When I Wear My Alligator Boots Reviewed in Geographical Imaginations

When I Wear My Alligator BootsShaylih Muehlmann’s When I Wear My Alligator Boots: Narco-Culture in the U.S. Mexico Borderlands was reviewed in Geographical Imaginations, a blog by Derek Gregory on war, space, and security. Gregory writes that the subjects of Muehlmann’s book “are the low-level players who are, in their way, also being played. For this very reason, their construction and celebration of narco-culture is also a real challenge to the corruptions, exactions and violences of the state. Shaylih unravels the connections between prohibition, poverty and addiction in northern Mexico, and en route her gift for narrative – for telling their stories – provides a powerful analytical lens.”

Read the full review at Geographical Imaginations.


UC Press at the Public Library Association Conference

March saw Rachel Lee, Library Relations Manager represent UC Press at the biennial Public Library Association conference, held this year in Indianapolis. She reports back . . .

At the Press we’ve long been aware that the range of topics we publish means that some of our titles have an appeal beyond traditional academic libraries. As with all university presses, we have a responsibility to disseminate knowledge and research as widely as possible and this includes to researchers who aren’t affiliated with a higher education institution as well as the general interest reader.

This year, for our first attendance at the Public Library Association conference, we chose to highlight the Autobiography of Mark Twain Volume 2. Mark Twain is an author with continuing and wide appeal and one whose titles will already be carried by almost all public libraries, which makes him part of a very selective group indeed!

At the booth, Rebecca Solnit’s Unfathomable City, a brilliant reinvention of the atlas, was really popular. It’s great to see a book that aims to expand our ideas of how any city is imagined and experienced get so much attention from librarians who are purchasing for a general audience. After all, we’re all interested in where we live.

Both Elephant Reflections and Giraffe Reflections were rarely out of people’s hands as they browsed the booth. The beautiful photography makes these books utterly compulsive reading. The prose in the books tackles serious subjects: the work of field scientists in Africa, recent astonishing discoveries, and the natural history and conservation status of these amazing creatures. These highly illustrated books carry this important information to a far greater audience than a collection of essays would achieve.

And obviously our wine and food titles are hugely popular among a general audience.

We’ve long had relationships with many public libraries across the USA, though I had never attended the Public Library Association meeting—and there are some distinct differences between public and academic libraries. While both academic and public librarians have been coping with reduced budgets, the way the libraries work means the effect is very different.

Academic librarians fulfil an incredibly demanding role, meeting the competing needs of different fields from undergraduate instruction to ground-breaking research. Academic libraries also have a commitment to maintain subscriptions to academic journals which, given the continued reductions in budget, is a task that is increasingly challenging.

For public librarians, budget reductions can mean the closure of an entire branch, particularly in areas that are underserved (such as rural or deprived urban areas) resulting in reduced support to the community as a whole.

However, both academic and public librarians are equally passionate about what they do and the services they provide.

The tone of the PLA conference was about contributing to communities. As a publisher, my own focus is on books and journals, but I got a real insight into how much of a public librarian’s work is about providing a space in the community. Libraries provide space to learn, space to relax, space to access vital information, and space for all kinds of people to indulge their love of books.

I seemed to be surrounded by equipment for children, from seats that looked like pirate ships to tiny homework tables and knee-high shelving. I was keenly aware that academic libraries are also re-tooling their spaces to encourage effective and collaborative learning.

In my quieter moments in the three days, I mused that children who grow up with access to libraries are the ones most likely to become life-long learners, and it was a pleasure and privilege to get some insight into the beginning of that journey at this positive and upbeat show.  I remember going to the library as a child and choosing books to read, and I remain an active patron of the public library today.  Through my work at UC Press, it’s great to be able to continue my support of public libraries. The Press’s vibrant list of books and journals has delighted and inspired readers for over 120 years, and I am sure it will continue to do so for many decades to come.


Check out our new digs

We’ve officially moved in to our new home in Oakland! Hop over to our Facebook page to view a collection of photos from our staff.

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Obituary for the Video Store

By Daniel Herbert

Released in January, my book Videoland has turned out to be something of an elegy, even an obituary, for the video store. Although certain stores and chains continue to flourish (Family Video in particular), the greater brick-and-mortar video rental business has largely vanished. Even great specialty stores that seemed to have strong community support are faltering. Le Video, the immense and venerable store in San Francisco, is currently conducting a fundraising campaign to prevent closing on May 15. Many other fantastic stores, including Scarecrow Video in Seattle (featured prominently in my book), are in imminent danger of shutting their doors for good.

Lately, I have been struck by the wave of nostalgic affection for video culture that has attended the disappearance of video stores. Numerous articles and online think pieces lament the loss of these places, and not one but two feature-length documentaries about video culture have been released, Rewind This! and Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector. The trailer for Rewind This! gives a good sense of its accomplishments.

In telling the story of video’s impact on the world, Rewind This! focuses particularly on the way video facilitated the production and consumption of low-brow, “trashy” movies and genres. Along these lines, Adjust Your Tracking is not so much about video stores as it is about a subculture of VHS collectors who mainly collect obscure cult movies. One segment from the film details a collector who created a video store in his basement, like a model train collector who builds tiny villages full of plastic people.

Here, the affection for video goes hand in hand with an affinity for the space of the video store. Yet most of the subjects in this movie don’t celebrate video stores as much as they celebrate the size and breadth of their personal collections; indeed, a number of these people seem to have acquired many of their VHS tapes from video stores that were going out of business. In many ways, their veneration of the video store and video culture would not be possible without its demise.

With their shared interest in cult cinema, Rewind This! and Adjust Your Tracking paint a picture of video culture that seems strangely informed by the current decimation of the brick-and-mortar rental business. Simply put, the trashing of the video store has prompted some people to reflect on the trashiness of video as a medium. And the sense of nostalgia found in these movies also seems specific to this historical moment. Their retrospective celebration of the 1980s, of VHS tapes, and of the video store appears like a rejection of the present conditions of media culture, where Video-on-Demand and internet streaming services dominate.

These movies are just as much about the present moment as they are about the past. And, soon enough they will become historical documents in their own right. They will not only provide records of video culture, but will illustrate how the story of video was told at a particular time. It will be interesting, as time goes on, to see how this sentimentality for video will evolve and to see what new things we will become nostalgic about. While Videoland tells one part of the history of video, I am excited to see that history continue to unfold – even as it incorporates its own historiography.

Daniel Herbert is Assistant Professor of Screen Arts and Cultures at the University of Michigan. Read a review of his new book Videoland on and listen to an interview with Herbert on Wisconsin Public Radio.


University of California Press to partner with HighWire

University of California Press (UC Press) is pleased to announce that beginning in mid-2015 its journal content will be hosted on the HighWire Open Platform from Stanford University’s HighWire Press.

Speaking of the move, UC Press Director Alison Mudditt commented, “As the ways in which students and researchers consume information evolve, UC Press felt it critical to seek a long-term hosting partnership that will allow us to take full advantage of new avenues to make scholarly work accessible and relevant in an increasingly dynamic digital space of our own. We believe that our collaboration with HighWire will support us in this.”

The flexible HighWire Open Platform technology infrastructure is increasingly becoming the platform of choice for social sciences and humanities publishers. HighWire’s collaborative environment and evidence-based product development process provide unique opportunities for its publishing partners to share and learn from each others’ experiences.  As Mudditt further commented, “Our partnership with HighWire will enable us to deliver new and innovative products and services essential to our publishing strategy. HighWire’s capabilities in social media, community-based services, and alternative metrics will allow UC Press to develop new ways of sharing and delivering content to our user communities.”

Read more


In Memoriam: Peter Matthiessen

Peter Matthiessen, Miami Book Fair, 1991

Peter Matthiessen at the Miami Book Fair, 1991. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Author and naturalist Peter Matthiessen died on Saturday at the age of 86 after a fight with leukemia. Matthiessen is the author of many works of fiction and nonfiction, including Sal Si Puedes (Escape If You Can): Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution, recently reissued by UC Press.

Matthiessen was a founder of The Paris Review and a three-time National Book Award-winner. He was also a prominent environmental activist. His nonfiction featured nature and travel—notably The Snow Leopard (1978), and the controversial study of the Leonard Peltier case, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (1983). In 2008, at age 81, Matthiessen received the National Book Award for Fiction for his book, Shadow Country. 

Read more at The New York Times, NPR, and The Paris Review.


Beatriz Manz Rubs Elbows with Joe Biden in Chile

Beatriz Manz, professor of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley and author of Paradise in Ashes: A Guatemalan Journey of Courage, Terror, and Hope, was honored with an invitation to the inauguration of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.

Beatriz Manz (right) with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet

Beatriz Manz (right) with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet

In addition to rubbing elbows with Chile’s elite, she met Vice President Joe Biden. Manz told us they shared this exchange:

I said, “I am Beatriz Manz from Berkeley.”
Biden said “Oh, you must be a radical”
I responded: “Of course I am a radical!”

Beatriz Manz (left) with Vice President Joe Biden (right)

Beatriz Manz (left) with Vice President Joe Biden (right)

We love it!



What I Learned from Cesar Chavez

By Marc Grossman

To commemorate the March 31 birthday of Cesar Chavez, we offer some perspectives on the man from his longtime spokesman, speechwriter and personal aide, Marc Grossman, who knew the civil rights and farm labor icon for the last 24 years of his life and still serves as communications director for the Cesar Chavez Foundation. Grossman wrote the foreword to UC Press’s new reissue of Peter Matthiessen’s 1969 book, Sal Si Puedes (Escape If You Can).

Marc Grossman and Cesar Chavez

Marc Grossman (left), with Cesar Chavez in 1975

It was an honor when UC Press asked me to write a new foreword for the re-issued Sal Si Puedes: Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution, Peter Matthiessen’s moving 1960s portrait that helped inspire director Diego Luna’s just-released movie Cesar Chavez.

As part of a whirlwind cross-country tour of special screenings of the film, I met and briefly spoke with President Obama at the White House and left a copy of Matthiessen’s book. The President said he looked forward to reading it.

People often ask for insights about Cesar. Here are just a few.

Sometimes he’d give up assistants or secretaries. If he spotted talented young people, especially if they were farm workers, he’d convince them that they could be accountants, administrators or attorneys. He wanted office results but saw the greater good of helping people fulfill their dreams—dreams some didn’t even know they had at the time. He gave hundreds opportunities that no one would have offered him when he was a young migrant worker with an eighth-grade education. Thousands more credit the experience and training of working with Cesar and the United Farm Workers for lives of social activism and professional success. Wasn’t that what he wanted for farm workers too: the chance to negotiate with their employers as equals across the bargaining table—so they wouldn’t have to just take orders all their lives?

Cesar said that his job as an organizer was helping ordinary people do extraordinary things. He made everyone believe their jobs were important, from attorneys to cooks. He got people to believe in themselves—those whom almost no one considered very important, giving them faith that they could challenge and overcome one of California’s richest industries. Maybe that’s why Cesar—who like everyone in the movement lived in self-imposed poverty—succeeded where others with much better educations and a lot more money tried and failed for a hundred years before him.

He could be incredibly generous in helping people grow and investing them with the authority to do their work. Jerry Cohen, the UFW’s longtime general counsel, is still mystified by critics who claim that Cesar wouldn’t delegate authority. “Cesar gave me too much authority,” he said. “Once he had a sense of confidence in a person, Cesar had no problem delegating authority.” That was my experience too.

His novel approach to organizing, especially his insistence on nonviolence, sparked internal union dissent. Some left during his 25-day fast for nonviolence in 1968, but most people’s hearts and minds changed.

An equally divisive internal political battle in the late 1970s was over the UFW’s future direction. There were legitimate differences of opinions. Some wanted a traditional business union, focusing on wages, hours, and benefits for members. Cesar’s vision was more transformational. Of course he knew that the union had to produce economic progress. But he also saw the UFW as leading a universal movement to take on problems confronting farm workers and a larger, developing community of Latino working families and other poor people. As in the fight over nonviolence in the ’60s, Cesar’s vision prevailed then too, although critics still condemn him for it. Most Americans today would probably take Cesar’s side. If the UFW had been a conventional business union, would seventeen million Americans have boycotted grapes in 1975?

The lessons Cesar taught me, countless farm workers and millions of others he inspired who never worked on a farm are as relevant today as when Peter Matthiessen’s book was first published in 1969.



Greenfriar Calls Boom The Best Magazine In Many Years

The best new magazine I’ve seen in decades…It’s just very good stuff, filled with some of my favorite Golden State writers and characters. And it’s beautiful to hold and look at, too—a digital version might have all the same ideas, but each issue of Boom is really one for the bookshelf.” - Ken Layne,

Read the full review here.



Two UC Press Books Included in Long Now's Manual for Civilization

Which books would you turn to if you needed to rebuild civilization? Futurist Stewart Brand has compiled a list of “76 Books to Sustain and Rebuild Humanity” as part of the Long Now Foundation’s Manual for Civilization. The Manual is a collection of roughly 3,500 books collaboratively curated by artists, writers, and thinkers associated with the Foundation with an eye toward long-term thinking.

Brand, the Co-Chair and President of the Board of Directions, included two UC Press books on his list: Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations at #1, and The Encyclopedia of Earth: A Complete Visual Guide at #18.

See Stewart Brand’s wide-ranging list at Brain Pickings.