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Mystery, murder, mayhem: Meet the man behind the Library’s detective fiction collection

Crime doesn’t pay.

But for Randal Brandt, it does.

For the past few years, in addition to Brandt’s primary job as the head of cataloging at The Bancroft Library, he has curated Bancroft’s California Detective Fiction Collection, numbering about 3,000 mystery novels set in the Golden State or written by California authors.

Of those, nearly 1,700 are Bay Area mysteries.

A particularly significant item? A first-edition copy of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. Although the book, which inspired the 1941 movie of the same name, starring Humphrey Bogart, doesn’t have its original dust jacket, “the title page is beautiful,” Brandt said.

“That’s definitely one of our collection highlights,” Brandt said.

The city of Berkeley makes appearances in a fair number of mysteries. For example, most of the action in Oakland native and longtime Berkeley resident Anthony Boucher’s first novel, 1937’s The Case of the Seven of Calvary, takes place on or near the UC Berkeley campus. (The Bancroft Library has a first-edition copy that the author presented to his mother.)

Even The Bancroft Library itself pops up in Julie Smith’s 1987 Huckleberry Fiend.

And in The Maltese Falcon, private detective Sam Spade sends his secretary across the bay by ferry to confirm facts with a UC Berkeley history professor.

“Part of what I love about mysteries is the sense of place — and what they say about the place,” Brandt said.

And it’s this place — in Berkeley at Morrison Library — that will serve as the backdrop for a night of mystery and intrigue Wednesday, featuring best-selling Northern California authors Laurie R. King, Sheldon Siegel, and Kelli Stanley. But more on that later.

Books, books, books

Brandt’s own journey to Berkeley began in the late ’80s.

Before moving here in 1989 — after graduating from Fresno State and right before the Loma Prieta earthquake  (“We had earthquakes, too, but nothing like that one”) — he came to Berkeley to visit a friend who was living here.

He remembers riding on the back of his friend’s motorcycle, checking out used bookstores.

But his interest in books goes back even further than that.

“One of my earliest memories of reading mystery fiction was reading Agatha Christie novels,” he said. “My mom would check them out from the library for herself, then pass them along to me.”

He also showed an interest early on in tales of adventure, devouring Walter Farley’s “Black Stallion” books, and, later, James Bond novels.

“I remember going to the library and getting an armload of books,” he said, “and returning them to get another armload.”

Brandt earned his Master’s in Library and Information Studies from UC Berkeley in December 1990, and he began working at the Library the next year. He’s been here ever since.

With his passion for mysteries, does Brandt think about penning his own?

“I have no inclination to write a novel,” he said, adding that he prefers writing about fiction. He has written introductions to works by the late David Dodge, his favorite author. (The Berkeley native wrote To Catch a Thief, which inspired the Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name.)

But true crime? Well, that’s another story.

“I got this email from someone out of the blue,” Brandt said. “She had been a student here. She wanted to know if I knew about the murder.”

The murder she was referring to happened nearly six decades ago, in 1960.

The scene of the crime? Doe Library.

Brandt had known about it, albeit vaguely. But the email prompted him to dig deeper — and do some sleuthing of his own, uncovering information that he intends to draw on for an article he plans to write about the case.

The killer was a brilliant man — he began to read and write at age 3, and he skipped at least three grades in school, according to his mother’s testimony after the murder — but he suffered from mental illness and trauma, he later said, because of the racial differences in his family: His mother was black, and his father was white.

The victim was a woman with whom he was in love. The two had been students at UC Berkeley.

According Brandt’s research, the murder took place in what is now the Roger W. Heyns Reading Room, on the second floor of Doe Library. Based on photographs of the crime scene he dug up in the San Francisco Examiner Photograph Archive, and comparing them to contemporary photographs of Doe found in the University Archives, he now has a good idea of the exact spot in the room where it likely occurred.

As for the details? They’ll be explored in Brandt’s article.

Though the case is intriguingly layered — with elements of race, mental illness, and trauma — one thing is for sure: “It’s a tragedy from start to finish,” Brandt said.

A night of mystery

Brandt wears many hats — many of them the detective variety.

Brandt has created a bibliography, called Golden Gate Mysteries, that, although incomplete as yet, contains 2,300 titles set in San Francisco and the Bay Area.

In 2011, he co-curated an exhibit in the Bernice Layne Brown Gallery, called Bullets Across the Bay, which drew on the Library’s materials to highlight East Bay and San Francisco’s deep tradition with mystery novels, and he helped organize a night of readings by local mystery authors.

Wednesday’s event — called Crime Does Not Pay — Enough! — is part of the Northern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America’s slate of Mystery Week events. Current and former MWA NorCal presidents Laurie R. King, Sheldon Siegel, and Kelli Stanley will read from the works of some of the founding members of the Northern California Chapter — works that Brandt hand-picked from the Library’s collection — as well as selections of their own works.

“We’re lucky to have so much literary talent in Berkeley and the Bay Area,” said Stacy Reardon, Literatures and Digital Humanities Librarian at UC Berkeley. “That creativity is fueled by an amazing history, particularly for the mystery genre. The format of Crime Does Not Pay — Enough! underscores the legacy that twentieth century detective fiction writers continue to have on some of its most successful authors today.”

Summer reading: How to Thrive in the Next Economy

How to Thrive in the Next Economy

How to Thrive in the Next Economy: Designing Tomorrow’s World Today
John Thackara
London: Thames & Hudson, 2015

In each chapter, this book addresses a wicked problem like water scarcity and provides a case study of how one or more communities have addressed the issue and been successful. The case studies show how large complex problems can be approached and are not so intractable.

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!

Vivid, vintage posters bring Bollywood exhibit to life

Students view the "Love Across the Global South" exhibit after its opening event on Oct. 6, 2017. (Photo by Cade Johnson for the University Library)
Students view the Love Across the Global South exhibit on opening night, Oct. 6, 2017. (Photo by Cade Johnson for the University Library)

The first thing you notice is its size.

Stretching across an 8-foot expanse, it features a blockbuster movie trifecta: crime, intrigue, a handsome leading man.

The six-panel billboard, digitally shrunk from its original size by about 30 percent, advertises the 1975 film Deewaar. (The movie, cited as a masterpiece of Bombay cinema — or Bollywood cinema, as it’s often called — influenced, among other works, Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire.)

And it’s just one of the vibrantly hued, richly textured, and beautifully preserved movie posters on display in a new exhibit at Doe Library’s Brown Gallery, called Love Across the Global South: Popular Cinema Cultures of India and Senegal.

The posters, dating from 1957 to 2011, were collected by exhibit co-curator Sugata Ray on his travels in India, and they offer eye-catching portals into the genre and its influence.

“Every single piece is an integral part of the story we tell,” co-curator Ivy Mills said.

Read the full story at stories.lib.berkeley.edu.

Come Write In at UC Berkeley’s Doe Library

National Novel Writing Month 2017

Have you ever thought about writing a novel but just didn’t think you had the time? You’re not alone. A small group of friends from the East Bay dared themselves to finish their novels in 30 days back in 1999, creating the foundation of what has become National Novel Writing Month. Since then, this small nonprofit, NaNoWriMo, has inspired a global event of epic proportions! Fifty thousand words in 30 days! Quantity over quality is the name of the game. Turn off your inner editor, and win.

Are you working on a thesis, dissertation, or any other writing project (creative or otherwise) but could use a bit of support from the collective energy of fellow students or colleagues to help you stay focused and provide some inspiration? NaNoWriMo isn’t just for novels anymore — be a​ ​NaNoWriMo​ ​“Rebel,” and work on your academic projects, an article, a chapter, final research paper, memoir, screenplay, etc., and possibly find some new writing buddies along the way!

The amazing team over at NaNoWriMo created this worldwide community of writers and a support system of libraries, bookstores, and other neighborhood spaces all over the globe called Come​ ​Write​ ​In​, where “Wrimos” gather and forge ahead toward their word count goals during their quest to win this book-in-a-month contest. With all the positive energy of over 300,000 participants, all writing together, winning is possible. Novelist or academic, all are welcome. Since 2007, the incredible spirit of NaNoWriMo continues to motivate me to keep pushing forward, and I hope it will inspire you as well!

Come​ ​Write​ ​In​, ​Doe​ ​Library:
Nov. 5​, ​1-4 p.m.,​ ​Room​ ​180​ ​Doe
Nov. 12, ​1-4 p.m.,​ ​Room​ ​180​ ​Doe
Nov. ​19, 1-3 p.m.,​ ​Room​ ​180​ ​Doe
Nov. ​30, ​6-9 p.m.​ ​(Thank​ ​Goodness​ ​We​ ​Did​ ​It​ ​Party!),​ ​Room​ ​303​ ​Doe

Sign up at NaNoWriMo.org, and join the East Bay Home Region to see the calendar of events in our area and beyond.

The Library attempts to offer programs in accessible, barrier-free settings. If you think you may require disability-related accommodations, please contact Shannon Monroe at least two weeks prior to the event at smonroe@berkeley.edu, 510-643-6151.

Hands-On 10: Building on the Built: Artists’ Books on Architecture

House book

Artists’ books defy conventional “reading” and involve the viewer through sight, touch, and physical manipulation. These books are too often locked behind exhibit cases, but the Environmental Design Library will have 20 books related to architecture on hand for you to touch, turn pages, and experience.

Friday, October 27 from 4-6 PM
Environmental Design Library Atrium
210 Wurster Hall

Wine and light refreshments will be served. Hosted by David Eifler, Jennifer Osgood, Molly Rose and Lauri Twitchell. See the libguide for more information.

The Library attempts to offer programs in accessible, barrier-free settings. If you think you may require disability-related accommodations, please contact the event sponsor, David Eifler, at 510-643-7422 or deifler@berkeley.edu two weeks prior to the event.

Summer reading: Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy
J.D. Vance
New York: Harper, 2016

Hillbilly Elegy is a memoir of JD Vance growing up in Middletown, Ohio—a town that has been through its share of economic transformations. After World War II, Middletown was a booming factory town with a thriving downtown, attracting residents from Kentucky’s Hill Country seeking a better life from the coal mines of Appalachia. By the time Vance was born, the factory had closed along with many downtown stores, leaving its residents in a state of poverty and social isolation. Hillbilly Elegy is the story of one family’s journey through the boom and bust cycles of Middletown. Along the way, it provides some insights into the way residents of Rust Belt towns (or at least one family) think about politics, work, education, and community and why many of them bought into the promises of Donald Trump in 2016.

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!

Survival by Design: A Panel Discussion on Natural Restoration, Vernacular Architecture, and Ecocities


Three books for the ENVI book talkTuesday, October 24, 7-8:30pm
210 Wurster Hall

Hurricanes, earthquakes, extreme heat and climate change necessitate positive visions. Three thinkers will discuss their work in environmental design, architecture and urban planning.

Mark Rauzon is the author of Isles of Amnesia: The History, Geography, and Restoration of America’s Forgotten Pacific Islands and Isles of Refuge. As a biologist he has worked in the field of island restoration, traveling throughout the American Insular Pacific. He will talk about the latest novel habitats he’s designing for cormorants on the new Bay Bridge and Bay Area support for wild birds.

Randolph Langenbach authored Don’t Tear It Down! Preserving the Earthquake Resistant Vernacular Architecture of Kashmir in 2005. This book makes the case for preserving earthquake resistant traditional architecture. He will elaborate the benefits and importance of wood construction: techniques for safety and esthetic harmony.

Richard Register is author of Ecocity Berkeley, Ecocities: Rebuilding Cities in Balance with Nature, and World Rescue: An Economics Built on What We Build. He explores how cities and regions might be designed for harmony with nature. His work is currently on display the Environmental Design Library exhibition cases.

In conjunction with the Ecocity Berkeley Exhibit (on display until December 15th).

A first-of-its-kind look at Chinese overseas treasures, scholarship

UC Berkeley's Chinese American archives, including photos, manuscripts and artwork, such as the piece shown here, is one of the largest in North America. (Image courtesy of The Bancroft Library, Chinese in California Collection. BANC PIC 1986.015:73--PIC)
The UC Berkeley Library’s collections include photographs, manuscripts, prints, and artwork, such as the piece shown here, of the Chinese in California and the American West. (Image courtesy of The Bancroft Library, Chinese in California Collection. BANC PIC 1986.015:73–PIC)

To trace the story of Asian American studies, you must go back to the 1960s. And any story about the genesis of the discipline would be incomplete without Ling-Chi Wang.

He was there from the beginning: In the late ’60s, amid student protests demanding diverse representation in academic programs, Wang helped establish the disciplines of Asian studies and ethnic studies at UC Berkeley.

Now a professor emeritus at UC Berkeley, Wang will deliver the keynote address Thursday at the Chinese Overseas Symposium, a first-of-its kind event focusing on UC Berkeley-oriented Chinese overseas scholarship and curatorship for an international audience.

‘Transforming American history’

With three other graduate students, Wang taught the first course in Asian American studies at UC Berkeley, in the winter quarter of 1969. Later that same year — and at the same time — the very first ethnic studies programs were born at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State. They were unlike anything the country had seen.

“Berkeley can justifiably be proud of its role in transforming American history and identity and making interdisciplinary American studies inclusive,” said Wang, who retired in 2006.

In just two years, in 2019, Berkeley’s Asian American studies program (now called Asian American and Asian diaspora studies) is marking its 50th anniversary — a momentous occasion for which Wang is involved with fundraising efforts.

“We have a proud legacy upon which we can build our future and engage the nation in the study of race and gender and in global diaspora studies,” he said. “We need to invest and change our priorities if we are to lead.”

‘Best of our highlights’

The event Thursday aims to honor that legacy — and to “sow the seeds of good will,” according to symposium co-chair Virginia Shih — while showcasing the Library’s world-class collections. The free, daylong event is a prelude of sorts to a conference Friday in San Francisco, called “This Land Is Our Land: Chinese Pluralities Through the Americas.”

And it’s a true collaboration, featuring an interdisciplinary group of speakers that includes librarians and professors alike.

“One of the exciting things about Chinese overseas is it spans the whole world,” said symposium co-chair Sine Hwang Jensen, who serves as Asian American studies and comparative ethnic studies librarian at UC Berkeley. “That’s why the perspectives that everyone brings — and we bring — contribute something unique to the topic.”

The Chinese Overseas Symposium's logo.
The Chinese Overseas Symposium’s logo

Harvey Dong, for example — one of the featured speakers — participated in the student strike in 1969 that led to the creation of ethnic studies and Asian American studies and will bring this perspective to the symposium in his talk about how the rediscovery of early Chinese American history has influenced generations of students. And Professor Emeritus Wang will talk about the past, present, and future of Chinese American studies at UC Berkeley and beyond.

In the afternoon, visitors will get a taste of what the UC Berkeley Library has to offer. The tours stop at four libraries — The Bancroft Library, the C. V. Starr East Asian Library, the South/Southeast Asia Library, and the Ethnic Studies Library, which boasts one of the largest Chinese American collections in North America. Tours will highlight the Library’s wide range of materials, including photographs, manuscripts, prints, and paintings documenting the experience of the Chinese in California and the American West, as well as materials from the vast collection of film critic and historian Paul Fonoroff — which is the largest Chinese film studies collection in North America — among other treasures.

“(The event) gives the people the best of our highlights — in one day,” said Shih, librarian for the Southeast Asia collections.

A relevant occasion

The symposium’s organizers hope that showcasing the Library’s resources will encourage scholars to take advantage of the materials — and perhaps even inspire scholarly collaborations.

But it comes a time when the country is in a state of deep division, with questions of identity and inclusion rising to prominence.

“Where we’re at politically, (the event) is more essential,” said symposium co-chair Jensen. “We’re having a national conversation about belonging.”

“It’s very relevant today,” she said.

Admission is free, and registration is closed, but those who show up will not be turned away, as space allows.

For details, including a schedule, go to the Chinese Overseas Symposium’s website.

Summer reading: Dark Matters

Dark Matters

Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness
Simone Browne
Durham: Duke University Press, 2015

Dark Matters is a fascinating book that deals with the way modern surveillance practices–ranging from CCTVs to facial recognition programming to airport security–have been formed through racial biases and the policing of Black life. Rooted in historical methods of surveillance and connecting to modern manifestations, it deals with the consequences of racially-motivated surveillance. It’s a really interesting and interdisciplinary combination of social theory, history, technology, and even pop culture.

I found out about this book as part of a connector course, Data and Ethics, taken along with Data 8, Foundations of Data Science. As data collection and surveillance practices have become intensely enmeshed into our daily lives, this is an important text to consider. Dark Matters is really compelling in how it situates technology in the scope of current, and historical, social and racial issues in modern America.

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!

Soups, wraps — and ice cream? Here’s the lowdown on UC Berkeley’s newest cafe.

Students order juice and coffee drinks at the opening of the new Press cafe outside the fourth floor of Moffitt Library on Oct. 2, 2017. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)
Students order juice and coffee drinks at the opening of the new Press cafe outside the fourth floor of Moffitt Library on Oct. 2, 2017. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)

What’s shiny, shaped like a box, and full of holes — and delicious food?

It’s UC Berkeley’s newest cafe.

Opening Oct. 2 outside the fourth floor of Moffitt Library — on a campus brimming with places to get coffee — Press, as it’s called, sets itself apart through its design as much as its fare.

“The cafe architecture is totally unique,” said Sukhjit Johal, who, as part of the Design Office, is in charge of the capital projects at the UC Berkeley Library, including Press. Like the reimagined fourth and fifth floors of Moffitt, the cafe was designed by Gensler, a firm with headquarters in San Francisco.

Perhaps the most stunning part of the design?

Square-shaped perforations, cut using waterjet technology — think of a Super Soaker on steroids — are dispersed throughout the cafe’s exterior metal panels. The cutouts allow light, generated by LEDs, to shine through.

“The full impact of the design (is) best viewed in the evening and at night, when the lights on all sides are turned on so the box glows like a jewel box,” Johal said. “When closed and lit, it takes on a bit of a mystery.”

The Press cafe will include lighting to increase visibility near Moffitt Library at night. Photo made in September 2017 during construction of the cafe. (Photo courtesy of Charles Payne/Gensler)
Press will include lighting to increase visibility at night. (Photo courtesy of Charles Payne/Gensler)
The Press cafe will include lighting to increase visibility near Moffitt Library at night. Photo made in September 2017 during construction of the cafe. (Photo courtesy of Charles Payne/Gensler)
The square-shaped cutouts were created using waterjet technology. (Photo courtesy of Charles Payne/Gensler)

Other interesting features?

The cafe uses an aircraft hangar door — adding a sense of drama and also serving a practical purpose: When open, the door acts as a shade. When is the last time you saw something that cool at Starbucks?

“Because of the size and location as well as the beautiful aesthetics, I think this place is more of a fun ‘snack shack,’” said Daryl Ross, a UC Berkeley alum who operates Press, as well as the Free Speech Movement Café, also at Moffitt, as well as cafes at the law and business schools, and owns Caffe Strada, on College Avenue; and Free House restaurant, on Bancroft Way. “(Press is) a place to get fun, healthy food that students can bring into the library and enjoy while they study.”

As with the architecture, the fare at Press goes beyond what you might expect from a traditional quick-stop cafe.

Besides serving up the requisite coffees and teas, Press offers soft-serve ice cream; smoothies such as the Green Machine, with kale, pineapple and ginger; hearty soups, such as Red Lentil Dal and Spinach; paleo muffins; and hot wraps, from roasted turkey with honey garlic aioli to peanut butter and banana with honey, according to Ross, who notes that more offerings are coming in the future.

As for the name?

Press (there’s no “The,” by the way) was favored because of its associations with libraries (think printing press), food (panini and coffee presses), current events (the press), and people (a press, or crowd, of people) — and it fit the cafe’s aesthetic, according to Elizabeth Dupuis, associate university librarian for educational initiatives and user services and director of the Doe, Moffitt, and subject specialty libraries.

Press will be open 7:30-5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday but will open a little later on the first couple of days — around 10 a.m., according to Ross.

Students visited the new Press cafe outside the fourth floor of Moffitt Library on its opening day, Oct. 2, 2017. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)
Students visit Press on its opening day. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)
Tea, muffins and fruit are among the items for sale at the opening of the new Press cafe outside the fourth floor of Moffitt Library on Oct. 2, 2017. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)
Tea, muffins and fruit are among the items for sale at Press. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)

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