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Progress Is Our Most Important Product

  • Posted on: 6 July 2013
  • By: readersbooks

This week's wonderful cover (July 8th) of The New Yorker
magazine brought a smile to my face and also got me to thinking. If you
haven't yet seen it, the cover shows an old black and white television,
the kind I grew up watching, complete with rabbit ears. On the screen
the full U.S. Supreme Court is posed, as if for a photo op, while in the
foreground, watching perhaps from a couch, we see the faint, but
clearly discernible outlines of two legendary Sesame Street characters,
Bert and Ernie. You can only catch their backs, but Ernie is nuzzled up
close to Bert, his head resting on his neck, the way friends do,
sometimes. Clearly, given that they're staring at the Supreme Court, and
given last week's momentous decision on same-sex marriage, one can only
put two and two together and surmise that Bert and Ernie must have a
very special reason to be interested.

smiled immediately. I got it. But then I wondered, until now, who among
us guessed that these two lovable puppets might just be gay? I don't
know about you, but I grew up without ever giving much thought to
another person's sexual orientation (let alone an imaginary
character's). It was a simpler world back then, I suppose, or more
repressed. Or more stupid, I don't know which. People were pretty much
people, characters were characters, puppets, puppets. When I was in
college I remember meeting a few men who I imagined were probably more
drawn to their own sex than the other, but they never said anything
outright. No, it was all guess work then; and my conclusions about them
hinged on the smallest bits of circumstantial evidence: their obsession
with Oscar Wilde or Rock Hudson or their love of ballet, nothing that
would ever hold up in court, supreme or otherwise.

Now, thank God, we're largely through with all that. No one
seems to care, which is as it should be. And I'm sure that, beyond the
joy of the moment, our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are
breathing well deserved sighs of relief. More and more we seem to be
okay with the idea of live and let live, and that can't help but be
beneficial to everyone.

Oh, I know the battle for tolerance is always ongoing, and we
have to be vigilant, and that there are (and always will be) a few odd
places in this country where justice gets confused with a particular
verse of the Bible, but for now at least, let's admit we've moved on.
Surely that's something we can all smile about.


We'll be OPEN on July 4th!

  • Posted on: 29 June 2013
  • By: readersbooks

Some people close on the 4th out of respect, or because they think no one
will show up anyway. Well, we are staying open on the 4th (at least
until 4 o'clock), not out of disrespect, or greed (c'mon, this is a bookstore, it's not about the money) but out of the expectation that some Americans crave reading as much as they crave a cold beer and a pulled pork sandwich. So after the parade, drop by and browse. There'll be plenty of time for the other stuff later.

The Practicing Patriot

  • Posted on: 29 June 2013
  • By: readersbooks

It's the dog days of summer and we're pawing our way (doggedly) through the heat and glare towards the mighty 4th of July.
When I was a kid I remember being a huge fan of the 4th -the bands,
the crowds, the fireworks, the bombs bursting in air, all that. It was,
to my ten year old eyes gazing up at the Southern California night sky, a
spectacle, an impossibly loud and beautiful thing. I don't know that
it made me feel more patriotic, but they were my fireworks, I felt, my
bombs bursting in air, and that had to mean something, even if I
couldn't define it.

How one translates Independence Day now into real,
boots-on-the-ground activity is another matter, however. For me, it's
all about personal expression. I hope I'm being patriotic whenever I
write my periodic essays about politics and the future of this country; I
certainly don't do it just to shoot my mouth off. I may be dreaming,
but I still think we each have a responsibility to speak out on the
issues of the day, to reason together, as Lyndon Johnson used to say.

But even if you don't like to write or speak out, I think you
can still show your patriotism quietly. This isn't complicated, it's
really just a matter of where you put your time and money. For instance,
I buy my CD's (yeah, I know I'm old fashioned) at The Last Record Store
in Santa Rosa, where they have a big selection, a lot of wisdom, and if
they don't have it, they can get it pretty quick. The last time I was
in there, the owner looked at my credit card, leaned over the counter
and asked, so, how're things down at The Last Bookstore?

It's true, we are the last bookstore in Sonoma. And yet,
every day we meet folks from all across America who walk in the door and
say, gosh, I wish we still had a place like this in (name of your
hometown here). We used to, but now there's just Barnes & Noble.
Or, now we have to shop online and it's not the same.

I'm not suggesting we're the only bookstore you should ever shop
at, or that you should never, under any circumstances, buy anything
online. I am suggesting that you matter. That the chewing gum you buy,
and the socks, and the books, and the bean sprouts, matter. That the
daily economic decisions you make, while probably small, have an impact
on this town, this county, this state and yes, this country. Somewhere
in our hearts, we all know this. That's what makes us American.


Waiter, there's a pretzel in my soup!

  • Posted on: 28 June 2013
  • By: readersbooks

It's early yet in the 2016 race to the White House, but already, I'm
keeping a sharp eye on the Republicans. No one wants to win the brass
ring more than they do, after all, and win or lose, the Grand Old Party
has a lot at stake. Right now, they seem a bit leaderless-its always the
same old opinionators echoing across the morning talk shows. I believe
that if John McCain appears on Meet the Press one more time they ought
to just give him the show. Call it Meet John or The Dear John Letter or
whatever. I don't much agree with him, but he has a nice, chiseled jaw
that could fit snugly on Mt. Rushmore, and he's also well-spoken and
seems like he could be a decent father or grandfather (or great
grandfather) to someone. Let's face it, the man looks like a President,
even if he'll never be one.

But the problem is this: whoever the GOP chooses in 2016 will
have to embrace a host of positions they've been running away from for
years. To wit, at a minimum he (and it's almost certainly going to be a
he) will have to acknowledge the truth of science; he will have to make
some intelligent and respectful noises about women and their
reproductive rights; he will need to have at least a laissez faire
attitude towards gays and lesbians; he will have to give a nod towards
demographics, ie., he'll need to own up to the necessity for immigrants
in this nation; he'll have to proclaim that government means something,
and that one of the reasons we invented a government in first place was
to help people, particularly, the least among us; and finally, he'll
have to go back to the drawing board and reinstitute George W. Bush's
old nostrum of being a "uniter, not a divider." Nobody knows whether
George meant what he said, of course, and you could argue that President
Obama has tried being reasonable like that for years with nothing much
to show, but still, the Republican candidate in 2016 can't just walk
onto the stage shouting no, no, no, no, with his guns blazing-not if he
wants to have a snowball's chance at winning anyway; he needs to smile
more and tone it down.

Of course, the real conundrum is this fine fellow of the future
has to hold these positions (many of which sound eerily like Democratic
ones) and still manage to get through the gauntlet of Republican
primaries, which at present are run by the Tea Party folks and the
Christian fundamentalists. I don't know how one does this. It's like
he's going to have to squeeze himself through a virtual pretzel machine.

Right now, at conservative retreats and watering holes the talk
is all about re-messaging. This means playing with the original text of
their 2012 message (the text that didn't sell) and just, you know, tamp
it down, make it sound less threatening to women and gays and minorities
and young people. They'd even like to go kind of snarky the next time
around; they're actually talking about making abortion "funny" so that
they somehow appeal to millennials. Perhaps they think that the younger
generation is not all that bright, or at least confused as to the exact
definition of abortion, or that if they just mix and match "abortion"
with say "pollution" or "constipation" they'll get a laugh out of it,
and down the line, a few votes. (As for myself, I guess I'm
old-fashioned, I don't understand how you can even put "abortion" and
"funny" in the same sentence, but never mind). Anyway, they know
they've got a problem, which is a start. And like I said, there's time.
And maybe they'll get lucky, maybe they won't have to change their
views one iota, maybe the Democrats will make some colossal blunder in
the next few years that poisons the well, you never know.

Meanwhile, I'm right here, watching them all with my eagle eye,
sizing them up, sorting them out, waiting for that tell-tale sign.
Waiting for one of them to suddenly stand out, to look, well,
presidential. I guess you could say I'm waiting for that John McCain


Whatever You Say Can and Will Be Used

  • Posted on: 15 June 2013
  • By: readersbooks

most Americans, I've been following the latest story of Edward Snowden
and his disclosure that the National Security Administration has been
systematically spying on our fellow citizens for lo, these many
years-listening in on our phone calls and monitoring our emails. And,
like many Americans, I can't quite decide if what he did was treasonous
or perhaps a service to our nation. He broke his oath, okay. But if you
were ever in the Boy Scouts or if you're a devout Catholic, you know
that oaths and vows and promises get broken all the time with, let's be
frank, minimal consequences. I'm old enough to remember the brouhaha
about Daniel Ellsberg leaking the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times.
Back then, there was a real live war going on (albeit undeclared) and
lots of folks in the Nixon White House were hot under the collar. They
wanted justice, or at the very least, they wanted Ellsberg's head on a
pike. Things were pretty harsh back then, you may or may not recall,
depending on how much grass you were smoking. I saw Ellsberg a few
years ago, and although he had aged visibly, what I noticed was, as near
as I could tell, he still had his head. And, no matter what he gave
away to the public, I rather suspect the same will be true for Mr.
Snowden in time.

What strikes me most about this current episode is how
everything is being judged by polling. How many thousands of Americans
signed a petition to declare Edward Snowden a hero. How many in the
Senate want him hunted down and extradited. How the Obama cabinet is
divided on the issue. How 58% think it's all right to delve into our
private conversations if, by some rmote chance, it nets a terrorist.

You'll forgive me if I think this is a weird way to go about
things, via polling. I mean, except for elections, polling really
doesn't get us much closer to the truth. If you went by polling, you'd
have to acknowledge that a vast preponderance of Americans believe that
Obama was born in Kenya and is a secret Muslim and a proponent of
socialism (despite where the stock market is today); you'd have to say
that a huge chunk of us think the earth was created in seven days flat
and that our own government was responsible for what happened at the
World Trade Center and that we're still quietly keeping alien corpses on
ice in New Mexico. That's the kind of malarkey we believe, supposedly.
That's what makes us Americans.

Me? I would dearly love to see issues decided on, oh I dunno,
facts. But I'm probably in the minority on that question, so hey, just
forget about it. And by the way, if anybody out there really wants to
read my private emails, all I can say is, you need to get a life, pal.


Used Books, again...

  • Posted on: 1 June 2013
  • By: readersbooks

Just a gentle reminder that we are still overstocked, and therefore, unable to look at your used books. We will let you know when we can resume our perusals--promise.

Meanwhile, you might want to come and see what's filling up our shelves...remarkable books at remarkably low prices.

If I Were A Rich Man

  • Posted on: 1 June 2013
  • By: readersbooks

Years ago, Project Censored did a story on income inequality in this country, something that was--if not totally unreported--at least grossly under-reported and tucked demurely away under a rug. The story talked about how the richest 5% of America controlled around 25% of all our goods and services. That ratio--5% owning 25%--maintained itself from our beginnings as a nation through the Civil War, the First World War, the Great Depression, World War II, on up to the Reagan Era. That's when it started to climb. By the time the folks at Project Censored got around to it, the top 5% controlled 47% of America's wealth and there can be little doubt that it has only gotten more exacerbated since. I am guessing right now it's somewhere north of 60% that is owned by a very small club of people. Which, if you think about it, makes us just another Third World country, another Ecuador or Paraguay, only we have freeways and missiles and credit cards.

I was thinking about this as I heard about the difference between what the top executive makes at Walmart as compared with an entry level employee. I don't have the exact figures but that starting employee would have to work (I hope you're sitting down about now) almost 800 years to equal the annual pay of the CEO. That's eight centuries, count'em. Now, of course, you can justify the disparity. The entry level guy or gal isn't juggling spread sheets and mulling over how to put the squeeze on his subcontractors in China. That must be hard work, and at some point, probably ulcer-producing. Still, they are both working for the same company.

I sat down with a calculator and figured what the disparity is between what I make and what my newest employee makes, and let me tell you, it gladdened my heart. In fact, if you look at what I take home and divide it by the hours I work, I actually make less than my newest employee! Now you can also justify this by saying, well, you're the boss, you like what you do, so of course you work more. True enough. But the larger truth is that we independent retailers would love to earn more, but if we took larger draws we'd soon go out of business. There aren't many ways out of this box: you have to sell more books to make more money, but then you have to hire more people, or you have to work fewer hours and take the same amount of money, but then nobody's watching the store and things go to hell in a handbasket. I suppose we could sell stock in our venture, but who would buy such a thing?

Meanwhile, the rich get richer. Which is a wonderful thing, if money is your goal in life. One day, I imagine, if past is prologue, the top 5% will own 100% of this country. Then we can all relax. It'll be their headache then, thank God.