Local News Matters aims to support the lively literary scene in the greater Bay Area. With our latest initiative, we’re asking community leaders about which great book they have on their nightstand, next to their armchair, or on their reading device, in hopes of enriching our to-be-read lists and contributing to the promotion of Bay Area public libraries and independent book vendors.

“A Walk in the Woods” cover art. (Penguin Random House)
Keith Burbank covers Alameda County for Bay City News.

Who: Keith Burbank, journalist

Recommendation: “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson

Why it’s a good read: Like another reviewer said, “It’s choke-on-your-coffee funny.”

Synopsis: Back in America after twenty years in Britain, Bill Bryson decided to reacquaint himself with his native country by walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. The AT offers an astonishing landscape of silent forests and sparkling lakes—and to a writer with the comic genius of Bill Bryson, it also provides endless opportunities to witness the majestic silliness of his fellow human beings. 

Check if the book is available to borrow from your local public library.

“The House in the Cerulean Sea” cover art. (Courtesy TJ Klune)

Who: Betsy Biern, CEO of Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area

Recommendation: “The House in the Cerulean Sea” by TJ Klune

Why it’s a good read: It’s a story of fantasy, discovery, warmth and belonging. A great story that will warm your heart!

Synopsis: Linus Baker is a by-the-book case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world.

Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn. And his secrets will come to light.

The House in the Cerulean Sea is an enchanting love story, masterfully told, about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place―and realizing that family is yours.

Check if the book is available to borrow from your local public library.

“Dinosaurs” cover art. (Courtesy of W. W. Norton & Company)
Megan Keane is a longtime nonprofit techie and community builder turned librarian. (Photo courtesy Oakland Public Library)

Who: Megan Keane, Community Relations Librarian, Oakland Public Library

Recommendation: “Dinosaurs” by Lydia Millet

Why it’s a good read: This slim novel defies categorization and I’m still thinking about it months later. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but before long I was hooked and didn’t want to leave the characters behind when I finished it.

Synopsis: “Dinosaurs” is the story of a man named Gil who walks from New York to Arizona to recover from a failed love. After he arrives, new neighbors move into the glass-walled house next door and his life begins to mesh with theirs. In this warmly textured, drily funny, and philosophical account of Gil’s unexpected devotion to the family, Millet explores the uncanny territory where the self ends and community begins—what one person can do in a world beset by emergencies.

Check if the book is available to borrow from your local public library.

“Trust” cover art. (Penguin Random House)
Dr. Merker has taught at The University of California Berkeley.

Who: Rob Merker, Treasurer of Bay City News Foundation

Recommendation: “Trust” by Hernan Diaz

Why it’s a good read: On many lists of the best books of 2022. An insightful story told from 4 different perspectives.

Synopsis: Even through the roar and effervescence of the 1920s, everyone in New York has heard of Benjamin and Helen Rask. He is a legendary Wall Street tycoon; she is the daughter of eccentric aristocrats. Together, they have risen to the very top of a world of seemingly endless wealth—all as a decade of excess and speculation draws to an end. But at what cost have they acquired their immense fortune? This is the mystery at the center of Bonds, a successful 1937 novel that all of New York seems to have read. Yet there are other versions of this tale of privilege and deceit.

Check if the book is available to borrow from your local public library.

“How to Watch Basketball Like a Genius” cover art. (Abrams Press)
Sejal Choksi-Chugh is a passionate environmental activist.

Who: Sejal Choksi-Chugh, Executive Director of San Francisco Baykeeper

Recommendation: “How to Watch Basketball Like a Genius” by Nick Greene

Why it’s a good read: This book provides a fascinating history of the game and its development with page-turning analysis and facts that will not only enhance the way you watch a game but will arm you with interesting talking points for all your NBA watch parties. A must-read for any basketball fan!

Check if the book is available to borrow from your local public library.

“Palo Alto” cover art. (Courtesy of Little, Brown and Company)
McMenamin has been the managing editor for Bay City News since 2014.

Who: Dan McMenamin, Managing Editor of Bay City News

Recommendation: “Palo Alto” by Malcolm Harris

Why it’s a good read: I’m currently reading this book on the history of how money has shaped the Bay Area (and more broadly California and the West) from before the gold rush to our current times. It’s the stories of the people who brought the region its trains, tech and capital (like Leland Stanford, namesake of Palo Alto’s famous university) and the people they railroaded along the way.

Check if the book is available to borrow from your local public library.

“Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” cover art. (Courtesy of Penguin Random House)
Joe Dworetzky is an investigative reporter covering the legal beat for Bay City News. (Courtesy of Dworetzky)

Who: Joe Dworetzky, Reporter

Recommendation: “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” by Gabrielle Zevin

Why it’s a good read: “Tomorrow” is a fully imagined and satisfying story of the complex relationship between two game designers. A great story and deep nuanced characters.

Synopsis: On a bitter-cold day, in the December of his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn’t heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins: a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom. They borrow money, beg favors, and, before even graduating college, they have created their first blockbuster, Ichigo: a game where players can escape the confines of a body and the betrayals of a heart, and where death means nothing more than a chance to restart and play again. This is the story of the perfect worlds Sam and Sadie build, the imperfect world they live in, and of everything that comes after success: Money. Fame. Duplicity. Tragedy. Read more on the author’s website.

Check if the book is available to borrow from your local public library.

“Secret Identity” cover art. (Courtesy of Flatiron Books)
Hank Venticalmi Chadwick enjoys a good mystery, particularly those that involve following an elusive trail. (Courtesy of Chadwick)

Who: James Chadwick

Recommendation: “Secret Identity” by Alex Segura

Why it’s a good read: “Secret Identity” is a wonderful admixture of suspense narrative, social critique, and exposition of comics culture. Segura not only manages to make these disparate elements work together, he combines them into a story that is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s amusing, engaging, and moving. Definitely worth a read (or a listen).

Synopsis: It’s 1975 and the comic book industry is struggling, but Carmen Valdez doesn’t care. She’s an assistant at Triumph Comics, which doesn’t have the creative zeal of Marvel nor the buttoned-up efficiency of DC, but it doesn’t matter. Carmen is tantalizingly close to fulfilling her dream of writing a superhero book. That dream is nearly a reality when one of the Triumph writers enlists her help to create a new character, which they call “The Lethal Lynx,” Triumph’s first female hero. But her colleague is acting strangely and asking to keep her involvement a secret. And then he’s found dead, with all of their scripts turned into the publisher without her name. Read more on the author’s website.

Check if the book is available to borrow from your local public library.

“Rikers” cover art. (Courtesy of Penguin Random House)
Katy St. Clair is an award-winning journalist covering the Bay Area. (Courtesy of St. Clair)

Who: Katy St. Clair, Reporter and Editor

Recommendation: “Rikers: An Oral History” by Graham Rayman and Reuven Blau

Why it’s a good read: I could only take in a bit at a time because frankly the stories are horrible, but necessary for everyone to know. What struck me most is how dehumanizing Rikers Island is, not only for inmates but also for staff which, if not sadists, must employ cognitive dissonance to get through their day. Shameful.

Synopsis: Offering a 360-degree view inside the country’s largest detention complex, the deeply personal accounts—featured here for the first time—take readers on a harrowing journey into every corner of Rikers, a failed society unto itself that reflects society’s failings as a whole. Read more on the publisher’s website.

Check if the book is available to borrow from your local public library.

“Elena Knows” cover art. (Courtesy of Charco Press)
Professor Fisk has authored several books herself. (Courtesy of Catherine Fisk)

Who: Catherine Fisk, professor at Berkeley Law

Recommendation: “Elena Knows” by Claudia Piñeiro

Why it’s a good read: Sometimes charming and gentle, sometimes painful and pointed, this novella is at once a mystery, a meditation on living with Parkinson’s, and an exploration of how and why people control women’s bodies.

Synopsis: After Rita is found dead in the bell tower of the church she used to attend, the official investigation into the incident is quickly closed. Her sickly mother is the only person still determined to find the culprit. Chronicling a difficult journey across the suburbs of the city, an old debt and a revealing conversation, “Elena Knows” unravels the secrets of its characters and the hidden facets of authoritarianism and hypocrisy in our society. (Charco Press)

Check if the book is available to borrow from your local public library.

“The 8th Habit” cover art. (Courtesy of Free Press)
Ryan Nakashima is a Bay City News Foundation board member. (Courtesy of Nakashima)

Who: Ryan Nakashima (Director of Product Management, Subscriptions, Hearst Newspapers)

Recommendation: “The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness” by Stephen R. Covey

Why it’s a good read: This takes time-worn classic “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and expands on it for the age of knowledge workers. While this turn-of-the-millenium book published in 2004 has anachronisms like references to videos in the enclosed DVD (which I skipped because I don’t have a DVD player anymore), this book guides the way to helping others find their voice, and convincingly demonstrates how empathic listening is one of the key traits of successful leadership. I blew through it, like a spiritual experience.

Check if the book is available to borrow from your local public library.

“Fledgling” cover art. (Courtesy of Grand Central Publishing)
Lindsay Green-Barber is a Bay City News Foundation board member. (Courtesy of Green-Barber)

Who: Lindsay Green-Barber, Founder and Principal of Impact Architects

Recommendation: “Fledgling” by Octavia E. Butler

Why it’s a good read: Anything Octavia Butler is a must read, but I’d skipped over Fledgling until recently. It’s an entertaining vampire love story, but also lays bare some of humanity’s darkest us vs. them reactions.

Synopsis: Fledgling is the story of an apparently young, amnesiac girl whose alarmingly inhuman needs and abilities lead her to a startling conclusion: She is in fact a genetically modified, 53-year-old vampire. Forced to discover what she can about her stolen former life, she must at the same time learn who wanted—and still wants—to destroy her and those she cares for and how she can save herself. Fledgling is a captivating novel that tests the limits of “otherness” and questions what it means to be truly human. Read more on the author’s website.

Check if the book is available to borrow from your local public library.

Want to take part? Fill out our “One Good Read” survey here.

“What Makes a Marriage Last” cover art. (Courtesy of Harper Collins)
Walnut Creek city councilman Kevin Wilk. (Courtesy of Wilk)

Who: Kevin Wilk (Walnut Creek city councilman)

Recommendation: “What Makes a Marriage Last” by Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue

Why it’s a good read: It’s a series of 40 interviews with 40 famous couples on how their marriages have lasted decades. The couples are as diverse as Elton John & David Furnish and Jesse & Jacqueline Jackson. Each chapter is insightful and funny with a variety of ways that these couples have figured out what works for them, to keep things interesting and how they’ve overcome hurdles in their relationships, while being famous and still raising a family.

See a full list of contributors, from Lily Tomlin to Viola Davis, and find out how you can read the book at https://whatmakesamarriagelast.com.

“Fellowship Point” cover art. (Courtesy of Simon & Schuster)
Katherine Ann Rowlands, publisher of Local News Matters, is a member of two book clubs and has many unfinished books on her nightstand. (Photo by D. Ross Cameron)

Who: Katherine Ann Rowlands (Publisher, Local News Matters)

Recommendation: “Fellowship Point” by Alice Elliott Dark

Why it’s a good read: This novel sparked a lively discussion in my book club about friendship, feminism, the lives of authors, and what it means to protect land and legacy. Most found it a fast read, although I listened to the audio version (19 hours unless you speed-listen).

Synopsis: Lifelong best friends Agnes Lee and Polly Garner own shares in Fellowship Point, a beautiful summer colony and bird sanctuary on the coast of Maine. As they turn 80, it’s time to make decisions about what will become of their legacy, a question that threatens to tear them apart. Inspired by the breadth and drama of 19th century novels, this tour de force book looks at the women’s lives, loves, families and work across the 20th century, finally rising to a shocking revelation that will lead to a surprising answer to the dilemma. Read more on Simon & Schuster’s website.

Check if the book is available to borrow from your local public library.

Want to take part? Fill out our “One Good Read” survey here.