Zoe Reviews This is San Francisco, In Bookstores Now
by Zoe Jennings
My adolescence consisted of frequent commutes to SF to see plays, visit museums on school field trips, and explore the city with friends and family. I grew up in Berkeley, California, just across the bay.
I’m not quite a local, but I’m not entirely a tourist either, though sometimes I play one when family comes to visit. I know San Francisco, and I was already a fan of Alexander Barrett’s books. His first book in this series, This is Portland, was one of my first introductions to Portland when I first moved here for school.
This is San Francisco is a quirky, quick read, a guide to the “City by the Bay” as well as a sort of author’s journal. Barrett chronicles many of the things he’s learned and observed about San Francisco and what makes the city special to him. It’s personal, yet invites the reader in to experience it all for themselves, and to make the city their own.
What I liked: One of my favorite aspects of Barrett’s writing is his use of humor. He introduces each section with a beautiful illustration and dives right into story time, exploring some of San Francisco’s most interesting questions…
Why put a high security federal prison on an island with a perfect view of San Francisco, when the island could have been a beautiful retreat from city life?
Why is Dolores Park Beach called a beach when it is, in fact, not near the ocean?
Oh, you want to go for a nice stroll through a neighborhood with your special someone? Where can you go walking without finding yourselves struggling to continue breathing by the time you’re halfway up the first hill? (Hint: nowhere. But that’s okay!)
While some of the larger, more famous landmarks and facts about the city are covered in this book, Barrett also shares details about lesser-known stories, habits, and histories of SF. For instance, I’ve been to the Castro District before, but I’ve never explored enough to find the giant pride flag at the intersection of Market and Castro. Barrett describes it so lovingly that I know I have to go visit it as soon as I’m back in the Bay Area again: “It is colossal, but even more so when you feel the history and love behind it. After all, it was Harvey Milk that asked his friend Gilbert Baker to design a symbol that they could rally behind. And it made its debut parading down Market Street in 1978.”
I also had no idea there are buffalo in the middle of Golden Gate Park. I’ve been to Golden Gate Park. I lived in the Bay Area for fourteen years. How did I never hear about the buffalo? (Technically they’re bison but the place they’re kept is called the Buffalo Paddock.) Somehow, I missed them. But apparently they’re there, hanging out in San Francisco for anyone to see. Pretty fun fact about SF, I’d say.
Barrett draws your attention to San Francisco’s landmarks and histories so he can reveal their flaws and paradoxes while simultaneously showing you how lovable they are. It is apparent that he holds them close to his heart, no matter how weird or frustrating they are.
What it’s missing: One thing I kind of wished for as I read about all the cool places around the city to visit, was a map with the different neighborhoods and landmarks in San Francisco. I still don’t know the layout of SF very well, and with such cool illustrations on each page of the book, a colorful map delineating all the different places Barrett mentions would have fit well. Nonetheless, it’s easy enough to look things up online and I don’t feel as though the book is lacking anything without a map.
Summary: Overall, this book was a pleasure to read. I found myself smiling at Barrett’s sarcasm and falling more in love with San Francisco on every page. I definitely have some new places to visit next time I’m in the Bay Area. Even as a somewhat local I learned a lot and simply appreciated Barrett’s obvious affection for the city.
Locals and tourists alike will have a great time following his advice on sights to see, lines to stand in, smells to crinkle up their noses at, and layers of clothing to carry around all day.
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 Rulesby 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.
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.
This review was written a few months back by winter intern and zinester, Neil Birch.
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.
Dr. Harper’s work nothing like that. In a good way.
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.
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 Intimacyor 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 @noahyouknowand check out Dr. Faith Harper’s other work here.
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.
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).
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!
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.
As I stepped beneath the towering trees of Grant Park, grass softly crunching beneath my feet, mental note was taken of the soft, white flecks peppering my hair, scarf, and jacket. Snow was to be my close companion on this tour, with no apologies given. I smiled. Was there not many a time Beverly Cleary herself had traipsed through this park on snow-laden days? To walk in the footsteps of my favorite author, whether in the thick of winter or the heat of summer, was an honor more than anything.
The tour began on the west side of the park, near a towering sequoia. As I made my way there, several dogs with their owners greeted me near the off-leash area, complete with wet puppy kisses. Upon reaching (and passing) said sequoia, I noticed the first main attraction to my left: the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden.
A life-sized Ramona gazed wistfully into the distance, with Henry Huggins and his furry companion Ribsy completing the scene. It’s a lovely little dedication by artist Lee Hunt, worth seeing up close and in person. By this time, the snow was falling quite thickly, whipping the faces of all in the vicinity. Ramona didn’t seem to mind, though.
Continuing on past the track and field section of Grant High, I took a gander at the homes peeking through the trees across the way. They are noted in the Walking with Ramona tour for being modeled after English cottages, and they are, indeed, quite charming.
Having left Grant Park, I continued forward for some time until… oops! I’d gone too far! Doubling back so as to hook myself onto the right track, I soon reached the next marker.
At the corner of Hancock and 33rd, a short pause became necessary, not just to get my bearings, but also to admire the residential area of Hancock Street. Its river of concrete traveled quite a ways down past more than one interesting set piece.
But what’s this? At my feet were little hand prints, stamped into the scratchy sidewalk. Seemed like the kind of mischievous thing Ramona would have done.
Across the street, on the right hand side, sat the Fernwood Grammar School, now sporting a new cognomen: the Beverly Cleary School.
On the wall by the east entrance of the school rests a mosaic dedicated to said author and her books.
Turning a corner to travel west on Hancock for a brief spell will reveal the arched entrance to the oldest portion of the school. What might young Beverly have thought as she made her way into the building for the first time?
These days the green doors look out onto a small, grassy area. Something was pulling at me to kick off my shoes and run across the field for the pure fun of it. Maybe some of Ramona’s rascally nature was starting to rub off on me. Alas, I held back the urge and returned to the residential section, where a surprise awaited me….
Down this street, on 3340 Hancock, rests one of Beverly’s childhood homes, the third (and last) that her family rented in Portland. It’s a quaint little thing, all decked out in a coat of red and gray, complete with a soft white and tan-colored trim. I admired the porch, in particular. This is where a young Beverly came out to do her needlework, and perhaps admire the towering elm tree across the way, its branches stretching impressively over the street in an attempt to grasp the rooftops on the opposite side.
As timing would have it, the current owner of the charming abode just so happened to be outside, and he was kind enough to let me snap a few pictures, even giving me leave to access the porch! I was tickled to sit where Beverly once perched and catch a view of what she saw in the early 1900s.
Perhaps I’d lingered a bit too long at the house, for the position of the sun was reminding me that time was of the essence. I had started the tour rather late in the day, and if this was going to be a complete excursion and not a half-baked one, it was time to get moving.
Making my way down town (traveling a little faster than I would have liked), my speedy feet came to a halt at Sandy Boulevard, the home of a very well-known resident indeed: the Hollywood Theatre. There she stood in all her grandeur, reminding me quite fondly of the old movie houses back home in Southern California. The theater has been here since 1925 and, hopefully, she’ll continue to be here for a long time.
I must have looked like such a tourist as I kept checking the tour book for directions on where to go next, following its instructed path down Sandy to the corner of 43rd. Sandy Boulevard, as it turned out, had more surprises in store.
More photos were to be snapped, it seemed, for directly on my right stood the oldest establishment still standing in the neighborhood.
Paulsen’s Pharmacy opened its doors in 1918, and you can still pop in for an ice cream at the soda fountain from the looks of it. I imagined Henry Huggins, one of Beverly’s colorful characters, skipping by the drugstore on his way home.
Directly across the street, proudly positioned in a corner, stood an enormous structure — part apartment, part Whole Foods Market — ironically named “The Beverly”. Why ironic, you say? You’ll have to read the book!
Already the sun was starting to set. The snow had abated somewhat, but the sky was still bathed in gray… and getting darker all the time. One of the next hot spots on nearby Tillamook Street was the Hollywood Library, but this was a dangerous place to enter. Books are like candy to me. Once inside, I might never come out. Was it safe…? Tentatively, I took the risk and stepped past the doors.
The warmth of the library was a great relief from the cold outside, and I certainly wasn’t the only one who had the same idea. The place was well occupied with adults and kids alike, some cozied up at tables with a good book, others accompanied with a son or daughter eager to check out their favorite title. Down the children’s isle, while checking out one of Beverly Cleary’s “Ramona” books, I heard a parent on the other side of the shelves ask, “How many times have you read that book?” Replied their little one, “Seven or eight times!” I smiled at this. Kid, I can relate, I thought.
Sure enough, I’d let myself fall deep into the bowels of more than one book, and by the time I reluctantly trudged out of the library the street lights had turned on. Not good. There were still a couple more locations to visit before the end of the tour. Time to get moving… and quickly.
Heading north on 41st Avenue took me back into residential territory once more. Walking past old horse rings and houses with garages squeezed into their yards led me to Stanton Street and eventually to 38th, and it is here that the homes took on a rather impressive quality. This is the site of “the ridge”, a huge hill of gravel dumped here many years ago by Ice Age flooding. It’s easy to see why it was taken advantage of. From its base to its peak, the location is rich aesthetically. The climb up to the top of the hill offered views of some of the cutest little homes you ever did see — it was as if they were pulled right from a fairytale book. No picture, in my opinion, could have done them justice.
By this time the hour was waning on 6:00 PM. The tour was nearing its peak. And yet, there was one last stop to make on the way back to Grant Park. Returning to the bottom of the ridge, I traveled down 37th Avenue to gaze upon one last, significant house. At 2924 NE 37th rests the home that Beverly’s parents purchased after having sold their farm in Yamhill. Memories both troubled and cherished were made in and around this abode, and, though it would have been a treat to explore it further, I contented myself with admiring the house from the outside.
Not much further down the road lay Grant Park. I decided to take one more picture of the grand facade, all lit up and aglow like a summer firefly (pic 18). Here the tour ended, but not before I was given a friendly farewell. Perhaps the spirit of Ribsy was following me around that evening, for I was sent off with a healthy dose of sniffs and kisses courtesy of two park goers’ dogs — a pleasant way to end the day!
For those looking to extend their experience beyond the pages of Walking with Ramona, taking this tour with said book in tow is a great way to spend your day if you’re a fan of Beverly Cleary’s works, especially of the Ramona series. (Seriously, take the whole day if you want to check out every nook and cranny, grab a bite to eat, and maybe even see a movie if you’re so inclined. It took me three hours at a slow-to-medium pace and it still wasn’t enough time.)
Unless you don’t mind the cold (and possibly snow), I’d highly recommend taking this tour in the spring or summer; at the very least, it gives you an excuse to stop for some ice cream at one of the local shops in downtown Portland. And if you’re looking to add some beautiful shots to your photo album then, by all means, take your camera. You’re gonna need it.
This post was written by Spring intern Kellie Robinson. Follow Kellie’s work online, check out the book here, and learn more about interning at Microcosm in the FAQ,and learn more about Laura Foster in this recent Portland Business Magazine article.