There’s plenty to love about the Bay Area. We all know it. We’ve got tech and trends, music and makers, and creativity unbounded.
Your reading list should probably reflect that sense of local pride, don’t you think? We’ve rounded up some fantastic Bay Area authors that you need to read; head to your favorite independent bookstore (City Lights, perhaps?) and look for these authors.
You’ve got to start somewhere, and in this case why not start with one of the titans of Bay Area lit? We can thank Jack London for first putting our bayside enclave on the map of great storytellers. Perennially remembered for White Fang and Call of the Wild-- you know, those books you read back in grade school that you actually enjoyed?-- London explicitly wrote of the Bay Area in his classic, The Sea Wolf. And he wasn’t just a good storyteller. He was also a social activist who championed workers rights and equality--largely owing to the fact that he was born into a working class family himself, with little hope of upward mobility. A lover of adventure and wilderness, London often brushed elbows with the likes of John Muir and George Sterling in social groups like the Bohemian Club.
Read up on our man Jack and his classic and enduring literature. Afterwards, head over to Jack London Square in Oakland and toss a few back in memory of our first literary king.
In case you haven’t heard of one of the Mission District’s quirkiest, most magical storefronts, then by all means, hoof it over to 826 Valencia, renowned as San Francisco’s “only independent pirate supply store.” Books and pirates? Well, I’m sorry to tell you it just doesn’t get cooler than that. The mastermind behind such a place, and the non-profit that accompanies it, is Dave Eggers. Famed for works such as A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, The Circle, A Hologram for the King, and Heroes of the Frontier just to name a few, Eggers is so much at the forefront of Bay Area literature soul. This guy is an example of Bay Area innovation and creativity that crosses boundaries and astounds with its breadth and scope. He is also the founder of the literary journal McSweeney’s, along with its publishing branch.
So this is a bit of a cheat, as newly-minted literary force Gabriel Tallent is technically from Mendocino, but his keen analyses of character and fearlessness in tackling the most uncomfortable and intense subject matter make us proud to claim him as one of the Bay’s own. Tallent, who just completed two author visits in the Bay-- at Towne Center Books in Pleasanton and Book Passage in San Francisco-- has received acclaim from NPR, the New York Times, and Stephen King himself for his first novel, My Absolute Darling. The novel is rich with a sense of place as Tallent skillfully describes and paints images of Northern California scenery any Bay Area dweller would be quick to recognize. At times, reading the novel feels like undergoing something truly painful. I found myself shutting my eyes at certain points only to realize that you can’t continue reading with your eyes squeezed shut (who knew?) The end of the book feels like a triumphant sigh of relief, equal parts bitter and reassuring for all you have learned along the way. I’d argue we can hope to expect great things from this Northern California writer. You heard it here first, folks.
A figure of strength amidst adversity and a storyteller to rival all else, Alice Walker has earned her place as a great American writer and activist. Born in Georgia, Walker moved to Northern California in the 1970s. It is here that she wrote her famed work, The Color Purple, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
Acquaintance of Martin Luther King Jr., participant in the March on Washington, feminist activist, and voting rights champion, Alice Walker has long been a much-needed voice spurring the nation toward a more noble place. Other works include Meridian, Once, and The Third Life of Grange Copeland, to name a few. She is also the co-founder of feminist publishing house Wild Tree Press in Anderson Valley, California.
So much more than a woman with words, Joan Didion has always been a woman of soul as well. Born in Sacramento, Didion attended UC Berkeley before taking the literary world by storm, empowering and understanding women in a manner that is both forceful and fluid, non-judging and honest. Her views on love, career, anxiety, society, politics and life in its complex magnitude have held true since first publication. Perhaps more than anything else, Joan is cool. In the most fundamental, true sense of the word. She is cool in a way that can only come from being unequivocally, unashamedly, unwaveringly yourself. I think we can all agree the world will always, always need more individuals like that.
If this is your first time acquainting yourself with Joan, perhaps start with Slouching Towards Bethlehem or, my personal favorite, Where I Was From. Other notable titles include Play It as It Lays and The Year of Magical Thinking. Plus, check out the new documentary, Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold on Netflix this month.
Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Chabon first burst onto the literary scene in 1988 with his novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. Since then, he has steadily maintained his position as a masterful author with book after book, including The Amazing Adventures of Kavelier and Clay, Telegraph Avenue, and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.
The author resides in Berkeley with his family, still churning out bestselling tales. Just last year, his fictionalized memoir Moonglow was released, telling an incredible familial history of the narrator and characters, expressing themes of life, love, class, and country. Very deserving of his spot on our list of Bay Area authors, Chabon is a writer to have on your nightstand to be sure.
Isabella Welch is a graduate of UCLA with a degree in history. Her writing has been featured in history journals, travel blogs, arts & culture magazines, and more. Director of Editorial & Creative Development at Bob Cut Mag, lover of stories and tinto de verano, she’s usually found wandering the Headlands.