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Ode to a Bookman

James Bullard Kennedy, July 13, 2020

By Bondo Wyszpolski, Contributor

For two decades, Easy Reader and Random Lengths News published JB Kennedy’s commentaries, devilnitions and poetry as often as possible.

He had strong opinions and wasn’t afraid to express them, especially during the George W. Bush presidency when we were frogmarched into a war on false pretenses.

“He was an original skeptic with a cunning and cutting sense of humor,” Random Lengths’ publisher James Allen pointed out. 

Kennedy had a bookshop two doors down from Random Lengths on Pacific Avenue in the 1990s.

Kennedy was also curmudgeonly and he took pride in this. But if you came to know him, then you saw behind that visage and would realize how dedicated he was to fine literature. I often heard him speak at length about Robinson Jeffers, Ezra Pound, Octavio Páz, James Joyce, e.e. cummings, Wallace Stevens and many other of our finest mid-century poets.

I’m not sure how many secondhand bookstores he owned during his half-century as a bookseller, but when I met him in the latter 1970s he had a shop on Pier Avenue in Hermosa Beach. I’d stopped in with my then-girlfriend and we both found books to buy. Strangely, I remember the titles I set down on the counter (Beyond the Tragic Vision and The Mind of the European Romantics), and my friend Suzanne bought at least one book on Celtic lore.

Kennedy’s first words were, “Ah! People who read,” implying that we clearly hadn’t come seeking the latest Sidney Sheldon or Jackie Collins or whoever else was on the bestseller list at that time.

There were additional bookstores — in Redondo Beach, San Pedro and Torrance. It was after chancing upon the San Pedro location that Irishman Noel O’Hara wrote an article claiming that he’d found the best bookstore in the world. No small praise, that! But no matter the location, each Jan. 27, when Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart racked up another birthday, one could walk into the store and hear the glorious sounds of this music master, and there would always be free cupcakes and punch to celebrate the occasion.

In 2013, Kennedy was the star of Easy Reader’s lone literary soirée, hosted at Live at the Lounge in downtown Hermosa Beach. He graces the cover (in glorious black and white) of the issue that inspired the event. We saluted him then and we salute him now. The South Bay has lost someone very special; and we will be poorer for it because, truly, JB Kennedy was one of a kind.

JB Kennedy was born Aug. 17, 1932 in Denver, Colorado. He leaves behind his wife, Tina, a younger brother, Jusdon Kennedy, and two daughters. JB’s  father was an evangelical minister and his mother owned a religious bookstore. Tina Kennedy told Random Lengths that Kennedy was self-educated by reading and that his introduction into literature and writing came via the Bible.

Kennedy was the author of Hellexicon, late entries to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary, a satirical dictionary. Bierce was a American Civil War soldier, journalist and writer. Devil’s Dictionary consisted of common words followed by humorous and satirical definitions. Kennedy’s Hellexicon was written over three decades as a series of installments for magazines and newspapers.


Making America Irate Again

There is no time to mourn or ponder.

Decency has been buried under

Wild mendacity.

Conscience commands that we

Summon thunder.

Morality has been torn asunder.

Welcomed a reign of rapacity.

Electoral college ordained the blunder.

Conscience commands that we

Summon thunder.

Our fierce resolve can’t veer or wander.

Focused tenacity exposing depravity

Must generate uncommon

Must generate uncommon wonder.

Conscience commands that we

Summon thunder —

The thunder of intemperate rage —

Rage that eclipses and eliminates

The toxic trumpery

Shaming and defaming unUnited States.

—JB Kennnedy


Bondo Wyszpolski is the former art director at the Easy Reader and current arts and entertainment editor and photographer at the publication. He has written for numerous publications throughout the South Bay.

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