Welcome to fall 2020: democracy at risk, a continuing pandemic, clashes in the streets, threatened food supplies, fires, a looming election, and skyrocketing anxiety as our cooped-up selves try to manage a cacophony of bad news. How to make sense of it all, and what to do? On Sunday, October 4th, the Bay Area Book Festival will showcase 22 world-renowned personalities who will share their knowledge and visions for a more sustainable future in a one day virtual mini-fest, Berkeley #UNBOUND. Our recommended reads for this September will introduce you to some of the brilliant minds we’re featuring this fall, in Berkeley #UNBOUND and beyond. We hope these titles comfort, inspire, and empower you to use your own voice and take action.
This autobiography by the man The New York Times called “the most promising new talent in political comedy in many years” is just as irreverent, brutally honest, and thought-provoking as you’d expect. Bell delves into his upbringing, the intersectionality between racism and sexism, the challenges of an interracial marriage, and his status as an unapologetic “blerd” (Black nerd) with a verve and depth that earned hearty praise from Shelf Awareness: “Awkward Thoughts is definitely entertaining, but it also invites readers to look through different eyes.”
This brilliant 1972 satirical novel by UCB Professor Emeritus and MacArthur fellow Reed is a favorite of Thomas Pynchon’s. It was reissued as a Penguin Modern Classic in 2017, dazzling a whole new generation of readers with its prescient, blazing take on race and America’s ethos. (Its description of America as “mercurial, restless, violent … the traveling salesman who can sell the world a Brooklyn Bridge every day, can put anything over on you” may remind you of a certain someone). Says The Guardian, “We can read [Reed’s] work now with a similar urgency to what its first readers might have felt.”
In these times of profound reckoning around issues of race, equity, and America’s soul, we need Reed’s vision and singular perspective more than ever. Hear him and other brilliant literary fabulists expound on where we can go from here in Berkeley #UNBOUND’s virtual conversation, “Writing a New World Into Existence: Lessons from Literary Futurism,” on Sunday, October 4th.
Macdonald dazzled critics and readers with H is for Hawk, her poignant meditation on falconry and sublimating personal grief. From songbirds atop skyscrapers to vanishing orioles in forests, her latest, the essay collection Vesper Flights, is also buoyed by the enchanting spell it weaves around all things winged, rooted, and of the earth and sky. At a time when the natural world is under siege, Macdonald shows us the wonders that persist, and redoubles our resolve to preserve them and respect their mystery. As the Wall Street Journal raved, “Dazzling…Ms. Macdonald reminds us how marvelously unfamiliar much of the nonhuman world remains to us, even as we continue to diminish it.”
On October 6th, learn from Macdonald in “Poised to Soar,” a conversation with poet Camille Dungy on what we can learn from nature’s limitless secrets.
“Will we ever settle? Will we ever sleep? Or will we be reduced into a shambling sleepless heap? … I think we may just become FOREVER EVERYONE AWAKE” Not the lines that assure parents of the merits of Meloy’s goodnight routine and true: it’s a rick rollicking ride he takes us on in pitch-perfect, silly but clever rhymes. Dad bakes bread, Mom fixes the roof, Grandpa and the dog throw darts… Through all that Harris’s illustrations leap off the page in a joyous celebration of color. But it works and not only that, this is the most delightful bedtime story I have read in a long time. Children will giggle their way to sweet and silly dreams. Added bonus: find the frog that is hidden on every page.
Wouldn’t you sometimes wish your angry stares turned your adversaries into pillars of salt? Or better still into exactly that what they wish upon you? Fourth grader Daniela Santiago, budding feminist and warrior for equality gets just that wish fulfilled. An accident and a touch of sci-fi land her with superpowers. When she meets inequality, she gets so mad that purple laser rays shoot from her eyes and mean boys get a taste of their own medicine. Can you imagine what happens when the president refuses to sign the Gender Equality Bill and dares to come down to judge a tween beauty contest?
De Leon’s middle grade debut is funny and subversive. At a time when the amplification of the stories, perspectives, and interior worlds of girls of color is more urgent and important than ever, she gives us a fierce and sparklingly genuine protagonist, who deals with sexist stereotypes in wittily, healthy ways. Catch her in Berkeley #UNBOUND’s virtual conversation, Writing a New World Into Existence: Lessons from Literary Futurism.
R.C. Barnes first book of her YA Tattoo Teller series, Ink for the Beloved is a love letter to her adolescent years in Berkeley. Barnes’s heroine is 16-year-old Bess, an amateur detective but also a tattoo teller. She knows the truth behind a tattoo by just touching it; the ink speaks to her. Her mercurial mother is a legendary tattoo artist but the people who come to her for inks are often shady and some have murder in their hearts, causing trouble for Bess and her little sister Echo.
Barnes weaves a story that pulls you in from the first pages. Bess immediately captures your heart with her fearlessness, her confusion, her defiance, her tenderness, especially toward Echo. Be ready for a story that slips under your skin. Barnes’s gorgeous writing will make you want more. Luckily, this is just the first book in the series! R.C. Barnes will be one of the featured authors in Berkeley #UNBOUND’s youth program, Unleash Your Creative Superpowers with National Novel Writing Month.
The month of July has been packed with a variety of literary experiences, created by the Bay Area Book Festival to cover your summer reading, further professional goals, inspire personal transformation, address current events, and of course offer plenty of great family programming.
Here are our July book picks:
WHAT WE’RE READING – ADULT BOOKS
Before and After the Book Deal: A Writer’s Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting, and Surviving Your First Book by Courtney Maum There are a lot of “how to write and publish a book” guides out there, but none are as frank, surprising, and funny as this breath of fresh air from novelist Maum, who unveils the secrets that editors, agents, and published writers typically keep under lock and key. In a serendipitous feat of timing, Maum’s “everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask” guide comes out during a time of profound reckoning and truth-telling for the notoriously secretive publishing industry. Famed writers like Anthony Doerr, Ottessa Moshfegh, and Lisa Ko spill the beans about the road to publication and what happens next, and Maum frames their journeys–and her own–with the conversational warmth and verve of a friend confiding trade secrets over drinks. Whatever stage of the drafting/publication/promotion process you’re in, this book is your expert advisor, therapist, and straight-shooter, all in one.
For more candor and insights, check out “Ready, Set, Publish,” Maum’s recent Bay Area Book Festival # UNBOUND conversation with NaNoWriMo’s Grant Faulkner and She Writes Press’ Brooke Warner.
F*ck Like a Goddess: Heal Yourself. Reclaim Your Voice. Stand in Your Power by Alexandra Roxo Transformational healing coach Roxo’s favorite Greek myth is the tale of Persephone, fated to spend half the year in the underworld with Hades, only to emerge triumphantly in spring. The myth is a thematic fit for Roxo’s earthy guide to female self-knowledge and freedom, which carries serious “rebirth and regenesis” vibes. Roxo’s mission is to help every woman sublimate trauma, self-doubt, and dissociation into a radically different energy that paves the way for passionate engagement with the world and oneself. Called a “sharp forceful debut” by Publishers Weekly, F*ck Like a Goddess uses storytelling and exercises to guide readers to a place, in Roxo’s words, of “wildness and joy unbridled.”
On July 29, Bay Area Book Festival #UNBOUND is partnering with The Battery to present a special live event with Roxo for its Women Lit members.
The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See The setting for See’s multigenerational novel is a Korean island called Jeju, known for its “Three Abundances: wind, stones, and women.” And not just any women, but a fierce collective of intrepid female divers who are the island’s primary breadwinners. See’s portrait of familial legacies, underwater adventure, and global upheaval feels both intimate and panoramic, and is all the more riveting for its framework within a real-life matriarchy that finds itself suspended between tradition and modernity. Oprahmag.com called The Island of Sea Women a “mesmerizing historical novel that women’s strengths—and the strength of their friendships.”
See and bestselling author Sue Monk Kidd dove deep into the complexities of these friendships, and the challenges of depicting them in fiction, in a recent BABF #UNBOUND conversation with Aimee Phan, “Braving Deep Waters.”
WHAT WE’RE READING – CHILDREN’S AND YA BOOKS
Cat Dog Dog: The Story of a Blended Family by Nelly Buchet, illustrated by Andrea Zuill; ages 3-7 years This book has only two words—“cat” and “dog”—but what Nelly Buchet and Andrea Zuill do with those two words is sheer delight and it brought them three starred reviews. And rightly so! Buchet and Zuill take us to a blended family, because, you know… They’re not always easy, for humans or for pets. Come with us and meet Cat and Dog, who live with their human in a suburban house with a big backyard. Sure, they fight like… well, cats and dogs, but they’re used to one another. Dog—a different dog!—lives a happy only-child life in the city with his dad. He has the bed to himself, he never has to share his toys, and that’s the way he likes it. So, what happens when Dog’s dad and Cat and Dog’s mom move in together? These two words make a wonderfully smart, heart-warming, and laugh-out-loud picture book. Two words is all Nelly Buchet and Andrea Zuill. Really. Or… would there be a surprise word or two?
Check out our recent virtual conversation with Nelly Buchet and Andrea Zuill.
On These Magic Shores by Yamile Saied Méndez; ages 8 – 12 Many families and children struggle to find a safe life, including Minerva Soledad Miranda, a young Latinx teen who is terrified that her mom, after not returning home from work one night, may have been wrongly taken by ICE. Afraid that she and her two little sisters she takes care of may be taken to foster homes or holding centers for migrant children, Minerva decides to pretend everything is normal until her mom returns. The plan falls through almost immediately. Luckily, Minerva finds a special, mysterious, and magical helper to get to the bottom of her mother’s worrying disappearance. Though, Yamile Saied Méndez touches upon many heavy problems like racism, immigration, stereotyping and income inequality, her extraordinary ability to craft wonderful characters full of life and smarts, and with big dreams makes On These Magic Shores a tale that will warm your heart and make you laugh.
Check out our recent virtual conversation with Yamile Saied Méndez and Aimee Lucido (In the Key of Code), moderated by ten-year-old Naomi Wilson from Cinnamongirl, Inc., an Oakland-based nonprofit that empowers girls of color with mentorship and educational opportunities.
This Time Will be Different by Misa Sugiura; ages 14 – 18 Misa Sugiura’s This Time Will be Different introduces us to CJ, who discovers a hidden talent for floral arrangement in her family’s flower shop—only to make another discovery that leads her to fight, for the first time in her life, for what is important to her. With a deft pen, Sugiura paints CJ and other characters true to life, with all their flaws and vulnerabilities. And she lets them grow. Just like Sugiura lets the reader grow and find truth when it comes to racism and by breaking through myths like those of the model minority. She does that with a deft pen, lots of humor and glorious romance. A book that will pull you in from page one!
Check out our recent virtual conversation with Misa Sugiura, Abigail Hing Wen, and Jasmine Edwards, moderated by Jasmine Edwards, senior of Bentley School in Lafayette and a member of Cinnamongirl, Inc.
The Bay Area Book Festival was founded on principles of social justice. In light of current
events, we are proud to claim solidarity with everyone speaking up and doing the work to
dismantle a longstanding legacy of racial inequality.
Actions may speak louder than words, but words also have the power to change our hearts and
minds and inform our actions. Books can give us the ability to confront the truth and bear
witness—to our own lives, and to others. Our June picks address our strange and volatile times
to help invigorate, inform, and transport us:
Irish literary superstar McBride burst onto the international scene with her debut novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, which took six months to write and nine years to publish. Once it finally made its way into the world, it became a sensation, winning the Women’s Prize for Fiction and leading Anne Enright to designate McBride as “that old-fashioned thing, a genius.” Strange Hotel, McBride’s third novel, is just as convention-defying, delving deep into the singular consciousness of a woman who lives inside her own head, haunted indelibly by the past and seeking refuge in thought at the expense of emotion. A feat of profound psychological suspense and insight, Strange Hotel is the perfect novel for these decidedly strange and distanced times.
Catch McBride in a riveting Bay Area Book Festival #UNBOUND conversation with Brooke Warner of She Writes Press.
At a time when the meaning of “community” and collective accountability is a matter of urgent import, and when the role of law enforcement in our cities is under deserved scrutiny, We Keep us Safe offers a compassionate, hopeful re-imagining of what “public safety” really entails. Called “an enormously important contribution in the efforts to advance human rights in this country” by bestselling Just Mercy author Bryan Stevenson, this is a blueprint for the kind of community we need to create and sustain, now more than ever.
Catch Norris, the Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, with Conor Dougherty, Joe Wilson, and San Francisco Chronicle journalist Heather Knight in an #UNBOUND conversation about homelessness and the housing crisis, “No Place to Shelter: What COVID-19 Reveals About Inequality,” on June 25th at 7 PM.
National Book Award winner Finney’s latest collection is subtitled “Poems and Artifacts,” and it’s easy to see why: with its cast of ancestors, witness-stand testimonies, and relics from 400 years of black American life, this book gives new meaning to the term “docu-poetry.” In a starred review, Publishers Weekly says that “Finney’s skillful, sweeping epic ambitiously connects personal and public history.” This is a gorgeous, sweeping masterwork from one of contemporary poetry’s most original and visceral voices.
In these tumultuous times, we’re finding comfort and inspiration in revisiting this cathartic #UNBOUND conversation between Finney and Pulitzer Prize winner Jericho Brown, in which they talk about the murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, the role of identity in poetry, and the profound mission these remarkable poets share: the ability to bear witness through art.
Award-winning children’s book author Meg Fleming whisked us away on an adventure of shell-collecting, shoreline-exploring, and sand-castle-building. The delightfully exuberant rhymes and the sun-drenched, animal-filled illustrations of this picture book were exactly what we needed at the Bay Area Book Festival to bring us a sense of discovery, rejuvenation, and playfulness to beat the sameness of day-to-day. This book is as invigorating as a sea breeze.
Check out our recent conversation with the author and illustrator and pick up some Spanish along the way from Argentinian illustrator Paola Zakimi.
Two books we read in tandem. Because they are important. Bestselling authors Lois Lowry and Jan Terlouw write about war, heroism and humanity that transcends geography, nationality and time. With On the Horizon, two-time Newberry Award medalist Lowry draws from her own childhood memories of Hawaii and Japan in an honest and empathetic account of lives lost and forever altered by the twin tragedies of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima. Jan Terlouw’s Winter in Wartimehas been in print for almost fifty years, for good reason: this beloved novel, based on Terlouw’s own boyhood in wartime Holland, is a young-adult classic with the suspenseful pacing of a thriller. Heroism, not war, takes center stage in these books: the everyday heroism of young people in extraordinary times. We need these voices, young and old to remind us of universal humanity.
On Saturday, July 11, will be featuring Lois Lowry and Jan Terlouw in conversation with seventh-graders Tej Wong and Quinn Boyd-Roberts in the episode ‘Heroism in the Face of Tragedy.’ Check out our upcoming schedule for details.
We were swept away across the high seas in Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s fantasy debut. Tokuda-Hall doesn’t shy away from connecting fantasy to history. In a world divided by colonialism and threaded with magic, protagonist pirate Florian, born Flora, and Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, high-born imperial daughter, cross lines of class and identity to fall in love, cross paths with haunting mythical creatures and double agents along the way to their shared fate.
Perhaps you caught this recent illuminating KQED story about how California arts nonprofits and individual artists/writers have sprung into action to support people who are isolated, traumatized, and scared in the midst of the pandemic. The Executive Director of Californians for the Arts, Julie Baker, used the term “second responders” to describe the role of the arts in times of crisis:
“A first responder comes in and saves a life. A second responder comes in and helps to rebuild a life.”
That’s what we’re trying to do with our virtual #UNBOUND author conversation series. After our May launch, we’re now looking at an uncertain summer. Our June programming offers a literary lifeline, centered on authors and books that bring you peace of mind, food for thought, and balm for the soul. Here are some of our favorites:
Trust bestselling author and historian Adam Hochschild to unearth one of history’s forgotten heroines and give her story the page-turning treatment it deserves. Russian immigrant Rose Pastor Stokes spent her first twelve years in America in a sweatshop, only to skyrocket to the upper class when she married an heir to a massive mining and real estate fortune. It’s a classic Cinderella story: that is, if Cinderella converted her prince to socialism, became an antiwar and labor activist, caused a scandal by promoting birth control access, and was dubbed “one of the most dangerous influences of the country” by a sitting President.
Want more? Check out our virtual conversation with Adam Hochschild on June 2, 7pm.
When Festival Writer & Development Manager Suzanne Rivecca first moved to San Francisco years ago, journalist David Talbot’s history of the city, Season of the Witch, opened her eyes to the political machinations, complex roots, cultural and social and racial intricacies, and utter, wild, unduplicated uniqueness of this topographical and emotional roller-coaster of a town. With Between Heaven and Hell, he once again takes an enormously complicated subject—sickness and recovery—and renders it not only digestible, but relatable and compelling. You might not expect a book about a major medical catastrophe and its aftermath to be uplifting, but this one is—as well as emotionally wise, funny, and raw in its honesty. A lifelong workaholic, Talbot says that his stroke ultimately made him a better person: more present, grateful, and mindful. It certainly hasn’t dampened the wit and rigor of his writing, which is as sharp and insightful as ever.
Want more? Check out our virtual conversation with David Talbot and Sir Michael Moritz on June 11, 7pm.
Elderhood, a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction, is a clear-eyed, empowering, and penetrating look at aging. Aronson brings her professional expertise—she’s a geriatrician and Professor of Medicine at UCSF—and her incisive voice to bear on a subject that’s all too often avoided, sentimentalized, or cloaked in fear. In a culture and a country that worships youth and averts its eyes from the realities and rewards of growing older, Elderhood is exactly the antidote we need to the misinformation and invisibility that we sometimes project upon the experience of aging. Aronson’s wish is for all of us to “look at the final third of life with the same concern, creativity, and rigor as we view the first two-thirds.”
Want more? Check out our virtual conversation with Louise Aronson and KALW’s Jenee Darden on June 18, 7pm.
“An art-positive story rich in love, determination, and delightfully big words for brains of all sizes,” is what Kirkus Reviews says in a starred review of this supercalifragilisticexpialidocious third book in Averbeck’s Sophia series, where precocious Sophia and her pet giraffe Noodle learn how to look at life, love, and art. And we, at the Bay Area Book Festival, concur. We’ll let you in on a secret: Our Children’s programmer, Mina Witteman, isn’t American or a native-English speaker, so she jumps at every chance to up her vocabulary. And Sophia’s empowering smarts and big words are just plain beguiling.
Want more? Check out our virtual conversation with Jim Averbeck and Yasmeen Ismail on June 27, 10 am.
Dinosaurs existed. That’s a fact that we accept today. But not so long ago, the concept that these giant creatures could have roamed Earth millions of years before humans even existed was unfathomable. People believed that what we now know are dinosaur bones were the bones of giant humans. Or large elephants. Or angels, even. In The First Dinosaur: How Science Solved the Greatest Mystery on Earth Ian Lendler takes you on a skull-and-bone and fossil filled journey that will unearth Earth’s greatest mystery.
Want more? Check out our virtual conversation with Ian Lendler and amazing 11 year-old Aria Sindledecker on June 6, 11 am.
Girls Garage is the only book you’ll ever need for a lifetime of building and repair. Packed with over 175 illustrated tool guides, 11 how-to projects, 21 essential skills, and 15 inspiring stories from real-world builder girls and women, this 300 page compendium will inspire you to fill up your toolbox and get building! With a background in architecture and construction, Emily Pilloton started the nonprofit Girls Garage to give girls the tools to build the world they want to see. Since 2013, girls ages 9-18 have come to Girls Garage’s workshop eager to use power tools and build real-world projects for their community. The Girls Garage book puts that same power into girls’ hands around the world, inviting them to join a thriving, diverse, and fierce movement of fearless build.
Since its inception in 2015, The Bay Area Book Festival has built a reputation for the quality of its literary programs, its international scope, and its commitment to informed public discourse, empathy, and open-mindedness. Although we’ve had to cancel our in-person Festival (May 2-3), we’ve gone virtual with the Bay Area Book Festival #UNBOUND, launching over the weekend of May 1-3. We’re dedicated to continue sharing the works of great authors, supporting booksellers, and engaging the literary community. During these trying times, books make us feel much less alone, no matter how far from home (or from each other) we are. In this monthly column, we hope to bring you a slice of literary goodness in the form of new books to enjoy, share, and discuss – even if it’s from a distance.
To have an assignment, Pastor Vern said, you have to be a woman of blood. Thus begins Chelsea Bieker’s first novel, the tale of a suddenly motherless young woman whose life has been upended by a charismatic cult. Our Director of Literary Programming, Kisky Holwerda, was enraptured by this debut, which Entertainment Weekly called “fiercely written and endlessly readable…a godsend.” This riveting story of trauma, resilience, and feminist awakening has earned comparisons to works by Margaret Atwood and Emma Cline; but the vision and voice of Godshot is entirely Bieker’s own.
This illuminating exploration of San Francisco’s historic, unparalleled housing crisis, by New York Times economics reporter Dougherty, does justice to the complexity of a situation we Bay Area denizens are all too familiar with. From low-income renters to displaced communities of color to affluent techies, everyone has a stake in this issue—and, as Dougherty shows, the factional voices threaten to drown one another out. The New Yorker recently lauded Golden Gates for shedding light on the counterproductive nature of tribalism and the need for concrete, workable solutions to a crisis that impacts us all.
Since the shelter-in-place order began, our Executive Director, Cherilyn Parsons, has been dipping into Hirshfield’s ninth volume of poetry for a daily dose of transcendence and beauty. Hirshfield’s work is a bracing tonic for troubled times: Ledger‘s first poem, “Let Them Not Say,” was circulated widely, as a source of prescient, bittersweet solace, on the day President Trump was elected in 2016. Fittingly, Publishers Weekly praised the book as “both a paean and a heartbreaking plea.”
Is there a book that celebrates being outside in a timelier way than Outside In? We don’t think so. This gorgeous picture book by New York Times bestselling author Deborah Underwood is an exquisite celebration of the outdoors. It shows us how outside is inseparably connected to inside and, more importantly, how we can still enjoy the beauty of nature while inside. We see, we hear, we experience nature in its full glory. Might you doubt the book’s power? It garnered not just one, but FIVE starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and other literary trades, and it is bound to become a classic that deserves a place in everyone’s library!
Most of us are stuck inside now; and we know just how hard that can be: even if we share a native tongue with those we’re sheltering in place with, , it can sometimes feel like we don’t speak the same language. In this adorable picture book, two grandpas, Abuelo and Opa, can’t communicate due to a language barrier. Their grandson’s clever thinking finds a way for everyone to share the day. How? With music! Reading this book with your little ones will make everyone sing and dance together again.
“Honest and tender…a must-read,” says Kirkus Reviews in its starred rave for this middle grade novel by Ernesto Cisneros: a story that tugs at your heartstrings from the first page. Cisneros takes you deep into Efrén’s life with his hard-working but undocumented Mexican parents. When his mother is deported by ICE, Efrén has to step up and care for his younger siblings, juggling schoolwork, caretaking, and intense worry about his mother’s fate, while trying to figure out who’s trustworthy and who’s not. In this exceptional debut, Cisneros shows us the grit, courage, and resilience of our nation’s immigrant communities in a time of widespread injustice and uncertainty.
“A singular voice in the world of literature,” bestselling YA author Jason Reynolds proclaims on the cover of Randy Ribay’s new YA novel. A National Book Award Finalist and an NPR “Best Book of the Year”(amongst a long list of other distinctions), Ribay’s novel follows Jay Reguero, whose pre-college plans consisted of biding his time and playing video games. Everything changes when his cousin Jun is killed by the police in the Philippines. Jay has no choice but to return to his home country and reckon with painful truths about his family, himself, and the story behind this tragic loss. Ribay pulls you into Jay’s and Jun’s life stories unflinchingly, without shying away from the emotional and political complexities and dangers of this fraught and riveting terrain. A truly remarkable book.