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A Word to the Wise

  • Posted on: 27 July 2013
  • By: readersbooks

Many
years ago, when I was a young man, I had a great gig teaching English
in Japan. Even though they are an island nation and far, far away from
the English-speaking world, the Japanese like to latch on to Western
habits; young girls would sometimes on a Sunday
afternoon put on crinolines and dance in the park to the sounds of
Buddy Holly, while their male counterparts varoomed around on
motorcycles in the manner of James Dean. Others (older men in berets,
generally) would spend evenings in overpriced coffee houses listening to
Miles Davis records. They think of themselves as cosmopolitan, in other
words, and learning to converse in English is one of those hip
obsessions many folks there have. There are English clubs and private
classes in conversational English, and of course, virtually every child
is put into an after-school English school (they call them juku) where
they spend hour after hour reciting all manner of trivial sentences:
What is your favorite fruit? My favorite fruit is apple. My favorite
fruit is cherry. My favorite fruit is lemon. (One kid actually said
that.)

We
don't seem to do a lot of that around here. Maybe we don't feel the
need because, after all, pretty much everyone speaks English, don't
they? And English is already the corporate language of the planet, so
let's just sit back and wait for the mountain to come to Mohammed, so to
speak. Well, as someone who loves languages, loves the lilt and flow
and subtle meanings of words, I have to say that I find this notion
disturbing.

English is a fine language, mind you, but there are so many
other beautiful tongues, with so much poetry and wisdom to impart to us,
we're surely doing ourselves a disservice by our self-centered
disinterest. And as a practical matter, it's just plain stupid. Given
the way our demographics are changing in California it's only a matter
of years (maybe months) before street signs in Spanish and Chinese are
on an equal footing with English ones.

I guess what I'm saying is, it's way past high time we joined
the rest of the civilized world and started learning their
languages--not because we're inevitably doomed to be overrun by Chinese
business moguls, not because the Latino population is destined to
outproduce us "baby-wise," but just because there are only so many
resources here to go around, and the spaces between us on this globe are
growing smaller and smaller; like it or not, we're all part of the same
crumbling neighborhood now, and neighbors need to understand one
another.

Which brings to mind an old Yiddish proverb: Sleep faster, we need the pillows. This sounds a lot better in the original, of course. But how would you know?

Andy

Adios, Reva

  • Posted on: 20 July 2013
  • By: readersbooks

We all knew this was coming, that there would be an announcement, simple and to the point: our dear friend, loyal customer, and devoted booster, Reva Metzger, had died at last. She'd been ill for a while, and there was no good prognosis, no light at the end of the tunnel. All we could do was wait and hope that when it happened, she would die peacefully and without pain. I wish I could say I was relieved to hear that she slipped away from us in just such a fashion-no muss, no fuss-that her death was "easy" as those things go. But there's a selfish part of me that yearns for her to stick around.

Reva was a fighter for seemingly lost causes, a do-gooder in the best sense of that word, a woman who, although she herself was possibly the most disorganized person on the planet, could still manage to pull together individuals and groups from all over town and cajole them into getting the job done. It was Reva who came to us in the depths of the last recession and said, I don't want Readers' Books to disappear. What can I do to help? It was Reva and her army of friends who launched the big fund-raising drive that built the Reading Garden that graces our store today with its spectacular flower bed and fountain, Reva who fronted the initial money and got the ball rolling. The Reading Garden, in case you don't know, is-- beside the books and our staff-- one of the crown jewels of this place: last week it was the site of Mara Unger's clay class, and Roger and Diana Rhoten's summer performance camp will be in and out all this week for face painting, juggling and magic lessons. We've used it for book talks, poetry and play readings, jazz concerts, and of course, Random Acts, our monthly venture into the unknown land of the open mic.

What I'm trying to say is that we owe a lot to Reva Metzger, that just one caring and determined visionary can make an enormous difference in the lives of us all. I know we get lots of praise from our customers for what a great store we have, that this is always the first place they stop at when they come to town, that Sonoma wouldn't be the same without us, etc. And I appreciate those sentiments, I do. But what really makes this town special is the people who live here, the givers-- the quiet, steadfast, unsung heroes like Reva.

Reva Metzger had the purest of hearts. In fact, she was all heart.

Andy 

Play It Again, Sam

  • Posted on: 13 July 2013
  • By: readersbooks

Maybe because I've played guitar for over half a century, or because I like to bang out tunes on the piano, or maybe just because I care, I've always been uber conscious about what kinds of music wafts across our bookstore. You might not think that music matters much in retail, that music, or worse, Musak, is everywhere nowadays, so why bother. It's true, you can hardly walk through any mall of any major city and not be accosted by Wayne Newton or Kenny G or some gloppy rendition of a Beatles tune. And you might be so saturated by this aural soup by now that you've turned it all off; you no longer even think about it. Or, if you do think about it, you think it's just background and means, well, nothing.

Well, you'd be wrong. Music, to my ears anyway, means plenty. I've spent untold hours of my waking day and night trying to remember the chorus from "In a Sentimental Mood" or "Alone Together." And often when I'm driving my car I'm also busy trying to work out the chord changes of one song or another. So yes, you could say I'm a little obsessive about music.

That said, I'm going to go out on a very short limb and argue that what one hears in a particular retail environment (a bookstore, for example) has a significant effect on one's experience and well being. Years ago, I was given a CD from the movie of "The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love," which was based, of course on Oscar Hijuelos' eponymous novel. I slid it into our CD player, pushed the start button and waited. A series of sprightly, very Cuban, mambos came on. Shortly thereafter, a middle aged lady walked in the door. She stopped, startled perhaps by the trumpets and the syncopated drumming, made a face that could only signify confusion, turned on her heel and walked out. Needless to say, I took the CD off straight away and replaced it with Mozart.

Not everyone wants to listen to a never ending string of string quartets in a bookstore, naturally; like successful restaurants everywhere, you have to mix the menu up now and then to keep it interesting. But there are boundaries, things you cannot do and still stay in business. You cannot, for instance, play rap music or other such pounding and often salacious stuff-at least not in a bookstore where people come to think and explore and wonder about the universe. Neither is it a good idea to have too many protracted periods of silence. That causes nervousness and stultification-very bad. And while there are some staff members here who squirm at the idea of Edith Piaf or Bob Dylan, those artists are clearly within the canon; they work at a romantic, sub-atomic level, they help us summon specific memories from odd places in our brains. I have to say I am always amazed by what books some people want to buy after hearing "Non Je Ne Regrette Rien" or "Ain't Gonna Work on Maggie's Farm No More."

I'm sure there's a lot more science on this topic, and it would probably be smart to read up on it, see if I could somehow, you know, get an angle on what really works. I'm not going to do that, however. Me, I just know what I like.

Andy

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.

I
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.

Andy

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.

Andy

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
Moment.

Andy

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