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From Apples to Dates

  • Posted on: 11 November 2013
  • By: readersbooks

Once upon a time when I graduated from high school, my parents gave me a present: they sent me to Israel to work on a kibbutz for the summer. I was eager to go, or at least eager to get out of the confines of their adequate but boring tract home in Pasadena, as any eighteen year-old would be, and looking back on it now, I'm quite sure they were just as eager to be rid of me.


A kibbutz, for those of you unfamiliar, is an Israeli socialist experiment in living and working the land. Kibbutzim (that's the plural) were established in the Palestinian Mandate during the early part of the 20th century to prepare Jews for the task of running a state, also to give them an actual stake in their country-to-be. For hundreds of years in many parts of Europe Jews were not allowed to own land or farm; by law they did not belong, and the kibbutzniks aimed to reverse that tradition. I went to a kibbutz in the Galilee near the Golan Heights, a place called Kfar Hanassi, which translates to Village of the President, although I doubt that any president-Israeli or otherwise-ever spent much time there. The kibbutz had a sprinkling of folks from Poland, Austria and Argentina, I remember, but it was mainly populated by Jews from Britain and assorted British places-Wales, Zambia, Rhodesia, South Africa. Every afternoon at four o'clock things stopped and we all had tea. It was very civilized. The work was another matter: during my three month sojourn, I got up each morning before dawn to pick apples and plums and peaches, or sometimes I packed apples and plums and peaches. Oh, and then there was a period where I washed dishes every day for the four or five hundred stalwarts who lived there. We slept communally and ate communally, and I have to say, on the whole, it was a lot of fun. I came home imbued with a new and deeper sense of my heritage and a good fourteen pounds lighter (a condition my mother sought earnestly to correct).


A few months ago a group of tourists from Israel came into the bookstore, and in the course of things, I mentioned my time at Kfar Hanassi. I know that kibbutz well, one woman responded. You wouldn't recognize it today. When I talked about my time in the orchards picking apples and plums, she shook her head. They can't grow those things much anymore, she said. It's been dry for so long. Now they do dates.


I was shocked. It was such a garden of Eden when I was there. Had the climate changed that drastically in just fifty years? Apparently so. Which brings me to my larger point. When I was a lad fifty years seemed like an unimaginable span of time, but geologically speaking, it's barely a blink. And when we hear now of the polar ice cap melting, we all agree (most of us, anyway) that this is bad, but since very few of us have any connection to the North Pole it doesn't really resonate. This struck me, however. I can still remember that place the way it was. And I can't help but think that maybe until we all have such places in our memory, cherished places that no longer exist, it may be hard to do anything at all about global warming.


Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do

  • Posted on: 2 November 2013
  • By: readersbooks

When I was in elementary school I had a close friend named Clifford. His father was an inventor--I believe he came up with an early device that measured the amount of water in the ground, but I can't recall anything else he might be famous for. The family wasn't rich; they had enough, I suppose, but they never went out to eat and they always seemed to wear the same clothes, year in and year out. Very utilitarian, and this was back in the 1950s, long before the ecology movement, probably even before "sustainability" appeared in Webster's dictionary. Anyway, Cliff and I went to school together, and after school we'd often sit around at his house and throw his ten cent balsa wood glider into the air and try to make it do loops. He also had a kind of pinball game of baseball: you pulled on the knob and it shot a round metal ball through a series of hoops and where it landed, well, that was either a single or a double or a home run or an out. Many happy hours were spent tugging at that knob and sending the little ball hither and yon. And then, when I graduated from the sixth grade he moved away and Clifford went from being a close friend to a distant memory.


He came to mind the other day, however, when I was dredging through our garage, which is stacked high with boxes from our old house. This is stuff that's been tucked away in storage for months-- clothes I will never wear again, books I couldn't bear to read, plates too ancient to soil or clean. In a word, I don't want this stuff. If I could, that is, if I wasn't restrained by the bonds of marriage and nostalgia, I'd gladly set a match to it all. Worse yet, I packed everything in so much bubble wrap that none of it is damaged or broken. It could be worth a fortune; it could also be worthless, and therefore, I have to choose: if it won't fit into our new digs there's Goodwill or the garbage can or the future garage sale. Hats, masks, games, shampoo, umbrellas, pictures and postcards from people I've long forgotten-my whole life comes gurgling up from these wretched boxes.


Clifford, I think, wouldn't have lived this way. He had his foibles, but they didn't seem excessive. I know this because years later, after I got my driver's license, I made a trek out to visit him and his family in their home. It looked very much like their old place. Cliff was older, but even at seventeen, he hadn't changed all that much in my eyes. What did astonish me though, was his possessions: he still had the pinball machine in his room and also-I know you won't believe this --the ten cent glider. And the pinball machine still worked, and damn!--the glider still flew. To his credit, however, Cliff said he didn't use them so much anymore. You know, there comes a time when even a kid must put down his toys and get on with life. That's the big lesson I took away that day.


Now, where did I put those matches?


There's a Word For It

  • Posted on: 1 November 2013
  • By: readersbooks

I'll readily admit it, I don't have any hard numbers to go by, and in any case, I habitually fly by the seat of my pants, but it feels to me like we're coming through an exceptionally tumultuous period. A banner year or two for some perhaps, but brutal years for many others. I think about Hurricane Sandy and all those tiny kids gunned down in Connecticut, not to mention the ones killed in the movie house in Colorado. I think about the noise and hatred surrounding President Obama and his health care initiative, of the arrogance and plain stupidity of some officials which led to the government shut down and 800,00 federal workers suddenly -needlessly in my view--thrown out of work. That's the news on the macro level; when you drill down, as they say, when you talk to individuals here in Sonoma, it seems like everyone knows someone who has very recently lost a job or a spouse or their home, or maybe all three.


I don't subscribe to the astrologic view which puts Mercury in retrograde and therefore there's nothing you can do about anything. Bad things happen, sure, but we are not helpless, no matter how the stars align.


Which brings me to my main point: since this has been such a dire time, our obligation as human beings is not to retreat into our shells, but to dig deeper, to do more to rebalance the scales of justice. I say justice and not charity, because I recall from my days in hebrew school that there was always a sharp distinction drawn between the two. In fact, Hebrew has no word that I know of for charity. Charity derives from the Latin, caritas, meaning love. When you practice charity, in other words, you give out of love. Which is fine, if that's the way you feel. But in my reality, very few people give a dollar to a homeless person because they love him. No, the reason for giving is because you see that you live in an unjust world, that bad things could happen to you and one day you could conceivably find yourself sitting slumped on a sidewalk with a cardboard sign. The word that's used most often for charity in Hebrew therefore,tzedaka, actually means justice. You give to help restore justice in the world; you give because it's wrong for some folks to dine on caviar while outside the gates, others starve.

 This year, in that spirit, we are commencing our annual Book Stars program on November 1st instead of the usual Thanksgiving. We'd like you to start thinking about all those kids in our community who don't have books to read, who may never have enough spare cash to buy a book of their own, and what you can do to rectify that situation. We're hoping that by starting early, more of you will donate and we will end the year with box loads of books for needy children in Sonoma Valley. For those of you unfamiliar with Book Stars, here's the deal: you buy a children's book (any children's book) and donate it back to us. We pack them in boxes and before Christmas we distribute them to charitable organizations in the Valley. La Luz, the Teen Pregnant Moms, etc. all have benefited in the past. They wrap the books and distribute them to the families they serve. For your generosity you get a warm, fuzzy feeling knowing you've helped a child discover the magic of books, you get your name and/or a star on our wall here at Readers' for every book you buy, and, on New Year's Day, at our annual party, we select two stars at random and award those lucky customers a $50 gift certificate to a certain bookstore I could name.


Call it charity. Call it justice. Call it whatever you like, but think of it as something you can do to make the world a better place. Then do it.  



World Book Night Sign-ups

  • Posted on: 27 October 2013
  • By: readersbooks

For the past two years we have been participating in World Book Night-- April 23rd--the one day a year when readers all over the country (and world) give away free copies of books to encourage non-readers to give reading a try. The list of books that will be available to 'gift' has been announced and the World Book website is now accepting applications for "givers".

We encourage you to look at to find out more about how you can become a 'book giver'. If you do sign up be sure to list Readers' Books as the store where you will pick up your box of books. Even if you don't think you want to give away free books take a look at the website and see the interesting list of books that will be offered. Excellent choices as there is something for everyone--how many have you read?

Because Hostility Has No Place Here

  • Posted on: 27 October 2013
  • By: readersbooks

Some of you may be wondering why I haven't yet commented on the recent shut down of the U.S. Government and the near debt ceiling debacle. To tell the truth, I've been wanting to talk about it, I mean, I've talked to myself about it endlessly, ranted about it in the car while driving, screamed about it, shouted, cursed, all of that. But privately, you know. And the reason is not because I fear I will offend any Republicans who still shop at the bookstore-there are a few, I'm sure, who do, and I applaud them all for their courage and fair-mindedness-no, the reason I've said nothing thus far is because there's some part of me that just doesn't like to pile on.

Other folks have been hammering the GOP and their mad Tea Party contingent so hard, and with such righteousness and glee that whatever scornful words I could come up would just be more froth on the cappuccino, you know. Let's stipulate that they deserved it, okay. But who needs it? And what good would it do?

My hope, of course, is that those elected to high office have learned a valuable lesson-that even if, as Ronald Reagan used to say, government is the problem, no government at all is an even worse problem, an unthinkable calamity, and so perhaps we'd better rewrite the first notion. I would put it this way: since government can sometimes be inefficient, i.e., a problem, what we want is a smart government, a government that tries to solve problems, not sit on its hands, a government that cares about all its citizens, or at least a government that seeks the greatest good for the greatest number.

Republicans could sign onto this idea; it wouldn't be too large a leap. They would not have to abandon their private God or even their reluctance to pay taxes. The only thing they'd have to do is relax long enough to trust that President Obama is not the enemy, that their Democratic colleagues also want a prosperous and successful country, that while change is inevitable, it isn't necessarily a bad thing, and if we work together it can be managed intelligently, and for the benefit of everyone. That's what public service is about, after all. That's why we still bother to vote.


Property is Theft

  • Posted on: 19 October 2013
  • By: readersbooks

After many years of living in the same sprawling four bedroom (plus) house, our circumstances changed, and now we are ensconced (more or less) in a lovely two bedroom condo. I say "more or less" because having just moved, we are still unpacking boxes and running back and forth to the storage unit where much of our old life remains.

The irony is we have pretty much all that life requires right now. We don't truly need the other forty or fifty boxes of ancestral China; we can do without the giant buffet and the vases and paintings and floral bath mats, not to mention the books. I bring up the subject of books with some trepidation because, like everyone else in the world, we have read almost all of them and, next to our children, still think of them as bosom companions. Also, being in the book biz of course, you might imagine that I'd be the very last one to advocate getting rid of books. Moving a whole household can have an enormous impact on one's perspective, however, not to mention one's shoulders and back.

I now think that I probably need no more than one tall bookcase for the rest of my days. I say this knowing my wife will vehemently disagree, also sensing that one bookcase is just a ballpark figure. Given the ongoing outpouring of wonderful literature I could be wrong; maybe two bookcases would suffice.

Of course, I also have a slight advantage in this matter: owning a bookstore means you never have to keep a specific book in your house. You can always get a copy pretty quickly and at cost. This is the argument I'm going to make when we get down to the nitty gritty and start unpacking all those well worn volumes. I don't know if it'll fly; in our old house we had so many stacks of books they sometimes served as structural supports for the living room ceiling. But I'll tell my wife this new ceiling we have is just fine, that the books are not necessary, that change is what keeps us fresh and alive, that less is more. She used to be a Buddhist as I recall. Maybe she'll buy that.


If You're an Armchair Historian, You Need to Get Up and Move Around

  • Posted on: 12 October 2013
  • By: readersbooks

In the midst of the flurry of events surrounding the apparent change in U.S.-Iranian relations I couldn't help but notice the inevitable: a letter to the editor in which the writer harkens back to Munich and the naïve agreement made between Neville Chamberlain and Adolph Hitler, the "peace in our time" episode, which armchair historians love to yammer about to this very day. Those who can't remember history, the writer lectures us dutifully, are bound to repeat it.

Well, er, okay, but first, let's back up a minute and get our history straight. Let's remember it's 2013. The United States and Iran today are in no way comparable to England and Germany in 1938. And let us further stipulate that it's always a bad idea when talking about current events to inject Hitler into the discussion. Hitler, we all agree, was a no goodnik, and yes, there are other no goodniks out there still. But comparisons are problematic. Was Ghadafi another Hitler? Castro? Ho Chi Minh? Saddam Hussein? In my book, no. Cheap imitations. You could make a case that Stalin or Mao were statistically on the same level as Hitler--they murdered millions of people, after all, but mostly they were their own citizens. Hitler, on the other hand, was a global menace, a hurricane, he was like, I don't know, Genghis Khan. Hitler was after the whole ball of wax, which puts him into a different category altogether.

The guy who wrote the letter to the editor blithely compares Obama to Neville Chamberlain and the president of Iran, Mr. Rouhani, to Hitler. You'll excuse me if I beg to differ. Obama has shown himself to be pretty savvy, even ruthless, when it comes to dealing with terrorism. Yes, he's pulled us out of Iraq and is trying to extricate us from Afghanistan, but that's not because he's squishy when it comes to combat; he just doesn't care for wars that are stupid and unwinnable. As for Rouhani, I don't think we know much about him, other than the fact that he was elected as a reformer--whatever that connotes in Tehran--and that he has offered to talk with our side to try to work things out.

Maybe we'll be able to mend our fences with the Iranians, maybe not. But it seems to me that it can't hurt to talk. After so many years of silence there is a lot to talk about, a lot of painful history on both sides that needs healing. The worst thing we could do, however, would be to lapse automatically into tired old stereotypes before anyone has even opened his mouth.