The Loma Prietan - July/August 2010

Book Review

California's Best edited by Peter Fish

by Andrea Winden

When you read California's Best, Two Centuries of Great Writing about the Golden State, you will visit the landscapes, cultures, and history that we call home in a way that is deeply personal and meaningful. Peter Fish has selected the works of forty-one journalists, novelists, and poets, from the mid-1800s to the present, who deliver their stories, poems, and essays on what it means to live in California.

This is a great book to have lying in a place where you often sit and pick up something to read. Selections are short and substantial. You can go region by region: The Pacific, The Mountains, The Valleys, San Francisco Bay, and Los Angeles. Or flip through until you find authors you know and want to meet again: Robert Louis Stevenson, John Steinbeck, or Jack London. Or skip to a Gary Snyder poem to transport you to the Sierra or a Robinson Jeffers poem to take you to Big Sur. Some may start the day with the Sports section and some with Anne Lamott's hilarious description of a certain Marin County town. However you read it, you will always go back and make sure you have read every entry because they are classic markers of a Californian's life. Some selections will resonate with your personal experience. For me, it is Harriet Doerr's "Low Tide at Four," which captures a transcendent scene at the beach. Another piece takes you back 150 years to immerse you in a gripping account of William Lewis Manly's 1849 journey out of Death Valley in search of water and supplies for his immigrant party.

Perhaps what makes this anthology so powerful is the way it connects the reader to known and often beloved places and then tells a story. Whether you are a history buff or a poet, a native Californian or a newcomer, California's Best pulls the vastness of California's beauty and culture together into a cohesive and satisfying experience.

Andrea Winden is a Loma Prieta Chapter member.