Tag Archives: libraries

Booktoberfest at the Mechanics’ Institute Library



Mechanics' Institute Library

Mechanics' Institute Library

Yesterday I went to Booktoberfest, which is more or less a publishing intern’s dream event: a book publishing trade show, with microbrews, at the Mechanics’ Institute Library.  Heyday, McSweeney’s, Tachyon, Zyzzyva, Smashwords, and the SF Writer’s Grotto all had tables, and there was a panel discussion with John McMurtrie, the San Francisco Chronicle’s book editor. As you can see, the Mechanics’ Institute Library on Post Street was the perfect setting for the event. I had no idea the library existed, but apparently it’s been around for a while and it’s wonderful: “Founded in 1854 to serve the vocational needs of out-of-work gold miners, the Institute today is a favorite of avid readers, writers, downtown employees, students, film lovers, chess players, and the 21st century nomadic worker who needs a quiet place to plug in a laptop and do research.” Beers were provided by local breweries Anchor Steam and 21st Amendment (I used my drink tickets on the latter’s Hop Crisis IPA and Hell or High Watermelon watermelon wheat beer, both of which I highly recommend!) It was a lovely event, and it definitely did not spark any existential crises in the hearts of any struggling interns.

…But, um, if it did have some poor lost soul questioning her future in the publishing industry, if she felt like she’d been concentrating on learning about publishers for so long that she had no idea who the big writers in the Bay Area literary scene were, if she wanted to know what to read next to stay in the loop, and she already had the latest issue of Zyzzyva and a copy of New California Writing 2012…

…what authors and writings would you recommend?

(Yes, this is me admitting I lack expertise on my own blog topic, and yes, it was mostly precipitated by people dropping names all night that meant nothing to me. The literary scene in San Francisco is so rich that I know I could live a whole lifetime here and not discover all the events, books, writers, zines, classes, and publishers that are out there, but I need a fresh perspective, so hit me!)

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Link roundup: Feature edition

Time for another link roundup! A lot of these are pretty old, but worth seeing if you missed them the first time around; the last two in particular are pretty meaty and essential reading for any booklover.

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Settling in, or How I stopped worrying and learned to love the Mission District

I moved into my new apartment on August 1, and I’ve been pretty busy since then—unpacking, setting up accounts, exploring my new neighborhood, and just generally getting settled. I’m finding that the reverse culture shock of returning from Japan after two years is a lot stronger than it was when I came home for a visit after my first year—nothing insurmountable, but certainly a strange thing to feel when returning to the city I’ve missed for so long. My new place is right between the Mission and Bernal Heights, and on Thursday I walked up Mission to 18th and then came back down Valencia, passing by 826 Valencia and making a quick stop to browse at Dog Eared Books. It was too hot for the jeans and light jacket I was wearing, and I felt weird seeing the contrast between hipsters eating lunch on the patio at Rosamunde Sausage Grill and the long blocks of dingy discount stores. I was intimidated by the hip, well-stocked bookstore after two years of Toda Books, Amazon, and the JET midyear seminar book swap, and my feet hurt by the time I got home. To be honest, by the end of the day I was mentally composing a confessional blog entry about feeling wrong-footed in my own city. I thought longingly first of the foggy Sunset and Richmond districts on the other side of the hill, then of driving my mini-SUV through the snow-covered Niigata rice fields. I always felt like a self-sufficient badass doing that, even though the commute was a pain, and now I felt like a little country mouse trying to figure out Clipper cards (which didn’t exist when I left the city two and a half years ago).

So what changed? Well, on the way home from an internship interview this morning (which went well, by the way), I accidentally stumbled across the Mission branch library.

The Mission branch library

The reading room at the Mission Branch. Sorry for the crappy cell phone photo!

I popped in to renew my library card, and then went upstairs to the stacks. Suddenly being a country mouse was an advantage—I got to experience the awe of entering a real, healthy library as if for the first time. I also felt at home instantly. It’s dorky and cliche, but true—libraries are a tonic to book nerd types, a way to feel safe and reassured in the face of almost any trouble. I never met an SFPL branch I didn’t like (not so for LAPL, although their main branch is lovely), but the Mission branch is particularly nice.

Bulletin board at the Mission Branch library

The events bulletin board.

Just as exciting was the bulletin board, which was filled with colorful flyers and announcements for all kinds of events. I’ve been digging through the library events pages quite a bit lately (research!), but there were still quite a few that I hadn’t heard about—for example the Mission branch book club (the current selection is Tales of the City), or a workshop on Pinterest at the Bernal Heights branch.

I didn’t stay long—just enough to pick up two books.

"Valencia" and "The Waters & The Wild"


I’ve wanted to read Valencia for a while now, for so many reasons. Author Michelle Tea is one of the main movers and shakers of the San Francisco literary scene, and the book has a fantastic title and sounds so wild and punk rock and fun and will, I imagine, give me even more reasons to love my new neighborhood. As for the Francesca Lia Block, what can I say. I haven’t liked what she’s put out for at least the past six years, but old habits die hard. (I was actually looking for Pink Smog: Becoming Weetzie Bat, which I long and dread to read in equal measure—what if it’s awful?!—but this will do.)

Anyway, even though I drove down Park Presidio in the fog yesterday and felt the little pangs that you feel only when you truly come home, I’m back to loving my new neighborhood and the heady high I get from sitting in my wonderful bedroom looking out the window at Sutro Tower and the houses winding up and down the hills. I’ll explore Bernal Heights and try all the taquerias and read Valencia. I will even smile and pretend to agree when people cite the warm and sunny weather as a positive (although seriously folks, it’s called Fog City for a reason). And as I jokingly-but-not-really told people in Japan, after moving to the other side of the world and back, living on the other side of the hill is the next great adventure.

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Find of the day: SFPL Blogs

I was going to write a post about checking out ebooks from the San Francisco Public Library, but when I tried to log on I found out that my library card expired on my birthday yesterday! I can’t renew it until I’m physically back in the city, so instead I’ll share my latest discovery: the SFPL has a blog! It consists mainly of book reviews (including some in other languages) highlighting books in their collection. There are also a fair number of branch blogs (Chinatown, Mission, Merced, Glen Park, Excelsior, Mission Bay), which aren’t much other than event listings for that branch, but they all seem to be up-to-date.

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Links: San Francisco’s last public typewriter; book covers in the digital age

I haven’t been posting anything but links lately, have I? Sorry about that. I’m leaving Japan and returning to San Francisco in 6 weeks (!!!!!), so I’ve been pretty busy cleaning, sorting, doing paperwork, canceling contracts, and just enjoying all the things about Japan that I won’t be able to experience back home. Also, for what it’s worth, the 5k race went better than I could have hoped for—I ran the entire way and finished in 34:24! I’m really proud of myself, especially since I also climbed a mountain yesterday (which was a blast). This has really been an amazing year for me.

Anyway, today I have two links for you. The first one is a New York Times article (a couple weeks old now) about San Francisco’s last public typewriter:

Not so long ago, Ms. Nyhan tells me, as many as 10 people a day used the Typewriter Room, but now it’s down to around two a day. They’re people who need to fill out forms, or people who never took to computers. As long as such users exist, so will the Typewriter Room.

This has been making the rounds on Twitter and other social media sites, and at first glance I wasn’t sure why, although I found it compelling in spite of myself. It’s a rather short piece on a not-so-romantic piece of equipment falling into disuse in a back room of the Main Library; what’s the big deal, right? But it made me think of these wonderful posts I read recently about libraries, their inner workings, and the social services (whether book-related or not) they provide. Fascinating stuff, and a great reminder that libraries are a place where you can not only check out books but also join a writing group, get adult literacy tutoring, learn how to use a computer, find out about community events, get resume feedback… or use a typewriter.

So we’ve covered the past; to give equal weight to the future, I have a fantastic and well-illustrated essay from Craig Mod about book cover design in the digital age:

The cover image may help quickly ground us, but our eyes are drawn by habit to number and quality of reviews. We’re looking for metrics other than images — real metrics — not artificial marketing signifiers. Blurbs from humans. Perhaps even humans we know! And within the jumble of the Amazon.com interface, the cover feels all but an afterthought.

He goes on to say that a cover no longer serves the function it once did (to orient the reader and to provide title/author information), that in the age of Amazon pages and iPad reading apps it functions more like an icon—but far from wringing his hands over this, he instead provides plenty of examples of innovative cover designs that have embraced this role and really work as a miniature element of an Amazon.com page, or as an icon on an iPad, as well as as a traditional cover.

Also great is his three-part essay on pointability in digital texts—basically, is it interactive? Is it linkable? Can you tweet or blog or network not only a text itself but specific passages within the text? Both these questions and the observations in the previous essay are completely game-changing for me. I am definitely still learning about publishing, and design and technology are two huge blind spots of mine, so for all I know publishers are talking about this stuff all the time and I’m just out of the loop. But it is interesting that despite all the publishing and books-related sources I follow on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and newsletters, I ended up hearing about this essay from dooce.com. I always seem to get linked to essays bemoaning the fall of the traditional book without providing a solution, so to me this is really mind-broadening. It’s not strictly San Francisco-related, but I thought it was important enough to share.

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