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 tag “City Lights”

Happy 60th Birthday to City Lights Bookstore

I find the death of the bookstore to be sad. I have found myself taking my sons to my local independent bookstores and even having pit stops when we are on the road at a Barnes and Noble. It makes sense – B&N have good bathrooms, passable coffee, and we can walk around.

I am as much to blame for the demise of the bookstore as anyone. I deny any connection to my first public author signing at a Borders and their announcement the next day that they were closing all stores.

Borders 0211I buy most of my books online and as ebooks. It is not just a matter of convenience or price: I genuinely believe in the environmental necessity of ebooks. As an author, my focus is on creating an online platform and this translates (outside the first week or so of a book launch) into consistently selling more ebooks than tree books.

But I realize that I am increasingly treating these trips to a bookstore like a visit to a museum. I will tell my children how you can make spontaneous choices this way, ask advice from staff who are always genuine book lovers (they would not work there I assume otherwise), and enjoy the smell of the bookstore.

My kids know that I am not exactly telling the truth. We rarely buy books on these visits, scouring the bargain bins perhaps, and I often resort to their please to purchase something that I will look it up used online.

I recently went to a book launch of a friend and bought her book at the store, standing in line to get her autograph. It is the actions of a good friend showing up for someone they care about. The book was one-third more expensive than it was new on Amazon. But this is a friend and, in a strange sense, I felt an appreciation for the staff of the bookstore for hosting her.

But one bookstore stands alone, at least in my stomping grounds. Last month City Lights celebrated its 60th birthday. There is a great article here and I don’t want to simply hash out the same story.

imgres-3When I first came to the US and told someone that I dreamed about using fiction as social activism and commentary on our society, they smiled: “You gonna be another Kerouac?”

I could see the disappointment on their face when I asked: “Who?” I looked around, half expecting the immigration police to appear, tear up my green card, and deport me to Canada.

Patriotically, I devoured On The Road and The Dharma Bums, and this began a long and wonderful journey into the beat movement. I feel privileged to still meet men and women who were beatniks. The sequel to Unwanted Heroes is a modern day tribute to the beat generation.

When I told someone of my new interest, they promptly sent me to City Lights (and the Jack Kerouac Alley, and the museum, and oh those delicious Italian pastries in North Beach!).

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I often return to City Lights and always buy a book. I stand in reverence on the top floor, which is dedicated to the beatniks who gathered there under Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I wrote a scene in the sequel to Unwanted Heroes, which I really witnessed as an elderly couple came upstairs and were looking through a coffee table-type book of the beatniks in Paris. They found a photo that included the old man. We spent a wonderful hour together as he reminisced. It was a very special hour and one I will never forget.

That doesn’t happen at an online bookstore. Even if this gentleman had crafted a well-written article about his time in Paris, it could never compare to sitting and listening to him telling it in his own voice.

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It was a magical moment – so thank you to City Lights for still being around. I will bring my sons to the bookstore and they can buy any darn book they want!

Happy 60th birthday.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of GalbriethAlon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

The Seismic Upheavals We All Knew Would Happen (the Book Industry)

One needs to be careful writing headlines with seismic in the Bay Area – hence the clarification at the end. We all know that the book business is suffering and that brick-and-mortar shops are closing. I am sure that most of us mourn for an independent bookstore that has nostalgic memories.

So I am not sure why I am so surprised to hear the latest news out about Borders and Barnes & Noble. I prefer to walk into an independent bookstore when given the choice, but I need to admit, I also enjoy the inevitable comforts of a parking lot, a big bargain bin of hard covers that I could never afford otherwise, the bathrooms, and the occasional amazing deal. My local Barnes & Noble even has a fake fireplace that I enjoy sitting near in winter as I write.

But Barnes & Noble has now been put up for sale. I cannot help but wonder who would want to invest in such an industry. You can only assume that they would have quite a strategic business plan in place.

Borders have already closed all their stores in the UK and apparently came close to bankruptcy in the US. Both companies have entered the digital market with the Nook and Kobo respectively, so even a change of strategy suggests a move away from brick-and-mortar.

As an author, I have not had many opportunities to read at a bookstore. I find more interest at community centers, writer’s meetings and political groups. I rarely sell a book through a bookstore. So I am not sure why I mourn the possible extinction of the bookstore.

There are/were two legendary bookstores in the Bay Area. Cody’s was an untouchable institution and when I first came to live in Berkeley, I was surprised how when going out for a coffee with a friend, we would often spend a part of that evening talking while browsing through the shelves. Cody’s was mourned by the enlightened peoples of Berkeley when it closed its’ doors a few years ago, but apparently not enough to keep it open.

City Lights survives in San Francisco. It hit the headlines as a beacon for the beatnik writers who used the shop and publishing arm, and sat next door writing their works at Vesuvio. I love the store and seek an excuse to go in when I am in the vicinity. I almost always buy a book – even on my limited budget – because I don’t want to see it fall. There is something immensely valuable in the history and energy amassed there. I’m sure it was like that at Cody’s, but energy and nostalgia doesn’t pay the bills.

Not that I understand the stock market, but I believe that one of the few companies whose stock has steadily risen over the last two years is Amazon.com.

Is the writing on wall, the screen, and in the stock portfolio?

Good Writing,
Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

The Seismic Upheavals We All Knew Would Happen (the Book Industry)

One needs to be careful writing headlines with seismic in the Bay Area — hence the clarification at the end. We all know that the book business is suffering and that brick-and-mortar shops are closing. I am sure that most of us mourn for an independent bookstore that has nostalgic memories.

So I am not sure why I am so surprised to hear the latest news out about Borders and Barnes & Noble. I prefer to walk into an independent bookstore when given the choice, but I need to admit, I also enjoy the inevitable comforts of a parking lot, a big bargain bin of hard covers that I could never afford otherwise, the bathrooms, and the occasional amazing deal. My local Barnes & Noble even has a fake fireplace that I enjoy sitting near in winter as I write.

But Barnes & Noble has now been put up for sale. I cannot help but wonder who would want to invest in such an industry. You can only assume that they would have quite a strategic business plan in place.

Borders have already closed all their stores in the UK and apparently came close to bankruptcy in the US. Both companies have entered the digital market with the Nook and Kobo respectively, so even a change of strategy suggests a move away from brick-and-mortar.

As an author, I have not had many opportunities to read at a bookstore. I find more interest at community centers, writer’s meetings and political groups. I rarely sell a book through a bookstore. So I am not sure why I mourn the possible extinction of the bookstore.

There are/were two legendary bookstores in the Bay Area. Cody’s was an untouchable institution and when I first came to live in Berkeley, I was surprised how when going out for a coffee with a friend, we would often spend a part of that evening talking while browsing through the shelves. Cody’s was mourned by the enlightened peoples of Berkeley when it closed its’ doors a few years ago, but apparently not enough to keep it open.

City Lights survives in San Francisco. It hit the headlines as a beacon for the beatnik writers who used the shop and publishing arm, and sat next door writing their works at Vesuvio. I love the store and seek an excuse to go in when I am in the vicinity. I almost always buy a book – even on my limited budget – because I don’t want to see it fall. There is something immensely valuable in the history and energy amassed there. I’m sure it was like that at Cody’s, but energy and nostalgia doesn’t pay the bills.

Not that I understand the stock market, but I believe that one of the few companies whose stock has steadily risen over the last two years is Amazon.com.

Is the writing on wall, the screen, and in the stock portfolio?

Good Writing,
Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

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