Once you learn to read you will be forever free - Frederick Douglass

Saturday, January 29, 2011

My Favorite Things 2011 - Heyday Books

The Obsessive Reader truly appreciates beautiful books about the Golden State of California, its history, hidden narratives, literature, native peoples, urban cultures and natural world. That's what Heyday Books has been delivering for nearly forty years from its publishing home in Berkeley.  It is run by one of the most polymathic, eccentric, brilliant, big-hearted geniuses I know, founder and publisher Malcolm Margolin.  

Malcolm Margolin publisher Heyday Books
(I admit this image of Malcolm looks a bit as if he's been irradiated, probably it's just an overexposed slide, or it could be that saintly light he seems to hold within himself - really).  

I am making my way through the riches of A STATE OF CHANGE , a work of "historical ecology," paintings based on the educated, delicate observations of artist and naturalist Laura Cunningham who traveled the state "with paintbox in hand" exploring landscapes, habitats and forms of life to tell us about our past and possibly our future. The book has been called visionary and it is just that on all levels, because of the ways Cunningham has of imaginatively seeing what has remained and what has disappeared from the earth.

You can visit Heyday Book's website and Heyday Book's Facebook pages to learn about its catalog and order books.  To give you a sense of the wonders in store, here is a list of some of my favorite titles:

Frozen Music: A Literary Exploration of California ArchitectureEdited by David Chu; Foreword by John King

The Harvest Gypsies: On the Road to the Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck; Introduction by Charles Wollenberg

I first discovered Heyday fifteen years ago, when I found a slim paperback called THE HARVEST GYPSIES. It's seven articles by John Steinbeck originally published in the San Francisco News, between October 5 and October 12, 1936 on migrant workers pouring into California's agricultural Central Valley during the Great Depression.  This was three years before he published his masterpiece, THE GRAPES OF WRATH.  He lived in the workers camps, his eyewitness reporting laying the groundwork for his testimony in a novel that won the Pulitzer Prize.

Steinbeck Sidebar

The Obsessive Reader has been a sucker for John Steinbeck since I wrote a book report on THE GRAPES OF WRATH in junior high school.  Even now I think what gorgeous prose he wrote, how his books were best-sellers, proving that there are times when the good, beautiful and worthy can be popular.  When Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for literature, American critics, asked, "Why?" The critical establishment never gave him his due, perhaps because people enjoyed reading him.  Perhaps because Steinbeck wrestled with social and political issues in his novels.  In some ways the critics were akin to the conservative Kern County, California Board of Supervisors who banned THE GRAPES OF WRATH the year it was published, afraid of inflaming the populace in one of the areas hardest hit by the influx of Dust Bowl refugees.  We could use a novelists like Steinbeck now - willing to witness our society.  See what he wrote seventy years ago in Chapter Five of THE GRAPES OF WRATH about the banks that were behind the ecological and human disaster in the Dust bowl:

The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it.They breathe profits; they eat the interest on money. If they don't get it, they die the way you die without air, without side-meat. 
Of course, there's a famous  movie with Henry Fonda based on the novel, and now a famous Bruce Springsteen song, but do yourself a favor read the book, savor it in all its long form prophetically-inspired, truth-induced glory.

Back to Heyday Books
Engaged writing, illuminating the world around us, exposing us to the unorthodox and original, this is an honorable tradition in every part of the world.  Fortunately, it is the kind of writing brought to us by Heyday Books.  It's a heroic enterprise, by all the folks involved with Heyday, to continue its work for the rest of us, especially those of us who are obsessive readers.

Friday, January 21, 2011

What kind of civilisation closes its libraries, for fuck's sake? Quote, unquote

Alas, the shuttering of public libraries continues worldwide, as evidenced in the Quinquireme
blog about lovely, remote Penryn, Cornwall, in the U.K.  To quote:
"where will the Blue Kitten get her Turn-the-Wheel with Spot books from now?" and "what kind of civilisation closes its libraries, for fuck's sake", and "there goes another community focal point" and "how can we expect standards of literacy to rise if this is the kind of thing we let happen?"

Poet Allen Ginsberg asked, "America, why are your libraries so full of tears?"

At least, in the city of Los Angeles, voters have the opportunity to pass ballot Measure L that will  revise the City Charter to increase the percentage of assessed property taxes dedicated to Library funding.  As supporters note, this is not a tax, just an expansion of a requirement in existence since 1878.  The Obsessive Reader will check back after the L.A. election March 8th to report on victory!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And I promise next post to list some of my FAVORITE things, including wonderful, independent book publishers and literary delights.

Happy New Year!