MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleAs the book progresses, might Geeta be able to find her place within her community of women? Might she realize that she has been extremely bad at reading social cues and has suffered as a result? Perhaps, but Shroff’s narrative was never quite successful in engaging this reader enough to really care about the outcome.
PositiveDatebookThe first few chapters are spent fixing the historical record, and they are, to be honest, a bit of a slog. A gorgeous novelist and prolific biographer...Prose is here, of necessity, mostly reassembling the research of others. But it’s a short book, and we quickly get to where Prose really sparkles: her critiques of the cultural depictions of Cleopatra. Prose vividly reveals just how much more marginalized, sexualized and scandalous these representations became, no matter the artistic medium.
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleThe stories in Bliss Montage somehow manage to be even more strange and unsettling [than Severance] ... There’s a bit of magic realism in Ma’s imaginings, a bit of horror and often an emotional distancing, as if the characters, rather than experiencing their own lives, were watching alternate versions of themselves move through the world.
Michelle Wilde Anderson
PositiveDatebookThe Fight to Save the Town presents four case studies chosen for their collective ability to demonstrate the ways in which cities emerge from chronic poverty...[Anderson] highlights violence reduction in Stockton; the support of basic services in a decidedly anti-government Josephine County, Ore.; improving job access and security in Lawrence, Mass.; and stabilizing low-income housing in Detroit after a wave of foreclosures and housing loss...Anderson conducted more than 250 interviews to elucidate the struggles people are facing, and from these conversations she became more and more confident that it is those very people who know best how to solve them...But not on their own...She knows not to celebrate individual victories too much and continues to stress the importance of people and governments working together on solutions, independently or in opposition...So much of government, regardless of federal, state or local, feels intractable...Anderson’s book won’t change the mind of anti-government folks (nor does it try to)...But it is a welcome reminder of what government can accomplish if given the chance.
Elena Ferrante, tr. Ann Goldstein
MixedSan Francisco ChronicleHer anonymity...gives her a freedom in her fiction that is missing from her nonfiction work, which feels a bit circular and self-reinforcing. Still, we see glimpses of the shame, disappointment and struggle in these pages, albeit at a lower temperature. It is not at all surprising to discover the title of \'Pain and Pen.\' If we are correct in assuming that Ferrante’s novels draw from her own life, it stands to reason that pain is a defining force. It also makes sense that this essay delves into her struggle to find her voice from under so many male writers ... It’s not that these essays aren’t intriguing; it’s just that Ferrante’s fiction is so compelling, often shocking in its intensity, that these lectures feel like, well, lectures. I did appreciate the way she seems to sum it all up in the end: \'The challenge, I thought and think, is to learn to use with freedom the cage we’re shut up in.\'
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleThe talking leaf is one of many oddities that you can either roll with or not ... The loveliest and most affecting parts of the book are where Mira reflects on the deep connections she has to her father and to books, which she turns to as he is dying.
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleI hesitate to introduce too many characters in this review because there are so many. It’s difficult at times to connect all the often interconnected dots. It’s something I initially found frustrating about this book until I put myself at peace with the fact that this is precisely what happens in real life ... I could have done without the 50 (!) pages in the form of an email exchange toward the end, which felt more gratuitous than engaging. But that said, this is a beautiful exploration of loss, memory and history, a not too subtle critique of what is lost when we live our lives online.
PanSan Francisco ChronicleIt’s true that the themes explored in the book’s 700 pages are big ones — love, illness, power, wealth, racism. But what the author describes as a series of interconnected stories feels to this reader like three stand-alone (and not particularly compelling) novellas. I didn’t need all three narratives to be tied up neatly in a bow at the end, but I needed more of a connecting thread ... Fans of A Little Life”(and there are so many!) will likely be disappointed ... For all the characters in her latest, the pursuit of paradise is elusive, as were my attempts to feel much empathy or interest for this multi-century group of Edwards, Davids and Johns.
MixedSan Francisco ChronicleThe writer’s descriptions of Tillie and her other stoic Scandinavian relatives are vivid and heartbreaking. These are recollections of familial hostility, regret and anger, of people failing to tell one another what they feel, or alternately, telling them very cruel things ... The essays about her family are particularly engrossing, as is the one called \'Mentor Ghosts,\' a sort of Hustvedtian take on Rebecca Solnit’s \'Men Explain Things to Me,\' where Hustvedt describes the repeated attempts of men to credit her husband (the novelist Paul Auster) for writing her novels. But too many of the essays that follow feel like the product of pandemic restlessness ... Critical arguments she makes about such well-tread topics as the purpose of art and the marginalization of motherhood don’t feel very fresh, either. The collection would have been far stronger had Hustvedt left out the musings on too-familiar works—and to be honest, I probably didn’t need to read that much about the lack of proper appreciation of the placenta.
RaveSan Francisco Chronicle... an absolutely engrossing family saga, covering themes both small and infinite: family, self, sin, God, country (or maybe more accurately, suburbia). I didn’t think I’d like it, to be honest, but I couldn’t put it down ... There’s not a scenario in here that doesn’t ring true, and Franzen gets all the details right ... This book is nearly 600 pages, but it doesn’t feel too long. My only real complaint is how badly Franzen writes sex scenes ... But I guess the awkwardness with which the Hildebrandt men describe their intimate encounters is, given their personalities, right on track.
Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley
RaveSan Francisco Chronicle... uncanny in its prescience. It also serves as a good reminder for all of us to refrain from feelings of complacency because as this fascinating book shows again and again, it’s foolish to think this will be our last pandemic ... Twilley and Manaugh see things that others don’t. Their insatiable curiosity reveals itself through all of their endeavors.
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleBefitting a book about a spiritual community, this is the tale of the journey as much as the destination. Kapur is a terrific storyteller, and even though you’re told a lot up front, his writing compels you to follow him as he digs deeper. The Mother is, as you’d expect, creepy and compelling, and a sense of foreboding is ever present ... Kapur is not just writing this narrative; he is an integral part of it. Like Aurolice, he was born and raised in Auroville. He and Aurolice married and moved to the States — and yet they returned to live in this enigmatic place full of so many difficult memories. That, I have to say, was surprising.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle... achingly of its time ... I really appreciated Adichie’s discomfort with the language of grief ... Books often come to you just when you need them, and it is unimaginable to think just how many people have, like the author, lost someone in this singularly strange period of our history. Adichie’s father didn’t die from COVID-19, but that doesn’t make the aftermath of that loss any less relevant ... A book on grief is not the kind of book you want to have to give to anyone. But here we are.
PanSan Francisco ChronicleTo read this book today is an unsettling reminder of just how much history repeats itself ... It is in this historical moment that Darznik aims to show us how Dorrie from New Jersey becomes the famous Farm Security Administration photographer Dorothea Lange. She doesn’t do a very good job at it. The author is strongest at describing Lange’s often horrific childhood, but as the book progresses, it feels more and more like historical fiction lite ... Though Lange would ultimately go on to take some of the most arresting images of Depression-era America, that part of her life isn’t covered in The Bohemians. Darznik never manages to get into the mind of Lange, who I am reasonably sure never said something as banal as \'to take a truly good picture you have to learn to see, not just look\' ... It’s far too common for female protagonists in historical fiction to come off as wide-eyed and plucky heroines, even if they’re not ... I was waiting for writing that would bring the area, its history and its denizens to life. We never get a sense of what had to be a notoriously lawless and rowdy place. It all feels oddly sanitized, as if Darznik’s book had been censored by San Francisco’s then-Mayor James Rolph, who infamously crusaded against prostitution, alcohol and homosexuality.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleIf you’ve followed the WeWork saga, you’ll already be familiar with a lot of Neumann’s shenanigans, but Wiedeman does a good job demonstrating repeating patterns of hubris, hedonism and bad management ... Some may read this book and balk at such outrageous behavior while others, much like Trump supporters, may see the daring and bravado as something to cheer and even emulate. Wiedeman cites a prominent venture capitalist who says the right response to Neumann, in the end, \'was to recognize his faults while acknowledging the unbelievable thing he had done.\'
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleYou don’t have to be interested in blockchain to be taken in by this endlessly thought-provoking book ... It’s rare to read a book by a technologist that isn’t a polemic placed squarely in the pro or con camp. Wang is genuinely interested in discovering a more nuanced approach.