Thursday, May 16, 2013

Eureka! A Peninsula of Literary Salons

After picking up my pen over a decade ago, I looked for places where I could learn more about the book business, but also where I could connect with other bibliophiles.  In our current turbulent era when the world of the written word seems to be turning on its ear, the sanctuaries I have found come with a most ironic twist.

In the line of great traditions in literary gatherings - from staid 17th century salons to spontaneous 20th century sidewalk cafés – the modern rendition of literary meetings here seems to meld the two.  With numbers small enough to conduct conversations but large enough to create a buzz, colleagues gather slowly over wine and cheese and ultimately compose the audience for a presentation.  This model occurs repeatedly in the Bay Area.

The first crowd that I found in the San Francisco area consists of a broad mix of the publishing world, from TV hosts and master agents to pulp novelists.  NCBPMA comes together about once a month and puts on panels, speakers and events of general interest. The Northern California Book Publicity and Marketing currently meets at the Mechanics’ Institute Library café at 57 Post Street, very convenient to BART.  Anyone is welcome.  Admission fees are collected at the door, with a break given to members.

The Mechanics’ Institute Library puts on high quality programs in its own right, but also preserves the beautiful historic building which houses the events.  Tickets include a glass of wine.  Generous hors d’oeuvre usually complete the scene at the Library.

One newly refashioned literary lounge and library pulls its participants from Berkeley and the South Bay, as well as urbanites within walking distance.  The Book Club of California beautifully occupies part of a floor in the World Affairs Council building and welcomes members and nonmembers alike.  We discovered this erudite assembly when Stanford’s Green Library presented a superb “Treasures of the Archives” program there.  Primarily this group is devoted to the art press and California history.

The Rondel Society at Stanford’s Green Library itself brings cutting-edge thinkers like architect William McDonough into splendid hallowed halls, but also provides a venue for PhD students with myriad ideas.

My most recent discovery has been the Center for the Study of Western Civilization, just across the freeway from DeAnza College.  Lectures there are open to the public, cover a broad range of topics and draw on local expertise.  Its interior gravitas belies its commercial surroundings; inside the atmosphere evokes a European institute.

In the cases of all of the programs I’ve mentioned above, both size and setting afford yeasty situations conducive to discourse.  If you love books and relish learning from the like-minded, consider frequenting these oases.  In these locales we may be witnessing the spoken word reviving the written one.

If you’d like to take a look, I invite you to the lectures I’ll be giving on my new book, Champagne Regained, at the Mechanics’ Institute in San Francisco at 5:30 p.m. on June 26 and at the Center for the Study of Western Civilization in Cupertino two days later at 6:30 p.m. on June 28.   For more information please visit my website or

More immediately, if you’re in Chicago please join us at the venerable University Club of Chicago’s Learn at Lunch program at noon on May 24, or if you’re in Paris please stop by the illustrious Louvre bookstore just inside the gate from the Place de la Concorde in the Tuileries gardens at 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 2.