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.
Want to take part? Fill out our “One Good Read” survey here.
Who: Nibras Suliman, Bay City News intern
Recommendation: “Assata: An Autobiography” by Assata Shakur
Why it’s a good read: Assata Shakur is a revolutionary who writes of her experience with policing and incarceration in America. Her autobiography is both personal and political, and was one of the most eye-opening books I have ever read.
Who: Catherine Allen, Bay City News intern
Recommendation: “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown
Why it’s a good read: This book gave me practical tools for prioritizing properly and being able to distinguish between essential and nonessential work. If you’ve struggled with spreading yourself too thin by saying yes to too many obligations, “Essentialism” will help change the trajectory of your life and career — I especially recommend it for managers and leaders!
Who: Benjamin Coleman, Bay City News intern
Recommendation: “Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike” by Phil Knight
Why it’s a good read: This memoir by Nike founder Phil Knight tells both the highs and lows of Nike’s incredible story while offering something for everyone, even if you aren’t a sports fan.
Who: Deidre Foley, Bay City News intern
Recommendation: “Disability Visibility” by Alice Wong
Why it’s a good read: This collection of essays, edited by San Francisco-based advocate Alice Wong, opened my eyes to the breadth and complexity of disability issues in the U.S.
Who: Helena Getahun-Hawkins, Bay City News intern
Recommendation: “Slow Days, Fast Company” by Eve Babitz
Why it’s a good read: This short book of essays captures the opulence of 1970s Los Angeles in a way that made me nostalgic for a time I have never lived through. Babitz’s prose is just so enchanting and romantic! I would highly recommend.
Who: Lydia Sidhom, Bay City News intern
Recommendation: “We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction” by Joan Didion
Why it’s a good read: Many of Didion’s best works are tied up in a nice bow in this thick anthology, which I checked out from the Oakland Public Library. Read for everything from distinct takes on California in the sixties to Didion’s account of her lived journalistic experiences.
Who: Prachi Singh, Bay City News intern
Recommendation: “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman
Why it’s a good read: Although predictable, it was a heart touching, simple tale.
Synopsis: Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?
Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.
Who: Spencer Otte, Bay City News intern
Recommendation: “Nixonland” by Rick Perlstein
Why it’s a good read: At almost 900 Pages, this is a bit of a doorstop, but it is a fascinating look at Nixon’s political rise and the cultural landscape of the 1960s that led to his presidency.
Who: Laura Chick, former Los Angeles city controller
Recommendation: “Still Life” by Louise Penny
Why it’s a good read: This is the first book in a long and wonderful series of murder mysteries Chief Inspector Gamache of Quebec Province and his team attempt to solve. “Still Life” is both charming and suspenseful, filled with humor, insightful psychological observations and complex characters. I am now on my fourth Louise Penny mystery; they provide a great escape from harsh realities. They’re all enjoyable, entertaining, and fun!
Who: Dan Rosenheim, Business Development Director of Bay City News
Recommendation: “People of the Book” by Geraldine Brooks
Why it’s a good read: Powerful account of a rare Haggadeh’s journey through the centuries until its discovery in late 20th century Sarajevo, Slovenia.
Synopsis: In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. When Hanna, a caustic loner with a passion for her work, discovers a series of tiny artifacts in its ancient binding, she begins to unlock the book’s mysteries. The reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past, tracing the book’s journey from its salvation back to its creation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
Want to take part? Fill out our “One Good Read” survey here.
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.
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.
Want to take part? Fill out our “One Good Read” survey here.