When We Rise
By Cleve Jones. (Hachette, 291 pages, $27.)
Calling a book “important” is like calling dinner “sustainable and gluten-free.” In the case of Cleve Jones’ “When We Rise,” the importance — a firsthand account of grass-roots activism that propelled quantum changes in an amazingly short time for LGBTQ Americans — is accompanied by a sustained love letter to San Francisco and an affectionate ode to a way of life that was being invented week by week.
Suddenly, that dinner is a banquet.
Jones, perhaps best known as the guy who dreamed up the AIDS quilt that captured the nation’s imagination and drew the attention of presidents, ditched the dull hot Phoenix of his adolescence for the cool, foggy City on the Bay. In the 1970s and ’80s, San Francisco was the crucible for a matrix of social movements: antiwar, feminist, labor, gay rights.
We get the street-level skinny on Harvey Milk, the White Night riots, the nasty Briggs initiative, the red and blue of California politics, the push for equal rights, the devastation of AIDS and the push for marriage equality. Jones has an easygoing, conversational style that never bogs down. He keeps his eye always on the prize of winning equal rights and protections for all.
Jones is excellent on the growth of the San Francisco’s large gay community, which starts to form around a culture of tiny cold-water apartments, bars, discos, bathhouses, cruising, drinking, drugs and sex, but becomes an increasingly militant population capable of supporting large street demonstrations seemingly every other week.
The Names Project AIDS quilt, which went on numerous national tours and came to include tens of thousands of commemorative hand-sewn panels, began as about a dozen hastily painted banners for a demonstration in front of San Francisco city hall. Fundraising, get-out-the-vote efforts, phone banks and statewide door-knocking for ballot initiatives also were templated by Jones and others in these heady decades of West Coast progressive politics.
“When We Rise,” the partial inspiration for the ABC miniseries that ran earlier in 2017, brims with fondness, love, lust, inspiration, dedication and tenacity. Older readers will recall each headline-grabbing fight along the way. If I ran the nation’s curriculum, it would be required for younger readers.
How to Find Love in a Bookshop
By Veronica Henry. (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, 340 pages, $25.)
You know this novel is a fantasy because it springs from the premise that a bookstore is the emotional heart of a town. So, a fantasy, yes, but an engaging fantasy.
Emilia Nightingale has inherited her father’s village book shop and has come home to the Cotswolds to run it. She finds, of course, that despite a devoted clientele the store has been steadily losing money and is in debt; meanwhile, an evil developer wants to buy the shop, raze it and build a parking lot for his condo project. Emilia fends him off as long as she can, but then tragedy ensues.
In the great tradition of Ireland’s Maeve Binchy, English novelist Veronica Henry has created an engaging ensemble cast, placed them in a charming locale and interwoven their stories with that of a plucky central character. There’s the heiress from the Big House, about to marry the wrong man; the timid chef who really needs to go on a date with the cheese guy like right now, but is too shy to make eye contact; the London businesswoman who is trying to live the country life (and hating it); and the eternal screw-up who wants his wife back — even as he is spying for the evil developer.
And then there’s the fate of the adorable little shop filled with all those wonderful books. Need an engrossing light read to while away one of the last afternoons of summer? This is it.