Selected summer reads…

Tapping the Source by Kem Nunn

A noir set in the burned-out post-hippie landscape of early 1980s Huntington Beach. Often referred to as a “surf noir” novel, perhaps because of the lean, stripped-down evocative prose and the mystical hue of the plot. And of course, there’s the fact that the book is set around the seedy edges of Southern California’s surf culture. Sonic Youth reference the book in the liner notes of their classic Sister LP, and it’s said it was the inspiration for the movie Point Break. Take all of that as you will, this is an entertaining summer (or any time) read that has echoes of classic SoCal writers like Chandler and West. —Recommended by Layla, City Lights Books



The Parallax View by Slavoj Žižek

Philosophical and theological analysis and detailed readings of literature, cinema, and music co-exist with lively anecdotes and obscene jokes in an exploration of the territory Zizek knows best. In this treatise, he delves into the concept of the “parallex gap,” the confrontation of two closely linked perspectives between which no neutral common ground is possible. From the latest developments in cognitive brain science to the work of Lacan, Freud, and Marx; Zizek explores new domains while providing a systematic exposition of the conceptual frame work that underlies his entire work. If you are a “theory head,” this will rock your world. —Recommended by Peter, City Lights Books

At the Bottom of the River by Jamaica Kincaid

A collection of nonlinear but somewhat interconnected short stories, Jamaica Kincaid’s At the Bottom of the River is loosely autobiographical, centering around a childhood in the Caribbean. Told from the perspective of a young Antiguan girl, the stories draw from cultural attitudes, lush landscapes, and familial relationships, often examining the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters, from jealousy to power struggles. What I most appreciate is Kincaid’s tone and language. She’s brusque, declarative: “Immediately on wishing my mother dead and seeing the pain it caused her, I was sorry and cried so many tears that all the earth around me was drenched”– yet she weaves magical elements and imagery into very real settings, such as in one story, when she describes her mother shedding her skin and turning into a fish: “She grew plates of metal-colored scales on her back, and light when it collided with this surface would shatter and collapse into tiny points.” Lyrical and lush, this reads almost like prose poetry. —Recommended by Jolene, City Lights Books

This personal, lyrical narrative about storytelling and empathy from award winner Rebecca Solnit is a fitting companion to her beloved A Field Guide for Getting Lost.

In this exquisitely written new book by the author of A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit explores the ways we make our lives out of stories, and how we are connected by empathy, by narrative, by imagination. In the course of unpacking some of her own stories—of her mother and her decline from memory loss, of a trip to Iceland, of an illness—Solnit revisits fairytales and entertains other stories: about arctic explorers, Che Guevara among the leper colonies, and Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein, about warmth and coldness, pain and kindness, decay and transformation, making art and making self. Woven together, these stories create a map which charts the boundaries and territories of storytelling, reframing who each of us is and how we might tell our story. —Recommended by Paul, City Lights Books




Yoko Ono

Quiet. It’s a bomb. –Recommended by Tân, City Lights Books

Back in print for the first time in nearly thirty years, here is Yoko Ono’s whimsical, delightful, subversive, startling book of instructions for art and for life.

“Burn this book after you’ve read it.” — Yoko

“A dream you dream alone may be a dream, but a dream two people dream together is a reality.”

“This is the greatest book I’ve ever burned.” — John



David Graeber

An history of debt written by an anarchist-sympathizing anthropologist (and a respected one, mind you)—who better to dig beneath the assumptions taken for granted by the Western science of Economics? From blood debts in moneyless societies to the Federal Reserve, Graeber provides a fascinating survey of human civilization and the constant, uneasy connection between debt, violence and slavery. Read it to learn tidbits such as the root of Adam Smith’s free market in early Islam, or to rethink what things like money, liberty and capitalism might really be. —Recommended by Matt, City Lights Books

Here anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom: he shows that before there was money, there was debt. For more than 5,000 years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods—that is, long before the invention of coins or cash. It is in this era, Graeber argues, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors.

Graeber shows that arguments about debt and debt forgiveness have been at the center of political debates from Italy to China, as well as sparking innumerable insurrections. He also brilliantly demonstrates that the language of the ancient works of law and religion (words like “guilt,” “sin,” and “redemption”) derive in large part from ancient debates about debt, and shape even our most basic ideas of right and wrong. We are still fighting these battles today without knowing it.



Ha Jin

The stifling atmosphere of Maoist bureaucracy forms the backdrop for a slow, quiet story about patience and longing, passivity and frustration, and most of all, about how so many of us live most of our lives in unconscious submission to “fate.” The price of conformism is steep: passion defereed finally withers and dies. This gentle little novel will stick to you like a cobweb, surprising and a little scary. —Recommended by Elaine, City Lights Books

“In Waiting, Ha Jin portrays the life of Lin Kong, a dedicated doctor torn by his love for two women: one who belongs to the New China of the Cultural Revolution, the other to the ancient traditions of his family’s village. Ha Jin profoundly understands the conflict between the individual and society, between the timeless universality of the human heart and constantly shifting politics of the moment. With wisdom, restraint, and empathy for all his characters, he vividly reveals the complexities and subtleties of a world and a people we desperately need to know.”—Judges’ Citation, National Book Award


Beth Lisick is the best kind of storyteller — utterly original, naturally hilarious, wisely observant, and completely down-to-earth. Those who like David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, Marjane Satrapi or Julie Doucet will absolutely love this book.  –Recommended by Stacey, City Lights Books

Beth Lisick started out as a homecoming princess with a Crisco-aided tan and a bad perm. And then everything changed. Plunging headlong into America’s deepest subcultures, while keeping both feet firmly planted in her parents’ Leave It to Beaver values, Lisick makes her adult home on the fringe of mainstream culture and finds it rich with paradox and humor. On the one hand, she lives in “Brokeley” with drug dealers and street gangs; on the other, she drives a station wagon with a baby seat in the back, makes her own chicken stock, and attends ladies’ luncheons. How exactly did this suburban girl-next-door end up as one of San Francisco’s foremost chroniclers of alternative culture? Lisick explains it all in her hilarious, irreverent, bestselling memoir, Everybody into the Pool.

Fans of David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell will relish Lisick’s scathingly funny, smart, very real take on the effluvia of daily living. No matter what community she’s exposing to the light, Lisick always hits the right chord.

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