Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the month “October, 2010”

Black Oak Bookstore

Black Oak was one of the first independent bookstores that I perused when I arrived in Berkeley. I had gone to discover the Gourmet Ghetto, made famous by Alice Waters, discovered a pizza place that only made one type of pizza a day but charged a fortune and still had people lined up outside. I also discovered a Jewish deli, the original Peet’s coffee and, given that I hadn’t found a job yet, that I couldn’t afford to eat until I returned to my friend’s house.

I did discover, within this tasteful enclave of decadence, that I could afford a book or two – used, from the bargain bin of the Black Oak bookstore. Alon means Oak in Hebrew, black has long been my favorite color (and not just because it makes me appear slimmer).

Black Oak Books is no longer situated on Shattuck Ave. They have now moved to 2618 San Pablo Ave., between Parker and Carleton, a precarious five-minute walk from my house. As with all Independent bookstores, these past few years has marked a time of great transition for Black Oak Books.

They streamlined their business focusing on Internet books, buying books, re-pricing books from the old store, and continued looking for a new retail location. T’Hud Weber, the store manager, told me the new premises is still a work in progress, and they plan to begin holding author events and other community events. I found the place just as charming as their former premises. I have to admit: give me the smell of books, a smiling staff, the offer of an author event, and the offer of bargains, and I’m yours!

Here are Ms. Weber’s answers to my questions:

1) What value does your bookstore provide for the local community?
As we are in a very different location in comparison to our previous location, we are still evaluating the community needs/wants. We have had very good feedback from the neighborhood. We’ve been repeatedly thanked for opening a bookstore in this location, and have been told that this is “exactly what the neighborhood needs” which is wonderful to hear. We strive to have the lowest possible prices for used books, we have a large “Bargain Books” section priced at .50-$1.00 per book, and we have special sales for new books every other week. We also buy books from the community.

2) Who is the most inspiring author you have met? Why?
The most inspiring author I’ve met is Neil Gaiman. He’s a great storyteller, and is able to jump and blur boundaries between children’s/adult fiction, genres, characters, and voices. And, hey, he’s kind of a rock star.

3) What community events or campaigns has your bookstore been involved in?
We have not been directly involved in any community events or campaigns as of yet. Again, we’re still trying to gauge what the community needs from us at this point. However, we do put up flyers/postcards/posters from neighborhood vendors upon request.

4) If you were to retire tomorrow what would you most miss from your work?
I would miss my role as the “Book Adoption Manager”: helping unite people with that special, rare, hard to find, odd, or sentimental book. I would also desperately miss the smell and feel of the books, as this has been a particular fetish of mine since early childhood.

With all the challenges facing the independent neighborhood bookstore, I hope Black Oak not just survives, but thrives. They have shown the necessary propensity to adapt. I wish them well.
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

Movies That Matter – Invictus

One of my defining episodes as a teenager exploring social activism was the anti-apartheid movement. I attended my first demonstration with them, asked people to sign petitions, and had a Free Nelson Mandela sticker on my pencil case. When people were asked to play their favorite song at the local youth center, I offered up Biko by Peter Gabriel.

I always get excited for the soccer World Cup. This year was different. It was not just for the once-every-four-years’ festival of my favorite sport, but the recognition of how far South Africa has come. In a world of hate, corruption, violence and extremism, South Africa is a beacon of what can be achieved.

The overthrow of a brutal, racist system did not spiral into the bloodshed and vengeance that so many feared. The brave and difficult decision to heal memories and move on are a tribute not only to Nelson Mandela, but to every South African who committed themselves to this part.

Invictus was a landmark movie. It is a fictionalized the true story of South Africa hosting the rugby World Cup, as they exited the dark ages of apartheid. In the year leading up to the tournament, the team comes together to be an example of unity that trickles down through society. In an interesting parallel, Mandela needs to deal with integrating his personal security detail with the South African police detail.

I am not usually much of an actor/actress observer, but both Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon are awesome in their roles. I was skeptical that anyone could possibly ‘play’ a man who is truly a living icon, a larger-than-life inspiration for me. But Morgan Freeman is terrific.

It might be a sign of age, but there is something urgent in wanting to share a historical period of time that you lived through and ensure that generations to come will never forget it. I feel this sense of urgency when I talk with Holocaust survivors.

Invictus helps to fill this role. I will buy the DVD, and will sit my sons down to watch it. They will enjoy the movie, as it is a great movie. And then I will share my own story with them, and try to pass on my memory to the next generation.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

Buying Organic – Hard on the Wallet.

It is always tough to shop for groceries on a tight budget, but going through the produce section is particularly hard. We are blessed in California to have a wide choice of organic fruit and veg, but it also makes it harder to fill the shopping cart and head for the cashier. And let’s not talk about the guilt complex with the kids.

After one such challenging foray into the Berkeley Bowl, an excellent supermarket with an impressive organic section, I followed a car home with the following bumper sticker.

So, for those of you in a similar position to me, here are two sites to maybe help.

1) What is the real price of organic food.

2) Why is Organic Food More Expensive

How do you handle the difference in price and your own financial restraints? Please let me know by leaving a comment.
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

 

Books That Matter – The Appeal

Having written a novel about a court case involving multinational corporations as the Goliath to the little guy’s David, there is no way I couldn’t enjoy this novel. I happen to love John Grisham’s legal thrillers, both the stories themselves and his tight writing technique.

I believe The Appeal (click here for synopsis) is important as it focuses on the ability of those with money and power to manipulate the legal and political systems. What gave it particular validity for me was a review by a 30 year litigator.

H. Lehmann has worked… as a plaintiffs’ trial lawyer, having worked in that capacity for well more than three decades. I’ve directly handled or closely supervised more than 1600 civil matters, and have had good outcomes on all but a tiny few, partly because of having a “no asshole rule,” about the clients our office will accept. In the past, I’ve been disappointed and offended by some of John Grisham’s books, as he has often characterized tawdry and wrongful conduct by lawyers, including the plaintiffs bar, as though such conduct were common, when, in my experience, the opposite is true.

No system is perfect, but few that I’ve known from my generation of lawyers chose the law with money as a primary motive, and those that focused on that have not tended towards competency or guts. Consistent with his apparent belief in redemption, Grisham has redeemed himself from the uninformed callousness shown in some other works. This tale of the human spirit, and of evil, is an accurate portrait of very real problems faced by our society, issues and problems that the general public barely even imagines.

The Supreme Court election which is central to this story is reminiscent of what happened in California, in 1986, when the then-governor, Mr. Dukemajian, working with ideas from a major Republican PR firm, and as orchestrated by a campaign professional from San Francisco, at a cost of many millions, convinced the people to refuse re-election to three purportedly “liberal,” Supreme Court Justices, Bird, Reynoso, and Grodin, based on their alleged hostility to the death penalty. In fact, the support for the process came from the insurance industry, which sought, with ultimate success (through Judges with insurance backgrounds) to undue several cases which had been to the benefit of insurance consumers, notably Royal Globe vs. Butte (construing Insurance Code 790.03 (h) in a way that forced fair settlements), Paul vs. State Farm and Davis vs. State Farm, cases which were de-certified for publication (erasing them from the law by fiat of the Chief Justice), where those published appellate decisions had found a fiduciary level of relationship between the carrier and the insured.

These humane cases had cost the insurance industry, by insisting on fairness, and through politics, these cases were undone. The Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court resigned his position, I believe for personal reasons, about six months after an official determination that, no, strictly speaking, he had not violated ethical standards by taking all expenses paid trips from major insurance companies at the same time he was making decisions which happened to be on their behalf.

My familiarity with this comes from deep practice experience in the affected areas, including involvement with two of the major cases which were de-certified by this process. The law was politicized, and still has not reached the impartiality that was present when I was originally in practice, though there have been, in fairness, genuine strides away from the dark. This story, in fiction, illustrates what is at stake when greedy preoccupation with material gain is allowed to have its way with law. Also, the legal analysis and issue handling shows a level of practical depth seldom seen in fiction. For these reasons, I have just purchased an additional copy of this book for our long time exchange student from Germany, as she is entering law school next year, and I do not know of a better tale to warn of the dangers which society faces when the high calling of honorable legal practice is subjugated to the goals of those who hold money as a life goal. This is an important and worthwhile book.”

Makes one want to read more legal fiction as a porthole into the reality that is so often hidden from us. Anyone read The Accidental Activist?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

The Drive To Write – Transformational Fiction

Al Levenson, Past President of the Berkeley Branch of the California Writer’s Club, asked me a while ago to write why I wrote. I pondered the question for a couple of days and wrote nothing. Then it just all came gushing out:

I write, first and foremost, for myself. I love the rush I feel when the story flows, when I can’t type fast enough to keep up with the thought process, when the characters leave the computer and shadow me at work, in the gym, at home. I love it when I am transported into their world. For a short time I am someone else.

But I also write because I hope to help create change in the world. I strive through my writings to highlight social and political injustice, and to inspire personal activism. My novels all include characters who have transformed themselves, taken on multinational corporations, overcome great personal challenges, and in my next book –  stood up for the homeless and war veterans. At a writing workshop, I think it was at the excellent Santa Barbara’s Writer’s conference, I heard the facilitator try to launch the term – transformational fiction. It never caught on in the writing world, but it spoke to me.

So I want to promote the San Francisco Writing Conference for Change. It is being held on November 13-14, and is organized by Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen , icons of the San Francisco literary community. I recently heard them speak, not for the first time, at the California Writer’s Club. These people have truly learned to fuse a passion with a business that is instilled with values.

Finally, if I’m truly honest, I write to stand out. I want people to see me as a person with something to say, to be enthusiastic about my stories, and for my sons to show their teachers and friends my books and say proudly: “My Dad’s an author.”

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

People Making A Difference: Peter Allen

Peter Allen will stand for Attorney General of California on November 2nd. He is the Green Party candidate and, in the interest of disclosure, a friend of mine.

As a college student in London, I crossed the line from the Labor Party to the Green Party. The Ecology Party, as it was known then, was just forming. I was met with derision from my fellow left wing students and smirked at by students who supported the Conservative Party.

In the end, it was all my fault that Labor failed to win a working class constituency back from the Tories (They actually doubled their majority). It had nothing to do with the fact that the Conservatives had bribed the people renting government houses by offering them the chance to buy their houses even though many could not afford the costs. Sounds familiar?

There is a lot that makes sense on Peter’s website. As I made my way through it I couldn’t help feeling that there is little in his agenda that people would disagree with. The main challenge is making the decision to vote outside of Democratic/Republican lines. It is a tough one and I can offer very little.

However, at some point, we need to send a message to the main parties that their complacency is what is breaking the system, and keeping it broken.

More on Peter’s policies in future posts, but for now, might I suggest you check out his blog at http://peterallenforag.blogspot.com/.

Hear Peter on KQED along with all the other candidates except the Republican who declined to be on the broadcast (Kamala Harris gets the first half hour and is also impressive). Whatever his reason, I wish to share my admiration for Michael Krasny as a moderator. I have listened to radio moderators all over the world and Mr. Krasny stands head and shoulder above the rest.

Finally, for those of you wondering if you are brave enough to leave the two party system (and everyone else), enjoy this song from Billy Bragg (the song begins at 1 minute 20 seconds if you want to skip the intro).


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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

Books That Matter: Writing to Change the World – Mary Pipher

You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world… The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way… people look at reality, then you can change it.” James Baldwin

I love this quote and so does Mary Pipher. Her book Writing to Change the World offers, in her own words, a guide to changing the world one “Baldwin Millimeter” at a time. She presents many inspirational quotes and examples.

This book is less of a how-to and more of an opening of the heart. It is the feeling that motivates so many of us, and serves as a reminder when we forget it or prioritize other things such as sales, market requirements, fame and fortune.

My only disappointment with this book is that it only covers non-fiction. I would have liked to revel in the impact that such novels as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, or George Orwell’s 1984, have had. Maybe I can write it after a few best selling political advocacy novels!

Still, I did enjoy the down-to-earth way that Pipher offers advice on how to write articles, letters, speeches, personal essays etc. The fact that she never allows herself to lose sight of the need to offer practical applications for the different ways we can influence the world with the quill, well keyboard. I find this both commendable and helpful. Finally, in her own words:

“Words are the most powerful tools at our disposal. With them, writers have saved lives and taken them, brought justice and confounded it, started wars and ended them. Writers can change the way we think and transform our definitions of right and wrong.”

For more on Mary Pipher, please click here for her website.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

Amazon Discount for Launch

As The Accidental Activist is launched at the Northern Californian Independent Booksellers Association Trade fair (NCIBA), Amazon.com has discounted the book to $11.66 (a 22% discount). I couldn’t find out how long the discount will last for.

The trade show is fascinating. I am meeting many bookstore owners and staff and hearing their experiences in these difficult economic times. They are an amazing group of dedicated people who just love books. ——————————————————————————————————-

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

 

KIVA: Loans That Change Lives

We can change the world. The problem is that there is so much to do, it can just feel so overwhelming. A few weeks ago my eldest son (11) and I saw a newspaper article with a multimillion dollar lottery winner. “Imagine how that could change your life,” I muttered.

My son decided to fantasize what we would do with a few million dollars. Admittedly, owning our own house, replacing our shuddering geriatric car, and a basketball backboard came first.

But then he began talking of projects to help people. We had recently met someone who runs a bakery on the East Coast that employs homeless and impoverished people. My next novel is about homeless war veterans and my son began to describe how we could create a similar project for such people in San Francisco. As all youngsters do, he soon got caught up in the details.

I told him how a learned Jewish medieval scholar, Maimonides, had created a pyramid of different levels of giving. Providing someone with a skill and a means to support themselves and their family is considered the highest form of giving in Judaism.

This brings me to KIVA, a non-profit microfinance bank that raises money through small gifts to help people invest in family or community enterprises. These are essentially loans, though the donors often reinvest the money back into Kiva. For more on microfinance, click here (http://www.kiva.org/about/microfinance/)

For just $25, you can help a father of four in Tanzania set up a coffee shop, or a woman in India establish a juice bar. It is truly inspiring. Recently, I was invited to two birthday celebrations. The celebrants requested either not to receive gifts, or to donate to a charity in their name. I had a great time investing in Kiva on their behalf.

Maybe we can change the world, one birthday at a time.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

And So It Begins…

Today, The Accidental Activist is officially launched at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association. The tree-book is up on Amazon and the e-book will soon follow. Oilspill dotcom is being withdrawn from all outlets. Hold on to yours – it is about to become a collectors’ item!

The Accidental Activist is essentially the same story. New title, new cover and the text has been raked over by Three Clover Press editors and the language tightened.

Countdown to a Novel Published, sadly neglected over the past couple of months will stay dormant. As part of the terms with Three Clover Press, my publisher, I am committed to posting every day at Left Coast Voices.

The focus on blogging as a way to bring traffic to my website and selling pages for my books is intriguing. For those authors who stay the course, the results are clear and, best of all, encouraging. You can’t argue with statistics and sales. I certainly won’t.

Over the past year, I have jumped from one marketing tactic to another. I have read in bookstores and community centers but these have been very time consuming with little return. The consignment game played with small independent bookstores is depressing. It’s not their fault, but there are serious cracks in the system.

So it is an ending of sorts, a parting of ways from Oilspill dotcom and Countdown to a Novel Published. It’s been a great journey, a learning experience and now both the book and my resolve as an author are more focused and more optimistic.

Hope you’ll become a regular here at Left Coast Voices. Leave me a comment – it’s not quite a conversation over cappuccino, but let’s keep in touch.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

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