Noe Valley Voice July-August 2006

Noe Shops Hand Over Their Summer Reading and Music Lists

By Lorraine Sanders

Itching for a good book to complement a lazy summer afternoon, a family trip to the beach, or just to make your twice-daily ride on the J a little more bearable?

You're in luck. We surveyed the knowledgeable folks at Noe Valley's bookstores to come up with titles to flesh out your summer reading list.

If books just aren't your bag, don't despair. The staff members at Streetlight Records gave us summer music recommendations that will keep your toes tapping all the way into the fall.

Adventures in Fiction

Bibliophiles have plenty of choices for good fiction this summer. Kerry McLaughlin of Phoenix Books suggests Absurdistan, the second novel from Gary Shteyngart, whose novel The Russian Debutante's Handbook became a bestseller when it debuted in 2003. His latest novel tells the darkly humorous tale of an obese Russian-American denied re-entry to the United States after leaving the country to attend his father's funeral in Russia. The protagonist's quest for a fake passport that will allow him to return home to New York leads him to Absurdistan, a post-Soviet country in love with the United States and all things Halliburton.

In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders is another of McLaughlin's summer reading picks. The short-story collection continues Saunders' fascination with life in our information-driven, media-obsessed world. In his satirical tales, orphans can easily end up as market research commodities, towns can become collective pet murderers, and advertising can change anything.

McLaughlin also recommends Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, now out in paperback. The story follows the overlapping, sometimes magical adventures of a restless Japanese teenager who leaves home, and a traumatized man fleeing his own mysterious demons.

Adult fans of Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket) will find the author's trademark wit and wordplay, intertwined with provocative musings on love, in his latest novel, Adverbs, a collection of 16 interconnected plotlines.

For good reads on the cheap, McLaughlin suggests checking out the discounted section of publishers' overstock at Phoenix Books for bargains (approximately $5) on titles like T.C. Boyle's Drop City, Bob Dylan's Tarantula, and Ann Patchett's memoir Truth and Beauty.

Tracy Wynne, co-owner of Cover to Cover Booksellers, has a few suggestions of her own. Many people have been stopping in the store to pick up Luis Alberto Urrea's The Hummingbird's Daughter, the city's pick for this year's One City One Book program. One City One Book encourages city residents to read the novel over the summer and participate in a series of discussions and special events featuring the book this fall. Set in pre-revolutionary Mexico, the novel follows a young girl grappling with her destiny as a healer and leader of the people.

Another popular title at Cover to Cover is Lauren Weisberger's The Devil Wears Prada, a novel about a fresh-out-of-college aspiring writer who snags a job as the assistant to the ruthless editor of a fashion magazine, a scenario that closely mimics the author's own experience as the tortured assistant to Vogue's Anna Wintour. The movie of the same name hits theaters later this month and stars Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway. and Adrian Grenier.

Nonfiction Stars: Soccer and Sharks

For anyone who's come down with a case of World Cup fever this summer, Wynne suggests The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup, by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey, and Franklin Foer's How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization.

Sunday Money by Jeff MacGregor is another of Wynne's top picks. In an attempt to understand the NASCAR phenomenon, the author and his photographer wife hit the road in an RV and began traveling from race to race in 2001. The resulting story is a mixture of the sport's history, an explanation of its appeal to millions of fans, and the couple's own introduction to a sport neither previously understood.

"It's one of the best books about sports since Seabiscuit," Wynne says.

Wynne also recommends Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, out in hardback. The author writes about the paradoxical nature of our modern eating habits and explores how our society can be both obsessed with food and dieting and blind to the realities of food production.

For a read with local flavor, The Devil's Teeth by Susan Casey delves into the mysterious world of great white sharks who visit the Farallon Islands each fall to feast on seals and sea lions. Along with groundbreaking insight into shark behavior from two biologists featured in book, Casey delivers background and historical information about the island habitat that will fascinate Bay Area readers.

McLaughlin says an excellent memoir out this year in paperback is the Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, whose childhood was shaped by neurotic, neglectful parents who thought nomadic living was more of an adventure than an experiment in homelessness. Forced to dumpster-dive for food and constantly move from place to place, Walls recounts her quirky, troubled childhood with honesty and a tinge of humor.

The Case of the Rebuilt Kitchen

There's just something about a suspenseful whodunit that fits perfectly with the summer season. Luckily, fans of the mystery genre have a bevy of options for fast-paced, thrilling reads.

San Francisco Mystery Bookstore owner Diane Kudisch has a slew of suggestions for mystery lovers. Janet Evanovich's Twelve Sharp is the latest in the author's Stephanie Plum books, which follow a hapless bounty hunter on her wild adventures tracking criminals and wackos. Jaqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs mystery series continues with Pardonable Lies, and Laurie King's San Francisco heroine Kate Martinelli returns in The Art of Detection. (You might recognize yourself in King's book: Kate and her psychotherapist partner Lee are residents of a Noe Valley Victorian that's undergone an extensive remodeling.)

Ken Bruen, who Kudisch describes as a "wonderful Irish author who does dark police procedurals in Dublin," is out with The Dramatist, which follows a gritty police detective through a series of dramatic homicide investigations.

For those seeking a classic mystery, Kudisch suggests anything by authors Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, or Ross MacDonald.

Of the latter's crime novels, she says: "His books take a look at a part of southern California that just doesn't exist anymore, when there were orange groves right down Hollywood Boulevard."

Tales of Despereaux and Olivia the Pig

For young readers, Wynne recommends Gennifer Choldenko's Al Capone Does My Shirts. The central character, Moose Flanagan, is the 12-year-old son of an electrician hired to work at Alcatraz prison during the Depression era. Along with his parents and autistic sister, Moose struggles with life on the island, where his antics often get him into trouble.

Another Wynne pick for middle school readers is Kirsten Miller's Kiki Strike, a fast-paced adventure starring seventh-grader Ananka Fishbein and a mysterious cast of girls who embark upon a journey into an underground network of tunnels below Manhattan, known as Shadow City.

Wynne also suggests Kate DiCamillo's Tale of Despereaux, a fanciful story about a mouse in love with a beautiful princess, an unusual castle rat, and an unfortunate girl who dreams of becoming royalty.

For budding readers, McLaughlin recommends Ian Falconer's Olivia Forms a Band. The illustrated book follows Olivia the pig as she attempts to create a band in time for that evening's fireworks show.

And for the budding detective in your family? Kudisch suggests a classic Nancy Drew book. "They're always good for the kids," she says.

Books and Music for the Road

Enjoying books this summer doesn't have to involve your eyes. Audio books are ideal accessories for road trips and long commutes, but they are often expensive. Phoenix Books offers a lending library of audio offerings that includes contemporary bestsellers like Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code and Andrew Sean Greer's The Confessions of Max Tivoli, as well as mysteries and classics. Rental rates are .50/day or $2.50/week, and there is no rental time limit--perfect for that weeklong road trip.

For poetry fans, Wynne suggests the audio book Billy Collins Live: A Performance at the Peter Norton Symphony Space. "He's a really good reader," she says.

Last but not least, Streetlight Records has a few suggestions for your summer listening pleasure.

For the fan of the dark new brand of folk rock hitting the airwaves these days, The Sun Awakens from Ben Chasny's Six Organs of Admittance is one to try. Classic rock and country music lovers will want to grab the new Gram Parsons: The Complete Reprise Sessions, a three-disc box set of the legendary country rocker's recordings. All the Road Running from Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris, released in April, is the result of seven years' of collaboration between the two.

Another of Streetlight's summer music suggestions is the country-folk album Rabbit Fur Coat from Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins. After relaxing to Lewis' soulful and haunting music, you might enjoy revisiting the Clash's digitally remastered rock classic London Calling.

To find suggested books and audio recommendations, head to Streetlight Records, Phoenix Books, Cover to Cover, and the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore, all on or near 24th Street.

Or you might want to browse the San Francisco Public Library's Bookmobile, which stops at 665 Elizabeth Street near Diamond (in front of St. Philip's School) on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Bookmobile stocks books, CDs, DVDs, and VHS titles for all ages, as well as magazines for home use. Bookmobile visitors can sign up for library cards, check out and return books, reserve SFPL materials, and make interlibrary loan requests.

Try not to get sand stuck in the pages. Have a great one!