.By the Book

Spring lit is lit in 2023

After winter’s cyclonic storms and the general dreariness of recent months, it’s high time to light up the advent of spring with the revelation of reading a good book. Those in the Bay Area live in a garden of abundance, when it comes to local authors, so claim some copies of these new and upcoming releases with a visit—and support for—a favorite independent bookstore.

Peggy Orenstein, ‘Unraveling’

One doesn’t have to be a knitter or give a hoot about casting-on, purling, cabling or wrestling to gain access to the “prime real estate” of a burly sheep’s neck while shearing wool—and nearly losing a finger in the process—to love Orenstein’s book. (She does all the knitting, hooting and getting wounded for her readers.) 

Orenstein is a New York Times best-selling author whose books—Boys & Sex, Girls & Sex, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Waiting for Daisy and more—are admired for their well-vetted and thorough research and lively, humorous narrative style, and adored for fascinating themes and topics delivered with a clarity and directness that means what one reads is not just entertaining but is practical, relevant and easily applicable. 

With Unraveling, Orenstein tells the story of deciding during the first year of COVID to create a sweater entirely from scratch. The project becomes much more than simply learning to shear sheep, weave wool, dye yarn and ultimately knit “the world’s ugliest sweater.”  Along the way, Orenstein seamlessly and personally addresses knotty topics: the climate crisis, environmental toxins, ecological anxiety, racial injustice, women’s rights, and the twists and turns of parenting, marriage, creativity, technology, sustainability, families, communities and homes. Her  latest is uplifting, fun and meaningful—a rare package.

Matthew Zapruder, ‘Story of A Poem’ 

The Piedmont-based poet, writer and associate professor at Moraga’s Saint Mary’s College, Zapruder knocks it out of the ballpark again with this new prose-style book to be released in early April. (His Why Poetry was on many Best-Of lists in 2017, and 2010’s Come on All You Ghosts weighs in with numerous awards.) He is editor at large at Wave Books and in 2016/2017 held the annually rotating position of editor of the poetry column for The New York Times Magazine

Story of a Poem springs forth from Zapruder’s pandemic project that runs on two parallel tracks: the slow creation of a poem and a man coming to terms with the joys and trials of fathering a young son who has been diagnosed with autism. The awakening of Zapruder as a person is no less astonishing than the “awakening” of a poem, and the rewards of traveling with him through his journey are numerous. Plus, there’s a mighty fine poem in the end and a strong, heart-warming narrative that leaves readers with the clear impression that Zapruder, his spouse, and their son, Simon, are one lucky-to-have-you family.

Jacqueline Winspear, ‘The White Lady’

Best known for her Maisie Cobbs novels and New York Times bestsellers such as The Consequences of Fear, To Die but Once and many others, Winspear’s standalone novel set in post-World War II Britain is a fast-paced thriller. The protagonist, Eleanor White, is an ex-spy living a quiet, secretive life in the small village of Kent. All is quiet, that is, until a neighboring family is thrust into chaos and desperately needs her help. 

White finds herself once again treading the dangerous path of a trained killer and ultimately becomes a heroine. But freedom comes with a price as the White Lady and others confront their past histories. In this engrossing, fast paced tale, readers get to escape their own realities, meaning there’s plenty of guilty pleasure in Winspear’s latest outing.

Katherine Lin, ‘You Can’t Stay Here Forever’

Lin is a Bay Area-based attorney and writer whose debut novel is getting some buzz. You Can’t Stay Here Forever picks up steam from its setting in a high-and-mighty San Francisco law firm, where young widow Ellie Huang has not only suffered the death of her new husband, but a horrifying, infuriating secret. Her husband had a longtime sexual liaison with a woman who is a colleague in Huang’s office. 

Enraged, escape is high on her mind when Huang cashes in his life insurance policy and flees with her best friend to the French Riviera. A married couple they meet extends the drama, but it’s Lin’s sharp writing and perspectives on the Asian American experience in modern times, the shifting tides of marriages and the complexity of friendships that signals a captivating new voice on the literary scene.

Dorothy Lazard, ‘What You Don’t Know Will Make a Whole New World’

Lazard’s autobiography reveals the searing truths and coming-of-age revelations of her life as a young Black girl finding identity in the San Francisco Bay Area during the ’60s and ’70s. From an early childhood in segregated St. Louis, Lazard with her family moved to Oakland, where she discovered solace and power in public libraries. Amid the book stacks, she began to imagine a different future than that of her mother and grandmother. 

Her family history, combined with her experiences, swirl in sync with reflections on civil rights and the movement’s energy, velocity, violence and marvelous acts of nobility, sacrifice, generosity and benevolence. Accompanying it all are words on her literary beacons of enlightenment—James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Nina Simone and Curtis Mayfield. 

In Oakland’s libraries, she learns from literature the road map she will follow as she enters adulthood and becomes a devoted, long-time librarian. (Lazar, in addition to other positions, was the head librarian of Oakland Public Library’s Oakland History Center from 2009-2021.) Ultimately, Lazard’s journey to becoming an empowered Black woman with “a place in this country” is a distinguished, uplifting story.

Andrew Alden, ‘Deep Oakland: How Geology Shaped a City’

Curious about Oakland’s origins? It’s a perfect time to pick up geologist Alden’s immersive investigation of the area’s geological underbelly. Fault lines and flat lands, high hills and Lake Merritt, ice-age sand dunes that preceded oak forests, a volcano and shaking tectonic plates—plus stories of Oakland’s Ohlone people, early settlers and transplants—fall into the narrative about urban structure and the city’s every nook, cranny, rock and road. 

Eleven pen-and-ink illustrations by Laura Cunningham provide a compelling map of the city’s landscape throughout history. Alden suggests geology defines not only cities, but if attended to, geology reveals people as they once were and shapes who they might become. Oakland and the geological story told of its history, he concludes, “is a good place to start listening.”

Freada Kapor Klein and Mitchell Kapor, ‘Closing the Equity Gap: Creating Wealth and Fostering Justice in Startup Investing’ 

Klein and Kapor are founders of the impact investment firm Kapor Capital. In this urgent, example-filled book, they collectively offer a social activist’s energy and missionary mindset and an entrepreneur’s perspective on tech startups and the efficacy of investing in doing good by bridging the “gaps of access, opportunity, or outcome for low-income communities and/or communities of color.” 

Their firm, Kapor Capital, has done nothing if not support underrepresented Black and Latinx entrepreneurs whose companies and businesses often directly or indirectly impact immigrants and children of immigrants, racial minorities, women and individuals who identify as non-binary, queer or transgender. Using real life stories from over 200 ventures their firm has helped launch, Klein and Kapor demonstrate how ethical investment is far more than a feel-good frolic. 

In example after example, they substantiate how the company’s method, approach and practices form a pathway that has led to actual, bottom line, financial success. A new ecosystem is what they prescribe and encourage for venture capitalism, a system that sheds exclusionary practices and outdated mythologies to establish broad, inclusive impact and create a future world worth backing with investors’ every dollar.

Jane Smiley, ‘The Questions that Matter Most: Reading, Writing, and the Exercise of Freedom’

This volume of nonfiction essays might surprise readers more familiar with Smiley’s novels such as the Pulitzer Prize winning A Thousand Acres or The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton or her most recent novel, A Dangerous Business, published in 2022. As an essayist, Smiley’s writing style is exuberant, penetrating, at times exhilaratingly bold or humorous and her short-form work can be found in The New Yorker, The New York TimesHarper’s, The Nation and others. 

Here, the prescient questions Smiley addresses are angled at California and American literary history through the work of a cohort of seminal writers, among them, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, Willa Cather, Franz Kafka, Halldor Laxness, Marguerite de Navarre, Charles Dickens and more. 

The ambiguity of the Golden State in terms of freedom, autonomy, race, class, identity, sex and other topics is filtered through Smiley’s perspectives as a resident of California and paired with the work of these classic writers whose work informs her own. It’s not a book about answers, per se, but a profile of a writer unafraid to explore questions that, for some people, matter most.

Olivia Allen-Price, ‘Bay Curious: Exploring the Hidden True Stories of the San Francisco Bay Area’

Allen-Price’s curiosity knows no bounds. For readers interested in adventures involving the Bay Area’s legends, landmarks and less-explored histories, Bay Curious is the ticket. In 49 brief essays and fascinating sidebars enhanced by stimulating, colorful illustrations from Alexandra Bowman, Allen-Price explores local people, culture, places, food, nature and iconic elements of San Francisco and cities in the nine counties comprising the greater Bay Area. 

Her search for the soul of San Francisco and other cities has become a project that includes, in addition to the book, a collection of online articles and videos, a newsletter, a series of live events and the KQED podcast, Bay Curious. A few highlights from the book: Learn the true story behind the man most responsible for public nudity being illegal in Berkeley, the origins of Green Goddess salad dressing, an explanation of the love affair with sourdough bread, why there are buried ships underwater and butterflies in the skies above, and the reason one should thank Oakland—ok, Emeryville—if one loves Mai Tais.

Jenny Odell, ‘Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock’

Following on the heels of her 2019 bestseller, How to Do Nothing, Odell launches an exploration of time and activism on a broader scale. A daylong trip that began at the Port of Oakland and included a stop at a nearby beach, a community library and a columbarium led her to considerations of phrases and terminology such as “time is money” and “time management.” Eventually, Odell turned to thoughts about the climate crisis, mortality, mass incarceration, leisure and work and planetary time, European colonialism, bird-watching, existential dread and more. 

Odell suggests that revisiting conceptions of time and choosing actions that lead to a better future for oneself and the Earth is vital and holds potential to transform relationships and alter the values placed on human labor and the planet’s natural resources. A voracious intellectual appetite is behind Odell’s books: Expect to be both fed and left hungering by Saving Time.

East Bay Express E-edition East Bay Express E-edition