Posts By: Cynthia Marts

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.

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!

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.

Summer Reads, Queer Adventures

6 Books to Get You in the Adventuring Spirit

When someone mentions adventure books, what do you think of? A big, burly man adventuring out into the wilderness to, I don’t know, claim his manhood or something? Thankfully, the patriarchy doesn’t have the adventure department completely cornered.

To kick off Pride Month and Summer, we’ve put together some of our best and favorite books about queer adventurers, because adventuring isn’t just for “cis-het normies” (as Eli Sasche likes to call them in True Trans Bike Rebel).

We’ve filled our list with fantastic adventures on bikes and down rivers, but also with adventures into everyday life and into the adventurer’s own, very rad, queerness.

A quick note for PRIDE month. We use queer as it’s a truly inclusive term that has room for every member of the community, including aromantic and/or asexual and transgender and nonbinary people. It’s been reclaimed as an umbrella term for decades, and so we refuse to give it back to the people who would use it to do harm and exclude vulnerable members from the community.

True Trans Bike Rebel

photograph of books on display, "True Trans Bike Rebel" at the center

In this edition of our Taking the Lane series explores trans, nonbinary, and intersex folks’s adventures with bikes. This book ranges from one woman’s journey road-tripping by bike in “Everything I Needed to Know About Being Trans I Learned on the Pan-American Highway” to a story about a young person adventuring into nature to find solace and identity, and more.

Lumberjanes: A Terrible Plan

While everything in the Lumberjanes series is great, Lumberjanes: A Terrible Plan is super great and super gay. Mal and Molly’s cute picnic date turns adventure-date when they are interrupted by a mysterious bear woman. Magical shenanigans inevitably ensue and the two must use brain and brawn to make it back to camp. This volume is the first in the series to really get into Mal and Molly’s relationship and is definitely worth a read.

Invincible Summer: An Anthology II

In the second installment of her Invincible Summer series, Nicole J. Georges has another volume of adventures in her day-to-day life. Featuring vegan recipes, fashion advice, friendship, and the rise and fall of Georges’ long-term relationship, this graphic novel will have you smiling and laughing the whole way through.

Shut Up and Love the Rain

Part comic, part essay anthology, and part intimate interview, Shut Up and Love the Rain follows author Robnoxious’ journey from early sexual exploration to his “sex-positive, constantly deprogramming, uber-healthy queerness” of today. Rob’s adventures through his own queerness show us how experimentation should start early, that guilty pleasures need not be so guilty, and that there’s nothing more adventurous and exciting than discovering and living your queerness.

Unsinkable

Also By Robnoxious, Unsinkable: How to Build Plywood Pontoons & Longtail Motor Boats Out of Scrap, is an adventure story/how-to-book hybrid following his trip down the Missouri river on a homemade boat. Rob and his friends meet wild rednecks, see sublime sunsets and encounter deadly storms in this incredible rollercoaster of a read. If Rob’s boating adventure leaves you itching to go on your very own, the DIY schematics included in the first part of the book can equip even the least experienced to build their own boat.

Unfuck Your Intimacy: Using Science for Better Relationships, Sex, and Dating

Unf*ck Your Intimacy and other Dr. Faith titles on display

Sometimes one of the biggest adventures you can go on is one into yourself and your life. Best selling author of Unfuck Your Brain, Dr. Faith throws out all that Cosmo-grade B.S. relationship advice and uses real science to dive into topics like kinks, consent, shame, and trauma recovery.
Sections of this book also specifically cover queer relationship/sex topics, including for trans, ace/demi/aro people. Whether you’re looking to heal from past wounds, make better choices, improve an existing relationship, or figure out how to get the sex you want, this book is for you.
We recently posted a review of Unfuck Your Intimacy, so you can learn more and see if it’s for you.

What adventures are you looking forward to this summer?


This post was written by summer intern Rachel Dutton

A Review of Unf*ck Your Intimacy

Way back when I was first figuring out my own queerness, I had this wide-eyed idea that once I was out, relationships would just magically get a lot easier. “If I’m dating a woman, I’ll never have trouble telling her how I feel!”

Needless to say, that is not quite true. As I quickly figured out, talking to anyone I was interested in could be really difficult. It took my best friend practically shaking me to realize that the nice girl who talked to me in the pop-tart aisle of the grocery store, who even gave me her number, was definitely hitting on me.

UnF*ck Your Intimacy book

To be fair, relationships did get a lot easier in some respects. I can’t even begin to say how incredible it is to date women and be free from gendered roles and expectations in a relationship.

All the while, I am still far from perfect in the dating department. For instance, last year, I dated a girl for much longer than I should have because we were both too busy being polite to break up.

Now, all of this is kind of embarrassing. It’s easy to get trapped in my own head and think that I’m the only one in the world with these kinds of problems. Because everyone else’s relationships look so effortless, right?

That’s why I leapt at the opportunity to review Dr. Faith’s new book Unfuck Your Intimacy. If you’ve read any of her previous work—and chances are if you’re here reading this, you have—you know that Dr. Faith is like a best friend who wants nothing but the best for you, but isn’t afraid to call you on your bullshit. I can’t tell you the amount of times I had to stop reading for a minute to laugh and think, “wow, that is absolutely me.”

Dr. Faith’s humor takes a topic as, well, intimate as sex and relationships and makes it accessible and approachable, even if history hasn’t been the kindest to you.

My favorite chapter was definitely “How to Date Like a Grown-Up” and Dr Faith’s advice on “when to terminate” a relationship that’s not working. It was so helpful to reorient myself on when it’s okay to break up.

It sounds so simple, but I feel like I can finally give myself permission to leave a relationship that isn’t working for me, just because it isn’t working or we aren’t a great fit.

This book was also written with queer people specifically in mind and has advice for you no matter where you are in the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.

But don’t let me fool you into thinking this is a book just on dating. It is definitely also a book to help you get the sex you want to be having (or not having, depending on who you are).

Both Unf*ck Your Intimacy and its workbook
It even has a workbook!

It’s filled with ways to explore your sexuality, reconnect with your body, and unlearn the toxic messages society is constantly feeding us about our bodies and our sexuality.

Reclaim your body! Reclaim your intimacy! If I can do it, you can too!


You can check out Unfuck Your Intimacy here, or check out more of Dr. Faiths books and zines here.

Her next book, Unf*ck Your Anger, is now live on kickstarter. Check it out!

Getting Books to the People

My Microcosm Adventure

by Briana Ybanez
intern, Spring 2019

I grew up in a quiet suburb in Southern California, and as someone who is a biracial, Mexican American I didn’t feel like I’d ever have access to literary spaces.

When I was twenty-two I changed my major from business to English. A year later I made an even bigger life change and moved to Portland, which in many aspects is considered a literary mecca. It seems like everyone here reads- encouraged by an endless downpour of rain nine months out of the year. Being in such close proximity to best selling authors and aspiring writers trying to make it in the industry helped lift a creative roadblock that I was experiencing in California. Doubt and fear, all those general symptoms that come with pursuing your dreams, melted away. I began exploring avenues of opportunity available to writers that I wasn’t aware of before.

Part of lifting that mental roadblock that was getting in the way of my success was re-thinking my own relationship with books and reading; rethinking what I was told to regard as a great work of literature and what I actually felt was great. Up until college I was told that the best pieces of literature were written by white men or white women. Period. That was it. But then I was exposed to books that were equally as powerful, if not more so, and were written by Chicana writers, like Lorna D. Cervantes, or Chilean-American Isabel Allende. It’s tragic that this revelation didn’t happen sooner. It took nearly twenty years for me discover these authors, but when I did I finally began to recognize pieces of myself in literature, and that was key to piecing together my own identity — I was finally proud of my roots, not ashamed.

St Johns Bridge photographed by Briana Y
St. John’s Bridge, as photographed by Briana

I can say with confidence that I ended up at Microcosm because a seed had been planted during this time period, a desire to figure out how to succeed in spaces that weren’t originally designed for someone like me. I was a big fan of their books and zines after discovering them at Portland’s Book Festival. I thought they were cool and edgy but also geared towards empowering audiences that you typically don’t see represented in publishing: LGBTQ, people of color, activists, people with mental disabilities, and even those who struggle with mental health.

During my interview for the internship position, I was asked why I wanted to join a publishing company. “What are you looking for?” they asked. At the time, I wasn’t sure how to answer that. I only knew that reading and writing had been a lifelong passion of mine. I was always the weird kid with my nose in a book, looking for the answers to my curiosities, or waiting until the moment when I could run home from school and find out what happened to whatever character I was currently reading about. Did I actually know anything about how those books that I loved so much were published? Definitely not.

When I learned that I got the internship, I was ecstatic. Reading their titles alone was a breath of fresh air and it is what ultimately brought me to Microcosm, because I knew that inclusivity for anyone that isn’t middle class, or white, is a huge problem in book publishing.

An infamous survey by Lee and Low Books, The Diversity Baseline Survey, indicates that the industry is 79% white, and only 4% identify as Mexican, Hispanic, or Latino. A 2016 Publisher’s Weekly article highlights that the homogeneity of the industry is not entirely due to publishing companies’ hiring practices. Although the industry giants have made claims to diversify their workforce, census data shows that the lack of diversity in publishing is also a symptom of a lack of access to higher education for people of color. Recent census data shows that 73% of Americans with college degrees are white. So a lack of authors, editors, and publishers that aren’t white can be traced to a much larger issue rooted outside of the industry itself.

Why does this matter and what does this have to do with Microcosm? It matters when you consider the immense power that the book publishing industry holds. Its impact on civilization is so far reaching, it’s scope is beyond measure. It’s an industry that is responsible for cultural production and intellectual movements, a vehicle of influence for individual minds and entire societies. Clearly, it’s time that the industry take notice of a wider audience, one that would like to see itself reflected in what they read. Microcosm intends to do just that and it shows in their business practices. They recently broke most of their ties with Amazon because their monopoly on the industry has been harmful for authors and publishers. And they not only offer their books and zines for underrepresented groups, but they offer them on a sliding scale price, to reach people that are disenfranchised by a lack of money.

After struggling with the idea that this industry may not accept me, you can imagine my excitement after taking this position.  I knew this was where I wanted to be and where I could explore my place in the industry. But I was still worried that the environment would be cut throat and I’d crumble under the pressure. Now, nearly two months into my internship, I haven’t crumbled and the environment isn’t cut throat — quite the opposite in fact. Interns are encouraged to ask questions and grow from our time spent here. Once, the interns were invited in on a meeting where they reviewed the company’s past year performance. I was surprised by how business-focused the whole meeting was, and it was also eye opening because as an avid reader, it’s easy to forget that the book you’re holding in your hands didn’t end up there because of the author alone.

Microcosm has taught me that behind every book is an entire community of people. In this environment, it’s hard to ignore the work that goes in to getting books to the people. On a daily basis there’s constant contact with customers, from mailing catalogs, to making phone calls, to talking face to face with people who stop into the store.

This little community at Microcosm has revealed to me the importance of the day-to-day efforts required to publish and sell books in an ethical way. A small, independent company that stands on a firm foundation of integrity, its ultimate goal is to use their resources and means to carry a message that empowers their audience, to preserve and transmit knowledge, one book (or zine) at a time.

Adventures in Bike-sitting

It’s our year of adventure, and we’re thinking about how everyday activities are really adventures in disguise.
Which activity do we forget about the most?
Bicycling.

We probably forget about it because we’ve written about it a lot.
Like, a lot, a lot.
But most of us here have gone through the excited, nervous fear of finding a bike, the thrill of taking it out onto the streets for a ride, the spidey-sense tingle when something threatens to go bad, and eventually, having to fix it when it’s broken.

On the way home from work recently, a car parked directly underneath a “no parking” sign in front of a bus stop. A tow truck was sent to retrieve it…during rush hour. The parked car blocking the bus lane meant that the bus had to use one of the lanes for cars getting off the freeway. The street was one way so the tow truck was in the middle of an intersection, blocking the light rail. As the traffic light changed, no traffic could move. Even on a “good” day cars in this intersection move at a miserable crawl and run the lights to prevent ten more minutes of compounding traffic delays.
I imagined how infuriating it would to be trapped inside one of those cars sitting in traffic as the actions of one inconsiderate person inconvenienced hundreds of commuters.
With wide eyes, I took a mental picture of everything that was happening in front of me, picked up my bike onto the sidewalk and proceeded through the intersection as dozens of cars sat unable to move. It felt like the one perfect moment that made my entire life make sense.

— Joe

When you have a bicycle, it’s kind of like pet sitting.
Sure, you can just leave it in a corner and ignore its needs, but it’s not going to do you any favors. You can turn the adventure intensity up to ten and ride it till the tires are bald, the chain is covered in gunk, and the brakes squeal, the ride getting a little tougher every time something goes further un-repaired.
It gets harder to pedal, to change gears, to stop, to keep control. Who knows when you’ll have to carry it home- mystery can be adventurous too.
You can do just the basics, sure: pump up the tires when you can tell they’re low, change the brakes when they’re bare…

But if you’re not actually taking care of it, it won’t stay healthy. Eventually, you’re going to lose that bike to the unaddressed damage.

What do you do instead? Get shit done! Like any responsibility, having a bike requires some work and upkeep.
What has many a microcosmonaut done when approached with this issue?

Enter…

THE CHAINBREAKER BIKE BOOK


An Illustrated Manual of Radical Bicycle Maintenance, Culture, & History
by Shelley Lynn Jackson and Ethan Clark

Photo of a hand holding the new edition of Chainbreaker Bike Book with bookshelves in the background

This updated and expanded edition is fresh off the presses, and did I mention it’s shiny? I’m kind of obsessed with that part, especially when contrasted with the very simple, kind of dark original.

Picture of me drenched and smiling

My all time favorite biking adventure happened in Chicago. June humidity suffocated me as I was riding home on the Chicago Lakefront Trail. I was anticipating my boyfriend’s (now fiance) parents would be there waiting. It was a nervous summer already but that day was particularly nerve-wracking. I was biking at break neck speed to slay a dragon (sorry future mother in law) and all of sudden the sky opened up and I was drenched in super sunshine showers. Truly soaked through- not even a hoodie to block me from the rain, I just had to revel in it. I showed up to the family affair sopping but washed clean of nerves- biked my way right to where I needed to be I guess.

— Sidnee

I was just in Boulder, visiting an old pal. Judy is a bike-lover (we both have the same folding Dahon for urban commuting) and her partner is too. She’s got a new street cruiser, a gorgeous mountain bike, six bikes total, and Boulder has trails, trails, trails. We were only there 3 days and we ended up never getting out to ride. Dammit! Story of my life.

— Kristine

The last time I rode a bike purely for the fun of it I was in middle school. Me and a handful of friends would bike through the woods into neighboring towns and explore empty trailers or creek tunnels. It was a great way to escape for a while.

Trista

COOL HELPFUL THINGS IN THIS BOOK INCLUDE:

  • Types of bikes. It’s easy to mistake a cruiser for a fixie, a dirt bike for a street bike. And most of the time, the differences only matter when you’re looking to ride it. Then it’s a good idea to know what kind of bike you have, and how it works.
  • Changing brakes. One of the most seemingly simple tasks, that requires just a bit more paying attention to than we often expect.

I can not describe to you how useful these [Chainbreaker] pages were when my partner’s cheap Target bike’s brakes just straight up did not work, and neither of us had any kind of clue how to replace them. And the internet was not the best at clarifying the different types of brakes and the different parts involved. This book, on the other hand, actually did the trick.

— Cyn
  • The differences in tire tubes and how to replace them. Changing tires or wheels in any way has been one of the most obnoxious basic tasks I’ve ever had to do with a bike (ugh especially in the back). Most of the particularly obnoxious bike tasks are the more complex ones, or the long tedious ones like truing (also helpfully included!)), but many a finger has suffered the pains involved with taking a wheel off it’s axle, fighting with to get the rubber wheel off to get to the tubing inside, then figuring out how to get it out, the new one in, and put it all back together again  — aagh!

For the second half of last year while we were planning our bookstore expansion, every bike commute or errand, no matter how mundane, was actually a foraging adventure. Eyes sharp for discarded furniture or boards, I’d stop and assess anything by the side of the road to see what it was made of and what dimensions it had. If it was what we needed, I’d figure out how to strap it onto my bike, or come back with a trailer, load it up (sometimes with the help of bemused bystanders), and haul it slowly and shakily home for Joe to disassemble and turn into custom shelving for our open warehouse. Every time I walk past these shelves I grin.

Elly
  • Adding shit to your bike. Do you want to haul heavy loads, or attach buckets to your bike for easy grocery shopping? Want custom handlebars or DIY accessories? Between the hardware information throughout Chainbreaker and the zine reprints in the back with even more info on add-ons, attachments, and DIY instructions, it’s got you covered.
  • SO MUCH MORE, like…
    • Dealing with shops, inclusivity, and safety
    • Converting to or from one-speeds
    • Bearing systems
    • Locking your bike up
    • Safety checks
    • and beyond.

Have you used Chainbreaker to fix something frustrating on your bicycle?
What bike adventures are you looking forward to this year?

A St. John’s Adventure with Portland Stair Walks

Exploring the Best of St. John’s: Laura O. Foster’s Stair Walk in Pictures
by Briana Ybanez

Laura O. Foster’s “Portland Stair Walks” begins with a trip to St. John’s, one of Portland’s most famous and photographed bridges, and for good reason, it’s one of the most scenic places in all of Portland. I decided to try this stair walk tour after a long, stressful day, and it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable, calming days I’ve had all winter.

It was freezing cold when I walked down to the boat ramp at Cathedral Park, located right along the water of the Willamette river, under St. John’s Bridge. I was not prepared, only a light sweater to protect myself from Portland’s unusually cold March weather. I stood on the floating dock beneath the bridge, as instructed by Foster, and wondered to myself why I hadn’t made my way out here before, it was a serene moment, realizing that I was the only one standing out there so close to river’s small waves. Initially the sky was grey and cloudy overhead, “Ok, this isn’t too bad,” I thought, “If only it wasn’t so damn cold.” I started to walk back to the shore, wondering how I’d finish the walk under these conditions. But suddenly the cold didn’t seem to matter anymore, as I stood on the shore of the river, I watched as the mute, greyness that surrounded me dissipated, and a soft, warm light began to slowly wash over the bridges concrete anchorages. As soon as I began to wonder if I’d have the chance to witness one of Portland’s rare, yet spectacular, winter sunsets, it happened. The sky opened up to a bright pink, purple, and deep blue. The light posts that line the edge of the bridge in succession lit up as well. Here was the result:

I was so blown away by the sunset on the shore of St. Johns, I had to go back the next day to complete the tour. This was one of my favorite parts of the tour, walking up the famous “wedding stairs” and admiring the symmetry of the arches underneath the bridge.

The highlight of this tour is walking across the bridge, a .7 mile walk with Forest Park as a beautiful backdrop. I could feel the enormity of the structure, in contrast to the more unpolished and worn down neighborhood it stands in. Although it was cold and my shoes were damp from the rain, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride for such a beautiful piece of architecture. As Laura O. Foster writes, “This 3-mile, one-way stair walk rates high on covering intriguing ground, with a few unpleasant bits that make the good stuff all the sweeter.” Although this city was designed to get you outside, depending on the season, and how busy you are,  it can be rare to have the opportunity to contemplate the nooks and crannies that Portland has to offer. “Portland Stair Walks” takes you away from the four walls of your home or work place, and into the unexpected: quirky wall murals and hidden graffiti, the boats resting on the Willamette river, or the white, snow capped treeline against the famous pale green beams of the St. John’s bridge.


This post was written (and amazingly photographed) by Briana Ybanez. Follow her work online, and learn more about the bookPortland Stair Walks on our website.

We Review Things… Walking with Ramona

This spring we got the lovely 2nd edition of Laura O. Foster’s charming Portland guide, Walking with Ramona: Exploring Beverly Cleary’s Portland. This is one of our favorites, and if you’ve been curious about the book but haven’t gotten around to checking it out, spring intern Kellie is here with a review.

~ Walking with Ramona Review ~
By Kellie Robinson

There’s nothing quite like stepping into the shoes of your favorite author, and Portland guide Laura O. Foster helps her readers do just that in Walking with Ramona.

Back in the good ol’ days, when I was a wee lass, there was one author whose books I always returned to time and time again: Beverly Cleary. You may know her well as the vivid personality behind the Ramona Quimby series, but I knew her as the author of my favorite book, The Mouse and the Motorcycle.
Strangely, although I perused that little title so many times I could practically quote it word-for-word, I never even touched the “Ramona” chronicles….

A white book cover with rain drops and a child jumping over a puddle.

Enter, many years later, Walking with Ramona: Exploring Beverly Cleary’s Portland by Laura O. Foster, an insightful look into Ms. Cleary’s childhood days living in Portland, Oregon.

It proffers a playful hand, inviting you to explore where Cleary (and her fictional alter ego, Ramona) spent her youthful days: elm-lined streets that make tunnels with their long branches; seasoned brick-and-mortar schools of days gone by; a local library or two, one of Cleary’s favorite stops; and Grant Park, where the yells and laughter of neighborhood children can still be heard.

Short though this book may be, dull it is not. Foster leads you behind-the-curtain of Ms. Cleary’s life, one which had its fair share of hardships and adventures, encouraging readers to traverse the historic landscape of Portland and its many hidden gems.

It’s a tour book, taking you step-by-step throughout the city and its old neighborhoods, walking where Ramona and friends walked, resting where Cleary rested, and even welcoming you to stop by one or two of Beverly’s childhood homes.

Provided you’re ever in Portland and want to take the tour, it’s recommended that you set aside a whole day for it: you’re gonna need (and want) it!

This book has not only inspired me to want to check out the Ramona Quimby series, but it also motivated me to write a very belated fan letter to Ms. Cleary (at age 102, I hope the letter gets to her!).

Whether you’ve grown up with rascally Ramona, or are just now getting into Beverly Cleary’s books, I’d encourage you to pick up this charming title.


This post was written by Spring intern Kellie Robinson. Check back later this month for all the details on Kellie’s full tour of NE Portland using the book.
Follow Kellie’s work online, check out the book here, and learn more about interning at Microcosm in the FAQ.