclub.org. David Dalin “Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court.” 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. 7 p.m. Borderlands Books, 866 Valencia St., S.F. www.borderlands-books.com. Oakland Youth Poet Laureate 2017 Finalists 7 p.m. Pegasus Books Oakland, 5560 College Ave., Oakland. Book Passage, 100 Bay St., Sausalito. 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. 7 p.m. City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave., S.F. (415) 362-8193. www.citylights.com. 7 p.m. Books Inc., 2251 Chestnut St., S.F. (415) 931-3633. www.booksinc.net. How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency. Commonwealth Club, 555 Post St., S.F. (415) 597-6705. www.commonwealthclub.org. Matthew Isaac Sobin “The Last Machine in the Solar System.” Independent Bookstore Day Events at booksellers throughout the Bay Area. www.indiebookstoreday.com.



Stories by Eric Puchner, Jim Shepard, Deb Olin Unferth

Wed, 19 Apr 2017 23:20:21 UT

(She is blissfully unaware of the existence of both nuclear weapons and climate change.) Puchner’s affecting collection explores the endings of things — relationships, childhood, the illusion that one is a morally upstanding person — as well as what endures for the sympathetic characters in these nine stories. In “Expression,” a boy exploits a friend’s life for his own fiction, ultimately wondering, “how would you know if what you were writing was worth it — if people would remember you as a novelist or a jerk?” In “Mothership,” a troubled woman jealous of her sister’s seemingly perfect life is humbled by taking care of her 7-year-old niece. Yet the most arresting story in the collection, “Beautiful Monsters,” imagines a dystopian reality in which people are “perennialized” to stay young — with perfect childlike bodies — and the remaining aging adults, or “Senescents,” are fugitives, grown-up threats to the new order. A brother and sister take in a wounded Senescent old enough to be their father and are both attracted to and repelled by this suffering adult man. The acknowledgments section of “The World to Come” — referencing 2½ dense pages of source material consulted for this wide-ranging collection — speaks to what’s both impressive and a bit distancing about Shepard’s fiction. The historical events detailed here include an air force disaster, a horrifying Arctic expedition, the first manned hot-air balloon flight, and “the largest cyclone any white man in northeastern Australia had ever seen” (as of 1899, or since). Shepard’s evident research lends an authoritative concreteness to this ambitious material, but at times the stories come across more as documentation than dramatic unfolding. The title story, a series of diary entries by a frontier wife in love with another frontier wife, left me weeping. [...] in the flash fiction whirlwind “Cretan Love Song,” the reader is invited to “Imagine you’re part of the Minoan civilization, just hanging out with your effete painted face down by the water’s edge on the north shore of Crete, circa 1600 BC.” What’s in store for “you” is a massive volcanic eruption, with your son “ask[ing] what you’re going to do ... as if the very extent of your love and responsibility might carry with it sufficient power to avert even something like this.” The three present-day stories in the collection sound a flat note in contrast to the more striking historical narratives. The most stirring writing throughout reveals both the helplessness of particular people in the sweep of circumstances beyond their control, and the nobility of human striving, even up until the very last moment. The longer stories take up matters of life and death with a bracing attention to the seeming randomness of both states. On a similar theme, “Interview” begins, “I can’t promise you that my next book will be published or, if it is, that anyone will read it or like it or like me, or that anyone will review it, or if someone does review it, that they won’t hate it and make humiliating insults that will reflect not only on me and my work, but also on you and your institution (should you hire me).”



‘A Little Book on Form,’ by Robert Hass

Wed, 19 Apr 2017 21:43:54 UT

Poetry is likely our oldest linguistic art form, predating even the invention of writing — the first poems were recited and chanted as part of the oral tradition. Cunningly, Hass starts with the simplest possible poetic unit: a single line is a naked thing. Single lines, says Hass, are pure experience: “the sentence is being, enjambment is the excess of being, or being in process.” Among other gems here are his investigation of the Japanese haiku as a one-line form (it is generally thought of as a three-line poem) and Allen Ginsberg’s notion that “the image in a blues refrain [is] the American haiku.” Two lines equals “the energy of relation”; three brings “oddness,” “excess,” imbalance, the beginning of “mystery”; and four allows for “completeness,” a holistic, balanced vision of an idea. Almost like a philosopher, with these compact, concrete observations, Hass methodically builds up a powerful theory of how poems work. Throughout, Hass’ tone is plain-spoken and conversational (the origins of these notes in the classroom is evident). [...] opening his discussion of the prose poem, he observes, “the thing developed from the invention of writing,” which I take to be a pithy way of saying that a prose poem might be just about anything. The richness of this critical language goes beyond the mere apt statement to give Hass’ insights a broadness and a depth that can only come from rich imagery. In its cumulative progression — from small to large, ancient to modern, and fundamental to obscure — it seems to imply a larger theory about how the form of the poem communicates to us, as much or more than through the content of its words.



‘Anything Is Possible,’ by Elizabeth Strout

Wed, 19 Apr 2017 20:37:51 UT

For an author with five works of fiction under her belt, the prolific Elizabeth Strout is testing out an intriguing theory with her latest book: Much like the heavy-hitting “Olive Kitteridge,” which earned a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 and spawned an Emmy-winning HBO miniseries starring Frances McDormand as the intractable Olive, “Anything Is Possible” is a collection of interconnected stories that turns a spotlight on regular people in their most vulnerable moments. A welcome return to form, its pages are full of searing insight into the darkest corners of the human spirit and starkly demonstrate how shockingly easy it is to both damage and be damaged by those we love — sometimes irreparably so. The idea for “Anything Is Possible” came about when Strout was working on “My Name Is Lucy Barton,” a claustrophobic 2016 novel about an aspiring writer languishing in a hospital with an infection after an appendectomy, her estranged mother by her bedside. Much of that book’s “action” takes place in one room over the course of several agonizing days as Lucy and her mother poke and prod at old wounds by dredging up memories from their never-before discussed past in Amgash, Ill. While skirting around more serious issues like Lucy’s father’s violent episodes or how wretchedly poor the Bartons were, mother and daughter gossip about the fates of people they knew way back when. An aging mother and her desperately lonely daughter’s veiled attempt to bridge a chasm of resentment and bruised feelings before it got to be too late. By giving Mary, Kathie and others dedicated chapters — and, therefore, a voice to tell their own stories — Strout effectively busts Lucy’s Barton’s small, insulated hospital room world wide open. In a truly disturbing turn, we watch as she and her husband Jay spy on an unsuspecting houseguest using a set of secretly installed cameras. What the three come to realize about how each processed the events of their childhood speaks volumes about the fallibility of memory. [...] one might say that this — Strout’s winning formula — has succeeded once again.



‘Cork Dork,’ by Bianca Bosker

Wed, 19 Apr 2017 17:55:26 UT

Flavors, textures, aromas, when translated into words, produce the kind of absurd language that makes wine tasters sound like ostentatious pedants to the rest of the world. An elegant nose, notes of cassis, the aroma of “oyster-shell kelp yogurt”: It’s this type of inane wine-speak that puts off so many “civilians” from the world of wine in the first place. [...] she becomes fascinated with wine tasters to the point of obsession, and quits her job as technology editor at the Huffington Post in order to immerse herself in the community of sommeliers at New York’s temples of fine dining. The fascination seems part anthropological — exotic sommelier creatures who debate the classifications of jamón versus prosciutto in their free time — and part desire to improve her own life. Though it’s bookended by stints working at restaurants — her second post more advanced than the first — the path leads to several other corners of the wine-loving world, each offering a distinct window into tasting better/living better. A chapter spent with olfaction scientists in Dresden seems to suggest that wine experts aren’t making up the notes of cassis, after all: “When you train, you can get super senses,” confirms the scientist. “It’s a feeding frenzy!” cries an auctioneer, possessed by a state of glutted mania. “I became one of those people who sipped wine and then, instead of swallowing it like a respectable human being, gnashed at the liquid, inhaled it, and even in public, produced a wet, hollow gurgling, as if drowning on dry land,” she writes, once she has become a sommelier. While Bosker never abandons her own skepticism completely — she has enough self-awareness to recognize herself as one of those people — her identification with the cynical reader is a useful device for proselytizing. [...] when, in the epilogue, Bosker goes under an fMRI to learn that “all that practice and training had actually trained my brain” — the scans show her brain to respond more sensitively to flavor stimuli than the average layperson — it feels unnecessary, a little didactic. [...] despite its apparent breadth — olfaction scientists, the aroma wheel, mass-market winemaking — it mainly keeps its gaze on a single segment of the wine supply chain: those who blind-taste as blood sport, the highest-stakes sommeliers. Cultivating the senses, Bosker finds, engages “the very part of us that elevates our reactions, endows our lives with meaning, and makes us human.”



Bay Area Book Festival to focus on ‘literary activism’

Wed, 19 Apr 2017 17:37:00 UT

Tapping into Berkeley’s roots as a breeding ground for political engagement, the Bay Area Book Festival this year will center on what it’s calling “literary activism.” Among the 200 authors who will attend the third annual festival — to be held June 3 and 4 in downtown Berkeley — are writers whose work focuses on social justice, freedom of expression, sanctuary and environmental sustainability. “There is no better place than Berkeley, renowned for its intellectual activism, for an event that highlights literature as a vehicle for social change,” festival founder and executive director Cherilyn Parsons said in a statement. Whether nonfiction, fiction or poetry, literature allows remarkable access into the subtle lived experience and perspectives of other people and cultures. Sponsored by The Chronicle, the festival will feature San Francisco Chronicle Stage in the Park, an outdoor tent that will seat more than 400 people. The festival is introducing $8 tickets that guarantee a seat; a $15 general admission wristband gives festivalgoers first-come, first-served entry into any event.



Deb Olin Unferth’s story collection full of surprises, tears

Wed, 19 Apr 2017 17:12:16 UT

Deb Olin Unferth’s new collection of stories, “Wait Till You See Me Dance” (Graywolf), is full of surprises, with twists and turns that often leave the reader disoriented and full of emotion. The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War, chronicles her experience dropping out of college at 18 and moving to Central America to join the Sandinista revolution. The short pieces,” she said, “are sort of in my head and then I just write them down all at once, and then I revise them for a really long time, even though I change almost nothing. With longer pieces, she tends to start with a scene, get a sense of what the conflict is, and then build other scenes around it. Portland journalist Omar El Akkad reads from his debut novel, “American War,” set in 2074 amid the second American Civil War (7 p.m. Thursday, April 20, City Lights, 261 Columbus Ave., S.F., free). www.citylights.com. Editorial Argonáutica presents Mark Faber (“Melville’s Beard”/“Las Barbas de Melville”) and Scott Esposito (Latin American Mixtape/“Mixtape Latinoamericano”) reading from their new bilingual books (7 p.m. Thursday, April 20, Diesel, A Bookstore, 5433 College Ave., Oakland, free). www.dieselbookstore.com. Booksmith presents Lidia Yuknavitch (“The Small Backs of Children”), in town to read from her apocalyptic new novel, “The Book of Joan” (7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 20, Tenderloin Museum, 398 Eddy St., S.F., free). www.booksmith.com. New York poet and musician Janice A. Loe (text, voice and piano) performs works from her debut book, “Leaving Cle,” with bassist Yohann Potico and percussionist Kevin Carnes (7 p.m. Thursday, April 20, the Poetry Center, 1600 Holloway Ave., S.F., free). http://poetry.sfsu.edu. The eighth annual poetry invitational at San Jose Museum of Art is hosted by Santa Barbara County Poet Laureate Arlene Biali and features 10 poets reading new work inspired by the museum’s current exhibitions (7 p.m. Thursday, April 20, 110 S. Market St., San Jose, $5). www.sjmusart.org.



Trump recommends a book — full of blank pages

Mon, 17 Apr 2017 17:29:45 UT

On Amazon, the book is described as “The most exhaustively researched and coherently argued Democrat Party apologia to date ... a political treatise sure to stand the test of time,” with an added note that “Lefty lawyers require that we state the book is mostly blank and contains precisely 1,235 words.” A recent graduate of Yale University, Knowles is an actor who writes for the conservative website the Daily Wire. Published in February by Threshold Editions, Simon & Schuster’s conservative publishing imprint, Knowles’ $9.99 paperback had climbed to No. 30 on Amazon’s bestseller list by Monday morning.



‘On to the Next Dream,’ by Paul Madonna

Fri, 14 Apr 2017 19:06:06 UT

[...] Madonna has a new book that describes a kind of living nightmare that began when he received an eviction notice from his landlord that sent him into shock. In clean, crisp words and stark images, “On to the Next Dream” describes an emotional journey that took Madonna from anger and desperation to shame, sadness and acceptance. On his epic search for a new home and a new studio, he rubbed shoulders with immigrants, vegans and real estate agents — and plunged into the heart of Oakland. Almost all of Madonna’s pictures are in black and white, though there’s a colorful pair of red shoes attached to two legs that dangle mysteriously from the open window of an apartment. For those who mainly know the city by its sleek skyscrapers, five-star restaurants and wind-swept beaches, “On to the Next Dream” might be a shocker and a kind of wake-up call.



Bill Nye the Science Guy is coming to SF to teach you how to be a nerd

Thu, 13 Apr 2017 21:47:50 UT

Bill is back, and he's headed to the Bay Area in July. Booksmith, the Haight St. brick-and-mortar shop, is hosting Nye at the Castro Theater on July 15 as part of his book tour for "Everything All at Once."




‘Waves Passing in the Night,’ by Lawrence Weschler

Thu, 13 Apr 2017 19:14:08 UT

In a telling quotation early on in Lawrence Weschler’s “Waves Passing in the Night,” the author cites the great sound and film editor Walter Murch on the subject of blinking. Good actors, says Murch “blink between their character’s thoughts, the bad ones between their own, as when, nailing a reading, the bad actor blinks wondering whether the director registered how good they just were; with good actors the editing splice always occurs just before the blink.” For over 20 years now, Murch has taken up the seemingly quixotic cause of Titius-Bode, a long-discounted theory named for a pair of 18th century astronomers, about the orbital patterns and gravitational actions of the planets and their moons. Not only do the orbits conform to certain striking numerological patterns, Murch argues in defense of Titius-Bode, but the distances between those orbits map uncannily well to the notes in a musical scale — “the solar system as a whole,” as Weschler puts it, “constituting a single wide chord.” Weschler, who serves as a kind of faithful amanuensis to Murch in the first half of the book, conducts the reader into relevant historical details, like the impact of Neptune’s discovery in 1846 and Pluto’s in 1930, along with some deep dives into astronomical studies. The text starts sprouting equations, an illustration of “compounding notional waves welling out from a central object” and statistical tables. [...] the non-scientifically-inclined lay reader is likely to get pretty dizzy trying to follow Murch’s thinking into the weeds of his postulations, formulas and the accuracy calculations of his theory. “Hypermathematization,” grant-driven research and peer review power “a mechanism for older scientists to enforce direction on younger scientists” and “to discourage change,” according to Lee Smolin (“The Trouble with Physics”). Weschler references such scorned and ultimately vindicated outsiders as Alfred Wegener, an early proponent of continental drift, and turns to the UC Irvine philosopher of science P. Kyle Stanford for the ringing assertion that “the wholesale rejection of alternative theories has repeatedly held back the process of vital science.” Elliptically limned as it is — an email exchange here, a sushi dinner there — the relationship that unfolds here is a vigorous and invigorating meeting of two dynamically curious minds.



‘Void Star,’ by Zachary Mason

Thu, 13 Apr 2017 19:13:28 UT

Is it possible for a near-future cyberthriller to feel old-fashioned? “Void Star,” the new science fiction novel by Berkeley writer Zachary Mason, reads like something William Gibson might have concocted in the ’90s, a far-ranging, globe-trotting tale of memory, mortality and artificial intelligence. The beginning of “Void Star” seems to echo that opening image, as Irina Sundren, an expert in interfacing with inscrutable AIs, flies in a dream toward San Francisco International Airport in a time ravaged by climate change: “Below her are the lights of the valley, like burning jewels on a dark tide.” While in the Bay Area, Irina meets with James Cromwell, founder of Water and Power Capital Management LLC, “an innovator in AI-driven resource arbitrage and medical engineering.” After a possible kidnapping attempt, Irina focuses on the meaning of the image of a laptop screen she saw reflected in her potential employer’s eyeglasses. A second plot thread in “Void Star” follows Kern, a young thief and a killer for hire, one who maintains a monkish existence practicing martial arts in the drone-built slum that has accreted around San Francisco’s periphery. The survivor of the attack in which his politician father was assassinated, Brazil-born Thales, now crippled but outfitted with a memory chip that keeps him alive, finds himself unable to remember much of what happened before the installation of the implant. During a visit to a medical clinic to have his implant fine-tuned, Thales is shown video clips from Irina’s visit to Cromwell at Water & Power. A computer scientist who works in the South Bay, Mason made his literary debut with “The Lost Books of the Odyssey,” a postmodern re-imagining of Homer. Much of the fun comes in the small details and throwaway lines, as when super-fit Kern is told he looks like he “live[s] on protein and Zen Buddhism” or when memory-enhanced Irina says, Proust’s madeleines have got nothing on me. Lots of scenes are set in transit, with characters riding in driverless cars, maneuvering streets with weaponized drones overhead or wending their way through airports. Mason understands the propulsive appeal of cyberpunk, the opportunities it affords for mind-bending plot twists, serious philosophical speculation and arch social commentary.