The litter in littérateur. Ricky Opaterny on Books, Music, Art, and Sports


With sadness: Gotham Book Mart in trouble

Filed under: Books,General,Save Kepler's — Ricky @ 11:17 am

It looks like Gotham Book Mart in New York is in trouble once again. This is my favorite store in the country, and I hope something can be done to keep the store open.

From the New York Times story today:

In the last six months, the owners of the building have moved to evict the store and its owner, Andreas Brown. Friends of Mr. Brown’s say the building’s owners were only trying to help Gotham get on its feet. They say that Mr. Brown, who hoped to buy the building eventually, fell behind on his $51,000 monthly rent, and owes at least $500,000 in rent, taxes, interest and other fees.

Whether he fell behind because he lost momentum during the difficult transition after the move from the old building or because — as some friends say — he devoted his money to his first love, buying more books, and to paying his employees rather than his rent, the Gotham is fighting for its life once again.
What is clear is that a judge has authorized a city marshal to seize hundreds of thousands of items worth, perhaps, millions of dollars; that the store is closed, though employees are still allowed inside; and that Mr. Brown, who is 73, is no longer living there.

Mr. Brown’s lawyer, Lawrence D. Bernfeld, said yesterday that the current owner of the building, listed in real estate records only as 16 East 46th Street Property L.L.C., was willing, for just a brief time, to entertain offers to sell the building at below-market price to a new owner who would continue renting to the Gotham. “Should such a contract go forward, enlightened capitalism will be at work,” Mr. Bernfeld said.

I spoke with Andreas in the spring of 2005 for a story and posted previously on this blog about my love for his store.


Indies Under Fire screening September 30

Filed under: Books,General,Save Kepler's — Ricky @ 10:36 pm

Kepler’s is sponsoring a screening of the film Indies Under Fire about the decline of independent bookstores in America. The screening will take place at 7:30 pm on September 30 at 700 Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park.

If the film’s trailer is a good indication of its actual content, it looks like the documentary is yet another sentimental, corporate-bashing look at indie bookstores that refuses to do the hard work of pointing a critical eye at indies themselves and asking why the independent bookselling business has been stagnant and so incredibly slow to innovate or pioneer new business practices over the past few decades.

Kristof on Easterly, Sachs, et al

Filed under: Books,General — Ricky @ 10:14 pm

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has an article in the current New York Review of Books that reviews four fairly new books on development aid. He devotes most of his coverage to Bill Easterly’s book The White Man’s Burden. I read Easterly’s previous book, The Elusive Quest for Growth, and found it to be a rather good summary of development history and theory over the past 50 years or so. However, Easterly now seems more concerned about taking down the whole movement behind development aid (and especially Jeffrey Sachs). Kristof writes:

Professor Easterly devotes his book to hacking away, with considerable satisfaction, at Sachs and the entire humanitarian approach taken by the UN. Frankly, I find that satisfaction off-putting, because Sachs’s evangelism for aid has saved countless lives in the developing world by raising money to provide drinkable water, distribute mosquito nets to protect against malaria, improve methods of raising crops, and much else.

Kristof goes on to differentiate himself from Easterly on the issue of military intervention in developing countries:

If Easterly is generally sensible, there’s one matter where I think he’s catastrophically wrong. That is his hostility toward military intervention. It’s true tha in the past, military interventions have often been foolish and ended up hurting the people we claimed to be helping. The long American proxy war in Angola was disaster for everyone. But it’s also true that the single most essential prerequisite for economic development is security: no one will invest in a shop or factory if it is likely to be burned down soon. And insecurity is immensely contagious

The Western failure to intervene early in Rwanda allowed the genocide in 1994 that claimed perhaps 800,000 lives. But that was only the beginning. That chaos in turn infected Burundi and especially Congo, which collapsed into civil war. Some 4.1 million people have died because of the Congo war, mostly from hunger and disease, making it the most lethal conflict since World War II.

Something similar happened in West Africa. Upheavals in Liberia were allowed to fester and spread to Sierra Leone and then Ivory Coast; and now Guinea may be on the precipice as well. Because nobody was concerned to stop the killings in Darfur when they began in 2003, the genocide there is now spreading to Chad as well, and even to the Central African Republic.

So one of the most crucial kinds of foreign aid is simply security. And when we have provided that kind of aid, it has made a huge difference. The most successful single thing the US ever did in Asia, for example, was probably Truman’s decision in 1950, after the Korean War began, to send the Seventh Fleet to protect Taiwan. Otherwise China would very likely have invaded Taiwan sometime in the 1950s, hundreds of thousands would have died, and Taiwan wouldn’t have existed as a free economy in the 1980s and 1990s to provide both an economic model and investment for the Chinese mainland. The cost to the US of that deployment was negligible, and the benefit to the world was enormous.


Artforum covers Zidane: un Portrait du 21e Siècle

Filed under: Books,General — Ricky @ 6:42 pm

Zinedine Zidane: un Portrait de 21e Siecle

Zidane appears on the cover of the current issue of Artforum. The issue contains essays by Tim Griffin and Michael Fried on Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno’s film Zidane: un Portrait du 21e Siècle. Fried, who situates the film in the modernist tradition of photography, writes:

. . . the viewer’s conviction of the great athlete’s total engagement in the match is not thereby undermined. Instead, the film lays bare a hitherto unthematized relationship between absorption and beholding—more precisely, between the persuasive representation of absorption and the apparent consciousness of being beheld—in the context of art, a relationship that is no longer simply one of opposition or complementarity but that allows a sliding and indeed an overlap that would have seemed unimaginable to Diderot. . . .

And not only does Zidane lay bare this new relationship, it goes on to explore it . . . . Zidane’s inspired investigation of its protagonist’s capacity for absorption under conditions of maximum exposure to being viewed, as well as of the modified and shifting meaning of absorption itself under such conditions, makes it, if not quite a modernist film, at the very least a film that is of the greatest interest to anyone egaged by these and related topics.

Meanwhile, Griffin concludes his essay by returning to Zidane’s inscrutability:

. . . audiences leave the theater with the inevitable realization that Zidane, whether images, symbol, or hero—all real aspects of his being—is also a man we can’t pretend to know at all. Of course, that is his appeal.

For those interested in the film, a new, so-called “art,” version of it is being released soon. And, as previously posted, here’s a link to the film’s trailer.


Daniel Mendelsohn on the 9/11 films

Filed under: Books,General — Ricky @ 8:49 pm

Daniel Mendelsohn is right in form in his review of Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center and Peter Greengrass’s United 93 in the New York Review of Books.

The pretty much exclusive emphasis thus far on the “good”—the heroism and the bravery of ordinary Americans—in these entertainments is noteworthy, because it reminds you of the unwillingness to grapple with and acknowledge the larger issues, the larger causes and effects that culminated in what happened on September 11, which has characterized much of the national response to this pivotal trauma. That both films, like so much we have seen on various screens over the past five years, clothe their fictions and their editorializing in the pious garment of reverence for authentic reality—a pose that will elicit tears, if not serious thinking—should be cause for alarm rather than applause.

That 9/11 is necessarily treated with reverence and solemnity without question has bothered me on nearly every occasion on which the subject has been publicly raised over the past five years. I remember being at Ground Zero on the second anniversary of 9/11 when the girl the picture below was surrounded by a screaming mob who proceeded to tear up her sign. That people continue to limit the scope of the discussion surrounding 9/11 in the name of respect and nationalism is, of course, contrary to the very values of free speech, dissent, and critical thought that made our country in the first place.

9-11 Girl with Sign


Susan Sontag is King Kong

Filed under: Books,General — Ricky @ 7:02 pm

The New York Times Magazine published today a series of selections from Susan Sontag’s journals that she kept during the 1950s and 60s. FSG is going to publish the first volume of her journals in 2008. Here are a few gems from the NYTM excerpt:

In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.

The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent. Therefore (alas) it does not simply record my actual daily life but rather–in many cases offers an alternative to it.
It’s corrupting to write with the intent to moralize, to elevate people’s moral standards.

Nothing prevents me from being a writer except laziness. A good writer.

Why is writing important? Mainly out of egotism, I suppose. Because I want to be that persona, a writer, and not because there is something I must say.
The only kind of writer I could be is the kind who exposes himself. . . .To write is to spend oneself, to gamble oneself. But up to now I have not even liked the sound of my own name. To write, I must love my name. The writer is in love with himself. . .and makes his books out of that meeting and that violence.
There is no stasis. To stand still is to fall away from the truth; the inner life dims and flickers, starts to go out, as soon as one tries to hold fast. It’s like trying to make this breath serve for the next one, or making today’s dinner do the work of next Wednesday’s as well.. . .Truth rides the arrow of time.
I write to define myself — an act of self-creation — part of process of becoming — in a dialogue with myself, with writers I admire living and dead, with ideal readers
I want to be able to be alone, to find it nourishing — not just a waiting.
Art = a way of getting in touch with one’s own insanity.
one doesn’t learn from experience–because the substance of things is always changing
I’m not “saying something.” I’m allowing “something” to have a voice, an independent existence (an existence independent of me).
Self-expression is a limiting idea, limiting if it’s central. (Art as self-expression is very limiting.) From self-expression one can never arrive at an authentic, a genuine, not merely expediential, justification for courtesy.
One of my strongest and most fully employed emotions: contempt. Contempt for others, contempt for myself.
My mind = King Kong. Aggressive, tears people to pieces. I keep it locked up most of the time–and bite my nails.
The only people who should interest themselves in an art (or several arts) are those who practice it — or have — or aspire to. The whole idea of an “audience” is wrong. The artist’s audience is his peers.


France beats Italy 3-1 in WC final rematch

Filed under: General — Ricky @ 9:25 pm

France beat Italy 3-1 tonight in a Euro 2008 qualifying match at the Stade de France in Paris. I took the day off from work to watch the game in which Sidney Gouvou scored twice and Thierry Henry once to propel les Bleus to victory. The game’s pace was incredible from the start and worth watching for anyone who enjoys good football. Fortunately, the fears that the game might get out of control were never realized.

Finally, and inevitably, the shadow of Zinédine Zidane was inescapable. The Guardian’s game story described his presence:

The outpouring of joy on the final whistle, a din to match a breathtaking occasion, reflected a nation’s belated satisfaction. La revanche had been on the locals’ minds and by the end it was on their lips. The rasped homage echoing around this arena was for “Zizou”. Zinédine Zidane will have enjoyed watching from afar even if Marco Materazzi, the man whose remark prompted the playmaker’s infamous butt in Berlin, was still suspended.

Zidane was everywhere last night. His name was emblazoned across the fans’ shirts, his image flickering down from the big screens above both goals. France rose to the occasion, easing their way to victory with a goal after 70 seconds, volleyed magnificently by Govou at the far post from William Gallas’s cross. That set the tone for the evening. “It wasn’t a perfect performance,” said the coach Raymond Domenech. “That would have seen us score with every attack and not concede, but we beat the best in the world, the world champions. That is satisfying.”

It didn’t appear that Zidane was actually at the game, although television cameras spotted Michel Platini in the stands.

Cody’s Books acquired by Japanese bookseller

Filed under: Books,General,Save Kepler's — Ricky @ 9:06 pm

Japanese bookseller and publisher Yohan, Inc., has acquired Cody’s Books. Yohan is the largest distributor of English-language books in Japan. Cody’s, which closed its Telegraph Avenue store in July, has locations on Fourth Street in Berkeley and on Stockton in San Francisco.

The press release announcing the sale does not disclose the terms of the deal and is, generally, rather vague about Yohan’s interest in the Berkeley-based Cody’s:

Cody’s will retain both its Fourth Street store in Berkeley and its Union Square store in San Francisco, its extensive author appearance program, its school, library, and corporate book services, and its expert staff. Ross will remain president of Cody’s Books, and Leslie Berkler will become vice-president, focusing on store operations, as well as rapidly growing off-site programs including book fairs, schools, libraries, and corporate sales. Cody’s will operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Yohan.

Cody’s, founded by Fred and Pat Cody in 1956, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Andy Ross acquired the business in 1977, and then opened a second Berkeley store in 1997 and a downtown San Francisco store in 2005. The flagship Telegraph Avenue store in Berkeley was closed earlier this year due to declining sales. Ross notes, “With Yohan’s support, Cody’s will continue to be both an essential voice in the community while exploring a number of growth opportunities around the corner and across the globe.”

Hiroshi Kagawa, CEO of Yohan, says, “I’ve loved Cody’s ever since I first visited the store in 1983.” Founded in 1953, Yohan is the largest distributor of English-language books and magazines in Japan. It owns 18 bookstores in Japan, including the art and design-focused Aoyama Book Center, as well as the publisher IBC Publishing. “It is our ultimate mission to promote culture and communications worldwide,” says Kagawa. Yohan also owns Berkeley’s Stone Bridge Press, run by Kagawa’s longtime friend and colleague Peter Goodman. “Hiroshi loves books,” says Goodman. “Yohan and Cody’s share a sensibility that venerates the written word.”


Fire at St. Francis High School

Filed under: General — Ricky @ 9:25 pm

It looks like there was a fire at my high school last night. Firefighters arrived at Saint Francis High School in Mountain View at 1:30 am to find a fire in the dumpster next to the cafeteria. According to the school’s website, the fire was an accident.

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