Book: The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates

Cover of The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World
by Melinda Gates
published by Flatiron Books, NY
2019

I didn’t anticipate buying this book – I don’t generally think that billionaires do enough for the world, and I’ve read of the Gates’ many grants that appeared to push privatising the public school system – as if the ownership model of the schools, rather than the poverty of the students, the lack of pay for teachers, and the unfair, property-tax-based disparities that create a lack of funding for materials and facilities were not the issues to address in struggling districts! That said, I recalled that it was Melinda who took the initiative to engage in philanthropy, and who should take the credit for turning the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation into a philanthropic force. Plus, empowering women IS a great idea! So I stood inside a real bookshop (likely Bookshop West Portal), and opened this book to a random page. I was immediately engrossed, and bought it.

This is a good book.

Melinda Gates writes very modestly about – yes, this is going to shock you – listening to people in difficult situations, and financially supporting the people’s own plans to solve their problems. No, really! This isn’t a, “we are rich, and we float down from the heavens and know best what people need” story AT ALL. Instead, this book involves lots of travelling, listening, supporting ideas that Melinda isn’t entirely sure make sense, trusting people, and then being amazed by the results. (A recurring joke in the book in the form of her asking her husband, “Did you know that we are funding a [community initiative that wasn’t in the grant proposal, but which is a successful intervention]?” in which the answer is no, but the results are great, provides upbeat laughs.)

It also took guts to stand up to the leadership of the Catholic Church, a faith which Mrs. Gates is a member of, to actively support (and fund, and speak on behalf of) family planning. Having the church call her out by name for helping women must have been a shock (WHO DOES THAT?!?), but she stood her ground, and speaks up strongly and with evidence for what a positive difference family planning makes for everyone.

This book is informative, interesting, really well written, and ultimately emotionally moving. People helping women succeed in a way that benefits society is a fantastic subject!

Billionaires aren’t off the hook with me, but this particular one comes across as a really great person who has the right idea and has put her beliefs into action in a very positive, effective way.

Book: Chronicle Books: The First 50 Years

Cover of Chronicle Books: The First 50 Years

Chronicle Books: The First 50 Years
by Julianne Balmain
published by Chronicle Books, San Francisco
2017

This is an inside history of the establishment of San Francisco publishing house, Chronicle Books, and how the company grew and thrived by embracing California style, cooking, and generous illustrations in their publications.

It is organized chronologically, and tells the story of how it grew from a tiny operation to a global brand, with a special emphasis on developing non-traditional (non-bookstore) retail. Yes, it was innovative to suggest selling cookbooks in the same shops where you buy cookware, and the colorful covers of their books fit in nicely in those settings.

Typical for this publisher, the book itself is well designed. It features perforated covers revealing images from the company’s back catalog, colored paper edges on all sides, and lavish photographic illustrations.

I purchased this from the San Francisco Center for the Book’s Online Shop. (If it is in stock, you can, too!)

Book: Turning Over an Old Leaf: Contemporary Palm Leaf Work in South and Southeast Asia

Cover of Turning Over an Old Leaf

Book: Turning Over an Old Leaf: Contemporary Palm Leaf Work in South and Southeast Asia
by San Francisco Center for the Book, exhibit curated by Mary Austin and Betsy Davids
published by San Francisco Center for the Book and Autumn Press, Berkeley
2019

I LOVE PAPER. And I often wonder how people can live without it if appropriate natural fibers and other needed supplies aren’t available to make it where they are, or if they need more than they can make. I learned about one of the answers in this lovely catalog of work on palmyra and talipot palm leaves that have been carefully dried, inscribed, inked, and bound into books or assembled into large, flat work to hang.

The leaves generally have a pleasant, soft-wood-like, pale yellow-cream color, and can support very fine linework. The catalog presents excellent samples of recent work, primarily on religious themes appropriate to their region. I especially enjoy some of the contemporary, non-traditional, gilded Thai compositions, and the Burmese scroll-length pieces that have complex edge treatments.

Book: Ladies of Letterpress, by Kseniya Thomas and Jessica C. White

Cover of Ladies of Letterpress

Ladies of Letterpress: A Gallery of Prints with 86 Removable Posters
by Kseniya Thomas and Jessica C. White
published by Princeton Architectural Press, NY
2015

This is a gorgeous, oversized publication showing off the work of passionate letterpress print makers, with large reproductions of their designs. From the embossed cover, to the beautiful, full-color reproductions on sturdy stock (perforated for removal and display!), this is a fantastic collection of both artist profiles and work samples across a large number of techniques.

It is a TREASURE.

I purchased this book from the always excellent San Francisco Center for the Book, where you can not only see samples of letterpress prints in real life, but can also learn to make them yourself!

Books: Agency, by William Gibson

Cover of the novel Agency, by William Gibson

Agency, a Novel
by William Gibson
published by Berkeley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
2020

Agency, a Novel by William Gibson, made me giddy, excited to be reading, and excited to think about the future. Which is worrisome, because it is seriously dystopian!

The story is set in what is functionally the present, in a parallel universe in which the Democrats won the US presidency in 2016, and the world is heading toward a world-ending nuclear conflict triggered by a proxy war in Syria. Authorities in a dark future attempt to intervene to save this parallel reality from destruction by reaching back through time using [a technical magic trick] to contact a woman in San Francisco, who is testing out a new technology that could change her reality’s future.

Be aware that this is the second book in a series that began with The Peripheral, which sets the scene / technology / world-building for this book, and to fully appreciate this one, you’ll need to read its predecessor. Know that the story and quality of writing is worth it to commit to both books!

I’m one of those people who has been reading Gibson’s novels since his cyberpunk era, and am an even bigger fan of his recent, non-cyberpunk work. While cyberpunk felt very much built around dark video game graphics and deadly street fighters, Gibson’s recent writing features remarkably hip female lead characters, contemporary conceptual art, vividly realized technology that feels imminent and consumer-ready, and in human cultural products like film, fashion, user interface design, and cosplay. Gibson is developing an extensive female readership, having moved from describing women physically (I flash back to a character’s girlfriend who was perpetually sexually available: “She was always ready…”) to writing in the voice of really compelling female characters. He writes characters that are smart, enjoyable, and human!

Gibson uses language skillfully: there were sentences I re-read out loud to savor. There aren’t many authors I can say that about.

I recommend this book! I especially recommend it to people who like his other recent works, fans of near-future fiction, people who drink coffee at Craftsman + Wolves on Valencia Street (lightly disguised by a slight name change in the novel), people who daydream about AIs that are actually clever, and dystopian futures that feature grown-ups.

I bought this book new from Green Apple Books here in San Francisco. You can order online from them! Always support your local booksellers!