Tagged Book Review

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.

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.