Book em: Contra Costa Jewish fest spotlights locals

People of the book, this is your festival!

The 17th annual Contra Costa Jewish Book Festival is just around the corner, and while the organizers have always attempted to broaden readers’ horizons, this year they’ve lowered their own, in a manner of speaking.

Instead of bringing in authors and lecturers from around the country, they’re focusing on their own back yard. Fortunately for Riva Gambert, the event’s organizer, it’s a very nice one.

“With the great universities of the Bay Area, so many people are attracted here and so many authors find their muse in this region,” she said. “Often we look so far afield. But there are so many brilliant [local] authors we want to expose to our book-reading audience.”

Gambert is hoping attendees will be wowed by the 12-pack of Bay Area literati who will be lecturing, debating and leading workshops at the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center in Walnut Creek from Saturday, Nov. 5 to Monday, Nov. 14. The far-ranging topics vary from superheroes to Sephardim to Saul Bellow.

Gerard Jones, author of “Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book” accounts for the superheroes segment, and will explain the vital contributions of Jewish artists and authors to the comics industry. (Jones, a busy man, made a vital contribution himself to this week’s j. cover story.)

The Saul Bellow portion of the program will be provided by Daniel Y. Harris, a Lerhaus Judaica teacher who will be leading a seminar that ponders the legacy of the recently departed writer.

Harris wonders if one of th a foundation that Bellow assumed his readers possessed.

“We’re going to deal with whether or not Saul Bellow is an anachronism,” said Harris.

“He suffers from what a lot of truly marvelous writers suffer from, and that was, first and foremost, he wrote for himself because he had to. He was a universe of one … You can still read those novels and gain great pleasure from them, but, from time to time, you’ll have to look up the references. Perhaps Bellow thought everybody would know those, but today you’ll have to look them up.”

While Harris can deliver a wicked lecture, he’s none too likely to break into song. That’s not the case for Rivka Amado. In fact, she guarantees it.

The Israeli-born professor of political science took a turn inward two years ago, and has since been researching the intricacies of Sephardi culture. This, of course, involves Ladino language and music.

“I’ve learned a lot of history about my ancestors in Spain and I’ve learned a lot of Ladino music,” said the Berkeley resident.

Her presentation will be sliced neatly in half between lecture and song.

“It’s part of my upbringing and it’s coming back. It’s really beautiful,” she said. “Ladino was always buried in me.”

The Contra Costa Jewish Book Festival runs Saturday, Nov. 5 to Monday, Nov. 14 at the Contra Costa JCC, 2071 Tice Valley Blvd., Walnut Creek. For a complete schedule e-mail [email protected] or call (510) 839-2900 x.253.

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Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.