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From Globe-Trotting to Journeys of the Mind: Bay Area Escapist Reads

By Carolyne Zinko

With San Francisco’s LitQuake festival nearing in October, festival co-founder and author Jane Ganahl is delving into a new book she calls “fabulous” —  Molly Ball’s Pelosi, a new biography of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But when the reality of politics gets to her, Ganahl’s fallback is a surprise: middle-grade children’s fiction. “Escapism,” she says, “is what I need right now.”

She’s not alone.

At Booksmith on San Francisco’s Haight Street, titles about anti-racism and social justice titles are in high demand “as people move to share information and educate themselves about systems and issues that are getting more attention in the news,” says lead buyer Camden Avery. 

But science fiction and fantasy genres run a strong second, he says, with fiction and genre fiction likely to do well this fall. His latest read: Jenny Erpenbeck’s Not a Novel, a fragmented memoir of the German writer’s life before and after the fall of the Berlin wall. “I’m finding it affirming,” he says, “to read about other great ruptures in history, and how in spite of everything, daily life goes on.”

At Kepler’s Books (in Menlo Park, buyer Aggie Zivaljevic saw a “seismic shift” in June for titles on Black lives and current politics, from How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi to Mary Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough, and expects this to trend into fall. Big titles slated for September release include Rage by Bob Woodward, Disloyal by Michael Cohen and Stakes is High: Life After the American Dream by Mychal Denzel Smith.

But interest is soaring in self-care, health and romance and mystery novels, Zivaljevic says. Bread-baking books are doing well, too, which bodes well for TV personality Ayesha Curry, wife of Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry. Her new cookbook, The Full Plate: Flavor-Filled, Easy Recipes for Families with No Time and a Lot to Do, also debuts this month.

 “The current buying trend,” says Zivaljevic, “reflects a bit of optimism and hope for normalcy.” 

History is where it’s at for Boonville author and San Francisco screenwriter Robert Mailer Anderson, who reads Frank Norris’s 1901 novel, The Octopus, about conflict in the California wheat industry, “for pleasure and to learn more about my craft and California history so I’m not doomed to repeat it.” 

Others leave their choices to chance. “I think the element of surprise turns every gift into a thrill, so I am a regular patron of the little free library a few blocks from my house,” says retired San Francisco Chronicle columnist Leah Garchik, who recently selected Margaret Atwood’s “Alias Grace” (about a pair of murders in 1843) and Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich (about welfare reform and the working poor). “I love the serendipity of what’s to be found, and the joy of seeing what I put in disappear.”  

Photo credit: Books and glasses, Sincerely Media for Unsplash. Stack of books, Ed Robertson for Unsplash.

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