Holiday gift ideas: local, organic, artisanal literature

November 25, 2008

Everyone knows that the best-tasting holiday cookies are the ones made from scratch with fresh ingredients and a lot of love. The same goes for gifts. Southern California’s indie presses are cooking up unique, reasonably priced poetry and fiction appealing to almost every taste. Check them out online or visit an indie bookstore, and enjoy the warm holiday feeling that comes from knowing you supported local artists and businesses instead of overseas sweatshops and multi-national retail chains.

Remember, buying local is good for the environment. Fend off the cataclysm, one book at a time!

Here are a few presses and stores we recommend.

Southern California-based Presses:

  • Angel City Press: nostalgic yet cool illustrated books
  • Arktoi Books: poetry and fiction that give lesbian writers access to “the conversation”
  • Cahuenga Press: poetry that honors creative freedom and cooperation
  • Cloverfield Press: books as visually beautiful as they are intellectually and emotionally stimulating
  • Dzanc Books: literary fiction that falls outside the mainstream
  • Gorsky Press: risk-taking books that encourage readers to re-examine society
  • Green Integer: essays, manifestos, speeches, epistles, narratives, and more
  • Les Figues Press: aesthetic conversations between readers, writers, and artists, with an avant-garde emphasis
  • Make Now Press: contemporary works of constraint and conceptual literature
  • Otis Books/Seismicity: contemporary fiction, poetry, essays, creative non-fiction and translation
  • Red Hen Press: poetry and more by writers whose work has been marginalized
  • San Diego City Works Press: local, ethnic, political, and border writing
  • Santa Monica Press: offbeat looks at pop culture, lively how-to books, film history, travel, and humor

Independent Bookstores in L.A.:

Happy holidays from the Future of Publishing Think Tank*!

*The Future of Publishing Think Tank is an ad hoc group of writers and representatives of independent publishers and bookstores, nonprofit literary organizations, and producers of public radio. Our task: to consider the changes occurring in publishing, distribution, and marketing of literary work and to envision new ways for writers to engage readers and build audiences for their work. Groups who that have been involved include 826LA, Arktoi Books, GuerrillaReads, the HeArt Project, Hol Art Books, “Indymedia on Air” (KPFK), the Lambda Literary Foundation, Les Figues Press, Poet Joi, Poets & Writers, Red Hen Press, Skylight Books, and Writers at Work.


PDA + puddle = cataclysm

March 14, 2008

Listen to tip #9 and find yourself, analog style.

Don’t see the embedded media player? Right click here to download the mp3. Or click over to to listen.

[Music: Ashwa by Natacha Atlas]

#9 Finding yourself, analog style

March 5, 2008

I’ll never forget the day about ten years ago when I saw a guy walking through a parking lot with one of those newfangled PDA things, trip, and drop it into a puddle. The terror-stricken look on his face was enough to convince me to stick with paper and pencil for a while yet.

PDA + puddle = cataclysm

I eventually succumbed to the siren song of the cell phone, but I still keep a paper calendar. I love the physical act of writing in it. I love flipping through the pages and knowing just by feel how much time has passed in the year, and how much more is yet to come. I love seeing the dates and events I’d planned to do but later scribbled over or out.

You can think of the coming global climate change cataclysm as one big puddle that’s going to drown our CrackBerries, cell phones, PDAs and GPS devices. They’ll work for a while, but when the juice is gone and you can’t just plug ‘er in and go, how are you going to know how to reach all your old friends?

Now, while the electronics are still buzzing, write down the contact info you have for your family and friends. Phone and e-mail addresses, sure, but the power failure that keeps yours from working will do the same to theirs. For post-cataclysm contact, you’ll need their actual, physical street addresses.

What does it mean to “write down?” I’ve created a video that shows an actual person writing so you can see how easy it is. It’s similar to using a stylus on your PDA. The biggest difference is that when you’re done, you can see your handiwork without electricity or battery power.

Imagine that.

[For more cool pics of parrots in puddles, visit the blog]

Listen up: Instructions for how to use a “pencil”

January 25, 2008

Here’s the podcast version of Tuesday’s post, Post-cataclysm technology: the pencil.

If you don’t see the embedded media player, right click here to download and save the mp3 file.

Or click here to get all the blog52 podcasts on

How to write a letter

January 23, 2008

Yesterday’s post explained how an old technology called a “pencil” can be used to help us survive the coming climate change cataclysm. In the post, I mentioned the ancient and mysterious art of “writing a letter.”

Since writing a letter is so different from “texting” or “sending an email” that I thought I’d show blog52 readers how it’s done:

If you can’t see the embedded video, click over to YouTube to watch it there.

Post-cataclysm technology: the pencil

January 22, 2008

After the great climate change cataclysm wipes out our old, familiar supply chains and power sources, we’re going to have to develop new technologies in order to survive. Many of the most effective are likely to be ones that worked well in the past. Take, for example, the humble pencil.

If you’ve never seen one before, look carefully at the image below.

What is a pencil?

You’ll note that the printer, keyboard and undo button are all built into this single shaft. To work it, a person would hold the keyboard portion in their hand and press the printer part of the pencil against a sheet of paper. By carefully manipulating the keyboard, words could be rendered onto the paper. This process was called “writing,” and is seen as a precursor to keyboarding. When a mistake was made, just like on today’s computers, it could be removed through careful application of the undo button, which in those days was called an “eraser.”

There were two types of writing, “print” and “cursive.” They correspond somewhat to our “regular” and “italic” typefaces today. Although it seems redundant, students actually had to learn both forms of writing. This was the source of much pain and anguish in the early school grades. What’s more, to indicate boldface, one had to retrace the same letters over and over again in the exact same space. Underlining was creating by literally drawing a line under the selected words. These lines were often crude and uneven.

Back then, people who did a lot of “writing” didn’t get carpal tunnel syndrome, but this activity was fraught with health risks nonetheless. They often wore hard callouses on the distal interphalangeal joint (upper knuckle) of the ring finger of their writing hand. In fact, school children could identify geeks by the size and hardness of those callouses.

Another device used for writing was a “pen” (Southern variant: inkpen). Then pen was a long, thin tube shaped similarly to a pencil, filled with ink. The pen was manipulated just like the pencil for writing. Strangely, this technology did not include an undo button, which made it extremely challenging to use. Because of this, anthropologists believe the pen was reserved for use by only the most skilled of writers and for only the most important writing tasks, perhaps those with high religious or cultural value.

Back in the pencil and pen days, people commonly communicated with others located some distance away by sending packets of papers with writing on them. These packets were called “letters” (perhaps because the pages were covered with so many of them). The process of sending letters was called “mail.” Some linguists believe that when email was discovered, the letter “e” was simply added to this old word “mail,” standing for “extra” or “ego.” However, this position is extremely controversial, as the word mail means something so completely unrelated to communication: “a delivery device for bills, advertising circulars and glossy brochures from politicians.”

Why learn how to use a pencil now? Because this technology is the post-cataclysm future. When the power cuts out and you’re on the road, the ability to communicate on paper, to send it over long distances and to maintain records will still be important. To do that, we’re going to need to know how to write in this old-fashioned way.

My recommendation is to practice writing now so you’ll be familiar with the technology and have the skill needed to manipulate a pencil with ease. It might help to talk to grandparents and other elders in your community about how they survived these primitive conditions before the computer was invented.


Next week on blog52: How to spot a sociopath at fifty yards.