More than settings, cities are characters in skilled writers’ hands

My June 15, 2021 book culture column for the San Francisco Chronicle:

It is often said the city in which a book is placed is its own character. ¶ James Joyce once claimed that if Dublin “suddenly disappeared from the Earth, it could be reconstructed from my book.” He’s speaking, of course, of “Ulysses,” which chronicles the wanderings of Leopold Bloom throughout that city.

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Support your local bookstore — before it disappears

My June 1, 2021 book culture column for the San Francisco Chronicle:

One of the happiest things about being fully vaccinated is I can once again go into a bookstore without heart-thumping anxiety and accompanying angry glares at people who get too close. ¶ Recently, I made a pilgrimage to my old San Francisco neighborhood to buy produce on Clement Street, see what the new owners have done to the front yard of my old house, and to visit Elaine at the Corner Laundry. But mostly I went back to hang out at Green Apple Books.

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The ugly truth about sex and the French intelligentsia

My May 18, 2021 book culture column for the San Francisco Chronicle:

I remember as a teenager thinking the French had a very enlightened attitude about sex. Their open acceptance of mistresses and the overtly sexual content of advertisements lining the walls of the Paris Metro were the height of sophistication to my young, impressionable self. ¶ That was then. Over the years, what’s become clear to me is that French women were often victimized by what’s come to be seen as an often misogynist patriarchy, where undisguised sexism, and even pedophilia and rape, masqueraded as liberated anti-puritanism.

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A well-worn copy of ‘Coney Island’ presented new possibilities

From the April 21, 2021 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle:

As a sheltered and privileged teenager growing up in a predominantly Jewish suburb of New York City, I was drawn to danger in the form of bad boys. Preferably older-than-appropriate, non-Jewish guys who smoked pot and drank beer. Dennis was perfect. He had a perpetual slight sneer on his distinctly Irish face that seemed to indicate contempt for our leafy suburb and everything it represented.

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Returning virtually in May, Bay Area Book Festival remains a lit lover’s paradise

My April 20, 2021 book culture column for the San Francisco Chronicle:

Seven years ago, Cherilyn Parsons announced her intention to start a Bay Area book festival modeled after the Los Angeles Times’ event, the largest of its kind in the country and arguably the most prestigious. ¶ Although she had worked for four years as director of development and strategic initiatives at Berkeley’s highly regarded Center for Investigative Reporting, Parsons was viewed by some in the local literary community as a Southern California interloper


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Minor characters give new takes on classic stories

My April 6, 2021 book culture column for the San Francisco Chronicle:

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Lily Bart, the heroine of Edith Wharton’s “The House of Mirth.” I recommended the novel to a young friend and decided it had been so long since I’d read it, I’d best do a reread if I wanted to be prepared for any meaningful discussion. ¶ Poor Lily. Spoiler alert: so beautiful and so tragically doomed by New York’s high society in the late 19th century, and by the mere fact that she’s a woman. Talk about having no agency.


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Quaint Point Reyes radio show reads great books on the air

My March 9, 2021 book culture column for the San Francisco Chronicle:

On a recent early morning, with the hills so green it made my teeth hurt, I motored out to Point Reyes to take a hike. My phone was running out of juice, so I couldn’t continue listening to my audiobook (“Black Buck” by Mateo Askaripour, which I highly recommend). So, I turned on the radio. ¶ What a stroke of luck. I stumbled onto KWMR “Homegrown Radio,” serving Point Reyes, Bolinas and the San Geronimo Valley.

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Isabel Allende on the future of feminism: “We have to do it joyfully”

My February 23, 2021 book culture column for the San Francisco Chronicle:

Isabel Allende was in her 20s, working at a women’s magazine in Chile, when the second wave of feminism hit. Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” and Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex” were among the most significant books in that era (roughly from the 1960s to the 1980s) that galvanized women to redefine their role in society and the struggle against gender inequities.

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