Monthly Archives: June 2012

Find of the day: SFPL Blogs

I was going to write a post about checking out ebooks from the San Francisco Public Library, but when I tried to log on I found out that my library card expired on my birthday yesterday! I can’t renew it until I’m physically back in the city, so instead I’ll share my latest discovery: the SFPL has a blog! It consists mainly of book reviews (including some in other languages) highlighting books in their collection. There are also a fair number of branch blogs (Chinatown, Mission, Merced, Glen Park, Excelsior, Mission Bay), which aren’t much other than event listings for that branch, but they all seem to be up-to-date.

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Happy birthday to me!

It’s my birthday (in Japan at least—we’re a day ahead), and that means I can do whatever I want, which right now means posting a bunch of pictures of hydrangeas!


Blue hydrangeas


Japan is big on signs of the seasons—if it’s autumn, you have to eat persimmons and go on a leaf-viewing excursion; late summer is the time for fireworks and cold somen noodles, and of course there are the world-famous cherry blossoms in the spring. June is mostly known for being the height of the rainy season (although this year wasn’t too bad), but since that isn’t very appealing, most calendars and seasonally themed items feature hydrangeas instead.


Purple hydrangea


I thought hydrangeas were a pretty boring flower back in the States where we only have pale greenish pink or blue ones, but the range and intensity of colors (not to mention the special varieties with different shapes) in Japanese hydrangeas is astounding. They are so beautiful and I’m glad that they’re my birthday flower!


Bluish-purple hydrangeas



Funky hydrangeas



Pink hydrangea

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Quick Link: Literary art on BART

BART poster art for The Maltese Falcon

I meant to include this in my post on The Maltese Falcon, but forgot—I am just forgetful all over the place today! These literature-inspired posters, showing BART riders absorbed in books on their commute, will soon be displayed in trains and stations throughout the BART network. Also featured are The Joy Luck Club and The Call of the Wild. I love the level of detail with the BART map and John’s Grill outside, and it’s great to see BART paying homage to San Francisco’s literary history. So awesome!

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Happy Pride!

Rainbow flag over the Castro

I almost forgot: Happy Pride! I’ve actually never been to the Pride celebrations (shameful, I know), and unfortunately I’m missing it again this year. Next year, though!

What are you doing for Pride? Have you heard about any great literary events for Pride? Share in the comments!

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SF Reads: The Maltese Falcon

Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon

From the 1941 film, which I have not seen yet. But if it’s faithful to the book (as I hear) and involves Bogart? Sign me up!

I’ll be honest: I was reluctant to read this, because I’ve never been much of a mystery reader, but as soon as I started it sucked me in. There’s a reason it’s a classic: it’s the best of its genre, but it’s also GOOD no matter what you normally read. Seriously, if you love San Francisco, read this book.

The wonderful thing about The Maltese Falcon is that, despite the fact that it’s set in 1928, before either the Bay Bridge or the Golden Gate Bridge were built, the San Francisco it presents is utterly recognizable. From the murder scene at the Bush and Stockton tunnel onwards, I could picture exactly where the action takes place and how Sam Spade moves through the city block by block, making calls and pounding the pavement to keep tabs on the other main players and locate the titular “black bird”. It feels like San Francisco: cold steamy air, the sound of foghorns, old hotels, American grills, and of course the familiar sound of street names like O’Farrell, Geary, Leavenworth, Post. And it makes use of its setting that goes far beyond the incidental, with scenes centering around a ship from Hong Kong in the port and Effie Perine taking a ferry across the bay to check the theory on the Maltese Falcon with her cousin, a professor at UC Berkeley. Spade says several times throughout the story that this is HIS town, and given how picky we locals are it could easily have come off as fake and pathetic, but it’s such a perfect depiction of San Francisco that we’ve instead returned the favor and embraced The Maltese Falcon as a vital part of SF literary history.

The other great thing about this book is the dialogue and the constant posturing and negotiation between the characters. Sam Spade is cool. He faces tricks, threats, deception and murder without blinking or breaking a sweat. (He’s also a total womanizer, but the sexism is so archaic and ridiculous that you have to laugh at it—during a tense moment in the climactic scene, without a trace of irony, he literally orders femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy into the kitchen to make them all a sandwich. And she does.) The dialogue is snappy, pitch-perfect and full of great one-liners, and apparently it was left almost completely intact for the movie version, which means I’ll be watching it as soon as I get a chance.

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Quick Link: Armistead Maupin to move to Santa Fe

This is surprising: Armistead Maupin, best known for the eight novels in his Tales of the City series, is leaving San Francisco. He and his husband plan to settle in Santa Fe.  Maupin, quoted in the article, says “It’s been 41 years since I landed here and it gave me my story. … I keep reminding myself that Barbary Lane is portable and everything I learned here became part of me and is something I’ll always have.”

Stuff like this always makes me vaguely uncomfortable as I wonder if I’ll do something similar one day. I used to always threaten to move to New Mexico when I was having a hippie/back-to-nature phase; I don’t think I would actually do it, but now that I’ve lived in Los Angeles and abroad I wonder if San Francisco will be everything it used to be for me. On the other hand, I become very attached very quickly to places I’ve lived, and I think if I live in many more places in my life I’ll be reduced to a helpless, quivering ball of constant nostalgia.

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How to impress a girl with books, part 2

So the very first comment on my last post made me realize that not only had I not included a single female author on my list of books that made men more attractive, I also responded to the idea of a guy reading Jane Austen (and quite a few other female authors I like) with a knee-jerk reaction of “He’s trying too hard”. Which is appallingly sexist. To rectify the situation, here is my list of female authors I would be delighted to see a man reading:

  • Joan Didion (The original Paris Review blog post was right on the money with this one)
  • Banana Yoshimoto
  • Yoko Ogawa
  • Toni Morrison
  • Shirley Jackson
  • Lois-Ann Yamanaka
  • Maybe Ursula Le Guin? I’ve only read two of her books (and only really liked one), but she hits the right combination of smart, geeky, and socially conscious.

Oh, and honey, if you’re reading this, don’t worry. You know I think Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and all those zombie books are totally sexy.

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Links: The Jack Kerouac Tour of San Francisco and how to impress a girl with books

29 Russell Street

This was the house of Neal Cassady, inspiration for the character Dean Moriarty in Kerouac’s On the Road, in the 1950s. Via the link.

The other day I came across this link to The Jack Kerouac Tour of SF, compiled by Paul Iorio. It starts out with the obvious spots like City Lights, Jack Kerouac Alley, the Beat Museum and Vesuvio’s, but then moves into some places I didn’t know about, like Neal and Carolyn Cassady’s home (left), where Kerouac stayed in the attic for several months while writing Visions of Cody. It also includes some other places Kerouac lived, as well as neighborhoods, cafes, and performance spaces he frequented. Pretty cool, and definitely something I’ll be doing when I get back to the city.

I also thought this was pretty funny: Dear Paris Review, What Books Impress A Girl? The list at the end hits pretty close to the mark, I think. When I was 17 I used to write impassioned diary entries about my dream man, who I would encounter on a bus reading Nabokov. He would compliment my pink hair and then we’d go to a coffee shop to talk about Pale Fire. I still love Nabokov, but these days I would probably find a guy who wanted to talk about him on a bus tedious; some potential winners might be Michael Chabon’s The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Steinbeck, Whitman, really good non-fiction, or, yes, Haruki Murakami. (I cracked up at the “worst book of great author” formula suggested in the article, but in all seriousness, A Wild Sheep Chase is totally underrated and when I find someone who agrees with me I will bond instantly with that person. I feel the same way about Anne Bronte, but she’s significantly less sexy.)

Obviously you shouldn’t read just because you think it’ll help you get laid, but just for fun, what books would you like to see members of your preferred gender reading? 

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Library Love: Win prizes with SFPL summer reading programs!

In preparing to move back to San Francisco from rural Japan later this summer, I’m not just bracing myself for reverse culture shock and all the planning and bureaucracy and ballache that comes with a transcontinental move—I’m also preparing to kiss my disposable income goodbye and go back to living on a student budget and saving every penny. I’ll be living with a roommate (or several), taking public transportation, packing a lunch, and getting most of my books from Project Gutenberg or the public library. Luckily I was also broke the last time I lived in San Francisco (albeit much worse at managing my money), so I’m no stranger to any of these things, and I have a particular love for libraries.

I spent my teenage years in a Sacramento suburb filled with people who had money to burn, but our library was housed in a tiny space in an old firehouse (I used to beg my mom to drive me to the library in a nearby, less well-off, town because they had a better selection). I heard they finally built a new library some years after I moved away. I haven’t checked it out yet, but friends who still live there have told me it’s a huge, gorgeous facility with tons of parking, a coffee shop— and barely any books. Which always reminds me of Priscilla Ahn’s song “Lullaby“:

This old library has 30 books and one dictionary
But that’s okay, no one reads anyway, we all watch TV

Luckily, San Francisco is nothing like that, and just as I was amazed at the literary events and author signings it had to offer when I moved back there, I was in heaven when I first went to the library. Everywhere I’ve lived (and really almost everywhere in the city you could live) has had a branch better equipped than the library I grew up with within easy walking distance, and almost any book I ever wanted to check out was somewhere in the system, available for pickup at my local branch within a few days. Recently I’ve been checking out books on my Kindle with Overdrive (more on that in another post), and when I started browsing the site to find out more about their programs for this blog, I realized that their public offerings are far richer and more varied than I had imagined.

On that note, the San Francisco Public Library has kicked off its summer reading programs for kids, teens and adults, which run from June 1 to August 4.  Adults who read for 40 hours between those dates will get a free tote bag and will be entered to win a $30 Books, Inc. gift certificate. There will be one winner per branch, which is not bad for a tiny city with 28 branches! Teens are on a similar system, except they get a free button for participating and must read for 30 hours to get a prize and be entered in a raffle to win movie tickets, iTunes cards or Visa gift cards (again, one winner per branch). Kids (0-12) get a free sticker for participating and a prize for reading 10 hours.

I don’t know if I’ll make it to 40 hours with only 48 days left in the program, but I’ve been thinking lately that I should measure my reading by hours read rather than books completed, and the prospect of that gift certificate is a really good push to do so! Happy reading!

Links: San Francisco’s last public typewriter; book covers in the digital age

I haven’t been posting anything but links lately, have I? Sorry about that. I’m leaving Japan and returning to San Francisco in 6 weeks (!!!!!), so I’ve been pretty busy cleaning, sorting, doing paperwork, canceling contracts, and just enjoying all the things about Japan that I won’t be able to experience back home. Also, for what it’s worth, the 5k race went better than I could have hoped for—I ran the entire way and finished in 34:24! I’m really proud of myself, especially since I also climbed a mountain yesterday (which was a blast). This has really been an amazing year for me.

Anyway, today I have two links for you. The first one is a New York Times article (a couple weeks old now) about San Francisco’s last public typewriter:

Not so long ago, Ms. Nyhan tells me, as many as 10 people a day used the Typewriter Room, but now it’s down to around two a day. They’re people who need to fill out forms, or people who never took to computers. As long as such users exist, so will the Typewriter Room.

This has been making the rounds on Twitter and other social media sites, and at first glance I wasn’t sure why, although I found it compelling in spite of myself. It’s a rather short piece on a not-so-romantic piece of equipment falling into disuse in a back room of the Main Library; what’s the big deal, right? But it made me think of these wonderful posts I read recently about libraries, their inner workings, and the social services (whether book-related or not) they provide. Fascinating stuff, and a great reminder that libraries are a place where you can not only check out books but also join a writing group, get adult literacy tutoring, learn how to use a computer, find out about community events, get resume feedback… or use a typewriter.

So we’ve covered the past; to give equal weight to the future, I have a fantastic and well-illustrated essay from Craig Mod about book cover design in the digital age:

The cover image may help quickly ground us, but our eyes are drawn by habit to number and quality of reviews. We’re looking for metrics other than images — real metrics — not artificial marketing signifiers. Blurbs from humans. Perhaps even humans we know! And within the jumble of the interface, the cover feels all but an afterthought.

He goes on to say that a cover no longer serves the function it once did (to orient the reader and to provide title/author information), that in the age of Amazon pages and iPad reading apps it functions more like an icon—but far from wringing his hands over this, he instead provides plenty of examples of innovative cover designs that have embraced this role and really work as a miniature element of an page, or as an icon on an iPad, as well as as a traditional cover.

Also great is his three-part essay on pointability in digital texts—basically, is it interactive? Is it linkable? Can you tweet or blog or network not only a text itself but specific passages within the text? Both these questions and the observations in the previous essay are completely game-changing for me. I am definitely still learning about publishing, and design and technology are two huge blind spots of mine, so for all I know publishers are talking about this stuff all the time and I’m just out of the loop. But it is interesting that despite all the publishing and books-related sources I follow on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and newsletters, I ended up hearing about this essay from I always seem to get linked to essays bemoaning the fall of the traditional book without providing a solution, so to me this is really mind-broadening. It’s not strictly San Francisco-related, but I thought it was important enough to share.

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