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