Brightside Books: Sharks, Widowers, Shapeshifters and Happiness

September Brightside Booklist


The Outsider by Stephen King

I love Stephen King. BUT, you know how sometimes when you read his books, you finish and say to yourself, Did I actually like that? I mean, I read the whole 5,342 pages, so I must like it, right? I don’t know. The Outsider, though? I loved it. It was a murder mystery wrapped in with the supernatural and it kept me wondering what the hell was going on until the very end. Instead of explaining, though, here is a quote from the book:

“Jack didn’t know how long he stood there, unable to move. It might have been twenty seconds; it might have been two minutes. The wind blew, tousling his hair and caressing his neck like those long fingers. The shadows of the cottonwoods schooled across the dirt and weeds like fleeing fish. The person–or the thing–stood behind him, its shadow long and thin. Touching and caressing. Then both the fingertips and the shadow were gone.”


Devil’s Teeth by Susan Casey

From the first scene (a seal decapitated by a great white), I was hooked on this memoir/cultural history of shark watching and the Farallon Islands. The Farallon Islands are 27 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge and host of THE largest congregation of great white sharks anywhere on the planet. Every September, thousands of sharks migrate here and scientists post up in a lighthouse and a dilapidated, large shack to study them. From the first scene to the last paragraphs of the author suffering alone on her boat in a storm (NO THANKS), it had my attention, because SHARKS. Brightside Booklist


This Is Not The Story You Think It Is by Laura Munson

“At this moment in my life, I am strangely serene. In fact, I may have never felt more calm. Or more freed. Or more certain that these things owe themselves to a simple choice: to accept life as it is. Even and especially when it really fucking sucks. Even and especially if my husband left last night to go to the dump after announcing that he isn’t sure he loves me anymore…..and nine hours later, still hasn’t come back.”

I really liked this book a lot and I’m serious when I say that since I’ve read it, it has bolstered my opinion that when something bad happens, we have a choice. We can obsess like a psycho/ruminate/jump ahead to the disaster that we KNOW is going to happen OR we can practice accepting what is. If this sounds oversimplified, ridiculous and corny, it’s because it is. But sometimes that’s all we need: SIMPLE. Laura Munson was funny and, although she comes from an admitted place of privilege which has no doubt made her life easier, her problems were straight-up relatable.  Even when I was shouting, “Why doesn’t she fucking leave him already?!!!!” I was still pulling for her.

Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman

I love, love, love when I find random books on the thrift store bookshelf that turn out to be perfect gems. This was one of them. I feel like I wouldn’t do this book justice by trying to express the feelings I felt by reading Francisco’s words about the accidental death of his young wife. The way that he articulated his grief was simple, but impactful and tangible.

This one sentence about his wife packing for their trip, which would be her last, shattered my heart:

“Anna put her quilt away in the closet and came back into the bedroom and finished packing for her death, three weeks and one day away.”

And this one where Francisco contemplates the wave that ultimately killed his wife:

“That night, as we slept, where was Anna’s wave in its long journey to Mazunte? Anna’s wave might easily have gotten its start a week or more before, during a storm in the warm seas of the Indian Ocean, where strong winds consistently blow in one direction. The older a wave is, the more dangerous it is, the height of a wave, its steepness, I read is related to its age…..Where was Anna’s wave that night, as we slept in our bunks in Oaxaca?”


What have you read lately that was amazing/heartwrenching/crappy? Let me know! If you want a FULL list of the books that I recommend, check out this link to 52 of my favorite books.


**And, as usual, you can click on the links to go to Amazon to purchase the books. It doesn’t cost you any extra, I just get a few pennies sent my way.



San Francisco’s Secret Tombstones

I was hangry, it was 11 a.m. and I had already walked 8 miles. I witnessed (with my 6-year-old) someone smoking out of a bong and a bloodied man talking about how he was going to “kick Tyler’s ass.”  But here I was, leaving the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood and ditching my family to trudge up an unkempt path in search of rocks. I had to keep one eye peeled for weirdos lurking behind trees. There was no one around except a maintenance man and what he was maintaining, I’ll never know. The thought of my disappearance ruining my family’s life crossed my mind once or twice.

Secret tombstones in San FranciscoRisking death (and heat stroke) to find San Francisco’s secret tombstones is just what I do, I guess.

So, this is the deal. There are just three cemeteries in San Francisco proper (which I never visited), not counting the Pet Cemetery (I didn’t make it there, either). In order to visit THE cemetery of “San Francisco,” you need to leave town and go to the city of Colma. Colma is a necropolis, holding the remains of approximately 1.5 million people. The dead outnumber the living by a thousand to one.

I first heard of Colma earlier this summer when Eliot and I were watching a show during Shark Week and they spoke about poor Albert Kogler who died of a shark attack in 1959. He was swimming at a beach near the Golden Gate Bridge and, BAM, he was chewed up by a great white shark. Long story short, Eliot and I thought we could swing by the cemetery to say hi to Albert, only to find that he was buried in Colma. *cue the sad trombone*

Okay, Tara, but why are there, like, no cemeteries in San Francisco? In 1900, after San Francisco had started to become really crowded, they outlawed new burials in the city. In 1912, they EVICTED all of the dead bodies and moved most of them to Colma, at a cost of $10 per body and marker. If a family could not afford the fee, the bodies got removed and dumped into mass graves. Now you might be wondering what happened to all of those markers and tombstones (if you weren’t, NOW you are).

The city of San Francisco gathered all of the tombstones, smashed them up and used them in public works. The pathways of most of Buena Vista park were lined with the broken pieces of the markers. I saw grey, white and black stone, over and over again, but I wanted to find one with a name or a date. The grey, white and black stones were like a bread crumb trail leading me to…….more grey, white and black stones. I almost gave up, but at the last second, there they were: “K E. H” and one that said “died,” accompanied by a “59 yrs.”

Seeing these little stones stirred some weird, unexpected feelings of regret for all of these……people? Or these rocks? Who or what was a feeling bad for? I would be lying if I said that I didn’t stand there for a second contemplating all of these discarded people and their gravestones. Why? Because I have to feel bad for everyone (and their rocks) ALL OF THE TIME. It’s exhausting.

Eventually, I started to imagine the boys, sitting outside of the video game store, their patience with my weird obsessions running thin. I said a quick goodbye and returned to the living.

If you ever get a chance, you should stop and check them out, but I won’t tell you where they are. You’ll have to sweat your ass off looking for them yourself. Just beware of that weird maintenance man.