Friday, December 29, 2006

2006 - The year in local books


It was an eclectic year in local publishing. This column recognized some 40 books by local authors or those with local roots, and the subject matter ranged from nefarious doings at the zoo to computer animation. You'll find reviews of these books all archived here at Musable.

Poetry, novels and children's books

The Biblio File celebrated five volumes of poetry, including "Crossings" by Audrey Small; "Try to Write a Poem Without the Word Blood In It" by Sally Allen McNall; "Skyways," edited by Patricia Wellingham-Jones; "Tom Thomson In Purgatory" by Troy Jollimore; and "Poems From My Soul" by Alma Garrett.

I reviewed five novels, including two from Redding writer Steve Brewer, "Whipsaw" and "Monkey Man" (that's the one with the zoo doings). Charlie Price and "Dead Connection" were also from Redding. Then there were "Promised Land" by Helga Ruge and "Brother Eagle, Sister Moon" by Phil Dynan out of Corning.

Incidentally, I have some big novels on my shelf still unreviewed. I'm a slow reader and thus exceedingly selective about novels (which require lots of emotional investment and just plain time). But write the history of Chico radio stations and you're in!

The third five is children's books. I love their exuberant colors and creative expression. We had "Here Is the African Jungle" from Phyl Manning; "Perry the Pack Rat Finds a Friend" by Mardell E. Alberico; Debbie Cobb's "Gracie's Big Adventure With Augustine the Beaver"; and two from T. E. Watson: "The Man Who Spoke With Cats" and "Glen Robbie."


The largest category this year. Two about the military: "A Patch of Ground: Khe Sanh Remembered" by Michael Archer; and "Special Agent, Vietnam: A Naval Intelligence Memoir" by Douglass H. Hubbard Jr. Then there were three in Arcadia's "Images of America" series: "Chico" (Edward V. Booth, John Nopel, Keith Johnson, Darcy Davis); "Oroville" (James Lenhoff); and "Paradise" (Robert Colby). Colby also produced "Old Days in Butte" and Teresa Ward and the Richvale Writing Group checked in with "Richvale: A Legacy of Courage, Dedication, and Perseverance."

Olivia Claire High gave us "An Angel Among Us: A Mother's Heartfelt Story"; Lucia Barbini Falcone wrote "Over Bridges, Across Tables: Growing Up On the Island of Murano"; we had "Essays From the Ten" by Daniel Thomas; "Exploring Chico's Past, And Other Essays" by Michele Shover; "Six Boys and a Bag of Dirt" by Dick Cory; "Under the Influence: Working-Class Drinking, Temper-ance, and Cultural Revo-lution in Russia, 1895-1932" by Kate Transchel; and "Bicycling Beyond City Limits: A Journal of Endurance, Friendship and Discovery" by Michael F. Foley (Chico to South Carolina in 55 days).


We were also graced with "Storytelling Through Animation" by Mike Wellins; "Body Intelligence: Lose Weight, Keep It Off, and Feel Great About Your Body Without Dieting!" by Ed Abramson; "Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships" by Janja Lalich and Madeleine Tobias; "Legacy By Design: Succession Planning for Agribusiness Owners" by Kevin Spafford; "Geology of the Sierra Nevada, Revised Edition" from Mary Hill; "The Chico User's Guide" by Eric Norlie; and "Who ARE You People? A Personal Journey Into the Heart of Fanatical Passion in America" by Shari Caudron.


Finally, two coffee-table delights: "Mobile Mansions: Taking 'Home Sweet Home' on the Road" by Doug Keister; and "The Murals of John Pugh: Beyond trompe l'oeil" by Kevin Bruce.

A tip of the hat to you all!

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

An area writer's Christmas grace


Her debut as a teenager was not auspicious. "I squandered every bit of my teen ... and early adult years. I was pregnant at 13. I had an abortion. At 14, I was with child again, and at 15 I gave birth to a baby girl in June of '72. Around this same time I started experimenting with different types of drugs and alcohol to find something to make me feel at ease with life, because I was pretty bound by feelings of inferiority, inadequacy and anxiety. Six months after the birth of my little girl, her father died of an overdose of alcohol and heroin (he was only 16)."

Though her life spirals yet further downward, local author Alma Garrett, who looks back on those years in "Poems From My Soul" ($12 in paperback from Red Lead Press,, finds another, infinitely greater nativity, and the power of God come to earth. "Wonder of All Wonders," reads the title of one poem: "Love pure and Holy, undefiled, / Wrapped in a manger / In the form of a child." "You rain down treasures / From heaven above;" she writes in "Reign, Rein, Rain," "Your grace, Your mercy / Your peace, Your love."

The book is a deeply personal testimony about that love. In the first part, searing narrative is interspersed with poetic commentary. In the latter part, as if a great song has broken forth, Garrett writes again and again of "The Call": "There's a call, can't you hear it? / To be one with the Father, son and Holy Spirit."

"Seventeen years ago," she says in one of the last narrative passages, "I surrendered the use of drugs, alcohol and my life to Jesus. ... It has been an uphill climb as well as a challenge, and I've got a long way to go. ... I don't mean to say that I am perfect. I haven't learned all I should even yet, but I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ saved me for and wants me to be."

Her earlier life featured a succession of boyfriends. They were pretty but deceptive packages, addicts of various kinds. One of her poems is entitled "Don't Be Taken In."

"In 1983," Garrett writes, "I moved out of the Bay Area to a small town in Northern California. I moved to get away from everything I knew and everything I became. I was getting tired of drugs and the mess they made of my life, I was tired of the people in my life, I was tired of men using me, and all I knew was that I needed a change. I didn't understand that if nothing changed on the inside (my heart), then no matter where I went my environment would be the same. ... I would take my jealousy, my fears, my anger, my memories, my pain. I would take everything."

As for drugs, she did take everything. The last piece in the book, "Tripping (Revised)" juxtaposes a kind of cool, swaggering rhythm with an abrupt warning of the spiritual dangers: "Shoot it, toot it, drink it, chew it, / Pop it, drop it ... YOU BETTER STOP IT."

But that's not the end of Garrett's story, a testimony of Christmas grace. "Work in me Thy Father's will," she writes in another poem, "To do of Thy good pleasure; / Birth in me the likeness / Of heaven's most precious treasure."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission. Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 15, 2006

Ridge historian's story of Paradise is richly illustrated and a grand gift


Robert Colby, former editor of Tales of the Paradise Ridge, has just published "Paradise" ($19.99 in paperback from Arcadia Publishing), part of the publisher's "Images of America" series of pictorial treatments of towns and cities across the country.

"Paradise" is available at area bookstores or through Arcadia's Web site ( The book completes the story of Paradise and the upper ridge begun last year in "Magalia to Stirling City," also published by Arcadia, written by Colby and the late Lois McDonald, to whom "Paradise" is dedicated.

Colby's introduction recounts the origin of the town (for awhile it was called "Orloff"), the development of agriculture on the ridge and the formation of the Paradise Irrigation District (PID) in 1916. Then, in more than 200 beautifully reproduced black-and-white historical photographs, seven chapters take the reader from a consideration of the area's Maidu inhabitants on through the late-19th and early-20th centuries, to Paradise as it was in the 1940s, '50s and '60s.

Each photograph carries a long explanatory caption. Several chapters focus on some of the important names associated with Paradise. In 1884, for example, Francis "Fannie" Breese, just 17, helped raise $21.50 toward the $41 needed to purchase three acres of land from her uncle for what was to become Paradise Cemetery.

More recently, Erle Stanley Gardner, who wrote 82 Perry Mason novels, "bought 20 acres at the end of Crestview Drive" in the early 1950s to escape all the folderol his fame had brought him. Colby writes that Gardner "was no stranger to Butte County, having spent his teenage years in Oroville in the early 1900s, where he was suspended from Oroville Union High School for pulling pranks on the principal."

In "The Case of the Runaway Corpse," published in 1954, Gardner had one of his characters actually give the directions to the Paradise hideaway, in reality known to "only a few of his closest associates. ... Here he could relax, write, and ride his dirt bike. The term 'dirt bike' was years in the future, but J.W. Black, a longtime Paradise resident and master mechanic, constructed ones for Gardner and himself to ride in the surrounding mountains."

"Paradise" is full of such tidbits. There are also pictures of harvest fairs (the one on the cover shows the "Woodman's Dance Platform at Olive Street and College Avenue in 1912-13") and the famous pipes of PID. "From the beginning," Colby writes, "leaks in the PID water system were a problem. Because of steel shortages in World War I, pipes made of redwood staves bound with steel wire were used. ... Even today, much of PID's budget goes to replacing the inferior World War II steel pipe."

A train engineer and brakeman were killed on June 25, 1909, "when a 27-car lumber train left Stirling City for Chico. Leaving the Magalia Depot, the train 'ran away' on the down slope, passing the Paradise Depot at 70 miles per hour, and three quarters of a mile below the depot at Neal Road, it derailed." An extraordinary photograph of the wreck shows only a mass of twisted metal.

"Paradise" is a must-have for those interested in local history. Oh, and let Santa know, too, for old times' sake.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Kids' books by local authors emphasize relationships


Local authors have been busy writing children's books and it seems just the right opportunity to let readers know what's available this holiday season.

KHSL-TV weekend anchor Debbie Cobb has published "Gracie's Big Adventure With Augustine the Beaver" ($10.95 in paperback from Laurob Press). The book is available in Chico at local bookstores as well as Bird in Hand and Creative Apple.

Paradise illustrator Steve Ferchaud uses muted earth tones to tell the story. A recent E-R article by Laura Urseny revealed that there is a hidden "G" (presumably for Gracie) in each of Ferchaud's paintings. I went back and looked and found several obvious ones, but a few pages have me stumped. Put it this way. Finding Waldo was easy!

The story begins with young Gracie as she plays in her backyard. In a nearby pond young Augustine the beaver, curious soul, decides to explore the world beyond. The cars and noise and a big dog in the neighborhood give him quite a fright until he sees the swimming pool at Gracie's house and dives right in.

And so Gracie meets Augustine. But what to do with him? At first she tries to hide him "without being noticed by her very nosey brother, Joey." But Joey finds out and now there are two to keep the secret. Mom and Dad seem unaware until, that night, Augustine leaves Gracie's closet to do some more exploring. And that means the pool. This time Gracie's parents hear the big splash.

"Gracie had some explaining to do. She told her parents the truth. ... After a good night's rest, a family meeting was held." What to do with Augustine? "After a big feast prepared just for Augustine, Gracie and Joey carefully loaded him into the red wagon and pulled him all the way back to the pond." Along the way the little wagon and its inhabitant cause quite a stir. Augustine learns a lesson about wandering from home, and Gracie and Joey sleep securely knowing they've done the right thing.

* * *

Relationships are also at the heart of a very different kind of book, "Perry the Pack Rat Finds a Friend" ($15.95 in hardcover from Words of Whimsy Publishing out of Orland), written and illustrated by Mardell E. Alberico. Using funny drawings and bright, primary colors, Alberico tells the tale, so to speak: "Perry the pack rat lived in a nest / which was filled with beautiful things. / He had baubles and bangles, bracelets that jangle / and a lovely assortment of rings."
Perry has lots of stuff, all right: "He had silver and keys, thimbles and cheese / and marbles enough to lend. / He had dice, which were nice, a clock that could talk, / but Perry did not have a friend."

That, of course, is a problem, and Perry hatches a plot to find a friend and offer him lots of loot. But then Perry, on one of his many pack rat trips, finds a mole who (because he is unable to see) has lost the way to his hole in the ground.

Perry helps Sir Mole find the hole and tries to impress him with his baubles -- but the mole doesn't need rings and is not impressed. The two become friends, and Perry learns sometime important. "So now Perry knew, he could see it was true, / friendship is gained through kind deeds."

It's a gentle reminder that's not just kid stuff.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Richvale history, family memories told in sumptuous book and companion photo CD


"Richvale," writes Dennis Lindberg, "is often referred to as the birthplace of the California rice industry. Formerly known as Selby Switch, a railroad siding, the new town was named in 1909 by the Richvale Land Company developers, who were implying that the land was rich and would grow anything."

That turned out not to be the case. The soil was good only for growing rice, but the process was not exactly easy. Lindberg, the chair of the Richvale Writing Group, notes that "this difficult, backbreaking venture required dedication and perseverance from those who came, primarily from Midwestern states, and stayed to overcome the obstacles they found at every turn in the road." The Writing Group, with more than 40 members over the last half decade, was determined to preserve the memories of Richvale in its early years. Facilitated by Butte College writing instructor Teresa Ward, the group has produced a fitting tribute to their families and has given the wider reading public an extraordinary compendium of life as it was.

"Richvale: A Legacy of Courage, Dedication, and Perseverance" ($65 in hardcover) is available at the Butte County Rice Growers Association in Richvale; in Gridley at Ace Hardware and the Gridley Museum; the Bookworm and the Butte County Historical Society in Oroville; as well as Made in Chico.

Lyon Books in Chico is presenting a special program featuring the book, and some of its contributors, at 3 p.m. Sunday. The public is invited, as a news release says, to meet "some very lively octogenarians; readers will include Norman Lofgren, Dennis Lindberg, Mervin Parsons, Vivian Potter and the youngster of the group Susan Rystrom Stone."

There is also a companion photo CD ($10), which features 364 pictures from the book along with 617 additional images, from family photos to pictures of harvesting equipment.

The first half of the book includes almost 100 articles telling stories of the California Rice Industry, telephone party lines and the history of Richvale's not-so-hidden vices (think snuff, ballroom dancing and cigarette smoking). The last half presents the stories of some 90 Richvale families, including the founders of the Lundberg Family Farms.

Vivian Fagerstone Potter writes of the first two-car accident in Richvale, in 1930 "at the intersection of Eucalyptus and Lofgren." Potter was 8 and she should know. She was the driver, "seated behind the huge, wooden steering wheel of our spiffy, black, Model T Ford. ... My father, Oscar, was sitting on the passenger seat beside me. ... As we were slowly headed south on Eucalyptus Road, nearing the intersection, I saw the other vehicle, an open-style Model T, approaching from the left, headed west. I stared very wide-eyed and could clearly see my friend Magnus ('Maggi') Nataas Jr., age 11, seated behind the driver's wheel, with a terrified wide-eyed look on his face as the two cars, ever so slowly, slowly, rolled toward the intersection." The two cars met and, writes Potter "went 'crunch, crunch?' There was almost a question mark in the slight noise, as if the T's didn't know what an accident was."

The book is dedicated to Luella Lofgren (1916-2005), the daughter of a Richvale farm family, who added her contributions to the book and encouraged the other writers as well.
For those with ties to Rich-vale this book is a must. For those who treasure the lively memories of an earlier era, "Richvale" is a work of heart.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Source of our bounty: What Adam Smith the economist really thought


Adam Smith (1723-1790), author of "The Wealth of Nations," one of the most famous unread books ever published in English, has been co-opted by liberals and conservatives alike as either "the apostle of capitalism and the champion of laissez faire" or one who called on government to intervene in organizing the financial affairs of a country. Both pictures are inaccurate, at least according to novelist and critic James Buchan, formerly a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times and author of "Frozen Desire," a book about the nature of money.

Buchan has written an enlightening and wry little treatise called "The Authentic Adam Smith: His Life and Ideas" ($23.95 in hardcover from Atlas Books/W.W. Norton). In Smith's time "neither economics nor capitalism existed as mental entities. Smith was brought up in a backward corner of an unmechanised world, where the steam engine had not yet been brought to bear on the textile industry let alone transportation, where wages were so low it was cheaper to knit stockings by hand than by machine. ... Smith's estimate of British national income was ... less than the revenues of a large London or New York department store. ... Smith thought the most beneficial deployment of capital was in agriculture."

In 2005, visiting Kirkcaldy, Scotland, Smith's birthplace, then Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan called Smith "a towering contributor to the development of the modern world." Perhaps. What really happened, Buchan writes, is that Smith "fell among economists and politicians who constitute, more even than professional footballers, always the least-literate sections of English-speaking society."

This Thanksgiving, we are thankful for Buchan's small masterpiece in evoking an Adam Smith rarely seen. As Smith revised "Wealth of Nations," famous for its focus on the division of labor, he added a telling chapter to Book One. "He wrote," says Buchan, "that the 'disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful,' while to an extent natural and conducive to the peace of society, was 'at the same time the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.'"

While "Wealth of Nations" secured his fame, Smith's most important work, Buchan claims, is "The Theory of Moral Sentiments." "It is through sympathy," Buchan writes, "that we imagine the happiness of the rich and successful, follow the fashions they set, pursue ambition beyond our animal requirements and submit to distinctions of social class." Our sympathetic feelings judge what Smith called the "propriety" of others -- and of ourselves. "We sympathise more strongly with displays of social or benevolent emotions," Buchan says, "than with shows of resentment or hatred." There is no divine "moral sense" here, but only social arrangements, and that, says Buchan, "leaves society prey to manipulation."

Smith, friend of the irreligious but contented David Hume, rarely attended church and rarely quoted scripture. The "invisible hand" in "Wealth," describing how individual self-interest serves the public good, is not a reference to some divine "magic" but, says Buchan, points merely to "human faculties," what Smith calls "the private interests and passions of individuals." These, and the quest for respect from equals, are, in Buchan's summary, "what drive commercial society." Perhaps, Smith writes, God has ordered even our misfortunes on this "forlorn station of the universe," but that is not for us to speculate on. We must concern ourselves with our own happiness.

This is Smith's real legacy to the modern world. It is not an unmixed blessing.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 16, 2006

For Children's Book Week -- Paradise author tells some Scottish tales


Children's books seem to be pouring from T.E. Watson's pen. The prolific Paradise author is just out with two Scottish stories.

The folk tale (told to him by his Gran) is called "The Man Who Spoke With Cats" ($18.95 in hardcover); the fairy tale is "Glen Robbie" ($22.95 in hardcover). Both are published by Highlands Children's Press and both are full of colorful and captivating pictures from master artist Steve Ferchaud.

Watson is proud of his heritage. The biography on his Web site ( says that "his DNA hails from the beautiful city of Elgin, Scotland, about 40 miles east of Inverness, Scotland. Which is surrounded with a multitude of historic Scottish landmarks ... the famous Loch Ness, the battlefield of Culloden Moor ... the Fairy Glen."

For research on Robert Louis Stevenson, a fellow Scot, the Web site notes that Watson received the title "FSA Scot" from the Society of Scottish Antiquaries.

"The Man Who Spoke With Cats" is a simple story of an old man named MacGregor whose companions, four talkative cats, are Little Face, Cleo, Tavish and Blue Eyes. Tavish asks MacGregor what he'll be doing on festival day. The man replies, with a twinkle in his eye, "I am going to visit friends. I will have my fill of bangers and mash, and then take a ride on the roundabout atop the tall white horse with the golden bridle." (A glossary points out that bangers and mash are sausage and mashed potatoes, and a roundabout, if you haven't guessed, is a merry-go-round.)

So what will the cats do? Little Face has a big day ahead: "My day," she tells MacGregor, "will be spent in the barley chasing midgies (large mosquitoes) and hunting mice." The rest had a big day of rest lined up, but, after MacGregor had gone for the festivities, the cats noticed that Blue Eyes, the Siamese, had disappeared. Therein, of course, lies a tale -- or tail, about caring for others who may have been forgotten.

"Glen Robbie" mixes in common Scottish words with a fairy story (again, a glossary in the back explains all). "On the anniversary of ten thousand moons," the story begins, "deep in the Highlands of Scotland, a wondrous wee village called Glen Robbie appears, but no one knows exactly where or exactly when. It is a magical place. There are the tallest trees, the greenest fields, and lochs so clear you can see tae the bottom."

On a certain day the fairy village appears and the Elder gathers all the denizens for their mission, to help someone from the outside. "Come down, come down, come down from the trees! / Come down from the branches and out from the leaves! / Today is the day tae fly with all speed / Tae find someone helpless, someone in need." There is some urgency in all this. The fairy folk have to find a human in need and help that person or, "if we dinnae find someone, Glen Robbie will vanish never tae be seen again."

What follows is the story of Kera and Podwink, Angus the West Highland White Terrier, and two human children. And, oh, yes, a hungry fox. Angus and the fox don't exactly see eye-to-eye and in the end the children have quite a story to tell their Gran. And Glen Robbie "peacefully faded away intae the evening mist and disappeared from sight." But, thanks to Kera, it will be back.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission. Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 03, 2006

Redding novelist sics a PI on monkey business at the Albuquerque Zoo


Steve Brewer may live with his family in Redding, and give readings from his novels in the Bay Area, but he left his heart in Albuquerque. Not to worry, though; private investigator Bubba Mabry is on the job in that fair city and reports back in a series of novels that are easily digested and self-deprecatingly funny.

Publishers Weekly says "Monkey Man" ($24 in hardcover from Intrigue Press) is something like the seventh Bubba Mabry mystery. This was my first, so I'm sure I've missed the nuances (like a reference to the power of patronage in Albuquerque), but it's great fun nonetheless. Mabry has a Southern heritage but runs Bubba Mabry Investigations out of his home near the University of New Mexico. His office is, shall we say, a little unkempt, so he meets clients, like slip-and-fall attorney Marvin Pidgeon, somewhere else. Mabry favors restaurants with pastries.

It's not exactly the good life now that he had married Albuquerque Gazette reporter Felicia Quattlebaum, but better than his past existence. "For years," he tells readers, "I lived in one of the cheap neon-lit motels that dot East Central -- Old Route 66 -- before Felicia came along and made me act respectable." Felicia is a firebrand, always on the lookout for a good story, always prepared to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." And when Mabry becomes the center of attention after a very public murder in broad daylight, his wife chews him up one side and down the other for not giving her the scoop. She's one salty reporter.

Jeff Simmons, a bean counter at the Zoo In Albuquerque (ZIA), had arranged a meeting with Mabry at one of the Flying Squirrel eateries in town to tell the PI of some alleged monkey business. Animals at the zoo seemed to be dying off at a suspiciously high rate, but before Mabry could get the details someone in a monkey suit sauntered into the restaurant, walked over to Mabry's table, and shot Jeff Simmons dead. The monkey man gets away, leaving only the ape suit behind.

Mabry wants to wash his hands of the whole mess. Maybe let his friend, police Lt. Steve Romero, handle matters. Romero is a cop's cop, smart and tough, and why wouldn't he be named "Steve"? But Romero is constantly annoyed at Mabry, who just won't go home and let the cops do their work. Especially not after Mabry is retained by Simmons' fiance, Loretta Gonzales, Simmons' co-worker at the zoo, whose father is the founder of ArGon Foods (read "money"). She gives him a check for a couple of grand to get the investigation going. Mabry is hooked.

The reader will be, too. Brewer introduces a group of oddball zookeepers, like a curator of mammals named "Gibbons" and a zoo representative named Jim Johansen, "a handsome, tanned guy who decked himself out in safari garb. He regularly appeared on local television shows, talking up exhibits, bringing live parrots and snakes and baby crocodiles from the zoo, sometimes scaring the toupees right off the news anchors." Before he knows it, Mabry is knee-deep in monkey, uh, stuff, and he hates monkeys. There are twists and turns along the way, not least in the animal cages, and lots and lots of doorbell ringing, complication and confusion but in the end Bubba figures some things out in spite of himself.

And we readers wouldn't have it any other way.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Chico-based California Nut Festival selects featured book


The California Nut Festival, scheduled for Feb. 17-24, is a week-long celebration of Chico's tree nut heritage, from almonds and walnuts to pistachios and more.

The festival is sponsored by the Far West Heritage Association, stewards of the Chico Museum and Patrick Ranch. In advance of the festivities, discussion groups are being formed to talk about the book-in-common, a provocative title to say the least.

"The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World" ($13.95 in paperback from Random House) is by Michael Pollan, an instructor at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley. Lyon Books in Chico will donate to the festival a portion from sales of the book. If you'd like to start a book group, contact Nancy Ostrom (

Pollan writes that "the seeds of this book were first planted in my garden. ... I happened to be sowing rows in the neighborhood of a flowering apple tree that was fairly vibrating with bees. And what I found myself thinking about was this: What existential difference is there between the human being's role in this (or any) garden and the bumblebee's?"

What follows are four long essays about co-evolution, in which "both parties act on each other to advance their individual interests but wind up trading favors: food for the bee, transportation for the apple genes." Agriculture is about human-plant co-evolution, Pollan says; "it makes just as much sense to think of agriculture as something the grasses did to people as a way to conquer the trees."

Each of the essays is about some kind of human desire. The apple represents sweetness (not very abundant in the Old West); the tulip is beauty (feeding tulipomania in Holland from 1635-1637); marijuana feeds the human desire for intoxication; and the potato is a symbol of the human desire to control the natural world.

The apple chapter focuses on John Chapman, "Johnny Appleseed," who "understood he was working for the apples as much as they were working for him." Pollan writes that until Prohibition, "apples were something people drank. ... Johnny Appleseed was bringing the gift of alcohol to the frontier." And that brings up a key theme in the book, the interplay between "Apollo" (reason) and "Dionysius" (ecstasy), between the garden and the wilderness.

The author samples high grade cannabis in Amsterdam and muses on the nature of the "high," something, he says, that melts away short term memory and explains "the sense that time has slowed or even stopped. For it is only by forgetting that we ... approach the experience of living in the present moment."

The potato is about biotechnology. Pollan writes of a Monsanto patent on the NewLeaf potato (since, apparently, withdrawn from market) which is bioengineered to contain a natural pesticide. That would cut down on the need for chemical sprays to protect potatoes, but it would also mean, unless great care were taken, that bugs would more quickly adapt to the NewLeaf variety (since spraying is only periodic but the potatoes them-selves are around for the entire season).

This is the dance of co-evolution. "The survival of the sweetest, the most beautiful, or the most intoxicating proceeds according to a dialectical process, a give-and-take between human desire and the universe of all plant possibility. It takes two, but it doesn't take intention, or consciousness." When it comes to plant and human, we are "in this boat together."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 by Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A history of Butte County in the 1800s, town by town


She called it "a glamorous tale of Butte County." In the early 1940s, longtime Oroville resident Florence Danforth Boyle (1892-1973) wrote 196 "chapters" about county history for the Oroville Mercury-Register.

Those columns have been collected in large-size paperback format as "Old Days in Butte" ($19.95), published by the Association for Northern California Historical Research and edited by Robert Colby. The book covers the history not only of Paradise, Chico and Oroville (originally Ophir) -- though the latter gets only scant attention -- but also Biggs, Gridley, Stringtown and dozens more.

I think Lyon Books in Chico can get copies and it's also available from Association for Northern California Historical Research representative Barbara Mahler at bmahler116 It sets a high standard for local history. Colby and those who worked with him to compile and edit "Old Days in Butte" looked carefully at each column, putting unverified or folklore accounts in italics and adding corrections in brackets.

For example, the column for Feb. 23, 1942 quotes a verse ("Here I lay me down to sleep, / To wait the coming morrow; / Perhaps success, perhaps defeat / and everlasting sorrow. / Let come what will, I'll try it on / My condition can't be worse -- / But if there's money in the box / It's money in my purse") and then says:

"The author of that little verse was at one time a resident of Thompson's Flat -- a man whose daring exploits later made him one of the most famous characters in the old west. He was Black Bart, colorful highwayman feared by every stage driver in Butte County during its early days. The little piece of poetry was found attached to an empty express box taken from a stagecoach held up by Black Bart. It was his custom to leave a verse with every box he opened after taking its contents. Black Bart was reported to have posed as a dentist while living at Thompson's Flat, wealthy mining community located but two miles north of Oroville."

With the benefit of subsequent research, Colby adds an editor's note: "Current research indicates that Black Bart left poetry in only two holdups, on Aug. 3, 1877 in Sonoma County and on July 25, 1878 above Berry Creek in Butte County. ... Also, there is no evidence that he lived in Thompson's Flat." I love this attention to detail.

"Old Days in Butte" also includes an invaluable name and place index by Carlene Marek and a map of Butte County, drawn by Steve Schoonover, locating the towns, existing and long gone, described in the book.

The Foreword is by Betty Boyle Davis, Florence Danforth Boyle's daughter. Davis' account is rich with detail; I was especially struck by her mother's early interest in pioneer history -- and her hiking abilities. As a high schooler she hiked "to Berry Creek, Brush Creek, Yankee Hill and other outlying areas. On one occasion she encountered three mountain lions. She did not miss a step, just raised her arms in a threatening manner, let out a ferocious war whoop and continued on her way. The frightened animals ran away."

Florence Danforth Boyle was deeply involved in the establishment of a place to "house pioneer relics." Eventually "the Butte County Pioneer Museum was deeded to the city of Oroville in 1999 to insure its future."

An insight into our past is ensured with the publication of "Old Days in Butte." Don't miss it.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Artoberfest features new anthology of 'Skyway Poets'


The "Skyway Poets" began in Paradise in 1990 as a group of writers who met regularly to critique each other's work and to conduct occasional readings. Since joining in 2002, Patricia Wellingham-Jones, through her PWJ Publishing, has brought out a number of chapbooks featuring group members.

A new anthology, containing the work of 10 Skyway Poets, will be introduced Saturday at noon in Diamond Alley between Third and Fourth streets in downtown Chico. "Skyways," edited by Wellingham-Jones, is available for $10 in paperback from Lyon Books in Chico or from www.wellinghamjones. com.

The Skyway Poets are also featured with selected poems displayed in the windows of the Chico Chamber of Commerce offices on Salem Street, part of the Window Art Project during the month-long Artoberfest celebration.

Two-thirds of the 30 poems featured in "Skyways" were written in response to "assigned words given as prompts for new poems at the end of each monthly session" of the writing group. Those words are given in brackets in the table of contents so the reader can have a bit of fun seeing the workings of the poetical mind. Ann Doro, for example, uses "layer":

Layered in doubt I listen again
to the family legend.
Grandpa borrowed a neighbor's bull
While they were at the movies.
It took less time than the telling
for that sire to mount every
cow in the pen
and start a dairy farm.
No way, I want to say. ...

She entitled the poem, "Bull?"

Zora Maksente uses "handle" to write of her father, a chef, in "Making a Comeback":

He grips a huge wooden-handled
spatula in his right hand, turns
vast amounts of sizzling raw
beef chunks,
over and over, on the grill's hot
surface. ...

During The Great Depression
at day's end all unsold food
was handed out the backdoor
to growing lines
of hungry people until --
it caught up with him, too.

Sally Allen McNall is stuck with "pitch" in "Touch Pitch," with the last lines funny and wondrous at the same time:

If she pries the yellow resin
from the tree with her fingers
and puts it in her mouth,
spit coats it, it won't stick
to her teeth, and it tastes exactly
how the tree tastes to itself.

Sylvia Rosen presents "color" in "Kaleidoscope":

... I began to imagine the earth
as a giant kaleidoscope
in the sky
tossing us all into
a variety of patterns
against the mirrored
illusions of our eyes
as if we were all chips of
tinted glass
shimmering together in
our brief moment
against the light
as we move to touch
and then depart

Patricia Wellingham-James takes "ride" for a ride in a strange poem called "Folded," in which a man "folded his ailing wife in three pieces" and called them "Bat, Bat-hag and Nag":

... On fine days the man
his wife
into his shirt pocket, took
on long scuffling walks
through scarlet and
autumn leaves,
to the lake where they
used to
on starry nights, along
winding trail
through firs and pines to their
favorite picnic table.

On these jaunts
Bat, his own true love, the spirit
of flying adventure, rode next
to his heart. ...

But there is still "Bat-hag" and "Nag" to contend with, and that's "the rest of the story."

Other contributors include Lara Gularte, Joy Harold Helsing, Mona Locke, Birgitte Molvig and Audrey C. Small. "Skyways" is a small gem, and plenty of fun.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Friday in Chico -- Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on importance of environmental activism


The scenario is chilling.

"I live in Mount Kisco, New York," writes Robert F. Kennedy Jr., "11 miles downwind of the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant. ... On the morning of September 11, 2001, United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston passed within a few thousand feet of Indian Point as it followed the Hudson River down to its rendezvous with Tower Two of the World Trade Center. Had it banked left and crashed into the plant instead, it could have triggered a large release of radiation. The surrounding area, including New York City, might have been rendered uninhabitable for years."

So, asks Kennedy, what has been done to protect the nation's nuclear power plants from terrorist attack? Virtually nothing, he says. In fact, "federal law absolves nuclear power plant operators from any legal duty to protect their plants from attacks 'by enemies of the United States.'"

According to Kennedy, this is but one of innumerable examples of the wholesale dismantling or gutting of laws designed to protect the public against the excesses of the nuclear, coal, oil, chemical, pharmaceutical, agriculture, media and other industries that he claims have conspired with the Bush administration to undermine the free market and subvert the will of the people. These abuses are detailed in "Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy" ($21.95 in hardback, $13.95 in paperback from HarperCollins) published in 2004.

He is scheduled to speak in Chico Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Chico State University's Laxson Auditorium as part of the President's Lecture Series, one in a series of On the Creek Lectures "dedicated to exploring sustainability issues that affect the world today." Tickets range from $35 for premium seats to $20 for students and children. For more information, call the University Box Office at 898-6333.

According to publicity materials, "Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s reputation as a resolute defender of the environment stems from a litany of successful legal actions: prosecuting governments and companies for polluting the Hudson River and Long Island Sound; winning settlements for the Hudson Riverkeeper; arguing cases to expand citizen access to the shoreline; and suing sewage treatment plants to force compliance with the Clean Water Act."

Though Kennedy says "this book is not about a Democrat attacking a Republican administration," he writes "most national environmental leaders," when asked about "the greatest threat to the global environment," wouldn't answer "overpopulation, or global warming, or sprawl. The nearly unanimous response would be George W. Bush."

The popularity of Earth Day in 1970, he writes, surprised the polluters, so over the next three decades they "bamboozled" the public and bought off the loyal opposition until their triumph, with some notable exceptions, in the "stealth" policies of the Bush administration bowing to the agendas of King Coal and Big Pork.

Kennedy accuses the administration of "fear-mongering," though he does a fair amount of that himself. Nevertheless, as the book's copious notes attest, something really nasty is going on after all. "Corporate capitalists," he writes, "don't want free markets, they want dependable profits, and their surest route is to crush the competition by controlling the government. The domination of our government by large corporations leads to the elimination of markets and, ultimately, to the loss of democracy." Think of Big Energy -- or Big Agriculture. The manure is getting deeper, Kennedy says, and it's time we get shoveling.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Big Band crooner honored in Oroville, teams with Magalia writer to tell life story


He begins the story this way: "Smog hadn't been invented yet when I was born Harry Bradbury Albretsen on Oct. 21, 1916, in Eagle Rock, California, a suburb of Los Angeles."

Almost 90 years later, on Sept. 17, 2006, this same man, now known as "Garry Stevens" (a stage name he adopted in 1941), was honored with a surprise birthday celebration as he sang at Feather Falls Casino in Oroville with "The Fabulous Swing Kings," the Chico-based dance band. It had been a long road, but Stevens was still smiling.

Pictures from the birthday bash appear on the Jazz Connection Magazine Web site ( Publisher Stephen Fratallone of Magalia helped organize the surprise; he writes me that "I have always been a fan of Big Band music since I was 12 (I'm 49 now). I play saxophone and I took private lessons from Don Raffell, a prominent studio musician who played in the Charlie Spivak band when Garry was Spivak's boy vocalist. That's when I first heard of Garry Stevens." Fratallone discovered that Stevens was still alive, living in Benicia, and they became fast friends.

That friendship has led to the publication of "Band Singer: An Autobiography" ($15 in paperback from by Garry Stevens with Stephen Fratallone. The book contains a discography and a generous sampling of black and white photographs. Stevens by now has outlived most of his friends, and he notes their passing throughout the narrative. But the story is full of "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" as Stevens works to "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive." It's a fun book.

Stevens worked with Nelson Riddle, also a member of the Spivak band, and he writes that "one of Nelson's arrangements became a chart-topper for the band and it helped to keep me in the public ear for a couple of years during the musicians' union strike. It was Irving Berlin's holiday classic, 'White Christmas.' We recorded it on July 1, 1942, in New York. ... Bing Crosby, of course, had the definitive hit version of the song" but Stevens' version continued to be played on jukeboxes through the mid-1940s. He also recorded "My Devotion," which "became one of the more popular romantic ballads to come out of World War II."

Stevens enlisted in the Army Air Corps. "Before the war, I was named one of the top male band vocalists in the country. I was going to go back to civilian life and try to pick up where I had left off. It didn't occur to me that the music business had changed during those years and retracing my steps would prove to be very difficult." He joined the Gordon "Tex" Beneke band, whose pianist was Henry Mancini. No longer a "boy singer," Stevens began to relish the term "band singer." "A band singer sings in tempo. Cabaret singers like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett sing more ad-lib. ... When you sing with a band, you sing for dancers and in tempo. If you start to ad-lib, you'll throw the dancers a curve, and they won't like it."

In the 1950s Stevens had a local television show, later worked in real estate, and got back into music in 1980, eventually moving to California and joining the Big Band Academy of America. Stevens' personal life has had its ups and downs, but music has been his soul. He calls himself the "oldest self-taught band singer in the business." At 90, he's still jazzed.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Former Chicoan explores some fanatical hobbyists; returns to Chico for book signing


Denver-based freelance journalist Shari Caudron, once a reporter for the Enterprise-Record, is a Chico State University graduate and a former communications director of the Chico Chamber of Commerce. She will be returning to Chico

next week to sign copies of her new book, "Who ARE You People? A Personal Journey Into the Heart of Fanatical Passion in America" ($14.95 in paperback from Barricade Books). The book signing will take place at Barnes and Noble at 7 p.m. Wednesday, and the public is invited.

Caudron admits to being a dabbler. In her 20s "I hooked up with a group of pagan, Mother-Earth, goddess-worshipping feminists. I became a vegetarian. I bought Tarot Cards. I attended week-long festivals in Yosemite National Park with topless 'womyn' who chanted, wore crystals, believed in past lives."

That lasted about a year. Then she took up running, followed by "backpacking, Buddhism, Scrabble, snowshoeing, bridge, belly dancing, golf, gardening, fencing, piano and an abundant amount of non-professional, highly unstructured wine tasting." Though Angela, her partner of more than a decade, was big-time into dogs (well, dog-sledding), none of her other friends had any "singular, all-consuming interest."

So, asked Caudron, where was the passion? She discovered a wealth of passionate special-interest hobby groups online and decided to report on some of them, at the same time trying to discover what they had that she didn't.

She begins with the National Barbie Doll Collectors Convention in Denver, moves on to the Three Lakes Ice Fishing Contest in Granby, Colo.; pigeon-racing in New York; the World Boardgaming Championships in Baltimore; the annual Mayberry Days Festival in Mount Airy, N.C.; a meet-up with the Grobanites, rabid, mostly middle-aged female followers of young singer Josh Groban (one observer said they were "like a post-modern menopausal version of the Deadheads"); and a science-fiction convention in Illinois.

She also tracks tornados with storm chasers in Kansas and attends the Califur Conference at the Holiday Inn in Costa Mesa, at which participants ("followers of furry fandom" who find a certain eroticism in the anthropomorphic representation of animals) often dress up in animal costumes (like Disney characters) or even surgically alter their faces to look more like animals.

It's all about the people. Everywhere she goes Caudron meets social misfits who have found others just as passionate about, say, Legos or Otis the Mayberry town drunk and who fit right in. Though never sharing those passions, Caudron does admit that, for example, "these Mayberry fans are teaching me what it feels like to be fully yourself without apologies."

Later in the book the author investigates the historical sources of hobby passion and looks at its psychological and even genetic basis. There have been "50 years of socially approved fun combined with 30 years of self-absorbed self-interest, 20 years of wealth, 10 years of online connectivity, (and) five years of social trepidation," as even one's neighbors are less trusted than your own group of like-minded Barbie Doll collectors or filk singers ("filk" is a folk song with a science-fiction theme) or pigeon racers. Some years ago the book "Bowling Alone" suggested the unraveling of community in the United States; Caudron finds community alive and well in passionate hobbyists.

In her quest to find her own single-minded obsession, Caudron is often funny and self-deprecating, and in her sometimes salty accounts of "passionate fanatics" she finds at long last what she is really looking for. Herself.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Well-publicized first novel is worth all the attention


She cracked the Big Apple. Marisha Pessl, sometime actress and now one hot author, garnered a front cover review (very favorable) in a recent issue of the New York Times Book Review.

She's going to get another review here (very, very favorable) for writing Blue van Meer into the hearts of readers. Blue is the excruciatingly well-read 16-year-old heroine of "Special Topics in Calamity Physics" ($25.95 from Viking), who tells her story as if it's a Western civics course, with chapter headings such as "The House of the Seven Gables" and "Things Fall Apart." But this is no dry-as-dust recitation. It's Blue's life, seen through books and films and her Dad's Harvard-trained erudition.

"Dad" is Gareth van Meer, widower, a devilishly handsome cynic who attracts "June Bugs" (middle-aged women with thoughts of reform) and who takes all kinds of professor jobs at third-rate institutions throughout the South, traveling, traveling, all the while training Blue to recognize the causes of revolutions, to recite pi to umpty-ump places, and to memorize the works of Keats. Eventually, for Blue's senior year of high school, the two settle in Stockton, N.C., so Blue can attend St. Gallway School.

"The catalogue featured the proverbial wound-up rhetoric drenched in adjectives, sunny photos filled with bushy autumn trees, teachers with the kind faces of mice and kids grinning as they strolled down the sidewalk holding big textbooks in their arms like roses. In the distance, looking on (and apparently bored stiff) sat a crowd of glum plum mountains, a sky in wistful blue. ... A diminutive stone chapel did its best to hide from the massive Tudor buildings slouched all over the lawns, structures christened with names like Hanover Hall, Elton House, Barrow and Vauxhall, each sporting a facade that brought to mind early U.S. presidents: gray-topped, heavy brow, wooden teeth, mulish bearing."

Into this world steps Blue, and the first part of her long book revels in description and being befriended by part-time art teacher Hannah Schneider, mid-40s, thin, elegant and gorgeous, a mystery. She has surrounded herself with a group of student misfits, Charles, Nigel, Milton, Leulah and Jade. Hannah insists that Blue join the party. It's a difficult fit, but Blue warms to Hannah, her talk of life and art, and pushes away the dull normalcy of one Zach Soderberg -- Blue's group calls him "the coupon" ("he really was all bar code, all Great Savings, all $5-Off with Proof of Purchase") -- to embrace instead a quirkier and more exciting world.

Until, on a camping trip in the Great Smoky Mountains with the group, Hannah is found, hanged. "She hung three feet above the ground by an orange electrical extension cord. Her eyes looked like acorns, or dull pennies or two black buttons off an overcoat kids might stick into the face of a snowman and they saw nothing. Or else that was the problem, they'd seen everything."

It's suicide, of course. Isn't it? Hannah had wanted to tell Blue a secret, and now this. "Such things as anguish, woe, affliction, guilt, feelings of awfulness and utter wretchedness, the bread and butter of Days of Yore and Russians, sadly have very little staying power in these lickety-split Modern Times." But in "Calamity Physics" they make their return. In Hannah's True Life Story lies Blue's anguish -- and hope.

Read the book, read it carefully, then turn around and read it again.

There's a final exam at the end.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

World-renowned muralist returns to Chico for book signing, reception


Author Kevin Bruce writes that he first met John Pugh in a Los Gatos pub in 1984. The two became fast friends, and now Bruce has expanded his Stanford University master's thesis on seven of Pugh's murals into a breathtaking study of 35 of Pugh's finest works. "The Murals of John Pugh: Beyond trompe l'oeil" ($35 in hardcover from Ten Speed Press) features stunning full-color spreads of Pugh's art along with telling close-ups of areas the eye might well miss.

The term "trompe l'oeil" means "trick of the eye," and it's applied to two-dimensional art that fools the eye into seeing a three-dimensional space. Though such techniques were practiced in ancient Greece, as Bruce notes in his historical overview, Pugh's real precursor was the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, who in 1931 "produced a trompe l'oeil mural ... at the California School of Fine Arts" that saluted "the 'skyscraping' construction in the United States."

Pugh himself got his start at Chico State University majoring in art. In his senior year he received a commission "to create a mural on a wall of Taylor Hall, which housed, most appropriately, the Chico State Art Department." As Bruce writes, "Begun in the fall of 1980 and completed in the spring of 1981, this mural would receive international recognition and launch Pugh's career in a spectacular fashion." The mural was called "Academe" (acrylic on concrete, 24 feet by 36 feet).

Pugh and Bruce will launch the new book in Chico Friday with an illustrated talk in Ayres Hall 106 at 4 p.m. and a reception honoring them both at the Taylor Hall mural. The public is invited. (A news release notes that "Pugh was honored as the College of Humanities and Fine Arts' Distinguished Alum in 2003. He returned to Chico that summer and spent a week refurbishing the mural, much to the delight of Chicoans who visited him long into the hot summer nights as he repainted the wall.")

Bruce writes that "at Taylor Hall, Pugh's first step was to establish a site-specific conceptual scheme: 'I kept looking at the wall thinking of how to best reveal in a mural the meaning of the art building both architecturally and conceptually.' He decided that the best symbol to accomplish this dual statement would be to 'go all the way back to the original Doric-style Greek column. ... My intention was ... to tap into the concept of the Greek academe as the essence of our western educational system'."

Rather than simply paint a realistic-looking series of columns, Pugh was influenced by a dream to "break open" the wall on Taylor and, as Bruce puts it, "fill this fictive space with relevant narrative creations -- intended to engage the viewer on deeper levels."

It is this narrative element in Pugh's work that sets it apart from mere trickery. Since his Chico State experience Pugh has painted many public art pieces, murals for hospitals, parking garages and libraries that attract the mind as well as the eye. Some are controversial, like his 2005 piece, "Drain," in Bishop, which evoked strong emotions about the "water wars" in the late 1900s. Other pieces, such as the mural in a San Jose cafe, "Art Imitating Life, Imitating Art, Imitating Life," are stunningly complex in their narratives.

"The Murals of John Pugh" includes chapters on his studio, techniques and future projects, a fitting 3D tribute to a visionary artist -- which is no illusion at all.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The professor who became a freshman at her own school


Northern Arizona University anthropology professor Cathy Small decided to enroll as a freshman there during the 2002-2003 school year. This was to be her sabbatical project--an ethnographic study of college culture at a public university. She turned in her faculty card and parking permit and lived in a coed dorm, attending classes and taking careful notes--on those around her. She became a participant-observer, going to classes, reading the graffiti in the women's restrooms and probing feelings about cheating.

Taking the pseudonym "Rebekah Nathan" and calling the school "AnyU" to protect those she studied, Small compiled her findings into a book. (According to an article in the New York Times, a New York Sun reporter revealed her true identity last year.)

"My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student" is no dry-as-dust study, but rather an insightful and delightful portrait of ordinary student life. My copy is a hardback published by Cornell University Press ($24) but the book is also now in paperback ($14) from Penguin.

Part of Small's story is about her own ethical concerns over how to handle things told to her by students who think she is (just) a fellow student. She decided not to lie; yet she needed to reveal her true purpose only a few times.

Those around her in the dorms were just not that interested in what a 50-plus student was doing at the school. She was a writer, too, she said, and was going to write about student life.

True enough, and that seemed to suffice. Small determined that her book would not contain descriptions of sexual or drinking practices, and her comments on the group discussions in her sexuality class are kept general since they were confidential.

There is nothing lurid here. Instead, Small draws on previous studies and her own reflections to paint a nuanced picture of contemporary student culture.

As a professor, she writes, "It always comes as a surprise to me that students appear clueless about what happened in the last class, that only a minority of them have done the reading assigned, and that almost no undergraduates ever show up for my office hours unless perhaps they are failing."

After her experience as a freshman, she says, "I see now what I didn't see before. In the time between my Tuesday and Thursday classes in introductory anthropology I have taught only one other class, and I have spent at least some time on Wednesday arranging my Thursday class presentation. By contrast, my students have had at least four other classes in between, maybe more, and they have completed many other reading and writing assignments. ..."

They've gone to work, they've played, they've talked. What Small found was that instead of figuring out how to cram in all the needed study (two hours for every class hour is the expectation), students blocked out a limited time for homework and then asked a series of questions to determine whether this or that assignment merited the investment. Will there be a test on the reading assignment or will the student need it to do the homework or answer a question in class? If not, why read it?

There is a certain logic here, though Small's book is no apology for freshman culture, which has surprisingly little to do with academics.

Students want good jobs; their professors want them to be thoughtful citizens. Can the two, Small asks, be reconciled?

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

For those leaving cults -- sane advice from a Chico State University professor


We don't hear much these days about the Branch Davidians, Heaven's Gate or even Jim Jones. It's tempting to think that the cult movement has faded and that the world's attention is on more pressing matters -- like suicide bombers. But they are all of a piece, according to Chico State University Associate Professor of Sociology Janja Lalich.

In "Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships" ($19.50 in paperback from Bay Tree Publishing), Lalich and co-author Madeleine Tobias, a Vermont psychotherapist, make clear that modern day cults have not disappeared. "If there is less street recruiting today, it is because many cults now use professional associations, campus organizations, self-help seminars, and the Internet as recruitment tools" to entice the unwary.

Who gets sucked into a cult? "Although the public tends to think, wrongly, that only those who are stupid, weird, crazy and aimless get involved in cults, this is simply untrue. ... We know that many cult members went to the best schools in the country, have advanced academic or professional degrees and had successful careers and lives prior to their involvement in a cult or cultic abusive relationship. But at a vulnerable moment, and we all have plenty of those in our lives (a lost love, a lost job, rejection, a death in the family and so on), a person can fall under the influence of someone who appears to offer answers or a sense of direction."

For the authors, "a group or relationship earns the label 'cult' on the basis of its methods and behaviors -- not on the basis of its beliefs. Often those of us who criticize cults are accused of wanting to deny people their freedoms, religious or otherwise. But what we critique and oppose is precisely the repression and stripping away of individual freedoms that tends to occur in cults. It is not beliefs that we oppose, but the exploitative manipulation of people's faith, commitment, and trust."

Written for those coming out of cults, as well as for family members and professionals, "Take Back Your Life" deals with common characteristics of myriad cult types: Eastern, religious and New Age cults; political, racist and terrorist cults; psychotherapy, human potential, mass transformational cults; commercial, multi-marking cults; occult, satanic or black-magic cults; one-on-one family cults; and cults of personality. Chapters deal with the cult experience, the process of healing, stories of families and children in cults and therapeutic issues.

The book features riveting personal accounts from ex-cult members and offers a wide range of resources for the person who is trying to retrieve his or her "pre-cult" personality. Education looms large, for that can begin to break down the narrow black-and-white thinking cult members often display. Many cults redefine common terms or introduce special vocabulary making it difficult for members to make sense of the world outside of even their own inner aspirations.

The authors are also concerned about those in the education and helping professions who don't see the dangers posed by cults both to the individual and the larger community. Part of the purpose of the book is to make a credible case that any course of therapy needs to take into account a patient's cult associations.

"Take Back Your Life" is a book of hope, an excellent starting point for those thinking of exiting a cult and for those who are taking back their lives, one day at a time.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Friday, August 18, 2006

An Oroville man looks back on his life and his love of planes and trains


"My first memory," writes Robert "Lonnie" Dakin, "is of the 1939 World's Fair in San Francisco. I was 3 years old, and my father took me to see the train exhibit. I had never seen so many trains in one place.

"There were towns, villages, meadows and tunnels on a huge layout. The engines pulled the cars along shiny tracks. They whistled and clanged and little puffs of smoke came out of their smokestacks. I pressed my nose against the glass separating the teeming crowds from the make believe world of trains. I imaged they were traveling through faraway, exotic places. I kept my father there so long that we almost missed the ferry back to my grandmother's house."

Memories seem to tumble out as Dakin tells his own story in "The Flying Conductor" (a paperback published locally and available through I and L Publishing in Oroville; write inlpublisher For a year, Dakin writes, he dictated the book to his wife and gathered old photographs. "In the 25 years we have been married," he says, "she has heard these stories over and over. Each time I relate one I am always told I should write a book. Well, now I have."

Dakin's story is more of an oral memoir than detailed autobiography. The prose is simple, and the emotions are held in check. It's clear, though, that Dakin does better building train layouts or small airplanes than building human relationships. As a youngster he lived with his mother in Hawthorne, Nev., after his parents divorced, and he was neglected. "My mother ... had trained to be a nurse, like her mother, but she dealt blackjack instead. I was alone a lot and came to love the desert."

Dakin writes "When I wasn't running wild in the desert I was forced to go to school. ... At age 9 I was about 6 feet tall. I stuck out like a sore thumb in my third-grade class. Kids can be pretty cruel at that age and they called me names like Frankenstein or Igor."

Dakin loved math and science. As a kid he got a motorized bicycle; not much later he built a small airplane he flew. He continued to build things, including model helicopters he says were used in "Hawaii Five-0". (He was in the Air Force at the time, stationed in Hawaii, and got to meet Jack Lord and Tom Selleck.)

Sometimes Dakin would stay with his grandmother in Oroville. He attended Oroville High School and, years later, after retirement from the military, he returned to teach shop at Las Plumas High School for some two decades. As a kid he would climb nearby mountains and look down on Feather River before the dam was built. A lot of history is now under water.

There have been quite a few bumps in his personal life. In the service he traveled widely and built model airplanes in North Africa, but that was when he received a "Dear John" letter from his wife. His second marriage fared little better. But his third wife, whom he met while he was taking classes at Butte College, made him feel young again and her family gave him roots.

Dakin writes from the perspective of a 70-year-old man, still thinking about those ups and downs, but still a lover of planes and trains.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A marketing book for the Internet age


Marketing is all about turning consumers into Pavlov's dogs, salivating at even the mention of a brand name. That's a stereotype, but even among marketers themselves the received wisdom was that the most heavily promoted brands would have the most loyal following.

If that was ever true, it is less true today with the advent of the Internet. On the Web, consumers have access not just to the "big" brands but to all brands, all equally a click away. It turns out consumers are not dogs after all, but cats. How do you get a cat to stick around?

That's the question a new book for marketers sets out to answer. "Waiting for Your Cat to Bark?" ($19.99 in hardcover from Nelson Business), by Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg with Lisa T. Davis, is subtitled "Persuading Customers When They Ignore Marketing." The authors write that "increasingly, customers are associating brand not with a message but with their entire experiences surrounding the product or service." The central message of the book is that customers, like cats, have a "what's in it for me?" attitude, and good marketing works when it attempts not to manipulate but ("within the confines of profitability and integrity") to delight the consumer. Why? "Delighted customers become repeat customers."

But how does a business provide this delight? The authors have developed a set of conceptual and software tools they call "Persuasion Architecture," which they present in detail in the book. I found the first half of the book quite helpful in understanding how the democracy of the Internet has changed marketing; the latter part of the book seemed to indulge in more and more jargon ("masks," "wireframing," "waypoints," "persuasion entities") with more and more mentions of Persuasion Architecture. The Eisenberg brothers veer awfully close to wanting professionals in their field to salivate at the mention of their brand.

Yet I think the authors genuinely want to be helpful. The CD packaged with the book includes an 80-minute question-and-answer session video and the Eisenbergs are clear they don't have all the answers. The CD also features a PDF file of the entire book which can be sent to colleagues. A delightful touch!

The book is unified around an examination of three questions.

First, "who are we trying to persuade to take the action?" This involves the creation of "personas" on the part of the business so marketers can develop empathy and anticipate questions. "Personas are stand-ins for the various angles from which your customers view their problems and your solutions." As an example, the authors offer Best Buy. One of the company's personas is "Jill," "a soccer mom who is motivated to please and care for her family. She doesn't want an intimidating experience when she shops for appliances or electronics. She needs to feel she has a friend along to help." Empathizing with "Jill," Best Buy can develop ads that talk about "Hassle- and fear-free electronics shopping."

Second, "What is the action we want someone to take?" Imagine a Web page that gives product information but offers no way for the user to make a purchase.

Finally, "What does that person need in order to feel confident taking that action?" This involves answering relevant questions in a timely fashion. Imagine someone about to order a product online who wonders how much the shipping is. Does the site make the consumer complete the transaction before providing that information?

We cats value our time. So delight us!

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Corning writer offers novel about Iraq told through young eyes


Phil Dynan is a runner, artist and the Peace and Freedom Party candidate for the 2nd District of the California State Assembly (a post now held by Richvale Republican Doug LaMalfa).

He is also a novelist, and his just-published work, "Brother Eagle, Sister Moon" ($12.95 in paperback or $4.69 download at, tells two stories of modern day Iraq from the viewpoint of 12-year-old Yussef and his 16-year-old sister Nadia.

The author will appear at Lyon Books in Chico at 3 p.m. Saturday for a book signing.

The Corning resident bills his book as a young adult title. Though there are a few salty words the subject matter -- the war in Iraq and Nadia's being forced into prostitution -- is generally handled with discretion. Dynan says his writing enables him to express in gentle form his sympathy toward Iraqis as well as British and American troops. Dynan himself is harshly critical of the Bush Administration but his novel focuses instead on the friendship of the two siblings with Blackhawk helicopter pilot Sergeant Ernesto Alvarez of the 101st Airborne, the "Screaming Eagles."

Yussef finds himself separated from his large family and befriends an orphan goat whom he names "Tenika" after one of his sisters. "Yussef and Tenika spent almost 11 weeks together -- walking the plains, searching the hills and waterholes of Southwestern Iraq. ... They lived from the land, ate dates, berries and grass, and took water and milk where they could find it. They became friends. ... They had 'grown up' together and become young adults. Although they missed their parents ... they had learned to live within the boundaries of their world. ... They lived in harmony with each other and the beasts and other living things that surrounded them."

Then the pair stumbles upon a city, a "sea of humans," in which insurgents hold workers from Doctors Without Borders. Here, Yussef meets Dr. Yvette Prigent and he must mount a courageous effort to take a message to Red Crescent officials for help. He also meets Alvarez, who is about to propose to Prigent, and the pilot is willing to divert his helicopter to help Yussef find his parents. Things do not go well.

But somehow all the harrowing adventures lead to a good end. Along the way there is a healer, called the Ancient One, who touches the sergeant's wounds. He peers inside Alvarez's dreams and carves something on a piece of shrapnel taken from the pilot's arm. Finally, Yussef is reunited with his family.

Later, Alvarez returns to the family to ask Nadia for an extraordinary favor. He wants her to return to Samarra, to the kidnappers who had forced her into prostitution. They have taken several hostages, among them Dr. Prigent, and Nadia needs to guide the forces to rescue those abducted. Nadia undergoes intensive training in handling a gun and defending herself and eventually the chief kidnaper meets his end at the hands of a Fijian sharpshooter stationed with British troops.

At first "Brother Eagle, Sister Moon" struck me as kind of a fairy-story since at the beginning the reader is privy to some of the goat's thoughts. Yet as the novel progresses there is more realism -- though perhaps surrealism is the better term. There are no answers here to the larger conflict, only hints that one day, perhaps, even people can live "in harmony with each other."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

A comprehensive guide to everything Chico


Chico State University graduate Eric Norlie has had a varied career.

According to a press kit, "following college life, Eric remodeled the old downtown Masonic lodge into the Arroyo Room, managed the deactivated missile base north of Chico ... and scouted locations for the Butte County Film Commission. His connection to Chico also includes working in local news production for KNVR-24 and the Paradise Post newspaper." The 39-year-old Norlie is a "fourth generation Chico native. Eric's great grandparents worked at the Chico Hotel, Diamond Match Lumber and Richardson Springs Resort. His grandfather was a local building contractor and his parents own and operate Norfield Industries, a Chico manufacturing company."

Now he's published the essential guide to everything Chico. "The Chico User's Guide" ($24.95 in paperback from Cognitive Think Inc.) is available, he writes, at the Chico Museum, Lyon Books, Made in Chico, Tower Records, Bird in Hand, Tom Foolery, Zucchini & Vine, Magna Carta, the Associated Students bookstore, Vino100, Barnes & Noble and the new Scrubbs car wash on the Skyway, as well as at It's an extraordinary accomplishment.

A little more than 4 inches wide and 51}2 inches tall, and three quarters of an inch thick, its 356 pages contain more than 800 color photographs and an abundance of microscopic print. But the shiny pages (printed in environmentally friendly soy-based ink) are surprisingly readable. The book feels good in the hand.

"The Chico User's Guide" is divided into nine sections: Features (including Chico history, landmarks and Bidwell Park), Activities, Entertainment, Student Guide, At Your Service (transportation, emergency care, recycling, healthy living and party planning), Organizations, Traveling, Reference and Calendar. Dozens of subsections (and a handy subject index) keep the book organized.

There wasn't room for everything. Norlie writes me that he favored "locally-owned and operated businesses and organizations." Some pages (like those devoted to religious life) give only a sampling of the diversity in Chico.

There are two kinds of entries. "Contacts" (such as the Chico Outlaws) provide the address, phone number and Web site address and "events" (such as the Chico Science Fair), which include the recurring date if available. I was struck by a nice little innovation. If a Web address is too long, Norlie saves space by printing keywords instead, optimized for the Google search engine.

Delights abound. There are four pages with full-color thumbnails of Chico wildflowers. Four pages are devoted to science, pointing to Chico State's forensics lab, the Rice Experiment Station along Highway 162 and the Snow Goose Festival each January. Carolyn Spellman Shoemaker is spotlighted. A university alum, she was the co-discoverer of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet that collided with Jupiter in 1994.

Another four pages detail Chico film history, listing some 21 pictures shot in and around Chico (including 1955's "Friendly Persuasion" with Gary Cooper and "Stolen Innocence," the 1995 made-for-TV flick starring Chico's own Amanda Detmer).

Two pages are devoted to the area book scene, with local bookstores, libraries and three local publishers listed (a separate section is devoted to locally published periodicals). The Buzz is recognized for its Thursday best-seller lists, though this column is not mentioned (maybe in the next edition?). More comprehensive is the guide to music, dancing and bars and nightclubs. A dozen pages list 40 local groups, karaoke venues and a place to learn belly dancing. There are many pages on sports and recreation, too.

Norlie has done an outstanding job putting Chico between covers. Here's to many future editions.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Cape Cod author bought himself a piece of the Sierra Nevada


Though Brent Harold lives "in Wellfleet, Mass., on outer Cape Cod," part of him, at least some small part, hearkens back now and again to Placer County and 20 acres of land "about 10 miles northwest of Lake Tahoe," part of Coldstream Valley, that he and nine friends bought in 1968. The 10 friends from Palo Alto met at a '60s "encounter group" and they decided that piece of Coldstream was going to become a communal heaven.

The story is light-heartedly and winsomely told in "Owning the Sierra Nevada: The Short History of a Long Infatuation" ($12.95 in paperback from Kinnacum Press, It's about the call of the land even though "of the 36 years of our ownership, my total time there amounts to between three and four months." The youthful idealism did not last long, but the friends never got around to selling the parcel. Harold lost track of some of the owners, but he and a few others over the years made pilgrimages to what they called The Land. In several easy-to-digest chapters the author recounts how his dream of someday setting up a "real life" in the woods was profoundly altered.

Harold had almost completed his doctorate in English at Stanford University when the group of friends decided to buy the property "merely to celebrate friendship." It was, he writes, "a typical moment in that utopian era." He dropped out of Stanford society, "dropped out of what was left of my youthful marriage" and "as a sort of emancipation proclamation I packed some books and writing paper in my VW bug and headed up to the Gold Lake-Sierra Buttes high country." His desires were kindled.

On another journey, this time to the Tuolumne Meadows, he writes, "What stands out when I think of that trip is the sexiness simply of being in the high Sierra: smooth, clean rock, pure water, eternal snow and the huge bowl of dark blue sky. ... That largely treeless, rockbound landscape was sexy in the sense of making one feel exposed -- to an intimate connection with the cosmos; or with something. ('Scuse me while I kiss the sky.)"

Much later he and his girlfriend Susan began visiting The Land. One time, in late spring, they had come back from a hike only to "find the stream risen from snowmelt during the warm day, and the corral of rocks in which we have left our cans of juice and beer ... threatened by the flooding. ... A few cans get loose in the current and we run downstream, with great hilarity, trying to head them off. ... We almost immediately began calling our frantic efforts the Wild Juice Chase. The story quickly in the telling becomes less that of high, feisty waters ... than How a Great Pun was Born." Bravo!

Harold had moved to the Cape Cod region to work. Susan was an Easterner, and eventually the two married, producing a son named Ben. Periodically they sojourned to The Land and Harold had thoughts of constructing a crude cabin, but it never came to pass. Life on The Land was in tents, one might say, and when adjacent landowners moved in with civilization and heavy equipment, something changed. He made his last visit in 2002 but keeps up with developments through e-mail with neighbors.

Ben is 17 now, and maybe one day he'll return to Coldstream and make that cabin a reality. Maybe.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Chico author recalls naval intelligence work during the Vietnam conflict


Douglass H. Hubbard Jr., born in 1945, joined the Naval Investigative Service Office in Washington, D.C. and became an agent. With dreams of catching spies, he volunteered for service in Vietnam. "I was 23," he writes. "The world was my apple." It was 1969; that year U.S. troop strength would peak at more than half a million. He chose Da Nang.

His story, and that of many of the two dozen Naval Intelligence civilian special agents who also served in Vietnam, is told in "Special Agent, Vietnam: A Naval Intelligence Memoir" ($26.95 in hardcover from Potomac Books). Hubbard stayed in Vietnam for three year-long tours, the most of any Naval Intelligence Service (NIS) agent.

Hubbard notes the passage of time has taken its toll on the agents who served there. Some have died, memories have clouded; he writes that "it fell to me, more than four decades after the first agent deployment (in 1962), to tell as much of that story as possible."

The Navy refused "to confirm or deny the existence of all the documents and photographs that we had written and submitted," so Hubbard has instead relied on interviews with surviving agents, his own memories and publicly available information. The book includes helpful maps, photographs of the agents and a glossary of seemingly numberless military acronyms. The result is a careful study of the role of NIS agents in South Vietnam until the fall of Saigon in 1975. Hubbard's language is measured, but there is passion behind the words.

He investigated allegations of drug use among troops, suicides, rape, mail fraud, smuggling, spying and the death of Australian entertainer Catherine Ann Warnes (whose stage name was Cathy Wayne) in 1969. She "had been shot while performing with her troupe at the staff and officers' club" at a base in Da Nang. (A Marine sergeant was eventually arrested.)

Then there was "fragging," the use of a fragmentation grenade to cause mayhem or settle personal scores. Hubbard writes that "the small M26 frag packed a huge wallop. Its high-explosive charge was wrapped by strands of serrated stainless-steel wire, fragments of which traveled at several thousand feet per second on detonation -- providing a kill radius of about 15 meters."

Some cases were motivated by racial tension, such as the one in 1970 involving Pvt. Ronald McDonald, USMC, who, Hubbard writes, "may well have been a product of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara's social engineering plan to fill vacancies in the armed forces by lowering entry standards." McDonald managed to obtain a British 36 "Mills Bomb" fragmentation grenade to use against an officer he felt had insulted him. The grenade went off, the officer survived, but McDonald got 80 years. One of the agents who worked the case told Hubbard in an interview, "They led this guy away in handcuffs, but he was still giving the black power salute."

After his time in Vietnam, Hubbard left the NIS to explore business ventures. He returned to Vietnam in the late 1990s and found much of the destruction had disappeared. "A visitor to Vietnam who knew the country during the war will probably at some point ponder about what difference America's brave attempt to rescue South Vietnam made. As I stared out over the verdant rice paddies in the former demilitarized zone ... I was prompted to think that, despite a preponderance of altruism, we had mattered very little in the context of Vietnam's two millennia of history."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

University of California press publicist is a Chico State University grad


Heather Vaughan is a mid-list publicist for the University of California Press (headquartered in Berkeley). When she told me she attended Chico State University, I had to find out more. What follows is an edited e-mail interview.

How long were you in Chico?

"I lived in Chico for five years (1995-2000), while attending CSU, Chico. I graduated in 2000 with a BA in English and minors in theater and biology. I spent most of my non-class time in the green room of the theater department."

Do you have a memorable personal story that exemplifies Chico to you?

"One of my English teachers, Lois Bueler (who retired this year), was an inspiration in a lot of ways. Lois ... had this amazing ability to inspire you to do your best." Through some challenging experiences that semester, Vaughn writes, her professor "made me realize that if I really wanted to do something, all I had to do was try as hard as I could, and I could find a way. Lois made me want to try harder, because she had been so dedicated to teaching despite the difficulties in her life."

Why did you leave Chico?

"I left Chico to look for a publishing job in the San Francisco Bay Area ... at a small business-book publisher. In 2004, I graduated with a master's in Visual Culture: Costume Studies from New York University. I moved back to the Bay Area in November 2005 ... and ended up back in publishing."

How did you get the job of "mid-list publicist"?

"I had seen the job posted on several publishing industry Web sites and knew I had the skills necessary to work in the field. I applied in February, went through the interview process, and was hired in early March. My interests (science, theater, art and fashion history, film) definitely helped me get this job (which involves publicizing books in a large variety of academic fields)."

What exactly IS a "mid-list publicist"?

"I handle the publicity for the scholarly/academic titles with print runs smaller than 2,000 copies. This is actually the majority of books that we publish. The topics include everything from science to music theory to anthropology. I also handle two smaller, trade series (the California Natural History Guide Series and The Huntington Library Series). There are four other publicists at the press who handle the remaining trade titles. For the most part, my job consists of getting the academic books reviewed in scholarly publications and print media. However, I do help set up radio interviews, bookstore events and lectures for the trade books I do handle."

Your "other job" is a "fashion and textile historian." What is that?

"Someone who explores history, culture and society through clothing and textiles created by various groups. My experience has been extremely varied, including work as a museum curator, researcher, lecturer, author and as a historical resource for other museums, auction houses and individuals. I am currently working on an article for a juried publication, Dress (a Costume Society of America publication) and on several chapters for an encyclopedia of fashion (1900-1920 and 1920-1939), to be published by Greenwood Press in 2007. I also hope to publish my master's thesis in book form. (It) examines the fashion design career of Natacha Rambova, the one-time wife of Rudolph Valentino."

I wish Vaughan the best and thank her for helping to keep books alive and for letting us glimpse a publicist's life.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.