TechCrunch+ picks: 9 books set around San Francisco

I love to read books located in cities I am about to visit. But when it comes to San Francisco and the Bay Area, I was really impressed with the wealth of choices available.

My colleague Walter Thompson confirmed this:

“I’ve lived in San Francisco for most of my adult life, and while I don’t have supporting data, I believe this city is overrepresented in literature: the number of songs, novels, TV shows and films set here simply staggers the imagination.”

I picked up one as I started preparing for my week in San Francisco for Disrupt, and figured my colleagues had their own recs to share. Below is a list of books we love and that we hope you’ll enjoy, too.

Although we managed to select two books by the same author, our picks are very diverse, from historical novels and nonfiction to sci-fi. But they all have one thing in common: They have some connection to San Francisco and the Bay Area. That’s a great common thread: As Walter noted, San Francisco is in a constant state of reinvention.

Book recommendation: “Tales of the City,” by Armistead Maupin

Who picked it: Karyne Levy, managing editor TC+

What started as regular installments in the San Francisco Chronicle turned into a cultural phenomenon, spanning nine books and three decades. It follows the lives and loves of a group of unforgettable characters who live at 28 Barbary Lane, under the watchful eye — and genuine warmth — of their loving landlord, Anna Madrigal. And a note for those curious: That address doesn’t exist, but the area it’s based on is known as Russian Hill (Macondray Lane, to be exact)!

Maupin does a tremendous job capturing the city and its vibes from the late 1970s through the mid-2000s, using storylines that include true events (Jim Jones, the AIDS epidemic) and a cast of characters you’ll love immediately. In fact, I’m going to reread my collection starting tonight!

Book recommendation: “1906: A Novel,” by James Dalessandro

Who picked it: Walter Thompson, editorial manager, head of guest contributor program

James Dalessandro’s meticulously researched “1906: A Novel” paints a vivid picture of a deeply corrupt city on the verge of a political scandal and a natural disaster that permanently changed its landscape literally and figuratively.

Book recommendation: “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore,” by Robin Sloan

Who picked it: Anna Heim, reporter

I love books and books about books. I also love bookstores and books about bookstores. So I feel like former Twitter employee Robin Sloan wrote “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” just for me! But jokes aside, there are a couple of other reasons why you might want to read this “tale of books and technology, cryptography and conspiracy, friendship and love.” One, it reads like a thriller; it’s a real page-turner! And two, you will learn a lot about San Francisco — and the buried ships it’s built on.

Book recommendation: “Sourdough,” by Robin Sloan

Who picked it: Miranda Halpern, data analyst

If you’re not a baker, reading about sourdough may not be at the top of your list, but this is about so much more than the art of making bread. The main character, Lois, works long hours for a robotics company, leaving her without companionship. She later finds it when she befriends two brothers who run a restaurant she frequents. When the brothers face visa issues and need to leave, they entrust Lois with their sourdough starter — and that leaves Lois questioning what she wants from life. Sloan’s writing captures feelings I’ve had about my own journey through life, and I’m sure others can relate as well.

Book recommendation: “Palo Alto,” by Malcolm Harris

Who picked it: Walter Thompson

Did you attend Stanford University, work for someone who did, or use a consumer product developed in the last 80 years? If so, you may get something out of this book by author and critic Malcolm Harris, who connects the dots between the state’s origins as a white supremacist enterprise and its current status as the world’s fifth-largest economy.

Book recommendation: “American Gods,” by Neil Gaiman

Who picked it: Alex Wilhelm, TC+ editor in chief

As a bit of a Gaiman dweeb, I am biased here, but given that some of the characters from “American Gods” are based in San Francisco, I figured we could include the book. The work is a little bit hard to explain as a concept, so I won’t try to walk you through it. What I can say is that if you are interested in mythology and want it to intersect with the best city in the world, well, this is a title you should pick up!

Book recommendation: “White Fang,” by Jack London

Who picked it: Ram Iyer, editor

Have you ever been struck by just how alien the world around us actually is? Have you ever sensed how irreducible a rock is to us, how quickly and completely nature or a landscape can negate you?

“White Fang” offers a glimpse of that world. Through the eyes of a wolf, this book tells us how the wild and civilization are equal in savagery, how compassion can run as frozen as the Yukon River in the middle of winter. It shows us the struggle of hunger against fear, of persistence in the face of persecution and exclusion, and the sheer preeminence of strength in a world that stays just as primitive in San Francisco as it does in the frozen wilds of the tundra.

Despite all that, “White Fang” is, in the end, about the importance of compassion in a world that rarely sees fit to part with that freest of gifts. It’s about loyalty that is rightfully earned, love freely given, and the unbreakable bond between a man and his dog, no matter how wolfish that dog may be.

(Also, it’s in the public domain, so no need to spend your money. Get it here.)

Book recommendation: “McTeague,” by Frank Norris

Who picked it: Walter Thompson

Published in 1899, this tale of a self-made man whose life sours after winning the lottery does such a fine job of depicting the dangers of materialism, it was turned into a film simply titled “Greed.”

Book recommendation: “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick

Who picked it: Karan Bhasin, editor, surveys

I’m going to let my nerdiness shine through here. A mainstay in sci-fi and a must-read for even those who aren’t typically fans of the genre. Though the book does take a few detours from San Francisco, it paints a chilling picture of the distant future of humanity, both in terms of how and where we’ve gone as a species.

To many, the story is as much a warning as it is entertainment; when you tone down a lot of the fantastical elements, you’re left with an eerie reflection of the state of our world. “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” is a fascinating story from start to finish that really delves into what it means to be human. Though the story of a dystopian future may have been tread over and over, this is one that really sets the pace for the rest.