Thursday, June 21 , 2018, 6:14 pm | Partly Cloudy 65º


Susan Miles Gulbransen: Important Book Trivia

Why is the word "trivia" in this title? Doesn't it mean small and unimportant? Not necessarily. Trivia might be small, but it holds importance in three ways: available data, brain stimuli and a connection to good conversations.

Often shorter pieces of information can be important, such as the growing number of independent bookstores in today's world, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art's mixture of authors and art, and our new U.S. poet laureate (youngest ever) with her fresh take on reading poetry. May they up your brain power and provide new thoughts.

A few years ago, the tech world prophesized that the printed book soon would become obsolete and a declining industry. Not according to figures recently put out by the American Booksellers Association. In 2010, it had 1,410 members around the country. Last year in 2016, the numbers rose to 1,775, up 365 new stores.

Six ongoing members are from Santa Barbara: Chaucer's, The Book Den, Paradise Found, Special Needs Project, Tecolote and the UCSB Bookstore. Among these statistics is a new trend of a growing number of novelists who have bought and now participate as bookstore owners.

Among them are Judy Blume (Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret), owner of Books & Books in Key West, Fla.; Louise Erdrich (Larose), owner of Birchbark Books in Minneapolis, Minn.; Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid series), owner of An Unlikely Story in Plainville, Mass.; Jonathan Lethem (A Gambler's Anatomy), owner of Red Gap Books in Blue Hill, Maine; Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove), owner of Booked Up in Archer City, Texas; Ann Patchett (Commonwealth), owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tenn.; and Emma Straub (Modern Lovers), owner of Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Even better, Santa Barbara has its own author with a bookstore, D.J. Palladino. A longtime journalist in arts and entertainment for the Santa Barbara Independent and Santa Barbara magazine, in March he published his first novel, Nothing That Is Ours. The story takes place in Santa Barbara when a man's body with wounds similar to a crucified Christ washes up on the breakwater beach.

At the end of last year, he and his wife, Diane Arnold, an artist and former teacher, bought the tiny but charming Mesa Bookstore on Cliff Drive. The two of them make it about the friendliest and greatest books-per-square-foot bookstore in town. May they join other local stores and stores across the country to demonstrate that the printed book is far from being eliminated.

Two years ago, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art created Parallel Stories, an unusual and remarkable literary series serving as a multidisciplinary lens to view the museum’s collection and special exhibitions. It pairs art and artists with award-winning authors and performers of regional, national and international acclaim. In the past, it has featured authors such as Irish author Colm Tóibín and local author T.C. Boyle.

The next event at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 23 in the Mary Craig Auditorium will feature bestselling novelist Janet Fitch and local author Pico Iyer interviewing her.

Fitch authored White Oleander (Oprah's Book Club selection in 1999), Paint It Black and her upcoming epic of the Russian Revolution, The Revolution of Marina M., due out in November. White Oleander, about a 12-year-old girl who is taken from her mother and spends time in foster homes, is one of those books that has stayed with me.

Local global essayist and novelist Iyer (The Art of Stillness) will discuss with her "Stories from Revolution to Inspiration: What Sets a Writer Alight." They will look at what inspires us, why art is more urgent than ever in our confused and polarized times, and which works can bring us light and delight while broadening our horizons.

Good news? There are more of these events to come. Patsy Hicks, director of education for the museum, gave me a sneak preview about future authors and discussions: "Richard Rodriguez (Brown: The Last Discovery of America) will be coming Oct. 1 to revisit the topic of Brown as part of our programming in conjunction with the Getty Initiative LA/LA exploring all things Latin American. Geoff Dyer is scheduled for April 19 talking about his new book on photographer Garry Winogrand. More in the works, but that is it for now."

Check the museum's Visitor Services desk or click here for information and tickets, which are free for SBMA members, $10 for nonmembers and $6 for senior nonmembers.

Newly named 22nd U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy Smith, 45, points out how poetry can help balance our current world engulfed in technology and media. Raised in Northern California, she has taken on a national status.

In 1936, this appointment began as a consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress. Nearly three decades later in 1985, the position took on the more highly honored title of poet laureate. It annually gives a national poet limelight to bring poetry home to all of us.

Smith's collection, Life on Mars, received the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in poetry. Her latest book, Ordinary Light: A Memoir, was a finalist for the National Book Award.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, she emphasized how poetry speaks to our quiet inner life: "... a poem draws us, draws me, into a quieter space, a decibel level that sits below the register of the media that we live with. ... I like the way that when you're reading a poem, it's one voice talking quietly to you about something that has happened. Something that has made the speaker of the poem to feel powerfully changed, powerfully present, powerfully alive."

As a young girl, an Emily Dickinson poem in a school textbook brought poetry to her attention: "I first got caught up in this marvelous feeling of being spoken to in that very direct, private, magical way. ... [Her poem] begins, 'I'm nobody, who are you? Are you nobody, too? Then there's a pair of us! Don't tell!' Feeling like I was in collusion with someone that knew more about me than I knew about myself, and who I suspected was right. And I like that feeling."

In a town like ours, finding a poet whose works might appeal should be an easy find especially with our own list of poet laureates. Among them is David Starkey (2009-11), who adds another take on how reading poetry can balance our inner world: "My favorite way to read poetry is still in a good old-fashioned book, preferably somewhere quiet and disconnected from the wired world. I like to dive in, with a minimum of external distractions.”

May this happen to you!

Noozhawk columnist Susan Miles Gulbransen — a Santa Barbara native, writer and book reviewer — teaches writing at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and through the Santa Barbara City College Continuing Education Division. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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