Simmons/Gladwell on

Apparently, I’m the last person to read this conversation between Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Simmons. In my favorite part, Gladwell and Simmons talk about what makes greatness and why Phil Mickelson will never beat Tiger Woods:

Gladwell: As for your (very kind) question about my writing, I’m not sure I can answer that either, except to say that I really love writing, in a totally uncomplicated way. When I was in high school, I ran track and in the beginning I thought of training as a kind of necessary evil on the way to racing. But then, the more I ran, the more I realized that what I loved was running, and it didn’t much matter to me whether it came in the training form or the racing form. I feel the same way about writing. I’m happy writing anywhere and under any circumstances and in fact I’m now to the point where I’m suspicious of people who don’t love what they do in the same way. I was watching golf, before Christmas, and the announcer said of Phil Mickelson that the tournament was the first time he’d picked up a golf club in five weeks. Assuming that’s true, isn’t that profoundly weird? How can you be one of the top two or three golfers of your generation and go five weeks without doing the thing you love? Did Mickelson also not have sex with his wife for five weeks? Did he give up chocolate for five weeks? Is this some weird golfer’s version of Lent that I’m unaware of? They say that Wayne Gretzky, as a 2-year-old, would cry when the Saturday night hockey game on TV was over, because it seemed to him at that age unbearably sad that something he loved so much had to come to end, and I’ve always thought that was the simplest explanation for why Gretzky was Gretzky. And surely it’s the explanation as well for why Mickelson will never be Tiger Woods.

Simmons: On Mickelson and Sports Lent, I remember watching one of those 20/20-Dateline-type pieces about him once, and he was adamant about remaining a family man, taking breaks from golf and never letting the sport consume him … and I remember thinking to myself, “Right now Tiger is watching this and thinking, ‘I got him. Cross Phil off the list. This guy will never pass me.'” The great ones aren’t just great, they enjoy what they’re doing —

The West Can’t Save Africa

William Easterly has a piece in Monday’s Washington Post about the failure of development aid to help Africa. I’m just finishing Easterly’s previous book, The Elusive Quest for Growth, which is very compelling. This article, however, is a little over the top in its efforts to provoke. Easterly writes:

The West’s focus on sensational tragedies obscures the achievements of people such as Patrick Awuah and Robert Keter, who are succeeding even against tremendous odds. Economic development in Africa will depend — as it has elsewhere and throughout the history of the modern world — on the success of private-sector entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs and African political reformers. It will not depend on the activities of patronizing, bureaucratic, unaccountable and poorly informed outsiders.

Check out this heated exchange in the Post that Easterly’s review of Jeffrey Sachs’s book produced last year.


I managed to miss posting the link to this interview with Jonathan Lethem, which is required reading for everyone who cares about literature or art or anything, or, well, just anyone.

The IHT/NYT blog reports that tomorrow at the World Economic Forum, Bono will announce a multi-million dollar corporate backed campaign for The Global Fund.

Courtney Love is Paula Fox’s granddaughter? And Gabriel Garcia Marquez has stopped writing?

Nicholas Kristof reviews two new books about genocide in Sudan in the current New York Review of Books. The highlights:

You expect that from time to time, a government may attack some part of its own people, but you might hope that by the twenty-first century the world would react. Alas, that hasn’t happened. Indeed, the Armenian genocide of 1915 arguably provoked greater popular outrage in America at the time than the Darfur genocide does today.
The most feasible option is to convert [African Union Forces] into a “blue-hat” UN force and add to them UN and NATO forces. The US could easily enforce a no-fly zone in Darfur by using the nearby Chadian air base in Abeché. Then it could make a strong effort to arrange for tribal conferences—the traditional method of conflict settlement in Darfur—and there is reason to hope that such conferences could work to achieve peace. The Arab tribes have been hurt by the war as well, and the tribal elders are much more willing to negotiate than the Sudan government and the rebel leaders who are the parties to the current peace negotiations.
Some organizations, like Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group, have also produced a series of excellent reports on Darfur—underscoring that this time the nations of the world know exactly what they are turning away from and cannot claim ignorance.
Once again, the international response has been to debate whether the word “genocide” is really appropriate, to point out that the situation is immensely complex, to shrug that it’s horrifying but that there’s nothing much we can do. The slogan “Never Again” is being transformed into “One More Time.”

Perhaps, the media should devote less coverage to James Frey and more to Sudan? Or at least to J.T. LeRoy, whose work and fabrications are far more impressive than Frey’s.

All this should be balanced by a little levity: The Worst Job Ever.

Garrison Keillor tears apart Bernard-Henri Lévy’s new book, American Vertigo, in this weekend’s New York Times Book Review. Levy responds in the New York Sun.

The Year of Magical Thinking Revisited

Jonathan Yardley remembers John Gregory Dunne in Sunday’s Washington Post. He likens Dunne to my favorite author:

In certain respects, the American writer whom Dunne most resembles is his fellow Irishman and fellow (lapsed) Catholic, F. Scott Fitzgerald. To be sure, Fitzgerald was an outsider who wanted in, while Dunne liked the outside just fine, thank you, but each of them cast a cool eye on American crudity and kitsch, and each found something to admire in the American who longed to move from corruption to respectability. Dunne’s relatively neglected novel Playland is his riff on The Great Gatsby , its narrator Jack Broderick is his Nick Carraway, and its repentant mobster Jake King is his Jay Gatsby.

Yardley had previously reviewed Didion’s memoir here.

So: is Google a good thing?

John Lanchester asks, “Is Google a good thing?” in the London Review of Books and concludes:

The best historical analogy for where Google is today probably comes from the time when the railroads were being built. Everyone knew that trains and railways would change the world, but no one predicted the invention of suburbs. Google, and the increased flow of information on which it rides and from which it benefits, is the railway. I don’t think we’ve yet seen the first suburbs.

Amy Tan Reading at Kepler’s Tonight

Amy Tan will be reading at Kepler’s on Tuesday, January 24 at 7:30 pm. This is the only event that has been announced so far for the winter literary season. I’m wondering where all the other events are. There are many authors with books coming out in the next few months that we’re interested in: Colson Whitehead, William Easterly, Frances Mayes, Amartya Sen, Lawrence Weschler. Will Kepler’s get any of these authors to do in-store events? We’ll see.

Kepler’s Fifth Board Member

Kepler’s has yet to name the fifth member of its Board of Directors. In a letter to the editor of the San Jose Mercury on September 21, I called for Kepler’s to name a local author to the board:

Monday’s announcement of a patron’s circle of investors and a board of directors in the effort to save Kepler’s Books is a welcomed one. However, I was disappointed when I learned the makeup of the board of directors. Kepler’s undoubtedly needs a group to oversee its business operations, and the named members of the board are obviously qualified to do this and committed to the store. However, readers and writers are the people who make a bookstore, and Kepler’s should allocate at least one seat on its board to someone with a purely literary interest in the store–say, a local author or teacher.

Money and marketing expertise may allow Kepler’s to reopen, but what will make it survive and succeed are the people who get hooked on the store and its books and then bring their friends who end up doing the same. For this to happen, Kepler’s will need to remake itself to thrive both literally and literarily.

This, apparently, isn’t going to happen.

Kepler’s Holiday Picks—Where’s the fiction?

Kepler’s has a nice little pamphlet with its holiday gift picks. However, a wildly disproportionate number of these picks are nonfiction or popular fiction. With literary fiction making up less than 4% of the books sold in this country, it the responsibility of pushing fiction titles falls squarely on the shoulders on independent bookstores. There was no shortage of excellent literary fiction titles this year, with new books from Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Haruki Murakami, Jonathan Safran Foer, Nicole Krauss, and Francine Prose. Although Kepler’s has always had good table fiction, their register display seems to contain an increasing number of nonfiction and popular fiction titles. The only work of literary fiction I recall from my weekend visit is Zadie Smith’s excellent novel On Beauty.

Kepler’s Autumn Literary Festival

Kepler’s will be putting on a series of readings around town on Thursday, November 3. Here is the lineup:

Jerome Karabel, UC Berkeley professor and author of numerous articles on higher education and social inequality, introduces his new book, The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton – 5:30 p.m. at Kepler’s, free admission

Tobias Wolff, Stanford professor and author of numerous books, including: Old School – 7:30 p.m. at Menlo College Dining Hall, free admission

Barry Eisler, Menlo Park author of the award-winning Rain thriller series, featuring “natural causes” assassin John Rain – 7:30 p.m. at Menlo Park City Council Chambers, free admission

Ann Packer, national award-winning northern California author of The Dive from Clausen‘s Pier – 7:30 p.m. at Trellis Restaurant, Menlo Park (dessert served), limited to 40 guests, free admission

Dinner/Author Event with Palo Alto’s Firoozeh Dumas, the author of Funny in Farsi, A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America, who will discuss the food, culture, and insightful experiences of growing up Iranian in America. – 6:30 – 9:00 p.m. at private residence. Hors d’oeuvres and Persian dinner will be served. Limited to 40 guests. Members: $85 per person. Public/Non-Members: $125 per person. For reservations call (650) 462-5501 Mon – Fri, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

San Jose Mercury: Amazon board member Doerr also a Kepler’s contributor

John Doerr, well-known Silicon Valley venture capitalist and board member at Amazon, interestingly is listed among those who contributed $25,000 or more to reopen Kepler’s Books and Magazines in Menlo Park.

Menlo Park is the location of his venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and he lives just up the road in Woodside.

It is noteworthy because Kepler’s said it went out of business in August because of lost sales to big chains and online merchants like

Of course, anybody supporting one doesn’t necessarily need to be against the other: “For example, I shop at both Amazon and Kepler’s at times. They serve different purposes,” said Mike Masnick, co-author of the Techdirt blog at

Palo Alto Weekly: Kepler’s revival aids Katrina schools

The Palo Alto Weekly reports that the winners of last weekend’s Kepler’s raffle chose to donate the books they won to schools hit by Hurricane Katrina.

Palo Alto residents Bill and Kara Rosenberg turned a windfall into an opportunity for charity this week.

The couple won a $500 gift certificate to Kepler’s bookstore last weekend, part of the grand re-opening festivities. The Menlo Park store had been closed for a month while investors from the community worked to revive it.

The Rosenbergs chose a few books for themselves and donated the rest to schools damaged by Hurricane Katrina in St. Tammany Parish, La., as part of the “Bridge of Caring” project sponsored by Palo Alto school groups.

Kepler’s Reopening on Saturday, Oct. 8—Volunteers Needed

Kepler’s will be reopening this Saturday, October 8. There will be a rally outside the store at 11 am. Following the rally, the store will reopen. Additionally, a membership table will be taking membership pledges all day long outside the store. There will be a raffle. There will be fun. This event is not to be missed. Thank you to all of you in the community who have expressed support for the bookstore over the past month. This reopening would not be possible without you. Stay tuned to as there will be additional events announced soon. You will not be disappointed.

Here is the press release announcing the reopening.

We do need your help, however. Kepler’s is looking for people to volunteer in various capacities. A list of volunteer opportunities follows below:

* Work at a membership table and take membership pledges. We need people to work three-hour shifts on the following days:
November 4, 5 pm to 11 pm
November 5, 5 pm to 11 pm
November 6, 9 am to 5 pm

* Solicit memberships via phone and email.

* Perform general office work.

* Underwrite special events. Let us know if your company is interested.

* Administer database management.

* Host an author event at your house.

If you are interested in volunteering in any of the above capacities, please email us with your volunteer interests and availability.

Friday’s Tidbits

The San Jose Mercury News mentioned Kepler’s in an editorial arguing for an internet tax. The absence of such a tax allows people to buy from online stores such as, ahem, Amazon without contributing to their local economies.

Consider the recent closure of Kepler’s, Menlo Park’s storied bookseller: It’s clear that the 8.25 percent price premium that shoppers had to pay when buying books there instead of online didn’t help it stay competitive.

A letter to the editor in Friday’s Palo Alto Weekly rightly suggests that Kepler’s should name someone with a purely literary interest to its board of directors.

Salman Rushdie’s appearance, originally scheduled for October 3 at Kepler’s, has been moved to Books Inc. in Mountain View on Castro Street.

Kepler’s Press Release

Kepler’s has issued a press release announcing the formation of a Patron’s Circle of local investors and a Board of Directors as part of the efforts to save the store. The story was picked up by the San Jose Mercury and the Palo Alto Weekly among others. Details on membership and volunteer opportunities will be available soon.

The release begins:

Kepler’s today announced the formation of a Patron’s Circle of 17 community-minded individuals who will provide the financial basis for the bookstore’s renaissance and a Board of Directors that will add substantial financial and business expertise to Kepler’s while keeping its heart and soul alive. Members of the City Council have pledged strong support for keeping Kepler’s as the hub of downtown Menlo Park. However, the well-known and loved bookstore still faces hurdles in its ongoing negotiations with its landlord, the Tan Group of Palo Alto.

Members of the Board include Clark Kepler, President, CEO and Chairman of the Board; Daniel Méndez, a Menlo Park resident and co-founder and CTO of Visto Corporation, a wireless technology firm in Redwood City; Geoff Ralston, an Atherton resident and Chief Product Officer at Yahoo!; and Bruce Dunlevie, General Partner at Menlo Park-based Benchmark Capital and a seasoned veteran of venture capital with more than 15 years experience in high-tech investing.

Click here to read the full release.

Additionally, click here to read letters from Ira Ruskin and Joe Simitian to the Tan Group.

Save Kepler’s Mailing List and How to Help

Thank you to all who attended the rally last week and to those who could not attend but were there in spirit. We mentioned writing in through this website as one way to get on the mailing list for saving Kepler’s. Please email us and say Hi if you would like to be on the list. The address for those of you who don’t do email links is (If there are specific ways in which you think you can help–expertise you think you can offer–please note them in your email.) If you have previously emailed in through this site, you are already on our list. We will keep you informed of any developments in the effort to save Kepler’s.

As noted at the rally, if and when Kepler’s returns, there will likely be some sort of membership option available. The benefits of membership will be good and are not to be missed. In the meantime, while we work to restore the store, one thing you can do—in addition to getting on our mailing list and buying local—is to urge the Tan Group, to come to favorable terms with Kepler’s on its lease. Crack your knuckles and start writing letters. Even a brief message to the group in support of Kepler’s would be helpful. Contact info for the Tan Group: Tan Group: 3630 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94306, 650.493.6500. They used to have a website, but it curiously went down last week. We persist in wondering why.

We are looking for Qualified Investors who are capable of making very large contributions to the effort to revive Kepler’s. If you are interested and think you fit the bill, please email us.

For those who missed them, we have posted some new memories of Kepler’s.

San Jose Mercury: Rescuing Kepler’s

The San Jose Mercury ran a short piece updating the current Kepler’s situation. In it, Clark Kepler is quoted as saying, “I don’t think any other attitude than optimism is appropriate. It’s just an incredible outpouring, and I want to do everybody right by making it work.” This one’s optimistic. Click here for the full article.

Monday, Monday: The State of the Independents and More…

In addition to Sunday’s article in the San Francisco Chronicle, there has been some other media coverage of the Kepler’s story over the past few days. (If you only have time for one story, make it the Chronicle one, though.) David Morrill has an article on Inside Bay Area about the current state of independent bookstores and the resonating effect of Kepler’s closure throughout the bookselling world. Morrill’s article describes a clear opposition between independents and the big chains. Taking a contrarian view, Rhett Butler offers the idea that independent stores could profit by teaming up with Amazon. Gilles d’Aymery argues, rightly, that customers should and will order online, but that they should do so from their local bookstore. If and when Kepler’s reopens, will offer local same day delivery. Not even Amazon can give you that. Also in the news, The San Mateo County Times published an interview with me.

If you haven’t written a letter to the Tan Group yet, now is the time to do so. Their cooperation in renegotiating Clark Kepler’s lease on the Menlo Center space is essential if the store is to reopen there. Again, the address for the Tan Group is: Tan Group: 3630 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94306.

Finally, if you are not yet on our mailing list, send us an email. After all, why wallow? Why wait?

Update: KQED’s Forum with Michael Krasny did a show about Kepler’s and independent bookstores. Krasny’s guests included Clark Kepler and Andy Ross, the owner of Cody’s books in Berkeley. This show is required listening for people who are concerned about independent bookstores. If you have iTunes, you can click here for Forum’s podcast directory. Otherwise, you can click here.