Books

Book Passage Staff's Best Picks for August

Alta’s partners at Book Passage in the Bay Area recommend books by California authors and on California subjects, with reviews by Book Passage staff members.

The Distance Home” by Paula Saunders

Saunders’s debut novel is a searing portrait of a mid-20thcentury family in South Dakota, trying to cope with whatever life throws at them. Al, a cattle broker, spends most of his nights on the road. But when he’s home, tension and arguments with his wife, Eve, rule the house. Their two oldest children, Leon and Rene, find solace in a local dance class. But while Al basks in his daughter’s success, he berates Leon for his stutter and love of dance. Eve tries to smooth everything over, desperate to hang on to a volatile marriage to a man she both loves and despises. This beautifully written novel takes readers to a place where painful memories live alongside hopes and dreams. – Elaine Petrocelli

There There” by Tommy Orange

The heartbeat of the Urban Indian finally has a voice in Tommy Orange’s astounding debut, “There There,” which illustrates the many paths members of this community must travel as they find their way to the Big Oakland Powwow. The powerful voices of these characters are perfectly balanced with Orange’s lyrical prose, allowing us to see them as whole individuals, struggling with both the past and the present. Orange never shies away from showing both the sadness and beauty contained within the story, allowing the tension to build until we are hit with the unforgettable climax. “There There” is not just a remarkable debut, it is an important addition to the American voice. – Luisa Smith

(Read Alta’s review)

The Mars Room” by Rachel Kushner

Join single mother Romy Hall as she starts two consecutive life sentences at the Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility in the Central Valley. Her crime: murdering a stalker. Romy tells us of her not-so-lovely past in San Francisco, where she worked in a sleazy strip club called The Mars Room. With Romy, we meet the other incarcerated women as well as a well-meaning writing teacher and some not at all well-meaning officials. In any other hands, this could be depressing, but Kushner, who wrote “Telex from Cuba” and “The Flamethrowers,” brings us a riveting tale of a woman we come to respect. – Elaine Petrocelli

(Read Alta’s review)

Robin” by Dave Itzkoff

To capture the spirit of Robin Williams — famed actor, beloved comedian, Bay Area icon — is no easy task, but reporter Dave Itzkoff has risen to the challenge with his revelatory account of Williams’ life and struggles. As is so often the case, the brilliant humor Williams shared with the world in films like “Mrs. Doubtfire” —as well as the brooding pathos of his Oscar-winning turn in “Good Will Hunting” — were but one side of a multi-faceted, conflicted man. A loving tribute as well as a primer on the severe struggles that addiction and depression can inflict, Robin is a biography worthy of a person so cherished that his name now adorns the tunnel connecting Marin County to San Francisco. – Zack Ruskin

(Read Alta’s story)

How to Change Your Mind” by Michael Pollan

In our modern age, many have begun to reexamine our relationship with substances once viewed as worthy only of the world’s derelicts and dreamers. While cannabis continues to be legalized across the country, others have found that ingesting psychedelics may offer much more than a sea of pretty colors. Among these so-called “psychonauts” is Michael Pollan, the celebrated author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “The Botany of Desire.” In “How to Change Your Mind,” Pollan investigates the value of LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) as a treatment for ailments like depression, addiction and anxiety. Rarely has participatory journalism been this fun — and educational. In exploring the human consciousness — and how psychedelics may expand and heal it — Pollan redefines what it means to be present and shows how the boundaries ofmedicine are continuing to expand. – Zack Ruskin