ASP Author's Gift Guide for Book Lovers
Part 2: The Explorer, The Poet, and The Cosmopolite
This week, it’s travel books, mysteries, and books related to Northern California.
Linda Watanabe McFerrin
Linda Watanabe McFerrin's ASP Legacy Series poetry and prose collection, Crossing the Divide, is forthcoming in 2019. Co-founder of the Wanderland Writers Anthology series, Linda has traversed the globe more times than we can count. Here are her picks for the travel lovers on your list:
West with the Night, by Beryl Markham, North Point Press.
Beautifully written and full of adventure, female bush pilot Beryl Markham’s British East African memoir thrills when it comes to evoking an extraordinary place and era. It is second only to Isak Dinesen’s Kenyan memoir, Out of Africa, but you’ve probably already read that.
Cool, Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco, by Gary Kamiya, Bloomsbury USA.
Marcel Proust wrote that the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes, and I agree … which is precisely why I fall in love with well-written books about one’s own backyard. This is definitely one of them, and this is also my backyard.
Shopping for Buddhas: An Adventure in Nepal, by Jeff Greenwald, Travelers’ Tales.
West meets east in this hilarious travelogue about the writer’s oxymoronic quest for the “perfect” Buddha statue. Seemingly simple, it’s an energetic gallop through Nepal and its ancient capital that delightfully enlightens.
Jaguars Ripped My Flesh, by Tim Cahill, Vintage.
Talk about adventure … this uproarious collection of essays (one of many) by famous Rolling Stone and Outside contributor Tim Cahill is the gold standard in adventure travel from a writer who practically invented the genre.
Pleasures of a Tangled Life, by Jan Morris, Random House.
A counterpoint to Conundrum, the author’s memoir about her sex change operation, this collection is as literary and masterful as it is peculiar and idiosyncratic. I read it cover-to-cover, and then practically her entire oeuvre, book by book.
Joanna Biggar is the author of the ASP novel That Paris Year and a sequel, the forthcoming Melanie’s Song, is a native Californian with a deep and abiding love for her native state. A typical west coaster, she’s a little rules-averse – and so, when we asked her for five essential titles for lovers of Northern California, she gave us half a dozen:
The Gary Snyder Reader: Prose, Poetry and Translations, 1952-1998, Counterpoint Press.
This book catches the beat, literally, of the Beat Generation, while also highlighting the spirituality and love of nature that figures heavily in environmentalism.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem, by Joan Didion, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
A hard-edged view of the heyday of Haight-Ashbury and the counterculture of San Francisco in the 60s.
Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner, Penguin Classics.
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel offers a classic view of the settling of the West over several generations, seen through the eyes of wheelchair-bound narrator in California foothills.
The Woman Warrior, by Maxine Hong Kingston, Vintage Reissue.
A Chinese-American woman tells tales of Chinese myths, family stories, and events in her California childhood.
Tales of the City, by Armistad Maupin, Harper Perennial.
This wildly and deservedly popular series of novels depicts the halcyon days of the evolving of “San Francisco Values.”
Brown: The Last Discovery of America, by Richard Rodriguez, Penguin Books.
This is the third book in Rodriguez’s trilogy on the place of brown people in America. A sample: “America isn’t a country of family values. Mexico is a country of family values. This is a country of people who leave home.”
Though it features a contemporary narrator, poet Rose Solari’s first novel, A Secret Woman, revolves around a medieval mystery. A lifelong mystery lover, she is currently at work on a novel in that genre. Here are Rose’s suggestions for your mystery-loving pals:
Die a Little, by Megan Abbott, Simon and Schuster.
Abbot is now a well-known master of female-centered noir, but this, her first novel, proves that she’s always had major league chops. Centered around a fraught friendship between the narrator, Lorna, and Alice, a glamorous lady with a questionable past, this unpredictable tale gave me genuine shivers.
I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, E.A. Aymar, Black Opal Books.
It starts out like a classic revenge tale, but the twists and turns keep coming in this novel, narrated by a man obsessed with avenging his wife’s murder. In a genre not known for sophisticated and nuanced written sex scenes, Aymar impressed me most in his depiction of Alison, the narrator‘s some-time lover who has issues of her own.
The Moth Catcher: A Vera Stanhope Mystery, by Ann Cleeve, Minotaur Books.
I’m enchanted by the ungainly, single-minded, good-despite-herself detective Vera Stanhope, and this, the 7th book in the series, brings us her at her prickly and vulnerable best. I was sure I knew who the killer was by chapter 3. I was delightfully wrong.
Swann, by Carol Shields, Viking.
A novel centered around an absence: the titular Mary Swann, author of a posthumously published book of poems, who was brutally murdered by her husband within hours of dropping the manuscript off with a publisher. I’m not usually a fan of alternating narrative voices, but it really works here.
Stone Virgin, by Barry Unsworth, W. W. Norton.
Interweaving a Renaissance murder mystery with a modern narrative of death, sex, and art restoration in Venice, Booker Prize-winner Barry Unsworth is at his lyrical best in this one. His Venice is the real femme fatale of the story — dazzling, disorienting, and above all, deceptive.