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.”

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.

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.

“The Wave” by Susan Casey

The ancient Polynesians felt profound respect for the power of the sea. Their custom was to carry ti leafs with them when they went on risky journeys. As Susan Casey reports in her masterful book, The Wave, California-born but Hawaii-bred surfing legend Laird Hamilton, perhaps superstitiously, always carries a ti leaf along with him as he hunts down the world’s monster waves. “You take the leaf out,” Hamilton told her, “and the leaf brings you home.” So far it’s worked for him.

Susan Orlean on Stagecraft (and How Writing Can Be Like Stripping…)

I just spent the past few days at the 21st Annual Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference. I was on a panel with  Andrew McCarthy, who made his name as an actor in “Pretty in Pink,” “St. Elmo’s Fire,” and “Less Than Zero,” and is now an award-winning travel writer for National Geographic Traveler and other publications. I also discussed the “Art of Attention” on a panel with veteran travel writers David Farley, Larry Habegger, and Georgia Hesse.