Thursday, June 14, 2018

"Ward Of The Court"

In 1989 Christopher Hall began his studies at the Northwestern University School of Dentistry in Chicago. He was twenty-two when he received his acceptance packet as he was completing four challenging years as a chemistry major at Chico State University ("I was happy to be done with all those meticulous labs").

He reminded himself that at Chico "I had received an excellent education. I had put myself on firm ground by earning my Bachelor of Science degree. I would always be able to take care of myself." Hall's memoir makes it clear that this was not a boast but rather a realization that such inner confidence had saved his life. 

"My dad had died when I was fourteen years old," he writes in "Ward Of The Court" ($5.99 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle). "Sometime during the first four years of my life, my father was imprisoned for killing a man. … My mother is a tragic figure; when my father was imprisoned … she turned to alcohol. …"

Born in Watts, at four Hall "was declared a ward of the court." He was placed in a foster home, "the beginning of a journey that would include two more foster homes, four boys’ homes, and multiple stints in three different Juvenile Hall facilities."

Something began growing inside Hall, some sense of future prospects. "I knew that to have a fighting chance I would have to attend college and get an education." His going to Chico State "lifted a huge burden off my shoulders. I had kept all this anxiety inside about the future beginning at about the age of fourteen."

Hall's story is told in matter-of-fact language. There are many schools, a failed marriage, a stint in the Army, and a move away from dentistry to his true love, family medicine. A poignant letter from his brother Wayne (serving life in prison), provides a startling contrast. Hall was thirty before his long-held goal began to come true. But it happened. It happened.

"I hope," he writes, "that at least one young person sitting out there in foster care, the juvenile justice system, or a boys’ or girls’ home will be inspired."

Thursday, June 07, 2018

"Broken: Tales Of A Titanium Cowgirl"

"We can all identify our own moment," writes Michelle Scully, "that blink of an eye drawing an indelible black Sharpie line between 'before' and what comes 'after." Her moment came in 2011 in a horse riding accident that broke her back and nearly crushed her spirit.

Scully, who has a Master's in Biology from Chico State University, lives with her family in Northern California where they are "part of a multi-generational family farming operation." Her harrowing story is recounted with grace, wit, and deep insight in "Broken: Tales Of A Titanium Cowgirl" ($18.95 in paperback from Spinning Sevens Press; also for Amazon Kindle). For more, visit

Taking her horse, "Wish," for an outing, "the wild backyard riding kid in me overwhelmed the budding horseman in me" and they began to lope, too fast. When a rabbit "bolted right through her legs," Wish shot "up into the air like a rocket and sideways, simultaneously." 

Scully flipped onto her back and hit hard. "I had heard a loud 'pop' when I hit the ground," she remembers, "and a wave of pain hit me like a hammer."

The pop? An "imploded first lumbar or L1 vertebrae which had disintegrated upon impact." It meant "removing one of my ribs and using it as the basis for a bone graft in a titanium bone cage which would be placed in the gap where my L1 used to be."

"I've been training myself to love my hardware, because without the technology and audacity that ever caused someone to try out such a complicated fix, I'd be screwed. Now I'm actually screwed together, but in a good way."

Would she ever ride again? "Could I accept my brokenness without raging against it?" There is, she learns, "a beauty in broken things." She senses God's sustaining love and also finds "hope through my abiding love for the majestic horse."

"It's easy to feel overcome and heavily burdened by the weight of our struggles, and I've found that having a stash of joy (and Cheetos) can help keep you afloat."

Dogs and frogs also have much to teach us, as does Scully's own story of courage, faith, and gratitude.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

"Melville Among The Philosophers"

A quarter century after Herman Melville published "Moby-Dick" he published a whale of a poem, some 18,000 lines, called "Clarel: A Poem And A Pilgrimage." It draws its inspiration in part on a trip Melville had made to Palestine which turned out to be wholly uninspiring.

Chico State University philosophy professor Troy Jollimore, a nationally-acclaimed poet himself, takes up "Clarel" as the first essay in "Melville Among The Philosophers" ($100 in hardcover from Lexington Books; also for Amazon Kindle), edited by Corey McCall and Tom Nurmi, with an afterword by Cornel West. 

Melville frames philosophic questions in literary form, and the philosophers contributing to the volume view his work through the lenses of feminism, race, beauty, religious studies, and more.

Jollimore's study of Melville's epic is a model of clarity. "The poem," he writes, "describes a journey undertaken by its title character, a young divinity student who is attempting to find grounds for faith, in the company of a group of pilgrims who seem to represent diverse outlooks one might take on various disputed topics." 

The primary topic is the possibility of religious faith in the midst of nineteenth-century science, especially the work of Charles Darwin, which seemed to "disenchant" the universe, reducing it to mere mechanism.

For Clarel, coming upon a group of lepers, human nature expressed itself "In voiceless visagelessness" (the title of Jollimore's essay) waiting for a God who is all too silent.

Melville's friend Nathaniel Hawthorne said that Melville "will never rest until he gets hold of a definite belief." Clarel finds the land of Palestine desolate, an expression of Melville's own sense of God's hiddenness. What can one believe, and why?

Jollimore reads the poem through the lens of American pragmatist William James. For Melville belief must not be theoretical, dreamed up in the captain's cabin, but practical, connecting with life out on deck. Jollimore suggests that for Clarel, and Melville, "the notion of evidence ought itself to be understood not abstractly but in terms of lived experience: one discovers what can and ought to be believed not abstractly, but by living a human life."

Can intellect and spirit be reconciled? Clarel, and Melville, find no easy answers.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

"Breaking In: A Smart, Quirky Heist Novel Set In The New York City Art Scene"

James Ibedson is an aspiring New York City artist whose middling-quality work can't catch a break. The critics ruthlessly hammer his latest gallery showing. The adult son of a wealthy art collector, he's filthy rich and resentful that the Art Establishment can't see beyond his money to the talent he actually has.

He is convinced that if his paintings received the attention they deserved he could hold his own against his contemporaries, artists the critics seem to fawn over simply because they have some dramatic family history. But how to get the needed notoriety? All his efforts to make a splash seem fruitless until, waking up one morning, it hits him. "For the first time in days, in weeks, in years, James Ibedson has a vision. He knows what he's going to do."

What turns out to be a tangled tale is told with aplomb by Ridge-area novelist Brian T. Marshall. "Breaking In" (available in an Amazon Kindle edition from missppelled press in Magalia; is subtitled "A Smart, Quirky Heist Novel Set In The New York City Art Scene." It makes James' audacious scheme almost seem plausible.

The novel at its heart is about character, what it means to run risks not in theory but in the thick of things, when one's wealth no longer substitutes for the abandonment one feels. James' "mother had died when he was nine. He had no sister, no aunts. Just a couple of older cousins living in Ohio, or Iowa, one of those states with the vowels, who were nothing but a once-a-year photo, names on a Christmas card." As for James' father, Simon, the relationship is decidedly chilly. Marshall masterfully probes the inner workings of James' psyche.

For James' plot to succeed, he needs the help of others. Like Harry Lange, whose work in the art world is not always on the books; a guy named Raymond, no stranger to prison; and Ray's ex-girlfriend Cheryl, or "Shard," whose own talent fundamentally changes James' life. 

"Breaking In" is a funny, wise, and poignant portrait of an artist looking for acclaimwho  "discovers his soul instead."

Thursday, May 17, 2018

"Through The Red Door"

Chico State University's Men's Division II Basketball is helmed by coach Greg Clink. The coach, in his mid-forties, came to Chico in 2008, taking the 8-19 Wildcats in the 2008-2009 season to an 22-8 record in 2014-2015, winning the California Collegiate Athletics Association conference title.

Could the Wildcats repeat in the 2015-2016 season? Writer Carson Medley spent that year with coach Clink and the team, chronicling the games and exploring Clink's life and leadership that shaped an extraordinary basketball program. The Clink ethos is symbolized by a painted door to Acker Gym. "Take as much time as you need," Clink will tell a player, "but when you walk through that Red Door, you better be ready to get after it."

The story reads like a novel. "Through The Red Door" ($22.99 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle) tracks the season in masterful prose and page-turning energy.

Clink wants his players to have the right mental set: “We talk about walking the line that borders on being composed and doing something crazy. I like it when our guys teeter on that line. I never want them to cross it and do something stupid, but I want them foaming at the mouth." Yet Clink's focus is not just on winning, but winning right. "Clink’s mission," Medley notes, "is for his young men to transcend basketball."

Defining leadership, "Clink doesn’t have to think more than three seconds. … 'It’s the consistent example of the behavior you want, you expect, you demand your people to follow.' He points out that he must always practice what he preaches."

Many contributed to Medley's project, including Sports Information Director Luke Reid (who took the cover photograph), Athletic Director Anita Barker, and broadcaster Mike Baca.

And the season? "Pace and stillness. A blood moon. Unscripted drama despite the relentless practice and preparation and choreography. Agony and ecstasy and the thrill of victory and the desolation of defeat. Miracles. Fortune. Misfortune. Laughter and tears. Shoves and hugs. Jazz, rap, and country music. Organic. Unedited. Pure spur of the moment-dang-good-old fashioned fun." And three words at the end, from a player's grandmother, that changed everything.

Three other words: Read the book.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

"Thoughts To Ponder: From Little Mouse The Mouse"

Little Mouse the mouse lives near Paradise Lake, which, not coincidentally, is where longtime educators Jim and Nancy Barnes reside. Jim has been chronicling Little Mouse's adventures in a series of books for kids of all ages ( and has made it possible for Little Mouse to post weekly "thoughts."

These wise sayings have now been collected in a full-color book, paired with gorgeous photographs of the Paradise Lake area, including lakeviews in abundance and even fox tracks in the snow. "Thoughts To Ponder: From Little Mouse The Mouse" ($17.99 in paperback from CreateSpace Independent Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle) is written by James Albert Barnes (who took most of the pictures) and compiled by Nancy Marie Barnes.

The dedication provides the purpose of the Little Mouse series: "To bring out the innate goodness within each of us for self, family and society." As the introductory poem ("Listen To The Footprints In The Snow") puts it: "It's a fact that we were gifted the tools we need/ to become whomever/ we were born to be.// That's why it's important/ to seek out The Real You inside/ for that's where the secret really lies.// So next time you walk in the quiet snow,/ let your footprints uncover/ what's inside of you to know."

As Little Mouse says, "You can become whatever you were born to be, if you try T.R.Y." T.R.Y. stands for "The Real You." Little Mouse's thoughts are designed to encourage that "real you" to blossom. There are plenty of challenges. "Unwanted red or yellow zone thoughts may come our way," LM says, "but, thank goodness, we're only responsible for how we behave."

"What are the boulders or roadblocks in your life?" he asks. "Do what I did: Write down what is the problem, what should be, and form a plan and execute it. If you solve it, good. If you don't, try a different plan. Don't give up until you've given it your best effort."

Good behavior should help develop appropriate responses to life. "Developing good habits in things mundane leads to habits of notable acclaim." 

The book is a creative discussion starter from Little Mouse himself.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

"We Inherit Eden"

Less than half a century from now interstellar travel is necessary if humanity is to survive. Orion Space Industries has established a colony on Proxima Centauri b, a little more than four light years from earth, and now has employed a pilot, the only human on board, to deliver some kind of cargo to the planet. It will be a long and lonely journey, full of strange dreams and assurances by the ship's Artificial Intelligence that the pilot is not really alone after all.

Mostly narrated by the pilot, unnamed until the very end, "We Inherit Eden" ($9.99 in paperback from CreateSpace) is a science-fictional exploration of the engineering needed to achieve 5% light speed, but also, and more importantly, a singular meditation on what human science has birthed--the A.I. that guides the Orthrus mission.

Written by Paradise High School grad Ryan Montoya, who went on to pursue an engineering degree (and a mountain climbing avocation), this mesmerizing novel hurtles the reader into deep space and the horrific consequences of a life-threatening accident. 

The Orthrus sports two huge "sails" cabled to the ship, one in front and one in back, and uses "nuclear pulse propulsion" behind each sail to provide deceleration from the rear or acceleration from the front. 

But that kind of engineering is easy compared to the challenge of delivering a human alive to his destination. The solution is the stasis chamber with drug-induced sleep. "I knew, when I awoke, that my body would have experienced a solar month and my mind a solar day. But for the ship, an epoch would pass." It takes a long time to go 24 trillion miles, but what is more important than saving humankind?

When catastrophe strikes, it's unclear that the mission can be completed. The ship's A.I. talks to the pilot not only through a voice but as the "pale man" in his dreams. "I don't want to be afraid," the pilot cries out, and the answer is terrifying: "Fear not for humanity, for it is doomed. Fear not for your own life, for its time is numbered."

There is an alternative to fear, the ship says. And it all depends on Eden.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

"The Organ Shortage Crisis In America: Incentives, Civic Duty, And Closing The Gap"

Kidney disease "is the ninth leading cause of death in the United States." Yet, according to Andy Flescher, former Religious Studies professor at Chico State University and now Core Public Health Faculty for the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the problem has a solution.

"Other than a lobe of the liver," Flescher writes, "the kidney is the only transplantable organ one can donate while still alive. … Roughly between 5,000 and 6,000 people annually are living donors, which on average amounts to between 20 and 30 percent of all organ transplantations carried out in a year."

Flescher's proposals at first seem counterintuitive, but they get at the very nature of human altruism. "The Organ Shortage Crisis In America: Incentives, Civic Duty, And Closing The Gap" ($29.95 in paperback from Georgetown University Press; also for Amazon Kindle), by Andrew Michael Flescher, is an extraordinary exploration of what "giving the gift of life" actually means to donors.

Flescher is a "living donor advocate" working directly with those considering giving a kidney, such as a man planning to donate to his ex-wife; a woman wanting to donate to a person she met on Facebook; and a woman ready to donate to her girlfriend. Flescher's reports show the care taken to ensure informed consent.

One would think that such altruistic behaviors could be encouraged by changing laws to allow for the buying and selling of organs. It turns out that there is good reason to believe such incentives would actually have the opposite effect. 

Human altruism is mischaracterized as a rare and saintly gift with no return expected. The reality is that the altruism of the donor is about establishing community, "furthering the relationship between the giver and the recipient." A payment would only muddy the waters.

The book addresses better ways of making the path easier for living donors. A key prescription is for readers to devote "two to four hours … to visit someone currently undergoing dialysis." One will be forever changed in the encounter; "the limits of what is possible versus what isn't are redrawn, for ourselves individually and for society together."

Thursday, April 19, 2018

"The Disappearing Theatre"

Heather Altfeld ( teaches in the Honors Program and for the Humanities Department at Chico State University. Her book of poetry, which won the Poets at Work Prize, draws on childhood memories within the context of a world hellbent on brutalizing itself.

In a blog post she writes: "Like many Jewish children of the post-war era, I was instructed in Holocaust studies at a very young age, and learned that nearly any amount of suffering could be endured so long as you were not on the train."

And yet we must not "disqualify any sorrow or grief that cannot measure up to the death camps." Thus, poetry: "Poetry attempts to weaken the despair of loss and to document it with beauty and presence in a kind of archive that does not simply disseminate information."

In "The Disappearing Theatre" ($12.95 in paperback from Poets @ Work Press) the poet notes that "I learned as a child not to speak much of happiness.// … What good is it, after all,/ to gather treasures in each room of childhood when all our pockets/ are filled with holes? What good is it to swing/ from a rope up into the trees when somewhere children/ are swinging from ropes beneath trees?"

The poet takes readers into the "country of fallen things" where "the dybbuks climbed out/ from under all the beds/ of all the little children/ to kiss their dreaming foreheads…." (The dybbuk, we're told, "is a disembodied Jewish ghost wandering among the living and thought to have some unfinished business in the world.")

"I was present at these events," one poem says, "and now I tell them to those who listen./ If they had not happened, dreamers,/ this news would not have to be told."

Heather Altfeld is scheduled to lead a poetry workshop at the WordSpring creative writing conference on Saturday, April 28, on the Butte College main campus. It's entitled "The Beginning Of Terror: The Question Of Beauty In Modern And Contemporary Poetry."

WordSpring is sponsored by the Butte College English Department with help from a number of local businesses. Registration is $45 for students and educators and $75 for community members. For details, visit

Thursday, April 12, 2018

"Rudy's Rules For Travel: Life Lessons From Around The Globe"

Mary Jensen ( describes herself as a "recovering grants writer"; after retiring as Professor Emerita from Chico State University she kept a promise to her late husband, Rudy, to tell the story of their marriage.

The memoir, beautifully and sensitively written, is a self-deprecating account of what happens when an uptight adventurer marries a frugal World War II vet who, as a new American citizen, flew US Air Force missions over his German homeland and who now can hardly wait to explore the world. On the cheap.

"Rudy's Rules For Travel: Life Lessons From Around The Globe" ($16.95 in paper from She Writes Press; also for Amazon Kindle) shows how a "marriage of opposites" can have its hilarious moments. Mary's own rules ("Expect the worst"; "Remain alert. Always") contrast mightily with Rudy's spontaneous approach.

Late in his life Rudy tells neophyte travelers: "You may wonder about going to politically unstable places. Well, there are two ways of looking at them: one, they are dangerous now. Two, they may be more dangerous later. … You have to remember that you'll never be younger. And you'll probably never be healthier. You've just got to grab that brass ring when it comes by."

And therein lies a tale, many of them, from Mexico City in 1976 to France in 1994. "Adapt," says Rudy's very first rule. "Never shower alone" ("position the day's dirty clothes under your feet, add soap, stomp, as in crushing grapes"). And: "Relax. Some kind stranger will appear."

Indeed so. From Rudy showing up at someone's house (he thought it was a bar) to a poignant quest to connect with his German roots (with the "wounds of war" still fresh in memories), this is a book of laughter and tears. 

And very small suitcases.

"Rudy's Rules" will appeal to readers of Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love"; Kirkus reviews selected it as an Indie Best Book of the Month. 

The author is hosting a book launch event on Saturday, April 28 from 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. at ABC Books in Chico. Proceeds from event sales will go toward the local American Association of University Women scholarship fund.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

"The Murderer's Maid: A Lizzie Borden Novel"

It's 2016 and the first day at the coffeehouse job for twenty-something Brooke. "She's adjusted her speech and her clothing to look like the illegal immigrant she's posing as, so she can be paid under the table. This is what she's had to do to avoid being tracked: she changes her name every few years, moves, and finds a job where an employer is happy to look the other direction in exchange for paying a pittance."

Her mother had been murdered and she fears for her own life. But is Brooke, a devotee of true-crime stories, simply being paranoid? Her psychology and unsettling family history are explored in a cracking-good yarn by Erika Mailman. 

"The Murderer's Maid: A Lizzie Borden Novel" ($25 in hardcover from Bonhomie Press; also for Amazon Kindle), as the title suggests, also intertwines the death (by hatchet) of Lizzie's father Andrew and her stepmother Abby on August 4, 1892. 

At trial Lizzie was acquitted, perhaps because the jury didn't think her strong enough to twice wield the murder weapon. Yet doubts remain. Did her maid know more than she's telling?

The novel begins, in fact, in 1889, with the Irish maid, Bridget, newly hired by the Bordens. The story hopscotches between Bridget's time and Brooke's, as Brooke and her friend, Anthony, make plans to stay at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast (a real place) in Fall River, Massachusetts. She has discovered Lizzie is a relative. And now Brooke's life is really at risk. 

An author's note explains what's real and a novelist's invention in Lizzie's puzzling case. 

Mailman (who has also written a neo-Gothic trilogy under the name of Lynn Carthage), is scheduled to lead two workshops for WordSpring 2018 on Saturday, April 28, at Butte College. 

One is on writing young adult fiction; the second recounts the research process into the Borden family and how the novelist can "create a character that bends known history but still adheres to historical authenticity." 

Registration for the creative writing conference is $45 for students and educators, and $80 for community members. 

It's sponsored by the college's English Department, Associated Students, and local businesses; details are at

Thursday, March 29, 2018

"Cross Roads"

The startling success of "The Shack," by Wm. Paul Young, sparked discussions about forgiveness and the nature of God. The central human character in the novel was Mackenzie Allen Phillips. True to his initials, he helped "map" in story form how God's love might work itself out in the midst of tragedy.

Now, in a subsequent novel no less imaginative, Young takes on the self-centeredness of one Anthony Sebastian Spencer. In "Cross Roads" ($15 in paperback from FaithWords; also for Amazon Kindle), readers learn that Tony Spencer wants control.

When Loree, his wife, "bowed out gracefully" after Tony's inattention, he wooed her back, married her again, threw a big celebration, and then promptly divorced her. A product of a failed foster care system, disbelieving the "God stuff" he had heard as a child, he "had quit crying about it. He had made mistakes and hurt people, but who hadn't?"

Then Tony is hit by a medical trauma that puts him in a coma, and as he lies dying at an Oregon hospital he "awakens" to an outdoor setting with hiking paths and a number of oddly caring strangers.

Jack makes clear the difference between real and true: Not believing God's love for Tony "becomes what is real to you, and you then create a world that holds not believing the word of this God, or the love of this God, or even in this God at all, as a fundamental cornerstone of your life's construction…. Does your inability to believe the word of this God make what this God has said not true?"

A Jesus-figure enters, giving Tony the ability to physically heal one person. A woman called Grandmother helps Tony see himself for what he truly is.

Who will he choose to heal at the hospital? On that hangs the fantastical tale, by turns funny and full of tears, of what it means for selfishness to be transformed into self-giving love. There is hope, the novel says, for us all.

Wm. Paul Young is the scheduled guest at the Jesus Center's third annual spring luncheon fundraiser on Saturday, April 21 at the Lakeside Pavilion in Chico. Tickets are $55 with more information at

Thursday, March 22, 2018


Jason Bayani (, now headquartered in the Bay Area, has been a National Poetry Slam finalist and is one of the founders of the Filipino American spoken word troupe Proletariat Bronze.

His printed collection of poems, "Amulet" ($15 in paperback from Write Bloody Publishing), cries out to be read aloud. Sometimes it just cries out as the poet attempts to make sense of the power of words and the seeming powerlessness of his lived experience (especially in Texas).

In "Pulling Threads," "Everything in my head is the sound, word/ without shape. …/ I'm not dreaming this. Poems are what happens/ when you close your eyes. Stars are fathomable.// Yesterday she asked what must 'happy' look like for me? I gave her/ the answer I thought should go on my epitaph. This is why, she tells/ me, I can only speak in front of a microphone. … I owe something more than poems. Maybe a really good/ chili recipe, or a second word for thunder…."

In a series of sonnets the last line becomes the first, expansive, line of the following poem, encountering bar fights, hip-hop, and turntablist DJ Qbert: "The thump is the beat, the beat is a wild zephyr,/ that must be why the creation of Art/ feels like caging the wind. …"

"I hold every unruly poem inside my skin," the writer says in "Continuum," and in "God of Misplacements," the question becomes: "What is the speed of living? Too much/ wanting lining over the base. The difference between/ needing to know, and knowing my place. The line/ keeps moving over us. You can't see it. The line keeps/ moving over us and every time we push, the push back/ comes harder. We can say it shouldn't be there anyway./ All I got is to work with what is until it isn't anymore."

Bayani is the scheduled keynote speaker for WordSpring 2018 on Saturday, April 28, at Butte College. Registration for the creative writing conference, which features workshops in poetry, fiction, and more, is $45 for students and educators, and $80 for community members.

The conference is sponsored by the college's English Department, Associated Students, and several local businesses. More details are at

Thursday, March 15, 2018

"Mere Science And Christian Faith: Bridging The Divide With Emerging Adults"

Greg Cootsona, who pastored for many years at Bidwell Presbyterian Church in Chico, has a deep concern for "emerging adults," those between the ages of eighteen and thirty. They marry later and often don't fit in to church activities geared to couples or families.

Many also feel estranged from what evangelical churches say about science (if science is even addressed) and withdraw from Christianity, becoming the "nones" and "dones." This is especially acute in Oakland-San Francisco-San Jose, but also in the Chico-Redding area.

Cootsona, now teaching at Chico State University, is also administering a grant project through Fuller Theological Seminary that seeks not only to find out what this group thinks about science and religion but to develop guidance for churches seeking to engage emerging adults.

"Mere Science And Christian Faith: Bridging The Divide With Emerging Adults" ($17 in paperback from InterVarsity Press) is, writes Cootsona, "both a manifesto and a field guide. As a manifesto, it's designed to convince you that the church must embrace mainstream science for its future."

As a guide, it shows how churches can enter with emerging adults into the conversation about human origins, climate change, the findings of cognitive science, the meaning of technology, and questions about sexuality and gender.

"Emerging adults," Cootsona writes, "hear about conflict, but they seek collaboration or independence." He focuses on integrating science and faith, where possible. "This means that no discovery can dictate our theology or ethics, but also that no form of human insight and knowledge is outside of Christ. Put simply, God knows far more about science that Albert Einstein."

Accessibly written, personal and even poignant at times, the book is essential to any who are interested in emerging adults. It goes a long way toward achieving the goal of weaving "together mainstream science and the good news of mere Christianity into a narrative that's truly beautiful and beautifully true."

Cootsona is scheduled to present a "Mere Science" seminar, based on his book, on Saturday, April 7 from 8:30 - 10:30 a.m. at Bidwell Presbyterian Church. Cost is $10 per person with childcare and a continental breakfast provided. To register, visit

Thursday, March 08, 2018

"Maraschino Cherries: Travel Stories Of A Teacher Abroad""Maraschino Cherries: Travel Stories Of A Teacher Abroad"

When her granddaughter Michelle asked Chicoan Elisabeth Stewart for a story, she stopped short. "I don't have a story," she said. But Michelle insisted: "How is that possible, Oma? You have been around the world and lived a very long time. You must have a story!"

And indeed she does. In the early Eighties Stewart had completed fourteen years teaching Home Economics at Paradise High School and needed a change. She got it--with the help of the Department of Defense.

The tale is recounted in "Maraschino Cherries: Travel Stories Of A Teacher Abroad" ($6.99 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle). It's a personal story of overcoming fears, reaching out to strangers, and finding love, told with kindness and simplicity. Stewart was witness to history (such as the fall of the Berlin wall), confronted sadness and even death along her own journey, but a quiet optimism prevails.

It began with a phone call to her apartment one hot Chico afternoon in July.

The representative of the Department of Defense Dependent Schools had an offer to teach home economics in Frankfurt, Germany. Betty Thompson (her name then) had applied weeks earlier, holding her ground as the interviewer announced that sixteen applicants would be questioned. She was number seventeen. It took a bit of old-fashioned resolve, but she got an interview, too.

Later that summer she found herself in Frankfurt with her fifteen-year-old daughter, Barb, ready to settle in. First, though, was the "new teacher processing procedure" from the Office of Personnel Management. "The OPM person had a stack of folders on her desk easily five inches high. She opened the first folder and we began the work…. My head filled with a fog as sound blurred and drifted away from me, vision faded, and I dozed."

Word got around about an American woman who fell asleep during the orientation. Then she met Robert Stewart, a science teacher, who was also part of the program. It's safe to say her eyes were opened.

Saying "yes" to a proposal "was the easy part"; turns out that getting married in Germany was "a whole nother kettle of bratwurst" and only the beginning.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

"Have Your Cake And Be Happy, Too: A Joyful Approach To Weight Loss"

Weight loss coach Michelle Hastie of Paradise is convinced that most diet programs get off on the wrong foot. They're all about limits and can't-haves. Her alternative "asks you to lose weight while living your life. In fact, this method of weight loss requires you to be so incredibly full of life that your body has no choice but to transform."

What that means is spelled out, encouragingly, in "Have Your Cake And Be Happy, Too: A Joyful Approach To Weight Loss" ($14.95 in paperback from Absolute Love Publishing,; also for Amazon Kindle). "You are going to lovingly step inside of your body and communicate with the deepest version of yourself," Hastie writes. "You become an expert not in nutrition or exercise, but in you and your body."

There are seven "steps" in Hastie's program ( which focus not only on "total body transformation" but "total life transformation." "Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full," but do so in a context of living "connectedly, intentionally, joyously, truthfully, abundantly, deliciously, fully."

It's easy to indulge in pity parties and excuses when one "blows it." "If you feel like you can't tell the difference between excuses and truth, listen to your feelings. In yoga, there is an emphasis on body communication. The belief is that your body sends you messages through symptoms and feelings. … Always follow what makes you feel better. … If you are feeling lazy, either get up and move or be lazy and proud!"

Meditation and spirituality are important. "Whatever higher power or universal law you decide to trust … you can be assured that this higher power believes that you don't have to struggle. … When I don't know how to solve a problem, I close my eyes, breathe, and thank the universe for sending me the answers I am seeking."

In listening to the body's call for balance, moving from "can't have" to "choose not to have," "the body responds to your intentional and clear actions by loosening the waistline of your pants once again."

For Hastie, that's the bottom line of the bottom line.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

"Going Out In Style: The Architecture Of Eternity"

With books such as "Stories In Stone: A Field Guide To Cemetery Symbolism And Iconography" and "Forever L.A.: A Field Guide To Los Angeles Area Cemeteries And Their Residents," Chico writer-photographer Douglas Keister has unearthed extraordinary tales of the dearly departed. His interest in funerary art began with a ground-breaking collaboration with Xavier Cronin, an editor at American Cemetery magazine, in a book first published in 1997.

A new edition is now available. "Going Out In Style: The Architecture Of Eternity" ($24.95 in hardcover from Echo Point Books & Media, features an introduction by Cronin and hundreds of Keister's full-color photographs and captivating captions. As a blurb notes, "mausoleums, statues, and memorials are a connection between the modern world and the generations that went before us."

"The word mausoleum," Cronin writes, "is derived from the name Mausolus, king of Halicarnassus, a great harbor city in the kingdom of Caria in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), whose tomb was a huge fortress build in 353 B.C. by Mausolus's wife Artemisia (who happened also to be his sister)." Some years later, in 1831, "the rise of the American mausoleum begins with our first 'rural' cemetery--Mount Auburn, just down the street from Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts."

Keister's chapters focus on architectural styles, what's inside the tombs, the depiction of humans in the cemetery, public buildings in the cemetery, and creative funerary arts (such as the Cogswell Monument in Oakland, a "70-foot granite obelisk crowned with a 10-inch rose crystal star and surrounded by curious carved stone sculptures" depicting Faith, Hope, Charity, and Temperance; dentist Henry Daniel Cogswell, who died in 1900, "was an ardent foe of demon rum").

Inside the Blocher Monument at Forest Lawn Cemetery in New York one can find a statue of Nelson Blocher, who passed away in 1884, "resting peacefully on his back," carved from "gleaming white Carrara marble." It's said Blocher died of a broken heart when his philanthropist father fired Blocher's true love, a maid who worked for ol' dad, who, "perhaps motivated by guilt," honored Blocher "with this eccentric memorial."

Who better to bring these stories to light than Keister, Chico's premier "crypt-ographer"?

Thursday, February 15, 2018

"Diverse Minds: North State Journal 2017"

According to its website, the Iverson Wellness and Recovery Center in Chico "is a group of men and women challenged by a variety of mental health, alcohol and drug issues." Iverson is a program of Northern Valley Catholic Social Service, supported by the Mental Health Services Act and Butte County Department of Behavioral Health.

Outreach Coordinator and Peer Assistant Andrea Wagner, with a degree in journalism from Chico State University, facilitates a writing group and a yearly compilation of work.

That project has expanded to encompass sixteen Northern California counties. "Diverse Minds: North State Journal 2017" ($7.10 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle), edited by Wagner, presents readers with the work of over fifty writers and artists who are living lives "of wellness and recovery."

"Life can be challenging for people on the autistic spectrum," writes Paloma Blanca. "I often have to script my conversations. So don't treat me worse because I can come off as awkward." Jonathan Roy Martin cultivates gratitude: "I'm grateful for good people/ In my community/ I'm also grateful for/ Those who heard my plea."

The book includes "frank discussions of suicide, domestic violence, and substance use." Donna C. writes that "my writing is a step to my recovery. … Slowly I'm learning that life can be lived without violence and abuse. It's hard for me to live this way. For me, I've come to expect being hit."

Drawings and photographs, fanciful, serene, or stark, add resonance. Autobiographies at the end open up the meaning of the contributions. A section presents work by Shelby Wright, submitted by her mother after "Shelby completed suicide in 2011." "And although I am fighting with all my heart and soul," Shelby wrote, "my road is still long and hard." Her legacy of hope mixes with the sadness.

The road can be hopeful, but it is not safe. Kadjain Troi: "When you come to a fork in the road, remember, the paved road is an easy way home, but the other path will get you there with a story to tell."

Submissions are being accepted for the 2018 Journal at Publication and an art show are scheduled for November.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

"Recapturing The Wonder: Transcendent Faith In A Disenchanted World"

The rhythms that shape our lives, Mike Cosper writes, are often profoundly secular--and commercial. From Super Bowl Sunday to Valentine's Day and beyond, our lives are full of commodified sentiment. They have become "disenchanted."

Cosper, founder of Harbor Media and a former pastor in Louisville, Kentucky, says that for many there is "a subtle-but-strong resistance to faith and a skepticism toward anything that veers toward the supernatural. … A disenchanted world is a material world, where what you see is what you get." Religion becomes a personal take-it-or-leave-it affair.

His new book invites readers into a different set of rhythms, into a Cosmos ("an orderly creation full of meaning, … full of mystery, a place where … an unseen spiritual realm is constantly at work….").

As Christians prepare for Ash Wednesday and Lent, a time of contrition, the book's message, about rethinking the stories we tell ourselves, seems fitting. Those from different faith traditions will find much to savor as well.

"Recapturing The Wonder: Transcendent Faith In A Disenchanted World" ($17 in paperback from InterVarsity Press; also for Amazon Kindle) focuses on seven "pathways" or spiritual disciplines to aid readers in "embracing a different story and, with it, a different set of habits and practices."

Cosper notes the importance of the rhythms of the Church year and introduces "breath prayers" to mark the shorter moments of our lives. This is not a life of "spectacle and hype" (he contrasts the "glory cloud manifestations" at Bethel Church in Redding with the idea that God's presence "is often much simpler, quieter, and more subtle").

There are big moments, of course. Easter is coming. "Who needs a greater drama than death, resurrection, and scandalous grace?"

At times we need to enter into solitude with God, but then into solidarity with others. Gifts we give should reaffirm "bonds between people." There is a time of feasting and fasting (and Cosper provides practical help).

Such a life "oriented around the spiritual disciplines is not a pathway to pleasing God but a pathway to experience the joy of God that is already ours in Jesus." It is to live in an enchanted world.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

"Life Talks Wisdoms"

Peggy Jennings-Severe, a retired Butte College administrator, has created a series of books and workshops designed around what she calls "Life Talks" ( People want to share their "view of the world" with us if we would but ask the right questions. One can ask elders about their most cherished memories or a graduate about what's scary up ahead.

The first Life Talks books were about questions; the new one is about answers. "Life Talks Wisdoms" ($15 in paperback from CreateSpace; also planned for Amazon Kindle) is by Jennings-Severe and her son, Ben Severe, "with contributions from our grandfather and great-grandfather Earl Dickinson." It's a collaboration in answering the question "what have you learned so far in life?"

"Wisdoms" is plural in the book's title because, as Ben writes, "Wisdom is relative…. Different life experiences can filter the meaning of what it is to be wise. Please do not take this as us telling you what wisdom is but as what wisdom means to us. We challenge you to think independently, to apply your own biases, and--most importantly--to talk with your family, friends, and peers about them!"

There are three lists of life lessons, with reactions from Peggy and Ben throughout, and the reader is taken inside the hearts of three generations. Just before "Grandpa Earl" died, in 1965, he gave thirteen suggestions "to his very fine grandchildren" especially for their teenage years. Peggy wrote her list of twenty-five lessons for a keynote presentation on campus, when she was 57. Ben, 28, wrote his list for his parents' retirement party.

Speaking of parents, Grandpa Earl said: "Your parents are not old 'fuddy duddies' or 'squares,' and don't let anybody tell you they are." From Peggy's list: "You are more important than you think. You are less important than you think." For Ben: "Live with integrity."

The extended comments in the book from mother and son are poignant and thoughtful, a testament to the purpose--and wisdom--they have found in their lives.

Peggy Jennings-Severe is the scheduled guest on Nancy's Bookshelf, with host Nancy Wiegman, on Wednesday, February 7, at 10:00 a.m. on Northstate Public Radio, (KCHO 91.7 FM on air).

Thursday, January 25, 2018

"Louie, Take A Look At This!: My Time With Huell Howser"

Tennessee-born Huell Howser, who died in 2013 at the age of 67, left a remarkable legacy of television programs devoted to his adopted home state of California. Best known for "California's Gold," a staple on public television up and down the state, Howser's easy-going southern charm encouraged ordinary people to open up to the camera.

For a decade, starting in 1991, his cameraman was Luis Fuerte, the unseen presence but the subject of Howser's frequent exclamations--and now the title of a book--"Louie, Take A Look At This!: My Time With Huell Howser" ($22.95 in hardcover from Prospect Park Books; also for Amazon Kindle), by Luis Fuerte as told to David Duron. (Duron, a producer and writer, met Fuerte at KCET-TV in Los Angeles, the home station for "California's Gold.").

The book takes the reader behind the scenes of a professional partnership based on hard-won respect. "I was the technician and he was the star. The mutual respect we had for each other--and our respective positions--was the backbone of our relationship, and it allowed us to work so well together for so many years."

Howser wanted to know only the bare minimum about his guests so "he could make discoveries on camera. His trademark phrases of 'Oh, wow!' 'Golly!' 'Oh, my gosh!' and 'That's amaaazing!' followed by a friendly, 'Louie, take a look at this!' were genuine, and you heard them more and more as we continued to work together. Yes, it's true that Huell's astonishment bar was set pretty low, but … that was the real Huell…. There was a little Gomer Pyle in there, but it worked well for him."

The book's chapters focus on the origin of the series (it had a lot to do with the reuniting of an old man and an elephant), memorable shoots, Huell's illness and legacy. There's also a list of episodes of "Gold" Fuerte worked on, including trips to Bidwell Bar Days at Lake Oroville (1992) and Paradise's Gold Nugget Days (1997); trips to Chico would come later, after Fuerte retired from the show.

A complete streaming archive is housed at It's amaaazing!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

"Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans At War"

What would it be like for sailors to hear the words "release of nuclear weapons has been authorized"?

Science writer Mary Roach ( is ravenously curious, previously exploring the icky parts of the alimentary canal (in "Gulp"), cadavers (in "Stiff"), and what science knows about sex (in "Bonk"). Now she's turned her attention to military science--not as in battlefield strategies but in the behind-the-scenes work to protect bodies and minds on the battlefield.

"Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans At War" ($15.95 in paperback from W.W. Norton and Company; also for Amazon Kindle and in audio format) brings the reader into U.S. military laboratories and the lives of researchers who address "automotive safety for people who drive on bombs" and the healing efficacy of maggots in combat.

Roach would be quick to point out that the maggots are not the ones doing the fighting. The key for the military is keeping flies out while harnessing their offspring for duty in wounds, maggots lunching on dead skin.

Roach will present a free-wheeling talk as part of the President's Lecture Series on Monday, February 5, at 7:30 p.m. at Chico State University's Laxson Auditorium. Tickets are $25 for adults, $23 for seniors, $10 for youth and Chico State students. For ticket information call (530) 898-6333, or visit the Chico Performances website (

The book explores efforts to create a universally hated smell (harder than you might think; 14% of one group said Sewage Odor "made them feel good"); genital transplants; diarrhea prevention ("Leaky SEALs"); better sleep in a submarine.

One study "showed that people who'd slept six hours a night for two weeks were as cognitively diminished as people who'd been up for forty-eight hours straight." The problem is that the "routine six-hours-a-nighters see no need for caution. They've felt mildly exhausted for so long it's become their normal."

Her trademark humor (especially in the footnotes) makes it safe even for the squeamish to get answers to questions never asked in polite company. She asks those questions. "In military slang," she notes, "there's a friendly epithet for everyone. I, for example, am a 'media puke.'"

Roach lights up the page.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

"Mexican Marimbas"

Travel writer Chloe Ryan Winston (, who lived in Mexico, uses her knowledge of the country to fashion a fast-paced novel which features unpleasant encounters south of the border with drug cartel baddies, including Joaquín ("El Chapo") Guzmán.

Winston, who now lives in Redding, has created a series of books, including "China Caper," telling the tale of a small band of unofficial "couriers" working for a U.S. Government spy agency. The new novel is called "Mexican Marimbas" ($15 in paperback from Dorrance Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle).

The unlikely group is composed of Phillips, a professor at an east coast Ivy League university, and his recruits: Derry, Jude, and Briana (who tells the story). Briana Fraser owns Let's Travel in Ashland, speaks fluent Spanish, and spent growing-up time in Mexico. She is able to get the group out of numerous scrapes as they travel to outposts in Mexico, known to be drug lord habitations, in an effort to photograph those responsible for the flow of drugs into the U.S., especially Chicago.

That city, says Phillips, "is now the transfer hub of drugs in our country. It's within a day's drive to about seventy-five percent of our population, plus it's a railroad axis for half of our nation. This is why Chicago has such a high rate of gang violence and murders today."

Bri notes that many in Mexico have a "love-hate-fear relationship" with the cartels. "And, with no one knowing who is friend and who is foe--even sometimes among relatives--they just mum up." That makes the mission all the more difficult, but even worse, a strange young woman named Amaria keeps showing up at many of the towns they stop at. Friend or foe?

The cartels are on to them, and the group has to keep renting vehicles after they explode or don't fare well in gunfights, or are pushed off the road by big trucks. It's a miracle that they survive.

But when Bri is thrown into a Mexican prison, the jig seems to be up.

Part mystery, part thriller, part travelogue, the novel makes the reader glad that the real El Chapo is in the hands of the authorities. Isn't he?

Thursday, January 04, 2018

"How To Grow Old: Ancient Wisdom For The Second Half Of Life"

As the old year gives way to the new, some of us (ahem) remain in the "old" category. We can't seem to shake advancing age. Now, thanks to translator Philip Freeman, we have an opportunity to examine some old words by an old man, one who saw the weight of years not as a burden but as the fruit of one's character.

Freeman teaches classical languages at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, but he holds his learning lightly in a fizzy new version of a book by the Roman orator Marcus Tullius Cicero. "How To Grow Old: Ancient Wisdom For The Second Half Of Life" ($16.95 in hardcover from Princeton University Press; also for Amazon Kindle) was written "just before Caesar's murder on the Ides of March in 44 BC."

Cicero "was in his early sixties and alone." His daughter had died the previous year and, not able to support Julius Caesar, he "had retired to his country estate. There he remained, far from Rome, an old man in his own mind useless to the world."

But just as Cicero's last act seemed over, he began to write a series of treatises that endure today, including one on old age. His fictional dialogue featured the aged Roman leader Cato "from the previous century" in which "Cato shows how old age can be the best phase of life for those who apply themselves to living wisely."

The Latin text in Freeman's book is followed by his translation (with notes identifying all the names), and he summarizes Cicero's points in the introduction. Key: "A good old age begins in youth," Freeman writes, with habits of "moderation, wisdom, clear thinking, enjoying all that life has to offer."

"Cato" tells his young questioners that "older people who are reasonable, good-tempered, and gracious will bear aging well. Those who are mean-spirited and irritable will be unhappy at every period of their lives." He's realistic. "It isn't a light burden if a person, even a wise man, is poor. But if someone is a fool, all the money in the world won't make aging easier."

Words that will never grow old.