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 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!)
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.
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.