September is National Literacy Month.

On Sept. 24 the Library of Congress will hold its 16th annual National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. Its purpose: Literacy awareness and encouraging people to read.

Reading proficiency by third grade, according to Girls Inc., is one of the most important predictors of academic success. Pew Research shows that 34 percent of children entering kindergarten in the United States do not have the language skills to learn to read. It escalates by high school when 8,000 high-school students drop out every day.

These figures add to the importance of what Girls Inc. along with what the Boys and Girls Clubs do to help boost children’s literacy skills, increase their love of learning and prepare for bright futures. Many thanks to them and other local organizations for these efforts.

So, what about adults? Whoever said nothing is for free, forgot about our libraries. Maximize your own reading this special month by dropping by one of our nine Santa Barbara County public libraries or go online to get a book at

No cost with many rewards.
From childhood on the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History has always been one of my favorite local resources.

First stop: Push the button of the rattlesnake case to make him rattle his rattle. A few steps beyond and you are in the Dennis Power Hall of Birds. Since the early 1960s, beautiful dioramas with scenery painted by Ray Strong have turned that large room into magic. Still there, they are worth the journey.

Don’t know much about Strong? This year Frank Goss and his team at Sullivan and Goss-An American Gallery published a treasure book, Ray Strong: American Artist. It is rich with his paintings of scenes done in a clear, more modern striking style. Reading about the personality of Strong (1905-2006) adds much to the book’s depth.

When I met Strong in the early 1980s — a large man emitting incredible energy — his personality filled the room. He and his wife Elizabeth had moved to Santa Barbara 20 years earlier. He gave his reason for coming: “For the birds and the banks.”

The Natural History Museum had invited him to paint the dioramas and a bank commissioned him to do paintings.

Strong worked not only as an artist but as an important mentor and supporter of the artistic world. He helped found the prestigious Oak Group. Several of these fine artists still meet.

Frank Goss, Susan Bush and Jeremy Tessmer compiled the book with several essays from people who knew Strong or worked with him. Funded through Kickstarter, the list of contributors is listed at the back.

Bush reflected on her role: “I did lot of early editing and read all the essays numerous times. Every time I read it, this book entertained me. Ray was such a wonderful human being with good stories. He’s like a character out of history. The book is a pleasure to read and you learn a lot about the man without being subdued by ‘art speak.’ ”

The book can be found at An American Gallery, 11 E. Anapamu St., Book Den or Chaucer’s bookstores.
When I finish a book, off it goes to someone else, the library or a fundraising book sale, with the philosophy that it will more likely be read that way rather than sitting on my bookshelf. Occasionally, I keep a special book, one I may read again.

So it was with Thomas Myles Steinbeck’s first fiction, Down to a Soundless Sea published in 2002. This collection of richly readable stories was partially based on stories he would hear through his famous father, John Steinbeck, who passed on the storytelling talent to his oldest son.

Sadly, Thom Steinbeck died last month from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Gone is a man with a tremendous legacy and one who left a legacy. Publishers Weekly opened its review of Down to a Soundless Sea, with this take:

“Stylistically speaking, the apple doesn’t fall far from the family tree in this debut collection by Steinbeck (son of John), a solid series of stories that deal with the settling of the Monterey Peninsula early in the 20th century. Steinbeck is especially successful when he writes long and develops his narrative line.”

Steinbeck moved to Santa Barbara with his wife Gail 15 years ago and became friends with several local authors. One, Diana Raab, memoirist (Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal, 2014) and poet (Lust, 2014) became a close friend. who was at his bedside when he died.
She talked about their special relationship:

“Thom and I had a unique relationship which transcended the ordinary. We considered one another best friends, siblings, muses and inspiring to one another’s literary endeavors. It began with his blurb of my memoir, evolved to letter exchanges and then regular discussions over tequila at a local bar.

“Thom was a master storyteller. For more than five years I’d been inspiring and guiding him in the writing of his memoir as the son of the esteemed novelist, John Steinbeck. I will deeply miss his friendship and inspiration.”

So will many in Santa Barbara.
Readers, did you know Shakespeare is the most often quoted writer in history, second only to the Bible? Through his 37 plays and 150 sonnets, he added more than 3,000 words to the English language.

To learn more about this man who lived 400 years ago, consider taking advantage of a special lunch/discussion event offered at UCSB by the History Associates and Professor Irwin Appel of the Theater and Dance Department.

The talk will be at noon Oct. 2 at the History and Social Science Building 4020, followed by the 2 p.m. production of Much Ado About Nothing in the Studio Theater.

A charming storyteller, Appel will discuss a unique take on Shakespeare and this comedy, the timeless story of two of literature’s all-time greatest lovers, Beatrice and Benedick. It features some of Shakespeare’s wittiest banter.

The production runs Sep. 30-Oct. 2. Check for schedules at 
For more about the lunch event go to
While browsing in a San Francisco bookstore recently, I came across a reprint of Don’ts for Husbands 1913 by Blanche Ebbutt (A & C Black, LTD). Although much is about ways men should “control” their wives, Ebbutt gives this advice about backing off:

“Don’t say your wife wastes time in reading, even if she reads only fiction. Help her to choose good fiction, and let her forget her little worries for an hour occasionally in reading of the lives of others. But, above all things, don’t put on the schoolmaster air. She’ll never stand that. Rather let her pick her reading for herself.”

One of Santa Barbara’s best resources to learn about authors (many of them local) is TV Santa Barbara Community Access (TVSB) weekly show Literary Gumbo. In these interviews, host Fred Klein discovers who these writers are from daily columnists to bestselling authors. He includes regular updates on new books, book club favorites, and publishing news.

A milestone marker is coming up with the 200th show on Sept. 21. Klein will interview Cliff Simon, author of Paris Nights: My Year at the Moulin Rouge. In this humorous memoir, Simon, a South African native and former military man, tells about an offer to dance in Paris, a life-changing opportunity.

Among the wide range of local writers interviewed over the years, have been: Barnaby Conrad, Perie Longo, Shelly Lowenkopf, Ernie Witham, Mary Dorra, Erin Graffy, Monte Schulz, John Wilder, Meg Waite Clayton, Lee Wardlaw, Dan Poynter, Patricia Fry, Robin Winter, Marilee Zdenek, Jerry Camarillo Dunn, Sandra Perez Gluschankoff, Diana Raab, Dale Griffiths Stamos, Melodie Johnson Howe, Kathleen Sharp and Jane Heller.

According to the show’s director Lisa Angle, Literary Gumbo is among nine candidates for the Community Choice Media Access Awards this year. If you wish to vote, go to until Sept. 30.

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.