Biography, Memoir, & Belles-Lettres

Books in this online selection represent only a sliver of what we offer in the store. If you've got a particular book in mind and want to check on its availability, call us at 415-362-8193.

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100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write
On Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater
Sarah Ruhl
"Don't send your characters to reform school!" pleads Sarah Ruhl in one of her essays. With titles as varied as "On lice," "On sleeping in theaters," and "Motherhood and stools (the furniture kind)," these essays are artful meditations on life in the arts and joyous jumbles of observations on everything in between.
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Renee Gladman
In what I'd call 'metafictional literary essays', Renee Gladman references parts of her life and writing, with distance, as if she is an observable thing that we can spectate with wondrous glee. I 'nerd out' over the sentences she's meticulously crafted. It is clever, honest, entertainingly mundane, and so good.
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Men Explain Things To Me
Rebecca Solnit
In her comic, scathing essay, "Men Explain Things to Me," Rebecca Solnit took on what often goes wrong in conversations between men and women. She wrote about men who wrongly assume they know things and wrongly assume women don't, about why this arises, and how this aspect of the gender wars works.
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The Pawnbroker's Daughter
A Memoir
Maxine Kumin
From Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Maxine Kumin comes a timeless memoir of life, love, and poetry.
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Absence of the Hero
Uncollected Stories and Essays, Vol. 2: 1946-1992
Charles Bukowski, David Stephen Calonne
Everyone's favorite Dirty Old Man returns with more boozy tales of extraordinary madness
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The Abundance
Narrative Essays Old and New
Annie Dillard
Hypnotic, hallucinatory, ripe, unsparing, weird, gorgeous—Dillard is all of these but none say quite enough. A master. —Recommended by Vanessa, City Lights Books
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Memoirs of a Barbary Coast Prostitute
Ivy Anderson, Devon Angus
Alice: Memoirs of a Barbary Coast Prostitute reveals the long lost memoir of Alice Smith, a sex worker from San Francisco in 1913. Discovered and edited by our very own bookseller, Ivy Anderson, and her partner in history, Devon Angus, this memoir uncovers complex intersections between gender, labor, and vice in San Francisco and the greater U.S.
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American Romances
Rebecca Brown
New England Puritanism meets West Coast hedonism in an inventive remix of America's cultural history.
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The Argonauts
Maggie Nelson
An intrepid voyage out to the frontiers of the latest thinking about love, language, and family Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts is a genre-bending memoir, a work of "autotheory" offering fresh, fierce, and timely thinking about desire, identity, and the limitations and possibilities of love and language. At its center is a romance...
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The Awakener
A Memoir of Kerouac and the Fifties
Helen Weaver
Helen Weaver's intimate memoir of love and friendship with Jack Kerouac and the Beats
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Beautiful Chaos
A Life in the Theater
Carey Perloff
Carey Perloff, Artistic Director of San Francisco's A.C.T., offers a provocative, passionate, and deeply personal view of theater's role today.
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The Beautiful Struggle
A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood
Ta-Nehisi Coates
An exceptional father-son story about the reality that tests us, the myths that sustain us, and the love that saves us. Paul Coates was an enigmatic god to his sons: a Vietnam vet who rolled with the Black Panthers, an old-school disciplinarian and...
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Between the World and Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates
This is a tremendous gift to the world. —Recommended by Tân, City Lights Books Also recommended by Scott & Paul, City Lights Books
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Birth of a Dream Weaver
A Writer's Awakening
Ngugi Wa'Thiong'O
Birth of a Dream Weaver charts the very beginnings of a writer's creative output. In this wonderful memoir, Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o recounts the four years he spent in Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda—threshold years where he found his voice as a playwright, journalist, and novelist, just as Uganda, Kenya, Congo, and other countries.

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