It’s fall — the time of year when many publishing houses release their biggest books. From the cornucopia of fall titles come nine new books that are written by local authors, set here or otherwise connected to Berkeley in some way.
The Golem of Brooklyn
By Adam Mansbach
One World, 256 pages, $18
The most notable appearance of a Golem in a book by a Berkeley author was in Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay in 2000. Twenty-three years later, this mythical creature made from clay or mud, a defender of the Jewish people in Ashkenazi folklore, has returned, not as a minor player in Kavalier & Clay but as the main protagonist in Adam Mansbach’s The Golem of Brooklyn.
While Chabon’s Golem remained inanimate, Mansbach’s comes to life at the hands of Brooklyn art teacher Len Bronstein, who describes himself as being “culturally Jewish.” The creature immediately begins speaking Yiddish; since Bronstein does not, he seeks the help of Miri Apfelbaum, a queer bodega worker in his neighborhood who’s a refugee from a Brooklyn Hasidic sect.
The Golem learns English quickly by binge-watching Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm, speaking in a halting, robotic style, and refers to himself in the third person. And because this 9-foot creature hails from Brooklyn, he can be quite the comedian, delivering dry comments about ripping people’s heads off and the fact that he is not anatomically correct. (“This shmegegge forget to make Golem a dick,” he tells Larry David during a Zoom call in a hilarious scene. )
The three characters form an unlikely trio who embark on a hero’s journey to Kentucky, encountering the requisite obstacles and hijinks, in an attempt to destroy white nationalists chanting “Jews will not replace us.”
The book is packed with the kind of snappy dialogue and New York humor (one chapter is told from a bodega cat’s perspective) one would expect from the author of A Field Guide to the Jewish People and Go the F**k to Sleep, a New York Times best seller.
Jokes aside, the book serves a somewhat didactic purpose, weaving in Jewish folklore and history (like the 1941 Babyn Yar massacre in Kyiv, the last time The Golem was seen, where 33,771 Jews were shot to death by German soldiers) in Mansbach’s characteristic acerbic style as it slyly wrestles with deep questions about our humanity. Fellow Berkeley resident W. Kamau Bell, who interviewed Mansbach at First Presbyterian Church in Oakland on Sept. 26, put it this way in his blurb: “How do we confront those who hate us, and at what cost?”
The Proprietor’s Song
By Janet Goldberg
Regal House Publishing, 178 pages, $18.95
There is nothing conventional about the way Berkeley author Janet Goldberg got her first novel published — at age 60 no less. She described the process as “accidental.”
A poet and short story writer, Goldberg had a longtime gig teaching freshman composition at San Francisco’s City College. During her 30-minute BART commute, Goldberg began scribbling away on legal pads, crafting what she thought was a short story.
“A novel was not the first form I would gravitate to,” she said, “but then it really got long.”
The result is her first novel, The Proprietor’s Song. The book is set in the dramatic landscape of the Eastern Sierras, along Highway 395, and takes readers through what Goldberg considers “some of the most spectacular alpine scenery” and then down to the desert of Death Valley.
The book weaves together two narratives about mourning when there is no possibility of closure. Grace and Elwood Fisher are a comfortable, middle-aged couple from El Cerrito whose son, Jared, has gone missing in Death Valley’s backcountry. While staying at the Bridgeport motel their son had stayed in before his disappearance, they meet its owner, Stanley Uribe, who is mourning the mysterious disappearance of his sister Lorna.
Not easily categorized, the book is a work of literary fiction but reads as a thriller, as Goldberg’s New York agent put it. As a result, the agent could not place it with a major imprint. Instead, Goldberg placed the book — sans agent — with an indie publisher, Regal House, in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Goldberg’s “accidental” success has already resulted in another book deal. Her first short-story collection will be published by Cornerstone Press in 2025. The news couldn’t come at a better time: After more than 20 years at City College, Goldberg lost her longtime teaching gig during major layoffs a year-and-a-half ago.
“I frankly thought I’d be getting rejections left and right,” she said. Instead, the publisher offered her a contract three days after submitting a proposal.
By Richard Kluger
Scarlet Tanager Books, 463 pages, $21
Richard Kluger’s career in publishing has been long and far reaching. He started out as a journalist, writing and editing at The Wall Street Journal and Forbes and then became the last literary editor of the New York Herald Tribune.
In the book industry, he’s been an editor at two major houses and a publisher at another. Then he tried on the author hat, writing both nonfiction and fiction. His Ashes to Ashes, about the cigarette industry, won the Pulitzer for general nonfiction in 1997.
For this, his eighth novel, a work of historical fiction, Kluger, a Berkeley resident, chose a small, Oakland-based publisher. The book came out in August, a few weeks shy of Kluger’s 89th birthday.
Hamlet’s Children tells the story of American teenager Terry Sayre, who is forced to accept asylum abroad with his mother’s Danish kin, people he barely knows, in a coastal town near Copenhagen in the summer of 1939. Within months, the town is occupied by German forces and Sayre, like his adopted countrymen, is forced to submit to fulfilling their enemy’s needs at gunpoint. Only when the Gestapo tries to round up the Danish Jews for extermination do their Gentile neighbors, Sayre among them, rise up in the novel’s pivotal event and defy their tormentors.
In a press release, Kluger said that he intended the novel to serve as a parable for contemporary America. “What happened to the Danes can happen anywhere, anytime,” he wrote, “especially if a society lets down its guard and fails to protect its liberty in the wishful belief that the world is populated largely by benign or benevolent people like themselves.”
By James Terry
Outpost 19, 146 pages, $16
The Pacific Film Archive and Berkeley’s once vibrant cinema scene figure prominently in James Terry’s first novella The Return, published in September by the Shortish Project, a new imprint of the San Francisco-based Outpost 19.
The Return is partially inspired by Terry’s own nostalgia for a film scene that no longer exists in Berkeley. When he was an undergrad majoring in English at UC Berkeley (class of ’92), he frequented the UC Theater, at the time one of seven cinemas in Berkeley. Now there is one. The book explores what we, as individuals and as a society, lose when long-established art forms like cinema — and the venues that support them — die out and are replaced by new ones.
Terry transferred such feelings to the book’s protagonist, Bernard Aoust, a UC Berkeley film professor obsessed with a long lost silent French film from 1923. Aoust has devoted his academic life to this film and banks on a new monograph on the film to salvage his flagging career. When the lost film suddenly appears on YouTube, he suffers an existential crisis.
Terry is the author of a short story collection, Kingdom of the Sun (2016), and two novels, The Solitary Woman of Shakespeare (2016) and Heir Apparent (2019). He now lives in Liverpool.
Leaning Toward Light: Poems for Gardens & the Hands That Tend Them
Edited by Tess Taylor
Storey Publishing, 197 pages, $22
Tess Taylor’s new anthology of contemporary garden poems, essays and recipes reveals many deep and meandering Berkeley roots, connecting the worlds of poetry and gardening and, to a lesser extent, food of the farm-to-table variety.
Taylor, a poet, gardener and foodie, started writing poems at Berkeley High after reading the poetry of Robert Hass, the former poet laureate and UC Berkeley professor. Taylor, herself, has also taught at UC Berkeley, led garden programming at the Berkeley Youth Alternatives Community Garden and interned in the kitchens of Chez Panisse under Alice Waters.
Taylor now lives in El Cerrito and has published five collections of poetry, including Work & Days, a contemporary farm journal that The New York Times named one of the 10 best poetry books of 2016.
In Leaning Toward Light, Taylor positions the poet and the gardener as companions, “honoring our collective urge to tend, nurture and grow.” Included are works by Katie Peterson, who lives in Berkeley, and Bay Area poets like Hass, his wife, Brenda Hillman, Jane Hirshfield, Forrest Gander and Maw Shein Win, along with some of contemporary poetry’s most notable voices, among them the U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón, Ross Gay and Naomi Shihab Nye.
In her blurb, Waters wrote that the collection has brought together many of her favorite writers: “Wandering through its pages feels like taking a long stroll through a beautiful garden.”
The publishers have paid special attention to the book’s design. It has the sturdy, artisanal feel of a handcrafted book whose sensory appeal is amplified by Melissa Castrillón’s colorful illustrations.
Without Helmets or Shoulder Pads: The American Way of Death in Football Conditioning
By Irvin Muchnick
ECW Press, 260 pages, $19.95
Bring up the subject of football, America’s No. 1 sport, and the conversation will inevitably turn to the subject of concussions. By keeping the spotlight on concussions, however, the other dangers of pushing this rite of passage on American boys and young men remain in the dark.
That’s the thesis of Berkeley writer Irvin Muchnick’s new book, due out Oct. 3. Muchnick writes that “far more American males are killed or seriously harmed in football than the system is ever in the mood to measure.”
Muchnick, who specializes in sports muckraking, has written for Sports Illustrated, People and The New York Times Magazine. In this, his fourth book, Muchnick reveals the sport’s worst tragedies and their coverups, which add up to what he calls “a quiet pandemic” that is socially encouraged and enabled by a thirst for spectacle and a skewed vision of masculinity.
Among the book’s startling statistics: More than 700 teenagers have died in high school football since half-hearted tracking began in the 1930s. In college football, up to three dozen deaths stem from attacks associated with the sickle cell genetic trait alone. And student athletes are as much as four-and-a-half times as likely to die during conditioning than they are from blocking and tackling during games.
“My modest goal in exposing this morbid strain in the foreshortened lives of American males is to establish a pattern and to stir the movement to fix it,” he writes. “The unethical use of young human guinea pigs to fill our rosters below the $15-billion-or-so National Football League manifest not child growth, but adult exploitation at its most chilling.”
Parenting Beyond Power: How to Use Connection and Collaboration to Transform Your Family — and the World
By Jen Lumanlan
Sasquatch Books, 237 pages, $21.95
According to Berkeley author Jen Lumanlan, old ways of parenting that rely on disciplinary methods like time-outs, countdowns and “consequences” teaches children that it’s OK for more powerful people to control others and thereby perpetuates and reinforces white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism. While she acknowledges in the book’s introduction that many would consider such forces unrelated, she insists they are intimately connected.
“The way we treat our children shapes how they will treat others, which means that the changes we want to see in the world start at home,” she writes. The book’s problem-solving approach seeks to show parents exactly how to do that.
Lumanlan’s authorial debut is a continuation of the alternative parenting methods she has developed over the years, drawing heavily on the work of bell hooks and Marshall Rosenberg. Initially a sustainability consultant, Lumanlan was surprised to discover how difficult parenting was.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” she wrote in an email, especially since she lacked good parenting role models.
She ended up going back to school for a master’s in psychology focused on child development and another in education and trained as a Co-Active coach, a technique that emphasizes curiosity, listening and intuition. To share what she had learned, Lumanlan began the Your Parenting Mojo podcast in 2016. The podcast was named Best Research-Based Parenting Podcast by Lifehacker in 2020.
Lumanlan’s approach starts with knowing and respecting children for who they truly are.
“What if we learned how to meet our real needs — not what society tells us we should want — as well as our children’s needs?” she writes. “When children’s needs are met, they don’t need to act out. They will know that parents see them and respect them and they will see and respect parents, too.”
Once children have learned respect from their parents, she says, they will treat others with respect and ask to be treated with respect, too.
The Three Ages of Water
By Peter Gleick
PublicAffairs, 356 pages, $30
Berkeley’s Peter Gleick, perhaps the world’s most widely known and widely cited water expert, is also the founder of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, an independent research group devoted to finding solutions to the world’s most pressing water problems. This is his 14th book on the subject of water.
The Three Ages describes our long, fraught relationship to this precious resource. Water has shaped civilizations, driven advances in science and technology — from agriculture to aqueducts, steam power to space exploration — and progress in health and medicine. But such achievements have also had consequences. Our unsustainable water usage coupled with global climate change threaten to send us into a new dark age. Gleick, however, believes a positive future is possible if we act quickly.
“It is time to acknowledge both the benefits of the Second Age of Water and the need to make a transition to the Third Age of Water,” he writes, “where we address the growing failures surrounding us and make the technological and social transition to sustainability.
Mom Rage: The Everyday Crisis of Modern Motherhood
By Minna Dubin
Seal Press, 256 pages, $29
In the digital age, the publishing industry has relied on a new paradigm for discovering new talent: turning articles or essays that have gone viral in major newspapers and magazines into books. The idea is that such topics have already proven themselves to be a hit with readers.
That’s how Minna Dubin’s Mom Rage came about. The Berkeley journalist wrote two viral articles for The New York Times during the pandemic that she expanded upon and Seal Press has turned into a book. Mom Rage promises to “shine a light on this unexamined fury.” Chapter One begins with the statement: “Moms everywhere are raging.”
The book has gotten a lot of publicity, a decent review on Kirkus and 4.07 stars (out of 5) on Goodreads. In a lengthy New Yorker article, however, Merve Emre argued that Dubin had failed to make a case for the universality of her experience, one of her many criticisms of the book.
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