Sunday, July 10, 2022

Portraits and Footprints

 Wow, almost a year since I last posted here.  No wonder google made me answer a bunch of questions and texted codes to my phone.  The footprints I refer to in the title is the digital kind--my digital footprint is a bit of a mess right now, with this blog that is becoming more of a placeholder and two flickr accounts with ridiculous amounts of pictures of flowers.  Let's not even talk about the multiple email accounts...

But the main reason I'm writing is to tell you that Mr. Bookcharmer and I went into San Francisco today to see the Obama portraits at the De Young museum.  We haven't been to the De Young in well over two years due to covid.  It was a great day to visit the city--perfect weather and an uncrowded museum.  

I haven't written much the past year because the news has been just so awful.  The gun violence in this country is off the charts appalling.  Across the country the mass shootings have continued, seemingly each one worse than the last with innocents targeted including African American elders at a grocery store and children at an elementary school.  And while congress finally mustered legislation to strengthen requirements for gun purchase ( See the very flipping same week the Supreme Court went wild and reversed the decision on Roe v. Wade.

Throw in ongoing pandemic topped by public laxity about masking and vaccinations....well, it has been hard to stay upbeat. 

So these are the things I think about when I need to find momentum.  I think about the people that made change, despite enormous personal cost.  I think about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  I think about Congressman John Lewis.  It helps enormously that I am listening to the audiobook of Senator Maizie K. Hirono's memoir, Heart of Fire.  I recommend this book to anyone interested in modern politics and women's history.  She reads the memoir, and her warm voice and detailed recollections are wonderful guideposts for her journey, the first woman Senator from Hawaii, also the first immigrant, Asian American, and Buddhist in the Senate.  She has fought hard for all of her wins and she fights for people.  Her memories of childhood, great in love but scarce in material resources, show her to be a woman who did not let the experience of poverty embitter her, but to rise to the challenge for making things better for everyone. 

One of the reasons we went to the see the Obama portraits today was to see those wonderful faces again, the faces of these two people that lead the country while raising a family, who brought new energy and values of compassion to the White House.  The portraits are stunning and captivating and I like knowing that when they finally go to the National Portrait Gallery, so many people just like myself have been able to spend a little bit of time with them. 

Another reason we went was simply to spend some time around art.  To walk through quiet galleries and peek into diverse minds and spaces.  To see scenes of the past and possibilities of the future.  To spend time just looking and thinking. 

It doesn't hurt that I'm 3 days into a four day weekend and feeling rested is one of the most powerful ways to manage to just keep going.  Our culture of caffeine, freeways, and fast food is not one geared towards healthful contemplation.  But me, I've been to the farmers market, I'm eating plums from a friend's tree, and I'm going to have my feet back under me when I head back to the library.  

The frenzy of request for political donations is going to be off the charts this fall, and for all kinds of reasons.  And it is a shame that money is the cost of participation but there you have it.  So choose wisely, and make your donations early so that campaigns can roll into full strength way before the fall deadlines.  The group I donate to is Sister District, and they are fighting in the trenches where the impact of decisions fall hard, on state legislature races.  And in doing so, they are building the bench of Democrats who will have the experience to serve on the national level.  Take a look here:

So that's all I have for now.  I'll try to write again before another six months goes by.  Stay well and peaceful and hopefully you have some fresh summer plums where you live, too.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Room for improvement

Well friends, it is time for a mid-late summer update.  July slid by with two delicious visits to my beloved California coast and some significant garden upgrades at Casa Bookcharmer that have me tending my yard with even more glee and appreciation for mulch.  In May, my feelings for summer were feelings of dread.  Would there be more terrible days of orange skies and heat?  We have been blessed on the peninsula of the Bay Area this summer, but for the people fighting/enduring the Dixie Fire please know that every morning I see a clear blue sky I am grateful and I pray for the firefighters and first responders working to put out this blaze.

I'm still trying to adjust to being on a Tuesday-Saturday work schedule, after bouncing from my usual Sunday-Thursday to the Covid Monday-Friday.  Mondays are a weird day have as a second week-end day as other people I know who I might lure into goofing off with me have to work, and the week-end feeling that might motivate me towards household activities is, well, absent.  So a blog update it is.

Things I've been thinking about:

What does public transportation have to do with gun control?  The Bay Area continues to struggle mightily with not only the theory but the practice of affordable public transportation.  You would not know that a great deal of the wealth of California came from railroads based on how we can't seem to organize ourselves now to implement them.  Beyond the mishmash of jurisdictions and systems and the wretched "disruptors" trying to bankrupt drivers with the pricing policies of cars on demand, a key part of what was happening with public transportation was shattered in late May of this year by a massacre at the Valley Transportation Authority.  The SJ Spotlight has a run down on this ghastly tragedy here:

This shooting has all the now way to familiar landmarks of a mass gun tragedy in America:  disgruntled white man with access to weapons he should not have had, unleashing his rage and hate on people he worked with.  

What will it take to turn the tide, can this American sickness, this view of weapons of personal destruction as a constitutional right, can we ever leave it and the waves of tragedy and grief behind?  Don't think for a minute I have forgotten the Charleston Nine of the Mother Emanuel AME Church, this shooting that extinguished 9 bright stars.  And sadly, there have been so many other shootings, that honestly I am sure I have forgotten some of them, or not read about them because I can't bear the news of any more.  Can you remember how many there have been in the United States in the past ten years?  Think of a number.  Now check your memory against the data gathered by Everytown for Gun Safety.

To bring the point back to where I started, VTA announced today it is unable to bring back the light rail service yet so to compensate, buses will run along the light rail routes.  While it is possible that the freedom loving gun advocates are also possibly not enamored of public transportation, why is it fair for them to disable this resource for people who might need or prefer this resource?  

Let's expand that argument:  how does the 2nd amendment support "freedom" if it allows for the destruction of school populations, churches, and businesses?  

I'm thinking about this as the dissonance between Back to School advertisements are surfacing among reports of fears from parents and schoolworkers about returning to schools with an enormous amount of unvaccinated children on site.  At present, kids 12 and up can get the C19 vaccine, but that leaves of a lot of young'uns still not yet eligible to receive it.  

If we must still patch together a network of support for parents, students, and schoolworkers, let's do the best we can.  I return to the Donors Choose site and I see that teachers are requesting items ranging from books to soccer balls to cleaning supplies. 

Pick a classroom by going here:

and know that every little bit helps. Let's get better in the small ways so we can build the foundation for the big ways.  

Thursday, June 24, 2021



I can't believe so much time has gone by since I last posted.  Since February, Mr. Bookcharmer and I have both been vaccinated, as have many friends and family.  The sense of relief took a while to sink in, for the possibly of "normal" to become palpable.  For some reason, taking my trusty little Subaru for a tune up at the dealer was what flipped the normalcy switch for me.  Although the indoor waiting room there is still closed, and I waited with the rest of the patrons in a nice outdoor seating area, all of us masked, the edgy caution and desire for a Silkwood style scrub down after interacting with the public was blessedly not present.  My oil is changed, my sense of it to be ok to be out in the community is changed too.

There is still a lot to be deeply concerned about, but I wanted to take the time to note how seeing an act of compassion has given me not just hope but the realization that acts of compassion are powerful.  I'm talking about the joyful Dr. Jill Biden, our current FLOTUS.  This good woman is out on a "vaccine tour", visiting places across the country where the vaccination rates are dangerously low.  And she is not just turning in a pro forma appearance, no.  The support and compassion she is bringing to individuals is truly heartening.

The image that first caught my eye is here:

Hopefully that twitter link will hold up over time.  But if it doesn't or you don't feel like clicking, I'll do my best here to describe it.  The photo is credited to Tom Brenner/reuters. Our FLOTUS, dressed to the nines as usual in a cute outfit, holds the hand of a black male teenager.  With her other hand, she protectively shields his sight from the vaccine syringe, her fingers gently placed on his temple.  The way she leans over to him, her hands simultaneously comforting and protecting, gives me tears of relief and pride.  The young man getting the vaccine has closed his eyes and holds her hand. People have been terrorized into fearing this vaccine, immoral news outlets and sick individuals barking fear and outright lies.  To see Dr. Jill Biden, fearless and fashionable, supporting individuals through their reluctance or concerns, fills my heart and gives me strength.  In the photos I've seen, she's not looking at the camera--she's looking at the person getting the vaccine, or her head is turned away from the camera so all you see is her signature blond hair as she focuses on who is in front of her.  

I'm crying again as I think about how many people needlessly died, or survived with serious lingering health problems, tears of anger about how many people have been lied to, unable to process scientific information and discern truth from bullshit because of our inadequate education system.  But also tears of relief that someone like Dr. Jill Biden can empower the rest of us with acts of kindness and love.  

Some days it is hard to believe in love.  Especially after four years of the country's leadership being hate speech and denials of truth, of film after film of people being killed in the streets by police.  Dr. FLOTUS Biden doesn't just say the words of love, or wear them on her back, she shows up and delivers it.  So thank you, dear FLOTUS Biden, for also comforting me and making me feel better, and reminding me that just being present for someone is a powerful act.

Onward.  There are library collections to tend and book requests to fulfill.  And since I haven't told you yet, seeing kids coming back into the library with their caregivers and everybody leaving with armloads, strollers, or wagons of books and movies, is truly marvelous.  I'm happy to tell you my library is open.  

Your vaccinated Bookcharmer

Monday, February 15, 2021

Putting a Price on History

 Greetings Reader!  Some time back I wrote about how a historic photo of Harriet Tubman was being auctioned by a major dealer.  Happily, the photo, along with other items in the album, was jointly purchased by the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress, you can read about it here

Can history be rescued again?  This time, it is a humble document--a ledger showing signatures of people who received a piece of mail while incarcerated.  Who's signature?  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Where and when?  The Birmingham Jail in 1963.  Yes, the place where Dr. King wrote "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."  You can read a draft of it and hear him read it here:

Fine Books magazine, which brought my attention to this sale, introduces it with the following statement "Black History Month, observed annually in February, recognizes the African-American struggle for freedom and key events that empowered the Civil Rights Movement. In honor of Black History Month and the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Hake’s will open its February 24-25 auction with a unique and highly important testament to the great civil rights leader’s courage and resolve. Never before seen publicly, the lot consists of four logbook pages from the Birmingham Jail, hand-signed 12 times by Dr. King during his 1963 incarceration."  Really?  Profiting from the record of incarceration of Dr. King is "in honor" of Black History Month.  These words are posted here:

So let's look at the auctioneer's listing, which is here:

The auction link doesn't make a claim about this sale being "in honor" of anything so I'm not sure where Fine Books got that idea, of if there is a printed catalog I haven't seen linked stating this.  Auctioneer Hake's does provide the provenance of the ledger, stating "The oral history passed down through the consigning family states that these pages were salvaged by a jail employee who was instructed to destroy the ledger but had the foresight to preserve these pages, eventually passing them to the family's history buff patriarch where they have been held until now. This offering marks not only their first appearance in commerce but their first public display."

Foresight to preserve the pages...mmhmm.  And proffer them up for sale in the year 2021, in the immediate months after the protests over the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor?

So Internet, let's do this.  These papers documenting how Dr. King was able to stay in touch and communicate with the Civil Rights movement must be preserved at a location that can make digital copies part of the available worldwide curriculum and preserve the physical copies in the highest archival state.

Heading over to social media to start making some noise about this.  Look for me @Bookcharmer on twitter and signal boost if you can. 

The angry archivist Bookcharmer 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Philando Castile

 I woke up in the night, my brain too busy with some thoughts that need conscious as well as subconscious sorting.  

First, I can tell you that I along with millions other sighed in relief after both Harris and Biden had sworn their oaths, the Inauguration capped off in style by singers and the latest poet supernova, Amanda Gorman, dazzled us with her light.  After four years of hearing vitriol and outright lies from the highest office, it was a restorative morning that offered the promise of a better path forward.  We stumble forward imperfectly.  Gorman's phrase "it isn't broken, just unfinished" resonated with me the days after.  So why couldn't my brain enjoy a full night?

The fallout of the attack on the Capitol remains a sore, unfinished business.  Salt is being liberally applied to the wound as perpetrator after perpetrator is not only continuing to roam free instead of being held for trial, but often in the comfort of their own homes.  I'll point out the actions of a young white woman named named Riley Williams, who has been documented in many places as being the person who stole a laptop from Speaker Pelosi's office.  Source:

Did you catch the last part of that web address?  Released.  From.  Jail.  The article further states, "Williams will have to wear an ankle monitor and can only leave her mother's home for work and some other court-approved reasons."

Excuse me?  She can still go to work? How is this possible?  This is the Alice in Wonderland upside down world where a white woman can steal federal property, be documented doing it on camera, and gets to return to her family home where she isn't even under complete house arrest? 

There have been many tragic police involved shooting in recent years, and one that is outstandingly horrible is the case of a young black man, Philando Castile, who was shot by a police officer who had pulled him over.  And article by the New York Times reported that Castile "In a 13-year span, Philando Castile was pulled over by the police in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region at least 49 times, an average of about once every three months, often for minor infractions."  Source:

Who was Philando Castile?  To the children at the school where he supervised the cafeteria, he was Mr. Phil.  Now he is recognized by the Rockefeller Foundation as a "school food hero" because he was known for paying for food for children who couldn't afford lunch.  Source:

You can see the argument my brain was having:  Philando Castile, taken from his community.  Riley Williams,  returned to her home with an ankle bracelet. 

The even sadder coda to this contrast is that the officer who shot Castile, was acquitted.  According to this npr report  Yanez "separated" from the police department where he worked, even receiving compensation for unused personal leave.

So I lay awake for awhile last night.  I thought about the news coverage of the attack on the Capitol, about the news coming out about the individuals who abetted the attack, some of them sitting lawmakers.  I thought about how the invaders, once they had achieved their goal of disrupting the electoral ballot counting, didn't appear to have a plan other than random destruction and looting once they got inside.  

But who they are--their identities are known because of the photo and video coverage, and many of the rioters have even posted their own photos claiming their acts. And the expectation that the people who have fallen for Trump's rhetoric are limited to just one type of person....well, turns out his appeal cut a much broader swath than many of us wanted to recognize in the American public.  People of means who had the resources to travel across the country to participate in a riot meant to disrupt our peaceful transfer of power.  

It's naive now to say 'who knew'? It is daunting to see how many people gleefully chose violence over peace, disrespect over unity, chaos over being constructive.  A lesson I take away is how much faster people of good conscience must stand up the truth.  I've seen two elections stolen from Democrats, Al Gore and Hilary Clinton.  No, they did not run perfect campaigns, and neither of them are perfect people.  But I know both of them would have been better presidents and done more good for our country and our planet than the Republican leadership that evolved from those debacles.  We have to stand up faster, harder, and more authoritatively and put an end to the "whataboutism" arguments and hate that passes for discourse.

Maybe I'm writing this for myself more than anyone out there, to remind myself that as a woman with a fetching touch of silver in my hair, I can throw my weight around a little and ask more of myself and my community.  

Monday, January 18, 2021


On Wednesday January 6th Democrats woke up to the great news that the Georgia senate runoff election results were showing decisive wins for Democrats Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.  Your Bookcharmer sailed off to a day in the library branch, lunch packed, gloved and masked up, but a bounce in my step that such a crucial election, one that will flip the majority leadership of the Senate, was looking to be a definitive Democrat win.

Days in the branch, are busy, to be sure.  It is a great thing to be beloved by your community, but that means you better be ready to hustle for them.  You might be surprised to know that in my "high tech" community, many of our patrons still need to use a telephone to place holds and schedule appointments to pick them up.  Indeed, not everything is online.  Or maybe a patron is quite tech savvy, but needs someone to walk him through resetting a password on a database that is less than user friendly.  Then hurry and make some picture book bundles, participate in an online meeting, fulfill a research a day in the branch is going to be a lot of tasks that don't provide a lot of time for following breaking news.  Maybe that's a blessing.  

The events of January 6 2021 when a horde of violent protestors attacked the Capitol will take a long time to unspiral--a bare bones timeline appears at present on the NPR website:

It doesn't get into the threats against Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi or the insulting acts committed on the physical building.  The article points out the lack of advance planning/protection on the day when the election was being certified.  More will come in following days, but it is obvious from news coverage that the outgoing president incited this mob and it is possible that the damage to the Capitol and the threats against Democratic congresspeople, and, of all ironies, the Republican Vice President, were quite real and nearly realized.

There is so much to try to process and understand and take in...while not letting this last stab at the heart of Democracy by the evil that is the outgoing Party takeover the joy in the reality that our country will have a Democratic president in less than 48 hours as I type this, and its first woman as a Vice President.

I'm mostly writing this post just to document my own level of shock and more shock that the building where our government functions was the target of people that want to destroy it.  Their arguments?  Specious and ludicrous.  Their methods?  Tragic and base.  The racist act of carrying a flag of a failed state into the Capitol.  

The mirror held up on January 6 also showed the truth about all the protests this summer in support of Black Lives Matter, when protestors all over the country were subjected to police violence while peacefully protesting 

And as our country seems to keep forgetting, we are in the middle of a FUCKING PANDEMIC that has taken the lives of almost 400,000 people in the U.S. alone.  The latest news for the US and the world is being tracked by Johns Hopkins University

And the protestors?  No masks.  Horns and MAGA hats, sure.  But no masks.  And some of them had come from different parts of the country, turning their hate fueled trek into a super spreader event.  

I'm sorry just to throw links at you--I'm still trying to figure out what to focus on, and trying to balance this latest event with all the events of the past year, like the House impeaching Trump in December 2019 and the Senate acquitted him in early February of 2020.  

I write to you from the West coast of the country, aka the Left Coast.  I write in the concluding hours of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  

I don't know how much I will sleep between now and when Biden/Harris are inaugurated and Warnock and Ossoff are sworn in to office.  In these next 48 hours though, I know I will be trying to make some art, do some reading, go to work, and think about what needs to remembered about these Wednesdays in January.  

Saturday, December 19, 2020

A Most Beautiful Thing


It's been a while since I've done a book review for you, and the one I have for you now--the book is so good I've had to sit with it a while.  People who do a lot of text ingestion, aka reading, for work purposes know you have to really change your mindset to enjoy reading for pleasure again.  Irony, I know.  But when you have to read reviews, reports, e-mails, gulp down information for easy mental access slow down and let an author's voice into your consciousness becomes a much more deliberate act.  And it is getting rarer that I have the ability to do that easily.  But when you have a writer like Arshay Cooper bring you his story, well...

I came across this book because I recently joined athlete and entrepreneur Steph Curry's bookclub on Literati, which is called Underrated.  This was the first book I received.  If you aren't tuned into the Bay Area or national basketball scene, Steph Curry for the Bay Area is like Michael Jordan was to Chicago in the 90s.  Unparalled, iconic, an athletic force so great that the skill and talent and knowledge of the sport is obvious to someone who last touched a basketball in 1986.  Beyond Curry's athleticism, he is a community maker and I thought heck yeah I'm in when I read about his book club.

Cooper's book is about his experience growing up as a young black man in Chicago, attending public schools and being recruited on to a high school rowing team, which turned out to become the first all black high school rowing team.  I leave to your enjoyment of the book the story of how this came to be.  What I want to focus on is what he says about the sport and some of the ways he relates to it.  When writing about pushing his through pain towards the end a race, he writes "I have felt pain all my life; it's my normal. (155).  

That line had me in tears. A few pages later he recalls "After a race, your whole body starts to malfunction, particularly your back.  I hate being tardy, so I am speed walking in pain to school."  To give you a bit of context, he's walking on the paved streets of Chicago, known for its ridiculously long blocks.  And I don't recall much mention in this book that (as my lived experience) in Chicago the weather is hateful 75% of the time.  Freezing in winter, muggy moist in summer, maybe 8 days each fall and spring where walking isn't a chore.  But his focus in this book isn't his personal discomforts, it is how he and his teammates rise to and meet the challenges, which range from disrespectful behavior from competitors to facing deeply held fears about water and swimming.

There are moments when he describes racing that I felt I was right there on the boat with him.  He shares the jokes and stories of his teammates, you meet his family and learn about how he lives.  He shares his hopes for love, his concerns about his friends,  his awkward relationship with his father, the experience of disappointing a coach.  In short, he doesn't hold back in opening up his heart and his life.

How do you do this, Mr. Cooper?  To know yourself and your story so well to be able to reveal yourself at the center of the huge sociological storm that is Chicago? He does, and writes of it and his hopes and dreams not only for himself but his teammates and his friends.  

We take the talents of our young people for granted in America.  There is a systematic reduction of opportunities for young people of color, in particular.  It shouldn't need proving that young black people are wells of talent, but in a country where young black men and women--Mike Brown, George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Armaud Arbery--have been murdered in cold blood, we need to hear and recognize not just the humanity but the wellspring of talent that should be supported and realized.  So bring this book along with you to share with people who don't live in Chicago, who don't know young black people, who need the chance to move on from the murky veil of fear fanned by racism. 

America and sports...whooo, the problems that we could talk about!  Sports should not be the only way young people can distinguish themselves and learn the pleasure of mastering challenges. But this book brings up the most important aspect, which is that a group sport can build so many dimensions of personal and social emotional growth.  It can be a gateway to travel, to new experiences.  It can teach people to rely on themselves and others.  

Give yourself the gift of this book, Arshay Cooper's A Most Beautiful Thing, published by Flatiron Books.  May I insist you purchase it from your local independent bookstore, or  Thank you. 

So that's my book review, friends. Just a few quick thoughts before singing off since it has been so long since I wrote you.  Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have been declared the winners of the 2020 election, and even more than Christmas and New Year's I am looking forward to their inaugeration.  A vaccine for C19 has been developed by multiple companies and is being delivered and distributed.  We've got a long way to go before Inaugeration Day and more people get the necessary two doses of the vaccine, so please...keep wearing your masks, washing your hands, and practice being a homebody.