Bounty of authors in latest Berkeley Arts & Letters series
By Lou Fancher
Local book-lovers are already feasting like bees on sun-drenched bougainvillea, turning the first event of the Berkeley Arts & Letters fall season Sept. 11 into an early sellout.
Author and "xkcd" webcomic creator Randall Munroe and his book, "What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions," had series organizer Melissa Mytinger waving a rarely seen white flag.
"Please don't write about Munroe! We've been sold out for weeks," she wrote in an email.
But the door is wide open on the rest of the season's informal evenings with award-winning, engaging writers and thinkers appearing at one of two Berkeley locations, First Congregational Church of Berkeley (2345 Channing Way) and the Hillside Club (2286 Cedar St.). Tickets are $12-15, with discounts for students and books signings following the talks and Q-and-A's.
Mytinger said speakers appreciate Berkeley audiences' "smart" questions and ability to sustain challenging conversations. "We balance community interests in science and politics, for example, with our interests and those of our co-presenters, the Greater Good Science Center, the Graduate School of Journalism's Felker Magazine Center, (and others)," Mytinger said.
Heralding California history and reigning supreme over 40 years as a Berkeley-based independent publisher, Malcolm Margolin more than fills the series' second installment (Sept. 23). Presenting with Kim Bancroft, the great-great-granddaughter of Hubert Howe Bancroft and the author of "The Heyday of Malcolm Margolin," the conversation is likely to revisit a time when Berkeley publishers and bookstores proliferated like bubbles on beer. California Native American and immigrant stories -- as well as Heyday's four decades -- will be a centerpiece.
Two days later (Sept. 25), Joshua Wolf Shenk pairs with UC Berkeley professor, Mother Jones cofounder and writer Adam Hochschild.
Together, mirroring the journey of Shenk's new book, "Powers of Two," they'll unravel the essence of creative pairings such as John Lennon and Paul McCartney; Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger; Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak and other, less iconic duos.
Even solo attendees can feel included when Shenk touches on new research suggesting a cerebral selfie works wonders: The voice in your head is a creativity catalyst buddy -- for you.
Oakland resident Vikram Chandra's "Greek Sublime" delves into the beauty and bestiality of code as language, culture, misogyny, loving labor and more on Oct. 9.
Chandra, himself a coder, improbably inhabits dual worlds of hacking and literary artistry, perhaps attracted to the solitary nature of coding to escape fiction writing that he says in his book feels "like a split in the self, a fracture that leaves raw edges exposed." Tethering Silicon Valley obsession to a cloud of historic and futuristic thought, Chandra proves to be a poetic writer of nonfiction.
Katha Pollitt, poet, essayist, and columnist for The Nation, positions abortion as an act of "personhood" and social good in her book "Virginity or Death!", which argues for revised parameters and calm, legal language to define pregnancy's termination. Pollitt's visit is co-sponsored by the Felker Magazine Center (Oct. 21).
Too bad Pollitt and the next author in the lineup, Roman Krznaric, couldn't appear together to maintain peace. Krznaric's "Empathy: Why It Matters, and How to Get It" dips into the worlds of art, design, medicine and humanitarianism to present six habits of highly empathetic people. The world-renowned researcher and lecturer on the innate connectivity of mammalian species makes plain in his book that an increasingly global community makes our ability to get along essential to our survival (Nov. 10).
Richard Blanco became America's youngest presidential inaugural poet at age 44. The texture of his life -- civil engineer, immigrant, gay writer, Latin American -- is complex and compelling ground for his coming-of-age memoir, "The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood."
Listening to Blanco read from his work -- perhaps he'll recite "Boston Strong," the poem he wrote after the Boston Marathon bombings -- suggests added pleasure (Nov. 13).
Nicholas D. Kristof will close the season (Dec. 4), appearing without Sheryl WuDunn, the other half of this Pulitzer Prize-winning husband-and-wife team.
"A Path Appears" picks up the momentum of their previous mission-oriented books to examine people and organizations making a difference in solving education, crime, public health and other global problems. Placing for-profit entrepreneurial drivers in the starting positions, they suggest the race will be won with relentless, evidence-based strategies. A four-part PBS documentary series based on the book is in the works.