Sunday, March 28, 2010

The fallout from the closure of Nummi

I have a story in today’s New York Times about the imminent closing of the Nummi plant in Fremont. It focuses on some of the suppliers who produce component parts for Toyota. Nummi's closure will put  4,700 people out of work. More than 20,000 others will be out of a job as the as the car factory's suppliers close. The closure is going to have a major impact in northern California.

I went to visit Injex Industries in Hayward, which makes interior door panels and other plastic parts for Nummi. I was really impressed by the plant and the people who work there. It’s a mini-United Nations with people from all over the world. One woman I quoted has learned four languages on the job.

The factory wasn’t what I imagined either. It was clean and fairly quiet. They could produce an interior car panel in 58 seconds flat. Amazing,

You can read the story here.

Writing for the New York Times is one reason I haven’t been posting often. The other reason is my new endeavor: Berkeleyside. It’s a website focusing on Berkeley news. And believe me, there is a lot of news in Berkeley, from the mundane to the profound. I am working with two friends, both experienced journalists, Lance Knobel and Tracey Taylor. Please stop by.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Obama's love of books

I just love that President Obama stopped by Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City yesterday. He was in Iowa to make a speech about the new health care law, and during his talk he mentioned that the bookstore would now get tax benefits to offset its rising health care costs.Then he stopped by the store.

And he bought three books,“Journey to the River Sea,” by Eva Ibbotson, “The Secret of Zoom,” by Lynne Jonell, (for his daughters) and a Star Wars pop-up book for the six-year old son of his press secretary.

I can't remember a recent American president every doing this. I think Obama is one of us: he loves to browse. I bet he would have loved to have spent another half hour at the store looking at the new releases. After all, he is a prolific and varied reader.

I think this can give independent bookstores a boost.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Four Bay Area Authors Crack the Big Time’ Weekly has just released its assessment of the 2009 publishing season, which wasn’t nearly as successful as the 2008 season.

But there are lots of fascinating nuggets in the list, including information about which Bay Area authors sell the most books in the U.S.

It’s quite a small list, which means not many local authors are selling hundreds of thousands of copies of their books. But I am quite sure the quality of the writing in the Bay Area is higher than many of the bestsellers, such as Dan Brown’s latest thriller, The Lost Symbol, which sold more books than any other: 5,543,643.

In the fiction category, San Francisco author Christopher Moore sold 146,098 copies of Fool, his eleventh book.

Annie Barrows, who lives in the East Bay, sold 104,284 copies of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

 For non-fiction, that Danville hero, Chesley Sullenberger, sold 306,413 copies of Highest Duty.

And former FDA Commissioner David Kessler (I think he lives in the Bay Area) sold 155,000 copies of The End of Overeating.

In other news, congratulations go out to Linda Himelstein, whose book The King of Vodka: The Story of Pyotr Smirnov and the Upheaval of an Empire, was nominated for a James Beard Award for best book in the beverage category. She is up against  Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology by Randall Grahm, which was published by UC Press.

Oretta Zanini de Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta, also published by UC Press, was nominated in the reference category.

The spring edition of Lapham's Quarterly has a run down of what writers from previous centuries earned at their day jobs and what that salary would look like today if adjusted for inflation.

Anthony Trollope was a postal surveyor and earned )in today's dollars) $35,000-$50,000. Charlotte Bronte, a governess, only earned $1,838. T.S. Eliot, a clerk for Lloyd's Bank of London, earned between $18-$31,000.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Thieves Come in the Night

I woke up this morning to find someone had broken into my office overnight and had stolen my Mac and laptop. (I am writing this on my husband’s computer) Now my car has been broken into numerous times but this theft feels personal. The burglar had to walk down our front steps and around a path to open a sliding glass door.

What’s most funny is that he left behind two old PCs. I guess even thieves prefer Macs.

And then he had the nerve to take our New York Times.

I had all sorts of stuff on that computer, including a draft of a book proposal. I think I am backed up but it will take a day or so to make sure.

But now my cozy (and always-messy) office doesn’t feel quite the samel/

Monday, March 15, 2010

The End of Publishing as We Know It

This video is making the rounds on Twitter today. You have to watch the whole thing to get it.

Here's an interview with Zoe Uffindell, the director. She lives in the UK.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

City Lights Books named PW's Bookseller of the Year

Publisher’s Weekly has named City Lights Books on Columbus Avenue its “Bookseller of the Year” for 2010.

City Lights matches its literary strength with new marketing tools including a Web site, monthly e-newsletter, fan pages on Facebook and MySpace and daily news blasts through the store's Twitter account,” said an article in PW explaining the store’s selection.

The store will be honored in May at Book Expo America, the publishing industry’s annual convention, and the magazine will do a feature story on the store in its April 26th edition.

City Lights was founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin. It started out as an all-paperback store and now sells hardcover and softcover books from major and minor publishers on three floors. Two years after the store's founding, Ferlinghetti launched a publishing arm that at first printed a "Pocket Poets" series. City Lights Publishers now has about 100 books in print and publishes about a dozen new titles each year.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

San Francisco Magazine nominated for two National Magazine Awards

San Francisco Magazine was nominated for two National Magazines awards today, one for general excellence and one for public service.

  It’s a fabulous magazine, and my opinion has nothing to do with the fact that my brother, Steven Dinkelspiel, is president of  the magazine. (Okay, only a little) I send my congratulations to him, to the editor, Bruce Kelley, and to the rest of the staff.

The article that brought San Francisco the nomination for Public Service is one written in December 2009 by Danelle Morton about the Lembi family’s real estate empire, now collapsing. Morton, who ghost wrote Staying True, the memoir of Jenny Sanford, the wife of the disgraced South Carolina governor, spent a year and a half looking into the Lembi’s extensive collection of apartments. The family was one of the city’s largest holders of real estate, with apartment buildings ranging from fancy places on Nob Hill to more pedestrian places in the Mission. It’s an excellent article that details how the availability of cheap money a few years ago permitted the Lembis to buy so much real estate, how they mistreated some of their tenants, and how the crash had brought their empire tumbling down.

San Francisco was nominated in the General Excellence category for magazines with circulation less than 100,000 for its April, August, and December issues.

In 2005, I attended the National Magazine Awards. San Francisco had been nominated then, but unfortunately didn’t win. I have a good feeling for this year.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Should a Daughter Help her Mother Commit Suicide?

Zoe Fitzgerald Carter was living in Berkeley with her husband and two daughters when her mother began to call her from Washington DC to talk about ending her life.  Carter’s mother, Margaret, a vivacious, intelligent woman, was suffering from Parkinson’s and a host of other ailments and could no longer stand the pain. She wanted to take charge of her life – and her death – by committing suicide.

But Margaret wanted the help of Carter and her two sisters, and that request, and all its ramifications are the subject of Carter’s moving memoir, Imperfect Endings: A Daughter's Tale of Life and Death. Published just last week by Simon and Schuster, Imperfect Endings is already provoking discussion about filial loyalty, love, and assisted suicide. The book was excerpted in “O” Oprah Winfrey’s magazine, was praised in the New York Times’ Health Blog, and was picked as one of Barnes & Noble’s ‘Discover Great New Writers” books for 2010.

Carter will be appearing at Book Passage in Corte Madera at 7 pm March 11 and at 7 pm March 18 at Read Books in Danville. In anticipation of her appearances, Ghost Word posed a few questions to Carter.

When your mother first started to raise the question of killing herself, did
you take her seriously? How long was it before you believed she truly wanted
to end her life? How long before you could accept her decision?

         My mother started talking about ending her life eighteen months before she did it, and I did not take her seriously at first. I understood that she was worried about where her Parkinson’s disease was taking her, but I did not think she would kill herself. 

         It wasn’t until she got a prescription for a lethal dose of Seconal, and arranged to meet a member of the Hemlock Society’s “Caring Friends” network, that I began to understand how determined she was. Accepting her decision was a lot harder. I think it happened in increments but it wasn’t until about two weeks before she started her final fast that I gave her my overt support. I realized I had to get my own needs and desires out of the equation.

Do you think your mother knew how difficult her decision would be for you
and your sisters, particularly as helping her could put you at legal risk?
Or were her pain and discomfort so bad she could not think beyond that?

         I think my mother was so caught up in the “how and when “of her death that it was difficult for her to focus on how my sisters and I felt about it. She had a tendency to call us up in the middle of the day and casually ask: “How would May first be for me to kill myself?” It drove me a little crazy, frankly.

         On the other hand, she chose to end her life by fasting so we could be there with her without legal risk. (It is not illegal to witness a suicide, only to participate in it.) That was a very selfless choice.
         But then – just to make things complicated -- when the fast wasn’t progressing quickly enough, she took a large amount of morphine. Although she survived it and lived three more days, I found this really upsetting. It raised some very potent issues about the psychic and even moral meaning of participating in someone’s death. I don’t think we can gloss over that part.

Your book raises the question of loyalty. To whom do we owe it? Did you
think part of being a good daughter was helping your mother die?

         I think this is one of the key questions in the book. I really struggled with what it meant to be a “good daughter” – help my mother kill herself, or talk her out of it. One of the reasons I wrote the book was to revisit this dilemma and try to understand it better.

After having helped your mother hasten her death, do you think assisted
suicide should be legalized? What problems would it solve? What issues might
it raise?

         I do think it should be legal, despite feeling that assisted suicide is tough on families and loved ones. At this point, physician assisted suicide is only legal in Oregon and Washington although Montana just passed a similar law. 

         One of the advantages of making assisted suicide legal is that these laws lay out very specific guidelines and regulations. I’m not sure about Montana, but in Oregon and Washington, two doctors have to determine that the person has less than six months left to live and there is a two-week waiting period. 
         There are other stipulations as well: for example, doctors can request that patients get evaluated by a psychiatrist. Obviously, you do not want people getting doctors to help them to die if they are only depressed or in crisis.

Some people worry that certain groups might feel pressure to end their lives if assisted suicide is legal, but if you look at the states where it is legal, not that many people take advantage of it. And the upside is enormous. People like my mother, who are in their right mind and want to die, can get help and support from a medical professional, and their family members are not forced to negotiate what can feel like a Sophie’s Choice between watching their loved ones suffer and entering the murky, guilt-producing world of “hastened death.”
How have you talked to your two daughters about their grandmother’s death?
What is their reaction?

         I talked to both my girls about it before the book came out. They did not have any idea that my mother hadn’t died naturally so it was a surprise to them. Although they were both in D.C. with my mother during the last two weeks of her life, they were only four and eight at the time and I didn’t think it was right to burden them with that knowledge. It would have been confusing.

         They’re 13 and 17 now and have both read the book and liked it.  We’ve talked a lot about the importance of preserving our own memories of my mother and how the book is just a small slice of all that happened and all we felt about her.

Ten years after your mother's death, do you think that she did the right thing?

         I think she did what she needed to do and I admire her strong-mindedness. She was absolutely fearless and unblinking at the end. But I don’t think there is ever a right or wrong in these situations. Everyone does the best they can under really complicated circumstances.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Bancroft Library celebrates its 150th birthday

Attention history lovers! The Bancroft Library at the UC Berkeley is 150 years old and is throwing itself a party.

The party won’t be centered around cake and candles (although there will be a reception on Friday night). Instead, it will feature scholarship, which is only fitting for one of the world’s most distinguished libraries.

Historians from around the country will present papers on March 5 and 6 on different aspects of California history. The symposium starts with a look at the period when California belonged to Mexico, examines Native-American life in the 19th century, looks at the life of Hubert How Bancroft and his contribution to documenting the development of the state, and more.

The talks have titles like “More than Hide and Tallow: America's California Commerce before the Gold Rush,” and “The Ghost Dance and the Crisis of Gilded Age Nevada.”

Some of the library’s most interesting photographs and documents will also be on display. One exhibit will highlight materials from the early days of the Bancroft Library and another will look at Hubert Howe Bancroft, the bookseller turned publisher turned historian.

Few realize that Bancroft, who moved to California in 1852 to set up an east coast annex of his cousin’s bookstore, collected the core of the current library’s collection. In addition to selling books, Bancroft collected manuscripts, maps, and letters about California, Oregon, Washington, the Rocky Mountain states, Alaska, British Columbia, Mexico, and Central America.

By 1870, Bancroft had amassed 16,000 volumes, and the number continued to grow every year. During the latter part of th3 19th century, he sent out a team of interviewers to talk to many of the early settlers of the state. These handwritten interviews can still be found in the archives of the Bancroft.

In 1905, Bancroft, who had established a library in San Francisco, sold it to the University of California. It was a providential transaction, for the collection was transferred to Berkeley before the 1906 earthquake and fire.

In 2008, the Bancroft renovated its building facing the Campanile, and researchers can now look at the archives in a light-filled reading room on the top floor of the building. If you like history, consider becoming a fan of the  Bancroft on Facebook. The library sends posts a historic photograph every day.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

IPad looks cool

You will be able to point the Ipad at the sky, and with its GPS unit, the stars above will appear on the unit. You can then find out more information about what you are looking at.

This is just one of the features demonstrated in this video. Penguin CEO John Makinson is presenting the demo at a presentation in London. (via Publisjers Marketplace)