Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ray Bradbury had it right--again!

Just saw the movie version of Ray Bradbury's genius work of dystopian fantasy, Fahrenheit 451 (directed by Francois Truffaut, no less) and boy, did it hit home. For those who haven't read the book (well do so) and don't know the plot (it's about the ultimate book-burning society), check out the wikipedia page about the book here. In spite of the movie's dated look, and obvious 60s echoes, it was hard to escape the feeling that many of the events were eerily familiar. I was nodding my head at every turn of the plot, saying "yep, there we go..."
Think I'm being uncharacteristically pessimistic? Overreacting to the usual barrage of censorship in our lives and work?
Not this HuffPo article about the Texas Textbook Massacre and tell me if I'm not reacting fairly reasonably. I am reminded of a gutsy and prescient book from 1992 called What Johnny Shouldn't Read, which you can buy here from Powell's bookstore, online. or click the cover below to buy elsewhere online.
What Johnny Shouldn`t Read: Textbook Censorship in America
How in the world can we hope for a future in which the citizen's of this planet can make informed and enlightened choices, if we limit today's students' exposure to only literature (and other arts) that support an agenda? Some would say that any slant, any agenda in education is intolerable, but that the slant is becoming conservative (and perhaps even fundamentalist christian) is particularly bothersome to me.
After all, this whole new spate of textbook and history book censorship and revisionism is a reaction to the fact that these books are supposedly too liberal, right? Well, if there's going to be a slant, I'd prefer it to be "liberal", since the very word tips you off that there's plenty. Plenty of opinions, plenty of inclusiveness, plenty of ideas. A conservative ideology is well, conservative--sorry, but we're trying to conserve, here, so not so many ideas, please! And let's eliminate some of these opinions and quotes, since some of those folks (like Jefferson, fer goodness sake!) said some things that were a bit "open-minded" didn't they?
To Kill a Mockingbird
Consider this list of ten top banned books (which includes To KIll a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, and Huckleberry Finn, and reasons why, and think about how much poorer your life (and mind and ability to make good life choices) would be if you hadn't read them.
Hasta pronto!

Monday, April 19, 2010

A great indie bookstore and a surprising book-signing

There are some typos that I make repeatedly...And we editors really hate that! Being in the book business, one of those common typos is book-singing, instead of book-signing...However, just the other day, attended a book-signing that could easily have been billed as a book-singing. That's right, a book event, with reading and gently melodic guitar music and a lovely voice and lyrics to cap it all off.
The evening's venue was the first pleasant surprise--though I've been to Upstart Crow Bookstore & Coffeehouse before, it had been a while, and I don't think I'd ever attended an evening event there before. First off, the bookstore is a charmingly laid-out "shop around the corner" type of bookstore, see photos and more here at their site. The bookstore is a trove of everything from new fiction to Shakespeare and much that falls in the middle. They even have a Shakespeare company that reads the Bard's plays aloud there monthly (everyone is welcome to come, and to read).
The store's setting couldn't be better, downtown San Diego's Seaport Village, a market-style shopping center, with plenty of cheap parking, just minutes from the SD Convention Center and the bustling Gaslamp Quarter. The coffee is fresh and so are the pastries.
The evening's reader, Ella de Castro Baron, author of "Itchy Brown Girl Seeks Employment" was another exciting discovery--though I know her book well (Sunbelt distributes the entire City Works Press line of fine poetry and prose, check out CWP site here) I hadn't heard her read before. She's dynamic--she reads her own words as if thinking them aloud for the first time, with the attendant laughter, a few wry comments aside, and even a tear or two. (We all laughed a lot too, and she was not alone in being caught by surprise by the tears.)
Itchy Brown Girl Seeks Employment
But the evening's revelation was Baron's clever idea of having both a guitarist and a vocal performer accompany her. It's frankly brilliant.
As Castro put it on her blog, "Malia Martinez, a local vocalist and Filipina (hapa) American and friend, will be singing acoustic original music linked to themes represented by Ella’s book." And does she ever! Malia's voice and lyrics--along with the delicious accompanying guitarist, and no, I didn't catch his name--are like a soundtrack to Baron's moving text, making it a feast for the sensory imagination.
So, look for Baron and Martinez, separately and together, at your favorite bookstore and coffehouse. For those who want to catch Baron's next event, here of in the Bay area, check out her blog here. For those who won't be able to catch her in person, you can read Baron's blog, and some book excerpt's in the blog too. Or buy it from Upstart Crow, next time you stop by.
And don't forget to support your local indie bookstore--whatever store it is, wherever you find it. Remember that the only way we publishers, authors, and booksellers will survive is if you readers (and writers) decide that it's important to be part of a book community. I'm not against e-books, or KIndles or anything that keeps people reading, and fosters a new generation of readers, but we NEED bookstores and libraries too.
hasta pronto!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Anthology Authors, Poetry, and Time Travel

Last week's anthology reading at the San Diego Public Library was a trip--back in time, forward in time, and to a very present moment as well...I'll explain.
Walking into the downtown library is always a journey back in time for me. Growing up in East San Diego, having read every book in my categories of interest (dogs, horses, theater and movies) as well as pretty much all Young Adult fiction, I'd range farther afield. Armed with a quarter for each trip, I'd jump on the #7 bus and ride it downtown, in search of new books; I found that, and, necessarily, I found new worlds.
Downtown San Diego was another world for a kid from ESD--it gave me a glimpse of another way of life, good and bad. I found a strange world of skyscrapers and dark-suited men with briefcases striding purposefully along litter-strewn sidewalks, shadowed by bedraggled, rambling souls that wandered aimlessly between chemical fixes...This was pre-gentrification, when many streets in downtown were considered off limits, especially after dark.
But the library was an oasis from both downtown worlds--a quiet, cathedral-like building with lofty ceilings and marble floors that stretched into the dimness of un-visited corners and warrens. Pretty, it was not, but humbling and impressive, certainly. (Visiting the other night, I smelled the same scents: the musty aroma of books and binding, the pungent undercurrent of furniture polish and floor wax, the almond-like perfume of the soap in the ladies room).
Here's where the present came in: The reading room was like a scene from a movie--dark wood-paneled walls, with reading lamps, and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Straight chairs had been gathered into rows and we took turns reading...And, man oh, man, can some of these folks read!
This group of authors--many of whom are now published writers for the first time--are not cynical or jaded (yet!) and their readings were as much in the present moment as laughter or tears. I enjoyed hearing Randy Herman read/perform his short piece: "The Day a Box Learned Me About How Beautiful is So Good by Wallace J". He becomes this guy--no, he is this guy. As a piece of theatre, it's as compelling as most one-act plays I've seen.
Since April is National Poetry month (check out for more), we started off with poetry and returned to it frequently. One young poet, David Tomas Martinez, was even asked to read a few of his pieces that were not in the collection. Martinez is gifted, not just as a writer of explosive, heartfelt and raw verse, but as a dynamic performer of spoken word poetry. His strong voice, his lean, ink-decorated body, and his handsome, expressive face all combine to transport, intrigue, and challenge the reader.
There's the future: You're going to hear more from David Tomas Martinez. And from Randy Herman, Jackie Bouchard, Alysia Everett, Charlie Daly, Scott Barbour, John Mullen, Jeanine Webb, and Jess Jollett...We all are, if we're lucky. There is a generation of new (but not necessarily young) writers/readers/spoken word artists coming up that will blow our minds. Books are not dead. Literature is not dying. Stand by for more on that story.
Hasta pronto!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

What is a Short Story Anyway?

Still on a short story tangent after my guest-blog on the topic last week (see my last blog post), and preparing to introduce the new anthology, A Year in Ink, vol 3 at the Public Library reading in San Diego Monday. Someone asked me recently what makes a short story a short story, anyway? Isn't it just anything you write that is short?
Answer: No.
Short stories are less complex than novels--they usually focus on only one incident, have a single plot, often one or limited settings and characters, and usually take place over a short period of time (unlike the great Brokeback Mountain which broke more than a few rules). But every story still needs exposition, conflict, action, crisis, climax, resolution and maybe even a moral. Every story doesn't follow this classical pattern completely, though; many modern short stories start right in the middle of the action.
A classic definition of a short story is that it must be able to be read in one sitting. Other definitions place the maximum word length at 20,000 words and no shorter than 1,000. But I've seen plenty of good flash fiction at only 500 words long.
You'll find some of those short-short pieces in the new anthology mentioned above, and in story collections in every good bookstore; Some great short story writers can be found writing to this day in ever-more-limited spaces in magazines, like the New Yorker. The latest New Yorker features a short piece by Junot Diaz, one of my current favorite writers.
Also, my dad sent me this link to a recent New York Times article about the science of why we read and care about fiction...Check it out...
Hasta pronto!