Reviewing Car Sinister: a Science Fiction Anthology about Cars, by Men

Want more feminist science fiction in the world? Back Dragon Bike on Kickstarter through Nov 1, 2019!

Last summer, as I was preparing the Kickstarter project for Bikes Not Rockets, my colleague Jeremy Withers, a professor of bicycle science fiction at Iowa State (sadly, I’m not 100% sure that’s his official job title), sent me an email about what may in fact be my arch-nemesis of books: Car Sinister, a long out-of-print, justifiably obscure 1979 anthology of reprinted sci fi stories from the previous two decades about cars. Every single one is written by a man. And they’re all about men, too! Or as the marketing copy on the back of the book reads, “Man and his machine … Machine and his man.”

“It has no bicycles in it,” Jeremy wrote, “but has some really imaginative depictions of cars, roads, traffic, etc. And as the title suggests, the book takes a pretty dim and dismissive view of the automobile. Most of the stories are 1960s and 1970s SF, with selections by some of the masters of that era (Roger Zelazny, Avram Davidson, Frank Herbert, Harlan Ellison, George R. R. Martin, etc.). Unfortunately, the book is also a proverbial sausage fest: no women writers!”

How could I not be delighted to find the evil mirror twin of my feminist bicycle science fiction genre? Gleefully, I ordered a used copy on the spot, and pledged to write a feminist review of it as a special reward level on the Kickstarter project. Someone stepped up to the plate (thank you!). So once the funding campaign for the next Bikes in Space book, Dragon Bike, began, I buckled down.

Nothing but spoilers to follow.

I expected this review to be a fairly easy mandate—no great nuanced reading would be necessary to find a feminist critique for these stories. And truly, I was not disappointed. Most of the stories in this book contain women as window dressing only. A meter maid, an old lady waving a sign, a girl standing in the crowd. The female characters given larger roles tend to be objects of contempt, attraction, or foils for the male lead’s grandiosity.

The stories that are least critical of cars are the ones steeped in the most toxic masculinity—like Roger Zelazny’s two contributions to the volume, each of which pits a stoical, solo man against against a machine. For instance, in the painfully overwritten “Auto-da-Fé,” women appear only as faceless parts of the crowd cheering on the automotive matador. 

But in Zelazny’s other story, “Devil Car,” one of the two main characters is a woman, sort of. This is the very first story in the book, chosen by the volume’s three editors to set the tone and substance of the entire volume. It is the story of a man and his car, whose name is Jenny. Their conversation consists of Jenny nagging him to take care of himself and him snapping at her for it. Later, he apologizes. “‘That’s alright, Sam,’ said the delicate voice. ‘I am programmed to understand you.’”

Jenny is a sentient, state-of-the-art killing machine designed by Sam with the sole purpose of destroying the titular Devil Car. But when the moment comes, she intentionally misfires. She is simply “too emotional” to complete the job. The story ends with her human cargo patting her seat and reassuring her that, despite her faults, she’s “well-equipped” and still desirable. 

a book cover featuring a figure in a futuristic gas mask on a motorcycle
Different Zelazny book, same basic idea

Processing the experience of reading this story led me down a minor rabbit hole in which I learned that Zelazny is best known for a series in which a bunch of white characters colonize a planet where they lord over the other inhabitants in the guise of Hindu gods. 

A cover of Zelazny’s, um, great work

(See? This review writes itself.)

So maybe I’m feeling conspiratorial, but there is one other story in this volume in which a car is anthropomorphized as female—and it’s the book’s midway point and namesake, Gene Wolfe’s “Car Sinister.” A man takes his sports car into a shop for servicing. But due to a miscommunication, his car gets, um, stud service instead and the car becomes, as the mechanic puts it, “that way.” The man finds his car’s condition greatly inconvenient, expensive, and gross. No human woman appears for most of the story, until a passing mention in the end that after the birth, he drives the new car and gives the old, feminized, one to his wife.

a book cover showing a car pileup in front of a decaying city
A holiday-themed short story collection in which “Car Sinister” represented Mother’s Day

Of course, you don’t need to turn your women characters into objects to strip them of their personhood. In Harry Harrison’s “The Greatest Car in the World,” an automotive engineer travels from Detroit to Italy to drop in uninvited on his childhood hero, a race car driver, now an ailing old man. After bullying his way through the front door, he’s greeted by a girl who asks him why he is intruding in “cold tones unsuited to the velvet warmth of her voice. At any other time, Haroway would have taken a greater interest in this delightful example of female construction, but” … he takes a paragraph to describe her tresses, her bosom, and her lips, and then replies rudely and dismissively. This is pretty standard for the majority of stories in this volume. When women appear, they primarily exist as story devices, coveted but contemptible objects for the male gaze.

Spoiler alert! Men loving (hover)cars is apparently a theme among a number of Harry Harrison’s books.

I was especially curious to read George R.R. Martin’s entry in this volume. The introduction to his story touts him as “one of sf’s brightest young stars and whose nickname is ‘Railroad.'” This sent me off on an image search for “young George R.R. Martin,” which I discovered many of on the web page he keeps about the conventions he’s been to over the years. It contains lots of photos of him, including this collection (truncated so as to include the text, which speaks a thousand pictures) of himself posing with various ladies who, unlike the people appearing in the other pre-selfie photos on this page, are unnamed:

But much as Mr. Martin seems to appreciate women, his story in this book, “The Exit to San Breta,” detailing a crash with a ghost car, is the only one in the book that contains no women at all; not even as window dressing or a passing aside. The copyright page tells us this story was written in 1971, so I guess that’s before he discovered our existence.

The other still-pretty-famous author represented here is Frank Herbert, whose Dune series tackled gender in big ways that attempted to break free from sexist stereotypes, even if it didn’t always work. Not here, though! His story is called a promisingly feminine “The Mary Celeste Move” but the only female character is secretary who appears briefly. We don’t know her name, but we do learn that she’s a “well-endowed brunette.”

Not all the stories are dehumanizing or dismissive to women. Kenneth Bulmer’s “Station HR972” is an opaquely written description of a day in the life of a futuristic service station on a high-speed (250mph) highway.

I was bemused by this passage on page one: “Libby, the torso technician for whose sake he walked the extra hundred yards for coffee, played it cool, daily less shy, daily more inclined to talk about her own handling of units and less to listen to his accounts of rapid crane manipulations.”

Libby turns out to be a skilled surgeon dedicated to rapidly putting humans back together after the inevitable high speed car crashes. She might be the most (only?) empowered woman in this book. Certainly, she’s the only one with a non-secretarial job.

A couple of detectives appear to travel into another dimension in this rickety old car in Kenneth Bulmer’s short novel The Land Beyond the Map

There are a couple of women in whom we glimpse a more complicated humanity. In H. Chandler Elliott’s cartoonishly colloquial “A Day on Death Highway,” a nuclear family flees a planet with strict automotive safety laws to try out life in a different dimension where the dad can fully indulge his road rage and his belief that no rules should apply to him. The story’s notable because dad’s buffoonery isn’t glorified; the family dysfunction is deftly painted, and while Mom and sister Judy aren’t given a lot of ink, they clearly have their own agency and motives.

Elliott’s 1955 novel. Boobs! Also, seals with opposable thumbs!

(Contrast this with the final story in the book, Harlan Ellison’s “Along the Scenic Route” which depicts in gory detail a road-rage fueled duel in which the driver’s wife cowers in the passenger seat as he escalates a violent encounter to its fatal climax … but she is the one to comfort him after they survive. “You did what you had to,” she croons. Side note, he calls another driver a “beaver-sucker,” an insult now burned into my brain.)

Perhaps best of the lot (in terms of representation… not in writing style) was Robert F. Young’s very long and unpromisingly titled “Romance in a Twenty-first Century Used-Car Lot.” Lone among all these stories, the main character is a woman! At first, we think she’s an anthropomorphized car, but then we discover this is a society where cars must be worn like clothes at all times, even indoors, or you’ll be exiled to a “nudist reservation.” Our heroine Arabella Grille lives in a sexist society, but she’s a complicated person with insecurities and strengths that we get to see played out in the story. Her appearance is equated with her value and her intellectual bent is bemoaned by her abusive family, her image-conscious workplace, and her fascist-consumerist society.

In this story, we see the impact of the behavior and attitudes demonstrated in the other stories. When a car-clad stranger, attracted to Arabella’s new car-dress, bullies her into a date to the drive-in movie, she feels validated. When he tries to assault her (grabbing her headlights and grinding his chassis against hers), she knows everyone will blame her for the crumpled fender that resulted from fighting him off. A 24 hour mechanic helps her fix it, and asks her out more kindly. They fall in love over the course of a few dates, but her attacker finds out and calls the police; they intervene and it turns out that her new love is a secret nudist! After she weathers her family’s reaction, she decides to run away to the nudist reservation, too, where no cars are allowed, and they live happily ever after in a single-family detached home with a swimming pool.

Towards the end of the story, Arabella has a revelation about her would-be rapist. “He hates me because he betrayed to me what he really is, and in his heart, he despises what he really is!” This nugget of wisdom is a contender for the highlight of the book, matched only by the machine-gun wielding old lady pedestrian who manages to take out several passengers in the car that intentionally runs her down in the excerpt from the chronicles of the Car vs Feet wars that is Fritz Leiber’s “X Marks the Pedwalk.”

“X Marks the Pedwalk” does NOT appear in this short story collection, but check out that sweet ride!

Car Sinister was easy to critique but hard to read. The stories are fantastical, but reading it today, most of them feel cartoonishly old fashioned, especially in the depictions of characters’ families, work, and expectations. In most of these stories, women are either background noise, helpmeets, coveted objects, or overly emotional obstacles our heroes must overcome. The attitudes towards cars and highways—ranging from worshipful and entitled to skeptical and pessimistic—feel contemporary, perhaps because our current climate crisis resonates with the oil crisis of the late 70s.

But even if the editors couldn’t find any car-oriented stories by the many women writing in that era to reprint, the attitudes toward gender, which are unremarked on in the book’s editorial notes, are what truly date these stories and show why most of these writers are truly no longer relevant. Science fiction authors whose work has held up over the years, like Octavia Butler or Ursula K. Leguin, have stayed readable in part because their capacity for complex cultural imagination transcends the “what if it were like now but the cars did cooler stuff and there were bigger guns” style of worldbuilding reflected in the stories in Car Sinister (and the bulk of their genre). But in part, too, they hold up because they treat all their characters as fully human, whole people. Most of the stories in this book, and in this genre over the years, fail to do this, and as a result they fail all the readers, not just us emotional womanfolk.

Want more feminist science fiction in the world? Back Dragon Bike on Kickstarter through Nov 1, 2019!

The back cover of Car Sinister with the list of stories and authors.

Witches Cast Ballots

If there ever were a time for magical resistance, it’s now!

We believe that every bit of energy we put out into the world is our power—our magic—and what we work to manifest often comes back to us in ways we never expected. Our books and zines are all about owning your power and putting it forth with intention.

This season we’re thinking a lot about the crossroads between social justice, self-care, and magic. The things we believe, and say, and do all create the world around us, and the only way to make positive changes in that world is to put real effort into getting there.

Here is a list of books, zines, stickers, and patches that meet somewhere in that crossroads, each meant to build your personal power and help you change the world.

Books we publish about owning your power:

The Practical Witch’s Almanac 2020: Walking Your Path: Witches come from all walks of life and spiritual beliefs. No matter what your path may be, this almanac has all the goodies you are looking for. Special worksheets and articles are included to help you achieve your goals and discover your inner power. Lessons include divination, herbalism, and using stones, crystals, and minerals. Grow your witchy skills to combat our toxic society no matter your current level of expertise.

No Apocalypse: Punk, Politics, and the Great American Weirdness: This vast collection of work includes writing from various publications such as Punk Planet, HeartattaCk, the Skeleton, and much more. We all agree that the world is going to shit. People are corrupt and then they die, corrupt and then die. War is war, but rock n’ roll is rock n’ roll and punk is punk, so let’s fucking change, let’s do something about it. Let’s use our collaborative efforts, knowledge, spells and let’s get amped, get inspired. This world could use more of our power and our ability to change the world, to make it a better place in space.

Things That Help: Healing Our Lives Through Feminism, Anarchism, Punk, & Adventure: With stories, essays, and interviews this book explores embracing your anger, voice and the fight against social norms. Read along with the author’s real-life experiences with feminism, girl-gangs, abuse, and gender identity. 

Our Bodies, Our Bikes: An homage to the classic Our Bodies, Ourselves, this compilation of essays, resources and advice about gender and bicycling covers a lot of ground—bold meditations on body parts, stories about recovery from illness and injury, biking to the birth center, and loud and proud declarations of physical and emotional freedom. Find a place to settle in the various expressions of gender, age, ability, sexuality, menstruation, abortion, and reproductive rights, and ride along with us to a better future. 

Teenage Rebels: Stories of Successful High School Activists From the Little Rock 9 to the Class of Tomorrow: Take a glimpse into the laws, policies, and political struggles that have shaped the lives of American high school students. Through dozens of case studies, recount the strikes, marches, and picket lines of teens all over the U.S. as they demand better textbooks, start recycling programs, and protest the censorship of student newspapers. Fighting and speaking for ourselves can begin at any age and this book is for anyone who has ever challenged the rules, or wanted to, and wished for a better world.

Zines we publish about owning your power:

The Sketchy Life of a Fly: Not afraid to take risks, this zine is for anyone who has ever questioned the world around them and seeks to thwart the patriarchy. Through famous speeches and collaborated illustrations it reminds us that we will not be buried by our burdens!

How to Boycott: From Chick-Fil-A to the Boston Tea Party, boycotts have been an instrumental way to change the world. This zine tells you how to craft effective coalitions. Take the wild ride of history and learn tips about how to be the change, from those who were successful! 

Speak Out!: A Zine Exploring Gendered Violence: A collection of art, stories, and articles focused on gendered violence. This zine raises consciousness, gives voice to those who have experienced gendered violence, and works as a platform for education. We are badass witches, don’t mess with us. 

Plants Against the Patriarchy: Invoking the Magical Allyship of Plants: Delve into your herbal witchy side and learn the power of our plants and the way they can help deal with our capitalist society’s toxic masculinity-driven culture. It includes simple yet beautiful art to put your mind at peace in trying times. Whether to brighten your day or give you the power to cast the medicinal remedy for those douche-bags down the street, this is the zine for you.

How to Plan for Action: A Protest Prep: After practicing your spells to kick injustice’s ass, take a few minutes to read this zine before getting out there! Get ready to stand your ground by learning how to do so legally and wisely. Learn the basics of safety prep, how to deal with the police, what to expect if you’re arrested, and, most importantly, how to be intentional and respectful as a member of a protesting community. 

Books we are proud to distribute that help you witch up your life:

Witches, Sluts, and Feminists: Grab hold of your broom-handles, nasty women! Witches, Sluts, Feminists is a brilliant journey through witchy feminist herstory. Featuring gorgeous illustrations, this book is a celebration of powerful women.

Intermediate Channeling & Transmutation Zine: Part activity book, part grimoire, this zine will help you unlock your inner potential for channeling and transmutation, allowing you to change the world around you.

Witchcraft Activism: A Toolkit for Magical Resistance: Give your activism a powerful kick with this book! Learn how to incorporate your witchcraft into your activism, adding much-needed power to your protests while also teaching you to protect yourself from those who would do you harm.
Hexing the Patriarchy: This ABCs of witchcraft offers 26 options for tearing down the patriarchy with potions, spells, elixirs and other magic. Learn about essential oils, justice jars and herbalism and more, and learn to harness their power. This book is perfect for any feminist witch who is out to make a difference in the world!

Slingshot planners: A spiral-bound calendar and day planner. It includes space to write your contact information, a contact list of radical leftist groups around the globe, menstrual calendar, and extra note pages to record all your important revolutionary ideas. It also lists popular activist and alternative cultural holidays. Another highlight is a guide to saying key phrases in multiple languages. As if this weren’t enough, it also serves as a fund-raiser for the Berkeley radical newspaper, SLINGSHOT. Get yourself organized, make moves, take action and look cool doing it. 

Powerful adornments:

Witches Cast Ballots sticker

Witch Shit Up patch

Do No Harm, Take No Shit patch

a collage of images from spring 2020 book covers

Cover Reveal: Find Radical Joy with Microcosm’s Spring Books

The world is pretty toxic right now, but we know we can all do better.

To help in the journey, this season’s books cover detoxing your home, making your own self-care magic, and dealing with trauma at all ages; Ditching body-shame for colorful art, and the “cult of positivity” for radical joy; Workbooks to deal with boundaries and finances, and an “unplanner” to keep track of your life while managing your mental health. 

A bit about the season’s designs, from publisher Joe Biel:
Our average cover sees about 50 revisions between conception and the time that the book goes to print—often even changing after the first printing—so we try very hard to nail it on the first impression. 
In most of these cases the concepts were immediate and straightforward but several had the initial drafts completely scrapped in favor of a clearer idea. It’s easy to get stuck in the myopic tunnel of tweaking something endlessly when you need to start over.
The number one consideration of cover design is the book’s value proposition. But what if that book’s emotional payoff is a bit silly? You have to embrace that in some way or you risk misleading the reader.

Bright, bold, and brave, our Spring 2020 books are all about making your own joy through planning, understanding, and practical change, and we think the covers reflect that.
We went a little more playful even than usual this season, comments Joe. Each cover makes me smile a bit more than usual.

Unfuck Your Boundaries Workbook: Build Better Relationships through Consent, Communication, and Expressing Your Needs

by Faith G. Harper, PhD, LPC-S, ACS, ACN

Are people constantly intruding on your personal space, using your stuff, disrespecting you, or otherwise violating your boundaries? You can’t control what they do, but you can control how you understand and communicate your own needs,  and make choices about how you behave and respond to the people around you. Dive deep into self-work with this interactive guide that can be used alone or as a companion to Dr. Faith’s book Unfuck Your Boundaries

ISBN: 9781621061762
Release Date: March 10th 2020

Unf*ck Your Boundaries Workbook cover, a green background with purple accents, featuring doodles of brains reading and working through problems.

The Courage Party: Helping Our Resilient Children Understand and Survive Sexual Assault

by Joyce Brabner and Gerta Oparaku

Courage Party, written by Joyce Brabner (of American Splendor) with the help of her daughter Danielle, is a story based on a real-life situation Danielle experienced in her youth. To help her get over the trauma of her harrowing situation, Danielle’s mother throws her a “courage party” to celebrate her bravery and ability to work through her feelings and bounce back after being assaulted by a stranger. Written in an easy-to-follow, relatable way, this beautifully illustrated story is meant for kids and grown-ups to read together. 

ISBN: 9781621067856
Release Date: May 12th 2020

Book cover for The Courage Party, featuring a full color illustration of a group of kids playing at a party.

Fuck Happiness: How Women are Ditching the Cult of Positivity and Choosing Radical Joy 

by Ariel Gore

Happiness is big business. Books, consultants, psychologists, organizations, and even governments tout happiness secrets that are backed by scientific findings. The problem is that all of this science is done by and for cis white men. And some of the most vocal of these happiness experts were announcing that women could become happier by espousing “traditional” values and eschewing feminism. 

Skeptical of this hypothesis, Ariel Gore took a deep dive into the optimism industrial complex, reading the history, combing the research, attending the conferences, interviewing the thought leaders, and exploring her own and her friends’ personal experiences and desires.

ISBN: 9781621067856
Release Date: May 12, 2020

Bright yellow-orange book cover featuring red text, with the title F♡CK HAPPINESS and a line drawing of someone holding up their smile with their middle fingers.

My Vag: A Rhyming Coloring Book

by Margalit Cutler

Playful rhymes and whimsical art celebrate the many faces of the vulva in this mesmerizing coloring book. Some of the rhymes uplift this oft-misunderstood body part: My vag is a martini / sometimes dry, sometimes dirty / but always delightful & a little bit flirty. And others keep it wonderfully real: Slobbering on a bush / my vag is a giraffe / majestic in person / but goofy in photograph. These pages provide a wonderful antidote to body shame. 

ISBN: 9781621068907
Release Date: June 9, 2020

Book cover for My Vag, featuring a pink body silhouette surrounded by yellow and peach sea creatures and a conveniently-placed tailfin.

Unfuck Your Year: A Weekly Unplanner and Self-Care Activity Book to Manage Your Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Triggers, and Freak-Outs 

by Faith G. Harper, PhD, LPC-S, ACS, ACN

Unfucking your year doesn’t have to start in January. Take control of your life with this “unplanner” at any point in the year, and fill in the months and days as you plan your weeks and work through the exercises month by month. Unfuck Your Year is a perpetual planner with themed months to help you unfuck your life. Features weekly activities in Dr. Faith Harper’s frank style with help from River, the gender-flexible kitty, to guide you along your way. Also includes mood and period trackers, and space for you to set monthly goals along with plenty of achievable suggestions to get you on the right track.

ISBN: 9781621061816
Release Date: August 11, 2020

Detox Your Place: Room by Room Remedies for Nontoxic Living

by Meadow Shadowhawk

Looking to detox your home without the use of harsh chemicals, overly processed cleaning products, or by any other questionable means? Meadow Shadowhawk will help you through the process, with well-researched advice about topics like making your own cleaning products, selecting paint, choosing a vacuum cleaner, and even replacing furniture and insulation. Includes recipes for creating your own versions of everyday items, tips on what to buy (and what to avoid!), and what the facts are about various household items.

ISBN: 9781621061496
Release Date: July 14, 2020

Pink book cover with black title, Detox Your Place, flanked by illustrated tall green plants and household items.

Unfuck Your Worth: Overcome Your Money Emotions, Value Your Own Labor, and Manage Financial Freak-outs in a Capitalist Hellscape

by Faith G. Harper, PhD, LPC-S, ACS, ACN

Dr. Faith, author of the bestselling Unf*ck Your Brain and Unf*ck Your Intimacy, tackles one of the toughest emotional topics there is with her trademark mix of neuroscience, gentle encouragement, and no-nonsense language. This book isn’t about getting rich quick (or necessarily at all)—it’s about figuring out your own economic values and baggage, and learning to be the person in the world you know you have it in you to be. 

ISBN: 9781621064565
Release Date: July 14, 2020

a pale green book cover with an orange dollar sign made out of puzzle pieces and the title UnF*ck Your Worth

Unfuck Your Worth Workbook: Manage Your Money, Value Your Own Labor, and Stop Financial Freakouts in a Capitalist Hellscape

by Faith G. Harper, PhD, LPC-S, ACS, ACN

Without fear and shame holding you back, it’s easier to move past social barriers to actualizing whatever your money aspirations are, whether that’s getting a raise, getting out of debt, having honest conversations about money with your family, raising your kids to be savers, or wherever your aspirations lead you. This workbook can be used alongside the book Unf*ck Your Worth or on its own to help you plot out your values, dreams, and cold, hard numbers. 

ISBN: 9781621061786
Release Date: July 14, 2020

A green background and large puzzle-piece dollar sign, surrounded by puzzle patterns and the title UnFuck Your Worth Workbook

You Are a Great and Powerful Wizard: Self-Care Magic for Modern Mortals

by Sage Liskey and Barbara Counsil 

Contemporary life is confusing and it’s easy to feel out of control. Learn how to harness the power of your words and actions to change your life and make the world a better place with this modern spellbook—regardless of your religion or spiritual leanings. Sage Liskey shows you how to get in touch with the mental, emotional, and physical aspects needed for spell casting. 

ISBN: 9781621064831
Release Date: July 14, 2020

A black book cover with tan filigree patterns around the edge and a the title You Are A Great & Powerful Wizard

See our full catalog HERE any time.

Do you have a book or idea you want to see in this list one day? Pitch us here.

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

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!

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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

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?