RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleKushner, primarily known for her fiction, proves she’s also a master essayist in The Hard Crowd: 19 pieces of memoir and criticism that display her omnivorous tastes in literature, art and history ... her writing is tough and skulky, snaking through the past, nearly emotionally impenetrable at times. Kushner involves herself only when necessary and prefers, like most fiction writers, to look outward ... In looking outward, she renders the world coolly, encapsulating an entire mood in a single stroke ... Throughout these essays, Kushner steals back subjects normally hopelessly tied to masculinity, like classic cars, dive bars, Marxism and motorcycles. Despite these essays spanning two decades, there’s something essentially Kushner-esque threaded throughout, a sense of cool girl remove, which is tempered by her engaged activist interests in prison abolition and workers rights. While this collection is best for fans, it’s also a good introduction for the uninitiated, as long as they don’t mind passing brainy references to Lacan and Cixous ... Despite Kushner’s reluctance to take center stage, the personal essays shine ... References to since-shuttered establishments vividly evoke an era when motorcycle mechanics and bike messengers could afford to live in the city, and Kushner ultimately delivers a heavy hit of nostalgia that will make any San Franciscan’s heart lurch.
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle\"Hinojosa’s writing is often workmanlike (readers should not come to this book for the pretty prose) but her overall story is compelling, not only for its ability to convey her own life as a survivor of rape and one of the only Latinas in the room during her career, but also in its ability to humanize the history of immigration ... Her depictions of the treatment of undocumented individuals moved me to tears, proving her greatest asset is her ability to put a human face on the immigration crisis ... a testament to what great journalism can do—leverage privilege and power to tell the stories of those who are voiceless.\
Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Illustrated by Fumi Nakamura
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleThe nature writing we have been exposed to has been overwhelmingly male and white, which is just one reason that Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s latest essay collection, World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments, is a breath of fresh air ... Nezhukumatathil’s background as an accomplished poet makes her debut collection of nonfiction essays anything but dry, and the accompanying illustrations by Fumi Nakamura help elevate the lyricism of her prose ... What makes her work shine is its joyful embrace of difference, revealing that true beauty resides only in diversity.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleMyer is not a shy writer; she covers religion, sexual abuse, suicide, reproduction, trauma, mental illness, divorce. As a poet, essayist, fiction writer, and founder of the Portuguese Artists Colony reading series, Myer’s chameleon abilities as a writer serve her well in this book. The narrative is fragmented, yet it holds together, and the writing is visceral, and unabashed ... Memoir often suffers from a sense of distance and remove as the writer reflects on the past, but Myer’s ability to embody her history infuses the text with an electric corporeality ... Stories and who gets to tell them are at the heart of this memoir ... This book gives one beautiful window into what outside the story might look like. I hope every reader allows themselves a peek.
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleNewton provides a thorough and sympathetic take on one of California’s most significant and unconventional politicians ... Newton’s biography is also a portrait of a place, and readers who might be turned off by the minutiae of ballot measures and budgets (of which there is enough in this book to satisfy any wonk) will learn about how Brown’s life intersected with significant moments in California’s history, from the Jonestown massacre to the 1992 Los Angeles riots ... Ultimately, Newton seems unable to crack Brown’s inner emotional landscape; he remains inscrutable throughout the book, and that opacity limits the intimacy of this biography, though that might be less a fault of the writer than the nature of the subject himself, especially considering Newton’s exclusive access ... While Brown’s inner life remains fairly opaque, we instead infer character through actions.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleCassidy cherry-picks significant discoveries, from the first beer to the first joke, and brings to life the nameless discoverers, their world and their vital contribution to history ... Cassidy makes these historic discoveries relatable by making them human, giving these forgotten individuals their due ... For some readers this tone might be playful; others might bristle at the flip choice of subbing in the names of two modern-day white men for these African and Polynesian discoverers ... Making history fun is often a challenge, and here Cassidy succeeds. I read this book in one quick sip and imagine it to be a perfect gift book for young and old adults, particularly ones interested in history, but perhaps too light for serious history, science or anthropology buffs. This casual but thoughtful tour through time is a great way to travel, particularly now, when we’re all stuck at home.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle... compelling ... For Goudeau, who is a journalist and has worked with refugees in Austin for more than a decade, this work is not only urgent, it’s personal ... Goudeau intersperses these chapters with the evolution of U.S. policy toward refugee resettlement from the late 19th century to the current moment, giving readers just enough context to understand the scope of our country’s policies ... Based on two years of interviews and longer friendships, Goudeau’s profiles bear the hallmark of deep journalism based on trust, listening and extensive research. She not only puts names and stories to the refugees that we so often lump together as a faceless mass, but also painstakingly gets the details and nuance of their stories right. She does not shy away from detailing the suffering and sacrifice of each of their journeys; her thorough reporting combined with attention to detail and plot create a work of narrative-driven nonfiction that reads like the best novels ... At a time when discussions are happening about privilege and power and there is welcome scrutiny around who gets to tell what stories, I believe Goudeau’s book is an example of how to leverage one’s privilege to help tell the stories of those who might not otherwise be heard. Ultimately what makes this book’s truths resonate is the spirit of collaboration out of which it was born combined with Goudeau’s commitment to the highest standards of journalistic ethics. It reveals a trust and tenderness between journalist and subjects ... We are living through a time where our borders are more sealed off than ever, and those in need of refuge are being turned away. Goudeau makes it clear that our moral compass with respect to refugees is broken, the arrow spinning around and around, looking for the next place to land. Her deeply moving book points to exactly where that place should be.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleThere has been a recent and welcome surge of books that give voice to people who were once pushed to the margins, held in obscurity, muffled in silence, and Miller’s memoir is a welcome addition to this new canon ... In a time when the memoir genre is criticized as dispensable and navel-gazing, Miller reminds us that our stories are worth telling, that the names and the lives attached to those names matter.
RaveThe RumpusWhite Girls feels so new, (despite the fact that it’s largely comprised of previously published material) layered and unexpected. This is an extraordinary collection of essays—a lyrical hybrid of fiction, criticism and creative nonfiction, all dealing with issues of race, gender, identity, and privilege ... He tries to subvert the form by breaking through these structural prisons, fissuring the language that supports them, presenting sentences that double on themselves and defy expectations. He calls black men white women. He turns the essay form it on its head. Als knows that great writing happens not in identifying what a person is, but in asking people what they identify with, what mask they are wearing ... Most books make a contract with the reader, but Hilton Als knows that to read without a contract is the best way to discover new shades of thought. He is a poet on the page, and his insistence on breaking the essay form defines his liberation as a writer.
Julia Flynn Siler
PositiveSan Francisco Chronicle...meticulously researched and inspiring ... Siler re-creates vivid scenes, from rescuing girls from brothels to intervening with smuggling right at the docks, showing how the women of the Mission Home used their moral compass to navigate the choppy waters of their time ... There was a danger of Siler penning a book where white women played too central a role in the narrative, but her attention to highlighting the contributions of the Chinese women, including Tien Fuh Wu, rescues the book from its potential white Christian savior narrative. One area that felt under-explored was the complicated nature of imposing Christianity upon the rescued Chinese women, yet the lack of available firsthand accounts from the Chinese women is likely the root cause of this area of the book feeling thin ... The White Devil’s Daughters is a reminder that our political gestures and small wins accumulate and create ripple effects in ways we cannot often measure ... Siler’s book is a terrific reminder of a how a life’s work is built: brick by brick.
RaveThe Rumpus... [Julavits] takes moments in time and blows them up with thought and introspection and tangential relations. She condenses them down into polished nuggets ... Immediately Julavits is winsome and likable on the page. She pre-empts all envy and repulsion by anticipating the reader’s potential reaction ... She is a narrator who is concerned with her presentation of self, but she manages to expose herself in a full-ish portrait, highlighting both her anxieties and petty humanness, and celebrating her own wit, resourcefulness and tenacity ... [Julavits] has looked at her world so thoroughly for so long, and the richness of accumulated time, the way cream rises to the top when milk settles, gives The Folded Clock a rooted sense of intimacy with the writer ... At times the more serious side of me wanted the author to take on heavier material. But her mind is so smart and delightful and open that even her missives on garage sale savvy and swimming and watching The Bachelorette opened up caverns of musings about life, death, and anxieties.
PositiveThe RumpusToo Much and Not The Mood comes as a welcome reprieve at a moment when personal essays are often cloyingly concrete. Chew-Bose offers something looser, more abstract, a window into process, almost as if we are walking inside of the body of the writer as she thinks through things, doubles back on her ideas, and leaves some of them unfinished. To be thought through again later. I’m sure this approach could and will frustrate many readers who desire answers and pointed points, but for many, this book will provide a refreshing antidote to the tidy amuse bouche conclusions so often trotted out. Instead, Chew-Bose’s writing complicates and unravels takeaways.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleTea perfectly captures both the debauchery of that era’s queer culture and the first dot-com boom’s losses ... Part of Black Wave’s power is in its honest remembrance of ’90s San Francisco life, and thriving queer culture, a portrait of an important chapter in the city’s history. It’s also a love letter to literature’s lasting power and the ability of writing to save one’s future.