Since its inception in 2015, The Bay Area Book Festival has built a reputation for the quality of its literary programs, its international scope, and its commitment to informed public discourse, empathy, and open-mindedness. Although we’ve had to cancel our in-person Festival (May 2-3), we’ve gone virtual with the Bay Area Book Festival #UNBOUND, launching over the weekend of May 1-3. We’re dedicated to continue sharing the works of great authors, supporting booksellers, and engaging the literary community. During these trying times, books make us feel much less alone, no matter how far from home (or from each other) we are. In this monthly column, we hope to bring you a slice of literary goodness in the form of new books to enjoy, share, and discuss—even if it’s from a distance.
WHAT WE’RE READING – ADULT BOOKS
To have an assignment, Pastor Vern said, you have to be a woman of blood. Thus begins Chelsea Bieker’s first novel, the tale of a suddenly motherless young woman whose life has been upended by a charismatic cult. Our Director of Literary Programming, Kisky Holwerda, was enraptured by this debut, which Entertainment Weekly called “fiercely written and endlessly readable…a godsend.” This riveting story of trauma, resilience, and feminist awakening has earned comparisons to works by Margaret Atwood and Emma Cline; but the vision and voice of Godshot is entirely Bieker’s own.
Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America by Conor Dougherty
This illuminating exploration of San Francisco’s historic, unparalleled housing crisis, by New York Times economics reporter Dougherty, does justice to the complexity of a situation we Bay Area denizens are all too familiar with. From low-income renters to displaced communities of color to affluent techies, everyone has a stake in this issue—and, as Dougherty shows, the factional voices threaten to drown one another out. The New Yorker recently lauded Golden Gates for shedding light on the counterproductive nature of tribalism and the need for concrete, workable solutions to a crisis that impacts us all.
Since the shelter-in-place order began, our Executive Director, Cherilyn Parsons, has been dipping into Hirshfield’s ninth volume of poetry for a daily dose of transcendence and beauty. Hirshfield’s work is a bracing tonic for troubled times: Ledger‘s first poem, “Let Them Not Say,” was circulated widely, as a source of prescient, bittersweet solace, on the day President Trump was elected in 2016. Fittingly, Publishers Weekly praised the book as “both a paean and a heartbreaking plea.”
WHAT WE’RE READING – CHILDREN’S AND YA BOOKS
Outside In by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Cindy Derby; Ages 3-9
Is there a book that celebrates being outside in a timelier way than Outside In? We don’t think so. This gorgeous picture book by New York Times bestselling author Deborah Underwood is an exquisite celebration of the outdoors. It shows us how outside is inseparably connected to inside and, more importantly, how we can still enjoy the beauty of nature while inside. We see, we hear, we experience nature in its full glory. Might you doubt the book’s power? It garnered not just one, but FIVE starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and other literary trades, and it is bound to become a classic that deserves a place in everyone’s library.
Accordionly: Abuelo and Opa Make Music by Michael Genhart, illustrated by Priscilla Burris; Ages 3-6
Most of us are stuck inside now, and we know just how hard that can be, even if we share a native tongue with those we’re sheltering in place with, it can sometimes feel like we don’t speak the same language. In this adorable picture book, two grandpas, Abuelo and Opa, can’t communicate due to a language barrier. Their grandson’s clever thinking finds a way for everyone to share the day. How? With music! Reading this book with your little ones will make everyone sing and dance together again.
Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros; Ages 8-13
“Honest and tender…a must-read,” says Kirkus Reviews in its starred rave for this middle-grade novel by Ernesto Cisneros: a story that tugs at your heartstrings from the first page. Cisneros takes you deep into Efrén’s life with his hard-working but undocumented Mexican parents. When his mother is deported by ICE, Efrén has to step up and care for his younger siblings, juggling schoolwork, caretaking, and intense worry about his mother’s fate, while trying to figure out who’s trustworthy and who’s not. In this exceptional debut, Cisneros shows us the grit, courage, and resilience of our nation’s immigrant communities in a time of widespread injustice and uncertainty.
Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay; Ages 14-18
“A singular voice in the world of literature,” bestselling YA author Jason Reynolds proclaims on the cover of Randy Ribay’s new YA novel. A National Book Award Finalist and an NPR “Best Book of the Year” (amongst a long list of other distinctions), Ribay’s novel follows Jay Reguero, whose pre-college plans consisted of biding his time and playing video games. Everything changes when his cousin Jun is killed by the police in the Philippines. Jay has no choice but to return to his home country and reckon with painful truths about his family, himself, and the story behind this tragic loss. Ribay pulls you into Jay’s and Jun’s life stories unflinchingly, without shying away from the emotional and political complexities and dangers of this fraught and riveting terrain. A truly remarkable book.