San Francisco

Photo of Frank Chu and Prince Charles by Thomas Hawk used under a Creative Commons license.

Jen Wang, Koko Be Good (First Second, 2010).
A graphic novel and a sort of three-legged bildungsroman about young San Franciscans Koko, Jon, and Faron. When Jon meets Koko, he is planning to move to Peru to do charity work, a plan that seems like a good idea, but her outlook on life causes him to question himself. Koko, on the other hand, could use a little more structure and long-term planning, but instead she has Jon and Faron, who driftlessly works in his family’s restaurant. Wang’s characters are more complicated than they first appear; nonetheless, the dialogue sometimes evokes overly earnest late-night dormroom conversations. Even so, the terrific artwork more than makes up for it.

Here is the author’s site. Wang has posted a shorter, earlier (2004) work by the same name; here is the backstory. Here’s a quick and effective preview. Take a longer look on Google Books. Or take a look at the excerpt offered by the distributor. Cory Doctorow calls it a complex story engagingly told with ingenious layouts and lovely art. Eric Adelstein came away with a craving for more. Greg McElhatton says it defies easy categorization. Comicsgirl says Wang’s San Francisco is a place where people actually live and work. Xaviar Xerexes calls it a thought-provoking story with lively characters and a tone that mixes seriousness with fun. Sterg Botzakis calls it beautifully illustrated. Kristin Fletcher-Spear calls the artwork wonderfully unique and the characters truly realized. Erin Jameson says the combination of text and art is sublime. Cathlin Goulding likes the illustration of San Francisco neighborhoods. Zack Davisson loved the artwork, but not the characters or story. Holly agrees with Davisson. So does Ray Garraty. Johnny Bacardi gives it mixed praise. Jonathan says the characters are by turns funny and serious, but always real. DeBT appreciates Wang’s departures from conventions. Ralph Mathieu calls it delightful twice. Andrew Wheeler says the characters are realistically verbose and pompous. Wang talked to the Wall Street Journal about her inspirations. Kris Bather interviewed her. Here is another interview with Shaun Manning of CBR. Here’s one with John Hogan of GraphicNovelReporter. Here’s one with J. Caleb Mozzocco of And here’s one with Alex Dueben at Suicide Girls. MTV Geek! toured her studio. See more of Wang’s art here.

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Photo by tibchris used under a Creative Commons license.

Thomas Roberts, Drake’s Bay (Permanent Press, 2010).
House-hunting one afternoon in Kensington, near Berkeley in the East Bay, San Francisco State history professor Ethan Storey stumbles onto a trail that may or may not lead back to evidence of Sir Francis Drake’s visit to the Bay Area more than four hundred years ago. As he soon discovers, the mystery is of more-than-academic interest to some rich and powerful interests, and Storey’s efforts to uncover the truth prove to be hazardous to his health. Without giving the plot away, I will say that the story (and Storey) move around the Bay Area, from Kensington and Berkeley to San Francisco to Richmond, both on and off the water.

Here’s the publisher’s page. Clark Isaacs says it features excellent prose. CelticLady calls it a suspenseful and entertaining story. Jenna A. recommends it highly.  Laura Pryor says it’s an old-school mystery (scroll down) that relies on intelligent plot twists and well-paced revelations, rather than relentless violence and gore. It’s on (UC Berkeley’s) Bancroft Library’s list of mysteries set in the Bay Area.  Mary Rees chatted with Roberts.  And here is Wikipedia’s page on Sir Francis Drake. Did he visit the Bay Area?

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South Park
Photo of South Park by Allan Ferguson used under a Creative Commons license.

Andrew Sean Greer, The Confessions of Max Tivoli (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004).
When he was born in San Francisco in 1871, Max Tivoli appeared to be a tiny 70-year-old man. As he aged and matured inwardly, his body grew younger in appearance. This novel is narrated by Tivoli late in life, by which time this older man inhabits what appears to be the body of a young boy. Greer uses Tivoli’s reversed condition as a window on aging, memory, and loss. This is also a love story, but one of lovers fated by opposite trajectories. The premise could have come off as a gimmick in other hands, but Greer carries it off with skill. The novel takes place mostly in San Francisco (in part in South Park), and is a window of a different sort on the city of a century ago.

Google Book Search has an excerpt and various links. Links to several reviews can be found here. The NEA has a long passage, and on WBUR you can listen to Greer read from the novel and explain his inspiration. Mark Sarvas interviewed Greer at The Elegant Variation. And here are reviews from David Kipen (San Francisco Chronicle), John Updike (The New Yorker), Edward Champion (January Magazine), Max Gussow (The New York Times), Christopher Farah (Salon), Veronica Bond (Bookslut), Kevin Holtsberry (Collected Miscellany), Lizzy Siddal, and The Critic. Michael Rawdon didn’t like it at all.

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