Book Review | Sourdough by Robin Sloan

sourdough coverLois Clary relocated from the midwest to San Francisco for a job at a tech company. For long hours, she writes code that will tell robotic arms how to work. Her lonely existence becomes more exciting after regular neighborhood food delivery brothers move away, leaving her with their precious sourdough starter. Lois builds a backyard oven and attempts mastery of the sourdough, getting herself involved in an underground farmer’s market along the way.

Though not as adventurous as Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour BookstoreSourdough is a quick and fun read. Sloan’s third tale is entertaining from the start and moves along at a decent pace. Protagonist Lois develops throughout the book as she interacts with a host of eccentric characters. Looking back, the plot seems slightly convoluted, but it works as you are reading. This novel is recommended for fans of the slightly surreal, those looking to kill time on a long plane trip, or fans of Sloan’s previous works. Beware of holds on this new release and check it out from a library near you.

*Fans of Sourdough, may be interested in Taduno’s Song by Odafe Atogun (2017).


Book Review | O Glorious City : A Love Letter to San Francisco by Jeremy Fish

o glorious city cover.jpgAs the first artist in residence at City Hall in San Francisco, Jeremy Fish completed a series of 100 drawings in as many days. Through his agreement with the San Francisco Arts Commission, he worked on the pieces three days a week in his City Hall office for a commemorative project relating to City Hall’s 100th birthday. The book explains the project and shares the drawings and photo collages that Fish created during his residence.

Fish fans who are not already familiar with his background will enjoy reading about what brought him to San Francisco and how his career developed. His signature artwork is sure to create at least a few smiles, and accompanying text also provides some educational tidbits about San Francisco’s history. Perhaps on account of health issues encountered by Fish during his residence, some of the drawings lack full details like those often present in his pieces. Photo collages (drawings added on top of black and white photographs) may not be appealing to all fans hoping for more drawn art. It would be better to read a physical copy of this book instead of the ebook as it does not allow for zooming in on the artwork. Check it out from a library near you!

Book Review | Ajax Penumbra 1969 by Robin Sloan

ajax penumbra 1969 book coverThis prequel to Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is immediately interesting and a fun, easy read. It’s also a very quick read at just under 100 pages. The story begins with Ajax Penumbra as a college student in the Midwest and follows him out to San Francisco in search of an ancient text. This particular manuscript has been traced over the decades by those hoping to procure it, but has mysteriously disappeared from circulation. Penumbra joins forces with the owner and clerk (Corvina) of the 24-Hour Bookstore in order to track down the book.

I’d like to say that this Sloan book was by no means disappointing, and in the traditional sense it wasn’t, but I just wanted there to be more of it! Ajax Penumbra 1969 is a great book in that it jumps right into the story, it is linear and easy to follow throughout and it provides an entertaining narrative. The cast of characters is small and manageable. This book will be enjoyed by all fans of Sloan’s previous novel and can certainly be read first (prequel), even though it was written later. Personally, I enjoyed a bit of the backstory about how Penumbra came to the 24-hour Bookstore. As a previous San Francisco resident, I liked reading about the founding of BART too. Check it out from a library near you. Happy Reading!

Pictorials | San Francisco, California, USA – market month photo 25


Wharf crab cleaning. 2015. San Francisco, California, USA.

Book Review | San Francisco Lithographer: African American Artist Grafton Tyler Brown by Robert J. Chandler

Previously published by Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA) Reviews in July 2014.

cover of san francisco lithographerMore than just a book about one man, San Francisco Lithographer: African American Artist Grafton Tyler Brown is about the emerging lithography scene in nineteenth-century San Francisco and Brown’s role in it as a mixed race artist and businessman. Author Robert J. Chandler, previously the senior research historian for Wells Fargo Bank, has done extensive research on the life and times of Brown. Though other scholars have written about Brown, Chandler’s work is the first comprehensive biography, which seamlessly references appropriate field literature to piece together Brown’s life from his birth in Pennsylvania to his death in Minnesota.

Though not entirely chronological, the book’s topical organization allows the reader to easily access information by subject. Interweaving of historical facts with the narrative provides an interesting read with welcomed section and chapter breaks. At times the amount of numbers, mostly dates and monetary values, may feel slightly overwhelming. Despite this, the ideas are clearly presented and developed in a way that makes the book accessible to all readers rather than only appealing to researchers or art historians. Some background knowledge of lithography would be helpful as the process is only explained briefly within the third chapter.

Chandler supplies a wealth of full color reproductions of Brown’s lithographic work and that of his competitors. Brown ventured into painting later in life and images of some paintings are also included. Captions fully explain each of more than 100 images. Chandler includes an index and a comprehensive bibliography that would be very helpful as a starting point for related research. The full checklist of Brown’s known works is an added bonus, since so many of the pieces he produced were ephemera that were discarded shortly after their intended use. The jacket, standard full-page size, stitched binding, and photo-quality paper make the book physically appealing.

This book is recommended for any libraries with a specific interest in lithography, Californiana, ephemera, post-Gold Rush San Francisco or African American artists.

Breakfast (or brunch if you’re lazy) in San Francisco

From an exhibit at SFO airport

From an exhibit at SFO airport

Each person has his own individual tastes and preferences and in San Francisco, neighborhoods can influence food choices. To give you some perspective I was a resident of the Haight and Cole Valley. This post talks about some of my favorite breakfast spots in the city. My list includes joints from several neighborhoods, but I’m sure I am missing some jewels that I never chanced upon. Had I lived in other neighborhoods, the list would likely be different, or longer…

Farmerbrown’s Little Skillet – on Ritch between Brannan and Townsend

Little Skillet Chicken & Waffles & Grits

Little Skillet’s Fried Chicken & Waffles & Grits

Fried chicken, waffles and grits – definitely worth trying here if you haven’t had them yet, and if you have, you know how great the combo tastes. Little Skillet is cash only so be prepared – they do have an ATM onsite. They do a really great job with the chicken – moist inside with lots of flavor and crispy on the outside, not greasy. The waffles are excellent and I always wish I had more. The grits are very creamy and a side is a generous serving. The prices are a little high, but worth it for the couple times a year that we get there. Breakfast for two will run over $20. There are other options beside chicken and waffles for the less adventurous – an array of po’boy sandwiches and sides. If you’re in a hurry you may want to phone in your order ahead. If time’s no issue and it’s a nice day, there’s a small coffee shop next door to grab a drink while you wait. There are a few standing room tables, but no real seating for Little Skillet, so if you’re eating there, be ok with sitting on the curb.

Brenda’s French Soul Food – corner of Polk and Eddy

Omlette at Brenda's

Weekend brunch at Brenda’s is a sea of deliciousness. French soul food and southern favorites make up a menu that includes egg dishes, beignets, gumbo, grits and griddle favorites. I recall one visit where all of the food we ordered couldn’t even fit on the table. The shrimp and grits are great, the egg dishes (benedict and omelettes) are done perfectly, the beignets are big and filling, and the french toast is a joy. The line forms early and stays late, so you’ll want to make sure you show up before you’re really hungry. Tables are pretty close together and the place is bustling.

Pork Store Cafe – on Haight between Ashbury and Masonic

cooking at the Pork Store Cafe

cooking at the Pork Store Cafe

The Pork Store is awesome. This place is fairly small, but packs a punch. Diner style seating allows you to watch the cooks at work or you can grab one of the tables for a more intimate experience or people watching on Haight. The prices here are pretty reasonable and they accept credit cards. I love that they offer veggie sausage for the non-meat-eaters and the grits are never lumpy. The menu is broad for such a small breakfast/lunch joint and ranges from traditional egg and omelet choices galore (with lots of veg options) to chicken fried steak and decked out burgers. Consider possible wait time during peak weekend brunch hours.

Zazie – on Cole between Carl and Parnassus

Zazie's Deux, Deux, Troix

Zazie’s Deux, Deux, Troix

Zazie is my neighborhood favorite, being about a block away from our apartment. Our best bet for getting in for weekend brunch with minimal wait time was to show up about 15 or 20 minutes before they opened and write our name on the list hanging just outside the door. We usually had our choice of tables and service was quick because of the crowd waiting outside. Their back patio is a hidden gem, on a sunny day it’s gorgeous to sit out and enjoy breakfast in this fairly secluded spot. There are two tables out front that are first come first serve, but then you’re surrounded by everyone else waiting for an inside table.

My favorite breakfast is the Un, Deux, Troix – a pancake, two eggs and three strips of bacon. The pancakes are great, not too soggy or dry. My partner switched back and forth between the scrambled eggs Italie, with tomatoes provencales, cream cheese, and basil and the poached eggs Florentine, with spinach and portobello mushrooms. The side salad they prepare with these egg dishes is something I really miss and have not found elsewhere. Definitely try the salad. While those are the only things we’ve tried on the menu, Yelp reviews will be able validate many other great brunch choices at Zazie.

Lava Java – corner of Stanyan and Frederick

Veggie Egg & Cheddar bagel sandwich photo by Audrey K. on Yelp

Veggie Egg & Cheddar bagel sandwich photo by Audrey K. on Yelp

With about 5 tables inside and two or three tables outside, Lava Java is a relaxing neighborhood cafe with a basic selection of coffee/tea and espresso drinks, a decent selection of pastries and baked goods, and stellar breakfast sandwiches. They also serve lunch, but I’ve only had breakfast. The bagel, egg & cheese sandwich is really excellent. I found no other place nearby that serves such a reasonably priced sandwich that’s made fresh when you order it, hot when you get it, and tastes great just about every bite. The bagel, egg, cheese and veggie adds lettuce, tomato, cucumber and onion for a small fee. This place is cash only, but for two it won’t be much over $10 unless you get fancy drinks. You can sit on the bench inside and read the paper while you wait. My partner also raves about their brownie bites.

Still waiting to try big farmerbrown and Mama’s on Washington Square. Other favorites I should get to? Happy feeding!

Book Review | Fairyland : a memoir of my father by Alysia Abbott

book cover Fairyland : a memoir of my father by Alysia AbbottWhile scouring the library for new treasures I found this gem: Fairyland : a memoir of my father. Having previously resided in the Haight neighborhood of San Francisco, my partner took an immediate interest in the novel and finished it in less than 36 hours. He claimed he was “unable to put it down” to which I can attest as he read between Superbowl plays.

Abbott’s memoir describes from her point of view the life of her father – a bisexual Bohemian writer – as she grew up with him in 70’s and 80’s San Francisco. It provides a refreshing view of how a single father (after the mother’s death) and his daughter were able to get by with little money and enjoy each other’s company. Parenting issues are touched on and the reader may question what happened to simple times when raising a child did not revolve around piano lessons, soccer practice and endless taxying to play-dates. As the book’s blurb mentions, AIDS does make an appearance and truly impacts the community.

The book was linear and easy to follow with no major stylistic issues. It is recommended for those interested in the Bohemian lifestyle in San Francisco in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, residents of the Haight, and those wanting to read about a single gay parent during that time period. Various references are made to San Francisco landmarks, cafes and restaurants, streets and public transit (MUNI). Published in summer of 2013, Fairyland should be available at a library near you.