John Leonard Nominations

Leonard Prize 2020: Home Baked

By Marion Winik

NBCC members: If you’d like to contribute a review of an eligible book for the 2020 Leonard Prize, write to NBCC board member Megan Labrise at Read the rest of the reviews here.

Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco by Alia Volz (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco is a delightful debut memoir by Alia Volz, whose mother ran a hugely successful pot brownie business in the 1970s. The book is both a lively and well-written chronicle of an unusual childhood and an insightful cultural history of the Bay Area. At a time when one plant could send you to jail, Volz’s mother built a business serving a bustling community of hippies and buskers, artists and actors, restaurateurs and shopkeepers. By the time she closed Sticky Fingers for good, AIDS was devastating that community and the brownies had become medicine.

There are many jaw-dropping aspects of this book, but one of them is that every decision Volz’s parents made in building a 10,000-brownie-per-month business was based on consulting the I Ching. It worked amazingly well in keeping them out of trouble as the character of the city changed after the Milk and Moscone assassinations, the riots that followed them, and other historic events Volz details. Also noteworthy is her cheerful attitude about having been raised in such a drug-soaked environment. From infancy, she was surrounded by adults in altered states, and when she was old enough, she was drafted to help with the brownies. Yet she grew up feeling loved and even safe, and describes the parenting she received as “alternative” rather than deficient. Her mother belonged to a group of “artists and writers and activists exploring new concepts in child-rearing, determined to raise kids without sacrificing their own dreams — a revolutionary notion for women who’d grown up in 1950s households.”

Volz supplements her engaging story with family photographs and images of the illustrated bags used for brownie delivery. “If all the world’s a stage,” reads the caption on one of them, “San Francisco is the cast party.” If you are a fan of Erik Larsen’s The Devil in the White City, a social history which reads like a novel, definitely try Home Baked. I mean the book. I think.