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YEAR IN LIT: A small assortment of Bay Area book highlights from 2010


Rebecca Solnit's Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas (University of California Press, 158 pages, $24.95) is one of the best ideas a writer has come up with in a long time. By combining private and public support, Solnit was able to give away portions of the atlas in full-color, full-spread map handouts. (My favorite tracked both famous/infamous queer public spaces and the migration of butterflies throughout the city.). In the process, she also gave lectures in public spaces, providing a public service in the name of history and inclusion before dropping this tome on the book-buying masses. Gent Sturgeon's version of a city-fied Rorschach alone is worth the price of the ticket. From insect habitats to serial killers, Zen Buddhist centers to the culture wars of the Fillmore and South of Market that some call redevelopment; Solnit and her cadre of artists, writers, cartographers, and researchers — Chris Carlsson, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, and Mona Caron among them — give us the infinite depths and limitless potential that can be found in 49 square miles. (D. Scot Miller)

A lot of good and even great books came from the Bay Area this year, but one stands out: a book of poetry, Cedar Sigo's Stranger in Town (City Lights, 100 pages, $13.95). He is a young writer who improves dramatically each time I hear him read, and his poetry and critical writing are among the wonders of our age. And of the age before, since through him speak the dead poets David Rattray, John Wieners, Robert Creeley, Denton Welch, Philip Whalen, Salvador Dali, Jean Cocteau, Eartha Kitt, Raymond Roussel, Lorine Niedecker, and Cole Porter. When new writers come to San Francisco, they ask me if I've met Cedar Sigo. If they don't know Sigo's work, then I hand them a copy of the new collection. Don't have to say much, I just step back a little to avoid the stars and diamonds and apples popping out of their eyes like toast from a toaster, because this crazy work is that crazy good. (Kevin Killian)

Compared with the prosaic grind of the inner city, the Sunset can seem like a — albeit foggy — vacation. Wide streets, surf breaks, dunes fit to get lost in: the neighborhood is just right for an offbeat bohemian getaway. But maybe those are just the reverberations of the past, which western neighborhood historian Woody LaBounty has dug up in Carville-by-the-Sea (Outside Lands Media, 144 pages, $35). This coffee table book illustrates the lives of the Sunset's first modern-day inhabitants, who constructed a seaside village of retired street cars to inhabit back in the days before the N-Judah. Colorized at times for an Oz-like effect, the photos LaBounty digs up to illustrate "Cartown" reveal a community of artists, families, and enthusiasts — even a women's cycling club — amid an untamed, oscillating sandscape. Those converted SoMa warehouse apartments suddenly don't seem quite so rugged, do they now? (Caitlin Donohue)