Tuesday, January 18, 2022

"Lily's Lament"

Chicoan Dick Cory, retired science and health teacher, continues his environmental activism in his thirteenth self-published book. This one is for kids, but also for adults, with a narrative by a long-tailed lemur.

"Lily's Lament" (approximately $20 at Made In Chico) features full-color illustrations by Steve Ferchaud which bring lemurs to life with a distinctive tail to tell. There's a bite to this tale as it's the story of what's happening to the lemurs' home in far-off Madagascar.

"What bothers me most," Lily notes, "is I'm getting old at 17, and as leader of my troop (alpha female), I may not be able to protect and care for my family much longer. Our living space has been squeezed down to the ... southwest corner of our country. Although we spend about one-third on the ground, we still need the forest for food."

Lily is eighteen inches tall; though she weighs but five pounds, "don't sell me short on brain power. I've been able to learn simple arithmetic, understand patterns, and pick the right tool to do a job (sequencing)." As Cory writes in the introduction, non-human animals have ways of communicating, even "the ability to select, create, and use tools."

For Cory, "watching long-tailed lemurs hop, skip, and jump across open ground in Madagascar is so much like children playing on a school playground during recess. There must be some common emotions, pleasures, and need of expression." Humans should not forget.

Lily's country is poor; the most important export is natural vanilla, but the consequences for Lily are stark: "I like awake at night in my cave bed wondering what value we have to our country. Is the wood and natural vanilla so valuable to drive us off the island? Our lives are at stake (endangered) not only by this lost ground ... but by hunters for food, and pet collectors. We live on the edge of 'no more' (extinction)."

Could tourism be an answer? Kids coming to Madagascar "could watch us jump from tree to tree, climb the rocky sides of steep mountains, and hop, skip, and jump" along the ground. It's an optimistic dream, and Cory leaves readers with much to think about.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022


"Our connection evolved into a salacious summer fling," writes Chicoan Robyn Alana Engel in her new memoir. "Between romps, there were frequent 'I’m here for you' phone calls. We’d stroll along the creek at Bidwell Park hand-in-hand and laugh about absurdities like a chihuahua chasing its own tail." But "'Jeff' wouldn't commit to an exclusive partnership with anyone.... I slipped into a bout of depression. I didn't realize this then, but my brain was screaming for balance."

The screaming continues throughout "InSanity" ($11.99 in paperback, self-published, with more at rawknrobyn.blogspot.com; also for Amazon Kindle), a dark and mordant work of creative non-fiction which explores in gritty and fairly explicit detail the tension Engel feels between self-care as a single and an insatiable desire for sex.

"Am I oversexed," she wonders in print, "due to a lack of touch throughout my childhood? Or am I oversexed because I'm trying to make up for lost time--having been such a late bloomer?" Her introduction to "Justin," her prince charming, came only in her late thirties, but the marriage didn't last. Then, later, Engel receives news that her ex had died by suicide.

Memories of growing up in an outwardly successful but inwardly psychologically abusive family flood in (never hugged by mom, ignored by dad). And guilt about how poorly she treated her middle brother. Depressed, schizophrenic, Glenn died by suicide in 1988.

Engel's own will to live is fed by a need for constant emotional and sexual stimulation ("loneliness makes me feel crazy"). Her hookups over the years (with Jeff, Twig, George, Mr. Scorpio, Fred, Paul E., Troy, Eldee S., Paul Revere, JT) and run-ins with roommates, neighbors and bosses reveal a blushingly hilarious acid tongue, a person who can't stand boredom--but also someone deeply wounded.

A licensed therapist, Engel played Annie Bidwell, shook Bernie Sanders' hand when he came to Chico, helped Camp Fire victims. For Engel, "you have to choose life, in order to inspire others to do the same.... I choose life, and I intend to give my best to the whole of it. I arrive home, in sanity."

(Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for 24/7 free and confidential support.)

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

"Sunroofs And Shoeboxes"

For Chico State journalism graduate Jaime Mathews, now living with her husband and kids in Danville, her life as a single person was, well, frustrating. "I was thirty-one years old," she writes, "and I always thought that by then, I would be married with children.... Instead, I was living with a roommate, my dog, and two cats, working at my dad's business while I was also growing the hair salon I had purchased (and already disliked)."

She felt stuck. So she started writing "on January 7 because beginning on January 1 seemed way to cliché for me" and "committed myself to writing every day for six months about the things I was grateful for. You see, I knew about the power of mindset. I had studied it constantly during my master's program in holistic health and nutrition."

Though the resulting "gratitude journey" opened many personal and professional doors, the point is to express gratitude for what you already have (and may not realize it). 

Those daily posts are contained in Mathews' upbeat "Sunroofs And Shoeboxes" ($12.99 in paperback from The Sweet Life Co., thesweetlife.co; also for Amazon Kindle). Subtitled "train yourself to find happiness in a coffee mug, joy in the laughter of a stranger, and fulfillment in the beauty of a sunset," it's like opening the sunroof on a car: "There is a distinct feeling of expansiveness."

Noticing a little extra around your mid-section? Well, your intuitive sense is called a gut feeling and "because of this, having a more visually present gut can actually be a very healthy reminder to pay attention." (Though a too-present gut can indeed pose a health risk.)

Need creative inspiration? Try Chico's Thursday night market "which showcased the uniqueness of this college town: kettle corn ... fresh herbs, and the most amazing breads."

Sad, scary, or dangerous situations can stimulate gratefulness for others: "We are not meant to live this life on our own." 

"So the next time you fail your New Year's resolutions, forget about them" and loosen up; set a goal whenever, and go for it, being kind to yourself and those around you. 

Readers will find Jaime Mathews a cheering companion along the way.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

"Abandoned Chinatowns: Northern California"

With floods and civil war in China in the mid-nineteenth century, many Chinese men came to Northern California during the gold rush boom not so much to start over but to "earn enough money to provide for their families back home and to return to their homeland with financial security." 

As southern Oregon writer Margaret LaPlante points out, this led in the 1850s and beyond to the establishment of numerous Chinatowns and created tension not only among non-Chinese but also within their own communities. "Fires swept through Chinatowns continually," she writes, "but the Chinese showed their resiliency by rebuilding time and time again."

LaPlante captures some of these Chinatowns through hundreds of historical photographs in "Abandoned Chinatowns: Northern California" ($23.99 in paperback from America Through Time). San Francisco's original Chinatown was destroyed by earthquake and fire in 1906. Other Chinatowns throughout Northern California had their own challenges. 

One photograph shows the "third Joss House in Oroville's Chinatown; the first two burned." The Joss House, or Chinese temple, "was built in 1863 using bricks manufactured in nearby Palermo. In 1937, after a series of vandalism and thefts, the town decided to turn the Joss House into a museum," still also available for worship.

LaPlante writes that the "Chinese who lived in Red Bluff built elaborate tunnels underneath the downtown. Most of the tunnels stretched out to the Sacramento River. As in most Chinatowns, there was a great deal of opium, gambling, and prostitution."

In Truckee, many Chinese "worked on the railroad. The Truckee Chinatown burned in 1878 but was rebuilt on the outskirts of town. In 1886, during the anti-Chinese movement, Truckee's ... 'Caucasian League' ordered all Chinese residents to leave Truckee on their own or they would be shipped out in boxcars."

LaPlante devotes an entire chapter to detailing "anti-Chinese sentiment." The 1870 Naturalization Act forbade Chinese from becoming citizens and vestiges of discriminatory policies remained until at least 1965.

The Chinese "planted vineyards in the wine country; they cleared the delta...; they installed irrigation for orchards; and they worked in the fishing industries and in canneries.... They operated laundries, restaurants, markets....."  LaPlante's book is a timely reminder of what has come before.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

"The Yahi Storyteller"

Lewis Foreman, a correspondent tells me, was part of the Chico High School graduating class of 1959. Now, in his eighth decade, he has written and illustrated a book of extraordinary tales that tell of ancient civilizations, galaxy traveling machines, and a perpetually sunlit garden world at earth's center.

And it begins with the story of a talented drummer whose stage name is Frosty. Years ago "he had left his home town of Chico, Ca., which had not satisfied his musical desires, and moved to the City." In San Francisco he finds "drugs and Rock and Roll" and later sets off to Reykjavik to explore his Viking heritage. What he finds is no less than the Reality behind all mythologies--and sword-and-sorcery adventures aplenty.

"The Yahi Storyteller" ($39.92 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle) prefaces Frosty's own incredible journey with the long tale of Sky Hawk, part of the Acoma Anasazi, who "had wandered the southwest and had eventually entered California," coming to the land of the ancient Yana nation and the Yahi people.

Only a few Yahi survive the cattlemen's attacks (and Foreman's book does not look away from the grisly slaughters), but they do find hidden caves in which to live, and eventually Sky Hawk the storyteller is welcomed into the Yahi family.

"The Great Spirit is the manifested Father and Mother Creator," Sky Hawk tells the children, "and has been called by many names. The Navaho people call it the Holy Wind, the pale-skins call it the Holy Ghost."

Father and Mother Creator, neither male nor female, "are beyond creation." "They, together with the manifested Great Spirit, are the Creator. Three, yet all one. They are Power, Wisdom and Love." 

This back story sets the stage for Frosty's literal slide into the Viking era, where the drummer is renamed Sigmund Thorsson, summoned by the leader, Ice Wolf, to learn drums--and to explore a strange tunnel into the center of the earth wherein Centaurs, Sprites, Satyrs, Dragons and apes reside. 

The dark lords and their Fallen minions have arisen to enslave others, so the Viking exploration turns into a battle with cosmic consequences. 

Foreman's fertile imagination is wonderful to behold.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

"Miseducation: How Climate Change Is Taught In America"

Spring 2019. "Sixth-grade science teacher Kristen Del Real had invited me to come by during her prep period, so for the first time since age thirteen," Katie Worth writes, "I found myself walking the halls of my alma mater, Chico Junior High School." She had returned to find out what kids were being taught about climate change.

Worth worked with FRONTLINE and The GroundTruth Project, part of a team that won an Emmy for the interactive documentary "The Last Generation" (bit.ly/3dMzMNL) about three young people living in the Marshall Islands. Rising sea levels threaten their very homeland.

One of them moved with his family to Oklahoma, and Worth wanted to know what his textbooks said about climate change. The answer fit into her larger investigative journalism project now published in book form: "Miseducation: How Climate Change Is Taught In America" ($16 in paperback from Columbia Global Reports; also for Amazon Kindle).

Worth "traveled to more than a dozen communities to talk to kids about what they have learned about the phenomenon that will shape their future. What I found were points of friction in abundance." 

Del Real explains that several years earlier, students started to lose interest in their climate change "solution projects" because a history teacher "was showing them YouTube videos alleging that global warming was a hoax...."

And yet, Worth writes, "the more that scientists have studied a link between human industry and global temperatures, the more unambiguous they have found it." 

Her report explains how "climate deniers" create "climate doubters" among the general public in a striking parallel with tobacco industry tactics. She is frank in her reporting that climate scientists don't know everything, and she interviews climate skeptics and fossil fuel advocates. 

But the bottom line is that climate change is falsely presented as a debate, as if coming from "legitimate scientific disagreement."

In 2019, Paradise Intermediate seventh-grader Nakowa Kelley said in Marc Kessler's science class: "This global warming stuff? My parents said it's not true." With care and attention, Kessler tells Worth he helps students search for the truth, but it is a challenge. 

The previous November Nakowa's house disappeared in the Camp Fire.

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

"Follow The Crypto"

Retired Chico State dean Stephen W. King (swkingbooks.com) has just published the second novel in the Lucas Bitterman series, and it takes up King's interest in the new world of cryptocurrency. 

Luke, a member of the Secret Service, finds that, after an earthquake in Bellingham, Washington, he must "Follow The Crypto" ($18.99 in paperback from FriesenPress; also for Amazon Kindle). As the story unfolds, readers will learn not only about how Bitcoin works but why it's the favored monetary system for various nefarious doings and for avoiding taxes. That's because it's untraceable. Sort of. 

The earthquake doesn't cause much damage, except, as a news alert says, to "one side of a three-story downtown building." It falls nine feet into one of the old mining tunnels under Bellingham; nobody hurt, but investigators find strange things in condo 2A, where someone named George Kennedy lives. We're talking "digital wallets," code numbers, and cash. About $30,000.

George has made it known to local bank tellers to expect big deposits because he's a professional gambler. In actuality, of course, George is not; he's not even "George." But before he flees the area he wants to visit the bank one last time to retrieve "almost five pounds of gold bullion coins--about $150,000 worth of American Eagles and Canadian Maple Leafs."

Luke, serving as one of the Secret Service representatives on the government's Joint Task Force on cryptocurrency crimes, is soon involved in what is becoming a bigger case than one about a local con artist's bad luck. Staying with an old friend and his wife near Lake Whatcom, Luke unravels a drug smuggling scheme that stretches from Bellingham down the I-5 corridor all the way to Mexico.

Along the way we meet not only the corrupt officials running the operation but a greedy wannabe. And, after a killing, the question becomes whether the good guys' plot to catch the murderer will work. 

But there is more. Once motives have been revealed things get increasingly complicated and Luke wrestles with the "inherent tension between law enforcement and criminal justice." King is at his best in asking where justice may be found and, fortunately for readers, his answer is not encrypted.