My Bay Area-Influenced Summer Reading List

One of Sacramento’s attractions for me has always been our proximity to the Bay Area, with its cooler weather and world class cultural amenities. Living next door to such an overwhelmingly successful region can, of course, be a mixed blessing. Flows of Bay Area capital distort Sacramento’s housing market, for instance. Also the ease with which it’s possible to travel to the Bay Area at least arguably stunts the development of the Sacramento region’s own cultural scene.

Still, there are many benefits to living next door to such a wealthy neighbor, and one, I realize, has to do with the Bay Area influence on my summer reading list. Two San Francisco-based institutions have figured strongly into my reading choices of late – the scruffily fabulous Green Apple Books on Clement Street in The Richmond  and, yes, venerable KQED public radio.

Among the pleasures of my walk through Green Apple Books in late April was my rediscovery of Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, whose erotic, dreamlike classic Norwegian Wood looked so compelling on the shelf that I bought it right away.  I devoured the book with the intensity of, well, a teacher finally able to read again on summer break, and did not complain when Annie bought me Murakami’s new novel on Amazon (or maybe I was just being smart enough not to preach to my kind wife about Amazon’s flaws).  Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki lacks the youthful emotional urgency of Norwegian Wood, but remains thoroughly clever,  heart-breaking, and hallucinatory in the best Murakami tradition. The two books share many parallels and I recommend reading them together.

More to the point of this blog is the book I browsed but didn’t buy at Green Apple, but intend to purchase someplace not on Amazon (perhaps on order through Sacramento’s airy and charming Time Tested Books) and read next. This is a collection of short essays set in Mexico City called Sidewalks, by Maria Luiselli. Just browsing through this book made me realize that there are ways to write about cities that are fresh and openly literary. I’m looking forward to the chance to read Luiselli’s book in detail, and to maybe learning a thing or two from this excellent young writer.

From KQED’s Forum program, meanwhile, came a non-fiction reading project that will likely extend beyond summer.  The first part of this project is The Son Also Rises, by UC Davis economist Gregory Clark, which makes an uncomfortable case that social status is far stickier across generations than most of us would prefer to think. Clark has a compelling radio voice, and I am looking forward to checking out what seems to be a thoroughly original data source he has compiled related to surnames and inherited social status.

A happy purchase of Robert Putnam's sad book.

A happy purchase of Robert Putnam’s sad book. Thank you to my student Abby’s mom for buying the gift card that got me to the store!

Another compelling recent voice on KQED Forum was that of famous Harvard political scientist and author Robert Putnam, whose Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis strikes me as a must read for many reasons. One, as a child of midwestern expatriates, is that I want to check out Putnam’s vignette on his hometown of Port Clinton, Ohio. Another, as a white guy, is that I’m curious to read Putnam’s analysis of the increasing class divide among white Americans – an enormously important story neither the libertarian right nor the identity-politics obsessed left seem to care enough about. Friends interested in reading and talking about Putnam’s book (or for that matter Gregory’s or Luiselli’s or Murakami’s books) please drop me a line!