Books from the Bay: A Literary Trip Through the Bay Area

If you’ve been into any store recently, you cannot have failed to notice that the holidays will soon be upon us. Decorations festoon the stores, and you can find cinnamon, pumpkin spice, and peppermint anything and everything. With that in mind, here are my recommendations for books inspired by the Bay Area/California that make perfect gifts for bookworms!

Books often get a bad rap as gifts go, but I love nothing more than receiving a well thought out book. Though it is safe to say I am slightly book obsessed, my wedding was book themed, and I currently have a care package in the mail from my little sister which contains a book I have been waiting to read for two long years (the publication date was repeatedly pushed back and is even later here in the States)! So, I say give these books to your California-based loved ones, or those about to set out on their Bay Area adventure.

Recommended Books

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter

Summary: The SF Bay Area has a huge culture of well-being, local produce, farmer’s markets and sustainable living. Carpenter’s witty writing in this memoir of the creation of her urban farm in Oakland taps into this element of Bay life. It’s a read to inspire you to take things back to basics, whilst making you laugh along the way.

Quote: The book opens…”I have a farm on a dead-end street in the ghetto. My back stairs are dotted with chicken turds…” you get the picture!

Best For: Those looking for a simpler life

Closeup shot of mahjong tiles

Photo credit: grongar via / CC BY

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Summary: This book tells the story of the Joy Luck mahjong club, a group of Chinese immigrant mothers living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Through interwoven stories, we learn of the relationships between these women and their Chinese-American daughters. It highlights the difficulty in understanding each other’s perspective, even when they are your own family, due to the changes in their identity through their immigrant journey. An emotional read.

Quote: “They see daughters who grow impatient when their mothers talk in Chinese, who think they are stupid when they explain things in fractured English. They see that joy and luck do not mean the same to their daughters, that to these closed American-born minds “joy luck” is not a word, it does not exist. They see daughters who will bear grandchildren born without any connecting hope passed from generation to generation.”

Best For: Multicultural families/global citizens

California: A History by Kevin Starr

Summary: California is the most populous US state, and consequently is the most diverse. The home of pilgrims, immigrants and dream seekers from all over the globe it thus has a rich and varied history which is explored here by Kevin Starr. This is a great basis for getting to know your new home and what made California, and so the Bay Area, the place we know and love today.

Quote: “[Oscar] Wilde stepped off the train in Oakland, wearing a Spanish sombrero, a velvet suit, a puce cravat, yellow gloves, and buckled shoes, and wended his way across the bay to the Bohemian Club, where he is reported to have drunk his hosts under the table.”

Best For: The history buff/newcomers/those soon to arrive…

The Circle by Dave Eggers

Summary: If you’re a literary lover like me or you’ve found yourself caught up in the Bay Area’s startup and social media scene this is the book for you. Dave Eggers is a Bay Area literary icon, founder of a non-profit publishing company (McSweeney’s) and a writing based charitable foundation (826 Valencia). This novel focuses on a new employee at an imagined social media/all-encompassing online platform, Circle. A dark look at the increasing power of technology in our everyday lives.

Quote: ”It’s not that I’m not social. I’m social enough. But the tools you guys create actually manufacture unnaturally extreme social needs. No one needs the level of contact you’re purveying. It improves nothing. It’s not nourishing. It’s like snack food….”

Best For: Literary buffs/your techy and startup friends

Photo of the author at the top of a hike through Muir Woods

At the top of a hike through Muir Woods

The Mountains of California by John Muir

Summary: One of the most wonderful things about not just the Bay Area but California generally is the amazing scenery. A name you can’t miss if you love to get outside is John Muir, yes Muir, as in Muir woods, Muir Beach, Mount Muir…such is his legacy that he is often called the Father of the National Parks. Here he explores Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada mountains if his passion for the beauty he sees around him and for the conservation of these beautiful natural spaces doesn’t inspire you to get outside, nothing will!

Quote: “How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains! To behold this alone is worth the pains of any excursion a thousand times over. The highest peaks burned like islands in a sea of liquid shade. Then the lower peaks and spires caught the glow, and long lances of light, streaming through many a notch and pass, fell thick on the frozen meadows.”

Best For: The nature lovers in your life

Honourable Mentions

Whilst the books above are my favourite Bay themed or related works there are many more, here are a few honourable mentions:

Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan – a look at old versus new in the tech focused Silicon Valley.

Valencia by Michelle Tea – for those interested in the counterculture of SF, specifically LGBTQ+.

Organic Marin: Recipes from Land to Table by Tim Porter and Farina Wong Kingsley – Now you’ve set up your urban farm you’ll need something to do with what you’ve grown!

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers – as above, an SF literary icon, this semi-autobiographical piece is perhaps his most famous work.

About Sarah Jennings

Less than five years ago, I got my first passport and went on my first short holiday outside of the UK to the absolutely stunning Croatia. And it feels like I have never looked back! Since then I have spent 2 years living in beautiful Copenhagen, before arriving in the Bay Area in early 2016. It has been quite the whirlwind adventure. I have used my expat adventure to reignite my lifelong dream to become a writer and editor, returning to my studies and slowly building experience through work and voluntary roles to make this a reality. I have recently left the Bay Area and returned to the UK, to live in London, another place I haven't lived. You can follow my journey at my website -

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