Saturday, September 26, 2009

Aloha, nui loa

It's official - i've got just 45 minutes left on the clock and then it's off to the Big Island of Hawaii for two weeks of fun in the sun!

I've narrowed my beach reading list down to three titles which should cover most of the bases, but I'm wondering if anyone has a suggestion that might augment this short list? Buzzsaw loved Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and I've heard nothing but the ravest of reviews for both the 2008 Booker Prize Winner, White Tiger and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Is there anything else out there that would really go well with sunscreen and a Mai Tai?

Certainly, if I hadn't already read Doug Dorst's Alive in Necropolis, it would make the trek. But since I have, I'm really looking forward to a great event happening on the eve of my return from paradise. I'll be working with the SFPL at The Page Bar on Monday Oct. 12th from 6-8PM when we host Mr. Dorst for an evening of themed cocktails, tarot card readings and who knows what else. 21up, please. The Page Bar inspired a bar in the book, so you know it's da ono, brah!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Local History

Green Apple Books is located in the Inner Richmond. I live in the Outer Richmond, the outsidelands as it was once know, long before there was a music festival of that name rocking Golden Gate Park every summer. The area was called the outsidelands for a good reason- for the first 50 years of San Francisco history, there wasn't much out here but sand dunes and fog. Mark Twain described an 1864 venture to the outsidelands this way: "The wind was cold and benumbing, and blew with such force that we could hardly make headway against it. It came straight from the ocean, and I think there are icebergs out there somewhere. True, there was not much dust, because the gale blew it all to Oregon in two minutes... From the moment we left the stable, almost, the fog was so thick that we could scarcely see fifty yards behind or before, or overhead; and for a while, as we approached the Cliff House, we could not see the horse at all, and were obliged to steer by his ears." That sounds familiar. Maybe it was on this journey through the outsidelands that he didn't say that the coldest winter he ever spent was here in San Francisco.

Anyway, I picked up that Twain story and a whole lot more when I got lost in Mary Germain Hountalas's The San Francisco Cliff House. It is an illustrated history of that famous tourist destination, along with Sutro Heights and the Sutro Baths. Filled with plenty of stories and pictures I'd never seen before, I've lost precious hours browsing through it. For example, did you know that in the early 1860s, a tightrope walker strung a rope from the Cliff House to Seal Rock?

Another book of local history that just came to us is Carville-by-the-Sea, by local historian Woody LaBounty, who runs the outsidelands website. For those of you not in the know, Carville was a squatters camp built from old transit cars in the 1890s near the Southwest corner of Golden Gate Park. I haven't had a chance to dig through this obeauty yet, but it is illustrated with lots or rare color and b&w photos. We're doing an event with Woody on November 11 here at the store.

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Go Back to Punk School, Bro"

Someone came in to the store not too long ago and asked if I had ever read Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. When I said that I had not the customer, near swooning, dramatically responded "Oh my GOD, you HAVE to read it! IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE." Well, though some of the reviews I've read have made bits of Gilbert's spiritual journey sound intriguing to me, I do doubt that I personally would find it life changing. My interests lie elsewhere and currently, as a twenty-six year old male, am quite certain that it is not the book for me. However, the enthusiasm of said customer got me thinking. What do I consider a life changing book? What piece of literature had the deepest impact on me as I was growing into this body that I now sheepishly call a man? What?!

I'd love, love, to answer that question a number of different ways. I'd love to tell everyone that a Henry Miller novel made me strap on my druthers and began me pounding away at the artistic canon, or that reading Sartre or Hobbes did more for me than what they did (got me bummed out on mankind). No, to be perfectly honest with myself, after digging through a deep mental landfill of open and shut books, I selected what may have been the first (somewhat embarrassing) life changing book that I can remember reading.

Yup. There it is. Aaron Cometbus' Double Duce. I was maybe fourteen or fifteen when I went to Berkeley for the first time without parents, just getting in to punk and rap and all that represented a counter culture that I wanted to be affiliated with. I found Double Duce on the ground, and I remember the last ten pages of the book were unreadable, looking like they had been partially eaten. Still though, I plowed through what I could of it in a day or two. It was the first time I had ever read any madness fueled, system rejecting sort of memoir that hit so close to home. Yeah, I'd read some Hunter S. Thompson and I'd been introduced to Down and Out in Paris and London by and older friend, but those still seemed far out of touch with the life I was living. Cometbus struck my mid-teenage mind with both familiar scenery as well as a somewhat unpolished vigor for what he was doing that seemed much more realistic and honest than anything else that I was reading at the time.

There is much writing that excited me a decade ago that I certainly cannot picture myself hunching over again anytime soon. Salinger for example, though important to me at one time, and I still say everyone should read at some point, is an author that I would be hard pressed to revisit at this age. Cometbus' however, is one I can still revisit. I am still taken in the arms of nostalgia, I am still always excited to read about the near and dear subculture of the Bay Area. The fact that he's still cranking out zines certainly doesn't hurt either of course. If you're interested in starting on some of his work I'd recommend his second most recent release at this point (and a staff pick at Green Apple) The Loneliness of the Electric Menorah, which deals primarily with the (pretty comical) history of some of our favorite Bay Area businesses, such as Moe's Books, Rasputin Records, Shambhala Publications, etc.

NOW- I want to wrap this entry up and all, but since it is rapidly aiming itself toward a particular interest of mine, I'm going to make few quick nods toward some Bay Area punk culture related events and then go home and go to bed.

Gimme' Something Better comes out at the end of this month. I read the galley when it was sent to the store and I have to say that it is an awesome and exciting read, whether you're in to the music or the scene or not. It's weird to think about what all the punks are doing behind your back. On the twelfth of October there will be a release party at Broadway Studios, which Green Apple will have some participation in. You can find out more about it here.

Another event worth mentioning (and this one's free!) is one of the current exhibits at the SF downtown library: Punk Passage San Francisco First Wave Punk 1977-1981. Check out the info on the SFPL website: here.

Okay. Thank you. Green Apple loves you. Now goodnight.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Life...A User's Manual

When you see the happy-go-lucky man in the picture below, or read the often times hilarious works of Georges Perec, you wouldn't think that he was orphaned at the age of 8 in France. His parents were Polish Jews who emigrated to France in the 1920's where his father was killed fighting in World War II & his mother most likely was killed at Auschwitz.

Somehow all that helped shape the writer Perec would become.

In 1967 Perec joined the French writing group known as Oulipo- started by Raymond Queneau & Fran├žois Le Lionnais- which included the likes of Italo Calvino & Jacques Roubaud.

Life A User's Manual was the last of Perec's works before he died of cancer in 1982 & it is epic. Paul Auster says, "Those who have a taste for the unusual, for books that create worlds unto themselves, will be dazzled by this crazy-quilt monument to the imagination." As good of a quote as that is, it falls short of explaining just how beautiful & special Life is.

As an ergodic novel, it is one of the most beautiful. Authors who are the best in this field, to give you an idea of what I mean, are James Joyce, Flann O'Brien, Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire, & the writings of Jorge Luis Borges. These are authors who masterfully own the written word, & Perec is one of my now favorites.

Life is a puzzle of the lives & rooms in
an apartment block in the XVIIth arrondissement of Paris where a single moment (8:00 pm June 23, 1975) begins to unfold the histories of generations of families. We are introduced to small moments & artifacts that make up so many lives, sometimes tragic, sometimes ordinary, but in some way always touching & intimate.

Perec has created a world that recreates the world. It recreates art, history, literature, & humanity. & there is definitely something very humane in the way he has done it.

This new updated version from Godine Publishers (as well as matching all of Perec's other books, making quite a handsome collection on your shelves) is a beautiful, sharpened edition. It may seem overwhelming, but it is a truly enjoyable experience.