History night at the book store

Last Wednesday night I attended a reading at the University Book Store by Richard C. Berner, whose previously published and now updated book Seattle 1900 – 1920: From Boomtown, Through Turbulence, to Restoration is being published by and printed right there at the University Book Store. Paul Dorpat’s name is also on the cover because he ransacked his collections of old photographs and ephemera to supply the reissued book with dozens of illustrations particularly suiting the text.

Rich Berner, left, answers questions about his reissued book while Paul Dorpat plays the gracious host.

I skibbled over to the University district after work, then nabbed what turned out to be one of the best little burgers I’ve had in a long time at a tiny joint called the Burger and Kabob Hut on the Ave between 41st and 42nd streets. Then I wiped chin and hied the two blocks north to the “U Book Store”. About fifty people had gathered upstairs near the poetry section, where rows of chairs had been set out.

It wasn’t really a reading, per se. Messrs. Berner and Dorpat told a little about the already successful book, which is only the first in a triplet that Rich had published late in the 20th century. The other two will also be reprinted by the University Book Store. Paul told about how he’d come to be involved and with his typical humility gave the gathered throng to know that while his name was on the reissued book it was really all Rich’s work, that he Paul had only supplied the illustrations. In the forward to the book, Rich, who is 90, acknowledges that if Paul had not agreed to toss in with him on the project he probably would not have been up for it. Besides the addition of pictures, the book has been updated with additional textual material.

Paul fields a question from the audience.

I had never heard of Richard Berner, but many there were familiar not only with the man’s history trilogy, but also with what many consider an even greater contribution to our and future generations’ understanding of regional history. As head of the University’s Archives and Manuscripts Division, Rich engineered and oversaw the gathering of a number of collections of records and data into the University’s archives, which he founded in 1958 and in whose navigation and use he spent a quarter century mentoring his students. Though he retired decades ago from his post, researchers continue to benefit from the trove of documents he amassed during his tenure.

A spontaneous award. Louis Fiset presents Rich with a copy of his book. I had a camera handy so they turned toward me.

One such researcher and author was present at the reading. During the question and answer session, Louis Fiset, who has written two books and numerous articles on the experience of Seattle’s Japanese community during the internments of World War II, opened a copy of one of his published books (Camp Harmony: Seattle’s Japanese Americans and the Puyallup Assembly Center; Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009) and read the dedication, which stated that without the benefit of the collections that Mr. Berner had secured, his own book would not have been possible.

After the question and answer period there was the signing of books and, for those interested, a trip downstairs to see the book actually being published by the University Book Store’s Espresso Book Machine. This little equalizer not only enables you — yes you — to publish a single on-demand paperback copy of any of millions of out-of-print books, but it also enables authors to publish their work in paperback form with a binding supposedly at least as durable as those on the books distributed by the industry’s large publishers, without having to pony up for a printing of thousands. Depending on length and other variables, you can test the waters for your book of post-postmodern neo-Euclidian poetry for the cost of a one-time set-up fee ($50 – 70) and about ten dollars per printed copy.  

Get 'em while they're hot! Tera shows us the Espresso Book Machine in action. The freshly minted book appears in the clear plastic chute bottom center.

I bought my copy and had it autographed by both gentlemen. Incidentally, the whole book (the new edition!) has also been published online on the website Paul shares with his friends the photographers Jean Sherrard and Bérangère Lomont, so you can read it or download it as a group of PDFs there, but Paul pointed out that most of us who enjoy history of this sort are the kind who like to hold the book in our hands. If you’re crazy that way, too, ask for it at your local independent bookstore. [UPDATE 2/23/11: I goofed; the book can be bought for about $15 from the University Book Store (and if they run out, the EBM is right there to print you one on the spot) and from Tartu Publications, P.O. Box 85208, Seattle, WA 98145. Note that after covering the cost of running the EBM, Rich and Paul are donating the rest to HistoryLink.org.] 

Although it was a small and low-key event and the duties (and joys) awaiting me at home prevented me from staying to hobnob, I felt very affirmed by this little gathering. It’s a weird thing to be, in this culture of forward motion and futurism, one of those haunted by things that have come and gone and are no more, by people, places and events whose resonance in the present day may be real enough but are seldom appreciated and even less often acknowledged. I wish I’d had time to get acquainted with some of those gathered. Some of them may be people with whom I have exchanged comments on blogs about local history. But it was enough to have been introduced to a man who has done much for people like me and whom I might easily never have encountered.

6 Responses to “History night at the book store”

  1. 1 Rachael February 22, 2011 at 18:02

    Skibbled? Hied? I’m hearing the name of a great new pub in my head: the Skibble and Hie. A hangout, of course, for those who unapologetically love words!

    Another wonderful post!

    • 2 Matt February 22, 2011 at 20:07

      Skibble is a verb that is in high rotation in our family just now. It comes, as far as I know, from the Eloise books, the children’s stories about the girl who lives in the Plaza Hotel.

      I’d happily lift a tankard in the Skibble and Hie. I’ve been dissatisfied of late with the service over at the Zimber and Sklathe.

  2. 3 Janet February 22, 2011 at 18:09

    I wish I had heard about this and been able to attend. Sounds like just the event for me. I’ll go over there and have a look at this publishing venue and also try to get a copy of the book. Thanks for alerting me.

  3. 5 Jana February 27, 2011 at 08:13

    That’s awesome! I’d like to know about this kind of stuff, too. If you or any of your readers are on Facebook please visit this new group for local history buffs http://www.facebook.com/pages/Vintage-King-County-Washington/166935090023124

  4. 6 Matt February 27, 2011 at 10:44

    Jana, I’ll put you on my list of people to shout to when I hear of interesting stuff. Hey thanks for the FB link. That looks like a world of interesting stuff to explore!

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