Recollections of My Nonexistence

Recollections of My Nonexistence is a series of essays about growing up in the West, about becoming a writer, about being a woman who wants to do things in a society that doesn’t want women to do things. It’s also a story about a San Francisco that I worry doesn’t exist anymore, now that there has been so much money and so many tech people moving in and so many other people have been forced out.

But by and large, there is a thread of sexism and violence against women that runs through the book – these being the ways that women are kept in roles they don’t necessarily want. These are the ways that society tries to pretend women don’t exist, by silencing them in so many ways, including killing them.

Women, you, me, all of us, have a right to exist and to be heard, just as much as men do. These essays are the story of how Rebecca Solnit learned what that means for her and how she moves through the world.

Beach read, not chick lit

Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore


What’s it about?
Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is about a secret society that is trying to solve an algorithm without a computer. What happens when you bring a computer to bear on the problem? In fact, given that this story takes place in San Francisco and near Silicon Valley, what happens when you let Google’s geniuses and computing power at the problem? Well, this book tries to answer that, all while commenting on life in the SF Bay Area.

Why should you read it?
It’s not a great book. I read it for book club; the more we tried to analyze it, the more we realized its flaws. It’s not Great Literature, but it did manage to keep the mystery going long enough to be entertaining. Not to mention, it did a decent job of having fun with Silicon Valley stereotypes. Sometimes, that’s exactly what you want.

Of an era

White Album


What’s it about?
The White Album is a famous set of essays by Joan Didion about the various aspects of living in California in the 1960s and 1970s. She covers weird neighbors, the California governor’s mansion, how to pack, migraines, depression/anxiety, and a wide range of other topics. It is a window on a particular time in a particular place.

Why should you read it?
Well, if for no other reason that it allowed me to start describing my own kitchen as “for snackers, not for cooks.” (We’ve moved in the last few months. Our new kitchen isn’t set up for even semi-serious cooking.) There may be a bon mot for you too.

But it also is a window on an era: it’s a very specific slice of American history, when the baby boomers were protesting Vietnam, when the idealism of the 1960s  moved into the hedonism of the 1970s, and what it was like to be a young adult during that time. Now we’ve moved so far away from that to the-market-and-capitalism-will-fix-everything… It can be jarring to think of the world like that. Part of why we moved on is because of criticism like Didion’s. She didn’t give the era a warm, happy glow. She points out its flaws, and does it well.

It’s a critical eye looking at a time that was often romanticized (at least when/were I grew up). For that, I am grateful.

Not my thing

china dolls by Lisa See


What’s it about?
China Dolls is about two Chinese young women and one Japanese young woman who wanted to be in show business in late 1930’s San Francisco. They are frenemies – they get along and support each other, but are also competing with each other. Eventually WWII comes along and the Japanese woman gets sent to an internment camp.

Why should you read it?
I wanted to read it because I wanted to know more about San Francisco and Chinatown. I enjoy history. But I set the book down after they got their first job and just couldn’t bring myself to pick it up again – I didn’t care enough about the characters. You might enjoy it – it wasn’t actively bad. But it wasn’t my thing.