January 13, Thursday afternoon -- Reading Hannah Arendt

At Urban Burger in the Mission District
Reading The Origins of Totalitarianism by one of his favorite authors, Hannah Arendt. Another favorite author is Russell Banks, whose writing, he said, is especially gloomy.

I once saw a film that had been made from Banks's books called The Sweet Hereafter, about a bus accident that kills most of the children in a small town. It was thought provoking, cathartic, and definitely gloomy.

If he were to write his own book? It would be gloomy, too. He understands that there is a societal revulsion to gloominess, but he feels a dose of gloom is necessary.

He began reading at the age of two, when he read his mother a book called Harold's Shadow....though now he wonders if maybe he just had it memorized.

When he was a teenager he liked the authors Jeanette Winterson, who wrote Art and Lies, an esoteric story about an artist, a priest, and Sappho, the lesbian poet of Ancient Greece; and Alan Watts, who is sometimes credited for having brought Eastern philosophy to the West.

I showed him the books I had in my bag, which included the Urban Lit novel The Coldest Winter Ever, by Sister Souljah, which, a few years ago, was especially popular among teenagers, particularly African American teenage girls. When I was traveling around the country in 2007 interviewing people reading books, I heard over and over again that this was a favorite book of all time and am finally getting around to seeing what all the hype was about.

He immediately recognized the book. Between 2002 and 2006 he had worked at a Borders in Baltimore and they had sold thousands of the book. Another popular Urban lit author, local to Baltimore, who he remembers as being popular was Zane, who also wrote books favored especially by young African American women.