It’s that time of year again, the season in which vacation time calls. Here are some new books by Berkeley authors to enjoy as the days get longer.
No Stopping Us Now
By Lucy Jane Bledsoe
On the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on gender, Berkeley-based novelist Lucy Jane Bledsoe has written her first YA title and it examines the impact of the law. No Stopping Us Now, loosely based on Bledsoe’s teenage life, is the story of Louisa, a young Portland, Oregon high school student who wants to play basketball.
But in 1974, her school only offers a team for boys. A chance encounter with the feminist leader Gloria Steinem prompts Louisa to use Title IX to fight for the creation of a girls’ basketball team. She has to battle a hostile school board, taunts by male coaches, belittling stares and other indignities. But her battle succeeds, bringing Louisa new friendships and confidence in fighting for what is right. Bledsoe is the award-winning author of 17 other novels, nonfiction and children’s books.
Happy For You
By Claire Stanford
In Happy for You, a novel by Claire Stanford, Evelyn Kominsky Kumamoto can’t quite finish her philosophy Ph.D. — or make some major life decisions — so she decides to accept a job as a researcher at the “third most popular internet company,” based in San Francisco. Kumamoto, who is half-Asian, is hired to develop an app, Joyfull, that uses an algorithm and personalized questions to help people become happier. What could go wrong? Working on the app forces Kumamoto to confront her ambivalence about her place in the world, her boyfriend, who wants to marry her, thoughts on motherhood, the tech world and white culture. Publisher’s Weekly said: “At turns thoughtful, funny, and startling, Stanford’s writing perfectly captures her protagonist’s aimlessness.” This is the first novel by Stanford, who grew up in Berkeley and is now pursuing a doctorate in English at UCLA.
Activities of Daily Living
By Lisa Hsiao Chen
When Lisa Hsiao Chen’s family emigrated from Taipei to the U.S., Berkeley was their first stop. Her mother worked at Taiwan Restaurant on University Avenue and her father worked at a woodworking shop on Fourth Street. Chen has lived in Brooklyn for many years but she sets much of the action of her novel, Activities of Daily Living, in Berkeley and other parts of the East Bay. In the novel, which got starred reviews from both Publishers’ Weekly and Kirkus, Alice, a 39-year-old video editor, creates an anchor for herself by taking up a study of an elusive (real-life) Taiwanese artist, Tehching Hsieh. She names him The Artist in the novel. Alice interrupts her project to return to Berkeley to visit her stepfather, a Vietnam vet and retired woodworker whose dementia and drinking are growing worse. Written in a diffuse structure, Activities of Daily Living follows Alice as she weaves back and forth between taking care of The Father and exploring how The Artist examined time in his creative endeavors, including Rope Piece (1983–1984), a collaboration with Linda Montano in which Hsieh and Montano spent a year tied together by a rope. Alice hopes that by better understanding The Artist, she will better understand the vagaries of life. Chen is a winner of the 2018 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award.
About 50 years ago, Berkeley was a center of political tumult in the U.S. Starting with the Free Speech Movement in 1964 and continuing with protests against the war in Vietnam, thousands of counter-cultural activists flocked to Berkeley to protest the actions of the U.S. government and the corporatization of universities, and to work to make the word a better place.
Among them in 1967 was the 24-year-old Canadian now known as Judy Gumbo. She was seemingly everywhere — part of the protests against the Democratic National Convention in Chicago that resulted in the Trial of the Chicago 7 (see her thoughts on Aaron Sorkin’s 2020 movie of that name), running a pig for president, protesting the destruction of People’s Park in 1969, and co-founding the Yippie Party. In 1972, the FBI described Gumbo as “the most vicious, the most anti-American, the most anti-establishment, and the most dangerous to the internal security of the United States.”
In Yippie Girl, Gumbo, who still lives in Berkeley, writes about her fellow radicals: Stew Albert, her husband and co-founder of the Yippie Party, Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panther Party (who was the one to bestow “Gumbo” as her nickname) and others.
My Little Plague Journal
By L. John Harris
L. John Harris, who is known in the culinary world as an author of two books on garlic and as a character in Les Blank’s film “Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers,” filmed on location at Chez Panisse and at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, calls himself a flâneur. The word is a “French noun meaning a person who strolls around idly with no purpose other than to observe the cultural milieu of the time.” It describes Harris’ pre-pandemic life, where he frequented Berkeley cafes, sojourned to Paris with regularity, ate sumptuous meals with friends, collected musical instruments and observed the East Bay’s cultural life.
The onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 put a crimp in Harris’s wandering but not his musings, which he shares in My Little Plague Journal. Illustrated throughout with charming sketches of people in masks and Berkeley street life, as well as photos of Harris sitting in various chairs along the stretch of Shattuck Avenue that holds Chez Panisse, Cèsar, the Cheese Board and Saul’s Delicatessen, the book is a journal of Harris’ random thoughts about being locked up and isolated. In one section of the book, Harris watches a russet potato rot, and sketches it. At the end it has decayed so badly it vaguely resembles the actual coronavirus. Harris compares plagues. He sketches out the highlights of various calamities, from The Black Plague of the 14th century to an 1826 cholera pandemic to what he calls “The Red, White, & Blue Death” of 2020. He shares his concerns about Donald Trump and tries to launch a “Make America Eat Again” red MAGA hat campaign. Frustrated by his isolation, he created the Tailgate Café, two or three chairs in front of Chez Panisse and invites friends to visit. The latter section is a great excuse for name-dropping some of Berkeley’s high priests of culture.