If you're at all like me, you consider yourself "a reader," but in today's culture of non-stop new content, you find yourself consuming more streaming series, Instagram stories, and podcasts than picking up an actual book.
But winter, especially the cold and wet variety of winter we've been having, is a perfect time to catch up on reading. Or, it's a time to reconnect with your reading self and remember that, yes, books are good, and getting away from screens is, indeed, very soothing.
So we bring you three ideas to jumpstart your reading list this year, because we could all use a few more books in our lives and a few less wasted hours of scrolling. These books are all set in San Francisco, or SF figures prominently in them, and two of the authors have lived much of their lives here.
Tell Us When to Go (2022)
by Emil DeAndreis
The year is 2010, and recent college dropouts Isaac Moss and Cole Gallegos have been wasting time in San Francisco, waiting for the economy to improve, trying to get whatever jobs they can. Isaac lands a temp gig at a tech startup called GO, and quickly accumulates more money than he expected to. Cole, meanwhile, who ran away from college and a promising career as a baseball pitcher due to a case of the "yips" and a loss of confidence, ends up becoming a tutor at a local high school. His wards at the school are misfits, on the spectrum, or in the foster-care system — like Dizzy Benson, who becomes his sole student.
Over a few months, Cole and Dizzy form a bond, with Cole trying to take Dizzy's well-established aggression and strong arm and mold her into a pitcher. Their lives intersect in a meaningful way, however briefly, while Cole begins to grow up and see himself as a mentor. Isaac's path takes a familiar tour of SF semi-adulthood of the last decade, free lunches and elderberry IPAs, and young people feeling very important about the first company they work for and its tech mission. And Tell Us When to Go turns out to be a compelling and unusual two-perspective tale about modern San Francisco, the early days of social media, and the modes in which twentysomethings find meaning and purpose in a cluttered, chaotic culture.
On the Rooftop (2002)
by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
Both a family story and a period portrait of a village/neighborhood, Margaret Wilkerson Sexton's newest novel brings us to the Fillmore during its 1950s heyday as a hub of jazz and Black culture. Sexton's earlier work focuses on her hometown of New Orleans, but this novel takes on a moment in time for a specific part of San Francisco that was about to see some major upheaval from which it arguably never recovered.
The novel focuses on three singing sisters on the rise as a music act called The Salvations. Ruth, Esther, and Chloe are coached by their mother, rehearsing on their Fillmore neighborhood roof and performing every week at the Champagne Supper Club, when they’re suddenly given an opportunity to go national. Their mother Vivian works to secure their futures and hold them together as a family, and meanwhile the girls are growing up, falling in love, and learning about the turbulence in the world around them — including the looming threats from white men looking to buy up property in the neighborhood, perhaps seeing dollar signs when “urban renewal” arrives. It’s a social novel about an important, and still relevant piece of SF history, as well as a poignant tale about coming of age in the Harlem of the West.
At the Edge of the Haight (2021)
by Katherine Seligman
For those seeking a fictional window into the lives of homeless youth in San Francisco, Katherine Seligman's novel At the Edge of the Haight is a sympathetic portrayal of rough life that many lead, sleeping in parks and in doorways of our city.
The central plot point of the book is a death that 20-year-old homeless woman Maddy Donaldo witnesses in the park, and how she and others around her cope with the situation. Seligman said she was inspired to write the novel after, a decade ago, she was driving through Golden Gate Park when a young man jumped in front of her car, stopping it and saying someone was trying to kill him. By the time police arrived, the young man was found dead in the grass, as she told NPR.
As a writer for the Chronicle Magazine, Seligman covered homelessness in the city for over two decades, and she's lived in the Haight for over 25 years. This well qualifies her to tell such a tale, which is more about the real lives behind the figures sleeping on sidewalks than it is about this one tragic death.