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On Friday evening while helping Naida* with some problems finding a book designer for her memoir, we fell into a discussion about Malcolm Margolin, a Bay Area publisher and author and a friend of Naida’s. Margolin wrote The Ohlone Way an acclaimed and seminal book describing the culture of the Native Americans who inhabited the Bay Area prior to the arrival of the Europeans.

“The Bay Area of today is vastly different from what it was two centuries ago. The grizzly bears, elks, bald eagles, ospreys, antelopes, wolves, and condors have totally disappeared. Introduced European annual grasses have seized the meadowlands from the native bunch-grasses. The widespread logging of trees for lumber, tanning bark, firewood, railroad ties, and fence posts have altered the forests. Ponds and lakes have been drained, rivers channelized, and thousands upon thousands of acres of marshes and swamps have been destroyed. The immense flocks of geese, ducks and pelicans, the great runs of salmon and steelhead, the enormous schools of smelt, the once numberless seals and whales are now a mere remnant of what they once were. As for the Ohlones — forty or so tribelets, some 10,000 people, indeed a whole way of life — that too is totally gone, replaced by a civilization technologically more advanced than theirs but in many respects, ecologically, socially, and spiritually more backward.”
Malcolm Margolin, The Ohlone Way (1978). Heyday Books: Berkeley.

I, of course, trolled through the internet to find whatever could about the man and his work. Ultimately, to my surprise what most captured my attention was neither his work nor accomplishments but this photograph:
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I spent a lot of time staring at the photograph wondering what I was really looking at. Margolin disappeared. In his place was my image of God or Gandalf, the Rabbi for us all, a gnome, Mr. Natural, an ancient elf, or perhaps even the aging Aristotle. Whatever it may have reminded me of, I knew that if I ever had the urge to find a guru for myself, I would want him to look like that. Naida described him as an intelligent, creative and compassionate man, part rabbi and part Native American who was changed by coming to California and changed California in return.

Saturday, Naida and I attended a luncheon hosted by the Sacramento Book Collectors Club. I realized, in my now getting on to be a long life, I have not gone to many events like this. Most of the thirty or so attendees were around our age. A few were local authors like Naida. I kinda enjoyed it. The guest speaker was the director of the Sacramento Library which I was surprised to learn was organized as a special district and as such was not part of the general City and County government. She spoke about the library of course and her role in running it.
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She also told stories about growing up and her love of books, mentioning several of her favorites including, The Wind in the Willows which was one of mine too. It got me musing about my own relationship with books.

Being read to in two languages while still in my crib led soon to me often being recruited to recite to family and friends the songs, poetry, and stories I had learned. I was, after all, the family’s Golden Child — I had blond hair. Not long into my burgeoning career as the Petrillo family child star, my hair turned black and I stopped performing. Things started going downhill for me soon after.

I began reading when I was a few months into my third year of existence. It was not an unmixed blessing for I soon came to be more fond of books than people. When I began formal schooling, I found it boring and would fake being sick so that my mom would keep me home where I would spend my time reading, especially the Collier’s Encyclopedia my parents were cajoled into buying. When I became a little older, I would slip out of the house after my parents went off to work or to some other adult activity and walk to the local public library in order to entertain myself there rummaging through the stacks and reading any interesting books that I found. I recall there was a children’s section and an adult section. All the books were marked on their spines with the Roman numerals, I, II, or III. I was for children and III were adult books. I do not recall what II designated. Because the librarians were very vigilant in making sure I would not read the III books, I would often pick out a large, colorful children book and prop it up on the library table I sat at so it would hide whatever III book I was reading at the time.

During the times I actually went to school and attended class, I would locate myself at the desk nearest the bookcase that graced each classroom and read the books stored there, usually history books, rather than pay attention to whatever was going on around me in the classroom. By the time I got to high school, I rarely attended class. When I was not skipping school and running off with some other delinquent, I would sit in the school library. I had challenged myself to read all the books in that library before I graduated, beginning with A and continuing to Z. I got as far an Emily Post if I remember correctly. The problem was not that I did not have time to read through to Z but rather the existence of one bookcase containing whatever new books that entered the library that month. These would remain in that bookcase until, in about a month’s time, they were removed and re-shelved in the general stacks. I simply had to read each new book as it came in before I would return to my trip through the alphabet. All this, of course, played havoc with my grades in school given that I rarely, if ever, did any homework as well as missing most class assignments. Nevertheless, I tested well enough to scrape through.

Later In life, as one would expect, I collected books, building up personal libraries of between 6 and 12 thousand books. Given how I conducted my adult life, — occupying myself with some obsession for about five to ten years and then suffering some real or imagined crisis causing me to abandon everything while I ran off somewhere to bury myself in overindulgence until I regained my balance and started off on some new obsession — I must have abandoned and reassembled those personal libraries at least three times so far. Alas, I fear the smart-phone and social media are killing off the age of paper books (1450 — 2020). Sad but inevitable.

One of the attendees at the luncheon mentioned she writing a book or article about California’s Coastal Program and some friend of her’s who apparently was very active in it but who I never heard of. When Naida mentioned my past involvement in things coastal, she asked to interview me for some background. I agreed.

Sunday was another nap day and Monday started out the same. Naida and I went out to eat lunch at a nearby restaurant named Roxy. I ordered a hotdog. While eating it a piece of the hotdog got caught in my throat and I threw up onto my plate. When we returned home, I took a nap. Vomiting up my lunch was enough excitement for me today.

 

*Naida West. Author of the critically acclaimed California Gold Trilogy.

Each book of the trilogy tells a forgotten story about people and events in central California. Each one can be enjoyed without reading the others, though history buffs insist they must be read in sequence. The spirit of a native woman lodged in an oak tree narrates all of them, and each one has substantial endnotes that provide more information about people and places. The books are required or recommended in college classes across the US and UK, but the author’s dearest fans come from all walks of life and all age groups, except for young children for whom some scenes are inappropriate. (www.bridgehousebooks.com)

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