5 Questions for Damon Krukowksi, Author of The New Analog

We are most pleased to welcome Damon Krukowski to the City Lights Bookstore on Wednesday, April 26th to discuss his new book, The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World, published by The New Press. Damon answered our 5 questions. More about him, and his answers, below.

The Event: Wednesday, April 26th at 7:00PM. 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133. Free and open to the public.

About The New Analog: Having made his name in the late 1980s as a member of the indie band Galaxie 500, Damon Krukowski has watched cultural life lurch from analog to digital. And as an artist who has weathered the transition, he has challenging, urgent questions for both creators and consumers about what we have thrown away in the process: Are our devices leaving us lost in our own headspace even as they pinpoint our location? Does the long reach of digital communication come at the sacrifice of our ability to gauge social distance? Do streaming media discourage us from listening closely? Are we hearing each other fully in this new environment?

Rather than simply rejecting the digital disruption of cultural life, Krukowski uses the sound engineer’s distinction of signal and noise to reexamine what we have lost as a technological culture, looking carefully at what was valuable in the analog realm so we can hold on to it. Taking a set of experiences from the production and consumption of music that have changed since the analog era—the disorientation of headphones, flattening of the voice, silence of media, loudness of mastering, and manipulation of time—as a basis for a broader exploration of contemporary culture, Krukowski gives us a brilliant meditation and guide to keeping our heads amid the digital flux. Think of it as plugging in without tuning out.

About Damon Krukowski: Damon Krukowski was in the indie rock band Galaxie 500 and is currently one half of the folk-rock duo Damon & Naomi. He has written for Pitchfork, Artforum, Bookforum, Frieze, The Wire, and on his blog International Sad Hits. He has published two books of prose poetry, serves as co-publisher of the literary press Exact Change, and is the author of The New Analog (The New Press). He has taught writing and music at Harvard University and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?

Damon Krukowski: A staff as interesting as the books! I don’t come to San Francisco without stopping in at City Lights, for both the people and the titles.

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

DK: I have earlier musical memories than books–my mother is a jazz singer and she sang to me more than read to me, I suspect. Which maybe hurried me along toward reading for myself? I remember the Maurice Sendak book Pierre I Don’t Care being an early triumph of the imagination. (Decades later I found it echoed in Melville –a mash-up of “Bartleby, the Scribner” with Pierre; or, the Ambiguities–what bitter ideas for baby!)

Right now, I’m reading a Zone book which I picked up because of the amazing title–A Million Years of Music: The Emergence of Human Modernity–it’s a mind-blowing excursion into our prehistory. I have to look up vocabulary in it constantly, author Gary Tomlinson has clearly digested several disciplines’ worth of specialized terminology. So far I’m up to about 500,000 years ago–lots to cover still!

CL: Which 3 books would you never part with?

DK: Rimbaud’s Illuminations; Kafka’s stories published in his lifetime, the collection Max Brod called The Penal Colony; and just one more…? Too painful to make that choice! I’ll leave it blank, it feels more talmudic.

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

DK: It does! Anyway there are a lot of songs mentioned in it, and I’m hoping people will listen along. I’m actually writing a fiction that has a soundtrack now, as well–I’ve been publishing it serially on my blog, International Sad Hits, where I can include YouTube links to tunes at the right moments. Search the tag “self storage.”

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

DK: Well my partner Naomi Yang and I don’t have a store, but we do publish books from our home in Cambridge, under the name Exact Change–and our bestseller is probably Maldoror, by Lautréamont–the creepiest title in our catalogue!


Join Damon at City Lights Bookstore this Wednesday, April 26th as he discusses his book, The New Analog. Follow his tumblr blog and definitely check out what’s being published by his publishing house, Exact Change, a City Lights favorite. Get The New Analog direct from the New Press or ask for it at your local independent bookseller.

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5 Questions with Omar El Akkad, Author of American War

Very excited to welcome Omar El Akkad to City Lights this Thursday, April 20th at 7:00PM. He’ll be in conversation with Micheline Aharonian Marcom, discussing his book American War published by Knopf. Omar answered our 5 questions. More about him, and his answers, below.

The Event: Thursday, April 20th, 7:00PM. 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133. Free and open to the public.

About American War: An audacious and powerful debut novel. A second American Civil War, a devastating plague, and one family caught deep in the middle—a story that asks what might happen if America were to turn its most devastating policies and deadly weapons upon itself.

About Omar El Akkad: Omar El Akkad, formerly of the Globe and Mail, is an award-winning journalist and author who has traveled around the world to cover many of the most important news stories of the last decade. His reporting includes dispatches from the NATO-led war in Egypt and the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Missouri. He is a recipient of the National Newspaper Award for investigative reporting for his coverage on the “Toronto 18” terrorism arrests. He has also received the Goff Penny Memorial Prize for Young Journalists, as well as three National Magazine Award honorable mentions. He is a graduate of Queen’s University.

About Micheline Aharonian Marcom: Micheline Aharonian Marcom  is the author of five books including the critically acclaimed trilogy of novels: Three Apples Fell from Heaven (2001), The Daydreaming Boy (2004) which earned her the 2004 Lannan Literary Fellowship as well as the 2005 PEN/USA Award for Fiction, and Draining the Sea (2008). She currently teaches Creative Writing at Mills College and is also on the faculty of the Goddard College MFA in Creative Writing Program.


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?

Omar El Akkad: Every time I go to San Francisco (and I spent four years as a technology industry reporter, so I’ve been to San Francisco a lot) I go to City Lights. I buy a copy of Howl and I take moody pictures in Jack Kerouac Alley. I own a City Lights hoodie. Hell, I once took a road trip from Toronto to San Francisco, and the first thing I did when I arrived was go to City Lights. So, yeah, I’m a fan.

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

Omar El Akkad: I guess the first book I ever read was an introduction to the Arabic language. It featured a boy and a girl–I think their names were Salma and Hamad, but I don’t remember anymore–and it taught various simple grammar and language concepts via the duo’s assorted adventures. Salma and Hamad led a life composed almost exclusively of simple, straightforward tasks. They started life on the first page standing alone in an existential void and by the end of the book had somehow acquired a working farm.

As for what I’m reading right now, I was recently asked for comment by a reporter working on a story about The Handmaid’s Tale, which prompted me to re-read that absolute miracle of a book. I’m about to start The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles, which my friend chose as our book club’s April selection, and is one of those instances where I get to dive into a book knowing absolutely nothing about it.

City Lights: Which 3 books would you never part with?

Omar El Akkad: Lake Effect: An Anthology of Work by the Creative Writing Students at Queen’s University – A million years ago, my college creative writing class published an anthology of our writing. A mediocre short story, whose details I can barely remember, was my contribution. It was the first time I ever saw my fiction in a published book. The print run was tiny and we were each given about a dozen copies to sell. I kept all of mine.

The Great Canadian Novel by Nelson J. Peters – Nelson, an old friend of mine from college, was the first person I knew personally whose writing felt special. He wrote this book a long time ago, and I can’t even begin to tell you what it’s about. It’s unpublished and probably un-publishable and I can’t imagine what kind of drugs he must have been on when he wrote huge chunks of it, but I love it. I have about five copies in my library at home and I suspect that makes me the biggest single distributor of this novel in the United States.

Kitab al-Aghani (The Book of Songs) – My father, who died a few years ago, loved this 20-volume collection of 10th-century Arabic poetry more than any other work of literature. His copy, which I used to translate the epigraph that opens American War, sits in the basement library of our family home in Ottawa, occupying the entirety of a bookshelf. I think about him every time I see it.

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

Omar El Akkad: For starters, I’d include three songs referenced directly in American War – the gospel hymn “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder” (in particular, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon’s stunning version that appears in Ken Burn’s Civil War documentary), a song called “Broken Bones & Pocket Change” by St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and “Slow Like Honey” by Fiona Apple. The latter plays during the book’s only love scene, and is one of the sexiest songs I’ve ever heard. There’s also a scene where a group of drunk Southern rebels are singing Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” albeit with altered lyrics. Finally, I’d include a song called “Interlude” by London Grammar. It’s not referenced directly in the book, but it always plays in my mind whenever I think about the protagonist’s final moments.

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

Omar El Akkad: I have a vague recollection of hearing once about a restaurant, I think in Japan, where every customer could order anything on the menu, but the meal they were served was always whatever the previous customer ordered. I always liked the idea of opening a tiny bookstore where every customer comes in, asks for a book, and is given a copy of whatever the last customer asked for. Would such a store serve no useful purpose whatsoever? Yes. But would it go out of business almost immediately? Also yes.


Join us for an evening with Omar El Akkad, he’s in conversation with Micheline Aharonian Marcom about his new novel American War. Get it direct from the publisher, at City Lights, or ask for it at your local independent bookseller. More about Omar El Akkad here.

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5 Questions with Barbara Alexandra Szerlip, Author of The Man Who Designed the Future

We’re celebrating the release of The Man Who Designed the Future at City Lights Bookstore on Thursday, April 18th with Barbara Alexandra Szerlip!

The book is published by Melville House and examines the life of Norman Bel Geddes. Barbara answered our 5 questions. More about her, and her answers, below.

There will be a mint-condition Bel Geddes-designed Chrysler Airflow, courtesy of the Airflow Club of America, on view in Kerouac Alley during the event?

The Event: Thursday, April 18th at 7:00PM. 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133.

About The Man Who Designed the Future: Before there was Steve Jobs, there was Norman Bel Geddes. A ninth-grade dropout who found himself at the center of the worlds of industry, advertising, theater, and even gaming, Bel Geddes designed everything from the first all-weather stadium, to Manhattan’s most exclusive nightclub, to Futurama, the prescient 1939 exhibit that envisioned how America would look in the not-too-distant 60s.

In The Man Who Designed the Future, Barbara Alexandra Szerlip reveals precisely how central Bel Geddes was to the history of American innovation. He presided over a moment in which theater became immersive, function merged with form, and people became consumers. A polymath with humble Midwestern origins, Bel Geddes’ visionary career would launch him into social circles with the Algonquin roundtable members, stars of stage and screen, and titans of industry. Light on its feet but absolutely authoritative, this first major biography is a must for anyone who wants to know how America came to look the way it did.

About Barbara Alexandra Szerlip: B. Alexandra Szerlip was a two-time National Endowment for the Arts Writing Fellow, a Yaddo fellow, and runner-up for London’s Lothian Prize for a first biography-in progress. She has contributed to The Paris Review Daily and The Believer, among other publications, and has worked in professional theater, as a book editor, sculptor and graphic designer. Raised on the East Coast, she lives in San Francisco.


City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?

Barbara Alexandra Szerlip: During my senior year at university, I ended up living (long story) in a cottage on Kenneth Rexroth’s property in Santa Barbara. One day, an Italian television film crew arrived to interview him and its director, Claudio Savonnuzzi, took a shine to me. They were headed for S.F. to interview Lawrence Ferlinghetti and he invited me to join them. I had no interest in having a “dalliance” with chain-smoking Claudio, who was old enough to be my father.

The next morning, when Kenneth saw I was still there (the crew was gone), he was furious. This was a great opportunity, he growled. Savonuzzi would take me to Rome! The Piazza del Popolo! I’d MEET people! His anger confused me, but as I didn’t want him to think I
lacked moxie, I packed a small bag and headed for the airport.

I’d never been to San Francisco. The interview with Ferlinghetti, the next morning, took place at City Lights. I kept in the background as the crew did their job, but at one point, I said something or other (slight Italian accent, an attempt to fit in) and Lawrence, I remember, commented on how good my English was.

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

BAS: There was one about the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and all their colorful adventures. I recall an argument about “inclusion,” which was why so many of them ended up in King Nebuchadnezzar’s name.

I recently read Cintra Wilson’s Fear and Clothing, which made me laugh out loud. She’s a mega-smart social anthropologist of fashion with a stiletto wit.

I’ve also acquired two fascinating, long-out-of-print books:

Acrobats and Mountebacks (published 1890, it’s filled with insider anecdotes about two Frenchmen who befriended the performers of itinerant circuses).

The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals: The Lost History of Europe’s Animal Trials (first published in 1906, it’s the true story of insects, pigs etc. brought to trial and excommunicated and/or publicly executed for various offenses over the course of several centuries).

CL: Which 3 books would you never part with?

BAS: Only three? Let me get back to you on that one.

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

BAS: For Bel Geddes, it would probably have to be period music, following the story through the decades, 1920s, 30s, 40s and 50s. While writing the chapter on Rosamond Pinchot’s suicide, I kept hearing “Bye Bye Blackbird.”

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

BAS: I’d be tempted to open it on a Greek island (replete with gorgeous light and great food). People would come from far and wide, transported from the mainland on a charming little boat with the bookstore’s named beautifully hand-painted on its sides.


Join us on Thursday, April 18th at 7PM. Barbara will read from her new book The Man Who Designed the Future from the good people at Melville House. Get the book direct from Melville House or at your local independent bookseller.

 

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5 Questions with Reece Jones, Author of Violent Borders

This Wednesday, April 12th, we welcome Reece Jones to City Lights Bookstore! He’ll be discussing his new book Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move with friend of City Lights Ingrid Rojas Contreras. The book is published by Verso. Reece took the time to answer our 5 questions. More about him, and his answers below.

The Event: Wednesday, April 12th at 7:00PM. 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133.

About Violent Borders: In Violent Borders, Jones crosses the migrant trails of the world, documenting the billions of dollars spent on border security projects and their dire consequences for countless millions. While the poor are restricted by the lottery of birth to slum dwellings in the aftershocks of decolonization, the wealthy travel without constraint, exploiting pools of cheap labor and lax environmental regulations. With the growth of borders and resource enclosures, the deaths of migrants in search of a better life are intimately connected to climate change, environmental degradation, and the growth of global wealth inequality.

About Reece Jones: Reece Jones is a Professor of Geography at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, and the author of Border Walls: Security and the War on Terror in the United States, India, and Israel.

About Ingrid Rojas Contreras: Ingrid Rojas Contreras is the 2014 recipient of the Mary Tanenbaum Literary Award in Nonfiction from the San Francisco Foundation. She has received awards and support from Bread Loaf, Hedgebrook, the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto, Djerassi Artist Residency, National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures, and the San Francisco Arts Commission. Currently, she is working on a memoir about her grandfather, a medicine man from Colombia who it was said could move clouds.


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?

Reece Jones: I have been to City Lights once, probably 20 years ago. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to talk about borders and free movement in such a great location.

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

RJ: If I can change the question slightly to, “What was the first book that had a huge impact on your thinking,” the answer is We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families by Philip Gourevitch. The book details the horrors of the genocide in Rwanda in the spring of 1994. The book was a kick in the gut for me because the Rwanda genocide happened to correspond with my 18th birthday and graduation from high school, but I don’t recall hearing anything about it at the time. For me, the spring of 1994 was a time of carefree happiness and excitement about the future. So what struck me when I read the book a few years later was that something so horrible could be happening and I could be blissfully unaware of it. It planted the seed in my mind to try to search out other instances of under-reported violence or inequality and shed light on them.

I usually read serious non-fiction, but at the moment I am reading The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. It is a powerful book that has resonances for me with the current struggle for freedom of movement that produces similar clandestine migrations to avoid oppression and violence.

CL: Which 3 books would you never part with?

RJ: I teach a graduate seminar on borders and politics every other year. Three books have appeared on almost every syllabus:

James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (2009);
Thongchai Winichakul, Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of the Nation, (1994);
Lauren Benton, A Search for Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires 1400-1900 (2010)

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

RJ: Some people listen to classical music while they write, but that never worked for me. Instead, I prefer political punk. The album I listened to the most while writing Violent Borders was To Live in Discontent by Strike Anywhere. Their song “Notes on Pulling the Sky Down” was particularly influential. It ends with the lines “so I wait for a change to come, and I ask myself why does everyday the sky remain over our heads? Would it be impossible to tear it down?” The song is more about capitalism, but the same thing can be said about violent borders.

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

RJ: Revolution Books, my local independent bookstore in Honolulu, recently closed so I would reopen a similar store near the university campus. I would feature books like Harsha Walia’s Undoing Border Imperialism (2013) and Natasha King’s No Borders: The Politics of Immigration Control and Resistance (2016) that make the case for a world without movement restrictions at borders.


Join us on Wednesday, April 11th for a conversation about borders with Reece Jones and Ingrid Rojas Contreras. Get Reece’s book direct from our friends at Verso, from City Lights, or ask for it at your local independent bookseller. More about Reece here.

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5 Questions with Lloyd Kahn, Author of Small Homes

City Lights Bookstore welcomes Lloyd Kahn on Tuesday, Aprill 11th. He’ll be discussing his new book, Small Homes: The Right Size, from Shelter Publications. Lloyd answered our 5 questions. More about him, and his answers, below.

The Event: Tuesday, April 11th at 7:00PM. 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133.

About Small Homes: Are tiny homes too small for you? Do you want living space larger than 200-300 sq. ft. of floor area? Hot on the heels of his popular Tiny Home series of books, Lloyd Kahn revisits smallish structures and explores the possibilites of working within limited physical spaces and maximizing creativity in relation to one’s needs. His new book is profusley illustrated and he will be presenting a visual presentation that will include many images that never made it into the book.

Featuring: 120 homes in the 400-1200 sq. ft. range, owner-builder techniques, natural materials, a variety of construction methods, inspiration from owner-builders, a cornucopia of ideas, small homes in the country, towns, and cities, and over 1,000 photographs. Use your own hands to build your own home.

About Lloyd Kahn: Lloyd Kahn is the editor-in-chief of Shelter Publications,  an independent California publisher. Shelter Publications specializes in books on building and architecture, as well as health and fitness.


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?

Lloyd Kahn: First time maybe 1962, I was an insurance broker and started to wander in North Beach during my lunch hour. Memory of wonderful place. I bought Howl.

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

LK: I started out reading books on the sea by Howard Pease at 12 years of age or so. Right now reading A Man Called Ove by Frederik Bachman.

CL: Which 3 books would you never part with?

LK: Barns of the Abbey of Beaulieu at Its Granges of Great Coxwell and Beaulieu-St. Leonards by Water Horn and Earnest Born, Das Skizzenbuch des Francesco di Giorgio Martini and Richard Halliburton’s Complete Book of Marvels

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

LK: The album Let It Bleed by the Rolling Stones (which includes “Gimme Shelter”).

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

LK: Maybe some day I’ll open a bookstore and sell off the some 600 books I have on building and architecture. I could call it Learning to Build.


Join Lloyd and City Lights on Tuesday, April 11th at 7PM as we celebrate the release of his new book, Small Homes. Get the book direct from Lloyd’s Shelter Publications, at City Lights, or ask for it at your local independent bookseller.

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5 Questions with Dean Rader, Author of Self-Portrait As Wikipedia Entry

Very excited to welcome Dean Rader to City Lights this Tuesday, April 4th. He’ll be reading from his brand new collection of poetry, Self-Portrait As Wikipedia Entry, published by Copper Canyon Press. He answered our 5 questions! More about Dean, and his answers, below.

The Event: Tuesday, April 4th at 7:00PM. 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133.

About Self-Portrait As Wikipedia EntryWikipedia articles are never finalized. In Dean Rader’s energized and inventive new book, the poet considers identity of self and society as a Wikipedia page—sculpted and transformed by the ever-present push and pull of politics, culture, and unseen forces. And, in the case of Rader, how identity can be affected by the likes of Paul Klee’s paintings and the characters from the children’s stories about Frog and Toad. Rader’s cagey voice is full of humor and inquiry, warmly inviting readers to fully participate in the creation.

About Dean Rader: Dean Rader’s debut collection of poems, Works & Days, won the 2010 T. S. Eliot Poetry Prize and Landscape Portrait Figure Form (2014) was named by The Barnes & Noble Review as a Best Poetry Book of the year. He was won numerous awards for his writing, including the 2016 Common Good Books Prize, judged by Garrison Keillor, and the 2015 George Bogin Award from the Poetry Society of America, judged by Stephen Burt. He has written or co-edited three scholarly books and was the editor of the 2014 anthology 99 Poems for the 99 Percent: An Anthology of Poetry, which hit #1 on the Small Press Distribution Bestseller list. He writes and reviews regularly for The San Francisco Chronicle, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, and The Huffington Post. Two new collections of poetry appear in 2017: A book of collaborative sonnets written with Simone Muench, entitled Suture (Black Lawrence Press) and Self-Portrait as Wikipedia Entry (Copper Canyon).


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?

Dean Rader: I have been to City Lights a number of times; in fact, I’ve read at City Lights on two other occasions, but always with other poets. My first time was with Matthew Dickman and Robin Ekiss, and it was one of my all-time favorite events, in part because I had a big bushy beard. I consider the Poetry Room at City Lights one of the great sacred spaces in San Francisco. So, to be having my book release party there is an honor (though I will not be bearded).

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

DR: The first books I remember reading were Frog & Toad and The Pokey Little Puppy. I’m still grappling with Frog and Toad, as some people know. Right now, I’m reading Bolaño’s 2066, and W. S. Merwin’s lovely new book, Garden Time.

CL: Which 3 books would you never part with?

DR: Wallace Stevens, Collected Poems; Rainer Maria Rilke, Selected Poems (Mitchell translation); and probably some book of visual art, like Matthew Gale’s Paul Klee: Making Visible.

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

DR: It does! You can listen to it here. I’d love to know what people think.

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

DR: Oh man! That question! My wife and I have fantasized about opening a bookstore/art gallery in the Richmond District, but that may just be a fantasy. San Francisco is the only place I want to live, and there are already great bookstores here (even in the Richmond–it’s hard to beat Green Apple). But, I’d probably want to open a bookstore near the ocean and serve really good wine and beer and coffee. I would get all of my poet friends to inscribe their books with funny creative notes. Those, and wine, would be our bestsellers.


See Dean read from his new collection of poetry, Self-Portrait As Wikipedia Entry, this Tuesday, April 4th at City Lights Bookstore (in the Poetry Room of course). Get the book direct from Copper Canyon, from City Lights, or at your local independent bookseller. More about Dean at his official site.

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5 Questions with Bradley Spinelli, Author of The Painted Gun

City Lights is proud to present Bradley Spinelli on Thursday, March 30. This event is part of the Subterranean SF Reading Series and is being held at several undisclosed locations. Admission is free, but the locations are only revealed through mysterious black envelope. Ask for the envelope at the front counter of City Lights Bookstore. Attendance is limited and by invitation only.

Bradley will be reading from his new book, The Painted Gun (published by Akashic Books). We asked Bradley our five questions–more about him, and his answers, below.

The Event: Thursday, March, 30th at 7:00PM. Undisclosed locations.

About The Painted Gun: It’s 1997 at the dawn of the digital age in San Francisco. Ex-journalist and struggling alcoholic David “Itchy” Crane’s fledgling “information consultancy” business is getting slowly buried by bad luck, bad decisions, and the growing presence of the Internet. Before Itchy can completely self-destruct, a crooked private investigator offers him fifty grand to find a missing girl named Ashley. Crane takes the job because the money’s right and because the only clue to her disappearance is a dead-on oil portrait of Crane himself painted by the mysterious missing girl–whom he has never met.

As Crane’s search for Ashley rapidly becomes an obsession, he stumbles upon a series of murders, gets slapped around by thugs and intimidated by cops, and begins to suspect he’s being framed for the murders by a psychotic Guatemalan hit man. Left with no avenue but survival, Crane goes on the offensive, fighting to clear his name, solve the murders, and find the beguiling portrait artist Ashley, who may have a few surprises of her own.

BRADLEY SPINELLI is the author of the novel Killing Williamsburg, and the writer/director of the film #AnnieHall, which the Village Voice called “fascinating.” He contributes regularly to Bedford + Bowery and lives in Brooklyn. The Painted Gun is his latest novel. Visit his website at 13spinelli.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?

Bradley Spinelli: I’ve been to City Lights. My family is from South San Francisco, and my Great Aunt Cookie lived in North Beach. I finally moved out there in the late ’90s. I was instantly turned on to Vesuvio by a former professor, and read The Subterraneans, where Kerouac claims to be living in South San Francisco—though the book was based on events in New York. I was already a massive William S. Burroughs fanatic, and would pop into the store to snoop around. As far as expectations . . . we’re doing such an unusual event, I reckon by the time we get to City Lights, I’ll be exhausted.

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

BS: I have no idea what the first book I read was. Reliable sources intimate I devoured everything. I recall being knocked out by Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater. Right now I’m still reading The Painted Gun for the zillionth time, prepping reading excerpts for the spring tour.

CL: Which 3 books would you never part with?

BS: I’d probably never part with my first copy of Tropic of Cancer, even though I’ve already replaced it because it was falling apart. Ditto for my copy of Naked Lunch, which I stole from a bookstore in Dallas, which seems somehow fitting. And Don DeLillo’s Underworld, which was a gift from the director Jeremy Cole—who’s directing our SF Underground event—after he did a play of mine in Denver. Those three writers are my trinity, like onions, bell peppers, and celery.

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

BS: My book totally has a soundtrack—I must have listened to Rachel’s Selenography a thousand times in the last year of editing. Try it out—especially the songs “An Evening of Long Goodbyes” and “Cuts the Metal Cold.”

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

BS: My bookstore would be a popup coffee and eggs joint, moving from New Orleans to Guatemala to Bangkok to Brooklyn by the season, wherever we happened to be. It would probably be called something silly like “Pulp ‘n Eggs” or “Ham ‘n Page,” and our bestseller would be eggs over easy.


Join Bradley Spinelli at our special Subterranean SF event this Thursday, March 30th at undisclosed locations. To gain access, come to City Lights Bookstore at 261 Columbus Ave. and ask for the mysterious black envelope!

For more about Bradley, follow him on Twitter. Get his book, The Painted Gun direct from Akashic Books, from City Lights, or at your local independent bookseller.

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Joanne Kyger (1934-2017)

Yesterday we were shocked and saddened to receive news of the death of City Lights author and legendary Beat Generation/San Francisco Renaissance poet Joanne Kyger. Joanne’s death leaves a massive void in American poetry generally and in the Bay Area specifically, where she was a formidable presence—periods of travel aside—since the late 1950s, even as she chose the relative seclusion of Bolinas as her base of operations, receiving visitors at her elegantly rustic home and making occasional raids on the City for readings and other literary pursuits. At City Lights, we had the honor of publishing her last book of poems, On Time: Poems 2005-2014 (2015), a book which is still receiving reviews and remains one of the more impactful volumes I’ve edited for the press. Since then she had also published a new edition of The Japan and India Journals, 1960–1964 (Nightboat, 2016) and a chapbook of recent poems, The Year of the Ram (Omerta Press, 2016), and she had just completed work on There You Are: Interviews, Journals, and Ephemera, in collaboration with her editor, close friend, and fellow City Lights author Cedar Sigo, as the inaugural volume of Wave Books’ new interviews series, due in September—continuing to break new ground, in other words, right up until the end.

I’d known Joanne, not well, for about a decade when I first received a call from her wondering if City Lights would be interested in a book of her poems. And how! I thought, and it was not difficult to sell the press on the idea. I admit I was intimidated at the prospect of being her editor, but I needn’t have been. It was easy, because she knew what she wanted, and merely required me as an occasional sounding board. (J: “Should I cut this?” G: “No!” was our most frequent exchange; I think I asked her to add one poem I knew of that she hadn’t included in the initial MS.) A couple trips to Bolinas, a couple glasses of wine, and we were done. The clarity of purpose she brought to the project was characteristic, perhaps necessary for a woman of the Beat Generation. Recognition was not as easily forthcoming as it was for some of her male colleagues and she’d had to endure in order for her reputation to catch up to her achievements.

Her poetic practice was fascinating to me, a process of daily writing and retrospective culling, resulting in a MS of sequentially dated poems. When the book was published, she tweaked me, just a little, for not including a table of contents, and I admit it hadn’t occurred to me because the flow of the book seemed so organic and integral to itself. I was struck during our discussions around the book by her remark that she was deeply influenced by Frank O’Hara, who provided an antidote to her early lessons at the feet of Robert Duncan. The weight of erudition Duncan brought to his poems, she said, was impossible to emulate, and O’Hara offered a welcome relief in his attention to the quotidian details of experience. In her own poetry we’re afforded access to a larger, metaphysical realm of inquiry through her focus on the minute particulars of daily life.

Joanne will be deeply missed by all of us at City Lights and we send our condolences to her husband and fellow poet Donald Guravich.

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5 Questions with Jim Shepard, Author of The World to Come

City Lights is proud to partner with Zoetrope Magazine in hosting Jim Shepard at Zoetrope Cafe on Friday, March 24th! Jim will be reading from his new book, The World to Come: Stories (published by Knopf). Michael Ray, the managing editor of Zoetrope Magazine, will be introducing him. We asked Jim our five questions – more info on him, and his answers, below!

The Event: March 24th, 2017, 3pm. Zoetrope Cafe, 916 Kearney St. San Francisco CA, 94133. Admission Free.

About The World to Come: These ten stories ring with voices belonging to–among others–English Arctic explorers in one of history’s most nightmarish expeditions, a young contemporary American negotiating the shockingly underreported hazards of our crude-oil trains, eighteenth-century French balloonists inventing manned flight, and two mid-nineteenth-century housewives trying to forge a connection despite their isolation on the frontier of settlement. In each case the personal is the political as these characters face everything from the emotional pitfalls of everyday life to historic catastrophes on a global scale. In his fifth collection, Shepard makes each of these wildly various worlds his own, and never before has he delineated anything like them so powerfully.

Jim Shepard is the author of seven novels and four previous story collections. He lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts, with his wife, three children, and three beagles. He teaches at Williams College.


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 Shepard: I remember being amazed to finally be there, after having read and heard so much about it. The first time I visited, I came for someone else’s reading, though I don’t remember whose.

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

JS: There weren’t a lot of children’s books around my house when I was small, so the first books I read were almost certainly my father’s; he had a bookcase of oversized books on various subjects in our front hall, and I remember looking through books on World War II, and the natural world, at a very early age. When I got old enough to have my own books, I remember loving picture books of dinosaurs, and books about the science of disaster like “All About Volcanoes.” And by first or second grade I was way into Peanuts.

CL: Which 3 books would you never part with?

JS: I suppose that depends whether you mean which books have meant the most to me or which I would find the most irreplaceable, since the three that might have meant to most to me—let’s say, choosing off the top of my head, Flannery O’Connor’s The Complete Stories, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, and Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian—are all instantly replaceable.

As for those books I own and cherish that I would find the most irreplaceable, I’d list things that are quite a bit weirder and more esoteric: Luciano Berriatúa’s Los Proverbios Chinos de F.W. Murnau, for example, or my first edition of Siegfried Kracauer’s From Caligari to Hitler, or maybe the copy of John Gardner’s Grendel that he signed to me.

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

JS: The new book? I’m not sure it would have one soundtrack, since the stories are all so varied. But if it did, maybe Popul Vuh’s soundtrack for Aguirre, the Wrath of God.  Or Ennio Morricone’s for The Mission. Or Nino Rota’s for 8 1/2.

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

JS: Boy, good question. Micronesia? Tahiti? New Zealand? Maybe it’d be called A Yank in Exile. And if we’re talking fantasies here, my bestsellers would be all those books I admire from my friends and loved ones —


See Jim Shepard discussing his work in conjunction with Michael Ray on Friday, March 24th! This event is happening at Zoetrope Cafe. Be sure to check out Jim’s website, as well as Zoetrope Magazine‘s site to learn more. For a full list of our spring events, visit the full event calendar here.

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5 Questions with Elif Batuman, Author of The Idiot

City Lights is very excited to welcome award-winning author Elif Batuman to the bookstore on Wednesday, March 22, 2017. Elif will be promoting her new novel, The Idiot published by Penguin Press. We asked Elif our five questions. More about her, and her responses, below.

The Event: Wednesday, March 22nd at 7pm. City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco CA, 94133

About The Idiot: The year is 1995, and email is new. Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives for her freshman year at Harvard. She signs up for classes in subjects she has never heard of, befriends her charismatic and worldly Serbian classmate, Svetlana, and, almost by accident, begins corresponding with Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary. Selin may have barely spoken to Ivan, but with each email they exchange, the act of writing seems to take on new and increasingly mysterious meanings.

At the end of the school year, Ivan goes to Budapest for the summer, and Selin heads to the Hungarian countryside, to teach English in a program run by one of Ivan’s friends. On the way, she spends two weeks visiting Paris with Svetlana. Selin’s summer in Europe does not resonate with anything she has previously heard about the typical experiences of American college students, or indeed of any other kinds of people. For Selin, this is a journey further inside herself: a coming to grips with the ineffable and exhilarating confusion of first love, and with the growing consciousness that she is doomed to become a writer.

With superlative emotional and intellectual sensitivity, mordant wit, and pitch-perfect style, Batuman dramatizes the uncertainty of life on the cusp of adulthood. Her prose is a rare and inimitable combination of tenderness and wisdom; its logic as natural and inscrutable as that of memory itself. The Idiot is a heroic yet self-effacing reckoning with the terror and joy of becoming a person in a world that is as intoxicating as it is disquieting. Batuman’s fiction is unguarded against both life’s affronts and its beauty–and has at its command the complete range of thinking and feeling which they entail.

About Elif Batuman: Elif Batuman has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 2010. She is the author of The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. The recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, and a Paris Review Terry Southern Prize for Humor, she also holds a PhD in comparative literature from Stanford University.

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?

Elif Batuman: The first time I visited City Lights was right after I moved to the Bay Area in 1999, to start grad school at Stanford. I had always lived on the East Coast and had never been to California. I only had one California-related artifact that meant anything to me: a pocket edition of Howl that I bought in college. I somehow heard the opening lines of “Howl” for the first time, went to the bookstore, and found this beautiful $5 pocket edition, which became kind of a talismanic object for me—especially the poem “A Supermarket in California,” where Walt Whitman is interrogating the supermarket (“Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?”).

One weekend I went to North Beach with a cool older grad student, we went into Vesuvio and City Lights, and I remember seeing this whole foggy edge-of-the-world noir vibe that I thought only existed in movies, and feeling that the world was so much bigger than I had known. And then at City Lights I realized you guys published that Pocket Poets Series—that was where my little Ginsberg book came from. I was really moved by that.

In general, that was a really heady time for me. I was just starting a PhD in comparative and Russian literature, I was thinking about literature in new ways. For the first time, I was really thinking about historicity and the writer’s relationship to their time, to the texture of time and place—and I was making these realizations in this surreal atmosphere of palm trees and frescoes and linear accelerators—and at the same time it was all part of this same world with Russian literature, with the Frankfurt School, with the way all those guys came to California, and everyone somehow seemed to wind up in California in the end.

After I finished grad school, I published a book of interconnected essays about it, called The Possessed, and was so honored to have the book launch at City Lights. Peter Maravelis made vodka martinis—it was a total dream. And just now, I just realized that one of the essays in The Possessed—an essay that mentions Chekhov being bemused by the sight of Tolstoy’s floating beard, and ends with me asking Chekhov, “Where are you now?”—was totally influenced by “A Supermarket in California”!: “Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in a hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?”

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

EB: My father taught me to read when I was three, with Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Are Friends. Then he told everyone I had taught myself to read. I remember identifying with Toad most of the time—but then sometimes I felt like Frog, which was confusing, because, you know, which one was me? Over time, I realized that that’s what reading is—you find parts of yourself in different characters.

Right now I’m reading the galley of Equipment for Living: On Poetry and Pop Music, a brilliant book of criticism by my friend, the great and cranky poet, Michael Robbins.

CL: Which 3 books would you never part with?

EB: In the past seven years, I’ve moved between the East and West Coasts, and also between the U.S. and Turkey, and ended up selling or giving away most of my books, and still haven’t replaced most of them. People who visit me are always like, “Wow, I didn’t realize you were an illiterate person.” Anyway I think I only have about 10 books with me now, that I’ve had since college or earlier, and I’m not planning to get rid of them any time soon, either. Among them are: that Pocket Poets edition of Howl; the Redhouse Turkish/ Ottoman-English Dictionary, which I bought in Ankara when I was in college (I’ve carried it everywhere, even though it weighs a ton and is falling apart); and a bright orange Schocken edition of Kafka’s Complete Stories that I stole from my father when I was in high school.

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

EB: Music mentioned in my book, which is set in 1995-96 at Harvard and in Paris and in a Hungarian village, includes: “Linger” by the Cranberries; “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana; “Ordinary World” by Duran Duran; “A Hard Day’s Night,” “All My Loving,” and “Seventeen,” by the Beatles; “Maria” from The Sound of Music; Albinoni’s Adagio, Aram Khachaturian’s violin concerto; and the Hungarian folk song “Az a szép.” The Butthole Surfers, Ella Fitzgerald, Boris Vian, and Rigoletto, are also mentioned, and the representative tracks I would choose would be “Pepper,” “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” “Je suis snob,” and “La Donna è mobile.” For extra-deep cuts, it might be nice to have a song by the 1990s Hungarian boy band, Hip Hop Boyz, and also an a cappella choir singing “Respect.”

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

EB: I think it would be cool to have a bookstore space with a small, rotating selection of books, maybe even with the covers facing out, curated by a different person every few months, so when you went in you would feel like you were walking into a legible, minimalist version of someone’s mental library.


Please join us on Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017 to celebrate the release of The Idiot. The book is available direct from Penguin Press, on the City Lights website, and at your local independent bookseller. For more about Elif, go to her official site.

For more information on our events this spring, please visit the complete events calendar.

 

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