Friday, April 27, 2012

The Things I Carry
by Susan McBeth, Adventures by the Book

I was pleased and honored to participate in the first ever World Book Night USA on April 23, 2012.  The purpose of WBN was to give away half a million books across the US on one day, inspiring under-represented readers to give a book a chance.  Publishers printed out and donated special edition WBN books (25 different titles selected by a panel of book experts) and courtesy of UPS, mailed them to bookstores across the nation, where 25,000 volunteers like me picked up the books and delivered them to a pre-determined destination of our choice.

I chose to give away copies of Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” a collection of inter-related short stories inspired by the author’s service in the Vietnam War, which had a monumental impact on me when I read it many years ago.  The  book, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, catalogs a litany of “things” that O’Brien’s fellow soldiers carried with them on their missions,  both tangible (grenades, guns) and intangible (guilt, fear, anger).

When deciding where I should donate my books, I was struck by the notion that the young men who served in the Vietnam War (women weren’t serving in combat at that time) shared something in common with the young men (and women) currently incarcerated in Juvenile Detention:  they all carried “things” with them that profoundly affected their lives.  My hope was that by reading about the sacrifices our brave soldiers make every day to protect our freedom, the Juvenile Detention detainees would perhaps realize they could take The Things They Carry and make better choices with their lives when they are released.

So now that I have delivered my books and fulfilled my duties as a World Book Night volunteer, what are The Things I Carry from this experience?

I carry the thrill of the pickup party hosted by my favorite children’s bookstore in San Diego, Yellow Book Road, where we were encouraged to share our book choices and giving destinations with other volunteers.

I carry the elation of knowing I have the power to affect the lives of up to 20 people who may have never had the opportunity to read an author like Tim O’Brien.

I carry the gratitude of all World Book Night organizers, from Carl Lennertz, Executive Director, to the publishers who printed and donated half a million books, to UPS who donated delivery services around the country, to the WBN committee who put such meticulous thought into choosing representative titles, to the bookstores and libraries that distributed the books locally, to the thousands of volunteers who participated, and everybody in between who played a role in this amazing program.

I carry the humility to know that there but for the grace of god, I could have been an under-represented reader had I not been fortunate enough to have been exposed to books at an early age.

I carry the passion that drives me every day in my personal and professional life to spread the joy of reading.

I carry the knowledge that books can and do change lives every day.

And last but not least, I carry the anticipation of participating in World Book Night USA 2013.  If you missed the train this year, make sure to sign up now to receive updates for next year at:

I’d like to hear from you.  What things did you carry from your experience with World Book Night?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Library Encounter
by Marjorie Hart
      I live five minutes from the University City Library. If I could, I'd live next door to find my next favorite book or who I might run into. It could be a neighbor or a long lost friend, but the day I met Irina Gulko from    Russia was a memorable highlight.  From the time I was a giddy teenager anything Russian, like the music  Shostakovich, books of Tolstoy and my crush on the cellist, Gregor Piatigorsky, could send me into a state of delirium. I was fascinated then by this e-mail from Irina Gulko which gave me the opportunity to meet her. 
 Dear Marjorie Hart,
    Last year I read your book Summer at Tiffany and was excited. It reminded me of my young years though it was in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, and in the sixties. It's the same feeling, the same desire to live, to love, the same interests to all events and celebrities. I liked this book so much I decided to write about if and about you in the Russian newspaper. ---I understand you live in San Diego. I also live in San Diego and borrowed this book from UTC public library. ---I went to New York City and believe me or not--I took the book with me and went to the Tiffany store. I decided to look at this store and imagine how you worked there. I spoke to one of the girls. She read the book and said she had the same position that you had in 1945. She showed me all departments on the floors. Now I can write about all this. I would like to speak to you or at least to exchange e-mails. Thank you very much.
Irina Gulko
    I caught my breath. What an amazing letter and the coincidence that we would meet at the same UTC Library!  I could scarcely wait to find out more about her. At the library, she was standing by the librarian's desk with a lovely red rose bouquet. "For you," she said, "and I've reserved the community room for our meeting."
    We lost all sense of time with our questions and shared interest in Russian music. Irina translated the three columns from the newspaper, stopping from time to time to explain the differences in the language.   With so much to discuss we met again and again at the library. Graciously, she gave me a plan of the six floors of the Tiffany flagship store. Since the summer of '45, I've been back only once in 2004. How I would have loved a tour to see the changes! 
    "Could you please translate part of your column for my blog?" I asked.
    "You cannot translate Russian into perfect English," she explained,"many words do not translate, but I will send the last part of the article."
    This is the selection (in part ) Irina translated:
    "At the entrance of the store a young beautiful girl with blue eyes and black hair in a black suit meets people and gives everybody the plan of the store. I hold the book Summer at Tiffany and even didn't say any single word as the girl glanced at the cover of the book and happily exclaimed, "I read the book and I have the same position at the store as the author of the book." The sales girls from neighboring departments join in the conversation, all of them with a big interest listen to the story retold them by my girl.Then she showed me the very stylish yellow diamonds, I'm exited but its not exactly the point of my interest: I look around and try to imagine how Marjorie and Marty silently were standing here and waiting for the diamond sound of the ring. ----Then the girl takes me to the second floor where she showed me many kinds of beautiful wedding rings and pearls of South Seas. That reminded me of the episode from the book about the pearls----
    On all floors very animated trade is taking place, there are many young shoppers. It's not the same "big 400", its already guests from all over the world who can afford may things. But something elusive disappears completely (without a trace) along with the memoir of the author of the summer 1945. And I nostalgically feel it as though I was the heroine of the book."
    As I read, it brought it back--there's that Tiffany-class magic! Also it reflected Irina's unusual diverse background. In the sixties, she graduated from the Polytechnical University in Kiev as an electrical engineer and practiced her profession there and in New Haven, Connecticut. In 2006, Irina and her husband moved to San Diego where she teaches children the Russian language, studied journalism and Japanese brush-painting and has become a regular columnist for the Russian newspaper (trans. Echolnewsweek).
    One of the greatest perks along this journey of writing is meeting fascinating people like Irina, a treasured friend. My thanks to her for giving me permission to share her experience. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Life Is But A Dream

Zoe Ghahremani

Have you ever had a fabulous dream and while it was happening you knew it was far too surrealistic? I did. In this colorful event, I celebrated another dream and it couldn’t have had a more bizarre setting.  While the location seemed suitable for a wedding, I knew it was the San Diego Museum of Art, a magnificent building in a floral garden. However, unlike other times, on this visit only one section of the museum was open for viewing and it exclusively displayed the art, history and culture connected to Iran. In fact, the entire event seemed to be about my homeland Iran, its glorious history, and even Persian New Year – NoRooz. A most elegant Haft Seen was displayed in the sculpture gallery and the rest of the museum prepared for a fabulous reception of more than four hundred guests. In the Temple, Palace, Mosque exhibit, there were paintings, ceramic tiles and artifacts dating back to ancient Persia. I knew this was the U.S. but with dreams being what they are, the visitors had only come to learn about my country and to familiarize themselves with their Iranian neighbors.

Dreams present the strangest ideas and yet everything seems so credible. I kept on asking myself, is the museum of art really going to displays my work? After arranging the art show, I remember someone ushering me to the bathroom so that I could dress for the big event. I’ve never changed clothes in a museum bathroom, let alone apply makeup or curl my hair! But in the dream all these actions seemed utterly natural. Soon a young woman was adjusting her movie camera to make a TV clip and she told me that Voice of America would broadcast that all over the world. The paparazzi popped out of every corner. I entered a big reception hall where two musicians played my favorite Persian instruments: the dulcimer and daf. Looking closer, I saw that the performers were two handsome children, who in their white shirts looked like little angels. Had I died and gone to Heaven?

Just as I was beginning to realize such elation wouldn’t last, I was told to prepare for a royal reception. No, wait. It war even better. Someone important gave an eloquent speech, announcing that I was a successful writer whose novel was the selection of an entire city! Supporting readers formed a long line, each holding a copy of my book, asking me to sign it for them. People embraced me, pronounced my name correctly and said they were happy to learn about Iranian culture through my writing!

Alas, all dreams come to an end. I woke up in the morning, still dizzy from the trance. Why couldn’t life be as beautiful as what I experienced? With one eye still closed, I staggered around in search of coffee and was astounded to find all my paintings stacked against the front door. What were they doing there? My camera sat next to them and when I picked it up, I came across a most peculiar phenomenon. The camera had miraculously recorded the entire dream!

As I stay home and study the pictures over and over, I know this is something I won’t be able to fully share with anyone without making them doubt my sanity. Like a Sci-Fi movie, the images remain within my camera: the crowd of four hundred, the magnificent feast, the musicians, and even my art. Still, a question lurks. What are the chances that what I saw could have really happened?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

On the Road with Annie Nakamura

Part III of a series

In two previous blogs (October 2011 and January 2012), I told the tale of Annie Nakamura’s request to be taken on one final road trip and to be buried in one of two locations--either on Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Forest in Washington or at Anza Borrego Desert. Our decision was to “leave a little bit of Annie” in some of her favorite spots. Four fellow travelers—Kawa (aka Ann Kawasaki), Janet, Don, and I began the journey on October 8, 2011. The trip took us north on Interstate 395 on the eastern interior of California.

On Wednesday, October 12th, we buried Annie on Hurricane Ridge amid the splendor of beautiful trees and SNOW. The trek to San Francisco begins.

Day 7: Friday, October 14th: After a seamless trip thus far, we arrive at the San Francisco Holiday Inn (airport location) which turned out to be an ordeal in itself. Difficult to locate, and when we finally found the entrance into the parking lot, there was no spaces available. Driving round and round in the parking lot, the decision was to park along the side and unload the bags. This precipitated yet another ordeal. The room key would not open the exterior door; I ran around to the main entrance, through the lobby, and to the side of the building. We unloaded our bags and wended our way through a large crowd of people attending a wedding. The small elevator barely accommodated our bags; we had to make two trips to reach our rooms. By this time, we were all tired, frustrated, and on edge.

Rather than struggle to get a meal at the overcrowded hotel restaurant, we ventured out once again; this time in search of In-and-Out Burgers. Janet had NEVER eaten one, and it was her lucky day. The joint was packed, but the burgers were great. The rest of the evening, we spent resting.

Day 8: Saturday, October 15th: Bright and early, Lea Saito and her sister, Meryl, come to the hotel. Annie, Kawa and Lea roomed together in San Francisco, and Don and I spent many a happy nights staying over during our trips to San Francisco. After a hearty breakfast, we head over to Trader Joe’s to begin the food purchasing process for the “wake.”

Annie loved San Francisco; and we decided that some of her should remain in her favorite city. Good friends from Hilo now living in San Francisco—Kei and Dan—graciously offered their backyard as the San Francisco burial site. We head over to their home to meet and greet them.

To celebrate Annie’s love of food, (one of my favorite Annie-ism, “If I couldn’t eat, I would DIE!), we stop at Tartines and purchase luscious, scrumptious pastries and order sushi combos. Kei and Dan are vintners and will serve their own wine.
A former co-worker, Julie, flies in from Los Angeles; Mike (friend of Annie’s and Kawa’s Hilo High classmate), flies in from Houston to participate in the wake.

Day 9: Sunday, October 16th: We begin the day with Dim Sum at Ton Kiang Hakka Restaurant on Geary (one of Annie’s favorite restaurants). Six of us are crammed into the Altima as we make the various stops to procure the food.

At 2:30, we have a beautiful ceremony. Annie’s cousins, Will and Louise Nakamura, Lea, Meryl, Julie, Mike, Kei, Dan, Kawa, Don, and I recount lovely stories about Annie. Don has dug a space by the back wall in a spot amid a small poppy patch. How fitting it is, since one of our favorite pictures of Annie is of her sitting in the Poppy Reserve outside of Lancaster, California. It is perfect. We each scoop a handful of dirt, say our farewells, and Don finishes.

The celebration that follows is equally beautiful—all of us laughing, eating, and recounting endless funny stories about our many encounters with Annie. At 7 we decide to leave, but Kei and Dan insist we go for dinner! We go to Park Chow on Lincoln and Irving, and miracles do happen; there are TWO parking spaces in a row. Annie must have been looking out for us.

We depart with hugs and good cheer. It was truly a great day, one that Annie really enjoyed.

Day 10: Monday, October 17th: Janet leaves for Hawai’I; Julie for Los Angeles; Mike for Houston; Kawa, Don, and I for San Diego.

We three begin a “Missions” tour stopping at as many missions along the way. At Nuestra Senor de la Soledad, we light a candle for Annie and leave cranes; we head south and stop at Mission San Antonio, Mission San Miguel, and Mission San Luis Obispo where we leave cranes.

By evening, we reach Bakersfield with the intent of eating at Buck Owen’s restaurant; but alas, it is closed. We eat at the Chalet Basque instead and enjoy a HUGE meal before heading south to Tehachapi where we spend the night.

Day 11: Tuesday, October 18th: Heading south, we decide to go through Death Valley—another one of Annie’s favorite road trips with Kawa. We arrive at Bad Water around noon where it is a sweltering 104 degrees! We begin driving up and find a location that overlooks Bad Water with a panoramic view. The sun is bright; the heat shimmers from the water, and we find a spot to scatter some more ashes. Another idyllic spot that Annie will enjoy.

We decide to take Kawa to the Kelso Train Depot. There we find another little pot in which to keep Annie’s ashes.

Day 12: Wednesday, October 19th: We drive through Joshua Tree and slowly make our way back to San Diego.

To be continued.

Judith Liu
April 6, 2012