Staff Picks: Favorite Nonfiction from the Imaginary Bookstore of Mr. Bib!

Categories: OC Bookly
Thumbnail image for strummerreaders-retreat-man-in-cafe.jpg
Okay, no staff here, just me and the fambly back in the East Bay for an overnight visit, taking in the San Francisco Mime Troupe in Oakland, eating Cheeseboard Collective pizza out on the median strip on Shattuck Avenue, maybe having breakfast with poet-friend and political mentor Al Young at Saul's Deli and, yes, drinking coffee and visiting bookstores. But in my mind, which is everywhere, I run a wildly popular imaginary bookstore, community organizing center, organic fair trade coffee shop and art gallery back home. And, because I am a co-owner of this worker-run business establishment, I am a staff person too, so add my suggestions to the chalkboard out in front announcing coffee of the day, prix fixe menu and, yes, book recommendations. And, of course, Joe Strummer (1952-2002) is a regular.

I am still hung up on nonfiction this week, and books which make people who they are. Also, my son and his buddy Dashiell Jones watched the Truffaut film version of Fahrenheit 451, me reliably sobbing at the end, with the old, dying man teaching his grandson to "be" a book. It caused me to want to review those books which make up my personal canon, which made me (for good or bad) what I am.  Not always "great" books, but those that helped to create taste and inspire curiosity and form this reader's worldview and psycho-social makeup. And then I heard on Democracy Now! of the death of Justice Gus Reichbach, who as a youth was one of the brave students at Columbia University who in '68 brought student activism to the attention of our benighted nation, insisting on the connection between community justice and corporate profit and the war against the people of Southeast Asia, not to mention the power of student protest. Which made me remember the little paperback version of one of the first books I offer below on this, my own list of nonfiction books and memoir read between the age of early adolescence and early young adulthood and which say, perhaps like those people in the forest reciting, a lot about Mr. Bib's relationship to reading and writing...and maybe yours, too? 

Gandhi: His Life and Message for the World by Louis Fischer. My late mother was a World War II refugee who read little beyond Readers Digest and horrible religious tracts. I suspect she was introduced to this well-argued hagiography by way of taking a community college literature appreciation class. She also owned a dusty paperback of Albert Schweitzer's life story. The two of them sat near each other on the shelf.

Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin.
Radical journalist
I think I found this in the school library at West Junior High in Downey. Or maybe it was assigned. Do kids still read this, about a white man undercover journalist who poses as African-American, risking his life to expose (to people who should already have known) what racism looked like? Today I guess he'd be working for Pro Publica or Mother Jones. He was also a friend of the Trappist monk and anti-war teacher Thomas Merton.

The Strawberry Statement: Notes of a College Revolutionary by James Kunen.  Pretty sure you saw that one coming. Gus Reichbach and Kunen and SDS and sit-ins. Makes an excellent high school graduation present.

Student as Nigger by Jerry Farber. I just know (!) that no kids read this today, a manifesto arguing the master-slave power relationship of professor to student. Provocative title, and even truer today, what with the corporatization of higher ed, the "consumer satisfaction" model constructed for learning, and the privatization of pedagogy.  Don't get me started!

Growing Up Absurd by Paul Goodman. Thanks to biblio-buddy Wayne Clayton for turning me on to Goodman, probably in senior year of high school. This social critique of, well, high school, and all of the above, rocked the world forty years ago. Great documentary about him, available on Netflix, modestly titled Paul Goodman Changed My Life. Memoirist, political philosopher, gay rights pioneer, teacher, intellectual, poet and mensch, he seems not to get the kind of attention he once did, and deserves despite changing a whole lot of people's lives.

If They Come in the Morning by Angela Davis. Knew her name of course, the revolutionary Black Panther professor targeted by Gov. Ronnie Raygun, and as an undergrad myself jumped at the opportunity to hear her speak at Cal State Long Beach. My mind, as they say, was blown. Today she militates against the prison industrial complex, the latest incarnation of our racist Cold War.

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