Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Titles From the Cutting Room Floor: Jonathan Lethem

"Here's a weird little exclusive for you: I was searching my computer and found an old speculative "Table of Contents" for The Ecstasy of Influence, loading with titles for essays I wanted to write to fill out the book. There were versions of essays I'd gone ahead and written, of course, either under the title I'd guessed at, or something similar (and, I hope, better). But mixed among them were these nine titles for essays I'd never even begun trying to write -- they're stuck in some alternate reality version of the book, which must be about a hundred and fifty pages longer than the one I'm publishing in this universe. In some cases I can pretty well visualize the essay that might have been written, but wasn't; in others they look completely opaque to me now. In either case, though, these seem to me completely unlikely ever to exist, now that the vehicle that was intended to bear them has moved on without them. Here, then, are the essays from the nonexistent "director's cut" of The Ecstasy of Influence:

Thomas Pynchon versus Muriel Spark


Memoir of Omega The Unknown/Steve Gerber

Writing for Criterion, and other Liner Notes

Mailer’s Graffiti

Unthinking The Thinkable

Against Mary McCarthy’s “The Fact In Fiction”

My Drugs

Writing Is Triage

Jonathan Lethem will be at Moe's November 22nd, 7:30  to discuss the Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. To pre-order a signed copy of The Ecstasy of  Influence go to

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

An Interview with Michael Rothenberg, organizer of 100,000 Poets for Change

This interview with Michael Rothenberg is reprinted from the  excellent Author Amok blog We thank Laura Shovan for giving us permission to publish

it here.  Go back to the events page to see the line up for the Moe's contribution to this worldwide



As poets, we are in the business of change. Every time a child reads and responds to a poem we have written, he or she is changed -- even a little -- by the experience.

But what if we take that change outside of personal, private experience and into the community?

On September 24, 2011 a worldwide poetry event is happening: 100,000 Poets for Change. Visit the 100 TPC website for a list of the global cities where community poetry programs are being planned.

100 TPC is the brainchild of poet Michael Rothenberg, who is visiting with me this Poetry Friday.

Hi, Michael! Thanks for stopping by. Here are your five questions:

1. How did you get the idea for 100,000 Poets for Change?

I was talking to a friend on Facebook about how bad things looked around the world -- ecocide, war, poverty -- and that there ought to be 100 Thousand Poets for Change. I believe that poets have the power to speak across fences, to transform and heal the world, and I felt if all the poets got together we might be able to change things.

My friend said that it was a good idea. So, I created an event page on Facebook and invited my friends.

2. What are some of the most unusual events people are planning for September 24?

There are really too many great events to single out any one in particular. A peace reading in Afghanistan, the Baltimore Book Festival Flash mob [more on that later]. There are thirteen incredible events in Mexico City, which include poetry readings, film screenings, workshops about violence against women. A festival of music and poetry featuring hip hop battles in Tlahuac and more.

Along the Platte River near Omaha, Nebraska, poets will be demonstrating against TransCanada's planned Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. There will be a haiku walk in Nagoya, Japan. Vancouver, BC: poets and the community will clean up the banks of False Creek East. And other great thing is that North Carolina has over 18 events all around the state organized by teachers and poets to bring a focus to the need to support education funding in the state.

3. What were some of your favorite rhyming books or poems when you were a child?

The one book that always sticks in my mind was Suzi Starfish and Peter Porpoise (Mildred Woodall, 1955). That is the book I first remember trying to copy out by hand and add additional verses. I might have been eight years old.

4. People often think of poetry as an adult endeavor, but it's embedded in children's lives -- how they learn to speak, read and enjoy literature. How can event like 100 TPC benefit children?

First of all, there is the reality that poetry opens up the mind to seeing the world in fresh and new ways, it helps us develop our vocabulary and teaches us to think and express in imaginative and constructive ways.

An event like 100 TPC not only shows us the fun and beauty and depth of poetry, and the variety of poetry and poetic voices, but since 100 TPC explores political, social and environmental change issues, it shows how children can learn about their world from poetry, if they are given a good education, if there is funding for good education.

The whole education system issue comes into focus. If poets/teachers can talk about arts in the schools, then they have the capacity to use poetry to highlight the essentiality of education in a sustainable world. So the function is two-fold. We write poetry and share it and expand our minds and thinking capacity. We learn to articulate and process language in a way that can move us along in the world. But also, it is the subject of our poems and what poets can do as leaders in compelling our community and society to think more about children and their education, and the importance of arts in the schools. Poets have a big and important job!

5. What changes would you personally like to see in the lives of the world's children?

I would like to see children fed and clothed and protected from abuse. I would like to see them educated and reading and learning about the world, and communicating with hope. To see that their parents and guardians are protecting the world for them so they have a safe and nourishing future on planet earth.

Thank you, Michael. Congratulations on the event. I'm very excited to be an organizer in Baltimore.

Michael Rothenberg is a poet, songwriter, editor and publisher of the online magazine, Big Bridge. His poetry books include Favorite Songs, The Paris Journals, Monk Daddy, Unhurried Vision, Choose, and My Youth as a Train.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Just My Type author Simon Garfield comments on our logo

Simon Garfield on the Moe's typeface:

JUST MY TYPE of Bookstore…

A font of typeface knowledge, author Simon Garfield shares his analysis of your favorite bookstore’s logo:

"The logo designer here really understands typography – the black and red pairing is classic 1920s, and the font (Goudy Oldstyle Bold) is very American. I think Goudy was being slightly ironic with those dimples on the serifs, a throwback to when everything was carved. The overall impression of Moe’s? Airy, distinguished and erudite." 

JUST MY TYPE is a delightful and inquisitive tour of the rich history and subtle power of type. Simon Garfield looks into the world of fonts, meets the designers behind the typefaces, and takes an in-depth look at the best and worst fonts through the ages.

"This is a smart, funny, accessible book that does for typography what Lynne Truss’s best-selling Eats, Shoots & Leaves did for punctuation: made it noticeable for people who had no idea they were interested in such things." – Janet Maslin, The New York Times

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What Do Empires Do?

by Michael Parenti

When I wrote my book Against Empire in 1995, as might be expected, some of my U.S. compatriots thought it was wrong of me to call the United States an empire. It was widely believed that U.S. rulers did not pursue empire; they intervened abroad only out of self-defense or for humanitarian rescue operations or to restore order in a troubled region or overthrow tyranny, fight terrorism, and propagate democracy.

But by the year 2000, everyone started talking about the United States as an empire and writing books with titles like Sorrows of Empire, Follies of Empire, Twilight of Empire, or Empire of Illusions—all referring to the United States when they spoke of empire.

Even conservatives started using the word. Amazing. One could hear right-wing pundits announcing on U.S. television, “We’re an empire, with all the responsibilities and opportunities of empire and we better get used to it”; and “We are the strongest nation in the world and have every right to act as such”—as if having the power gives U.S. leaders an inherent entitlement to exercise it upon others as they might wish.

What is going on here? I asked myself at the time. How is it that so many people feel free to talk about empire when they mean a United States empire? The ideological orthodoxy had always been that, unlike other countries, the USA did not indulge in colonization and conquest.

The answer, I realized, is that the word has been divested of its full meaning. “Empire” seems nowadays to mean simply dominion and control. Empire—for most of these late-coming critics—is concerned almost exclusively with power and prestige. What is usually missing from the public discourse is the process of empire and its politico-economic content. In other words, while we hear a lot about empire, we hear very little about imperialism.

Now that is strange, for imperialism is what empires are all about. Imperialism is what empires do. And by imperialism I do not mean the process of extending power and dominion without regard to material and financial interests. Indeed imperialism has been used by some authors in the same empty way that they use the word empire, to simply denote dominion and control with little attention given to political economic realities.

But I define imperialism as follows: the process whereby the dominant investor interests in one country bring to bear their economic and military power upon another nation or region in order to expropriate its land, labor, natural resources, capital, and markets in such a manner as to enrich the investor interests. In a word, empires do not just pursue power for power’s sake. There are real and enormous material interests at stake, fortunes to be made many times over.

So for centuries the ruling interests of Western Europe and later on North America and Japan went forth with their financiers—and when necessary their armies—to lay claim to most of planet Earth, including the labor of indigenous peoples (both as workers and slaves), their markets, their incomes (through colonial taxation or debt control or other means), and the abundant treasures of their lands: their gold, silver, diamonds, copper, rum, molasses, hemp, flax, ebony, timber, sugar, tobacco, ivory, iron, tin, nickel, coal, cotton, corn, and more recently: uranium, manganese, titanium, bauxite, oil, and—say it again—oil (hardly a complete listing).

Empires are enormously profitable for the dominant economic interests of the imperial nation but enormously costly to the people of the colonized country. In addition to suffering the pillage of their lands and natural resources, the people of these targeted countries are frequently killed in large numbers by the intruders.

This is another thing that empires do which too often goes unmentioned in the historical and political literature of countries like the United States, Britain, and France. Empires impoverish whole populations and kill lots and lots of innocent people. President Obama and the national security state for which he works are waging a number of wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, and northern Pakistan), and leveling military threats against Yemen, Iran, and, on a slow day, North Korea. Instead of sending medical and rescue aid to Haiti, Our Bomber sent in the Marines, the same Marines who engaged in years of repression and killings in Haiti decades ago and supported more recent massacres by proxy forces.

The purpose of all this killing is to prevent alternative, independent, self-defining nations from emerging. So the empire uses its state power to gather private wealth for its investor class. And it uses its public wealth to shore up its state power and prevent other nations from self-developing.

Sooner or later this arrangement begins to wilt under the weight of its own contradictions. As the empire grows more menacing and more murderous toward others, it grows sick and impoverished within itself.

From ancient times to today, empires have always been involved in the bloody accumulation of wealth. If you don’t think this is true of the United States then stop calling it “Empire.” And when you write a book about how it wraps its arms around the planet, entitle it Global Bully or Bossy Busybody, but be aware that you’re not telling us much about imperialism.


Michael Parenti's recent books include: The Face of Imperialism, God and His Demons (Prometheus 2010); Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader (City Lights); The Assassination of Julius Caesar (New Press), Superpatriotism(City Lights), and The Culture Struggle (Seven Stories Press). For further information, visit his website:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Steve Englehart

(This is an excerpt from Steve's most recent novel The Plain Man. He will be reading and signing at the store on Wednesday, August 3rd, at 7:30pm.)

           The next thing she knew, she was standing on the desert plain beside Scorpio Rose. Twenty feet away, Max and Diana were lying beside a huge boulder. The two women were in shadow, but Pam stepped back instinctively.
            “They cannot see us,” said Scorpio Rose.
            In truth, Pam could hardly see herself. She seemed to be, if not a ghost, then something made of fluid light, now visible, now not visible. And Rosa, though clearly more substantial, was just as hard for her to see.
            “I am here physically,” said the gypsy witch. “But Diana cannot pick me out. You are here only as a shade — an astral, Max would say — and neither one of them can see you. Let me repeat: Max cannot see you.”
            “Where’s my body?” Pam asked, surprisingly calmly. The unfamiliar still felt familiar.
            “See for yourself,” Rosa said. And Pam did. Without even turning her head, she looked back at the campsite, at least a mile away. She saw the site clearly, with her unmoving body sprawled in the dust.
            “In the future, you will want to lie down before flying,” the witch said.
            “Am I hurt, there?” Pam asked.
            “A few bruises, no doubt.”
            “I didn’t know I could do this,” Pam said, staring at her ghostly hand.
            “No, but I did,” the witch said placidly. “Now look.” She raised her own hand and pointed with a long, slender finger at Max and Diana. He was now on top, pounding between Diana’s wide-spread legs.
            Pam felt the blood rise in her face, even though her blood and her face were astral. “Why are you showing me this?” she demanded raggedly.
            “Because you need to see it,” answered Scorpio Rose. She was looking hard at Pam, but Pam was looking harder at her boyfriend. She could tell, because she knew him so intimately now, that Max was a little withdrawn over there. But only a little. He had to be into it, by the nature of the thing. More than Pam liked.
            Connecting with Humanity. Living our animal nature, Pam thought. And then Fuck Humanity!
            But she realized Rosa was still talking to her. “I know what Max tells you, because all masters tell their apprentices the same thing. He says to apply your logic to your experience, so as never to take anything on faith, no matter how famous the master may be who tells it to you. But that is not just advice for times when you are calmly meditating. You need to apply logic even when your emotions are raging — especially then. Until you can do that, you can never be a master.”
            You can say that!” Pam snapped, not even bothering to hide her displeasure. “But I’m not like you.”
            “Oh yes, Pamela — you are.” Rosa fluttered a hand. “Despite my affliction, we are both women. All women know that there are two worlds, that of the God and that of the Goddess. All women are by nature magick, and can channel their magick more easily than can a man.”
            “All women are individuals. Especially that one over there.” Diana was beginning to make little moans of rhythmic pleasure that really grated on Pam’s ears.
            “She channels it downward; thus, she is a threat to you. But some channel it upward, and among those are the ones you must truly fear, for Max’s sake as well as your own.”
            “Like Aleksandra?” Pam asked.
            “Like Aleksandra.”
            Pam stiffened, suddenly aware again that she was a disembodied spirit standing open to the universe. Watching her lover screw another woman. Just as he’d screwed Aleksandra twenty-nine years ago, when he was five years younger. Despite herself, Pam was beginning to see a larger dimension to her situation, like the vast, dimly-lit darkness surrounding them, the two women who knew they were magick. Pi…
            “I have met Aleksandra,” said Scorpio Rose, quietly.
            Pam was brought back to earth. “You have?”
            “Yes. It was in the fall of 1963, when she was 14 — as the nights were growing longer…”

Monday, July 25, 2011

Alastair Johnston

You know those old platitudes, "All good things come to he who waits," or "We serve no wine before it's time"? Well, I can't be bothered with them. However, after 35 years I have published a book that has indeed improved with age, and furthermore was worth the wait. Back in 1975 when I was a young poet in my mid-20s I met Kevin Power and his wife, Romilly Waite, wandering Britons like myself, in Berkeley. We were idealistic young writers going to anti-War readings with Ginsberg, Whalen, Kyger, McClure, Snyder and Nanao Sakaki, checking out the New York poets at Intersection or the Bolinas poets at Cody's. Kevin was doing post-graduate work at the University and his wife wanted to learn the art of letterpress so they could start a small press, Editions Braad, back in their home in rural France. Romilly is W. S. Merwin's niece and they had bought an old red-tiled farmhouse in a village high up in Templar country that had been home to Creeley and other wandering spirits. Kevin was writing about the relation of painting and other visual arts to post-War American poetry, so had come West to interview those poets he felt had a significant relation to visual art in their work. In Buffalo he had talked to Creeley and Bly (who was in town for a reading) & he had tracked down Rothenberg on an Indian reservation in Upstate New York. In San Francisco he spoke to McClure, Duncan, Meltzer and the Oppens. He drove out to Bolinas to find Berkson. I expressed interest in his collection of interviews which were beginning to appear in little magazines like Vort, Texas Quarterly and Spanner. When they returned to Europe, Kevin entrusted the typescript to me and I began setting trial samples at the West Coast Print Center, where I worked as a typesetter on the nightshift (other typesetters included Barrett Watten, Mary Anne Hayden and John McBride). But then I started working on Philip Whalen's novel The Diamond Noodle and the Power book languished. A decade later Kevin asked me if I still wanted to do it. By then he was living in Spain and teaching at the University of Alicante. I dug out the manuscript and decided, yes, it was still a worthwhile project. But by then Duncan had died and his estate were being managed by Robert Bertholf at the University library in Buffalo, after Bancroft turned down Duncan's papers because they thought they had enough Duncan material. I wrote to Bertholf asking permission to reprint the interview and he wrote back that he was planning a collected works, including interviews so therefore had to refuse. My girlfriend at the time had been a Duncan student at New College and with his permission had taped his lectures. I duplicated a dozen C-90 tapes of the classes and sent them to Bertholf, reiterating my request. He sent me a formal thank you and a second refusal. When I saw Kevin in San Francisco in the 90s we didn't discuss the book: we were both on to other things. Then last year Kyle Schlesinger reprinted Power's interview with Creeley on his blog, generating a lot of cyber heat about what a brilliant insightful interview it was. I ran into Steve Dickison of SF State's Poetry Center and we were discussing it, and I mentioned I had the manuscript of all 8 interviews that were all equally brilliant, but then told him the sad story of Bertholf's refusal. Oh, said Steve, Bertholf is no longer Duncan's executor. It's now Christopher Wagstaff, and he gave me Wagstaff's number. I phoned him, expecting the same kind of frostbitten denial but instead Wagstaff was cordial and thrilled that I wanted to print the interview. The heirs of Creeley and Oppen were also happy to see the work published in book form & so, after 35 years, like vintage wine, we can drink deep from the wisdom of these grand old bards.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

David Darlington

Now that my book An Ideal Wine is coming out, it seems like a good time to dust off my customary disclaimer: I’m not really a wine writer. Thus, one might reasonably ask: Then what the hell is the book about? Well… it’s about people; it’sabout business; it’s about culture; it’s about civilization. In other words – okay, it’sabout wine.

One of my pet maxims is that wine is a reflective beverage – not just in that it makes you ruminative, but it reflects the world around it. And by that I don’t just mean the land, climate, et al. – the amalgam of influences that winefolk like to call terroir – but, rather, human values, or the way wine exposes our preoccupations, which is a constantly shifting social proposition. I didn’t really get interested in wine until I’d been a journalist for several years, writing about things from rivers to arm wrestlers to rodeo clowns. My model was the eclectic New Yorker writer John McPhee, and one of his pieces that affected me was a portrait of a chef, which illustrated the earthiness and complexity of cooking. Not long after that, I read a profile of Robert Mondavi (by Moira Johnston – also not a wine writer), which illuminated the diversity of the wine industry, incorporating everything from farming to business to the snootiest levels of white-linen society. The catchphrases I developed in my head were: Wine is the essence of civilization, and wine is where culture and agriculture meet.

I subsequently asked a friend of a friend – a partner in a wineselling company – how I might learn more about wine in order to write about it. Very cogently, he said: “Go to work at a winery.” I subsequently lucked into a harvest job at Ravenswood when it was still a 5,000-case boutique (as opposed to the million-case household word it is today), which not only taught me the nuts and bolts but imbued me with hands-on appreciation of the realities, which was also enhanced by making wine in my garage.

Sometimes, when not-very-wine-savvy friends appreciate one of my homemade wines, they suggest that I sell it – i.e., become a commercial winemaker. They don’t know what a joke that is, though they might if they read An Ideal Wine. I would never want to be a real winemaker for some of the same reasons that I wouldn’t  want to be a filmmaker (even though I love film at least as much as I love reading and writing): I couldn’t handle the pressure of pouring investors’ dollars into a product that has to pass muster for mass consumption. I’d rather interview winemakers, who tend to be intelligent and articulate, and interpret their work in a social context. Having made a fair amount of wine myself, when I interview winemakers I feel like I can relate to them, which I hope fosters rapport that results in realism. But they don’t always see it the same way, and it makes me uncomfortable when I get the (not uncommon) feeling that a winemaker is hoping I’ll help him or her in the market. That’s just not the kind of writing I do, any more than a reporter interviewing a politician is necessarily aiming to help them or a sportswriter interviewing an athlete is necessarily hoping to help them. In other words, this is journalism, not public relations – which means I hope to write about wine as it exists in the real world, not in a photoshopped, soft-focus ad selling “the spirit of place.”

I don’t mean to imply that most wine writers are flacks, doing the bidding of winery owners in order to get free wine. (Not most of them.) Truth to tell, I don’t have the genetic gifts of real wine writers – specifically a palate capable of parsing pear, sage, cola, nectarine, mineral, dried cherry, yah de yah de yah. It often embarrasses me to taste wine with winemakers, because I don’t usually have much to say – I can detect broad stylistic characteristics, but I can’t smell angels on the head of a pin. As a general rule, when it comes to that most vaunted of wine phenomena – terroir – I confess that I can’t really perceive it. I wish I could – it sounds fantastic – but I just don’t have the chops, or maybe the imagination. In my new book, there’s a chapter where Kermit Lynch and Randall Grahm attempt to educate me in the perception of terroir, with moderate success: Under their tutelage, I can tell the difference between wines grown in limestone and wines grown in schist. Could I do it by myself? I could probably perceive the difference, but probably couldn’t identify what’s responsible for it; I might not even be inclined to call it “minerally.”

The first column I wrote for Wine & Spirits (where I’m now a “special correspondent”) portrayed a dialogue between a psychiatrist and a patient who feels inadequate because he can’t perceive things in wine that he reads about in reviews. It never ran, because the magazine’s editor and publisher, told me it “felt like an attack.” Jeez, such defensiveness – and coincidentally from a person who once wrote that an Edmunds St. John syrah “grips, but with a lazy give.” I’ve heard about food porn, but I thought it had mainly to do with pictures; since you can’t do much visually with wine, though, I guess the heavy lifting here (so to speak) has to be shouldered by words – i.e., writers.

Somehow, in the wake of that disagreement, Josh Greene went on to become my good friend. Eventually he put me on the Wine & Spirits masthead as a regular contributor, though I think we both know that “special correspondent” means “not really a wine writer.” Why does he feel that way? Well, let’s see. I have an article in the August issue about the Sonoma coast, but it’s written from the point of view of a cyclist. And one of my Wine & Spirits stories won a pretigious award for wine writing – but that was on a technicality. I mean that literally: It was about technology – or, more specifically, a crazed technologist. Just so you know, most of its contents are contained in An Ideal Wine.

Which proves my original point: The book isn’t really about wine.

David Darlington is the author of An Ideal Wine: One generation's Pursuit of Perfection - and Profit - in California. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


In truth there is no art to it at all, it's more a developed skill mixed with solid hunches. As a veteran buyer at Moe's Books for the past 30 years it has fallen to me to buy the lion's share of used and rare cookbooks offered us. Over time I have established some criteria to guide my buying. Our cookbook section is surely the best of any general used or new bookshop in Northern California and keeping it that way requires persistent attention to the fashions and fads in food that come and go with some regularity. So the primary need is always to be aware of what is the latest food buzz and what has passed into the trash bin of food history. In other words--you need to pay attention!

The past twenty years have seen remarkable advances in the production of the once humble cookbook. We have armies of food stylists, high resolution photography, advanced computer technology, and superb printing presses that make these books more akin to art books than practical instructional titles. And therein lies the second secret to buying cookbooks: modern cookbooks are not really about cooking, they are about fantasy, armchair food warriors delighting in the opportunity to experience high-end cooking through the spectacular production values of contemporary books. In buying books for resale it follows that our customers are not going to be very interested in modern books lacking the values which can allow them to pursue their armchair cooking fantasies; in other words, books with poor design, garish or insipid photography and unattractive production values will likely be unsalable and that has proven to be the case at Moe's.

There are of course exceptions to the pretty book rule and this requires a little more knowledge of food history and some familiarity with the historical pillars of the cookbook world. To buy food books effectively you need to know that "Joy of Cooking" is always in demand and that Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" is a perennial seller, that Harold Mcgee's food science titles are in constant demand as are M. F. K. Fisher's and Anthony Bourdain's and Waverly Root's treatises on French and Italian cuisine and Elizabeth David's beautifully written books and essays on European food. A buyer might be forgiven not knowing the work of the legendary 19th century French writer Urbain Dubois but it would be unfortunate if he missed the significance of Marcella Hazan or Diana Kennedy and Paula Wolfert. There are scores of others which are essential to keeping a well-stocked food section; some are out-of-print and command high prices when they show up, others periodically get reprinted to acquaint a new generation with their importance.

Moe's is fortunate to have other buyers who are well versed in the literature of food and cooking. Ken Eastman is a serious and passionate cook, does catering from time to time, cooked professionally for a period and has a serious interest in food history. His knowledge of the literature of food and cooking is formidable and Moe's is fortunate to have him as a buyer. Another staff member, Harvey Stafford, has cooked professionally for several years and also has a wide knowledge of culinary literature. Together, our buying staff is about good as it gets in the general book world. We maintain a high standard in what we offer for sale to our customers, price the desirable books fairly and the rare books realistically in line with what the market demands. Anyone interested in the culinary arts would do well to pay us a visit and spend some time browsing the hundreds of titles we offer for sale.

Gene Barone