The best books about Northern California

9 authors have picked their favorite books about Northern California and why they recommend each book.

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From Counterculture to Cyberculture

By Fred Turner,

Book cover of From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism

Beginning with Steward Brand’s influence through his projects like The Whole Earth Catalog, the WELL, and Wired magazine, this book examines the unique culture of Silicon Valley. An essential history and one that clarifies the tech industry’s seemingly contradictory values of revolution and corporate power.

Who am I?

Joanne McNeil has written about internet culture for over fifteen years. Her book considers the development of the internet from a user's perspective since the launch of the World Wide Web. Her interest in digital technology spans from the culture that enabled the founding of major companies in Silicon Valley to their reception in broader culture.

I wrote...

Lurking: How a Person Became a User

By Joanne McNeil,

Book cover of Lurking: How a Person Became a User

What is my book about?

A concise but wide-ranging personal history of the internet from the point of view of the user. 

In a shockingly short amount of time, the internet has bound people around the world together and torn us apart and changed not just the way we communicate but who we are and who we can be. It has created a new, unprecedented cultural space that we are all a part of—even if we don’t participate, that is how we participate—but by which we’re continually surprised, betrayed, enriched, befuddled. We have churned through platforms and technologies and in turn been churned by them. And yet, the internet is us and always has been. In Lurking, Joanne McNeil digs deep and identifies the primary (if sometimes contradictory) concerns of people online: searching, safety, privacy, identity, community, anonymity, and visibility. 

Sentinel of the Seas

By Dennis M. Powers,

Book cover of Sentinel of the Seas: Life and Death at the Most Dangerous Lighthouse Ever Built

St. George Reef Lighthouse is located about six miles off Point St. George on the coast of Northern California, not far from the Oregon border. It is built atop, and partly chiseled into, a massive wave-swept rock. Finished in 1892, St. George Reef took roughly a decade to build, at a cost of $752,000, making it far and away the most expensive lighthouse ever built in the United States. The dramatic history of this iconic lighthouse—replete with engineering feats and tragic deaths—is well-told by Powers, who provides one of the best profiles of a single lighthouse ever written. 

Who am I?

I grew up near the coasts of New York and Connecticut, and since an early age I was fascinated by the natural world, especially the ocean. I have held a variety of jobs, including stints as a fisheries policy analyst at the National Marine Fisheries Service, a program manager at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and an environmental consultant stateside and in London. Throughout my career, one thing remained constant: I enjoyed writing and telling stories. I am the author of 14 non-fiction books on American history, including Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America’s Most Notorious Pirates, and Leviathan: The History of American Whaling.

I wrote...

Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse

By Eric Jay Dolin,

Book cover of Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse

What is my book about?

Brilliant Beacons is the most comprehensive history of American lighthouses ever written, telling the story of America through the prism of its beloved coastal sentinels. Set against the backdrop of an expanding nation, it traces the evolution of America’s lighthouse system, highlighting the political, military, and technological battles fought to illuminate the nation’s hardscrabble coastlines. In rollicking detail, Brilliant Beacons treats readers to a memorable cast of characters including the penny-pinching Treasury official Stephen Pleasonton, who hamstrung the country’s efforts to adopt the revolutionary “Fresnel Lens,” and presents tales both humorous and harrowing of soldiers, saboteurs, ruthless egg collectors, and most importantly, the light-keepers themselves. Richly supplemented with over 120 photographs and illustrations.


By Nevada Barr,

Book cover of Firestorm

I tore through this gripping mystery, set in the world of wildlands firefighting, in one sitting. I felt like I was on the fire line with the characters, could feel the heat of the blaze. With the terrible fires that have been raging lately in the west, if readers want to get a feel for the obstacles, sheer bravery, and fear firefighters face battling a wildlands blaze, this book is a must-read. The mystery plot, clever and twisting, kept me guessing, while the main character, national park ranger Anna Pigeon, is a stalwart, strong character I could truly get behind.

Who am I?

In addition to being a writer, I’m also a wildlife researcher and therefore spend a lot of time in wild, remote areas. Using a variety of methods including bioacoustic studies, I undertake wildlife surveys to determine what species are present on lands that have been set aside for conservation. I ensure there are no signs of poaching and devise of ways to improve habitat. I have surveyed for the presence of grizzlies, wolves, spotted owls, wolverines, jaguars, endangered bats, and more. These remote settings inspired me to write my current thriller series about a wildlife biologist who encounters dangerous situations while working to protect endangered species.

I wrote...

A Solitude of Wolverines: A Novel of Suspense

By Alice Henderson,

Book cover of A Solitude of Wolverines: A Novel of Suspense

What is my book about?

While studying wolverines on a wildlife sanctuary in Montana, biologist Alex Carter is run off the road and threatened by locals determined to force her off the land. Undeterred, Alex tracks wolverines on foot and by cameras positioned in remote regions of the preserve. But when she reviews the photos, she discovers disturbing images of a severely injured man seemingly lost and wandering in the wilds.

After searches for the unknown man come up empty, local law enforcement is strangely set on dismissing the case altogether. Alex realizes too late that she has seen too much—she's stumbled onto a far-reaching illegal operation and has become the biggest threat. Alex’s life now depends on using all she knows to win the brutal battle for survival.

The Dogs of Winter

By Kem Nunn,

Book cover of The Dogs of Winter

I discovered this book when I had just started surfing, and it blew me away – so there could be great fiction about extreme sports! I loved the grittiness, the foreboding noir feel, and the unusual setting. It was part of the inspiration for Powder Burn, although they are very different books.

Who am I?

I started climbing and running around the hills in my teens, got into boats, became a professional sailor for twenty years, then took up surfing at thirty and snowboarding at forty. There’s something special about playing with gravity, whether it’s sliding down hills or waves, or defying it on a mountain face. All these books capture the thrill and the dangers.

I wrote...

Powder Burn

By Mark Chisnell,

Book cover of Powder Burn

What is my book about?

Sam had given up her Manhattan job and flown off to chase her dream of becoming an investigative journalist. Three months later, alone in a soulless internet café, she’s facing some cold, hard facts; she’s unpublished, unhappy, and broke. And right then, the gorgeous Pete Halland blows into her life – headed for the mythical Powder Burn mountain to write history and blast into legend. 

If she throws in her lot with Pete it could rescue her dreams, but he’s holding back some crucial information – the question for Sam is... what? Soon, Sam is up to her neck in snow and the weather is the least of her problems; lost in a secretive Himalayan kingdom with – what could be – a magic sword and a simmering and potentially bloody revolution.

Alive in Necropolis

By Doug Dorst,

Book cover of Alive in Necropolis

This, Dorst’s first novel, adopts the trappings of a police procedural but is at heart a character drama seasoned with elements of the supernatural. It follows the fortunes of a rookie cop in the “cemetery city” of  Colma, California, whose charges, he quickly discovers, include both the living and the dead. Recommended if you like your ghosts eerie and your human beings haunted not only by wakeful spirits but by their own personal blunders and false starts.

Who am I?

I’ve written and published one hundred very short ghost stories, plus a handful of longer ones, and have spent a lifetime reading and watching and thinking about stories of ghosts and the afterlife. My expertise, such as it is, involves ghosts as beings of narrative and metaphor. I’ve encountered great numbers of them on the page and on the screen—nowhere else—but I confess that I would love someday (though don’t expect) to encounter them in the flesh. My flesh, that is to say; their fleshlessness.

I wrote...

The Ghost Variations: One Hundred Stories

By Kevin Brockmeier,

Book cover of The Ghost Variations: One Hundred Stories

What is my book about?

A spirit who is fated to spend eternity reliving the exact moment she lost her chance at love, ghostly trees that haunt the occupant of a wooden house, specters that snatch anyone who steps into the shadows, and parakeets that serve as mouthpieces for the dead—these are just a few of the characters in this extraordinary compendium of one hundred ghost stories. Kevin Brockmeier’s fiction has always explored the space between the fantastical and everyday with profundity and poignancy. Like his previous books, The Ghost Variations discovers new ways of looking at who we are and what matters to us, exploring how mysterious, sad, strange, and comical it is to be alive—or, as it happens, not to be.

Watch Over Me

By Nina Lacour,

Book cover of Watch Over Me

There’s something about the paranormal slant of this book that allows it to highlight so much of the journey from ignoring the past and moving forward, to re-remembering the past and learning to accept it and move forward with it rather than running away from the events that shape us.

Brilliant writing. Great for anyone who has gone into a new situation feeling completely out of place. Deals with PTSD/Repressed memories in such a thoughtful way.

Who am I?

I’m a teacher turned author. I’ve spent hours in middle and high schools watching students struggle because they couldn’t get the support they need. And hours listening to the experiences of child and adult victims my husband brought home from work. When we as a society begin to treat mental illness as simply illness, we’ll be on the right track to giving our society the support it needs.

I wrote...

Stronger Than You Know

By Jolene Perry,

Book cover of Stronger Than You Know

What is my book about?

I wrote Stronger Than You Know because we don’t talk often enough about what happens after the rescue. At fifteen, Joy has been “rescued” from her abusive mother and is desperately struggling to find a new normal in a house and family that feel too perfect to be real. My inspiration came from the heartbreaking cases my husband brought home from his job as a prosecutor and victim’s advocate. The trauma isn’t over when the trauma ends—healing takes time, no matter how ideal the new situation is.

Drop City

By T.C. Boyle,

Book cover of Drop City

This novel encapsulates my two loves; a fracturing society and the wilderness. Partially inspired by a real 60s commune, the storyline takes a turn when its free-loving hippies are ousted from their eternal summer of love. Lured by the promise of land and lack of authoritarian oversight, they pack up a school bus and head for Alaska. The characters quickly find that living truly ‘back to nature’ is much harsher and more deadly than they had imagined. Their struggle to adapt makes for unmissable scenes of both man’s inhumanity and solidarity.

Drop City shines where misogyny meets free love and California dreams crash-land in the Alaskan wilderness.

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by wild and lonely places since early childhood. Growing up in a small village, there were plenty to choose from. Foraging and an interest in the medicinal properties of plants grew out of that fascination, and later brought me to survival guides and the concept of survival itself. Hostile places, historical skills, and wilderness experiences all have a hold over my imagination. The notion of being prepared for humanity’s decline is something I find endlessly intriguing. Can such a thing be prepared for? What form will our destruction take and how does this affect the methods we need to survive it? I’ll probably keep reading and writing about it until we have an answer.

I wrote...


By Sarah Goodwin,

Book cover of Stranded

What is my book about?

Stranded is the story of a reality show gone wrong on a remote Scottish island. Disasters and dissent leave Maddy, an outcast botanist, in a fight for survival against the elements and her fellow islanders. Extreme cold, starvation, poisonous plants, and a local legend of a witch all feature in this tale of survival and isolation. 


By Raina Telgemeier,

Book cover of Ghosts: A Graphic Novel

I love how Raina reaches out of her largely autobiographical work and delves into the world of spirituality and folklore. There’s also the very realistic, dire, and looming “ghost” of the character Maya’s cystic fibrosis. In the story, Raina masterfully weaves reality and fantasy. It’s an engaging journey about overcoming fear with the help of family and friends. And, as all her books are, it’s beautifully illustrated. As someone with a pretty strong spiritual bent, this book really resonates with me.

Who am I?

I’ve always been drawn to comics. I started out as a humorous card writer, and later I became a syndicated cartoonist and author. I collect graphic novels of all kinds and I appreciate the unique talent that goes into the collaborative marriage of writing and art. I especially love stories told with humor, and these types of books lend themselves so well to that. And, boy, do kids appreciate it, too (guess I’m still a kid at heart). As someone who’s read many, many middle grade graphic and illustrated novelsfor blurbs, reference, as well as for pleasure—I feel like an expert by now. I hope you enjoy these books as much as I have!

I wrote...

Remarkably Ruby

By Terri Libenson,

Book cover of Remarkably Ruby

What is my book about?

Ruby and Mia are total opposites. Ruby: A little awkward. Not a “joiner”. Loves to write poetry. Mia: Type A. Popular-ish. Wants to be class prez.

They used to be friends. But now they have nothing in common anymore… Or do they? Remarkably Ruby is a story about how there’s more to everyone than meets the eye. It is the sixth book in New York Times bestselling author Terri Libenson’s popular Emmie & Friends series.

Virgin River

By Robyn Carr,

Book cover of Virgin River

I’d be terribly remiss if I didn’t hit on the ultimate small-town series. If you haven’t fallen in love with Virgin River yet, what are you waiting for? The charm of the locale and the townspeople elevate Carr’s mega-hit saga from sweet romance to sweeping, irresistible drama for fans of various genres.

Who am I?

I love drawing gorgeous, interesting settings. Ever since my parents drove my brother and me across America to visit our cousins in Michigan, I have found myself enchanted by everything from sweet small-towns to pit stops with lots of potential for drama. I have always felt that setting can be its own character. With its bright, sunny suburbs and its dark, shadowy back-alleys, the setting is the centerpiece of any great story.

I wrote...

Home to Brambleberry Creek

By Sarah Elizabeth Bromke,

Book cover of Home to Brambleberry Creek

What is my book about?

Morgan Jo Coyle has been trying to escape her past but when she receives a heart-breaking call from her mother, telling her that her Memaw Essie is on her deathbed, Morgan drops everything to go home to the small town of Brambleberry Creek and face her family—before it’s too late.

Stepping through the door of the charming old farmhouse, Morgan is reminded of all the happy times she spent there. It’s not long before her childhood sweetheart, Emmett Dawson comes to find her. Morgan can’t deny her attraction to him. But Emmett is now a successful lawyer, getting rich with his smart-talking in court. He’s nothing like the kind boy who used to make her laugh… is he?

The Wild Trees

By Richard Preston,

Book cover of The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring

Before Richard Powers’s bestseller The Overstory, there was The Wild Trees. We love our trees in Cascadia—three of the world’s tallest tree species grow here. We’ve also harvested the hell out of them; just a small fraction of the biggest, oldest trees remain unlogged. Preston’s book about coast redwoods and the people who study, climb, and live among them is not only compelling journalism but a kind of memoir and, I’d venture to say, love story. I read it while hiking the Oregon Coast Trail, then gave it to a southbound cyclist I met at a campground on the state’s southern coast who was about to ride into the redwoods. He left it out in the rain. Bad move.

Who am I?

I love the quirky, restless Pacific Northwest, also known as Cascadia, my home bioregion. Nonfiction is my jam, but I enjoy stories both unreal and real (stealing and tweaking Oregon author Ursula Le Guin’s use of the terms). I’m also an avid hiker. I’ve often wondered how I could provide folks heading here to hike the 400-mile Oregon Coast Trail (another passion of mine) with my personal book list introducing them to this landscape and its history, human and natural. Here is a start.

I wrote...

The Next Tsunami: Living on a Restless Coast

By Bonnie Henderson,

Book cover of The Next Tsunami: Living on a Restless Coast

What is my book about?

A surprise tsunami, thought to be the first. A 300-year-old tsunami, rediscovered. Ancient stories echoing evidence that scientists—independently, in different parts of Cascadia—almost simultaneously stumble upon. A fault line whose next earthquake—due any day now—scientists expect will be nothing short of apocalyptic. And at the center of the story, a geologist trying to figure out what it all means, to him and to his hometown of Seaside, Oregon, the town with perhaps the most to lose in the next convulsion of the Cascadia Subduction Zone. It’s all true, but I think you’ll find, as others have, that it reads like fiction.

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