Book Passage in Sausalito: Hope, Community, and Yes, Books

 A guest post by Pamela Feinsilber Bay Area Writer and Editor

In these strange and often scary times, I’m sure I’m not the only one finding hopeful signs in whatever I can: a new baby, a sunny day, the fact that books by Rep. John Lewis, George Orwell, Sinclair Lewis, and, most recently, the long-departed Frederick Douglass are flying off the shelves.

And speaking of books, the literary website (highly recommended!), taking note of “the growing number of regularly scheduled book events across the U.S.,” just introduced a bimonthly column about community-based reading series. “Pages may be written in solitude, but the mingling and exchange of ideas at literary gatherings can be revitalizing for writers and lit enthusiasts, especially for those living in isolated areas outside cultural hubs.”

The end of the library (as we know it?)

Ralph Lewin, executive director of the Mechanics' Institute, photo courtesy of the Sacramento Bee.

Ralph Lewin at the Mechanics’ Institute, photo courtesy of the Sacramento Bee.

A few months ago, San Francisco’s venerable Mechanics’ Institute hosted a discussion titled “The End of the Library (As We Know It)?”

As the oldest library in the city of San Francisco, the Mechanics’ Institute founded in 1854 and opened a year later with a grand total of four books, a chess room, and a mission to offer vocational education to out-of-work gold miners. (The San Francisco Public Library was founded more than two decades later, in 1879.) As one of the oldest libraries in the state, the Mechanics’ was a fitting place for this discussion.

Devotees of the Bancroft Library: “We’re archive rats!”

This past Saturday, I jumped in my car and headed to Berkeley to attend the annual meeting of the Friends of the Bancroft Library. I love this University of California campus and especially U.C. Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, which houses some of the most precious and rare manuscripts of the American West. That day, I met other people — historians, authors, and avid readers – who are also devoted to preserving and supporting the library’s treasures. It was a gathering of fellow “archive rats.”

Dispatches From Squaw’s Annual High-Altititude Literary Gathering

Almost a decade ago, I joined the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley for an intensive, week-long non-fiction workshop. It was a summer camp-like experience in the high Sierras. Each morning, about a dozen of us in the non-fiction workshop gathered around a table to critique each other’s manuscripts — usually discussing two submissions each morning. In the afternoons, we’d either stay for the craft talks or hike through the mountains. After dinner, we’d stay up late, swapping stories with fiction and non-fiction writers alike.

Book group pick: Lost Kingdom is now out in paperback!

Mahalo nui loa –  Hawaiian for thank you very much – to the dozens of book groups I’ve spoken with from around the country that have picked Lost Kingdom as their monthly or quarterly read. I’ve met some of these groups in person and have skyped with some and phoned in to others. It’s been a wonderful experience and now that Lost Kingdom is just out in paperback, I hope to meet with even more groups (including a wonderful group in Kentfield, Ca. that invited me to join them to discuss the book over a feast of kalua pig, poi, and coconut layer cake — so ono!)

Hau’oli Lānui from San Francisco….

My husband and I went to several holiday parties this year and perhaps the most heartfelt took place in early December, at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center in San Francisco.

We were invited to the J-Town hui’s annual holiday show and potluck. The hui (Hawaiian for a club or association) was made up of students in the music and vocal classes led by a beloved and longtime Hawaiian music teacher in the city named Carlton Ka’ala Carmack. There were ukeleles, hula performances, and mountains of delicious food. As the island saying goes, it was real ono!

So you want to start a writing group…

A hand popped up in the back of the room. “So where did you get your name?” asked a man last Sunday afternoon. Seated before him were four members of North 24th Writers, who’d gathered at Book Passage for a panel discussion on writing groups.

The occasion was the monthly meeting of the Marin branch of the California Writers Club, a group incorporated in 1913 that had Jack London as one of its first members. About forty people had decided to spend a few hours during a beautiful fall afternoon inside (shortly before the Giants won the World Series) to hear a discussion about writing groups, including how to form them, and the challenges and surprising side-benefits of creating your own work group.

Call Me Ishmael: Herman Melville and the San Francisco Opera

It is one of the most memorable first sentences of a novel ever written. With three simple words, it draws us into the story, lets us know who the narrator is, and hints at dramatic transformations to come.

This opening line – Call me Ishmael – was written by Herman Melville in his epic about Captain Ahab’s quest to kill the white whale Moby Dick. One of the surprises of the San Francisco Opera’s current production of Moby Dick is that this line is used in a different way in the story – to very good effect. I won’t spoil the pleasure in telling you how, but would urge you to see this wonderful production  yourself.

Spoiled for choice…

There always seems to be one weekend in the fall when there’s just too much going on. In the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, this weekend boasts not only Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, the free music festival in Golden Gate Park founded by the late philanthropist and financier Warren Hellman, but also Fleet Week. And it’s the first weekend of Litquake, the city’s rocking literary festival. Not to mention this Saturday night is the annual party for Adopt-a-Family of Marin, a wonderful non-profit organization that supports local families in need. As an Irish friend once said to my husband Charlie and I when we lived in London, “You’re just spoiled for choice!”

Meeting Hawaii’s Next Generation Authors? (…and How I Handle Criticism)

A young man sitting in the back row tentatively raised his hand. I was talking to a group of history students and their teachers at Kamehameha Schools last week about my book, Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure, published by Grove/Atlantic earlier this year. “How do you deal with criticism as an author?” he asked.

A dialogue with journalism students