Sunday, April 12, 2015

Chicoan’s memoir focuses on politics

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Robert M. (Bob) Jackson has made Chico his home for over four decades. Retired as a Professor of Political Science, he served as Dean of the School of Graduate, International and Sponsored Programs at Chico State University. Now, he’s turned his life story into a series of reflections on war and peace, poverty, privilege, polio, and political science (he calls it “Polly Sigh”), and the mystery of life.

“Wherever I Go...: A War Baby’s Tales” ($9.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle) begins with Jackson’s birth on November 6, 1944 “in the midst of the deadliest war in history.”

“Rather than cheating or fighting, for which I’ve never had any talent,” Jackson writes, “it was my mouth that got me in trouble.” The chapters of his book, which include family photographs, provide the reader with the sometimes salty observations on Jackson’s travels around the globe and his exploration of the inner life.

In 1952 his two brothers were struck with polio as was his father, who was later also plagued by a series of heart attacks. Recent generations know little of the polio scares back then. “I learned early in life that fear of the unknown can cause individuals and even neighborhoods to behave in selfish and even cruel ways.” Others reached out to help. “This generosity of spirit ... transcends the color of one’s skin.”

He worked at a steel mill in the mid-60s and got a taste of the civil rights movement and later worked for the election of Eugene McCarthy on an anti-war platform. “This war baby concluded that if humanity’s self-destruction is to be avoided, it is not new institutions that are needed. Rather, it is a profound shift in human consciousness.”

“So,” he asks at one point, “what is it that I know? ... I understand and accept that along with Divine Spirit, I am the co-creator of my life experience, for I am responsible for my attitude and actions. There is nothing outside that I need to have in order to ‘fix’ me.”

Controversial and outspoken, this is Bob Jackson. Wherever he went--there he was.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Good news

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Imagine ancient Rome more than two millennia ago during civil war, and the word that came to Octavian’s followers. “‘Good news! Octavian Caesar has won a great victory!’ This is good news about something that has just happened.”

Rome “was poised between the news about something that had happened--his decisive victory--and the expectation of something that would soon happen, namely his return in triumph. That is what news does: it creates a new period of time. ... And your life, right now, would be different as a result. Something has happened; something therefore will happen. And the way things are right now is different as a result.”

For Biblical scholar N.T. Wright, the gospel, the Easter story, is, infinitely more powerfully, “Simply Good News” ($24.99 in hardcover from HarperOne; also for Amazon Kindle). Subtitled “Why The Gospel Is News And What Makes It Good,” the book notes that “The good news that Jesus announced, like the good news that his first followers announced about him, was not a piece of advice, however good. It was about something that had happened, about something that would happen as a result, and about the new moment between those two, the moment in which people were in fact living, whether they realized it or not.”

What is this news? “That the one true God has now taken charge of the world, in and through Jesus and his death and resurrection. The ancient hopes have indeed been fulfilled, but in a way nobody imagined. ... Life has come to life and is pouring out like a mighty river into the world, in the form of a new power, the power of love. ... One day it will happen, completely and utterly, to all creation; and we humans, every single one of us, whoever we are, can be caught up in that transformation here and now. This is the Christian gospel.”

Though Wright deals with the distortions of the Easter message grown up over the centuries, outside the church and within, ultimately his insightful and compelling account is a humbling story about the God who humbled himself to give us all the best news possible.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sitton in on class

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When W. Gary Sitton was asked to teach a graduate-level course at Chico State University called Technical Startups, he insisted on a class time of 6:00 a.m. and the freedom to pick his own guest presenters. “We ended up with twenty-five registered students, mostly electrical engineering, computer engineering, and computer science majors.” The class ran on coffee and Krispy Kreme, he writes, and though the focus was on high-tech entrepreneurism many of the business lessons shared that spring of 2014 would be applicable to any startup.

So a book was born, a “translation” of the course into the written word, mixing business acumen with the personal. “Fire Up Your Startup And Keep It Up: Lessons From Twelve Business And Entrepreneur Experts” ($18.95 from iUniverse, also for Amazon Kindle) begins with Sitton’s own story.

Born in Chico, he found his calling in software development and in 1981 founded Bi-Tech which, according to Bloomberg Business, “offers software and processing solutions for financial services, higher education, and the public sectors.” Still based in Chico, Bi-Tech is now “a subsidiary of SunGard Data Systems Inc.”

Though he sold the company in 1995, Sitton continues his close ties to the industry, and the invited guests (who covered marketing and sales, human resources, customer service, research and development, going global and social media) generally had connections with Bi-Tech. Each chapter includes a list of “lessons learned.” James Bennett, Vice President of Technology at Bi-Tech, discusses the clash of cultures when companies merge. Sitton’s wife, Judy, “the conscience of Bi-Tech,” writes about creating effective customer service.

Sitton himself closes the book with a list of dogmas (that shouldn’t be) and best practices. Consider “Axiom #9: Hire a few people who tease and cut up (they keep things light.)” That’s reflected in the book, with plenty of street smarts stirred in.

Sitton will be signing copies of his book at Lyon Books in Chico on Monday at 7:00 p.m. An archive of an interview with Sitton, scheduled to air on Nancy’s Bookshelf, with host Nancy Wiegman, should be available at kchofm.podbean.com.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Acclaimed novelist coming to Chico

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Christian Kiefer, on the English faculty at American River College in Sacramento, writes in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada where he lives with his wife and five sons.

Kiefer’s brooding, probing style is on full display in “The Animals” ($25.95 in hardcover from W.W. Norton; also for Amazon Kindle), the story of Bill Reed, a loner who operates the North Idaho Wildlife Rescue. Among the hurt animals is Bill’s beloved grizzly, Majer, blind now but a lover of marshmallows. Bill is in love with Grace, the veterinarian, and her son Jude, both abandoned by Grace’s now ex-husband.

But Bill is a man with a past--Nat is his real name--and he is forced to confront it when his former lifelong friend Rick tracks him down after his release from prison. It is a past of booze, cocaine and gambling, abject poverty, thievery and broken friendships. There is violence here and loss upon loss and a final, deadly confrontation.

Yet something else. Nat remembers when he was thirteen going shooting with his brother and Rick. They came across a red-tailed hawk struggling on the ground and put it in a coat.

“The hawk is quiet but you can feel its life even through the jacket, a kind of fierce and fragile whirring that seems to run up through your arms and into your chest. What thoughts you have are about the impossibility of this moment, that some great and mighty creature of the air might find itself broken beside a roadway just at the moment that you and your friend and your brother happen to pass. And yet here it is between your hands, a wild thing as if from some storybook.”

That memory is part of Nat, too. “But the universe held its workings in secret,” he understood, “and a man could claim nothing from that void and instead would need to design in that obscure and private place that is his heart the laws that would govern his life.”

Kiefer will be honored with a book signing at Lyon Books in Chico, Thursday, March 26 at 7:00 p.m.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Women of mud and manure

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Gail Jenner is no stranger to Chico. She graduated from Chico State University “but we are still in Etna (five generations on the ranch now).” In her latest book she’s an editor, collecting dozens of short reminiscences from ranch and farm women and contributing four essays herself.

“Ankle High And Knee Deep: Women Reflect On Western Rural Life” ($16.95 in paperback from TwoDot; also for Amazon Kindle) features contributions from both new and established writers, grouped into such categories as “horse sense” and “lessons.” Jenner notes that “this is not a faith-based book, but this collection of essays does underscore traditional values while providing an ofttimes humorous look at life spent at the wrong end of a tractor, cow, or horse.”

Among Jenner’s lessons: “Don’t hold onto trouble; you’ve got to spread the manure around to make it effective fertilizer.” Those who live on the land, and from the land, can’t help reflecting. “Maybe,” she says, “that’s why farmers eventually become philosophers.”

Chico contributor Laurel Hill-Ward remembers “Mom Was A Beekeeper.” “When Mom got a call from the school, she’d drop everything and head to the rescue of one of her seven children.” She was unmistakable in her “men’s khaki Dickies” and “men’s size ten high-top Redwing boots,” an outfit designed “to keep bees from crawling up her pant legs.”

Madeleine DeAndreis-Ayers knows “Why Liberals Shouldn’t Own Chickens.” “What the liberal eventually learns after he recycles all the self-help books he has read is that a rooster will always be a rooster.” That means “he will always sexually assault every hen within reach and in full view of everyone, including the children who are being raised without television because of the media’s gratuitous sex and violence.” In the end, the liberal will discover that the ax that chops wood “has another use.”

Funny, poignant, telling. As Jenner writes in “Doing What Comes Naturally,” “Deep character is what is cultivated when you have to rely on the seasons and weather--and hope.”

The author was interviewed by Nancy Wiegman of KCHO’s Nancy’s Bookshelf, and the archive is here: http://bit.ly/1EyyIXH.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Chico author’s compelling novel

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In the acknowledgements to her just-published novel, Chicoan Emily Gallo makes special mention of Tin Roof Bakery and Cafe, “where I spent many hours writing over endless cups of Earl Grey.”

Her protagonist, Finn (Finnegan) McGee, who “arrived in New York at age eighteen after a dirt-poor, miserable childhood in Ireland and never went back,” favors whiskey rather than tea. McGee became a best-selling writer but now his best-selling days seem long past. After the death of his second wife, McGee, penniless and often drunk, heads to Los Angeles to stay with his daughter Kate, “an attractive, athletic, forty-two year old with a short pixie haircut, slightly built and spry like her father.”

Kate lives in a town where everybody walks, a place that’s a magnet to the homeless of every description. “Venice Beach” ($14.95 in paperback from CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; also for Amazon Kindle) ushers the reader into the sights and sounds of the famous boardwalk.

“There were singers and dancers doing everything from reggae to hip-hop to eye-popping break dancing. A muscular man wearing a bright royal blue speedo whizzed past on rollerblades followed by a man adorned with twigs and leaves walking on stilts. There were acrobats walking across tightropes and jumping over a line of six or seven people touching their toes. A man did a twenty-minute interactive show walking barefoot on broken glass as professional as any you’d see in Las Vegas.”

As Finn sinks further into booze and pills, he befriends some of the boardwalk oddballs, like Bella, a hoarder and Holocaust survivor, and Jed, a mysterious man with a cat named Mother whose past becomes both Finn’s liberation and maybe his demise.

The novel is compulsively readable and more is promised from Gallo’s talented pen.

The author will be reading and signing copies of her book at Lyon Books in Chico on Thursday, March 12 at 7:00 p.m. She will be the featured guest on Nancy’s Bookshelf, with Nancy Wiegman, March 13 at 10:00 a.m on Northstate Public Radio, KCHO, 91.7 FM, or streaming at mynspr.org.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

The Year of the Ram

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There’s a tale to be told. “The Jade Emperor, ruler of Heaven and Earth, wished to have a big birthday celebration. He invited his favorite animals from throughout the land, and organized a Great Race to see which one of them could reach the palace first.”

The winner would become the first Jade Star, but other stars would be created as each animal crossed the finish line. Just how some of them got across the river is part of the charm of “The Great Race: How The Chinese Zodiac Came To Be” ($17.95 in hardcover from Greenleaf Book Group Press, minimagellan.com; also for Amazon Kindle). Written by Charles Huang and Stacey Hirata, with illustrations by Jerome Lu, the book explains the ordering of the lunar calendar, from the rat to the pig, twelve animals in all.

Huang “co-created the Guitar Hero video game franchise” and Hirata, “a fourth-generation Japanese-American ... raised in San Francisco,” has led “creative teams for hundreds of video game creators.”

I also found out that Hirata has visited Chico several times and as a child swam in the Feather River during the hot summers. She dedicates the book “to my amazing husband Ford (Year of the Monkey) and my favorite twins Kennedy and Ryder (Year of the Ox).”

Some of the animals take advantage of others in the race. The Rat was small and asked the Ox for a ride. “The Ox, being generous and kind, agreed and began to cross the river. When the Ox reached the other side, the Rat quickly jumped off his back and ran across the finish line, earning first place in the Great Race.” The Ox came in second.

The Rooster found a raft stuck in some weeds, and enlisted “the friendly Monkey and the rugged Ram” to help. “The Jade Emperor was so impressed with their cooperation that he awarded the Ram eighth place, the Monkey ninth place, and the Rooster tenth place.”

The Chinese New Year on February 19 ushered in the Year of the Ram (or Goat or Sheep, depending on who’s telling the story). And now you know why.