Friday, September 22, 2006
Former Chicoan explores some fanatical hobbyists; returns to Chico for book signing
By DAN BARNETT
Denver-based freelance journalist Shari Caudron, once a reporter for the Enterprise-Record, is a Chico State University graduate and a former communications director of the Chico Chamber of Commerce. She will be returning to Chico
next week to sign copies of her new book, "Who ARE You People? A Personal Journey Into the Heart of Fanatical Passion in America" ($14.95 in paperback from Barricade Books). The book signing will take place at Barnes and Noble at 7 p.m. Wednesday, and the public is invited.
Caudron admits to being a dabbler. In her 20s "I hooked up with a group of pagan, Mother-Earth, goddess-worshipping feminists. I became a vegetarian. I bought Tarot Cards. I attended week-long festivals in Yosemite National Park with topless 'womyn' who chanted, wore crystals, believed in past lives."
That lasted about a year. Then she took up running, followed by "backpacking, Buddhism, Scrabble, snowshoeing, bridge, belly dancing, golf, gardening, fencing, piano and an abundant amount of non-professional, highly unstructured wine tasting." Though Angela, her partner of more than a decade, was big-time into dogs (well, dog-sledding), none of her other friends had any "singular, all-consuming interest."
So, asked Caudron, where was the passion? She discovered a wealth of passionate special-interest hobby groups online and decided to report on some of them, at the same time trying to discover what they had that she didn't.
She begins with the National Barbie Doll Collectors Convention in Denver, moves on to the Three Lakes Ice Fishing Contest in Granby, Colo.; pigeon-racing in New York; the World Boardgaming Championships in Baltimore; the annual Mayberry Days Festival in Mount Airy, N.C.; a meet-up with the Grobanites, rabid, mostly middle-aged female followers of young singer Josh Groban (one observer said they were "like a post-modern menopausal version of the Deadheads"); and a science-fiction convention in Illinois.
She also tracks tornados with storm chasers in Kansas and attends the Califur Conference at the Holiday Inn in Costa Mesa, at which participants ("followers of furry fandom" who find a certain eroticism in the anthropomorphic representation of animals) often dress up in animal costumes (like Disney characters) or even surgically alter their faces to look more like animals.
It's all about the people. Everywhere she goes Caudron meets social misfits who have found others just as passionate about, say, Legos or Otis the Mayberry town drunk and who fit right in. Though never sharing those passions, Caudron does admit that, for example, "these Mayberry fans are teaching me what it feels like to be fully yourself without apologies."
Later in the book the author investigates the historical sources of hobby passion and looks at its psychological and even genetic basis. There have been "50 years of socially approved fun combined with 30 years of self-absorbed self-interest, 20 years of wealth, 10 years of online connectivity, (and) five years of social trepidation," as even one's neighbors are less trusted than your own group of like-minded Barbie Doll collectors or filk singers ("filk" is a folk song with a science-fiction theme) or pigeon racers. Some years ago the book "Bowling Alone" suggested the unraveling of community in the United States; Caudron finds community alive and well in passionate hobbyists.
In her quest to find her own single-minded obsession, Caudron is often funny and self-deprecating, and in her sometimes salty accounts of "passionate fanatics" she finds at long last what she is really looking for. Herself.
Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.