Coming Soon to ALOUD: From Poland’s Solidarity to Egypt’s Tahrir Square

None of us were here to live through America’s Revolutionary War that secured our own democracy; but revolutions have succeeded and failed in our lifetimes. Come to ALOUD on Tuesday, October 21, to hear from two courageous writer-activists—one from Poland, the other from Egypt—who have lived through the triumph and heartbreak of their countries’ struggles for freedom.

Adam Michnik, one of Poland’s most influential public intellectuals, perhaps one of the most influential journalists in the world—and a key player in Poland’s transition from Communism to democracy—will be joined by Yasmine El Rashidi, visiting Los Angeles from Cairo, where she writes about the aftermath of the electrifying events in Tahrir Square that brought down a president and raised so many hopes for a democratic Egypt.

Michnik and El Rashidi both speak truth to power. They’ve both written extensively about their on-the-ground participation in the revolutions that swept their respective countries—Poland and Egypt—decades apart.  Michnik, imprisoned during martial law in Poland, wrote in his Letters from Prison, “…you score a victory not when you win power but when you remain faithful to yourself.” El Rashidi, in her poignant essay, “The Revolution Is Not Yet Over,” wrote, “It seems that the battle for Egypt will be one not just for power and against despotic leaders and corruption, but about values, principles, and even a more basic vision of what kind of day-to-day life the people want.”

What does a veteran of one revolution that succeeded have to say to someone who’s lived through one that failed, or has yet to be resolved? (or—a revolution, as pointed out by one resident of Cairo, “in the circular sense of the word. You go back to where you started.”) NPR’s former diplomatic correspondent, Mike Shuster, who’s reported from Tehran to Islamabad, Berlin to Moscow, will moderate what should be a lively discussion between our two guests.

This program is co-presented with the Consulate General of Poland. Learn more about Fomenting Democracy: From Poland’s Solidarity to Egypt’s Tahrir Square and make your free reservation.

“… my relationship with this city, with a culture, with my home, has forever been changed, and my memory of the 18 days, the revolution, are mere fragments of a larger journey and a search that I now wait to complete.” -Yasmine El Rashidi, “Cairo City in Waiting”

“In Poland, not a single window was broken, and the dictatorship was overthrown by the ballot. Poland was the first communist state to gain the capacity to decide about its own fate. That freedom brought anxiety and insecurity.” -Adam Michnik, The Trouble with History: Morality, Revolution, and Counterrevolution

–Posted by Louise Steinman
–Main image: Tahrir Square, November 2011. Credit: Hossam el Hamalawy


Bookmark This #18

Bookmark This #18

February is the month of love, and we love sharing reading recommendations with you, especially as the 26th Annual Stay Home and Read a Book Ball is just around the corner.  What a fun way to love and celebrate the Los Angeles Public Library by lounging around the house and reading a good book!


Louise Steinman is the Chair of this year’s Stay Home and Read a Book Ball.  The founder and curator of the award-winning ALOUD series at Central Library, she is also the author of three books, most recently The Crooked Mirror: A Memoir of Polish-Jewish Reconciliation.

Louise recommends Women Without Men,’by Shahrnush Parsipur.

“When the artist Shirin Neshat spoke at ALOUD last December, she mentioned her first film was based on the novella ‘Women Without Men’ by Shahrnush Parsipur. Both Neshat and Parispur are Iranian-born, and both live in exile in the U.S.  Parsipur spent years in Iranian prison, under the Shah as well as under the rule of the mullahs– who banned her novels.  Women Without Men follows the interwoven destinies of five women—among them a schoolteacher, a wealthy housewife, and a prostitute—who by various means find their way to a lush magical garden outside Tehran.  Parsipur weaves together recent Iranian history with age-old Dervish tales. One woman returns from the dead as a clairvoyant ghost. Another plants herself as a tree in the garden where the others nourish her with human breast milk. Women Without Men is a provocative and poetic portal into women’s lives in a tradition-bound society.”


Marsha Hirano-Nakanishi is a past president of the Los Angeles Public Library Board of Commissioners.  She recently spent a weekend in San Francisco with book lovers stalking Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett, and Maltese Falcon locations.

Marsha recommends Lillian & Dash by Sam Toperoff.

“After rereading the Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, and Joe Gores’ Maltese Falcon prequel Spade and Archer, I plunged into Toperoff’s reimagining of the on-again, off-again love affair of Dashiell Hammett and playwright Lillian Hellman from their meeting during Depression-era moviemaking in Hollywood through the Spanish Civil War, Hellman’s successes and failures on Broadway, World War II, HUAC, through to Hammett’s burial in Arlington National Cemetery in 1961. Using the voices of Dash and Lillian to illuminate their contrasting remembrances, criticism, encouragement, and caring, the third person narrator stitches the part-gossip, part-factual, part-imagined 30-year journey together.”


When Roz Bonerz was eight years old, she won her first “Bookworm” pin from the local library.  She had to read 12 books over the summer vacation to become an official “Bookworm,” and she has been a “Bookworm” ever since.

Roz recommends The Road Home by Rose Tremain.

“In Rose Tremain’s The Road Home, you travel with Lev- a Russian immigrant, from the small town of Baryn to London on a bus.  Lev is looking for work.  He goes from distributing flyers to dishwashing to prepping vegetables to being a chef as we follow his life in London.  We’re with him through all his trials and adventures, two steps forward, three steps back.  Lev is easy to like; he’s kind, hard-working, but prone to trouble.  I stayed with him through it all with a sense of wonder and wow.  In the end, it’s all about the writing- the beautiful writing of Rose Tremain.”


Maureen Moore is the Associate Director of ALOUD and an avid cultural enthusiast. If her job permitted, she’d spend her time traveling the world collecting stories, snapping photos, sipping coffee, and contributing the occasional post to her ‘cultural musings’ blog.

Maureen recommends LA Son: My Life, My City, My Food  by Roy Choi.

“LA Son: My Life, My City, My Food is a chance to ride shotgun with Roy Choi.  The narrative takes you on an odyssey through our state, from the early days of his family’s culinary outings when they trekked up to Santa Barbara for abalone or to Indio for bean sprouts for his mom’s bi bim bap to his first time eating a banh mi in the O.C.  Food has colored Choi’s world from the moment he entered it, and LA Son blends those stories with the rhythm of his bad boy street slang, keeping things picante, just like the salsa roja of LA’s most flavorful taco from the famous Kogi BBQ truck.  When I first learned of the title of the book, I thought he’d called it, ‘LA SoHn’ …Son…as in the musical rhythm, the backbone of Latin music – the one you hear driving down Whittier Blvd. or cruising through MacArthur Park.   It’s that rhythm and soul that he puts into his food and everything he does.  The beat on the page keeps up.  Choi-isms are sprinkled throughout like little pieces of advice next to his recipes: drink, burp, smile.  Choi’s voice is practically in your ear, and the promise of his culinary creations meeting your palate is just a few bites away.”


Noel Ople is a new intern for the Library Foundation.  He loves yoga.  Practicing for more than two years, he finds it absolutely amazing both physically and mentally and plans to obtain yoga teacher training certification this summer.

Noel recommends Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.

“One of my favorite books is Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. I don’t think I’ll be doing any traveling into the wild any time soon, but the idea of leaving everything behind and going on a journey of self-discovery was really inspiring, especially to a younger, more rebellious version of myself.”


More than 6 million books are available through the Central Library, 72 branches and and include print, audio and digital formats.  Browse through the catalog and bookmark your own must-reads for the Stay Home and Read a Book Ball!

If you want to share what you’re reading, contact Membership Director Erin Sapinoso at to recommend a book for an upcoming post.

Happy reading, and stay tuned for next month’s issue of Bookmark This!


From the Archive: Remembering Veterans

Although the Library will be closed this Monday, November 11 as we honor those who have served our country, you can still access the Library’s online collections, including podcasts from archived ALOUD programs. To commemorate Veterans Day, here’s a few specially selected podcasts on topics from women soldiers to one of contemporary fiction’s most celebrated war novels.

Brian Turner
Phantom Noise: An Evening with Soldier-Poet Brian Turner
Turner’s poems reflect his experiences as a soldier–seven years in the US Army, including a year as infantry team leader in Iraq–with penetrating lyric power and compassion. (Here’s a link to a reflection on this event by ALOUD curator Louise Steinman.)

Sebastian Junger
The author of A Perfect Storm turns his empathetic eye to a single platoon through a 15-month tour of duty in the most dangerous outpost in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley.

Tim O’Brien
A reading and conversation honoring the 20th anniversary of one of America’s most important novels, a book as vitally important for anyone interested in the Vietnam War as it is for those concerned with the craft of storytelling.

Karl Marlantes
What It’s Like To Go To War
Having spent the last 40 years examining his experiences in Vietnam, Marlantes, the decorated war veteran and bestselling author (Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War), discusses his visceral new nonfiction book about the psychological and spiritual toll that combat takes on those who fight.

Tracy Kidder
The Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgetting
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Mountains Beyond Mountains tells the inspiring tale of Deogratias (Deo), a young medical student from the mountains of Burundi, who narrowly survived civil war and genocide before seeking a new life in America.

Helen Benedict
The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq
A work of brilliant and compassionate reporting, “a must-read for everyone who cares about women, justice, fairness, the military, and the United States.” (Katha Pollitt, The Nation)

Louise Steinman Straightens Out the Past in “The Crooked Mirror”

“I hope this speaks to reconciliation of all kinds,” says Louise Steinman about her new book, The Crooked Mirror: A Memoir of Polish-Jewish Reconciliation. “I don’t think it’s restricted to Poles and Jews; we all carry a weight of received prejudices of various kinds, so I wanted to be your test case—your guide—and put myself out there, move through this landscape, and see what it does to me and share that with you.” For over a decade, Steinman, who is also the founder and director of the Library Foundation’s ALOUD series, has undertaken an epic journey exploring her Polish-Jewish ancestry. In the beginning Steinman resisted the idea of writing a book that would so preoccupy her with the deeply complex (and horrific) issues surrounding the history of Polish-Jewish relations. But through a series of fated events, eventually she reconciled with her own resistance and took off on a literal soul-searching journey.

Steinman in front of Czeslaw Milosz’ family’s old home in Krasnagruda, near the Poland/Lithuania border.

Steinman’s memoir begins in the winter of 2000 when she was invited to attend the Bearing Witness Retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau by her Zen rabbi. In a conversation about the Poles’ often-alleged complicity in the genocide, her rabbi casually stated that the Poles had gotten a “bum rap.” The seemingly glib remark upended her understanding of the events during the war—an understanding that had been shaped by stories (and the silence) around the fate of her extended family in Poland. Over the next 12 years, she returned to Poland many times beyond that first conference and immersed herself in Polish culture, history, and politics. The chapters in the book are informed by a critical mass of experiences throughout the years—from on-the-ground tours of cemeteries, memorials, and museums with historians, to interviews with local journalists, artists, and students, to the readings of Jan Gross, Adam Zagajewski, and Czeslaw Milosz, and others.

The vibrant cast of present characters—including many Poles, Steinman’s family, and her American travel companion—makes this look at the past come alive. Each voice sheds new insight into the religious, political, and social issues her ancestors faced—as well as the legacy of Poland’s history as an occupied country, which many young Poles are rigorously examining in today’s democratic Poland. “There were so many illuminating and beautiful moments, and there were also many dark nights of the soul along the way, but the excitement of learning something about my family and the history that shaped them was a deeply satisfying feeling,” says Steinman. “I enjoy wrestling with moral issues.” This was true for her previous book too, The Souvenir, a search for answers about her father’s experience in WWII that led her to the snow country of Japan and a battlefield in the Philippines.

The pleasure that Steinman finds in the discovery process underscores the compassion her writing brings to the stories of The Crooked Mirror. Instead of feeling weighted down with doom, her writing breathes in the landscapes, food, and culture of Poland like an exuberant travelogue as she treks across rainy cemeteries and into bakeries with warm strudel. She explains that when she would return home to Los Angeles from a trip to Poland, she could not easily slip into the writing of such fraught material among the demands of everyday life, so she sought out writers’ retreats to fully re-engage with her notes, her memories.

By the end of the book, she has not only met long-lost relatives and discovered incredible survivor stories in her search to make peace with the past, but she becomes a local hero of sorts in Radomsko, the town of her ancestors. Even though she never intended to become an ambassador for sharing the story of this place with the rest of the world, she is honored by the city of Radomsko with an award and she helps to inspire a new Jewish memorial.  “It’s a magical thing that you actually can open this curtain to the historical past,” says Steinman, “It’s about making a gesture in the world and if you do, you can be received on the other side of the planet.”

This Thursday, November 7, ALOUD will present Steinman in conversation with author Jack Miles about this new work. When asked about the various influences of her writing of this book, she enthusiastically recalled several past ALOUD programs. Here are a few links to those podcasts that helped to straighten out The Crooked Mirror:

Diane Ackerman
The true story of the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, who, with extraordinary courage, compassion, and calm under pressure, managed to save hundreds of people from Nazi hands.

Father Patrick Desbois
Desbois, a French Catholic priest, has devoted his life to confronting anti-Semitism and furthering Catholic-Jewish understanding. Since 2001 he and his team have crisscrossed the Ukrainian countryside in an effort to locate every mass grave and site at which Jews were killed during the Holocaust.

Norman Davies
One of the world’s preeminent scholars of World War II history, author of the bestselling “Europe: A History and Rising ’44,” offers a clear-eyed reappraisal and an illuminating portrait of a conflict that continues to provoke debate today.

Adam Zagajewski reading with Ed Hirsch, Eavan Boland, and Peter Cole
Discussing Hebrew, Polish, and Irish writers, four of the world’s best known poets examine how local politics, national realities, and cultural traditions affect great literary traditions.

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela
A psychologist on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission asks, “What does it mean when we discover than the incarnation of evil is as frighteningly human as we are?”

–Posted by Bridgette Bates


Jeff Bridges, Anne Lamott and Others Join ALOUD this Winter

Do you find yourself quoting The Big Lebowski in casual conversation or humming Mahler in the shower? ALOUD’s winter season promises not to disappoint with an exciting and eclectic line-up of filmmakers, actors, authors, musicians, scientists, religious and political leaders, and more, taking part in the Library Foundation’s yearlong 20th anniversary celebration. Here’s a round-up of what’s to come, and you can visit for more info and tickets.

Kick-off the New Year with these special film events:

Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman. Image by Alan Kozlowski.

Thursday, January 10, ALOUD welcomes screen legend Jeff Bridges and world-renowned Zen teacher Bernie Glassman to the Aratani/Japan America Theatre for an enlightening and entertaining conversation between student and teacher on their new book, The Dude and the Zen Master, co-presented by the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center.

Thursday, January 24, film critic and KCRW host Elvis Mitchell talks to writer, poet and playwright Nick Flynn on the surreal process of adapting his memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, into a film called Being Flynn, starring Robert De Niro as his father.

Tuesday, January 29, actor, director and activist Diego Luna visits on the occasion of his new feature about Cesar Chavez to discuss the power of storytelling as an agent for social change.

Span the globe with these groundbreaking international stories:

Artwork from Gallery Monin.

Tuesday, January 15, days after the third anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, veteran journalist Amy Wilentz reports on the uncanny resilience of the country that emerged like a powerful spirit from the dust of the 2010 disaster.

Monday, February 11, internationally-renowned radiation expert Dr. Robert Peter Gale and writer Eric Lax correct myths and establish facts about life on our radioactive planet in our post-Chernobyl, post-Fukushima world.

Women who wow us:

Monday, December 10, best-selling author and activist Anne Lamott converses with Father Gregory Boyle about the three prayers that she believes can illuminate the way forward: Help, Thanks, Wow.

Thursday, February, 21, journalist and The End of Men author Hanna Rosin, Ms. Magazine Executive Editor Kathy Spillar, imMEDIAte Justice co-founder Tani Ikeda, and Feminist Women’s Health Center co-founder Carol Downer join primatologist and Darwinian feminist Dr. Amy Parish for a multi-generational look at feminism and women’s rights today in light of the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking book, The Feminine Mystique.

Homegrown in California:

Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Wheaton residence, Brentwood, CA, 1958. Photo by Maynard Parker.

Thursday, December 13, the newly created LA Grand Ensemble makes its public premiere, blending theatrical and artistic elements for a contemporary and new classical music experience including a reduction of Mahler’s Symphony No.4.

Thursday, January 17, photography curator Jenny Watts of The Huntington, Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, and author and historian D.J. Waldie gather to discuss influential photographer Maynard L. Parker, who aimed his lens at the mid-century masterworks of L.A. architects in Cold War California.

Saturday, February 9, ALOUD partners with the Los Angeles Philharmonic to present its annual afternoon chamber music concert.

Tuesday, February 26, former mayor of San Francisco and current California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom joins acclaimed local journalist Patt Morrison onstage for Citizenville: Connecting People and Government in the Digital Age.

And last but not least, a new iteration of the “Writing and the Art of Not Knowing” musings:

Wednesday, February 6, writers George Saunders and Bernard Cooper discuss how they grapple with the difficult, but essential challenges of their creative work with moderator Sarah Shun-lien Bynum.

We hope you’ll join us this season! Free reservations are strongly recommended for ALOUD at Central Library programs, and tickets can be purchased for the LA Grand Ensemble and An Evening with Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman via


Thoughts On Salman Rushdie’s JOSEPH ANTON

This Sunday the Los Angeles Public Library will honor Salman Rushdie with the 2012 Literary Award for his commitment to literature, and on Monday he will sit down with ALOUD’s Louise Steinman for a conversation about his recently published memoir Joseph Anton. His memoir reflects on his time in hiding when a fatwa had been issued against him for his novel The Satanic Verses. Rushdie tells his own story from the 3rd person to reflect on the surreal magnitude of this time—his life turning into the plot of a spy novel. As readers will most certainly be captivated by his extraordinary memoir (buzz is brewing this week on The Daily Show and in The New Yorker and the Los Angeles Times, to name a few), Louise Steinman, below, grapples with his new book as she prepares for the upcoming ALOUD event.

On Living in Hiding

He couldn’t know how long he would be in hiding. He had to find a way to preserve his sanity. He had to find a way to maintain and even re-discover his “authentic self.”  Events that unfolded a continent away affected his everyday life, in a much more drastic way than it does our own. A tsunami in Japan? Debt crisis in Greece? We feel the after-effects when a cargo container washes up on shore, or the stock market jitters. But Rushdie felt the spasms in Tehran in his own home, in his own family, in his own mind.

On Literature in Hiding

Open any section of the book and you are plunged into matters of conscience, tales that will make you think and wonder. In 1986, before the fatwa, Rushdie attended the International PEN Congress in New York City.  He was “dragged into the heavyweight prize fight between Saul Bellow and Gunter Grass.”  He listened to Eastern European writers like Danilo Kiš and Czeslaw Milosz, Gyorgy Konrad and Ryszard Kapuscinski who were “setting their visions against the visionless Soviet regime.” He listened to Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian poet, “articulating views not often heard on American platforms.” Listening to Vonnegut critique American power, and Bellows and Updike critiquing “the American soul,” Rushdie writes, “In 1986 it still felt natural for writers to claim to be, as Shelley said, ‘the unacknowledged legislators of the world,’ to see literature as a lofty, transnational, transcultural force that could, in Bellow’s great formulation, ‘open the universe a little more.’”

Can we still believe in the force of literature to do just that? In this frightened world of ours, can we make such exalted claims for mere writers?  I agree with Rushdie that it is more difficult to do so, “but no less necessary.”

–Louise Steinman

Bookmark This! Meet Our New Reading Community

I am excited to launch Bookmark This!, the Library Foundation of Los Angeles’ recommended reading program. Each month, we will present you with a list of books, stories, or poems recommended by Foundation and Los Angeles Public Library staff, members, and ALOUD participants for your reading pleasure.

In this inaugural issue, we have five recommendations – the first of which comes from our very own Louise Steinman (curator of the award-winning ALOUD series, co-director of the Los Angeles Institute for Humanities at USC, and author of The Souvenir: A Daughter Discovers Her Father’s War).

Nemesis by Philip Roth

“It’s set in the Weequahic section of Newark, NJ during the war year of 1944 when the polio epidemic is stalking the town. It’s a stunning evocation of a fear-filled time and a lovingly wrought portrait of a tight-knit Jewish community in mid-century America. No one then knew the vectors for the spread of polio, so the finger of blame moved nervously and frequently—from particular individuals to entire ethnic groups.  Bucky Cantor, Roth’s protagonist, is a humble man and a gifted athlete whose heroism comes at great cost. I was drawn to this story because I love Philip Roth’s work but also because the polio epidemic cast a shadow over the life of my own family here in Los Angeles– my sister contracted the virus in the early 50’s.” –Louise Steinman

Our second recommendation comes from Suzanne Lummis, a poet whose work has appeared in The Hudson Review, The New Ohio Review, in the Knopf “Everyman Series” of anthologies Poetry of the American West and Poems of Murder and Mayhem, and is forthcoming in The Rattling Wall. Last year her organization, The Los Angeles Poetry Festival, presented a 25-event citywide series, “Night and the City: L.A. Noir in Poetry Fiction and Film.”

The Untouchable by John Banville

The Untouchable unspools the inner life of a double agent loosely inspired by the brilliant art historian Anthony Blunt, one of the Cambridge alumni publicly disgraced decades later, when it was discovered they’d spied for the Soviet Union. Related in the first person, the novel investigates the price to be paid for duplicity and betrayal, and in some devastating larger sense, for the inability to commit emotionally to any person or ideologically to any belief.  The Untouchable is not a fast read – in fact, quite the reverse – but at a certain point, Banville’s masterful writing and the power of his slow, deepening disclosure, took hold of me.” –Suzanne Lummis

The next recommendation comes from Cheryl Collins, an avid reader and interim director of Branch Library Services, who has worked for the Los Angeles Public Library for 32 years.

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

“I first heard of this book when the New York Times named it one of the best works of American fiction during some period of time. It looked harmless. It was short and I thought, ‘just another tale of a dysfunctional family in some American backwater.’  What I got was something so unexpected and so incredibly beautiful. This is a novel, and so a work of prose, but it comes so close to poetry that invites a careful reading because it seems that each and every word was chosen so carefully and so precisely and so perfectly.  It is a really beautiful and emotional work of art.” –Cheryl Collins

The following recommendation comes from Stan Molden, Public Safety Officer at the Central Library.  He has worked for the City of Los Angeles for over 20 years.  In addition to ensuring the safety of library staff and patrons, he is a professional photographer and has a deep passion for music, most especially classic rock and roll.  Fittingly, his recommendation is a biography of a very famous musician.

The Life and Times of Little Richard by Charles White

“The story of the ‘architect of Rock n Roll’ – as Richard Wayne Penniman called himself – captures Little Richard’s charismatic persona, humor and deep frustrations.  Clearly reflected in his exuberant stage performances, Little Richard’s unabashed love of music and belief in himself established him as one of the great artists of the 1950s.  He was such an energetic and flamboyant character and dominant figure in rock and roll.  This book gives an incisive look into this great musician’s life. A-WOP-BOP-A-LOO-MOP, A-LOP-BAM-BOOM!” –Stan Molden

Our last recommendation comes from two of our most ardent and long-standing members, George and Randy Beckwith.

 The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

“This is an important book about North Korea written by a man who is one of few Westerners to visit the country.  It details people’s lives there; there are some really grisly scenes.  Various people in the State Department are reading it.  It is not an easy book to read, but it is a story about the triumph of the human spirit.” –George and Randy Beckwith



These books – and more than 6 million others – are available through the Central Library, 72 branches and  The library collection includes books in print, audio and digital formats.

Have you read these books?  Post your comments and let us know what you think. I hope you enjoyed the first edition of Bookmark This!  Happy reading, and stay tuned for next month’s issue.

–Posted by Erin Sapinoso