Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Kepler's on the rebound: One year in

We would like to thank all of our hard working staff and super supportive community of customers, authors, transition team members, investors, donors, publishers, vendors, partners, Future Search participants, Literary Circle members, volunteers, fellow booksellers, and everyone else who has helped reinvent Kepler's yet again.  Yay!

This is real community:  an authentic grassroots effort where people are working together towards a common mission to open minds, deepen literacy, and promote critical thinking through engagement with literature and each other.

We are the cover story in this week's Almanac, our beloved local newspaper...

Kepler's reboot enters second year

Kepler's, the "Silicon Valley bookstore that keeps reinventing itself," appears to be enjoying a new lease on life after 57 years in business, click here to read the full story.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Silicon Valley Gets it Wrong: Information shouldn’t be free

Jaron Lanier’s Big Idea

Jaron Lanier’s quest started when he wondered why the developed world was experiencing high unemployment and economic pain in the early 21st century, just when widespread use of technology was supposed to be delivering a new era of abundance and prosperity.  Creative classes of recording musicians, journalists, and photographers were losing economic opportunity as prevailing web models reclassified their work-product as “information” and demanded it for “free.”

In his new book, Who Owns the Future?, Lanier paints a view that’s believable yet chilling.  Like a skilled science fiction writer and a shrewd economic analyst, he forecasts a future in which we continue to reorganize our world around digital networks.  Software-powered productivity improvements continue to penetrate industries like manufacturing, transportation, health-care, and education.  Human cab and truck drivers are replaced by software programs, 3D printing grows virally and starts to produce manufactured goods, WalMart goes bankrupt, automated heavy equipment finds and mines natural resources, and robot nurses handle care for the elderly. 

A rational observer might ask, What’s wrong with this?  It sounds like the usual march of technology-driven productivity – disrupting old, inefficient industries and delivering new value for the masses.  Lanier asserts that left unchecked this march of technology will lead to capitalism and democracy grinding to a halt.  Our economy will enter a period of hyper-unemployment and social and political chaos will result.  He asserts that current digital economic models are not sustainable because they are creating winner-takes-all concentrations of wealth centered around new technology-powered monopolies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon while the contributions of the middle classes are being devalued.  Lanier identifies the creation of new centers of power that resemble “private spy agencies combined with ad agencies.”

Not content with criticizing the current model, Lanier lays out his compelling vision for a new humanistic economic system in which people are held special and not equated with machines.  He posits that as our economy becomes more and more information-centric, the only way we will be able to grow it is by monetizing more information, not less and giving people more rights, not fewer.  Lanier articulates how this new system might work, who can drive its creation and adoption, how we can re-balance the power and rights between corporations and people, and what are the big opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors.  Technologists will enjoy Lanier’s ability to envision new products and features like nanopayments and economic avatars that will make this new system work for all of us.

What do we love about Jaron Lanier’s new book?
Lanier has a powerful ability to connect the dots across multiple disciplines and see patterns others don’t.  There aren’t many people who can compare securitized mortgages to pirated music files, or copyrights to trade unions.  Lanier does this very effectively and in the process finds explanations for our economic woes that others have overlooked.  Lanier integrates and builds on the work of people ranging from Karl Marx (no, he doesn’t appear to be a communist) and Aristotle to Nobel Prize winners in Economics.  This rich dose of historical context enhances the credibility of his arguments.  Lastly, we were impressed by Lanier’s ability to tackle hard moral and practical questions.  Some of our favorites questions:  As technology reaches heights of efficiency, civilization will have to find a way to resolve a particular puzzle:  What should the role of “extra” humans be if not everyone is still strictly needed?  Do the extra people – the ones whose roles have withered – starve?  Or get easy lives?  Who decides? Will the fantasies of Google, Facebook, and Amazon lead to an economic dead-end for millions of people?  Will there be enough value from ordinary people in the long term to justify the existence of an economy?

This is simply one of the best new books out in 2013.  Lanier’s latest work shows his extraordinary knack at envisioning a future thoroughly and his ability to imagine creatively and bravely.   Who Owns the Future? will appeal to intellectuals, creative professionals, students, technologists, economists, policy makers, entrepreneurs and investors looking for new opportunities.  Steve Jobs said the most interesting opportunities emerge at the intersection of humanities and technology.  Jaron Lanier stands at that famous intersection and beckons us on.

Who is Jaron Lanier?
Jaron Lanier a futurist, computer scientist, and digital media pioneer.  Time magazine named him one of the "Time 100" in 2010 (The 100 Most Influential People in the World).  A profile in Wired magazine described him as "the first technology figure to cross over to pop-culture stardom." His previous book You Are Not a Gadget was a national bestseller.

Special invitation for readers
Can regular people really earn an income by monetizing our Facebook updates and tweets like Jaron Lanier would like to see?  Let’s find out!  Kepler’s will offer you $5 off your admission ticket to Lanier’s talk on Wednesday May 15th or purchase of Who Owns the Future? if you show proof of sharing this blog post in your Facebook newsfeed, by tweeting it, or linking to it from your site or blog.  Offer valid only in the store, while tickets & books are still available, and until May 15th, 2013.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Love Letter and Note of Encouragement

Stacey Kohut wrote an amazing love letter to the Booksmith in San Francisco. In it she describes some of the wonderful people who make the Booksmith the place that it is. She also mentions a fondness for Kepler's and her excitement about the Kepler's 2020 project. We'll quote that bit below, but you should really head over to the Booksmith blog and read the entire thing. It might make you want to write your own love letter...
"When Praveen Madan, who co-owns The Booksmith with his wife, Christin Evans, told me a few months ago that he and Christin would be joining forces with other business and community leaders to reinvent and revitalize Kepler’s in Menlo Park, I did a little dance of joy in the middle of the store.  Kepler’s was my first independent California bookstore, one of the few treats I permitted myself when I moved to the Bay Area fourteen years ago and was living on AmeriCorps wages in nearby Redwood City.  It is one of my sacred places, and in recent years it has pained me to see such a vibrant and important cultural icon struggle to stay afloat.  Now, bolstered by local support and Praveen and Christin’s talents, I have utter confidence that Kepler’s is going to thrive, joining The Booksmith in maintaining a space where readers and writers can reach across an expanse of infinite pages to create real connections, literary, cultural, and personal."
Thanks, Stacey!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Nebula Award Nominees Announced!

This morning, the nominees for the 2011 Nebula Awards were announced. The Nebulas are like the Oscars of American science fiction and fantasy. Awarded by the members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the Nebulas honor excellence in the categories of novel, novella, novelette, and short story. There is also the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation and the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.

If you want to get to know some excellent writers making daring and barrier-breaking (and fun!) work, browse through the full list and give some of the nominated pieces a go. While there are a number of familiar names on the list (Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Woody Allen), there are also some new writers who might just rock your socks (I'd like to point you to Ferrett Steinmetz and Tom Crosshill in particular).

Short Story
Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
  • Attack the Block, Joe Cornish (writer/director) (Optimum Releasing; Screen Gems)
  • Captain America: The First Avenger, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (writers), Joe Johnston (director) (Paramount)
  • Doctor Who: “The Doctor’s Wife,” Neil Gaiman (writer), Richard Clark (director) (BBC Wales)
  • Hugo, John Logan (writer), Martin Scorsese (director) (Paramount)
  • Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen (writer/director) (Sony)
  • Source Code, Ben Ripley (writer), Duncan Jones (director) (Summit)
  • The Adjustment Bureau, George Nolfi (writer/director) (Universal)
 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and FantasyBook

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New Video! Kepler's 2020: The Next-Generation Independent Bookstore

Catch a glimpse of some of the people who are part of the Kepler's transformation... Staff members, community leaders, writers, and bookstore lovers of all stripes.

Announcing Kepler's 2020!

First of all, if you haven't checked out the brand, spanking new website for our transition (called, snazzily, Kepler's 2020), WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

Some news about what's next for Kepler's just went out this morning. You can read the full press release here, but it begins with this:

Menlo Park, CA, January 31, 2012 – The Kepler’s Transition Team, a group of local business and community leaders, today announced the launch of “Kepler’s 2020,” an initiative that will transform Menlo Park’s historic independent bookstore into a next-generation community literary and cultural center. The project aims to create an innovative hybrid business model that includes a for-profit, community-owned-and-operated bookstore, and a nonprofit organization that will feature on-stage author interviews, lectures by leading intellectuals, educational workshops and other literary and cultural events.  
By separating the for-profit bookstore from the nonprofit organization, Kepler’s 2020 will allow the bookstore to maximize its profitability while enabling the community to support rich educational and cultural programming through tax-deductible donations and corporate sponsorships. The two organizations, although separate legal entities, will collaborate closely to bring people together around ideas and books to foster intellectual discourse and civic engagement in the community.

The news is already trickling around the web, with stories in Publisher's Weekly, San Jose Business Journal, Publishers Lunch, and MarketWatch (and that's just since 8 AM EST this morning!). But, if you want to get on the ride yourself, make sure to follow the Kepler's 2020 Facebook page and Twitter feed. More exciting news to follow!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Two Bookstores

There are three bookstores that have a larger than usual call on my affections.

The first is greatly responsible for my love of books, a place where I spent much of my childhood, and no longer in existence. It is the bookstore of my ideals and imagination. It resides in my memory, all shiny with summer mornings and magical, white-haired women, and all the bookstores I shall ever meet must go stand beside it to be measured.

The second is Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park. The third is the Booksmith in San Francisco. And while neither of these stores are exactly like the bookstore of my childhood, they are fine and important places in their own right, and I am proud to say that I’ve worked for them both.

(What would my childhood self think of this rather more grown-up me who dances and writes and works for—not one, but two!—great bookstores? I think she would be pleased… and somewhat irritatingly smug.)

Kepler’s is venerable. Established in 1955, its history hovers around it. The Grateful Dead played there! Those wild, scruffy Beat luminaries made appearances. Roy Kepler himself campaigned for peace and paperbacks with a fierceness and irreverence that impresses my bookish soul. This is history! The real stuff. And I have no personal claim on it. I’ve only known Kepler’s since 2008 when I, flush with proud excitement, took up my first bookstore job. But one of the greatest pleasures of that job, aside from being surrounded by books and smart, opinionated people who love them, is meeting people for whom that history is part of their lives and Kepler’s is THE BOOKSTORE.

THE BOOKSTORE is: the first place that comes to mind when you utter those words; the place where you discovered that slightly illicit and possibly age-inappropriate book that blew your thoughts to smithereens; the place where your children run to at a stampede-worthy pace so as not to miss a story being read; the place where you get your newspaper and those magazines you can’t do without; the place where a charming, elderly man will tell you about his days as a pilot and his accidental drink with Hemingway (the Hemingway); the place where they remember your name and do their best to fit you to a book the way you imagine luxury department stores once fit their suits.

In 2010, I started working for the Booksmith. Booksmith is kind of magic. On the walls, there is detailed, whimsical art. The book selection is curated to the vicinity of greatness. The people are (once again) smart, opinionated, and madly in love with books. There are (once again) customers for whom Booksmith is THE BOOKSTORE. From what I understand, this current incarnation is still a youthful one. Christin Evans and Praveen Madan bought the Booksmith in 2007, and are transforming it, with stubborn, mad enthusiasm, into a place that is as relevant, vital, and necessary as all of us who love bookstores wish for them to be (and even the staunchest of us bookstore lovers need that kind of encouragement now and then).

At this moment, my bookstore worlds are colliding.

I am incredibly excited about this. Kepler’s, with its history and its people (both staff and customers) who come in, day after day, to make it the bookstore of their hearts is a solid piece of goodness. But I can think of no better people to make it even more exciting, more fresh and wonderful and worthy of survival in this world of change than Praveen and Christin. On New Year’s Eve, they called a meeting to share some of their ideas with the Kepler’s staff. Dear reader, I haven’t been this excited about bookstores in a very long time. This will be something entirely new.

I want to share this excitement because I know the importance of THE BOOKSTORE. It is, quite obviously, more than just a place where you go, pick up your books, and go home again. If it weren’t, why would we bother going? If bookstores were only rooms where we exchanged money for pages, then we could wave them farewell without a blink. But bookstores are treasure maps and memory palaces. They are playgrounds, social hours, retreats from the world and windows onto it. They are places, ideas, and people. And while “change” is a very sharp thing, liable to cut as well as transform, this particular change is (I can feel it in my bones!) going to be a good one. Get ready. The excitement is rolling in.
Megan Kurashige is a dancer and a writer. She has worked for both Kepler's (since 2008) and the Booksmith (since 2010), and has been, in recent times, the person responsible for this blog. She also edits The Bookflash, a monthly Kepler's e-newsletter, that she urges you to read so that you can enjoy interviews with brilliant authors as well as recommendations from the smart, opinionated, madly book-loving people mentioned above. If you have suggestions, commiserations, diatribes, praise, or questions, you can contact her by email at Megan[at]keplers[dot]com.