5 Questions with Jim Nisbet, Author of The Syracuse Codex

syrcause-codexWe’re pleased to welcome back Jim Nisbet to City Lights, this time to celebrate the release of his latest book in paperback, The Syracuse Codex, published by Overlook Press. He answered our 5 questions! More about Jim, and his answers, below.

Event: Tuesday, December 6th, 2016 at 7PM. 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133.

About The Syracuse Codex: Over the course of the last decade, the Overlook Press has brought into print, in quality paperback editions, the majority of the literary oeuvre of San Francisco literary great Jim Nisbet. The Syracuse Codex is the latest in the series of books that are essential reading for all lovers of fiction, especially of the “noir” variety.

In The Syracuse Codex, Nisbet returns in a wild tale of skullduggery, mayhem, and history peopled with a rogue’s gallery of the eccentric and unscrupulous. San Francisco frame maker Danny Kestrel regularly rubs elbows with the rich and immoral at art openings and commissions. But he’s never dreamt of entering their lurid world until Renée Knowles―interior decorator, billionaire’s wife, nymphomaniac―asks for a ride.

When Knowles is murdered soon after their one-night stand, Danny finds himself a prime suspect. Renée’s death has stirred up a hornet’s nest of fabulously crooked and wealthy collectors of black market historical artifacts, all seeking the crown jewel: the eponymous Syracuse Codex, a secret account of Empress Theodora’s illegitimate son. Worse, everyone seems to think Danny has it.

About Jim Nisbet: Jim Nisbet is the author of twelve novels and five books of poetry. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times, shortlisted for the Hammett Prize, and published in ten languages. Visit his website at: http://noirconeville.com


City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?  If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

Jim Nisbet:  I can’t remember the first time I visited City Lights, but, I assure you, it was a long time ago, probably in 1966.  But perhaps more to the point about how I feel about the place, let me tell you about a night in 1977 or ’78.

A friend and I were drinking in North Beach.  It was about one in the morning, and we were hustling up Columbus to get to Gino and Carlo before closing.  My friend had never been in San Francisco before, and even though he was a musician he was a big reader (just kidding!), so I pointed out City Lights as we passed, with the promise that we’d visit during business hours.  At the corner of Broadway, however, he was no longer with me.  He’d stopped in front of the middle window to browse the titles:  “Come on, Johnny, we got time for one more!” But something had caught his eye, and he insisted I come back to see it. When I got there he pointed out my own book, Poems for a Lady, face out and surrounded by the literature of the world.

There’s nobody reading this who doesn’t recognize what the like of such a serendipity would mean to a fledgling author. And I’d like to suggest that there’s nobody working at City Lights who doesn’t take such a responsibility seriously. Was I surprised? It was my first book, I’d published it myself, it was in the store on consignment, and other than the friendly reception I got from the staff, none of whom I knew, I had no juice with City Lights. You bet I was surprised. I know the place well enough by now to surmise that somebody had simply liked the book well enough to display it, and that was it. (And yes, it had a great cover!) No fooling around: the work speaks. It’s the best kind of acceptance. I’ve always proceeded along those lines. And altogether to the point, the people who work in City Lights know what’s in their store, and they love books.

And now? Well, not to state the obvious, but it’s later, baby! By now I’ve published twenty books and I’ve lost track of the number of events I’ve done with City Lights.  And while I’ve had many a publisher in the intervening years, I put a book in there on consignment just last month. The relationship continues. For me, as a writer, City Lights has always been in my corner, period.  It’s not about sales, and it’s not about who I know, it’s about the facts that I’m out here giving it a try, literature-wise, and City Lights is paying attention — simply the best.

CL: What’s the first book you read & what are you reading right now?

night-flightJN: Can’t remember. But I do recall a big, fat Sherlock Holmes Omnibus my mother gave me–or perhaps it was just around the house, for it was a house full of books–all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories in one volume, which I’d read at least once in its entirety by the time I was 10. At that time, by the way, Faulkner remained banned from the public library in town. But, way out in the seditious pine barrens, Herman Wouk was around the house, and Hemingway and Steinbeck, Irwin Shaw, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Night Flight. The Arch of Triumph . . . I even stumbled through Moby-Dick for the first time when I was 15. (Did you ever hear that the hyphen was added later?  Or about the copy editor who drew a red line through “Call me Ishmael”?) At any rate, what’s a 15-year-old doing reading Moby-Dick?  Took me a long time to get back to that one, but I did. One of the most audacious novels ever.

CL: Which 3 books would you never part with?

JN: It’s more like 5,000. But let’s narrow it down to novels, then narrow it down to Lady Mary Loyd’s translation of Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma; the Scott-Moncrieff/Kilmartin/Enright translation of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time; and Lucia Berlin’s collection of stories, A Manual for Cleaning Women.

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

JN:  If my books had a soundtrack, I’d be a musician.

CL: If you opened a bookstore tomorrow, where would it be located, what would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?

JN: I would think that one of the main advantages of being on a desert island would be the absence  of WiFi.  Other than that, give me my wife and a good dog, along with a roll of canvas, a stack of lumber and tools adequate to build a boat from scratch, and I’d be very happy.  And hey, you know what?  We might take our sweet time about building that boat.
A certain bookstore on a nearby island would be good, too . . . Maybe that’s where I’d open mine?  I’d call it Lucubrations Unlimited, and, for a while, anyway, I’d put Lucia’s book in the middle window, all by itself.

Join us on Tuesday, December 6th for a special evening celebrating Jim Nisbet’s latest book, The Syracuse Codex. It’s available directly through Overlook Press or at citylights.com. Go to Jim’s site for more about him and his other publications. For a list of upcoming events at City Lights, check out our complete calendar.

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Wichita Vortex Interview: Outtakes from My Conversation with Michael McClure



On Tuesday, December 6, at 7:30 p.m. at Moe’s Books in Berkeley, CA, I’ll have the pleasure of reading from my new book, Power Ballads (Wave Books, 2016), alongside legendary poet Michael McClure, who is celebrating the release of his new book, Mephistos & Other Poems (City Lights, 2016). I recently had the chance to interview Michael for the Poetry Foundation, where he spoke of Charles Olson and his own encounter with a beached whale in the town of Rockport, MA. Inevitably, the conversation generated way more material than I was able to use for that feature, so I’ve gathered here a handful of unused remarks he made on his youth in Wichita, KS, particularly in relation to his friends, the publisher/printer/Zen priest David Haselwood and the artist Bruce Conner, as well as his early days in San Francisco leading up to the Six Gallery reading in 1955. These remarks are all the more apropos in light of the current SFMOMA retrospective, Bruce Conner: It’s All True, up now through January 22. Please enjoy these glimpses into the Wichita Vortex!

Garrett Caples: Much like the NY School with its Tulsa, OK contingent—Joe Brainard, Ron Padgett, Ted Berrigan, etc.—the NY- and SF-based Beat Generation had what Allen Ginsberg called its “Wichita Vortex,” referring to yourself, artist Bruce Conner, publisher David Haselwood, and so forth. What can you tell us about your Wichita, KS origins?

Michael McClure: Allen’s poem “Wichita Vortex Sutra” is, of course, not really about Wichita. There are a few references to Wichita. Mostly it’s about the international politics of the time. He wrote it while he was driving through Wichita. I was actually born in Marysville, in the northern part of the state. A very tiny town. It’s farmland but it’s pretty sophisticated. It’s the county seat.

When I was a boy I wanted to be a naturalist. I would go out and mow lawns, deliver newspapers, and then take the money and buy books about nature. In those days it was easy to make money; it was during the Second World War, and everybody was looking for a man. You’d come to the door and they’d say, “Can you mow lawns?” “Sure!” Continue reading

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5 Questions with John Freeman, Editor of Freeman’s: Family

freemans-2We very glad to welcome back John Freeman to City Lights this week! He’ll be celebrating, along with Garnette Cadogan, the new issue of his anthology of new writing, Freeman’s, published by Grove Press. This second issue, Family, features never-before-published stories, essays, and poetry by Claire Messud, Aminatta Forna, Marlon James, Alexander Chee, Aleksandar Hemon, Tracy K. Smith, and more.

John took the time to answer our 5 questions. More about him, and his answers, below.

Event: Wednesday, November 30th at 7PM at City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94113.

About Freeman’s: Family: Freeman’s: Family is what the series reviewers are calling “bold” (Minneapolis Star-Tribune) and “refreshing” (Chicago Literati). Following a debut issue on the theme of “Arrival,” Freeman circles a new topic whose definition is constantly challenged by the best of our writers: family.

In an essay called “Crossroads,” Aminatta Forna muses on the legacy of slavery as she settles her family in Washington, D.C., where she is constantly accused of cutting in line whenever she stands next to her white husband. Families are hardly stable entities, so many writers discover. Award-winning novelist Claire Vaye Watkins delivers a stunning portrait of a woman in the throes of postpartum depression. Booker Prize winner Marlon James takes the focus off absent fathers to write about his mother, who calls to sing him happy birthday every year. Even in the darkest moments, humor abounds. In Claire Messud’s home there are two four-legged tyrants; Sandra Cisneros writes about her extended family of past lovers; and Aleksandar Hemon tells the story of his uncle’s desperate attempt to remain a communist despite decades in the Soviet gulag.

With outstanding, never-before-published pieces of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from literary heavyweights and up-and-coming writers alike, Freeman’s: Family collects the most amusing, heartbreaking, and probing stories about family life emerging today.

About John Freeman: John Freeman was the editor of Granta until 2013. His books include How to Read a Novelist and Tales of Two Cities: The Best of Times and Worst of Times in Today’s New York. He is an executive editor at Literary Hub and teaches at the New School. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, and the Paris Review.


City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?  If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

John Freeman: I grew up in Sacramento and my brother acted at ACT so my family used to drive in to see his performances, as I mentioned in this interview last year. One thing I didn’t recall though was that my parents used to drop me at the store and would pick me up hours later. There was nothing like it in Sacramento, and I’d go into a kind of trance in the Poetry Room. I didn’t know who the Beats were at the time, nor did I know about Daisy Zamora or Frank O’Hara or Julio Cortázar, and one thing City Lights gave me permission to be was a globe trotter without thinking of it as such. They made it easy with all these Pocket Poet books, and I set out to read them all and one of the happiest stacks I have in my house is a nearly complete set of that series, because it reminds me of the pleasure of accidental reading and the near holy trance of the Poetry Room.

CL: What’s the first book you read & what are you reading right now?

JF: The first book I read that was for adults on my own volition was Nineteen Eighty-Four, a book that gets more prescient with every passing week of this abominable year, in which there’s been an orgiastic celebration of not making sense as a peculiar kind of wisdom. Of cult of personality. Of truth obliteration.

Oddly enough, I’m reading the memoirs of Diana Athill, who for fifty years was a publisher and who worked briefly at a company run by André Deutch when he had the opportunity to publish Orwell’s book but balked. It makes me wonder what book about our own moment is being turned down out of fear.

Diana Athill

CL: Which 3 books would you never part with?

JF: God, that’s a hard one. I’d have to say it might be some of the original ones – Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems because it is the book that for me yokes together revelation and nightmare; To the Lighthouse because it makes me happy to be alive; and Hamlet because it reminds me of the pain and pleasure of being in a family.

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

JF: It would be a mixtape for sure because there are twenty-some writers in the latest issue of Freeman’s and part of the pleasure of working in this form is the huge range of sounds and music to people’s voices, so it’d range from Édith Piaf to Chinese opera to Violent Femmes and maybe some early Ice-T. And since Garnette Cadogan is in the issue – he’ll be with me tonight – and he will one day write his great book on the singer, there’d have to be some Bob Marley.”

CL: If you opened a bookstore tomorrow, where would it be located, what would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?

JF: Well it’d be in the ground floor of my building in New York City, obviously, so I could go down in robe and slippers, and right now that storefront is selling socks in bulk. I have no idea how they sell enough to stay open. I suppose books would be an even harder proposition, so the robe, slippers and a flask would be necessary elements of the bath I’d take with NYC rents. I’d call it Freeman’s because I like places named after their owners, and rather than a cafe I’d have a bar adjoining because as much as I realize this is perhaps a bygone-era wish, there’s not really a literary pub in NYC where what unites people are love of books and the strange people who make them. It’s what I like about journals as a form, they’re like a bar with the best regulars that is always open.

Join us on Wednesday, November 30th at 7PM to celebrate the latest issue of John Freeman’s excellent journal of new writing, Freeman’s: Family. You can get Freeman’s: Family direct from Grove Press or at citylights.com. For more from John, follow him on Twitter and for more events in 2016 at City Lights, check out our complete calendar.

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Planet News, 11/18/16


“Cohen looked unflinchingly and with monkish intensity at his own excesses and weakness, and at ours, and saw them, tragic and beautiful, as our only strengths. ‘There is a crack in everything,’ he sang in 1992’s ‘Anthem,’ ‘that’s how the light gets in.’ No tribute can leave out his most beloved and most covered song—one of the most covered and beloved songs ever written— ‘Hallelujah.’ From its best-known Jeff Buckley version in 1994 to Rufus Wainwright’s and countless others, the song instantly conjures gravitas and stirs deep wells of emotion in the secular and religious alike.”- Josh Jones on Leonard Cohen’s passing in Open Culture.

“The first language the keepers of the hold use on the captives is the language of violence: the language of thirst and hunger and sore and heat, the language of the gun and the gun butt, the foot and the fist, the knife and the throwing overboard. And in the hold, mouths open, say, thirsty.” – On the Violent Language of the Refugee Crisis: an excerpt on Lit Hub from Christina Sharpe’s new book In the Wake: On Blackness and Being.

“Dostoevsky experienced more than one hundred major seizures, walked in chains and prison garb, wasn’t permitted to hold a pen or pencil for nearly four years or read any book but one. He watched two children die and wrote several times of a man’s inner-life in the minutes and seconds before execution. […] His books offer the words to feel into pursued to their radical end, embodied. To feel into—which doesn’t mean to understand, or analyze, or interpret, or heal. Doesn’t mean to solve, define, make steady, claim knowledge of, but has something to do with drawing close, with how there’s a radiance more mysterious, more unspeakable than horror; more private in its wounds, more lasting.”- Laurie Sheck on “Dostoevsky’s Empathy” and incredible suffering for The Paris Review.

“And a poet wakes up and thinks, ‘You know, anything is possible.’ They imagine things before they’re possible. The reach and power of the imagination means that poetry will always be with us, that it will always be important, that it will always be part of what goes along with our culture, our politics, our personal feelings and relationships.”- Hope in the aftermath of the presidential election–an interview between Megan Garber and the editor of Poetry magazine, Don Share, in The Atlantic: “Still, Poetry Will Rise.”

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Henry A. Giroux Talks President-Elect, Authoritarianism, and More on CTV News

Author Henry A. Giroux appeared on CTV News last week, to discuss American democracy in the shadow of our new President-Elect. Giroux published his book, America at War with Itself, in September through City Lights. Describing America’s radical division as a conflict between “those who want to live in a democracy and those who don’t,” Giroux explains the rise of American authoritarianism, the key subject of this book. He points to the media, and its chasing after ratings, as a key factor in the creation of this unfortunate political climate which champions both celebrity culture and “emotion over reason.”

Watch below as Giroux offers his analysis on the historically unprecedented election, and what this means for America moving forward:

Additionally, Robin D. G. Kelley mentions Giroux’s new book in a recent (and excellent) Boston Review piece which offers paths of resistance in the aftermath.

“This election was, among other things, a referendum on whether the United States will be a straight, white nation reminiscent of the mythic “old days” when armed white men ruled, owned their castle, boasted of unvanquished military power, and everyone else knew their place. Henry Giroux’s new book America at War with Itself made this point with clarity and foresight two months before the election. The easy claim that Trump appeals to legitimate working-class populism driven by class anger, Giroux argues, ignores both the historical link between whiteness, citizenship, and humanity, and the American dream of wealth accumulation built on private property.”

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5 Questions with David Sax, Author of The Revenge of Analog

revenge-of-analogOn Tuesday November 15, at 7pm, we’re thrilled to host journalist David Sax at City Lights! He will be discussing his new book, The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter from Public Affairs Books. David answered our five questions; more on him, and his answers, below.

The Event: Tuesday, November 15th, at 7:00pm. City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, 261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco CA, 94133.

About The Revenge of Analog: By now, we all know the mythology of the digital revolution: it improved efficiency, eliminated waste, and fostered a boom in innovation. But as business reporter David Sax shows in this clear-sighted, entertaining book, not all innovations are written in source code. In fact, businesses that once looked outdated are now springing with new life. Behold the Revenge of Analog.

Sax has found story after story of entrepreneurs, small business owners, and even big corporations who’ve found a market selling not apps but real, tangible things. As e-books are supposedly remaking reading, independent bookstores have sprouted up across the country. As music supposedly migrates to the cloud, vinyl record sales have grown more than ten times over the past decade, generating more than half a billion dollars in 2015 alone. Even the offices of Silicon Valley icons like Google and Facebook increasingly rely on analog technologies like pen and paper for their business.

Sax’s work reveals not just an under-reported trend in business, but a more fundamental truth about how humans shop, interact, and even think. Blending psychology and observant wit with old-fashioned reportage, Sax shows that humans need to work, sell, and live in the real world—not on a screen.

About David Sax: David Sax is a journalist specializing in business and culture. His writing appears regularly in Bloomberg Businessweek and The New Yorker’s Currency blog. He is the author of two books, including The Tastemakers: A Celebrity Rice Farmer, a Food Truck Lobbyist, and Other Innovators Putting Food Trends on Your Plate, and Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen, which won a James Beard Award for Writing and Literature. He lives in Toronto.


City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit? If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

David Sax: The first time I ever visited San Francisco was back in 2001, during a road trip across Canada and the US with my girlfriend at the time. The city was more beautiful and iconic than we could have imagined, from the rain and the fog, to the food and the sweet hippie grunge. I don’t know how we ended up at City Lights, but I recall it was at night, in the rain, waiting for a table at an Italian restaurant nearby. And I remember as we browsed around for half an hour or so, telling her just how much I loved bookstores like this, and how they made life worth living. Maybe I bought a Steinbeck book. Or maybe I just wish I did. Either way, I can’t wait to return.

CL: What’s the first book you read & what are you reading right now?

DS: Well, since I was born in a pre-Sandra Boynton era, it was likely Goodnight Moon, or the Richard Scarry masterpiece Cars, Trucks and Things that Go. The first author I really recall digging into was Gordon Korman, a prolific Canadian author that has written nearly a hundred kids and YA books, starting with his epic series about a couple of misfits at a boarding school called Bruno and Boots. Those books were the first I recall reading with a flashlight under the covers, well past my bedtime.

Currently, I’m reading The Vegetarian by Han Kang, which is a frighteningly gripping tale laced with horror out of South Korea. My friend Rob Sternberg picked it for our book club.


CL: Which 3 books would you never part with?

DS: Just three? Seriously? Oh crap.

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler, because it’s the closest thing my father has to an autobiography, and it’s the canon of the Canadian-Jewish identity.

The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck. The greatest novel I have ever read. Consumed over two days as I was sick with strep throat in a dorm in an Australian ski resort where I was working. My last actual job!

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro. A beast of paper. A slog that took me six months to finish, but changed the way I see everything from politics to sidewalks, and a masterwork of journalism at its finest.

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

DS: This is so easy, because I basically picked up dozens of records over the course of my “research”, and played them all through the writing. I’ll list a handful of the albums here: +’Justments by Bill Withers, Promised Land Sound by Promised Land Sound, Lazaretto by Jack White, Lost Soul by Geater Davis, Sour Soul by BadBadNotGood and Ghostface Killah, Black Messiah by D’Angelo, and many many more.

CL: If you opened a bookstore tomorrow, where would it be located, what would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?

DS: If I had my way, maybe a ski town, or surf town. Ride in the morning, sell books in the afternoon/evening. Yeah, live the dream. Actually, that’s pretty much how it works in San Francisco, right?

Given that, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan is a no brainer, and the best book I have read over the past two years. Got me back in the water, even if my waves are crappy wind-blown ones on Lake Ontario, caught on an inflatable paddleboard. But hey, no sharks!

Please join us on November 15th at 7pm to welcome David Sax at City Lights! Find The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter direct from Public Affairs Books , City Lights, or ask for it at your local independent bookstore.

For more information about authors visiting City Lights, go to our complete calendar.

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Tears . . . and a Smile


By Mumia Abu-Jamal

[col. writ. 11/11/16] ©’16 Mumia Abu-Jamal

For many across America, the presidential election has left them distraught, awash with anxiety, fear and even dread.

It seems surreal. A candidate caught on tape, saying what he said, who launched a pernicious hate campaign directed at Mexicans and Muslims, a man who seemed to embody a sense of doom.

And yet; and yet . . .

Donald Trump has snatched the brass ring; the prize of prizes of politics; his first and only political race and political win. For good or ill, this election may transform American politics.

It would be accurate to say that economic discontent played a part, the result of the Clinton-era NAFTA pact (for the North American Free Trade Agreement).

But that’s not all. The Trump campaign represented not just fear, but profound paranoia–and also white revenge for the darkening of America.

If Trumpism represented vengeance, then Clintonism represented betrayal. For every constituency that voted for Bill Clinton, gays, Blacks, you name it, the Clintons supported bills against their interests, like DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), the AEDPA (an anti-habeas corpus bill), or NAFTA, despite massive labor support.

These are indeed dark days in Babylon.

Yet, believe it or not, this too shall pass.


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Sam Champion Interviews Reverend Billy on the Weather Channel

In the midst of protesting consumerism and fighting for Earth-conscious justice, Reverend Billy stopped by the Weather Channel for an interview with Sam Champion last month.

The Reverend and the Church of Stop Shopping’s choir combat climate change and the “brain saturation of products” with music, dramatic action, and performances. Rather than holding gatherings in a church, the congregation performs in Wal-Marts, police stations, traffic jams, and anywhere else their activism takes them. Currently, the Church has been involved with protesting Monsanto and the spraying of the popular weed killer Roundup, which contains the chemical glyphosate, in public parks. Glyphosate, according to the World Health Organization, has been found to be carcinogenic. Under the Freedom of Information Act, Reverend Billy and his congregation have discovered the sites of thousands of public parks sprayed with this harmful chemical.

Watch below as Reverend Billy explains the Church of Stop Shopping, the protests against Monsanto, and how to “stop shopping and start living”.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on Reverend Billy, the Church of Stop Shopping, and their ongoing fight in the context of the $57 billion Monsanto/Bayer merger.

For a full list of parks and public sites sprayed by Monsanto’s Roundup (hint: it’s probably the park in your city), visit Reverend Billy’s website.

Reverend Billy is the author of The Earth Wants You, a motivational handbook for earth activists (published last spring through City Lights Publishers). Purchase it at citylights.com and wherever quality books are sold.

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5 Questions with Rabih Alameddine, Author of The Angel of History

angel-of-historyOn October 4th, we had the pleasure of hosting Rabih Alameddine at City Lights Bookstore. He discussed and celebrated the recent release of his new novel, The Angel of History from Atlantic Monthly Press. He also answered our five questions. More about him, and his answers, below.

About The Angel of History: Following the critical and commercial success of An Unnecessary Woman, Alameddine delivers a spectacular portrait of a man and an era of profound political and social upheaval.

Set over the course of one night in the waiting room of a psych clinic, The Angel of History follows Yemeni-born poet Jacob as he revisits the events of his life, from his maternal upbringing in an Egyptian whorehouse to his adolescence under the aegis of his wealthy father and his life as a gay Arab man in San Francisco at the height of AIDS. Hovered over by the presence of alluring, sassy Satan who taunts Jacob to remember his painful past and dour, frigid Death who urges him to forget and give up on life, Jacob is also attended to by 14 saints. Set in Cairo and Beirut; Sana’a, Stockholm, and San Francisco; Alameddine gives us a charged philosophical portrait of a brilliant mind in crisis. This is a profound, philosophical and hilariously winning story of the war between memory and oblivion we wrestle with every day of our lives.

“Rabih Alameddine is one our most daring writers—daring not in the cheap sense of lurid or racy, but as a surgeon, a philosopher, an explorer, or a dancer.”—Michael Chabon

“There are many ways to break someone’s heart, but Rabih Alameddine is one rare writer who not only breaks our hearts but gives every broken piece a new life.”—Yiyun Li

About Rabih Alameddine: Rabih Alameddine is the author of the novels Koolaids, and I, the DivineThe Hakawati, An Unnecessary Woman, the story collection, The Pervand most recently, The Angel of History. He divides his time between San Francisco and Beirut.


City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit? If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

Rabih Alameddine: I’m a local and an avid buyer of books, so of course, I have been many times. City Lights is one of my favorite bookstores. I tend to like idiosyncratic ones and CL is most certainly one.

Best memory: I’ve been lucky enough to hang out with some great writers there, but my favorite memory is being chided in no uncertain terms by Tân Khanh Cao. She insisted that I should have had the book launch of An Unnecessary Woman at her store because “your novel is a City Lights novel.” She was right, of course. I’m still trying to apologize, though I’m terribly flattered.

CL: What’s the first book you read & what are you reading right now?

RA: The first books I read were Enyd Blyton novels, began with Noddy picture books, and graduated to Famous Five and Secret Seven books. I’m reading the magnificent Götz and Meyer by David Albahari. I’ve had this one for a while. While in Sarajevo this summer someone mentioned his work, so I started it. It’s quite dazzling.


CL: Which 3 books would you never part with?

RA: You can’t ask a reader that. How can I come up with only three books? If you ask me to choose every five minutes I’d come up with a different three. So for the next five minutes, these are the books I’d never part with: Sepharad by Antonio Muñoz Molina, The Emigrants by W. G. Sebald, and Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar. No, wait. Let me put Lolita instead of Sebald. No, Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, or Aleksandar Hemon’s The Lazarus Project. Is my five minutes up? No, wait . . . oh, never mind.

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

RA: Carmina Burana and “The Goldberg Variations.” Maybe the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” as well.

CL: If you opened a bookstore tomorrow, where would it be located, what would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?

RA: Funny, but my dream of opening a bookstore in Beirut was taken away from me. A few people whom I don’t know just opened one and called it Aaliya’s Books after the narrator of Unnecessary Woman. For someone like me, that’s like winning the greatest prize.

For more about Rabih, check out his website and follow him on twitter. For more events this fall please be sure to visit our complete calendar.

Get The Angel of History direct from Grove Atlantic, from City Lights, or at your local independent bookseller. Go to our 5 Questions page to see how all the authors visiting City Lights answered.

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5 Questions for Keramet Reiter, Author of 23/7

Reiter jacket 211467.inddPlease join us on October 25th, at 7pm as we welcome Keramet Reiter to City Lights Bookstore. Keramet, an assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine, will be in conversation with Keith Wattley about her brand new book, 23/7: Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Long-Term Solitary Confinement (Published by Yale University Press). The Event is Co-sponsored by UnCommon Law. Keramet answered our 5 questions! More about her, and her answers, below.

The Event: Tuesday, October 25th, at 7pm. City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, 261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco CA, 94133.

About 23/7: Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Long-Term Solitary Confinement: Originally meant to be brief and exceptional, solitary confinement in U.S. prisons has become long-term and common. Prisoners spend twenty-three hours a day in featureless cells, with no visitors or human contact for years on end, and they are held entirely at administrators’ discretion. Keramet Reiter tells the history of one “supermax,” California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, whose extreme conditions recently sparked a statewide hunger strike by 30,000 prisoners. This book describes how Pelican Bay was created without legislative oversight, in fearful response to 1970s radicals; how easily prisoners slip into solitary; and the mental havoc and social costs of years and decades in isolation. The product of fifteen years of research in and about prisons, this book provides essential background to a subject now drawing national attention.

About Keramet Reiter: Keramet Reiter, an assistant professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society and at the School of Law at the University of California, Irvine, has been an advocate at Human Rights Watch and testified about the impacts of solitary confinement before state and federal legislators. She lives in Los Angeles, CA.


About Keith Wattley: Keith Wattley is the founder and executive director of UnCommon Law. He has been advocating for the rights of prisoners and parolees for nearly twenty years. Prior to launching UnCommon Law in 2006, Keith was a staff attorney at the Prison Law Office, a nonprofit law firm in Berkeley. He has represented thousands of prisoners in impact litigation and individual matters involving mental health care, gang validation, religious freedom, prison infirmaries, medical care, excessive force, visitation, parole consideration and parole revocation.

About Uncommon Law: UnCommon Law is a California non-profit law office whose mission is to help long-term prisoners understand and resolve the factors that contributed to their crimes so that they can safely be released. We work with prisoners for months or years in advance of their parole board hearings, and we represent them in those hearings and in court petitions challenging the parole board and the Governor.

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit? If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

Keramet Reiter: I first went to City Lights when I moved to Berkeley in the early 2000s after finishing college on the East Coast. I was impressed by all the poetry, but A Coney Island of the Mind seemed the most appropriate collection to buy.

CL: What’s the first book you read & what are you reading right now?

KR: The first chapter-book I remember reading was Helen Keller’s autobiography, The Story of My Life. I live in L.A., so much of my “reading” now happens via audiobook while I’m stuck in traffic; I’m currently listening to Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

CL: Which 3 books would you never part with?

KR: Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, Ted Conover’s Newjack, and Jonathan Franzen’s The Discomfort Zone.

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

KR: John Cage meets pirate metal.

CL: If you opened a bookstore tomorrow, where would it be located, what would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?

KR: I’d open a mobile prison library, and aspire to have a poetry section as good as the one at City Lights.

Join us on October 25th at 7pm to welcome Keramet Reiter! Be sure to check out her website as well as UnCommon Law’s. For more information about our upcoming fall events, be sure to visit our complete events calendar.

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