This is San Francisco books fanned out over a colorful tablecloth

A Not-Quite-Local Take

Zoe Reviews This is San Francisco, In Bookstores Now

by Zoe Jennings

My adolescence consisted of frequent commutes to SF to see plays, visit museums on school field trips, and explore the city with friends and family. I grew up in Berkeley, California, just across the bay.

I’m not quite a local, but I’m not entirely a tourist either, though sometimes I play one when family comes to visit. I know San Francisco, and I was already a fan of Alexander Barrett’s books. His first book in this series, This is Portland, was one of my first introductions to Portland when I first moved here for school.

This is San Francisco book held in front of a map of North America, with a pin on San Francisco

This is San Francisco is a quirky, quick read, a guide to the “City by the Bay” as well as a sort of author’s journal. Barrett chronicles many of the things he’s learned and observed about San Francisco and what makes the city special to him. It’s personal, yet invites the reader in to experience it all for themselves, and to make the city their own. 

What I liked: One of my favorite aspects of Barrett’s writing is his use of humor. He introduces each section with a beautiful illustration and dives right into story time, exploring some of San Francisco’s most interesting questions… 

Why put a high security federal prison on an island with a perfect view of San Francisco, when the island could have been a beautiful retreat from city life? 

Why is Dolores Park Beach called a beach when it is, in fact, not near the ocean? 

Oh, you want to go for a nice stroll through a neighborhood with your special someone? Where can you go walking without finding yourselves struggling to continue breathing by the time you’re halfway up the first hill?
(Hint: nowhere. But that’s okay!)

googly-eyes over a note with the word PRIDE and a page from This is San Francisco about the PRIDE Flag

While some of the larger, more famous landmarks and facts about the city are covered in this book, Barrett also shares details about lesser-known stories, habits, and histories of SF.
For instance, I’ve been to the Castro District before, but I’ve never explored enough to find the giant pride flag at the intersection of Market and Castro. Barrett describes it so lovingly that I know I have to go visit it as soon as I’m back in the Bay Area again:
“It is colossal, but even more so when you feel the history and love behind it. After all, it was Harvey Milk that asked his friend Gilbert Baker to design a symbol that they could rally behind. And it made its debut parading down Market Street in 1978.” 

I also had no idea there are buffalo in the middle of Golden Gate Park. I’ve been to Golden Gate Park. I lived in the Bay Area for fourteen years. How did I never hear about the buffalo? (Technically they’re bison but the place they’re kept is called the Buffalo Paddock.) Somehow, I missed them. But apparently they’re there, hanging out in San Francisco for anyone to see. Pretty fun fact about SF, I’d say. 

Barrett draws your attention to San Francisco’s landmarks and histories so he can reveal their flaws and paradoxes while simultaneously showing you how lovable they are. It is apparent that he holds them close to his heart, no matter how weird or frustrating they are. 

Graphic featuring the cover of This is San Francisco book, with a quote and illustration of a bridge and gull.

What it’s missing: One thing I kind of wished for as I read about all the cool places around the city to visit, was a map with the different neighborhoods and landmarks in San Francisco. I still don’t know the layout of SF very well, and with such cool illustrations on each page of the book, a colorful map delineating all the different places Barrett mentions would have fit well. Nonetheless, it’s easy enough to look things up online and I don’t feel as though the book is lacking anything without a map. 

Summary: Overall, this book was a pleasure to read. I found myself smiling at Barrett’s sarcasm and falling more in love with San Francisco on every page. I definitely have some new places to visit next time I’m in the Bay Area. Even as a somewhat local I learned a lot and simply appreciated Barrett’s obvious affection for the city.

Locals and tourists alike will have a great time following his advice on sights to see, lines to stand in, smells to crinkle up their noses at, and layers of clothing to carry around all day.


This review was written by Spring intern, Zoe Jennings. Check out the book at microcosm.pub/thisissf.

On the podcast: Marketing Fiction vs. Nonfiction

This week on the People’s Guide to Publishing vlogcast, Elly and Joe compare fiction to nonfiction and see if the claim that marketing fiction is different from marketing nonfiction holds up!


Thank you for watching the People’s Guide to Publishing vlogcast!

Get the book: https://microcosmpublishing.com/catalog/books/3663

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Illustration of a branch with a quote from Sex From Scratch

Building Your Sex From Scratch :: A Book Review

As much as I think and talk about love and relationships, I had never actually read a book about it. Sex From Scratch: Making Our Own Relationship Rules by Sarah Mirk stood out to me.
It seemed like exactly what I needed to read at this point in my life; I’m a college student dating several people, constantly working on my relationships, and trying to figure out my needs as an individual.
The skills and stories I read in this book gave me so many new ideas about my own life and how to navigate the connections I will have in my life. I think it would do the same for many people.

The title itself is a perfect summary of Mirk’s main message in this book: Forget for a minute what society has taught you about what love means: you have the power to start from scratch and build up what you believe is the right way to love for you. 

Instead of simply offering specific dating advice or telling you how you should be acting in any certain situation, this book is about unlearning the ways in which society pressures you to shape your relationships, and teaching you to figure out what is best for you. 

Mirk helps you ask critical questions:
What do I really want/need?
How do other people fit into my life?
What does the world teach me about my roles in love?
Do I agree with those roles?

She constantly recognizes that every individual is different, every relationship fluid, and how that means only you can know what is best for you. Despite the overwhelming cultural expectation of heterosexual monogamous marriage destined to procreate, the possibilities and realities of love are actually endless!

I appreciated the structure of the book – although it’s a quick read, she covers a lot of ground. It’s divided into sections such as “Navigating Non-Monogamy” “Gender is Messy” and “Staying Childless by Choice”. Within each section, Mirk breaks down these complicated topics into bite-size “lessons” that may be a little easier to chew than rethinking your entire life plan. 

Photo of the inside of Sex From Scratch book, showing Chapter 3: Navigating Non-monogamy

Mirk draws from her own life experiences to explain how these concepts can actually play out, which gives the book an intimate and caring feeling. She lays out the ideas for you to process, gives real-life examples, then encourages you to take them further on your own and figure out how they apply to you. 

The tone is very much that of a supportive friend on your couch at 3AM helping you dig deep into the parts of your psyche that can be difficult to face alone. Perhaps realizing how important that vulnerability can be for learning and growing, the author did extensive interviews with a huge variety of people across the country to give this book a more broad range of advice and experiences. Each section includes interviews with individuals sharing their stories and personal wisdom about relationships.

The relaxed language of storytelling and new voices let the reader feel less alone in their journey, opening up to new ways of loving themselves and others.
As a genderqueer pansexual polyamorous person, it can be really tough to find media that supports or even acknowledges my existence, especially surrounding topics of dating and sex. There is most often a heterosexual cisgender narrative that excludes queer people from engaging in these ideas.
This book does a wonderful job of keeping the language open so that anyone can read this book and feel like it was made to help them. There is even a chapter specifically about gender that gives trans people the microphone to share how they need to be respected and what they can teach about dating from a queer perspective.

In Sex From Scratch, Mirk never tells you how you should be or assumes that you will be a certain way, which makes this vital conversation around honest relationships and sex more accessible to people who might need it most.

My favorite thing about this whole book is the first chapter, “Loving Being Single,” and the fact that it is the first topic of the book. It can be so easy to lose your sense of self when focused on your relationships, but your sense of self is exactly what you need in order to work through those situations and life in general. 

Hearing other people’s norm-breaking perspectives can teach you important skills for loving yourself, keeping an open mind, and building the kinds of relationships that work well for you. Anyone could learn from this book, no matter their current dating situation. 

Mirk always keeps the reader in check with the most important lesson – are you looking out for your own happiness? 

Through it all she teaches us that there is no correct way to have sex, love someone, or be yourself.

sketch of a tree branch and blocky letters that read "Love Who You Want, How You Want, As Many As You Want."
Illustration from inner book flaps: Love Who You Want, How You Want, As Many As You Want.
Image from MirkWork.com

This review was written a few months back by winter intern and zinester, Neil Birch.

July Reading Recs: Self-Care

by Noah Deans-Gravlee

Self-care is a bit of a buzzword these days. Pictures of rose-petal bubble baths and fancy face masks are posted all over Instagram, tagged with #SelfCare and #TreatYoSelf. And that’s awesome, if it helps!
But self-care can also mean cooking and eating a healthy meal even though you’d rather skip dinner and go to bed, or doing some difficult introspection even though it would be much more fun to binge-watch that new show.
Self-care is about taking care of your body and your mind; promoting healing and fostering healthy habits. And that can be damn hard work. 

If you’re like me, you need more structure than just “go take care of yourself.” With that in mind, I’ve picked out a few books and zines that can help you on your self-care quest:

a photo of the Self As Other zine, featuring a plain peach cover with a black swoosh of ink and the title in black.

Self As Other: Reflections on Self-Care

by Corina Dross and CrimethInc

Because this is a zine, it’s the perfect bite-sized place to start in on some really important critique. Corina Dross complicates and decolonizes the concept of self-care in Self As Other, which might sound intimidating at first, but is incredibly necessary and ultimately empowering. 

If you feel like your version of self-care has devolved into a performance rather than an act of genuine care, this zine might be for you.

the self-compassion zine, the cover featuring a person helping another person climb a steep hill

Self-Compassion: Be Kind to Yourself Instead of Striving for Bullshit “Self-Esteem”

by Faith G. Harper, PhD, LPC-S, ACS, ACN
[the next Dr. Faith book, Unf*ck Your Boundaries is on Kickstarter now]

I actually wrote a review of this zine for our blog already, but I’m posting it on here again because it deserves to be mentioned. The entire “five minute therapy” series is incredible, and honestly I could put almost all of those zines on this list if I had the space.

But Self-Compassion holds a special place in my heart for its no-nonsense look at how to hold space for, you guessed it, compassion. This is getting into some of that tough, introspective self-care I mentioned.

a photo of The Witch's Book of Self Care, with a dark blue cover featuring plant vines and fruit imagery

The Witch’s Book of Self-Care: Magical Ways to Pamper, Soothe, and Care for Your Body and Spirit 

by Arin Murphy-Hiscock

This book breaks down self-care into sections, focusing on magic, mental and emotional care, physical care, spiritual care, and household care. I love this model because it has a little bit of everything, and lets you tackle the difficult care while also indulging in some much-needed relaxation care. Need a recipe for a healthy dinner? A good bath soak? Want help releasing guilt associated with self-care? This book has got you covered. And if you want to incorporate magic and witchcraft into your care regimen, this is the perfect title for you.

a photo of the blue Mettanoia #1 zine

Mettanoia #1

by Shea Pederson 

I want to end with another bite-sized zine, because I think large titles can sometimes be intimidating when we’re struggling with mental health. Mettanoia #1 is the first in a series of zines revolving around mental health and self-care. Focusing on self-care when struggling with depression, this zine includes comics and poetry, and also talks about how to care for friends who are struggling as well.


And hey! While we’re talking about self care I might as well mention some cool apps that can go along with these. My personal favorite (and, really, a favorite in our office) is #SelfCare, which simulates staying in bed all day, watering plants, meditation, and journaling. As you do more care, the light in your bedroom brightens and you eventually get an item to put on your altar for that day. I also use Daylio, to track moods, Aloe Bud, to remember to move and eat lunch, and an app called Yoga, to, well, do yoga.


But when I’m really struggling with self-care, the bookworm in me always returns to something I can read. Self-care is different for everyone, and no one can tell you the “right” way to take care of yourself, but these titles are a great start if you need inspiration.


How do you practice self-care? Do you have other suggestions for good reads? Good apps? Let us know on twitter or instagram!

The Unbearable Whiteness of Publishing with Samm Saxby

This week on the podcast we discuss everyone’s favorite (and least favorite) topic, the demographics of publishing—specifically race and racism. Why are things the way that they are? How is this holding back the industry and sales?

a photograph of the Self-Compassion zine

Self-Compassion: Not Self-Esteem!

A few weeks into my internship at Microcosm saw me standing at the checkout with an armful of books and zines, all by the same author. I had been assigned to proofread Faith G. Harper’s newest book, Unfuck Your Intimacy, the week before, and had come out of the project with a level of respect and new understanding that, I’ll be honest, I was not at all expecting. What can I say? I was a skeptic of the whole self-help genre. I tend to picture dusty hardbacks with cover photos of smiling middle aged people dressed in the latest 90s fashions; books for people with vastly different experiences than my own.

Photograph of Dr. Faith Harper's book Unfuck Your Intimacy and it's workbook
Check out a review of Unfuck Your Intimacy over here.

Dr. Harper’s work nothing like that. In a good way.

The first zine I read from my new haul was Self-Compassion: Be Kind to Yourself Instead of Striving for Bullshit “Self-Esteem”. This was partly because it was just on the top of the pile, but mostly because I had overheard my coworkers talking about how everyone should read it and thought, “Hey! That probably includes me!”

Self-Compassion is part of a series of “five minute therapy” zines and, while it took me more than five minutes to read, the 34 pages is a manageable chunk of information to process.

The zine, at its core, is about being kind to yourself. Sounds simple, right?
But what about when you fail that big test, or don’t get that project done on time at work? What about when you’re writing a book review for your publishing internship, and you keep rewriting the same sentence over and over? (I don’t know anything about that last one.) It might get a little harder to find kindness for yourself in those moments.
That’s where this zine comes barging in, kicking down your front door with its no-bullshit honesty and then sitting you down on the couch so you can work that shit out.

Right off the bat this zine tears into the concept of good self-esteem as the end-all goal.
In Dr. Faith’s own words, “Self-esteem has become the buzzword. And where we focus so much time, energy, and resources. And we fail at it. And then perceive ourselves as failures. Because it’s an unwinnable game.”
Does that sound harsh? Maybe. But as someone who gets frustrated if I’m not amazing at everything the first time I try it, the statement rings true. And it’s a refreshing truth in a sea of messages telling us to define our self-worth by our accomplishments.

The zine goes on to define self-compassion, and then breaks that concept down into a model. This is usually where I start to tune out in self-help books (there’s jargon and a graphic with arrows pointing at nothing), but Dr. Harper’s relatable writing actually managed to keep me engaged. Reading this zine feels like you’re sitting in Dr. Harper’s office, talking with her. It’s an accessible writing style, and makes a complicated topic a little less overwhelming.

a photograph of the Self-Compassion zine

Perhaps more importantly, Dr. Harper is not afraid to ask difficult questions, and I often found myself flipping through the zine to reread sections pertaining to questions asked later on. Questions like “How does your self-criticism impact your relationship with others?” show up in black activity boxes throughout the zine, and they are not pulling any punches. Yikes, right? There are some big questions for a 34 page zine, but damn if they didn’t get me thinking.

And that is my only real complaint with this title: it’s 34 pages. I’d like more content. I want a book, like Unfuck Your Intimacy or Unfuck Your Brain. I suppose that’s a good complaint to have–and one that might be expected with a typically short medium like a zine. There are references for further reading at the end, but I think I would miss Dr. Harper’s way of writing. Maybe that’s just my self-help bias shining through.

Self-Compassion is a no-nonsense zine, from an author who truly seems to want you to be the best you can be. This is highlighted on page 25, where Dr. Harper writes, “The driving force of striving for self-esteem is fear… Self-compassion, instead of being driven by fear, can be thought of as driven by love.” 

This is a zine for anyone afraid of making mistakes.

We could all use a little more self-compassion.


This review was written by winter intern, Noah Deans-Gravlee. Follow them on Twitter @noahyouknow and check out Dr. Faith Harper’s other work here.