Apr. 7, 2012
About the book tour: San Diego
In sunny San Diego, I had two author events in November 2011, one for the general public at the Downtown (Main) Library and another for San Diego Independent Scholars (SDIS) at the University of California at San Diego.
I spoke in the library's Wangenheim Room, the rare book room, a marvellous venue that was designed to look like a library in the home of a well-off family in the late 19th-early 20th century. Well-polished dark wood book shelves line walls, rugs cover the wood floors. Some glass cases display some of the room's treasures. One of them--not on display that evening--is a complete multi-volumed edition of Edward Curtis' original Native Americans of North America. Only about 300 were printed, and today, libraries and collectors guard those sets. In 2007, when I was living in San Diego, the library put some of the set on display in the Wangenheim Room, and I had the opportunity to see the exhibit and write about Curtis.
So this event was like a homecoming for me. About 15 people lively and engaged people attended--not bad given the warnings I had had about no one showing up! The talk was easy, because the introduction of the book was set in San Diego and the Kumeyaay of that area. So I read some of the chapter, and then threw it open for discussion. I had told the audience that some of them probably knew more about the Kumayaay than I did, and I was right!
The second event was also a homecoming. Again, while living in San Diego, I had been a member of SDIS. This is one of a half-dozen groups around the country composed of writers, scholars and intellectuals who have no academic affiliation but who work to publish valuable work in various fields. SDIS simply meets at UCSD for convenience; the university gives the group the chancellor's conference room for its monthly meeting.
I was November's featured speaker, and I was delighted to see familiar faces. This too is an active and engaged group, but they expected more and different! Besides content, they wanted to know how I had come to write the book, what challenges I faced, and other questions relating to scholarship and marketing. Like the library group, they were also knowledgeable about some of the subject matter.
San Diego ilustrates one of the lesser-known issues that authors face, namely, simply selling books at events. Bookstores are easy. They order the books from the warehouse, take care of the transactions , and handle the books after you leave (putting some on the shelf for later sale, returning those they can't sell). You just have to entertain and sign books. At both San Diego meetings, I had to sell the books myself--on a cash basis-- because neither organizations had mechanisms for charge cards or handling money. My friend Marina Bezzatti helped me out at the library, and I handled it alone at SDIS. But you have to work fast and do your own record-keeping.
Great to be back in San Diego. This is a place with a gorgeous landscape and natural environment that unfortunately has been badly damaged by urban sprawl of all types: tacky subdivisions, high-end enclaves, shopping centers that obliterate the San Diego River, a tourism and entertainment industry that threatens to slip into honky-tonk, freeways that become parking lots at rush hour. Fortunately, here and there, especially around downtown San Diego, a few graceful neighborhoods and wonderful institutions like the library survive. Can San Diego be saved?