Saturday, March 24, 2018


Knox Book Beat, The Berkeley Times, October, 2016

“I think about him all the time,” Doris Moskowitz says about her Dad, Moe, the Radical Bookseller in the title of this collection of charming, outrageous and humorous history, photos and reminiscences.
A former independent bookseller myself, I agree with Lissa Tyler Renaud that we had and have, like Moe, the potential to create “a bookstore that became and remains a significant force in the intellectual life of the country through (our) patrons.”
That is, IF we are “playful and smart,” “put up with no bullshit” (except our own), work “hard and honestly,” even if we are – or maybe because we are – “eccentric,” “narcissistic and inconsistent and impossible to manage.” Moe came to Berkeley in 1959 and also came up against the City Council and their ordinances for his sidewalk paperback kiosk, sales of (“pornographic” and “obscene”) Zap and Snatch comics (R Crumb) and smoking his cigar; but also threw in with the Print Mint, Shambhala Booksellers and nourished the Free Speech Movement, People’s Park, Vietnam War protestors; Logos, Black Oak and Shakespeare & Co Books; Amoeba and Rasputin’s as well as “an endless stream of writers and scholars.”
Moes-Feb-1975 Photo-by-Richard-Friedman, Quirky Berkeley
Not all of us are as “brilliant” as Moe, but “passion” about “irreverence and artistic, personal and political freedom” sure help. He was also good at hiring, respecting and trusting workers, friends and family members with “unbelievable expertise” to help him do it. Conventional bookstores DO NOT want employees to be “autonomous” or make “bold choices,” and ONLY independent owner-managers have the savvy and liberty to “let them tell him how it should be within the store.”
Doris Moskowitz, Berkeley Bookseller
This may be the only way someone can be so curmudgeonly and successful at the same time. Support your local independent bookstore! And if you can’t find it anyplace else, “Try Moe’s.”

Moskowitz, Doris Jo, Radical Bookselling: A Life of Moe Moskowitz, Moe’s Books, 2476 Telegraph Av., Berkeley, CA, 94704, 2016.

Pot-boiler Pulitzer? UPTOWN THIEF is “Way Bad”- AND "Way Good"

Knox Book Beat, The Berkeley Times, September 2016

“Don’t touch, just f**k me,” Marisol commands her pickup on page 61, as imperiously objectifying as Clint Eastwood’s Silent Stranger in Fistful of Dollars and his Dirty Harry character saying, “make my day” as he blows The Scorpio Killer away. With her I’m supposed to empathize? Reverse sexism? Commodification of fellow humans? Return to the reptile brain? Yuk. I feel bullied, and I don’t like it, by her approach and her early prose. Bullied, seduced and abandoned. The intentional fallacy. Fed a line, a rip-off or a spiked drink cause she thinks I’m a trick or a mark or a hoe. Guess if this is not entirely appealing to me.
A lot of good movies start badly like this, and I have to say that this is a good book and pretty well written otherwise, but hand-held cameras bouncing along behind the hero like in Suffragette make me seasick, not “engaged.” I fought back when I got beaten up as a kid, Vietnamese gonorrhea from a one-night stand, had more lovers than I can count on all my fingers and toes, and my fourth-grader greeted me with “Wuzzup me homie M-thug?” after school 20 years ago, so it’s not like I’m from outer space on these things; but turning it around by ignoring or stereotyping White women donors, (lesbians White Jody and Asian Kim to some extent) and clinic volunteers; White, Latino and Black men and the token older Jewish counselor Holocaust survivor left me cool.
I put a cover with a picture of Rep. Barbara Lee over the lurid “rip my dress off” front and a Berkeley Times schoolgirl-of-color saying “never give up trying to save the world” on the back of Uptown Thief by Aya de León so I could stand to carry it around. Even as an old, White, suburban-raised, Civil Rights-marching hippie “Sexual Revolution” survivor with a book called Warring and Whoring to my name; I couldn’t wrap my head around why a smart, socially-aware, Cal-employed creative writing teacher of color would write a titillating “high-voltage action” and generally improbable tale glorifying the “heist-fiction genre.”
 By putting adrenaline, obsessive greed, spontaneous violence, condoms, vengeance, tech and deadly weapons into women’s hands; do she, her publisher and potential readers assume it’s “feminist” by some wave of an “invincible” stiletto heel? “Equal rights for women?” Am I the “target market” for Uptown Thief?
  Yes, I get it: we get that way defending ourselves against the “culture,” but buying and reading books that “feel bad” “because (somebody else thinks) they’re good for me” is the same (masochistic?) game, sabé? It’s very good pulp action-erotic fiction, but I’m  not convinced it’s feminist just because it’s grittily set between a sex workers’ women’s health clinic, her “escort service” she’s using to fund it and corrupt, disgusting male cops, pimps, drunks, rappers, thugs and CEOs.
Aya de Leon from her website.
Things went past fast-and-furious, crisis-to-crisis, half X-(wo)men and half Jametta Bond, until page 161-5 where we get a tiny peek into Marisol’s psyche after a flashback or two. The cast of characters opens up by her hero’s trip to Cuba towards the end, where we get some alternatives to The American Lifestyle of Color she’s supposedly living in New York, but I can’t believe she won’t let us in on, for example, what Marisol and the sister she gave up everything for she hasn’t seen for 10 years have to say when they’re alone together well past the 300th page. They have an honest argument 30 pages later; but when there’s no attorney at the NYPD interrogation, interpersonal “choreography” takes a couple of readings to visualize, characters’ personalities and actions contradict themselves abruptly to no clear purpose here and there; I’m looking for a “continuity” editor and drift off from “the flow.”
I wanted to step in in a bigger-than-Sandberg way. Meet complex real people. Like the sex finally “takes hold” with Marisol by p. 269 or so: go from fakey-mean excited and over stimulated to real-mammal moved. Call me a romantic; but I want a Dickens, Colette, Lessing or Dostoyevsky pulling me with a picture, a woven experience of how (internally?) military-industrial patriarchy can be changed, not some quickie commercial product that’ll keep me drugged, plugged or anesthetized in a shadow play full of shouts and flashing figures that looks tawdry in the light of the next day.
Will I get my tires slashed for writing this review? I don’t know. I doubt it. That’s an assumption about what Gen X Black Latinas and their publishers might do. Am I racist, sexist and ageist? Of course I am. Just look at the election: we all are in the good ol’ USA. But I have to tell my real story, and I think de León will too, very soon, if she isn’t already in some other genre or venue. Brava!
Gets better as it goes along. Maybe this is just a “way bad” pot-boiler so she can write other stuff down the road. I back her in doing so, all the way to Our New World.  
P.S. Her dialogue is excellent. “Adjectivally deprived,” (the f-words get boring in parts), but very, very cadenced and realistic in almost all cases once they get out of heist-planning mode and into more nuanced scenes. Same for the sex/erotica.  I wasn’t put off by the Spanish at all, although I kept a list to look up later like the nautical terms in O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin tales. 
The Sequel!

De León, Aya, Uptown Thief, Dafina Books, Kensington Publishing Corp., New York, NY, 2016.

--- 30 ---

[Addenda on intentional fallacy]External (or private) evidence
What is not literally contained in the work itself is external to that work, including all private or public statements that the artist has made about the work of art, whether in conversations, letters, journals, or other sources. Evidence of this type is directly concerned with what the artist may have intended to do even or especially when it is not apparent from the work itself. Analyzing a work of art based on external evidence will likely result in the intentional fallacy (my italics wc).

Thus, a text's internal evidence — the words themselves and their meanings — is open for literary analysis. External evidence — anything not contained within the text itself, such as statements made by the poet about the poem that is being interpreted — does not belong to literary criticism. Preoccupation with the authorial intent "leads away from the poem." According to Wimsatt and Beardsley, a poem does not belong to its author but rather "is detached from the author at birth and goes about the world beyond his power to intend about it or control it. The poem belongs to the public."

Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia (last mod 24 June 2016) “Authorial Intent”   (18 August 2016)

Monday, March 12, 2018

Marginalized No More: FIGHTIN' WORDS from the Oakland PEN Center

Knox Book Beat, 21 July, 2016

“…As a result, I became one of the first/free women in the world,/in thousands of years.
 Freely I wandered, observed,/studied and pondered,/enjoying the greatest thinkers and artists./
Sure, I was insulted, mugged, raped,/beaten and glared at homicidally/but it was worth it!” (Janine Canan, p. 22, “Blessed.”)
     I congratulate Judith Cody, Kim McMillon and one of the PEN Oakland founders, Claire Ortalda, for editing this anthology, (published and?) distributed by retiring Malcolm Margolin of Heyday Books in 2014. At 104 writers filling 171 pages (warning: tiny print), it’s a stellar accomplishment all around. (Blessings to Zellerbach Family, Lef and East Bay Community Foundations; CA Arts Council, City of Oakland, Before Columbus, Oakland Public Library and many others for support.)
PEN stood, originally, for Poets, Essayists and Novelists; and in my mind, the New York City PEN Center meant Muriel Rukeyser’s work in the ‘60s and ‘70s for feminism and civil rights, her support for the voices, words and persons of the suppressed and imprisoned from “The Scottsboro Boys’” through Vàclav Havel.
Fightin' Folks from PEN Center Oakland. Reed, center, Doubiago to his right
PEN Oakland was the third center in the USA after NYC and LA. It was established not on the basis of nationality or language, (English and Spanish), but on “multi-ethnic literatures,” “the problems faced by marginalized people worldwide, as related to written expression” as its founders envisioned them between 1989-91. (Ortalda, p. 172-73, “The History of PEN Oakland.”) After two years of demand, petition, hammering out chapter rights and local sponsorship “brought national attention to multicultural literature,” PEN Oakland challenged de facto censorship, suppression and “media abuses of women, people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds and sexual orientations.” (ibid.)
     Obviously, these are still major issues, but would not have become so without “the brainchild of writer and activist Ishmael Reed,…launched in fall 1989,” (ibid.) which gathered writers with “words that push back against what is wrong in the world…Those of us, who are visionary,…challenged to give birth to a new narrative.” This had been brewing since the Sixties, and “When will the healing begin?” is still a potent question. (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted in E. Ethelbert Miller, p. 101, “Wounded by Words.”)
Jessica Hagedorn and Ishmael Reed Photo Carla Blank
I had been shocked and wounded by Reed’s misogyny and rhetoric in the early days; but also “educated” by his furious authenticity into finding my own voice, style and metaphor as well as to “dare to speak up against the confines of official narratives and connect with the growing silenced masses.” (Genny Lim, back cover.)
     While Reed, Hispanic-American Floyd Salas, Italian-American Claire Ortalda and Reginald Lockett were “Co-founders;” a host of other local and world writers, presenters, editors and publishers; including Adelle and Jack Foley, Isabel Allende, Carla Blank, Maxine Hong Kingston, Sharon Doubiago, Leslie Silko, Victor Hernandez Cruz, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Kitty Kelley, Paul Krassner and Toni Cade Bambara; donated their talents, time, name recognition and volunteer energy to “building our own institutions instead of waiting around to be selected as a token by the establishment.”
Claire Ortaldaby by Diane Sattler- 2013

      “Ultimately, we have survived these decades intact because none of us has forgotten where we came from,” (Reed, p. xiii, “Pulling Marginalized Literature To The Center…”). And many of us have identified, publicized and let go of the internal humiliation, shame, intimidation and isolation that the culture tried to silence us with as well. “When will the healing begin?” Now. And Now. And Now. AND NOW!
Judith Cody credit Lyn-Ann

“Well someone’s got to sweep
this broken glass.
Someone’s got to tell that kid
to watch out or his ass
will land in jail just like his old man.”
(p. 87, Alison Luterman, “Day’s News: Oakland.”)

“Think of never being able to say a word
for fear it will be heard
and transmuted and computed and filed in the appropriate place
deep underground with leaden walls to shrink your balls
catch even your cocktail chatter or the privacy of your bedroom
where you grimace at the mirror and cry in your secret heart”
(p. 136, Floyd Salas, “The Politics of Poetry.”)

Kim McMillon 2005 photo Edie Fogel
“books have the power to give us insights into the past, the present, the future, to give us something to reach for…Books can prevent wars, keep us from destroying ourselves and our planet… a society is in danger when good books are neither written nor read.” (p. 110, Elizabeth Nunez, “Boundaries.”)

“A knock on the door in the middle of the night
is a nightmare cliché. See? No one’s there.”
            (p. 14, Christopher Bernard, “Is There a Nazi In Your Future?”)
“How would you like to come of age behind
barbed wire in your own country, charged with being
yourself, a charge you could not deny,
a guard with a machine gun and itchy fingers
overlooking your evening stroll?”
            (p. 100, Adam David Miller, “My Nisei Friends are Dying, a Colloquy.”)

Jack Foley, PEN Center Board, of Adelle & Jack fame
“And this downturn, this turn down,
This big, big disappointment, bummer slump
Might just be Nature’s way of cooling us off
Cooling us down – all that dough
Rising and rising making us feel
Super, natural but you know she’s the boss
Nature had to cool off!
Man! She was feeling the heat.”
            (p.55, Joan Gelfand, “Good Morning, America, Where are You?”)

“Save all of that wasted commodity you call “love,” because there’s no such thing without hope. And no, you didn’t have it tougher. We’ve got it tougher. Because we’ve got nothing.” (p. 113, Claire Ortalda, “NO-Body.”)

“it has to be fine sitting here
 while the earth burns and the population
 spills into the sea which will soon boil over anyway.” (Neeli Cherkovski, p. 23, “At The Caffé Trieste.”)

Fightin’ Words: 25 Years of Provocative Poetry and Prose from “The Blue Collar PEN.”  Ed. Judith Cody, Kim McMillon and Claire Ortalda (Poets, Essayists and Novelists Oakland).
Available from Heyday Press, P.O. Box 9145, Berkeley, CA, 94709; Phone (510) 549-3564.