New essay collections by Robert Hass and Angela Davis highlight September's releases from Bay Area authors. A history of memory, postwar writings from Japan and a study of Russians on the California coast also make their debuts this month.
"What Light Can Do: Essays on Art, Imagination, and the Natural World" by Robert Hass (Ecco, $29.99, 496 pages). "The essay as a form is an act of attention," writes Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and UC Berkeley professor Robert Hass in the introduction to this luminous, wide-ranging collection of essays -- his first since "20th Century Pleasures" in 1984. Whether he's writing about poetry, landscape photography, teaching or ecology, the former U.S. poet laureate pays attention with the scholar's intellect and the poet's love of language. Hass writes with considerable insight about well-known authors -- there are chapters on Jack London, Allen Ginsberg and Wallace Stevens, Chekhov's short stories and the memory poems of Czeslaw Milosz -- and carefully calls our attention to such overlooked writers as Korean poet Ko Un (when reading this book, keep pen and paper handy to make lists for future reading).
"The Meaning of Freedom: And Other Difficult Dialogues" by Angela Y. Davis (City Lights, $15.95, 204 pages). Throughout her political life and teaching career, Angela Davis has pursued the ideals of equality and social justice. "The Meaning of Freedom" collects 12 of the UC Santa Cruz professor emerita's previously unpublished speeches on power, race, gender and class. As always, Davis is particularly concerned with the prison-industrial complex, yet her thoughts on marriage equality, immigration and globalization are just as thought-provoking. (Davis will discuss these topics with Robin Kelly, who wrote the book's introduction at 7 p.m. Sept. 20 at the First Congregational Church of Oakland.)
"The Guardian of All Things: The Epic Story of Human Memory" by Michael S. Malone (St. Martin's Press, $25.99, 304 pages). Memory, writes Michael S. Malone, is what makes us human, and in this detailed history of human and mechanical memory, the ABC "Silicon Insider" columnist, editor of Edgelings.com and former writer for the San Jose Mercury News outlines the ways we process, preserve, manage and retrieve information. Malone covers an impressive sweep, from cave drawings to the latest Internet innovations, and he ponders memory's role in pivotal events such as the fall of Rome. As the brain evolved, he writes, so did ways of storing memories: cave drawings, writing (clay, papyrus, parchment and paper) and complex organizational systems (dictionaries, libraries, and, of course, computers, which store information a billion times faster than we do). Malone makes it all easy to understand and, depending on memory's quirks, retain.
"My Postwar Life: New Writings From Japan and Okinawa" edited by Elizabeth Mc- Kenzie (Chicago Quarterly Review Books, $19.95, 328 pages). Santa Cruz editor Elizabeth McKenzie draws on works by dozens of Japanese artists and writers in this new anthology exploring responses to war in short fiction, poetry and photography from World War II to the present. The contributions -- ranging from Shomei Tomatsu's searing images of the Nagasaki aftermath to Hiroshi Fukurai's "Disaster Memories" of Fukushima -- offer richly varied views of a country that has endured the unspeakable.
"So Far From Home: Russians in Early California" edited by Glenn J. Farris (Heyday, $21.95, 352 pages). This year marks the bicentennial of Fort Ross, founded on California's North Coast by members of the Russian American Co. Drawn to the area by an abundant sea otter population, the fur-trapping settlers eventually shifted to agriculture and light industry. Historical archaeologist Glenn Farris incorporates archival letters, journal entries, maps and photographs in this fascinating look at a pivotal chapter from California history.
Gearing up for Litquake: Now's the time to start planning for Litquake, the eight-day literary lollapalooza that rocks the bay Oct. 5-13 at various San Francisco and East Bay locations. Nearly 80 events are on the main schedule, with 89 happenings on the closing night's Lit Crawl. Bay Area authors Dave Eggers, Anita Amirrezvani, Daniel Handler, Adam Johnson and Lysley Tenorio are among the participants. For the lowdown, go to www.litquake.org.