RaveThe Washington PostRevelatory ... Riesman’s book is a captivating dive into a spectacle that cannot genuinely be categorized as a real sport but that nonetheless relies on the talents of world-class athletes. It’s a story that feels urgent today ... Draws alarming parallels between the rise of pro-wrestling culture and a political movement that saw a member of the WWE Hall of Fame voted into the White House.
Ali Winston, Darwin BondGraham
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleAli Winston and Darwin BondGraham have proved it is possible to offer a definitive account of a systemically corrupt police department ... Both devastating and illuminating, The Riders Come Out At Night also serves as a vibrant, clear-eyed history of Oakland politics ... It’s a compelling thesis fleshed out over 400 pages with meticulous research, scores of fresh interviews and a refusal to move on from an issue that has now outlasted four mayors, two judges, two monitoring teams and a half-dozen police chiefs. It’s an effort worthy of immense recognition — let the Pulitzer Prize buzz commence — but glittering hardware is not the authors’ ultimate goal. Instead, as the authors note in their conclusion, they want to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that police agencies are simply incapable of policing themselves ... Winston and BondGraham have delivered an air-tight argument against the “few bad apples” theory.
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleThough promotional efforts suggest both works function as stand-alone novels or can be read together, the latter option should be seen not as a luxury but a necessity ... The result is that the novella is a trying exercise in free-form debate between two sides of the same mind. Taken on its own, it’s difficult to see how any but the most devoted of McCarthy’s readers would rank it among his best. But paired with The Passenger, the full payoff is unquestionably something remarkable.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle... less funny than it is outright phenomenal. Serving as a written act of grief, Delaney delves into the tragic death of his 2½-year-old son in 2018 with a book that is likely to find itself on many best-of-the-year lists next month ... Written with empathy and remarkable humor ... Written in beautiful prose that occasionally veers into justifiable rage, Delaney’s words are rich with sorrow while also managing the even more astonishing feat of often being legitimately funny ... Doled out in appropriate doses, Delaney’s gift of levity is a necessary balm to consume a text that is often, undeniably, quite heavy ... Ultimately, it’s a memoir written as an act of therapy that will now further honor its subject’s legacy by providing a new source of clear-eyed, empathetic comfort for those who need it most.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleAn illustrated romp ... Depicted in multi-panel comic vignettes — plus the occasional full-page spread — Martin’s words marry perfectly with Bliss’ signature pen strokes to provide a coffee-table compendium of funny yet sincere reflections from a star who has truly seen it all ... Martin’s warm reminiscences, complemented by Bliss’ engaging artwork, succeed in creating a book that offers chuckles and insights in equal measure.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleA proper 400-page tome ... The totality of McCarthy’s twin books is that of a doomed love story between brother and sister. Sharing, in unequal measure, a passion for one another that is scandalously far from platonic, McCarthy never outright references incest in either work, yet the subject looms large in both ... It’s a compelling premise for a mystery, but answers are not the point of this dizzyingly metaphysical treatise on the human condition ... It’s a lot to absorb, but the less you worry about how all these countless threads could possibly tie together, the better you’ll be prepared for the eventual reality: They don’t ... The legacy of McCarthy’s new offerings is, much as the author would surely wish, both magnificent and cruelly impossible to define.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleIn Henderson’s justifiably hefty tome, the untold story of the nisei (second-generation Japanese American) soldiers, initially scorned by the U.S. military in the wake of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, is finally revealed in full for the first time ... [a] noble effort to belatedly restore public honor on a group of men whose names should be known far and wide ... is all the stronger for its willingness to acknowledge the deep evils of war while simultaneously celebrating the bravery and valor of a group of soldiers that can only be classified as true American heroes.
RaveSan Francisco Chronicle... it’s the unpublished, unknown chapters of Fitzgerald’s life that make his new memoir resonate as a modern look at what it’s like to feel lost in America ... Painfully honest but sincerely funny ... [Fitzgerald] manages to handle these indisputably heavy subjects with clear-eyed, darkly humorous care ... Whether writing about his struggles with body dysmorphia, his limited stint as an adult-film actor at San Francisco’s historic Armory building or how the two overlap on the Venn diagram of his life, Fitzgerald’s willingness to strip himself bare, both on the page and off, offers apt insight into why he chose to subtitle his memoir a \'confessional.\' Connoting both religious overtones and Fitzgerald’s direct, heart-tattooed-on-his-sleeve brand of raw candor, Dirtbag, Massachusetts is a confession in all the best senses of the word ... Fitzgerald is also more than willing to second-guess his younger self with ruthless accuracy ... it is in celebration, not trauma, that Dirtbag, Massachusetts finds Fitzgerald tapping into his most vulnerable self ... Fitzgerald shows again and again that there is beauty to be found amid the pain, as hard as it can be to look.
Werner Herzog, trans. by Michael Hofmann
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle... a brief, thoughtful narrative that dwells largely on the mechanisms of Onoda’s fortitude. It also occasionally detours into more poetic, sweeping passages in which Herzog rides his protagonist’s ever-spinning mind to muse on grand concepts like loyalty, time and self ... Herzog’s seasoned eye for a well-framed shot also translates seamlessly to the page as he invokes the perils of a relentless jungle that eventually becomes akin to a fog ... As profound and thought-provoking as the best of his films, Herzog’s The Twilight World delivers as a superb yet painful parable on the fleeting nature of purpose.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleTracy Flick Can’t Win finds the titular Flick still at Green Meadow but now looking to become principal of her former high school. One of a small pool of candidates, the conceit may seem like a retread of Election but instead becomes akin to a convincingly rendered meta-autopsy of Perrotta’s first full-length plot ... Perrotta seeks to temper the antihero allure that’s long been associated with the young Flick by delivering a sequel that probes at the fabric of what it means to have a legacy — and what say we each get in defining it ... Perrotta challenges readers to rethink our own assessments of Flick ... Humorous yet humane, the prescient, darkly comical Tracy Flick Can’t Win is a sequel that ultimately proves worthy of its star character’s return by infusing Flick with an urgent new sense of agency. Actions, as they say, have consequences.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleForget the circus because the balancing act Steve Almond performs in this novel, All the Secrets of the World, would put tightrope walkers to shame ... Known to some for his work as a co-host on the Dear Sugars podcast, Almond manages to channel the empathy intrinsic to that long-running advice program into the characters that make this novel a breathtaking success ... At times a race-to-the-finish mystery, this book can also rightly be categorized as a searing meditation on the multigenerational traumas endured by a family of undocumented immigrants. And yet, despite boasting a veritable universe of story lines, All the Secrets of the World impressively manages to sew all its loose threads back together before the final page arrives.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleOzzi is the perfect choice to tackle the challenge of making a cohesive narrative out of a story that travels from mosh pits to executive boardroom meetings to sweaty tour bus spats without ever losing its rhythm ... Part of what makes Sellout sing is its ability to return us to a time in the music industry that now feels like a relic of the past: an era when devoted followings were built from memorable, constant live performances and the unsolicited mailing of demo tapes to labels ... Offering a nimble balance of history, analysis and colorful anecdotes, Sellout ultimately finds its greatest strength in its objectivity. Far from being a castigation of the featured bands, Ozzi’s book is instead a refreshingly dispassionate attempt to explain why some bands were able to find immense success from partnering with a major label while others disintegrated as a result of making the same decision.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleJohn Darnielle’s latest novel, set in Milpitas, delivers as a riveting reflection on the nature of true crime and storytelling. What matters more in the genre of true crime: the crime or the truth? Such is the question at the heart of Devil House, the masterful third novel from Mountain Goats singer-songwriter John Darnielle. Simultaneously functioning as a gripping murder mystery, a meditation on place and a metafictional dissection of the true-crime genre, Darnielle’s latest proves rather decisively that his immense talents as a musician extend to the written word as well ... Suspenseful, brilliant and chaotically addicting, Devil House triumphs as a page-turning metafictional treatise on the power of narratives cloaked in the trappings of a certifiable true crime classic.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleBrooks is generous with his praise and steadfast in his belief that no comedy icon ever achieves great heights alone ... Brooks writes both like a man grateful for his blessings and one unwilling to saddle his final years with regret. As a consequence, few words are devoted to more solemn subjects, such as Bancroft’s death from cancer in 2005, but many are shared in service to deconstructing some of his most cherished material. In fact, it is these passages, dedicated to such topics as the enduring humor of flatulating cowboys...that ultimately shine the brightest. Delivered with Brooks’ indefatigable brand of silly, slyly brilliant wit, his revelations on the craft of comedy serve as the backbone of a memoir that deals equally in punch lines and pearls of wisdom. A wonderful addition to a seminal career, All About Me! is not only a worthy summary of all Mel Brooks has achieved but also a lasting testament to the laughs he’s had along the way.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleOften taking the form of walkabouts or road trips to places both familiar and forgotten, Vadi’s writing impressively charts his own family’s story while also offering a larger examination of what we think we know about California, a state that’s been endlessly mythologized but rarely explored with such searing passion and genuine depth. Vadi vacillates between reverence and rage in writing of his grandfather in the collection’s titular essay, as he details the ongoing plight of migrant farm workers. Presented as a blend of travelogue and historical commentary, the result is an enlightening, if tragic, rumination on how we choose to memorialize the past ... Though his focus often feels bleak in nature, Vadi’s skills as a poet provide a lyrical sheen that serves to temper his anguish with the wide-eyed wonder of one still fully enamored with California’s (albeit disappearing) splendor ... many lines in Inter State...manage to astutely evoke visceral memories of a certain time and place without falling prey to the false comfort of nostalgia. A must-read for all who wish to truly understand what it now means to be a Californian, the lasting triumph of Vadi’s collection is just how clearly it maps the endless concentric circles that together define what it means to love a place and loathe it all at once.
Matthew Clark Davison
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleIt’s a lot to fit into one narrative, but Davison wisely allows the heady stuff to marinate in the form of the impressively authentic, familiar conversations ... Sharply probing at the insular logic of progressive privilege ... Thanks to the care Davison pays to his characters — each one a fully realized, thinking human in Thomas’ orbit — what could be an overserving of tragedy is instead delivered with clarity and nuance. The result is a novel that manages to take on a number of the world’s traumas without ever being swallowed whole, instead using the personal travails of a gay man at the dusk of Obama’s America to probe at the nature of what it truly means to know oneself.
Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever, illustrated by Wesley Allsbrook
RaveSan Francisco Chronicle[A] refreshingly unique travel guide that thoughtfully fleshes out Bourdain’s desired intentions with supplementary essays from his peers and loved ones ... The book makes it abundantly clear when we’re reading Bourdain’s voice, stylized in a bold blue font — a thoughtful distinction but perhaps a redundant one as well ... While we often credit Bourdain for his ability to translate the intangible allures of food to the page, this new, geographically oriented compendium also cherry-picks some of his favorite non-gastronomical sites and occasions ... a joyous yet painful reminder of what Bourdain gave the world: an infectious hunger to learn more and eat well.
RaveSan Francisco Chronicle[A] refreshingly candid memoir about the trauma of loss, the limits of language and the meals made along the way ... [A] profound, timely exploration of terminal illness, culture and shared experience ... Whether detailing the process behind jatjuk (a Korean pine nut porridge that plays an important role in the narrative) or her eventual efforts to master the art of kimchi, Zauner brings dish after dish to life on the page in a rich broth of delectable details, cultural context and the personal history often packed into every bite. But far from letting food substitute for substance, H Mart also offers some remarkably prescient observations about otherness from the perspective of the Korean American experience ... In writing a memoir that will ultimately thrill Japanese Breakfast fans and provide comfort to those in the throes of loss while brilliantly detailing the colorful panorama of Korean culture, traditions and — yes — food, Michelle Zauner has accomplished the unthinkable: a book that caters to all appetites and doesn’t skimp on the kimchi.
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleScenes of empty bookstore signings and people mistaking Tomine for fellow cartoonist Daniel Clowes give root to his chronic impostor syndrome, while other anecdotes from the book border on being too excruciating to believe ... The poetry of arguments, themes of alienation, a viscerally rapid descent from humiliation to fury — all the things that have come to signify Tomine’s work are abundantly present in his memoir as well. Further binding the material is Tomine’s stark, gorgeously realistic illustrations. Taken together, these links reveal the ways in which he has both drawn on himself and, quite literally, drawn himself into his work.