Read Your Way Through the San Francisco Bay Area

Read Your Way Around the World is a series exploring the globe through books.

The San Francisco Bay Area is anything but a monoculture. Go to San Francisco, hop across the Bay Bridge into Oakland, then head up into Richmond or down to Hayward, and the landscape around you — the people, the food, the particular cadence of walk and talk — will morph. To read the Bay Area is to traverse the spectrum of a place that has had many lives, simultaneously a landing spot for people seeking sanctuary and a place that has repelled the very people who have shaped it and loved it most.

The Bay Area is known for starting shit. We are the genesis for movements, trends, renaissances, from political uprisings to the artists who resonate from the stereos in our cars. The Bay Area is unafraid to be first. We are the creators of legacies — and also often overlooked.

I could tell you about Jack London’s early 1900s Oakland or John Steinbeck’s Salinas Valley, but that would tell you very little about the Bay Area that lives and breathes today — the people you will stumble into and love like your own, the dips in our roads and the weaving roots of our trees. It’s important to acknowledge the literary canon, but its gaps are deep, particularly when it comes to painting a full picture of one of the most racially and ethnically diverse regions in the country.

I’m here to give you a more complete vision of my home by sharing stories that see us as we see ourselves: stories of rebellion, of breath, of found family. Stories of creation.

What are your favorite books about Oakland?

Arguably the most foundational Oakland book from the past decade is There There,” by Tommy Orange. Orange writes vignettes from the perspectives of different Native characters across the U.S. who gather for the Big Powwow at the Oakland Coliseum. Somehow, Orange’s sophomore novel, Wandering Stars, gives us even more Oakland, expanding through time and neighborhoods in his unforgettable voice. Yes, this is the Oakland we love: vibrant, scrappy and complex. And what a relief it is to finally see it woven in the glorious thread of language.

Young adult novels get a bad rap, maybe because, even when we were teenagers, we wanted more from the stories we were given and assume the same lack from the Y.A. that exists today. But Carolina Ixta’s debut Y.A. novel, “Shut Up, This Is Serious,” proves that it is possible — and vital — to give young people a story that is rooted and complicated, crafted by an author who believes these readers are competent enough to handle an honest depiction of Mexican American girlhood in East Oakland. Ixta tells a compelling and beautifully written coming-of-age story, and even if you’re not a young person, you will find this is one of the most nuanced contemporary novels set in Oakland.

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