Thursday, October 18, 2018

"Alone In Harmony"



Raised in Paradise, Anna Quimpo Maguire published "Searching For The City Of Love" in 2016, when she was eighteen. Since then she has established Three States of Mind (threestatesofmindpress.com), "an inclusive poetry press," with presentations scheduled in Los Angeles and beyond.

Her new book features nearly sixty short poems "about personal struggles and finding self-love through it all. … This book is intended to help others find peace in being alone."

"Alone In Harmony" ($12.99 in paperback from Three States of Mind Press) is borne out of the poet's realization that strength comes, perhaps can only come, from wrestling with those things that appear good at first but that turn and bite us.

The opening poem, "Gone," sets a somber mood.

"I have lost myself these days/," the poet writes. "It all comes out to play/ I have killed the life inside/ Or is it trying to hide/ I have taken in too many lines/ that are going to kill me over time/ I do not know where I stand/ I do not know who I am."

Drugs bite back. But "lines" has a larger reference, to all the come-ons we are prone to fall for. Even the well-meaning are not especially helpful. In "What I Have Dealt With," the poet says, "You think you know me/ When I do not even know me/ … You think you met me/ When I do not even get me…."

In response, the poet moves inward, toward "Self-Love," which contrasts with others' social expectations. 

"I cannot love myself/ When I have to give it to everyone else/ I have been too selfless/ It is time to be selfish." In "Giving Up, the poet asserts, "I am the creator of my own fate/ In my hands is a clean slate." 

But life is not so easy. In "Darkness," "I am searching for a high/ Dying a little every time/ All I need is love/ I pray, looking above/ This is hurting far too much/ Living day to day and such/ Let me find the light/ Let me get things right."

There is painful self-discovery along the way, but, in the end, a ray of hope, a way forward.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

"The Underground Railroad"



Colson Whitehead won a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for his searing novel, "The Underground Railroad" ($16.95 in paperback from Anchor/Doubleday; also for Amazon Kindle). He is scheduled to speak at the Shasta College Theatre in Redding on Tuesday, October 16 at 7:00 p.m. as part of the school's Community Speaker Series. The event is free and open to the public; details at bit.ly/2QAGdWu.

The story begins with Cora, a young slave on a Georgia cotton plantation before the Civil War. The stunning audio version is voiced by Bahni Turpin who, as Publishers Weekly put it in a starred review, "takes great pains to handle the nuances of dialect without resorting to caricature." Caesar, another of the slaves on the Randall plantation, surreptitiously invites Cora to join him in his departure through the "underground railroad."

Whitehead imagines an actual railroad, hidden in a series of massive tunnels under the South, maintained by abolitionists. Cora can hardly believe what she sees. "The tunnel, the tracks, the desperate souls who found salvation in the coordination of its stations and timetables--this was a marvel to be proud of. She wondered if those who had built this thing had received their proper reward." 

Lumbly, the station agent, replies: "Every state is different. … Each one a state of possibility, with its own customs and way of doing things. Moving through them, you'll see the breadth of the country before you reach your final stop." 

Cora will take the name "Bessie" in South Carolina, becoming a nanny to the Anderson children. Her treatment is a far cry from the unspeakable horrors the Randall brothers inflicted on their slaves (Big Anthony is tortured for days; then, "visitors sipped spiced rum as Big Anthony was doused with oil and roasted"). But it becomes clear the state is no haven for runaways.

More escapes. There will be journeys on the underground railroad to North Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana. Throughout, the slave catcher Ridgeway haunts Cora's path; the final bloody confrontation speaks volumes. 

Possibilities? Maybe. But even at times when Cora experiences relative freedom, she realizes that "whether in the fields or underground or in an attic room, America remained her warden."

Thursday, October 04, 2018

"The Gospel Of Trees: A Memoir"



Apricot Anderson Irving (apricotirving.com) describes herself as "a recovering missionary's daughter"; when she was six, in 1981, she and her "parents moved to the north of Haiti to be missionaries--not far from where Columbus sank the Santa María."

Later she pieced together their complicated relationship with Haiti. It's told in "The Gospel Of Trees: A Memoir" ($26 in hardcover from Simon & Schuster and available at the Chico Library; also for Amazon Kindle). Irving's exquisite prose focuses on her parents, and especially her dad, Lee Anderson.

"My father, a missionary agronomist," she writes, "is a man of the earth, his fingernails perpetually stained with berries and dirt. His first language is trees. …" Her mother, Flip Divine, "a skateboard city girl with curls that bounced against her backpack, waltzed into his life without a permit (or so he claimed)."

The book details the missionary service in Haiti as the family expanded to include little sisters Laura Meadow and Rose Ember. Apricot's mother experienced misgivings about the privileges she as a white missionary, a blan, received. "'What am I doing here in Haiti?' she asked the family journal. 'Has God brought me to Haiti to enjoy the luxurious lifestyle? I don't think so.'"

Apricot's relationship with her father is fraught (both are strong-willed), and her memoir is unstinting in its honesty. As a kid she loved the lizards; as a teenager she felt imprisoned; as a daughter she observed her parents' fragile marriage. 

Years later she returned to Haiti to cover the horrendous earthquake of 2010 for This American Life. Earlier she had realized that "beauty, it seemed, had been here all along: a wild summons, a name for God that did not stick in my throat. It felt suddenly absurd that as missionaries we had come to teach Haitians about God. God was already here. Maybe our only job was to bear witness to the beauty--and the sorrow. Without denying either one." 

Irving is scheduled to appear at the Chico Library on Thursday, October 11 at 6:30 p.m. for a reading and signing. The event, sponsored by Chico Friends of the Library, is free and open to the public.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

"Franken-Fatale"



Chico area novelist H.J. Bennett, "heavily inspired by pop culture, comics, video games, the horror genre, and classic literature," has created an alternative realty in what publicity materials call an R-rated story full of "drugs, violence, sex, language, and unsettling themes." There are enough f-bombs in the first chapter alone to populate a wheelbarrow full of more conventional modern novels. Yet, strangely enough, the larger story is one of resilience, self-discovery, and the true meaning of friendship.

Imagine a music group composed of a guitar-playing monkey, a pregnant young woman called Denver, a hulking monster stitched together from body parts, and a fading but gorgeous 1980s pop star who has died many times (literally). "Franken-Fatale" ($19.99 in paperback from Blurb; also for Amazon Kindle) is the name of the band and the name of the novel. (The cover is by Wamberto Nicomedes.)

Best known locally as a mixed-media artist ("primarily acrylic, but I am known for using strange media as well such as eyeshadow, wine, tea, hair dye, and coffee"), Bennett has created a world with bits and pieces of our own (including a narrator, that pop star named Rita Venus, obsessed with celebrity) but that is definitely not our own.

It's a world in which reanimation is common so death is no deterrent. Body parts are bought and sold. Those with the bucks (like Rita Venus) can afford to be reanimated in style; others have to make do with standard reanimation chambers. Marilyn Monroe still lives, as provocative as ever, but those who have died once and are reanimated are no longer quite human. It's not exactly blood that courses through their veins, but a blackish substance, and no one has to eat. 

In fact, there are few "warmbloods" populating the earth, and Denver's quest to find an island of non-dead humans animates Bennett's story. In an author's introduction, Bennett writes that while humans are ego-driven, the "desire for belonging and social validation … drives us to behave in more charitable ways." Along the way the self-absorbed Rita is murdered multiple times, finds help in a floating brothel, and confronts a Victor Frankenstein figure that would make Boris Karloff shudder.

Then the story gets weird.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

"The Function Of Evil Across Disciplinary Contexts"



In 2014 Chico State University grad Brian Johnson, now Assistant Professor of Humanities at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio, helped convene a most unusual conference. "Evil Incarnate" brought together presenters from many academic specialties, from Shakespeare to South African crime fiction, and the papers have now been published in book form. 

"The Function Of Evil Across Disciplinary Contexts" ($95 in hardcover from Lexington Books; also for Amazon Kindle) is edited by Johnson and Malcah Effron, a lecturer in the Writing, Rhetoric, and Professional Communications program at MIT. It's a scholarly treatment, from a variety of perspectives, of how evil is to be defined in a secular age.

As the introduction says, "evil was, at one time, a supernatural force … well-defined by theology"; but as "the supernatural has dropped away" the "narrative of evil" has been fragmented. In fact, the editors suggest, evil "as a palpable force is … a metaphor for … social scorn…." 

An example is given by Johnson's chapter, entitled "Ghosts of the Old South: The Evils of Slavery and the Haunted House in Royal Street." The house, in New Orleans' French Quarter, was set on fire in 1834, allegedly by the house cook, one of a group of slaves kept in the building and repeatedly tortured by one Madame Delphine LaLaurie, "a twice-widowed French Creole woman." 

A crowd gathered at the fire. "Seeking justice, the citizens of New Orleans threatened to turn violent against Madame LaLaurie for her crimes." She escaped, but the crowd pressed in, "destroying what remained." Stories arose that the property was haunted by the ghosts of those slaves; the story was featured in 2013 as part of the third season of American Horror Story. To this day it is "considered one of the most haunted places in America."

Ghosts, real or not, Johnson says, "act as evidence of a white supremacist vision of the history of New Orleans." The ghosts "return from the grave because their treatment was beyond divine justice," as if what LaLaurie did was an isolated social evil policed by upstanding slave owners, thereby minimizing the evil of slavery itself.

Johnson calls us to see through those ghosts.


Thursday, September 13, 2018

"Free Speech On Campus"



How can public colleges and universities encourage the free expression of ideas yet also protect individuals from being harmed? It's no small task, write Erwin Chemerinsky and Howard Gillman in "Free Speech On Campus" ($26 in hardcover from Yale University Press and also for Amazon Kindle; a paperback version, just published, contains a new preface). 

Gillman is Chancellor at UC Irvine; Chemerinsky is Dean of UC Berkeley's School of Law. They lay out a vision for public higher education: "Campuses cannot and should not accommodate the language of safe spaces when the focus is protecting members of the campus fromthe expression of ideas, rather than creating a safe environment forthe expression of ideas."

The authors note that "this generation has a strong and persistent urge to protect others against hateful, discriminatory, or intolerant speech, especially in education settings." What they don't understand is the "historic link between free speech and the protection of dissenters and vulnerable groups."

Tracing the history of free speech in the US, the book argues that "social progress has come about not as a result of silencing certain speakers, but by ensuring that previously silenced or marginalized groups are empowered to find their voice and have their say."

But no voice can be heard in chaos, so the second half lists practical ways campus communities can respond to unpopular speech (as opposed to harmful actions), including hate speech. Speech should be regulated in "a professional zone" (like a classroom) "which protects the expression of ideas but imposes an obligation of responsible discourse…." 

But there should also be a "free speech zone" where "members of the campus community may say things … that they would not be allowed to say in the core educational and research environment." 

Tomorrow's leaders, the book concludes, must understand that if society is "to remain free, diverse, and democratic … free speech matters."

Author Erwin Chemerinsky is scheduled to present "Free Speech On Campus," the Constitution Day Lecture, at Chico State University's Laxson Auditorium on Thursday, September 27 at 6:00 p.m. Tickets are available through Chico Performances (http://bit.ly/2wX1sdO); $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, free for youth, Chico State staff, faculty, and students.


Thursday, September 06, 2018

"Bigfoot Nation: The History Of Sasquatch In North America"



According to Wikipedia, author David Hatcher Childress refers to himself as a "rogue archaeologist"; his newest book also identifies him as a "cryptozoology researcher" who has compiled accounts from all over the United States, and beyond, of a mysterious human-like creature.

Filled with photographs, some in color, "Bigfoot Nation: The History Of Sasquatch In North America" ($22 in paperback from AdventuresUnlimitedPress.com; also for Amazon Kindle) traces the first mentions back to the early 1800s in the Canadian Rockies, with reports of a "wild man of the woods."

Much later, in Bluff Creek, California, in 1958, a construction worker "noticed a very clear footprint in the mud along the side of the road." He called the maker of the print "bigfoot," and the name stuck.

For Childress, "bigfoot" is not a proper name, but a type, like "bear, cougar or unicorn," and the term is both singular and plural.

In 1969 there was an encounter in Oroville "where Ed Saville and Eldon Butler reported to the local newspaper that they had seen an 8-foot-tall bigfoot with greenish eyes that came to investigate their rabbit call one night."

In 1994, east of Quincy, two friends say around midnight they saw a creature "covered in hair with a rounded human-like head and no snout." A man named Tim Ford told officials in 1998 that "he and six of his friends saw a 9-foot-tall, yellow-eyed, man-like creature close to their campsite" in Hayfork. In 2006 a retired herbalist said she saw bigfoot near the Hoopa Indian Reservation and tried to talk with it, but no response. In 2017 "Claudia Ackley claims she and her daughters witnessed a sasquatch while hiking near Lake Arrowhead."

Childress acknowledges bigfoot hoaxes down through time, and his writing doesn't take itself too seriously, but he does write that "somewhere, right now, a bigfoot is lurking in the shadows, keeping his eye on those who encroach on his territory, and any nearby dumpsters. He knows his place in Bigfoot Nation and it is a place in the shadows. For him it's no big deal, the struggle for national sovereignty is over--except for the yelling and the screaming."


Thursday, August 30, 2018

"The Adventures Of Nagel Of Ancient Babylonia"



Wilma R. Forester, raised in Chico, has a tale to tell. It's not about her own childhood, but about a fictional youngster who lived long ago, "a tall lean boy about eight years old but nobody ever celebrated his birthdays. When and where he came from was unknown…." 

"Once upon a time," the story begins, "a boy named Nagel came for his spin on the earth. God sent him to the land of ancient Babylonia. The time in history as we count time was about 1400 BC."

A slave boy who runs away from Master Armen, and then returns, Nagel will have much to learn, especially about a dream that haunts him, of "beautiful white feathers" turning the color of blood.

"The Adventures Of Nagel Of Ancient Babylonia" ($19.95 in paperback from ReadersMagnet LLC; also for Amazon Kindle) is dedicated to "the free-spirit of young boys and girls the world over." The narrator suggests lessons that might be learned along the way and even provides background music.

One day an old woman gives Nagel a "magic" whistle, telling him: "When you were born, you cried and others rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, others cry and you rejoice." Much later, Nagel joins Master Armen's desert lion-hunting party, along with his dog Scrappy and his big friend Nio, the eunuch, when they are all waylaid by nomads.

The nomads have donkeys but not horses and demand them from Master Armen. Nagel and Nio (who acts as translator) are held hostage until the animals can be delivered. Nagel meets a girl his own age named Sara but as the deadline for Armen to return runs out, with the fate of Nagel and Nio in the balance, the two plot their escape. The narrator adds: "Music full of suspense here please."

The story is about promise-keeping and its sacrifices. Nagel, Forester writes, "had learned real sorrow and how to cry. If we live long enough sorrow comes to ALL of us…Very heavy slow sad music here…" But there is joy as well when Nagel finds out his true identity and that there is steadfast love greater than he ever imagined.


Thursday, August 23, 2018

"Dennis My Menace: My Brother's Memoir"



The story Magalia resident Michael ("Mikee") Richards has to tell seems prosaic. In a news release he says it's about "two boys growing up in rural Idaho in the 1950s and 1960s who seek their father's approval and love. Much of this time was spent on a cattle ranch where there was lots of hard work. Always in search of their father's love by following his code regarding women and sex, the boys did things that got them in plenty of hot water."

But the boys are raised in a highly dysfunctional family, an absent mother (gone when Mike was eight) and a father who spends much of his time drinking. Mike is especially close to his younger brother, Dennis, who is "mentally challenged" ("later diagnosed as an adult with paranoid schizophrenia"). Mike becomes his protector (and, sometimes, the instigator).

Richards imagines reflections that Dennis might write, were he capable, and adds entries in his own name, especially as Dennis gets lost in the mental health system and is found again, still alive. 

"Dennis My Menace: My Brother's Memoir" ($14.95 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle) is an unsparing and explicit portrait of a young man who wants to show affection (he's a hugger) but cannot understand the world.

"You will know that I live in my own head in ways that you cannot imagine," "Dennis" writes. Angry voices "would get me agitated and cause me to pace back and forth and talk to myself. … I guess some of those voices were of different people talking in my head. I was just answering them out loud. … I developed some very bad habits like uncleanliness, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. … I was put on medication when I was twenty years old in the mental institution."

The story is suffused with immense sadness as Richards, looking back, tries to make sense of his life with (and apart from) Dennis. He is "still living in Ogden in a group home. He doesn't have much of a life now because most of his mind is gone. … My hope now, Dennis, is that I will be with you until the end."


Thursday, August 16, 2018

"The Nazi Card"



Chico State University grad Brian Johnson is now Assistant Professor of Humanities at Cuyahoga Community College, in Cleveland, Ohio where he teaches American literature and popular culture. 

In a new book he examines with scholarly precision the roots of what has become commonplace in the internet age, reflected in "Godwin's Law," which asserts that any online discussion (about anything at all), if it goes on long enough, will inevitably usher in some comparison to Adolf Hitler.

Johnson argues that such comparisons have lost their original meaning. "Historically," he writes, "the Nazis were defeated in 1945, but rhetorically they continue on through analogy until today. Each incarnation of their reference has altered their definition subtly so that Nazis now can refer to totalitarian politics, a drive toward world domination, racism, … irresponsible science, … feminist excesses, warlike attitudes"--the list goes on. Yet "what is the nature of Nazi evil if it isn't the Holocaust?"

"The Nazi Card" ($85 in hardcover from Lexington Books) traces "Nazi comparisons at the beginning of the Cold War," as the subtitle says, ranging not only through the age of the anti-Communist "Red Scare," and the Black Power and the Civil Rights movements, but also developments in the twenty-first century. 

Focusing primarily on Nazi analogies in American film (such as Charlie Chaplin's rendition of "Adenoid Hynkel" in "The Great Dictator" of 1940 and Peter Sellers as "Dr. Strangelove" in 1964), the book finds that even after the horror of the death camps entered public consciousness,  the Nazi analogy, representing absolute evil, has been over time sundered from the actual "egregious crimes" of the Hitler regime.

Applications of the Nazi analogy grow more and more arbitrary in popular culture, Johnson maintains, even when better analogies are available. "Why aren't Communists, better armed and a more imminent threat, a better description of a present menace than the Nazis, who were long ago defeated?" And, at times, "analogies to Nazism were employed to justify, not condemn, harassment of Jewish-Americans."

The bottom line for Johnson is that the misuse of Nazi analogies impedes careful moral reasoning. There is danger that the abundance of arbitrary Nazi comparisons may tempt us to forget what really happened.


Thursday, August 09, 2018

"Positive Thoughts Will Change Your Life: A Handbook For Personal Transformation"



"I grew up in Corning," writes Tony Palermo. "Everyone there, including my own family, are good, hardworking loving people." But after "a very tough break-up" at 19 he was plunged into sadness and depression and didn't ask his family for help. Perhaps, he thought, they wouldn't understand. 

He studied business at Butte College and moved up the ladder to a managerial position with Media News Group (the parent of this newspaper) but lasting happiness proved elusive. By age 36 it seemed clear that nothing would stop the emotional roller coaster. "As far as I was concerned, all my energy for the last 16 years had been expended in a continual effort to keep the darkness at bay."

Things began to change when he "decided to work with a life coach." Palermo learned "how to productively manage my negative thoughts … learning how to turn my negative thoughts into positive thoughts." The affirmations of self-love he practiced began to have an effect. 

Palermo himself became a life coach (tonypalermolifecoach.com) and what he teaches is embodied in "Positive Thoughts Will Change Your Life: A Handbook For Personal Transformation"($9.99 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle).

Central chapters focus on changing negative thoughts to positive ones. "One of the most commonly-used healing methodologies of this New Age are affirmations … something you say to yourself repeatedly." The affirmation "validates the precise role that thoughts and emotions play in creating our lives." 

The idea is to avoid negative affirmations ("I hate school") and embrace positive ones ("I'm a good student"). "If we focus on positive thoughts," Palermo writes, "the universe rallies round us, ushering in our deepest dreams."

In line with New Age teaching, affirmations are seen as a creative force. They require one to "consciously do what aligns with and supports the manifestation of your affirmations" knowing that "the universe will support me in every way." Separate chapters are devoted to forgiveness, relationships, and health.

Those who do not subscribe to New Age metaphysics can nevertheless affirm with Palermo the importance of cultivating appropriate habits of life and, as he has learned, to let others help. 

"The heart is built for sharing."


Thursday, August 02, 2018

"Heart Of The Poppy: From War To Amor"



When the Evangelical Free Church of Chico partnered with Amor ministries (amor.org) to build homes in Mexico, Amor's founders, Scott and Gayla Congdon, little knew of a historical connection with World War I. 

Now, after seven years of research, church member Dan Irving tells the story in vivid detail. "Heart Of The Poppy: From War To Amor" ($10 in paperback, self-published, available at ABC Books in Chico; also for Amazon Kindle) begins with "The War to End All Wars" and a Christian hospitality ministry that arose near Ypres, in Belgium, during the height of the conflict.

Trench warfare is unimaginable. "Your senses are numb, you are surrounded by death. Its lifeless stare bores right through you…. The stench of death is everywhere, and it will never leave you. Never! You cannot escape death’s objective: to hunt you down and destroy you, anyway possible. You would prefer a merciless bullet to the brain. … For now, this is your home, where the mud and blood flow together in the trenches on the Western Front."

In 1915, a man named Philip Thomas Byard Clayton, ordained by the Anglican Church, was sent to the Western Front, to Poperinge, Belgium, in West Flanders, a small town near Ypres. "He was short and pudgy," Irving notes, and his nickname, "Tubby," stuck with him.

Tubby performed services on the front lines and saw the need for respite. He turned a damaged mansion in Poperinge into "Talbot House," named for one of the war dead, a place of hospitality known by its initials, Toc H (the "toc" sound a way for Army Signal Code to distinguish t from p).

The Toc H movement grew worldwide, later including a ministry in Mexico building homes, which influenced the Congdons and, years later, led to the formation of Amor. 

It is an extraordinary history, involving 800,000 dead at the Third Battle of Ypres ("for the Allies it represented a gain of two inches for every dead soldier"), and, astonishingly, a field of dark red poppies "sprouting up in life" in Flanders fields, a memorial to death--yet one day, a hundred years hence, yielding life and hope for Mexico.


Thursday, July 26, 2018

"Shadows Of War: The King's Frog Hunter, Book 2"



Paradise novelist Ken Young continues his magisterial "frog hunter" epic fantasy with Book 2, "Shadows Of War" ($16.95 in paperback from North Point Publishing). In the Kingdom of Ameram, where fierce frogs are as big as humans, Thalmus, the King's Frog Hunter, must defend Ameram against a new incursion of evil.

The tale begins in the aftermath of Metro's defeat. The sinister magician's evil influence had seemingly been vanquished, old King Ahmbin had been spared, and now his daughter, Ekala Oleen, had become Queen. It was the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy that she would become "the first woman ruler of Ameram."

The prophecy is guarded by Thalmus (one of the Order of Servants who is, mysteriously, "much older than I appear and much younger than I am") and by Larma, a female mystic who listens to the clouds ("Occasionally, the clouds, just like the wind, will speak the truth we need to hear"). That prophecy encompasses the fate of Boschina, the Stone Cutter's Daughter, whose father, Veracitas, expresses the "stone truth" in his carvings.

Ekala and her "Oleens," (mostly) female warriors, ride with Prince Bolimaz, exiled from the northern land of Toulon, to investigate strange doings at the the ford separating Toulon from Ameram. Weapons are being smuggled into Ameram; Metro's evil remains like an invisible fog.

The evil is greater and deeper than any have imagined. Larma listens to the clouds and writes out an urgent message to Thalmus, which Boschina must deliver. Boschina confronts the terrible fighting beast called the Chorgen and she, Thalmus, and Thalmus' trusted animal friends (Dallion, "the striking white and brown Paint stallion"; Bubo, the Great Horned Owl; and Thunder, the giant shell creature, "a mix between a tortoise and a snapping turtle") must battle enemies from without--and within.

Treachery abounds, and two questions haunt the book: Who can be trusted? And what is the truth?

The action never flags, and Ekala and Boschina become wiser through their trials. Though the ending is fitting, it's more of a pause, with the two women now prepared to work out their intertwined destinies in the next book. It can't come soon enough.


Thursday, July 19, 2018

"Rainbow: A History of The Rose In California"



To the delight of budding rose historians, master gardener Darrell g.h. Schramm has written the first account of the flower's arrival and propagation in the Golden State. In "Rainbow: A History of The Rose In California" ($24.99 in paperback from CreateSpace, createspace.com/7229975), the Chico State University grad and retired University of San Francisco professor, now living in Vallejo, writes for the love of the rose.

His book "begins with the first mention of roses by explorers and missionaries and continues through the first 75 years of statehood," up until about 1924.

The first rose in California? It's the controversial "Rose of Castile," a five-petal pink rose brought from Spain to California in the late sixteenth century. Or perhaps the earliest accounts (which are ambiguous) are really about a California native species to which Spaniards affixed a generic description. The "name of the rose" continues in mystery.

Chapters also deal with native species ("California boasts nine wild roses"), cultivars, and "Early Nurseries and Nurserymen," capsule descriptions of petal-pushers extraordinaire including John Bidwell. "We have the 1887 and 1888 Rancho Chico Nursery catalogues. Of the 47 roses listed, 34 are still in commerce today. Apparently Bidwell exercised a good eye for roses." Roses such as Baltimore Belle, Gold of Ophir, and William Jesse are all still available.

Bidwell's grounds keeper, Frederick Peterson, "opened a nursery in Chico in 1907 called Lindo Nursery," which then passed on to his son, George (1903-2001). Though George specialized in Camellias, he "was fond of roses and grew over 165 different kinds. In the 1950s George Peterson proposed a rose garden for the Chico State … campus. When the garden was ready in 1957, George donated 400 rose bushes of many varieties."

The book is replete with photographs of roses and detailed early catalog information in six appendices (including the Rancho Chico list).

"A rose," Schramm writes, "even if it does not repeat its bloom, pervades the senses, the memory. It moves far beyond a show or exhibit, going on and on beyond any season. If we love the rose, it lives on in who we are, becoming a part of us. The rose lives within."


Thursday, July 12, 2018

"The Ethics Of Poker"



What are the odds that a Chico State University student would graduate with a degree in philosophy and then go on to become a philosophy professor at McNeese State University at Lake Charles, Louisiana? Maybe it was always in the cards for that to happen to Todd Furman, who seems to have a special interest in no-limit Texas Hold'em.

That's evident in Furman's book, "The Ethics Of Poker" ($29.95 in paperback from McFarland; also for Amazon Kindle). It's a witty discussion, packed with thought experiments, of some of the issues of right and wrong raised by the game itself. (It's a reflection on sinning, not winning.)

For poker neophytes, Furman offers an extensive glossary of both poker and philosophical terms (including "Bad Beat Jackpot" and "Veil of Ignorance"), a section on the rules of Texas Hold'em, and a ranking of hands (from Royal Flush to One Pair). 

Here and there he loves to talk the talk: "With everyone's attention focused on him, Mike shuffles, cuts the cards, and deals one more hand face down. Turning over his cards, Mike has Pocket-Rockets; the next hand is Cowboys, followed by Siegfried and Roy, and so on. Mike is a mechanic."

But once you know that a "mechanic" is a slight-of-hand artist, it's clear that the other players would not exactly congratulate Mike on his no-holds-barred skill but rather insist that Mike had acted immorally and demand their money back. See? Setting the formal rules of the game aside, poker raises a host of issues, such as whether it's morally acceptable to play with someone who's drunk, or play with a compulsive gambler.

The book is divided into three sections. The first considers the morality of poker itself and how much harm it causes society (maybe a lot, but less than alcohol, tobacco, and firearms, which are also legal). The second deals with actions within the game (such as informed consent--what if the table stakes game turns out to be open stakes?). The third is how casinos ought to operate (so the taxes they pay should reflect actual costs to society, such as "additional crime and bankruptcies").

Will readers learn something? It's a safe bet.


Thursday, July 05, 2018

"The Trumpeter's New Clothes"



Paradise blogger Robyn Alana Engel's satirical retelling of "The Emperor's New Clothes" comes with a warning: "Not for those who lean Orange."

There's an intriguing personage at the center of her word play. "From Queens arose a King," we're told. "Golden towers housed his bling./ Dim of wit and rich in wealth,/ he told crazed tales about himself/ … A shameless trumpeter was he." 

Effervescently illustrated by Paradise's own Steve Ferchaud (with the cover design by Bryan Pedas), "The Trumpeter's New Clothes" ($12.99 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle, with more at rawknrobyn.blogspot.com) tells the story of "a huge bellied brute ... colored orange, just like the fruit." 

Folks in the kingdom can't stand his soulless trumpeting. "He punished people with brown skin/ and those who didn't worship him./ He broke up families, taxed the poor;/ stole from the ill and old,/ and many more."

As a sign in one of the illustrations shows, he spends much time at his MeLargeEgo Country Club--and there the golfing double entendres begin: "He did work hard, I might say,/ at carving-out large times to play./ One of the King's most favored/ things of all/ was to swing/ long rods at tiny balls."

The plot thickens when, in Putinontheritz Land, "Rushing Brides strategized/ a sly get-rich plan/ to trick and deceive/ the bigly orange man," offering the King a magical "see-through orange jumpsuit" sure to improve his game and attract damsels by the dozen. Of course, there is no actual garment, but that doesn't stop the King. "He debuted his new jumpsuit/ all around town,/ like a naked parade/ of one proud circus clown."

Then, after a tragic school shooting, one courageous teenager points out that the King is not only not wearing any clothes, but he has failed to protect the kingdom. Millions of others join the school kids and the King, downcast, is no longer the center of attention. But not for long.

"'Watch me!' said the King,/ needy as could be./ 'I'm a covfefé cannot ball.'/ He squeezed into a bigly cannon./ 'Look-see! Look at me!'" But no one did.

Engel's goal? To let the chip shots fall where they may.


Thursday, June 28, 2018

"Reassurance In Negative Space"



Elizabyth Hiscox is Director of the Contemporary Writer Series at Western State Colorado University which "brings emerging and established literary artists to campus and community venues." A Chico State University grad, her new collection of poems uses word sounds and typography to push the boundaries of meaning. 

"Reassurance In Negative Space" ($19.95 in paperback from Word Galaxy Press; also for Amazon Kindle) takes on everything, from Camembert to her mother's fatal illness, with sly humor that challenges readers to think and rethink what she has written.

Some lines are playful: "Tabs on beer are canned laughter here" (from "Cheval de Frise and Gone-Sweetness at the All-Inclusive"); "I've begun to notice the infidelities/ of drainage ditches at dusk" (from "The Complex of the Yolk Base"); and "no one sees the mime holding the banana until it is peeled" (from "A Poem with Three Lines from One Night in Portland").

A prose poem, "Fourteen Minutes Too Late for the Cheese Counter," starts this way: "And though I've loved many, each in their turn, the fact of a man is not the same as a really good Camembert and never will be."

In "To Older Cold," the poet evokes a memory: "Snow covers half my childhood./ It arrived in haste. It sank school days/ on battery-operated radios,/ storm shadows huddled electricity,/ and windowsills succumbed often, and at speed." 

The "Sonnet to Room 411b" turns poignant and may evoke a memory of our own: "Hummingbird through the pane, sucking the Spanish roses/ and my eyes are the girl passing me in the hall.// 'Mother.' It makes your mouth call/ in the saying.// The ceiling fan becomes a turnstile for the anxious air/ and a well-intentioned bedside: crepe-paper flowers fading to/ fading, too."

Readers who have written poems or prose of their own, but who would like some guidance on self-publishing--from selecting covers to writing introductions--may be interested in an upcoming Chico workshop presented by the North State Writers Club. The workshop, facilitated by local author Thatcher Nalley, will be held July 15 from 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. at Oxford Suites. Advance registration is $95 for non-members, $65 for members, with more information at northstatewriters.com.


Thursday, June 21, 2018

"Iced"



Chico State University grad Robert Grindy now teaches creative writing courses at Richland Community College in Decatur, Illinois. He has crafted a wonderfully convoluted murder mystery set in 1999 and centered on the fictional Kickapoo Community College located in a town sort of like Decatur. The story takes the central character, a cynical creative writing instructor at Kickapoo named Henry Streator, into a droll world of mayhem and murder.

In "Iced" ($15.95 in paperback from Livingston Press; also for Amazon Kindle) the not-very-likable Streator is on the verge of being fired, despite his tenured status. 

He's perpetually late to class, rude to colleagues and students alike, and now, "facing down the end of a decade, the end of the century, the end of his thirties just weeks away with his September birthday, what had he to show for the nineties? Ten years of shoveling … out … the Aegean stables of freshman composition. A failed marriage. No book."

Then one of his down-on-his-luck students, Tarvis Conner, brings him a plot idea for a story that features the murder of the town's prominent ethanol factory owner Frederick Gunther, head down in the thin ice of a nearby lake, skis up, legs in a V. A spark of interest kindles in Streator, especially since his Dean friend, Loren Locke, makes it clear that unless Streator gets a novel published, he is toast.

Conner dies in a freak car accident, and Streator, desperate, takes Conner's idea for his own. In a fit of creativity (and a change of "Gunther" to "Geddes"), he finishes the manuscript, gets an agent, and lands the book (and a big promised advance) with a small publisher. 

Streator quits his job at Kickapoo and prepares to fly to New York to sign the contract, when Gunther himself is found head down in the ice, with his skis on and legs in a V. It seems clear Conner knew beforehand this would happen, and Streator becomes detective, piecing together clues into a tapestry of deceit and destruction (he's almost killed in a freak car accident himself). And then he gets the surprise of his life.

Maybe the world is not as screwed up as he thought.


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 titaniumcowgirl.com.

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; missppelled.com) 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."