Fall is funny around here. While the rest of the country goes properly autumnal, with days cooling and notable new books consisting of a Dick Cheney memoir, high-minded porn from Nicholson Baker, another John Grisham about lawyers, or another Sue Grafton mystery about some letter of the alphabet, in San Francisco we go our own route. Here, the weather turns pleasant and warm, and the book scene is positively springlike. There's the riot of literary blossoms that is Litquake (Oct. 7-15), for starters. And there are stacks of new and interesting books.
We the Animals
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $21)
By Justin Torres
BECAUSE: Stegner Fellow and Potrero Hill-dweller Torres, once a bookseller at our own Modern Times, has been racking up posh publication credits, with stories in Granta, The New Yorker, Harper's, and this buzzy debut novel. "A brilliant, ferocious new voice," writes blurbist (and The Hours author) Michael Cunningham.
SAMPLE: "They grew up wiry, long-torsoed, and lean. Their kneecaps, their muscles, bulged like knots on a rope. Broad foreheads and strong ridges along the brow announced their resemblance. Their cheeks hollowed, their lips barely covered their teeth and gums, as if the jaw and the skull inside wanted out."
Is Marriage for White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone
By Ralph Richard Banks
BECAUSE: Stanford Law professor Banks takes a personal, scholarly and surely controversial look at black middle-class life, explaining, among other things, what Bill Cosby and Barack Obama get wrong.
SAMPLE: "Teresa's experience leaves me wondering if interracial marriage indeed allows black women to opt out of this black communal norm that is more oppressive than comforting. As Teresa describes the irony, 'I can be blacker with my white husband than with any black man I've ever dated.'"
(Two Dollar Radio, $16)
By Joshua Mohr
BECAUSE: A better understanding of our sweetly seedy city we could not ask for. Mohr wonders who might hang out in a Mission dive bar sharing a name with Syria's capital, as the Iraq war changes everything a world away and just outside.
SAMPLE: "Well, if it wasn't bad enough to gut through a week in which Revv had a tattoo engraved on his arm that no one could read — Sexy time Pandabear? Yankee says Cockblock? — here he was at the veterinarian's, listening to a technician tell him that the lump in his boa constrictor's belly was Revv's own boxer shorts."
A Thousand Lives: The UntoldStory of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown
(Simon & Schuster, $26)
By Julia Scheeres
BECAUSE: Berkeley author Scheeres (Jesus Land), relying on recently declassified FBI materials and her own curiosity, revisits the chilling story of Peoples Temple pastor Jim Jones, a once-benevolent fixture in San Francisco politics, and his doomed disciples.
SAMPLE: "I love socialism, and I'm willing to die to bring it about, but if I did, I'd take a thousand with me."
Love and Shame and Love
(Little, Brown, $25)
By Peter Orner
BECAUSE: Li'l shame sandwich in the title, but the bread makes all the difference. We know we can count on this new novel about an unraveling family from this soulful, unshowy hero of local letters.
SAMPLE: "When the police showed up, the car crept lightless, slowly, up the gravel so as not to alarm the neighbors. The two hulks standing there sheepish, too big for the front hall, Philip and Miriam saying, we are so sorry for the misunderstanding. Saying — but not with words — we are not the kind of people who would ever need the police."