Summer readers, lifelong bookworms, nerds and closet nerds have another reason to be happy in Berkeley. According to Amazon, Berkeley is among the top 20 “most well-read” cities in the country. Though rankings are determined by sales alone, we can experience Berkeley’s bibliophilia just by walking around. Our campus offers many stylish libraries with cafes, gardens and smoking areas in tandem. Northside, Southside and Downtown Shattuck are home to bookstores like Moe’s Books, Bookish, University Press Bookstore, Revolutionary Books and Eastwind Books of Berkeley — where book lovers find fascination like thieves in a gem-studded grotto. At bars and pizza places, locals read. On the bus, BART or ellipticals at the RSF, students read. Even on the Fire Trails, hikers stop to take in the view and read.
Behind the scenes, too, Berkeley is where books are happening. Indie and conventional publishers and distributors are located here, along with luminary writers, poets and thinkers such as Robert Hass, Vikram Chandra, Michael Chabon, Lyn Hejinian, Maxine Hong Kingston, Mark Danner, Robert Reich and Isabel Allende. Berkeley itself has been the backdrop of novels such as “Dhrama Bums,” “The Crying of Lot 49” and “Telegraph Avenue.” The iconic poem of the Beat generation, “Howl” by Allen Ginsburg, was composed in a guest house on Southside.
Besides school, food, commerce and creativity, what makes reading a Berkeley thing and not a San Francisco thing or even a (sssssss) Stanford thing? Is it because we toiling students want to discover deeper meaning by reading self-help books (for the sterotypical Haas student), Kurt Vonnegut (for the sterotypical hipster) or David Foster Wallace (for the stereotypical English major)? Could it be that we are always bombarded with countercultural, anti-establishment, granola-loving ideas that we are driven to seek out the truth for ourselves? Is it because we can’t wait to find out what happens in the newest episode of “Game of Thrones” or the latest spinoff of “Twilight?” Or is it that the fog, that white blanket of soaring water, that enchants us to snuggle up and play morning and evening with one of the mysteries of life?
Who really knows? Maybe we’ll find out in the next book we come across.
Image source: Sharada Prasad CS under Creative Commons