Top 12 holiday book picks

Local culture, art, history targeted in reading selections

As the hunt for the perfect gift gets underway this holiday season, we've decided to keep our focus local. This season, we are recommending "Midpeninsula-centric" books for our Top 12 Holiday Picks list. These are books by local authors released over the past 18 months that -- in most cases -- showcase the people, history, culture and imagination that define the area.

All books from the list are available online at Amazon.com or at Books Inc., Kepler's Books or Stanford Bookstore.


"QB: My Life Behind the Spiral," Steve Young and Jeff Benedict, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 400 pages:

San Francisco 49er legend and Palo Alto resident Steve Young gives readers an unprecedented look at what it takes to become one of the most celebrated professional quarterbacks of all time in his memoirs, "QB: My Life Behind the Spiral." He writes honestly and openly about playing in a league of giants, the pressures of living up to one of Americas most incredible sports fandoms and his constant quest to compete. Young, a three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, began his career at Brigham Young University, then played professionally for more than 15 years, most of that time with the 49ers. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.


"A Torch Against the Night," Sabaa Tahir, Razorbill, 464 pages:

Midpeninsula author Sabaa Tahir is a former journalist who writes epic fantasies inspired from local and international news. In August, she released "A Torch Against the Night," the much anticipated sequel to her debut novel, "An Ember in the Ashes," which follows a teenage girl, Laia, fighting against a military empire that has threatened her family. "A Torch ..." has reached No. 1 on the New York Times Bestselling Sequel list. She first gained national attention in 2015 when "Ember" debuted in the No. 2 spot on the New York Times' Young Adult bestseller list, with critics saying that the work could launch Tahir into JK Rowling territory.


"Escape Velocity," Susan Wolfe, Steelkilt Press, 380 pages:

Former corporate attorney and award-winning author Susan Wolfe gained a premier view of the people and behind-the-scenes workings of the Silicon Valley's fast-moving tech world while representing some of the largest tech firms in the world. The Palo Alto resident's legal experiences ultimately became the inspiration for the quirky characters and storylines in her crime books set in Silicon Valley. Her latest book, "Escape Velocity" (released in October) gives readers an insider's glimpse into the local culture and legal maneuverings of the tech industry through a fun, witty and suspenseful story line.

"Double Switch," TT Monday, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 240 pages:

From his Menlo Park garage, San Jose State professor and historical novelist Nick Taylor writes quick-read detective novels with story lines based in the Bay Area under the pseudonym TT Monday. In the second novel of his detective series, "Double Switch" (released in March), his main character, a left-handed relief pitcher for the mythical San Jose Bay Dogs major league baseball team who moonlights as a private investigator, must help a Cuban defector being blackmailed. Taylor, who also heads the San Jose State's Center for Steinbeck Studies, has written two well-received literary historical novels, one about the Civil War, and one about California mission founder Father Junipero Serra.


"We Gon' Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation," Jeff Chang, Picador, 208 pages:

Jeff Chang, executive director for the Institute for Diversity in the Arts (IDA) at Stanford University, addresses questions of diversity and equity in his latest book, "We Gon' Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation." Chang released the book earlier this year in response to protests following the police shooting death of Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri. Chang, a former journalist, activist, music producer and teacher, became recognized as a leading culture critic in 2005 after releasing his first book "Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation," which won the American Book Award and the Asian American Literary Award.


"This Is All a Dream We Dreamed: An Oral History of the Grateful Dead," David Gans and Blair Jackson, Flatiron Books, 477 pages:

David Gans -- one of the most well-respected chroniclers of the Grateful Dead -- gives readers a new twist on the Dead in "This Is All a Dream We Dreamed: An Oral History of the Grateful Dead." Gans, an Oakland musician, songwriter and journalist, and co-author Blair Jackson chronicle the story of the Dead through the words of its members, peers, and fans, stitching together an oral tapestry that traces the Dead's evolution from a Palo Alto folk band to a stadium-filling Americana jam band. The duo released the book earlier this year during a special event at the Dead's old stomping grounds, Kepler's Books.

"Jazz on My Mind: Liner Notes, Anecdotes and Conversations from the 1940s to the 2000s," Herb Wong and Paul Simeon Fingerote, McFarland, Incorporated Publishers, 240 pages:

Menlo Park's internationally acclaimed jazz critic Herb Wong died two years before finishing his memoirs, but his longtime friend and colleague Paul Simeon Fingerote completed and released his writings in April. "Jazz on My Mind: Liner Notes, Anecdotes and Conversations from the 1940s to the 2000s" provides readers with Wong's behind-the-scene stories of legendary jazz greats and a curated vision of America's music genre that includes much of Wong's "encyclopedic knowledge" of jazz history, which was often called upon by CNN, PBS and the Smithsonian Institution. Wong hosted a show on San Francisco's KJAZ for more than 35 years and wrote more than 400 liner notes for many of the great jazz musicians. He also taught jazz at Palo Alto High School and started the Stanford Jazz Festival.


"David Park, Painter: Nothing Held Back," Helen Park Bigelow, Counterpoint, 208 pages:

Former Portola Valley potter and writing instructor Helen Park Bigelow shares her observations about life in the Bay Area just before and after World War II -- when some of the country's most radical artists and writers gathered here -- as she examines the life of her artist-father with her new reprint of "David Park, Painter: Nothing Held Back." Park, who died in 1960, has since become recognized as one of the country's most important 20th Century painters of the Bay Area Figurative Movement. Bigelow has spent decades studying her father's work.

"Antigua: Photographs 1967 - 1973," Margo Davis, Nazraeli Press:

Acclaimed Palo Alto photographer Margo Davis shares the collection of black-and-white photos she took of the land and people during her first visit to Antigua in 1967 -- and the following six years -- that launched her passion to become a portrait photographer, documenting people from every continent. Her Antigua portraits, taken during a time when very little had changed from earlier colonial times, document the people and culture of African heritage in the New World. Originally published in limited release in 1973, her collection has become iconic.


"Stanford 125: A Visual Exploration," Alex Webb and Stanford University, Cameron + Company, 88 pages:

This book provides an intimate glimpse into the life of the university on its 125th anniversary through the lens of Magnum street photographer Alex Webb, who spent 10 consecutive days capturing various images that reflect the heart of the Stanford experience.

"World War I Army Training by the San Francisco Bay: The Story of Camp Fremont," Barbara Wilcox, The History Press, 144 pages:

Author Barbara Wilcox chronicles the history of Camp Fremont, the U.S. Army encampment established on Stanford-owned property during World War I, in her book "World War I Army Training by the San Francisco Bay: The Story of Camp Fremont." When the United States officially entered World War I in 1917, Stanford leased three-fourths of its land in Palo Alto for the creation of Camp Fremont, which was headquartered in present-day Menlo Park at the existing SLAC site. The book, explores how the Peninsula adapted to the 28,000 soldiers who trained here. According to Wilcox, the current site of SLAC in Menlo Park once served as training ground for trench warfare.


"To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History," Lawrence Levy, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 272 pages:

Palo Alto businessman Lawrence Levy shares the never-before-told story of Pixar's improbable success from a tiny animation studio to an Academy Award-winning, multi-billion dollar empire while serving as chief financial officer and executive vice president under Steve Jobs. Set in Silicon Valley and Hollywood, the book takes readers inside Pixar and Disney and provides an intimate account of Pixar's transformation and the formation of Levy and Jobs' lifelong friendship.

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