Unfair share: A 1999 Oakland rave is the starting scene of Joseph Menn‘s All the Rave: the Rise and Fall of Shawn Fanning’s Napster (Crown, $25). Former hacker Fanning, just seventeen when he dreamed up the file-sharing technology that would soon bloom into history’s fastest-growing business, manned a booth there with fellow founders who, Menn reflects, “were all on E at the time.”
Start-ups will never be the same again. Charting that giddy rise and costly sheer drop, the LA Times‘ Menn discovered “a ton of things that were completely shocking.” Chief among these were the “long rap sheets and checkered track records” of company founders such as Shawn’s uncle and initial Napster chairman John Fanning, who had an extensive history of lawsuits and unpaid debts. Another Napster honcho faced legal troubles for stalking a former girlfriend.
“This was the sort of stuff that journalists around here never had the time or inclination to check out when they were covering new start-ups,” says Menn, who never reported on Napster during its heyday — a time when being an investigative journalist was difficult “because everything was absurd on its face.”
Moshi moshi: His name echoes that of a hamburger icon, but Ranald McDonald was the real-life son of a Scotsman and a Chinook princess. Learning Japanese from two shipwrecked sailors on the Northwest coast circa 1835, when Japan was officially closed to foreign visitors, McDonald went there anyway and taught English to promote friendlier relations between the two nations. San Francisco anime expert Frederik L. Schodt spent twelve years researching and writing a biography, Native American in the Land of the Shogun ($19.95), new from Berkeley’s Stone Bridge Press.
“At times I did question my own sanity,” Schodt says of those years. “But I identify with McDonald as something of an outsider. He is an excellent example of a ‘lost’ history, a story that needs to be better known.”
Ready for my close-up: Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser interviewed Berkeley-born porn queen Nina Hartley for his new book, Reefer Madness (Houghton Mifflin, $23), an exposé of illegal and black-market businesses. Looking “like an attractive aerobics instructor or a graduate student” when she arrived for their tête-à-tête, Hartley told Schlosser that most of the big wheels behind big porn are Republicans. No word on whether the author, who will be at Cody’s May 14, bought one of those $149.95 Nina Hartley Love Dolls.
Subcontinental drift: Indian-born Bem Le Hunte now lives in Berkeley. Her debut novel The Seduction of Silence (Harper San Francisco, $25.95) — a family saga that starts on an Ayurvedic farm — was a best-seller when released in her home country.
“Authors are very celebrated in India and it was very exciting” to see the novel succeed. It was a bit unnerving, too, as shortly before the book’s launch, an editorial appeared in the Indian press decrying the fact that “most Indian authors you’ve heard of are nonresident Indians” — think V.S. Naipaul, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, and Bharati Mukherjee. (Those last two have Berkeley links as well.) “There’s an idea that someone who calls herself an Indian author should walk Indian soil and breathe Indian air. But that’s the dilemma of the Indian diaspora — this feeling that you betray your country by leaving it.”
One-stop shopping: Too busy to consider the Upanishads, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the wisdom of Chris Rock, and feng shui? The Little Big Book of Life (Welcome, $24.95) includes bits of these and more. The Little Big Books series is the brainwave of publisher Lena Tabori, who divides her time between New York and Orinda.
The Little Big Books “are antidotes to what is wrong, frightening, and unkind in the world. They are for families” — except, she notes, The Little Big Book of Love, which is “pretty much between man and woman.”
Being bicoastal “feeds everything I love,” Tabori says. “I feel New York’s energy in the taxicab, in the subway. It’s very addictive. The Bay Area spreads out its women’s groups, its meditation centers, its physical beauty like a gift. The man I love is here. It’s very restorative. Both coasts question our president. That’s very reassuring.”