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Capitol Environs: A look at the Living Library

Take a cursory view of Sacramento, and this town would appear to be nothing more than just another state capital, home to politicians, lobbyists and a bunch of column-lined marble buildings with nearly nude statues affixed to them. Under the surface, however, Sacramento is teeming with scholars and intellectuals; artists, writers, musicians, architects, poets, culinary geniuses, and people who have lead rich and interesting lives. The Sacramento Living Library, being held at Time Tested Books, is a brand new lecture series that shines a spotlight on some of the River City’s most extraordinary and proactive individuals.

The Living Library series is the brainchild of Peter Keat, the co-owner of Time Tested Books; a midtown fixture since it opened in 1980. Keat is a warm-hearted, middle-aged man who greets everyone who walks through Time Tested’s front doors with a kind, genuine “hello” (Keat’s regular customers refer to him by his first name). Assessing the diverse glut of Sacramento’s living legends, it seemed only natural to Keat to give these folks a forum wherein they could discuss their trials, tribulations and successes in front of an audience.

“We’ve had a number of authors here for events from all over, and this year we had a poetry series,” explains Keat. “But we wanted to draw attention to Sacramento people, and what Sacramentans had to offer each other, and so we thought-up a series of living legends; people who have something significant to say about Sacramento history and the Sacramento area.”

Assisting Keat in this endeavor are Finian Scott-Small, Mazelle Lolmaugh and Midtown Monthly’s own Tim Foster, who will be hosting. “Peter mentioned the Living Library concept to me last summer and asked me if I could think of any people that I’d like to see speak,” explains Foster, via email. “I thought it was a really great concept and I worked with them on some ideas for the series.”

 “We really are so pleased that we got people who are the top Sacramento notables,” Keat says. Those notable Sacramento luminaries include Sacramento Bee associate editor Ginger Rutland, Darrell Corti, the president of Corti Brothers Italian Grocery Store, and past Mayors Burnett Miller, Phil Isenberg, Anne Rudin and Heather Fargo, among others.

 “I’m sure the first six months will be successful,” Keat notes of these speaking engagements, which will take place during the first half of 2010. So, what about the next six months? “The challenge is to find people of an even remotely comparable draw.”

 “It’s going to be hard to follow-up,” Keat chuckles.

 The first person being interviewed in the Sacramento Living Library series will be Russ Soloman, which seems like an obvious and natural choice. Soloman was, after all, the founder of the once famous and internationally renowned Tower Records/Books/Video empire, and is now the current owner of R5 Records on Broadway. Well into his 80’s, Soloman shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. There is no denying that Soloman is quite an interesting character.

 Interviewing Soloman for this event will be his long-time friend (and the editor-in-chief of The Sacramento Press) David Watts Barton. “We’ll be talking about Tower and R5,” Barton explains. Despite the presence of more downs than ups currently in the record industry, Barton is quick to note Soloman’s dedication and enthusiasm for selling recorded music. “He’s very up on things, so I expect that we’ll have an interesting conversation about things coming down the pipe.”

 “We’ve gotten a lot of suggestions for other people,” notes Keat of possible panelists. The names on the list of potentials Keat is kicking around includes cookbook author and owner of her namesake restaurant, Biba Caggiano, Sacramento District Attorney Jan Scully, and the famous literary figures William Vollmann and Joan Didion. “We’re talking about getting someone who’s an expert in Sacramento baseball, and we’ll probably have him here in October.”

 “I hope people realize that Sacramento is full of amazing people with amazing stories to tell,” reiterates Foster. “We actually had dozens of people on the ‘wish list’ as speakers, but we only had 12 slots. Once we started putting everything together it was like, ‘Wow, I can’t wait to hear this or that person speak.’”

The first six months of hosting great speakers, however, is what Keat and his partners are focusing on for now. The Sacramento Living Library will take place every third Sunday at Time Tested Books, with the doors open at 6pm, and the discussions starting at 7pm. These engagements are free and open to the public. “We anticipate that there will be a question and answer period at the end,” adds Keat. “And we may, in some cases, have people write questions on cards, forward the cards, and have somebody screen the questions.”

The Sacramento Living Library hopes to expose Sacramento residents to the rich and diverse histories, insights and perspectives of those individuals who have helped shape this city into what it is today. People who, in their own subtle and dynamic way, have kept mediocrity and cultural vacancy at bay. At first blush Sacramento may seem like nothing more than a political pit stop, but thanks to Peter Keat and company, the Sacramento Living Library will finally shine a light on the intellectual lifeblood flowing just below Sacramento’s surface.

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