Sometimes your grandmother’s place can be full of surprises. During high school and middle school I would go to my grandmother’s house at least once a week (if not every day) and wait for my mother to get back from work, though later during that period of time I went less often. Mostly I went just to see my grandmother and help her with things around the house, and then would take the bus home. I would not have imagined that during all of those years I went over there, that sitting atop a bookshelf in the living room, covered in dust, was a second edition copy of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (first published in 1850).I found this while cleaning out my grandmother’s house after she moved to Virginia a few years ago, and took it as my own rather than have it be sold at one of many garage sales. Most high school kids have to read this book as a part of their English class curriculum. I never read it, but I did check it out Wikipedia, so I think I have a pretty good grasp of what it’s all about. It’s the story of a woman in Puritanical America in the 1600s, who commits “adultery” by having relations with a man and becoming pregnant while her husband is thought to be “lost at sea” (i.e. dead). The book seems to contain a lot of obtuse 19th century social and religious morality, making it something that I have no intention of reading myself. The concept, however, of having any object (especially a book) that is more than one hundred and fifty years old is amazing in and of itself. Having objects that are that old makes one think about the history of the object itself, along with the time in which it was made. There is also a feeling of exclusivity and value in having first (and even second) editions of any well-known or cherished book. This ties into an article I wrote earlier about the disappearance of bookstores and, in some ways, of books as a physical media. With the rise of e-books one can argue that the exclusivity of first editions is increasing. However, if e-books completely take over actual books (which is doubtful since downloadable music still hasn’t even beaten records out of production), this exclusivity and eventual sense of antiquity will be lost forever. Since this is unlikely, even with the number of people I see with some kind of kindle, etc. seemingly growing exponentially by the day, antique books like this still have the propensity to perpetually increase in number. In spite of all of the wonderment and value with which such books are endowed, I still don’t want to read The Scarlet Letter. —Jack Betterly Kohn
Even though the semester is about to end, I’m still annoyed by the outragous prices of the textbooks and the practices of the companies that release them. Everyone that has gone to college knows that books cost a lot. But really, why should they?
A few weeks ago I went with Linda to read from Dead Love to a class at a multilingual middle school in San Francisco. To my surprise, even with all the blood and gore and frightening characters, the kids ate it up! Well, I shouldn’t be that surprised, kids have always loved horrifying, bloody and dangerous things. Back in the 40s and 50s there were lots of things directed toward children that included violence against people, or
I was writing up blog posts for the Left Coast Writers® Valentine’s Day events and I remembered a few very interesting traditions associated with this holiday in South Korea and Japan. When you think of Valentine’s Day you think of cards, candy, chocolate, flowers, and other various gifts given by men to women to show their affection, along with romantic evenings of one kind or another. However, in Japan and South Korea the date aspect of it is underplayed, as well as all of the other types of gifts besides the chocolate; and the men are the ones on the receiving side. I first noticed this at about eight or nine years old while watching a Japanese anime programme called Ranma 1/2; In Japan women usually give out “giri” or “obligatory” chocolate to male classmates or colleagues. To their love or prospective loves, however, they give “honmei” or “favorite” chocolate. The “obligatory” chocolate is usually cheaper and store bought; the “favorite” chocolate is more expensive or handmade. But it’s not as though they receive nothing in return. In both South Korea and Japan White Day is celebrated on March 14th. White Day is a holiday where the men who were given chocolate on Valentine’s Day give gifts of non-chocolate candy, flowers, jewelry, or other sentimental items to the women who gave them chocolate on Valentine’s Day in a ratio of 3:1. It is a rule that the return gift should be three times the value of the original chocolate given. Also, in South Korea they celebrate a holiday called Black Day. My Korean high school friend told me about it and I later researched further. Black Day is celebrated on the 14th of April. Those who did not receive anything on either previous holiday eat black noodles to “mourn” their singleness. Let’s hope I’m not eating black noodles. —Jack Betterly-Kohn
Alison Bing, Lonely Planet’s roving food, wine and travel writer and author of forty guidebooks, spoke at the Left Coast Writers Literary Salon last night at Book Passage. She talked about food and travel—what a magnificent combo! Both are things I enjoy quite a bit, and can say I’ve dabbled in. I have been to Nepal, Japan, Mexico, England, Scotland, Ireland and France and have had some very interesting food experiences in all of these places. One of the most interesting meals I have ever had the pleasure of partaking in had to have been at a small restaurant in Tokyo. I believe it was in the Shinjuku district in the northeastern part of the city that I found this place while wandering around one night looking for a bite to eat. I went in and ordered a dish with potatoes that were dyed bright red with hot pepper and covered with a delicious sauce, somewhat similar to patatas bravas, a Spanish specialty generally found in tapas bars, only these were less chunky, neater, almost meticulously cut and arranged—a distinctly Japanese twist. But what I decided to order for my main course was the really interesting dish. I got one of the best pizzas I have ever had and certainly one of the strangest: a miso pizza with eggplant. It was just like a regular pizza, except instead of tomato sauce they used a mixture of mayonnaise and red miso, the Japanese seasoning created by combining a grain or soybeans with salt and the fungus called kojikin. The pizza was creamy and delicious, and upon the server’s recommendation, I garnished it with Cholula hot sauce, which they had at the restaurant. This brought it to a level of taste I have only been able to fantasize about since then. Sadly, I do not remember the name of that little restaurant, only the distinctive tomato logo on their sign. The best writing, just like the best food, has elements of surprise and unusual contrast. These things create interest and excitement. They are imaginative and lead to new experiences. That miso and eggplant pizza was one of the best pizza-eating experiences in my life … well except for the one with fermented soybeans(natto). —Jack Betterly-Kohn Photo Courtesy of Marianne Betterly, © Marianne Betterly
Hi, my name is Jack. I’m the new Left Coast Writers® administrator. One of my projects is updating the database, and a few days ago I was focusing on bookstores. For this project I was to normalize some of the tags for all the bookstores in our database, and also to look up to see if any of the information we had on them had changed. Also, if any of them were no longer around, for one reason or another, I was to remove them from the database. Much to my dismay this was the case for many of the bookstores. I would continually look up a bookstore that had been around for decades just to find it had recently closed its doors for the last time. Many privately owned bookstores, both iconic and small-time, have had to do just that in the last decade or so. Many of them have been shoved out of the market by large chain bookstores like Barnes and Noble or online booksellers such as Amazon. They have also been badly hurt by the recent popularity of e-books and e-readers like the Kindle. These things, along with a steady loss of interest in reading precipitated by the popularity of motion pictures and television and a lack of focus on that skill in our schools, have made so many great bookstores that people have known and loved for years go out of business. While working on this project, I have read numerous tales of people who had been going to these stores for years; it really breaks my heart to know that they are now gone forever. I remember one person talking about how he had been going to a specific bookstore since his childhood. He would hang out there all the time and knew the people who had worked there; he even knew the cat that had lived there for years, and he used to play with it whenever he went there. But that store went bankrupt a few years ago and had to close. I kept on reading story after story like that until I was on the verge of tears; these bookstores can be such welcoming and intimate places that when they close down, it’s like a close friend has died. This has affected many places even in the Bay Area. Iconic stores like Cody’s and almost all of the Black Oak branches, and smaller more specialized stores like Mama Bears, A Different Light and Get Lost have all closed within the past ten years or so. I urge all of you reading this to go to your favorite local bookstore and support them through these tough times. You never know, you could pass by the storefront of a bookstore you have loved for years but have not recently gone to and find that it is now nothing but an empty space. —Jack Betterly-Kohn