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Joel Eis Is A Man to Remember

The+sign+out+in+front+of+Rebound+Bookstore+reflects+the+store%27s+unique+atmosphere.
The sign out in front of Rebound Bookstore reflects the store's unique atmosphere.

The sign out in front of Rebound Bookstore reflects the store's unique atmosphere.

Emma Wall

Emma Wall

The sign out in front of Rebound Bookstore reflects the store's unique atmosphere.

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It’s Thursday. I was on deadline, and I had no interview for the rough draft of the article that’s due tomorrow. Walking down Fourth Street, I saw a big sign for Rebound books. When I walked in, I knew immediately that this place is eclectic. Books teetered from ever-growing piles that seem to defy the laws of physics, and though the place was small it was jam-packed with more than the average person will ever read in their lifetime.

“Excuse me?” I called to the back. “Can I maybe speak with the owner?”

An older gentleman with wise eyes came out, followed by a beautiful dark-haired woman.

The man exaggeratedly looked over each shoulder, and then winked at me.

“I guess that’d be me,” he said.

We sat down to start the interview, and I instantly learned that Joel Eis is extremely memorable.

Firstly, from the moment he started talking, he joked.

“I was born in a log cabin in Illinois, no that’s Lincoln. Wrong guy,” he said.

His sense of humor was pretty amazing, considering that he met me no more than half an hour before this.

Emma Wall
Joel Eis with a picture of him when he was younger reading a book.

He became a little more serious when I asked him about his past. Eis is 71 and grew up in a family of academics. He was surrounded by books when he was very young and showed me a photo of him where he couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 years old reading a book. As he got older, he became more and more involved in politics, which I learned as he was talking about his memoir.

“[It’s about] all the love affairs and all the disastrous parties, and all the train wrecks in terms of places I worked that didn’t work out, or whatever. All the victories in terms of surprise,” he said.

However, he had some conflict with his family over his political views.

“My dad said if I burn my draft card I was no son of his, literally,” he said.

Nevertheless, he continued with this work.

“I was really involved in civil rights stuff and the anti-war stuff, and a lot of stuff with the grape strike with farm workers … I know Cesar Chavez really well or did know him well. I knew Angela Davis, I haven’t seen her in years and years and years. I did a little stuff with Joan Baez, so a lot of the movers and shakers from that period,” he said. It is worth noting that this information was presented as casually as if it were the weather.

Fighting for the rights of farmworkers was not the only notable political movement that Eis was involved with.

“I worked with the draft resistance. A lot of my friends and roommates burned the draft card. One guy, he burned his draft card and the government didn’t believe him. And they sent it back, and he had to burn it twice. Another guy I know ate it,” he said disbelievingly. (Apparently, he wanted to “become the draft card”.)

He also told me that he had his phone tapped and was followed by the FBI, as well as being shot at. However, he presented this information without ceremony or drama.

“You make some choices on a daily basis that change your life. They close some doors and they open some others,” he said, shrugging.

However, Eis does not let his own political opinions sway the content of his store because he thinks that it is his responsibility to supply different types of information.

“We have all kinds of books. I’ve got books from the right wing here, I’ve got the Ann Coulter books here, it’s a bookstore. So our job is to provide books,” he said.

Having said that, he had a story that he wanted to tell me.

“Keep recording. We had a guy who came in the store here, little fella, he’s about 5 foot 4, 5 foot 5, rode a motorcycle, bow-legged guy, talked with a gravel voice, had one of those Yosemite Sam mustaches. Real sort of macho guy, you know, and he was a really right-wing guy. He would take Ann Coulter, and some of the other books, he came in and got everything we got,” he began.

Eis’s wife then mentioned to the man that they were liberals. When the man got angry and asked why all the bookstore owners were liberals, Eis asked him why he thought that was.

“The guy went into [expletive]. I mean his brain was like ‘aargh,’” he said, giggling.

Eis thinks that moments like these, where people communicate across political divides, are very important. He believes in the power of narratives, especially when they are delivered personally.

“It’s very important for people just like other people to stand up and say ‘I’m just like you. I’m a high school kid. I’m 16 years old. This is what I know. This is what I see.’ Particularly if they’re good at it. It’s crucial for people to do that. People are going to discount that if they want to, ‘oh, she’s just a high school kid,’” he said, shaking his head. Some of this disdain came from past experience, as Eis used to work with kids as young as 13 in the draft resistance. He continued to explain why young voices are valid.

“Yeah, but she’s a voter, you know, and she sees exactly what I’m seeing and if you’re good at that, and enough people present the narrative, in a way that people say ‘Oh, that’s kind of my experience too.’… you’re doing what I did to that guy, which is to face their own prejudices and face their own contradictions… [Narratives are] absolutely crucial. Particularly if that narrative is based on personal experiences,” he finished.

At this point, it had gotten to the end of the interview, and I wanted to know if he had any advice for high school or college students that wanted to get involved with social justice or just to be more generally aware of what is going on in the world.

“Stay open. Be eclectic. Judge with your own mind whether something makes physical, [and] makes emotional sense as well as factual sense. Certainly double check anything you read on the internet,” he said.

Eis then emphasized his first point.

“Stay open, don’t be afraid to speak your mind because it hasn’t all been said. There are new things to be said, new ground to be struck, for sure.”

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