Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ben Tarnoff's "The Bohemians"

Ben Tarnoff has written for the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Lapham’s Quarterly, and is the author of A Counterfeiter’s Paradise: The Wicked Lives and Surprising Adventures of Three Early American Moneymakers.

Tarnoff applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature, and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Bohemians, a twenty-four-year old poet named Ina Coolbrith rides a streetcar to the end of the line. The last stop is North Beach, which in today’s San Francisco describes a stretch of strip clubs and bad Italian restaurants trafficked chiefly by tourists and perverts, but which in the San Francisco of 1865 described a tranquil stretch of actual beach overlooking the water. “How grand the Bay looks with its white waves dashing on the shore,” Coolbrith wrote, “and stern old Alcatraz yonder, standing like a tried and faithful sentinel keeping watch and ward over the hidden treasures of the deep.”

Alcatraz kept watch over more than the hidden treasures of the deep. In 1865, it was the site of a heavily fortified Union garrison, ready to repel a Confederate incursion that never arrived. The Civil War never came to California. The fighting was always far away. In the 1860s, San Francisco enjoyed a decade of peace and prosperity, luxuriating in its metropolitan grandeur, flexing its imperial muscle as the financial, commercial, and industrial powerhouse of the Far West. It also boasted a thriving literary scene to which Coolbrith belonged, along with Charles Warren Stoddard, Bret Harte, and Mark Twain. While the rest of the country was busy killing each other, these four writers would create a Bohemian moment that would invigorate the region, fascinate the country, and change the course of American literature.
View the trailer for The Bohemians, and visit Ben Tarnoff's website.

Writers Read: Ben Tarnoff.

--Marshal Zeringue