Books Inc. Moves to North Berkeley Bearing Gifts

Becky O'Malley
Friday July 17, 2015 - 05:20:00 PM

A lot of email comes to my various addresses, and I’m on several interesting list-servs as well. In the last couple of days correspondents have been burning up the wireless wires as they found out about a panel discussion which is scheduled to be part of the festivities celebrating the Books, Inc. chain’s move from their previous West Berkeley location into the North Berkeley space once the home of locally-owned Black Oak Books.

(For full details of all the scheduled events, click here.)

Mostly, it’s a line-up of the usual food fetishists and sensitive novelists, but this description (from the Heyday Books press release newsletter) of the lineup has gotten a lot of people lathered up: 

“Malcolm Margolin will bring together a dozen voices of Berkeley to discuss what they valued about Berkeley that brought them there and what we need to do in the future to preserve these values. “Featured speakers: Tom Bates (Mayor) and Lonnie [sic] Hancock (State Senator), Gray Brechin (cultural activist and author of Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin), Kenneth Brower (environmental activist and author of Hetch Hetchy: Undoing a Great American Mistake), Tom Dalzell (creator of the website Quirky Berkeley), Frances Dinkelspiel (publisher and author of Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California), David Goines (author, graphic artist, printer, and illustrator of several books including Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook), Robert Hass (poet, essayist, and co-founder of River of Words), Archana Horsting (founder and executive director of Kala Institute), John King (urban design critic and author of Cityscapes: San Francisco and Its Buildings, Earll Kingston (actor), Maxine Hong Kingston (peace activist and author of The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts), Linda Maio (Vice Mayor of Berkeley), Vincent Medina (Ohlone Indian and language activist), Ishmael Reed (cultural organizer and author of Going Too Far: Essays about America’s Nervous Breakdown), and Al Young (poet, essayist, novelist, screenwriter, and professor).”  

The excited readers who’ve been writing to me seem to have been further disturbed by an interview with Malcolm by critic Lou Fancher which appeared in various publications of the Bay Area News Group, which includes the Berkeley Voice, the San Jose Mercury, the Contra Costa Times and other outlets. Fancher reported Margolin’s opinions thus: 

“ ‘ It came up because I was auctioned off for a benefit for Berkeley Public Library,’ Margolin says. ‘People paid to have dinner with me and the talk was about the 'Manhattanization' of Berkeley. I love Manhattan so I wasn't entirely opposed to it. It has economic benefit, freshening, renaissance, but at the same time, it has costs.’ “For people like Margolin and the panel guests -- which include Mayor Tom Bates, state Sen. Loni Hancock, author and environmental activist Kenneth Brower, poet Robert Hass and others -- low-cost housing, a family-friendly environment, and intellectual and social experimentation were attributes that originally attracted them to Berkeley. 

‘Unless we think of how to embed these things in Berkeley, the city will be in the hands of outside ownership,’ Margolin says. ‘I don't want to stop progress, but I want some way of defining these values and to know the various institutions we need to retain. Berkeley presents theatrical possibilities embedded in intellectualism. Without that intellectualism, it becomes stagy and stupid. It becomes a freak show.’ “ 

To read the whole thing in the CoCo Times, click here: 

Online commenters who wrote to me have objected vociferously to the inclusion of spouses Bates and Hancock, Berkeley’s very own version of the family political dynasties which are well on their way to becoming the national norm (think Kennedy, Bush, Clinton et al.) in the panel, particularly because this video speech, in which a chummy Bates advises his good friends the Berkeley landlords to form their own Political Action Committee, has been widely circulated. 


One commenter suggests that audience members or even panelists if they're willing should wear two-foot-square sheets of cardboard around their neck, symbolizing the meager amount of personal space which Berkeley’s latest round of Bates-backed anti-homeless proposals would permit street people to occupy. 

Me, I’m looking forward to the discussion. I think some of the panelists, notably Ishmael Reed (who actually lives in Oakland), Maxine Hong Kingston and Gray Brechin will give Tom and Loni (that’s how she spells it, though the Books, Inc. PR has been spelling it wrong) a run for their money. 

That is, of course, if the pols actually show up. It would surprise me not at all if one or both of them bailed at the last minute. 

And speaking of money, it’s lately occurred to me that the current wars over the Manhattanization of downtown Berkeley, like the wars over the future of Manhattan itself these days, are not about culture at all. They’re all about money: international capital desperately looking for a home. The kind of luxury apartments now in the pipeline for Berkeley are nothing more than what used to be called Cash Register Multiples, investments for developers to sell to the very rich to get the extravagant returns to which they’ve become accustomed. There isn’t really a money person on the panel who might explain this to the public, except of course for Tom Bates, who knows all about the money, since as he told the landlords, since he used to be a developer himself. 

In any event, the panel is on Monday, July 20 at 7 p.m. at Books Inc. at 1491 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. Citizen critics are likely to show up early loaded for bear, though time for audience questions will certainly be limited by the management. Space will probably be limited too—when Black Oak was in the building you needed to get there about an hour and a half early to be sure of a seat at an author talk, and this is likely to be worse.