Books on Monday

In addition to buying a bunch of books for gifts, I picked up a few for myself at Kepler’s after Thanksgiving sale.

Books Bought:
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
The Book of Salt by Monique Truong
Politics by Hendrik Hertzberg

Books Read:
Urban Tribes: Are Friends the New Family? by Ethan Watters
Don’t Think of an Elephant by George Lakoff

Jonathan Lethem, Dave Eggers, and Thomas Keller

Just a few quick notes from the events I’ve attended recently.

I attended Thomas Keller’s talk at Kepler’s on the 10th. He didn’t bring any food to sample, but he did an excellent round of Q&A. I always ask chefs where they like to eat when they’re down along the Peninsula. Unfortunately, Keller didn’t really have an answer to the question. However, he did note that he stopped at In & Out for a burger during the drive from Napa Valley to Menlo Park.

Earlier this month I saw Jonathan Lethem interviewed at a City Arts and Lectures event in San Francisco. I just decided to go the day of the event; fortunately, someone standing outside the Herbst Theater at 7:55 gave me a free ticket. (I paid him $5, anyway.) At the signing session afterwards I ran into local authors Robert Mailer Anderson and Stephen Elliot. Anderson was decked out in a long leather coat, which he (jokingly?) claimed to have purchased from Sotheby’s. During the interview, Lethem noted that he does most of his writing between May and September. And do you know why? Yes, it’s because he writes while listening to the broadcasts of Mets games on the radio. So, during baseball season, he’s guaranteed to write for three hours a day. Sounds like the perfect life to me.

Another cool piece of information that I took from the event was that when Lethem first moved to Berkeley, he lived on the north side of campus and thought that that little block of Euclid beginning on Hearst was the big downtown area. If you’re familiar with Berkeley, you know what I’m talking about.

And, speaking of the Hearst/Euclid intersection, I just got home from an event at the North Gate building, which is located right there. UC Berkeley’s graduate school of journalism sponsored a talk by John Prendergast entitled “Darfur: How to Respond to Genocide.” Prendergast was lucid and funny and inspiring and just flat out good. He is Special Adviser to the President of the International Crisis Group, and he served under President Clinton during his second term in office. At least that’s the info I got off of Berkeley’s page. If anyone can recommend or pass along any writings by him, please do so. Unfortunately, this being Berkeley, some members of the audience took the liberty to just go off. One guy spent about five minutes just asking a question. Another spent just as long criticizing Prendergrast for not going far enough and examining the “root of the problem.” Oh, well, like I said that’s what you get in Berkeley. The last time I attended a J-School event there was in October when William Kristol debated Mark Danner. As much as I disagree with his politics, I have to admit that Kristol kicked Danner’s ass. Anyway, throughout the debate, people in the audience kept heckling Kristol. Finally, toward the end the UC police took one of them away in cuffs and everyone cheered. A couple years ago I saw Azar Nafisi read at Cody’s and an Iranian woman in the audience just started attacking her for suggesting than Iran oppresses women. Yup, Berkeley.

Back to tonight’s event: Prendergast was introduced by Dave Eggers, who teaches at the J-school and sat alone in the front row diligently taking notes during the seminar. As many of you know, Eggers is working on a biography of one of the “Lost Boys” from Sudan—parts of which have appeared in The Believer.

Books on Monday

It was a sad week for reading and shopping. That’s all I have to say about that.

Books bought:
Paper Lion by George Plimpton

Books read:
Nope, none this week.

Jonathan Franzen and Charlie Brown

Jonathan Franzen has an essay on Charles Schulz in this week’s New Yorker. We have not had a chance to read it yet, but here’s a brief and random paragraph from the piece:

I wonder why “cartoonish” remains such a pejorative. It took me half my life to achieve seeing my parents as cartoons. And to become more perfectly a cartoon myself: what a victory that would be.

Why is everyone talking about Roth’s new novel?

In the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review this week, Martin Rubin asks, Why is everyone talking about Roth’s new novel? Part of his answer:

A considerable measure of its appeal is owing to the book’s unusual transparency. In writing about events that never happened and actions by real people that they never undertook — all of it done with an admirable sense of plausibility that somehow trumps the reader’s knowledge that none of this actually happened — Roth has connected with profound feelings that are, apparently, widespread. It seems ineluctably significant that this work was undertaken in the immediate aftermath of the most contentious and ill-resolved election in our history and that its enormous and coruscating success has much to do with its appearance in our midst as we went to the polls again, as fractious and polarized this time as last.

He goes on to discuss the distorted, candy-coated version of President Roosevelt that Roth portrays in the novel, while noting parallels between GWB and both Roosevelt and Lindbergh.

Delays this week

Sorry for the absence of posts. We know, we know—You’re looking forward to more. We’re on application deadlines this week, unfortunately. However, we would like to encourage everyone to read Jonathan Franzen’s essay on Alice Munro, which appeared as the cover story in this week’s New York Times Book Review. If you made it to the end of that sentence without clicking on the link to the essay, read it now!

As a new feature for Mondays, I will be listing the books I bought and the ones I read during the previous week.

Books bought:
Runaway by Alice Munro
Don’t Think of an Elephant by George Lakoff

Books read:
The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty by Buster Olney

Herbert’s advice to depressed Democrats

In his NYT column today, Bob Herbert bluntly addressed the despair that many Democrats are feeling following the Bush victory:

Which brings me to the Democrats – the ordinary voters, not the politicians – and where they go from here. I have been struck by the extraordinary demoralization, even dark despair, among a lot of voters who desperately wanted John Kerry to defeat Mr. Bush. “We did all we could,” one woman told me, “and we still lost.”

Here’s my advice: You had a couple of days to indulge your depression – now, get over it. The election’s been lost but there’s still a country to save, and with the current leadership that won’t be easy. Crucial matters that have been taken for granted too long – like the Supreme Court and Social Security – are at risk. Caving in to depression and a sense of helplessness should not be an option when the country is speeding toward an abyss.

Roll up your sleeves and do what you can. Talk to your neighbors. Call or write your elected officials. Volunteer to help in political campaigns. Circulate petitions. Attend meetings. Protest. Run for office. Support good candidates who are running for office. Register people to vote. Reach out to the young and the apathetic. Raise money. Stay informed. And vote, vote, vote – every chance you get.

Democracy is a breeze during good times. It’s when the storms are raging that citizenship is put to the test. And there’s a hell of a wind blowing right now.

Thomas Frank Op-Ed in Today’s NY Times

Thomas Frank’s most recent book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America preciently explains phenomenon of “moral values” that polls show played a pivotal role in Tuesday’s election.

Frank has an op-ed piece in today’s Times, basically restating the argument conveyed in his book. Frank, who also wrote One Market Under God seems to think that moral/cultural values should always be trumped by economic values. But yet how to make the evangelical Christians and the people in the middle of the country care about the economy or foreign policy of health care or education?

Frank writes:

To short-circuit the Republican appeals to blue-collar constituents, Democrats must confront the cultural populism of the wedge issues with genuine economic populism. They must dust off their own majoritarian militancy instead of suppressing it; sharpen the distinctions between the parties instead of minimizing them; emphasize the contradictions of culture-war populism instead of ignoring them; and speak forthrightly about who gains and who loses from conservative economic policy.

What is more likely, of course, is that Democratic officialdom will simply see this week’s disaster as a reason to redouble their efforts to move to the right. They will give in on, say, Social Security privatization or income tax “reform” and will continue to dream their happy dreams about becoming the party of the enlightened corporate class. And they will be surprised all over again two or four years from now when the conservative populists of the Red America, poorer and angrier than ever, deal the “party of the people” yet another stunning blow.

Peter Beinart calls for a similar Democratic focus on economic issues in The New Republic:

It is true that Kerry failed to win back many lunch-pail, working-class former Democrats. But, instead of focusing merely on why those voters were alienated by the Democrats’ cultural message, party strategists need to pay more attention to why they weren’t attracted by its economic message.

Jonathan Lethem and Thomas Keller appearances

Lethem and Keller are both making Bay Area appearances next week. Lethem will be in conversation with Daniel Handler a.k.a Lemony Snicket at a City Arts and Lectures event on Monday, November 8. Lethem’s short story collection Men and Cartoons was just released. Moreover, advance copies of his essay collection The Disappointment Artist are making their way to reviewers. The book is scheduled for publication in April 2005. I’ve seen Lethem in conversation twice in the past year, and I encourage people to attend this event.

Thomas Keller is touring to support his new Bouchon cookbook and will be making an appearance at Kepler’s on Wednesday, November 10. Let’s hope he brings some food to sample!

Moral values

Are the people who voted for Bush on moral/cultural issues every going to get what they think they voted for?

Has anyone been more hesitant to call states tonight than The New York Times?

Has Dan Rather ever heard of a touch screen? He just called his an “electronic gadget.” CBS just gave Hawaii to Kerry. Then Rather said, “If this thing gets any closer, we’ll have to call 911, call a nurse, call somebody.” Boy, it might be time to go back to NPR’s coverage.

Is there still hope for Kerry in Ohio? I despair and try to sleep.

People, People—Get out and vote!

That especially means you, Democrats in swing states! I will post my selections from the California ballot later today. Which media sources will people be using to follow the election? (Leave some comments.) Boone and I will be out and about in San Francisco—meet us there.

The Chronicle noted this morning that we should have some clues as to who’s going to win the Presidential election around 4 pm PST.

*Update 11:29 am*
Joel went out to the polls this morning and said the lines were moving very, very slowly.

The Griffin radioShark

Griffin Technology has released a new product called the radioShark. It’s like TiVo for the radio, for your computer. You can record radio broadcasts directly to your computer for later listening. I’ve been looking for something like this for a while because I would like to record NPR programming—Fresh Air, City Arts and Lectures, All Things Considered—to listen to on my iPod while I’m driving. Moreover, I can record KZSU’s broadcast of the Stanford game, if I’m going to miss it. Until now, my only option has been Audio Hijack, which is glitchy and requires more maintenance. With the radioShark, you can program it to record any station at any time while you’re gone. Is this not awesome? The downside, of course, is that it works only for FM/AM radio broadcasts, while Audio Hijack remains the best option for recording internet streams or anything else that plays on your computer.

Safran Foer’s new novel

Jonathan Safran Foer’s new novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is due out from Houghton Mifflin in April. I heard him read an excerpt at Symphony Space in New York earlier this year, and am eagerly awaiting a chance to read the whole thing. The book is narrated by a child with a tendency toward French sayings—It is funny, trust me. If you liked Alex’s use of language in Everything is Illuminated, you’ll love this kid.—whose father dies in the WTC on 9/11. Does anyone know if ARC’s are out there yet? Has anyone read it? Use the comments link below to respond.

Murakami’s new novel due in January

The English translation of Haruki Murakami’s new novel Kafka on the Shore is due from Knopf in January. Advance copies are out there, however. Please post some comments if you’ve read the novel already. I’m totally late to the party on Murakami, but I’m planning to catch up and read the new one soon.

On a related note, the Summer 2004 issue of The Paris Review contains a very good interview with Murakami in which he discusses Kafka–Franz Kafka, that is–and Radiohead among other subjects.

New Dave Eggers collection out

Dave Eggers has a new collection of short stories out titled How We Are Hungry. I picked up signed copy at ACWLP in San Francisco last week, and am just starting to read through it. I recognized some of the stories from their previous incarnations in The New Yorker, Zoetrope, and the Nick Hornby-edited collection Speaking With the Angel. John Freeman praised Eggers’ book in The San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday. Here is a brief excerpt from his review:

Like Lorrie Moore in “Birds of America,” Eggers understands how movement from one place to the next can put us off balance and make us kiss the Blarney Stone out of our own neediness. In “The Only Meaning of Oil-Wet Water,” a woman flies down to Costa Rica to figure out whether her friend Hand (who reappears from “Velocity”) is a lover or merely a friend. It’s a heartbreaking little story because — if you’re the kind of person who takes time seriously — it reminds you how many near misses you have when searching for the One. What do you do with all those moments so indelibly remembered?

And here is where Eggers takes his writing to a whole new level. In “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” Eggers’ grief over his parents’ deaths was fried in a vat of irony; in contrast, these stories are raw, unfiltered but have the same quivering texture of lived experience.

Athletes and Politics

A story on the AP wire today provides further details about Curt Shilling’s campaigning for George W. Bush. After endorsing Bush during an interview last week and subsequently apologizing for having taken a public political stand, Shilling has now recorded a telephone message for voters in three swing states. Part of his message:

These past couple of weeks, Sox fans … trusted me when it was my turn on the mound. Now you can trust me on this: President Bush is the right leader for our country.

Shilling was initially supposed to make a few campaign stops with Bush, but had to cancel due to his upcoming surgery.

It’s too bad that Shilling is supporting the wrong candidate. Fortunately, Boston’s general magager Theo Epstein has made an appearance with John Kerry. I guess the smart people in baseball really are in the front office.

What disappoints me most about this whole story is not that Shilling supports Bush, but rather that he felt he needed to apologize for expressing that support during an interview. Athletes should use their public platform to express their opinions on political issues, just as so many musicians and writers and actors have during this campaign season. A couple weeks ago I saw Michael Stipe sporting a Kerry t-shirt during R.E.M.’s concert in Berkeley; perhaps, in 2008 we’ll see Johnny Damon doing the same during the Red Sox World Series victory parade. Then again, maybe asking for athletes to take a stand and for a second Red Sox championship in 90 years is a little too much.

More on Nike’s Fenway Park Ad

Nike ran a very well-done advertisement on FOX following the final games of the ALCS and the World Series. In today’s New York Times, Stuart Elliot comments on the marketing viability of the Red Sox following their World Series victory. He points out that Nike had actually developed the Fenway Park commercial for last year’s ALCS, but had to shelve it after Aaron Boone’s homerun sent the Yankees on to the World Series. The ad, which was created by Wiedland + Kennedy, can be seen at Nike’s website. This commercial is not to be missed. If you missed it, we encourage you to check it out. You will not be disappointed.