Everything has critics, even Little Free Libraries

My September 8, 2020 book culture column for the San Francisco Chronicle:

On my neighborhood walks, I’m always happy to come upon a Little Free Library to see what books are gone and what’s been added since the last time I looked. Some of these neighborhood nooks were stocked with toilet paper and wipes in March, when such things were in short supply. Others have apples and plums from backyard harvests at their base. ¶ The books, of course, are a mixed bag. Spiritual selections like “Meditations From a Course in Miracles” and “The Heart of the Shaman” sit cheek by jowl with the latest John Grisham and James Patterson. Literary fiction from Ian McEwan snuggles up next to all manner of self-help and political screeds. Sometimes, I’m lucky to spot something hilariously bizarre like “How to Poo on a Date: The Lovers’ Guide to Toilet Etiquette.” Really.

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Short stories aren’t just palate cleansers—they’re the main course

My August 25, 2020 book culture column for the San Francisco Chronicle:

For many years, I used short stories as a sort of sorbet after reading a novel. Refreshing, palate-cleansing, a diversion before returning to the clearly more elevated business of long narratives. ¶ But recently when out for a walk, I tuned in to NPR’s “Selected Shorts” podcast for my daily dose of lit. Nothing serious, mind you, just a light piece of entertainment to keep me company.

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Why the Irish have all the literary luck

SFChron-20200811My August 11, 2020 book culture column for the San Francisco Chronicle:

I know it’s extremely dicey these days to attribute a general characteristic to any group of people by nationality or otherwise. I’m doing it anyway by saying the Irish are such damn good writers. ¶ Not all of them, I know. But when I’m bowled over by the graceful, lyrical nature of a piece of prose, more often than not there’s an Irish writer behind it.

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When a voracious reader decides she’d rather watch a movie

SFC_Jul28My July 28, 2020 book culture column for the San Francisco Chronicle:

How had it come to this? In February, I was en route home from Costa Rica on a 7 a.m. flight, focused on the tiny screen embedded in the seat back in front of me, watching “Joker,” a movie I’d never choose at under 30,000 feet. ¶ I blame it on my most recent breakup with the Kindle. We’ve had a rather bumpy relationship from the start.

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Here’s what—and whom—you won’t get at a big-box book retailer

SFC_20200714My July 14, 2020 book culture column for the San Francisco Chronicle:

People who know me are aware I never miss an opportunity to stand on my soapbox and hold forth about the importance of independent bookstores. In every place I’ve ever lived, the local indie has become a second home to me. When I lived in San Francisco in the Richmond, I was at Green Apple Books so often, I found it natural to give, often unsolicited, book advice to people roaming the stacks.

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Need laughter? These books scratch that itch

SFC_2020June30My June 30, 2020 book culture column for the San Francisco Chronicle:

I don’t know about you, but I really need to laugh. A big belly laugh, complete with gasping for breath and tears running down my face, would be nice. But I’d settle for a little chuckle. Even a slight upturn of the corners of my mouth. The last several months have been distinctly unfunny, to say the least.

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For novelists, the first time is often the best

My June 2, 2020 book culture column for the San Francisco Chronicle:

“Jane Eyre.” “To Kill A Mockingbird.” “The Catcher in the Rye.” “Catch-22.” “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” “Things Fall Apart.” “The Bluest Eye.” “Lord of the Flies.” ¶ Hazard a guess about what all these novels have in common. ¶ It’s probably a surprise to learn that all are debut novels. And despite the fact there is no shortage of stellar evidence, debut novels have an image problem.

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San Francisco: the eternal book subject

SFC_2020_05_19_Page28My May 19, 2020 book culture column for the San Francisco Chronicle:

The city of San Francisco has long been a favorite subject for writers, especially those who come from somewhere else and find a home here. In both fiction and nonfiction, the city is an alluring subject, with its spectacular beauty and vibrant history. Writers can find ample material in the Gold Rush and Barbary Coast, Beat culture, the Summer of Love, gay culture and today’s tech-dominated landscape.

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The perverse allure of reading fiction about money, from Fitzgerald to Wolfe

SFC-2020-05-05My May 5, 2020 book culture column for the San Francisco Chronicle:

I was one of those weirdos who was perversely addicted to the media frenzy a dozen years ago surrounding Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Of course I acknowledged the enormity of the tragic consequences for many of Madoff’s investors. Nevertheless, I gobbled up every detail about the scandal, right down to stories about his wife, Ruth, whose exclusive Manhattan hair salon, florist and favorite Italian restaurant declared her persona non grata.

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