Image by: Jeremy Segrott, Wikimedia Commons. Collage by Rojas Contreras

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I started the year by poring over an old, slim volume I found at San Francisco’s public library book sale. It’s a plain cream cover without text or images. I’ve kept it for years, dutifully moving it to the top of my to-read pile even though it often gets buried under higher-priority books.

There is a title one page in: Life is a Lousy Drag along with an illustration of a grandfather clock. Written by Jim Schock in 1958, it is meant as a hip ethnography — a mordant critique of the Beat generation. But it has the opposite effect, leaving one positively enthralled with the weirdness of that long-ago San Francisco.

Not that long ago, visitors to the city were met with vociferous performances of nonsensical words, sounds, and music, what the Beats called a “turn-on” — all done in the name of shocking and alienating tourists. Not that long ago, one could have overheard this gem of an exchange, which Schock ridicules but which I madly, unapologetically appreciate:

“I—self—the idol of the idle. The beat generation’s cool hipsters with their almost total ignorance of ontology resort to rank mysticism for expression. Guy talking to a chick says, ‘Look me in the eye.’ Chick retorts: ‘Which I?'”

It is a city I can’t even recognize, not even if I squint. It all put me in the mind to look forward, and around, to see what was coming to bookstores near you by authors near you. Here are eight new books by Bay Area authors, along with the places to catch them live.

The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers
Sunday, January 28, 1:00 p.m.
Books Inc (3515 California St in San Francisco)

In The Monk of Mokha, Dave Eggers turns his attention to Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a Yemeni-American who dreams of nothing but coffee but is captured by a militia in Aden. It’s a story that touches on coffee and coffee workers, immigration, Yemen, and the Tenderloin (where Mokhtar grew up and Eggers describes as “a valley of desperation in a city of towering wealth”).

The Job of the Wasp by Colin Winnette
Wednesday, January 31, 7:00 p.m.
East Bay Booksellers (5433 College Ave in Oakland)

In this modern take of the gothic genre, the supernatural runs afoul at an isolated school for orphan boys. A new arrival to the state-run facility hears whispers at night—then corpses begin to turn up.  Publisher’s Weekly says: “This is a worthwhile novel for readers of the dark and twisted, who will find both in spades.”

Doc/Undoc by Guillermo Gomez-Peña and Felicia Rice
Thursday, Feb 1st, 7:00 p.m.
Canessa Gallery (708 Montgomery Street in San Francisco)

This new work by Mexican performance artist Guillermo Gomez-Peña and artist Felicia Rice asks what it means to be documented and undocumented. Featuring Gomez-Peña’s performance scripts (“Pero, if only I had never left in the first place / what would have become of my life? / It would be considerably simpler”) and Rice’s drawings, Doc/Undoc is supposed to work like a medicine-meets-curiosity cabinet. Its texts are there to be read, or even performed, shamanically, at border crossings and encounters with racism and revolution.

Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik
Thursday, Feb 15, 2018, 7:30 p.m.
The Booksmith (1644 Haight St in San Francisco)

Inspired by the writings and films of the feminist Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad, Song of a Captive Bird tells the story of a young poet born into a strict household where she is expected to be quiet, modest, and obedient. Instead, she fights to find her voice and destiny.

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao
Tuesday, March 6, 2018, 7:00 p.m.
City Lights Bookstore (261 Columbus Avenue in San Francisco)

When Poornima fell into a well as a baby, her father hesitated: “I was standing there, and I was thinking…She’s just a girl. Let her go…That’s the thing with girls, isn’t it…You think, Push. That’s all it would take. Just one little push.” Set in India and the United States, Girls Burn Brighter is the story of a friendship torn apart and two girls’ journey to reclaim it.

The Last Watchman of Old Cairo by Michael David Lukas
Tuesday, March 13, 7:00 p.m.
Book Passage (51 Tamal Vista Blvd. in Corte Madera)

This captivating story of a son thrust into an ancient web of familial secrecy and communities torn apart is seriously addictive.  Joseph, the son of a Muslim father and Jewish mother, receives a mysterious package after his father’s death. It leads him to the story of an ancestor, entrusted to be the first watchman of the synagogue where baby Moses was taken from the Nile. This story is weaved with the account of twin sisters who are on the hunt for disappearing sacred texts.

Bury What We Cannot Take by Kirstin Chen
Thursday, March 22, 7:30 p.m.
The Bindery (1727 Haight St in San Francisco)

It’s 1957 when twelve-year old Ah Liam witnesses his grandmother smash a portrait of Chairman Mao with a hammer. He dutifully reports her to the authorities to prove his love for the party. This triggers unimaginable consequences  in this achingly beautiful, powerful, and taut book.

Against Memoir by Michelle Tea
Wednesday, May 16, 2018, 7:00 p.m.
City Lights Bookstore (261 Columbus Avenue in San Francisco)

Against Memoir  is ripe with Michelle Tea’s signature raw, powerful prose.  These are essays about art, music, love, queerness, writing, and life. But they’re also about prostitutes, alcoholics, and teenagers trying to survive. They are keenly observed, conversational, and cut through with striking lyricism.

The Spine: bringing you literary happenings since 2017. The Spine is a biweekly column. Catch us back here in two weeks.

Coming to a Bookstore Near You, by Authors Near You 15 January,2018Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Author

Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Ingrid Rojas Contreras lives in San Francisco with her books. Her debut novel Fruit of the Drunken Tree is forthcoming from Doubleday (Summer 2018). Find more at www.ingridrojascontreras.com.