Thursday, December 27, 2007

The year in local books


This column began back on March 4, 1987 and celebrated two decades of weekly reviews this year. We were graced with an Annie award as well, for which we are grateful. Most gratifying, of course, are the notes over the years that have indicated the column has been of some small service in bringing readers and authors together.

In the history and memoir department, this year’s featured works included “Too Many Irons in the Fire: The Life and Times of Charles F. Stover and the History of the Ranching Families of Tehama, Lassen and Plumas Counties, 1850-2006” (Cheryl Conard Haase); “You Too Could Go to Federal Prison!” (Dorothy J. Parker); “Wooden Ships and Iron Men: The U.S. Navy’s Ocean Minesweepers, 1953-1994” (David D. Bruhn); “After the Dust Has Settled” (Dick Cory); “Towns of Mount Lassen” (William Shelton); “The House at 5th and Salem” (Chico’s Stansbury home) by Frederick S. Clough; and “85 Years – Durham High School” (Adriana Farley).

I reviewed two scholarly but accessible works from Chico State University professors, “Interfaith Encounters in America” by Kate McCarthy and “The Altruistic Species: Scientific, Philosophical, and Religious Perspectives of Human Benevolence” by Andrew Michael Flescher and Daniel L. Worthen.

There were inspirational works, too: “Foolsgold: Making Something From Nothing and Freeing Your Creative Process” by Susan Wooldridge (a hardcover selection of the Quality Paperback Book Club); “Power Stories: Everyday Women Creating Extraordinary Lives” edited by Cara Gubbins; “The Seven Principles of Golf: Mastering the Mental Game On and Off the Golf Course” by Darrin Gee; and “Becoming the Kind Father: A Son’s Journey” by Calvin Sandborn.

For young people: “Grand Canyon: Tale of the Scorpion (Adventures with the Parkers series)” by Mike Graf; “The Legend of Boomer Jack” by Tim Martin; and “Gracie’s Big Adventure With the Misfits” by Debbie Cobb.

This year also saw reviews of the Convergence Web magazine ( co-edited by Lara Gularte; and the humorous picture book “Animals Thinking Out Loud” by Mike and Nancy Agliolo.

The column featured two works by local poets: “Poem Pudding” by Archie Dan Murphy and “End-Cycle: Poems About Caregiving” by Patricia Wellingham-Jones.

Finally, there were the 9 novels (well, 8 novels and a collection of short stories) from area writers: “Sailing: Inside Passages – The Mysteries of the Inner Sea” (David Downes); “Flyboys—Risky Business” (Dean O. Talley); “Good Things” (Darien Gee writing as Mia King); “Quad” (Carrie Gordon Watson); “Happy Valley College” (Dick Carlsen); “Cutthroat” (Steve Brewer); “Paradise Stories” (Dustin Heron); “Lawrence of Vietnam” (Michael M. Peters); and “The Culverts of Humboldt County” (Tim Martin).

It was a good year.

Image by Bill Husa, Chico Enterprise-Record

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Christmas story made new: fresh words from a pastor’s heart


Eugene H. Peterson, seminary teacher and Presbyterian pastor, spent a decade working from Greek and Hebrew texts to produce the Message, a Bible paraphrase in contemporary English. Long an advocate of what he calls “spiritual theology,” Peterson has taken excerpts from his sermons and devotional writings, added them in appropriate places in the Message, and published the result as “Conversations: The Message Bible with Its Translator” ($39.99 in hardcover from Navpress).

The conversations, he writes, “are more casual than formal. . . . We’ll travel a lot of terrain together, some of it breathtakingly scenic, some of its ploddingly plain, and some of it precariously uncertain. Here and there along the way I’ll point out details in the biblical landscape, drawing attention to a particular word, pointing out a pertinent piece of historical background, pausing a moment to talk with you and to lead you in prayer.” This is not a study Bible, though; it is a reading Bible, and Peterson’s turns of phrase can sometimes be sharp and startling. Familiar passages are made fresh and shake the reader awake.

Mary’s Magnificat in Luke’s Christmas story is street-wise: “I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened—I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! . . . His mercy flows in wave and after wave on those who are in awe before him. . . . The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold.”

The first chapter of John’s gospel speaks of the Incarnation: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Peterson’s comments are set off from the biblical text by a different type face; at this point he asks, “Do you want to see God present among you? Do you want to come into the presence of God and worship him? Here he’s making himself at home among you: Jesus—pitching his tent, building his home, and moving into the neighborhood. Your neighborhood.”

Two thousand years ago, “there were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood.” The second chapter of Luke’s gospel goes on to say, in Peterson’s paraphrase, “Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. . . .’”

Christmas. Here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Debbie Cobb’s second children’s book just in time for giving


If Debbie Cobb is best known as the weekend anchor for Channels 12 and 24, she’s making a new name for herself among young readers. First came “Gracie’s Big Adventure With Augustine the Beaver,” published in 2006, and now, this year, “Gracie’s Big Adventure With the Misfits” ($10.95 in paperback from Laurob Press). Both books are available locally at Barnes and Noble, Bird in Hand, the A.S. Bookstore at Chico State University, Made In Chico, The Creative Apple, and Lyon Books. For online information about the books readers can go to

The author will be signing copies at the Redding Library on Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until noon and at Lyon Books in downtown Chico this Sunday from noon until 1:30 p.m. The public is invited for a kid-friendly presentation.

The full-color, full-page illustrations by Steve Ferchaud for “The Misfits” are particularly vibrant. They draw the reader into the fun, and young Gracie’s wide smile is not a little reminiscent of Cobb’s own.

Who are the misfits? There are three: Freeman the duck doesn’t like water; Alan the mouse is missing a tail (thanks to a crafty cat); and Tony the turtle has lost his shell. Gracie adopts them all and writes up a fix-it list. It turns out that Tony the turtle really likes water, and Gracie turns on the sprinkler. “It wasn’t long before Alan scurried across the lawn and got all wet, too. Then, to everyone’s surprise, Freeman took one bold step forward, then another and another. This duck no longer had a fear of water.”

Spurred on, Gracie decides to look for Tony’s shell and eventually finds it after a long search. “Gracie had almost completed her mission. She had one more thing on her list to fix.” Where to get Alan a tail? Could Grammy sew one on? Could one be glued on?

But then Gracie realizes something. Though Alan had no tail, “Gracie loved him just the same.” The moral of the book, Cobb writes me, is “about accepting others despite their differences and knowing even if you are different, you’re still loved.”

Cobb’s first book had hidden “G’s” (for Gracie) in each illustration; in “Misfits” there are hidden M’s. And, she writes me, “There’s also a park scene where the bench says ‘Bidwell Park’ with a cat in the scene. It’s total Chico for the locals.” (Just a hint: in that picture, the M is in the tree!)

It’s an old fashioned story with a moral, a simple tale with resonances in the wider world.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

From McKinleyville author: A “love-‘em-and-leave-‘em” story for rednecks


Retired engineer Timothy Martin has written books about running and dogs, but “The Culverts of Humboldt County” ($16.95 in paperback from PublishAmerica, available through, is something else entirely. It’s a politically incorrect “romance for men” that wallows in redneck culture even as it’s being satirized. It’s “The Bridges of Madison County” for those with an “affinity for fried food, the NRA, John Deere tractors, ruined vehicles, and anything that explodes in a really, really big way.”

The story is pretty simple (presumably out of respect for its readers). Told to the author by one Ruby Harmon, now of Redding, the tale takes place in 1982. Earl Perkins of Ukiah is “the last of a dying breed, a hard-drinking, pickup-driving man at the end of an era, confused by a time of dwindling timber resources and the fading dignity of sweat and physical toil.” He’s a culvert repairman who leaves his plus-size wife after having “cheated on Elvira no less than a hundred times during their marriage.” But, “being the kind-hearted soul that he was, Earl left Elvira almost everything he owned. He left his matched set of World Wrestling Federation beer coolers, his eight track Marty Robbins tapes and his velvet Elvis painting. . . . Earl took his K-Mart tools, a quart or two of whiskey, and nothing more.” Generous.

Eventually on his travels he encounters Charlene Bickle, also unhappily married, “a tall, good-looking, long-legged woman with a tiny naked Smurf tattooed between her breasts who subsisted on tobacco smoke and beer.” They eventually wind up dirty dancing at the Nasty Place, a bar that is “dimly lit and decorated in typical white trash fashion with bowling trophies and posters of girls in tight jeans, bending over,” and, when the inevitable brawl breaks out, they escape only to find ecstasy in each other’s arms. Then comes a chapter called “A Bounce on the Bedsprings,” if you get what I mean.

Martin is clear that “this is not a tale of love and confession among the rich and unethical. . . . This book is a tacky testimonial to bad hangovers, cigarette burns, and anyone who can belch and say their name at the same time.” It’s also “not for the faint of heart. . . . It’s a reader’s equivalent of a steel splinter from a flywheel striking you in the face. . . . It’s a skinned knee, a nosebleed, and a concussion from a car slipping off the jack and landing on your head.”

So why did I laugh out loud?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

85 years of Durham High School

By Dan Barnett

Adriana Langerwerf Farley of Durham is an indefatigable compiler. Local historians will be much in her debt as will decades of Durham High School grads whose names (almost 4,000 of them) are now between covers.

Copies of "85 Years — Durham High School" (146 pages, spiral bound) are sold at cost for $10. To order a copy, contact Farley at or call 894-3163.

Farley writes me that in 2004, while she was working on a book about World War II, she found three names on the Durham Honor Roll that she couldn't identify. "Two names turned out to be former administrators, and one was a teacher. When trying to find information on these three, the high school office and the DUSD district office seemed to be the place to go for help. Neither could provide information, even the years they'd been employed. With permission from Principal Paul Arnold, and a lot of help from Yolanda Prentice, all the copies of the Durham High's annual The Corona were borrowed from the DHS archives (the vault in the office) from 1923 through 2007 and scanned, copied, transcribed."

That produced the following lists, all of which are included in the book:

1. "All trustees 1921 through 2007, and dates they served, including newspaper clippings and photographs of individuals from their family members."

2. A similar list "of all superintendents 1950-2007 including pictures and signatures scanned from The Corona, with a one-page biography for each."

3. "All principals (there are 18) 1921-2007. Each principal has a one-page biography, although a couple have only scant information, alas."

4. "All faculty (certificated staff) and their service dates, along with a chronology of school and building changes from 1921-2007. The teacher's full name is provided and the year he or she was added to the staff," as well as the yearly dedications to faculty and staff that appeared in The Corona.

5. Finally, "with the assistance of present day DUSD staff member Pat Smith, a list was compiled of all classified staff 1953-2007." (No record exists for classified employees before 1953.)

A message from one of the principals, Harold P. Hill, is particularly striking. "We have been told by our coaches that we are changing from a defensive style of play to an offensive attack. We won't let the team down... The head coach in Washington has said, 'With confidence in our armed forces — with the unbounding determination of our people — we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God.'"

— From The Corona, 1942.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Growing up in Oroville with an alcoholic father, a law professor struggles to learn kindness


Calvin Sandborn graduated from Chico State University and is now a member of the University of Victoria law faculty, supervising that school's Environmental Law Clinic.

He writes me that his new book, "Becoming the Kind Father: A Son's Journey" ($15.95 in paperback from New Society Publishers) is "a story of growing up in Oroville with an angry alcoholic father. The book has become a best-seller in Canada, and sales are beginning to rise in the U.S."

That suggests it's meeting a need for men trapped in a system of patriarchal expectations summarized in the "Boy Code" delineated by writer William Pollack and others: Be stoic and don't show weakness; don't show emotion, unless it's anger; be macho; and in a world of winners and losers, don't be a loser.

Sandborn writes that "my own father was a harsh, hard-drinking, hard-swearing, tattooed man's man. He drilled the Boy Code into me, and insisted I wear the Masculine Armor. But this book is the story of how, in mid-life, I abandoned the armor and took off the mask. As I passed from hero to mortal, I began to feel again. After decades lost in man's deep sleep, trapped in patriarchy's tragic script, I reestablished a relationship with my self."

Unable to escape the inner voice of his late dad ("Can't I count on you for anything?" "Don't cry!"), Sandborn turns to a counselor who helps him replace the voice of the Harsh Father with that of the Kind Father. The author also learns "an emotional vocabulary," so rather than exaggerating a difficulty ("I'm furious!") or falsely minimizing it ("It's nothing!"), he learns to talk about being irritated, frustrated, peeved or sad. It was a liberation in terms of his physical health and the simple enjoyment of life.

There is strong language here as Sandborn recounts the self talk of the Harsh Father. The Kind Father is affirming and supportive; Sanborn's claim that "we all merit grace" is less a theological statement than a plea to give each other a break since everyone makes mistakes.

Chapters in the book deal with the problem of chronic anger and how to forgive oneself. Mixing insights from group therapy, Christianity, Buddhism, Greek myth, anger research and his own experiences, Sandborn comes to understand his father, someone who had no one to tell him the good things about himself.

"The fact was," the author writes, "he didn't have to die alone in the Country of Resentment. There was room for him in the Country of Love."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Kids should bee-hive themselves - Children's books on bees for the California Nut Festival


The annual California Nut Festival, centered in Chico, takes place Feb. 16-23. Sponsored by the Far West Heritage Association, stewards of the Chico Museum and Patrick Ranch, the focus is on "bees and almonds."

In addition to mall walks, lectures, almond blossom tours and museum exhibits, discussion groups are being formed around the "city-wide" book "Letters From the Hive" ($14 in paperback from Bantam Books) as well as several children's books selected for the occasion.

One of those books, "The Magic School Bus: Inside a Beehive" ($5.99 in paperback from Scholastic), part of the Magic School Bus science series, offers youngsters busy pages full of colorful drawings (by Bruce Degen) and a simple but beguiling story line (by Joanna Cole). Ms. Frizzle's pupils (they call her "the Friz") embark on an extraordinary field trip to visit a beekeeper. Along the way their school bus turns into what looks like a hive; the children all resemble bees.

"'We'll have to visit flowers and get bee food in order to gain entrance to the hive. Follow that bee!' shouted the Friz."

And that is the start of a tale that includes a bear, a beekeeper and a queen bee that "lays up to 1,500 eggs per day." "Eggs-cellent!" shouts one of the students.

The last two pages of the tale give readers a reality check. One butterfly remarks, "This book shows bees making honey in a few minutes. It actually takes them many hours." Then there's a bug chorus at the end: "And this book shows insects talking in words." "Anyone knows we can't do that." "We can't?" "Aw, shucks ..." "We'd better be quiet, then."

"Buzzing Bumblebees" ($5.95 in paperback from Lerner Publishing), by Joelle Riley, uses close-up color photography and simple text to chart the life of a bumblebee. The book also includes a "hunt and find" exercise that encourages readers to look for eggs and more in the photographs.

Finally, "Hooray for Beekeeping!" ($7.95 in paperback from Crabtree Publishing), a Bobbie Kalman Book, uses photographs, drawings and short narratives to show the parts of an apiary hive and to explain how honey is extracted and why migratory beekeepers are becoming popular. The bees' round dance shows how near the food is, and the "wagtail dance" shows its direction. There's even a recipe for a "sweet and sticky apple sandwich."

Just remember, money can buy a lot, but (to rip off a line from Rocky and Bullwinkle), the bee stings in life are free!

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Friday, November 09, 2007

All the buzz - Chico-based California Nut Festival selects its featured book for discussion groups


The California Nut Festival, which will take place Feb. 16-23 in Chico, is sponsored by the Far West Heritage Association, stewards of the Chico Museum and Patrick Ranch.

Planned are art exhibits, almond blossom tours, a mall walk (in partnership with the American Heart Association), merchant events, special speakers and more, all in celebration of bees "and their tremendous value to our almond trees in Chico." They even got Jerry Seinfeld to release a movie about bees — at least that's the rumor I'm spreading.

In advance of the festivities, discussion groups are being formed to talk about the "city-wide book" which this year is "Letters From the Hive: An Intimate History of Bees, Honey, and Humankind" ($14 in paperback from Bantam Books) by Stephen Buchmann with Banning Repplier.

Buchmann is a Tucson, Ariz.-based associate professor of entomology and amateur beekeeper, and Repplier is a New York writer.
The book is an homage to all things bee-utiful as it tells the story of prehistoric honey hunters; the craft of beekeeping; secrets of the bee; honey in myth and legend; varieties of honey and its medicinal uses (honey contains hydrogen peroxide that can kill bacteria); cooking with honey; and how to make mead ("water sweetened with honey and allowed to ferment").

"Letters From the Hive" was published in 2005. A year later, reports began to surface from the United States and other parts of the world that honeybees were abandoning their hives. The syndrome was named "colony collapse disorder" and, in a recent article in the New Yorker ("Stung," by Elizabeth Kolbert) and a PBS documentary ("The Silence of the Bees") it appears that a virus is the culprit. Not only is the beekeeping industry threatened, but so are the crops that depend upon pollination, and that includes almonds.

"Letters" is especially valuable in taking the reader into the world of the bee. "If we could shrink ourselves down to bee size and enter the inner world of the nest, we would find it an alien place, dark, crowded and oppressively hot and humid. But bees are not humans, and presumably they feel comfortable in the hive, which is home to a queen, tens of thousands of her daughters, and a few hundred or so of her sons. Double-sided hexagonal combs line the walls, floors and ceilings of the nest. ... The waxen cubicles serve a multitude of functions, from storage pantries and nurseries to dance floors for the waggle dancing of successful foragers."

It's a honey of a tale.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Friday, November 02, 2007

Two Chico State University professors publish book on altruism, speak Friday


It's likely that within a short distance of where you are there are people who could use your help. Maybe those people are in your own family.

Helping them would cost something: in time, treasure or emotional involvement, and it's tempting to think that genuine self-giving is the province of those moral saints we can never hope to emulate. But, according to two Chico academics, we'd be wrong.

Associate professors Andrew Michael Flescher (religious studies) and Daniel L. Worthen (psychology) contend that altruism (a regard for others in which their well-being becomes "the ultimate object of one's concern") is practiced by more "everyday" people than we might think. For the past several years the two instructors have taught "What Motivates Altruism?" to groups of honors students, taking a multi-disciplinary approach to the study of the phenomenon. But it's not just theory. Each student is asked to shadow certain Chico residents who are "directly engaged in social advocacy, welfare, and service." Students report back how ordinary these people are. And they begin to see that altruism is not just for the Mother Teresas of the world.

Flescher and Worthen have now published a book based on the class. "The Altruistic Species: Scientific, Philosophical, and Religious Perspectives of Human Benevolence" ($34.95 in paperback from Templeton Foundation Press) will be the subject a talk given by both authors 3­4:45 p.m. Friday in Trinity 100 on the Chico State University campus. The event, sponsored by the Department of Religious Studies and the Humanities Center, is free and open to the public.

Though the book delves into biological kinship systems and Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative, the writing is clear and accessible. In its calm way of demolishing objections to the authors' contention that most all of us have the capacity — and moral obligation — to become more altruistic in our character (as part of what Aristotle called human flourishing), the book is also revolutionary.

Two examples will suffice. Chicoans Farshad Azad, whose Basket Brigade helps feed people during the holidays, and Matt Jackson, "who launched Chico's Boys and Girls Club" and volunteers with the NAACP, "stress not only that there is little special about them ... but also that the effort they exert should not be confined to themselves alone. The 'work' of becoming altruistic can and should be shouldered by many."

It's a matter, the authors say, of "practicing ... moral skills" which become part of the "stable character" of altruism. It is a measure of the genuinely happy life.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Poet, activist Brenda Hillman speaking tonight in Chico


As part of the On the Creek Lectures series, writers Brenda Hillman and Forrest Gander will speak tonight at 7:30 at the Rowland-Taylor Recital Hall/PAC 132 on the Chico State University campus. Sponsored by Chico Performances and the Institute of Sustainable Development, the presentation is free to the public but tickets are required. They're available at University Box Office or by calling 898-6333.

Hillman's latest work, "Pieces of Air in the Epic" ($13.95 in paperback from Wesleyan), is the second of a poetic tetralogy focusing on the primal constituents of the world: earth, air, fire, water. Her poetry is experimental, bending and chopping meanings, pulling apart lines as if to let the air in (or out), using symbols and repeated letters and coining words in Hopkins-like fashion, sometimes drawing the reader's attention to how the words sit on the page, sometimes pushing images together that don't make sense, but do.

The book is difficult, in part because its author inhabits a kind of gnostic world only a few can enter. Those who know her work well have written short essays on individual poems in "Pieces of Air," available online at and they are immensely helpful as an entrance into a dizzying world that insists, despite war and more war, that the song (the quintessential breath) will go on.

Air is part of the natural world; it is life, spirit, wind, invisible. The epic is something human made, telling of fighting, violence, conquest (think of Homer's "Iliad" or Virgil's "Aeneid"). What happens when the two come together? In "Nine Untitled Epyllions" (an epyllion is a short epic, usually with a romantic theme) the first line reads: "Something about breathing / The air inside a war." This group of poems is "dedicated to all who have suffered & died as a result of the war in Iraq."

"Embedded with Bechtel McDonald's" the words read, "With Daddy War — or Starbucks' floating voice / Over e-e-e-each / Exploded body into third forever / News briefs with short particulars." But "In the malls ... The war is forget forgot forgotten. ... The mall is a square with bumps like a small epic. / Through vents, winds swirl: / 1) a sort of sweet lite rock 2) faded popcorn / 3) infinity 4) a breezy o in the word world."

There is more, from oddnesses in libraries (the wind stirs the dust motes) to Altamont Pass ("the breeze turns and turns"). Not warfare; airfare.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Chico novelist takes a wry look at the Vietnam War


An author's note for Chicoan Michael M. Peters says he was a sergeant during the Vietnam War, "working on F-105s, F-111s and C-130s."

His novel, "Lawrence of Vietnam" ($14.95 in paper from Stansbury Publishing, "is a teenager's view of the war."

The story is told by a young man named Broadleaf, stationed somewhere in Vietnam. At one point he's asked how he got his name. "I was born in the South." "How'd you wind up here?" "I'm in Vietnam avoiding the draft." So why did he really join? To forget a girlfriend? "I dunno," Broadleaf replies. "Maybe I'm a mercenary. Maybe I joined up for the 25 bucks a week."

Broadleaf and his compatriots, Turnly, Dortmunder and Weirdo, share plenty of beer and leaf. Broadleaf becomes a sergeant, is sent home to the states, encounters a war protest at the local university, meets a coed named Cyndi and impresses her with his talk of "secret missions," and is shipped back to Vietnam. Broadleaf is associated with all kinds of planes and helicopters, but it's unclear just exactly what he does. He's always being asked that question and doesn't have much of a reply.

There's the mission "to fly a cargo plane into a besieged airbase and rescue everybody there that was on our side." At one point Broadleaf is left on the airstrip while he waits for rescue himself. "I walk to the side of the runway and lean up against a wooden shack. ... I sit down on the ground to make a smaller target and light up a joint." When he's picked up the crew chief notices that Broadleaf "had all kinds of fun shooting your rifle. We watched you from the plane. You like it out here. You're Lawrence of Vietnam."

Broadleaf survives and returns to college but can't stand the profs who think they know all about the war. "I disagreed with them, trying to explain that we left South Vietnam in 1972 and three years after we left, the South Vietnamese lost, not us. This upset their way of thinking and made them confused and rather than admit they were wrong and that their lives were useless, they flunked me."

As for Broadleaf, he's still trying to figure out his own life. The book ends with some of his poetry, most better left unpublished, though there is this line: "His wives were of such variety / He had no time for piety." Not much piety in the book, either. Cynicism will have to do.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Is Dawkins deluded with his denial?


Robert Bellah presented a public lecture at Chico State University in September, sponsored in part by the school's religious studies department.

He is the lead author of "Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life" ($18.95 in paper in a just-published third edition from University of California Press) and a sociologist who has focused on the place of religion in public life.

During his talk, Bellah, an Episcopalian, acknowledged that there are those, like evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who believe religious discourse has no place in the "public sphere." Bellah, with a twinkle in his eye, characterized Dawkins and his kin (such as Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett) as "Enlightenment fundamentalists."

In effect Bellah was saying that if religious fundamentalists can sometimes be intemperate and irrational, so can, well, atheists.

Dawkins' best-seller is "The God Delusion" ($27 in hardcover from Houghton Mifflin). Though I read parts of the book, I was put off by Dawkins' claim that if folks could just get their consciousness raised they'd drop the whole God business forthwith.

But that amounts to little more than saying "if more people saw things the way I see them, more people would be atheists." Well, duh!
Alister McGrath, who did research in molecular biophysics before becoming professor of historical theology at Oxford University, has more patience. Together with his wife, psychologist Joanna Collicutt McGrath, the two have written "The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine" ($16 in hardcover from IVP Books).

In their brief treatment, the McGraths conclude that "the total dogmatic conviction of correctness which pervades some sections of Western atheism today — wonderfully illustrated in 'The God Delusion' — immediately aligns it with a religious fundamentalism that refuses to allow its ideas to be examined or challenged."

The McGraths agree with Dawkins that the world has seen too much violence in the name of religion. But they note his refusal to consider counter-evidence to his claim that, as Alister McGrath writes, "the God Dawkins does not believe in is 'a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.' Come to think of it, I don't believe in a God like that either. In fact, I don't know anybody who does."

The McGraths discuss four questions: Is someone who believes in God deluded? Has science disproved God? What are the origins of religion? Is religion evil?

Their answers are a nuanced corrective to Dawkins' excesses and offer reasons to think that Bellah knew exactly what he was talking about.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Former Paradise resident offers short-story collection


"Paradise Stories" ($15 in paperback from Small Desk Press, by Dustin Heron begins in 1994 with 10-year-old Billy, whose parents, Ant and Stan Wright, live in a trailer in Paradise.

One day their septic system backs up and floods the yard in front of the trailer and Billy is confronted by a giant pile of living, talking excrement that asks Billy if he wants to live forever. Then things really get interesting.

San Francisco-based Small Desk Press publishes talented new writers who push the literary envelope. Heron, who comes from Paradise, has crafted a series of 10 interconnected stories set in Paradise and Chico that takes the reader on a journey into the abject lives of the working poor. The stories are by turns revoltingly funny and sickeningly sad. The reader, like Billy, comes face-to-face with poop in all of its forms from the very first line in the book. Yet rather than fashion a grade-B comedy, Heron has done something quite extraordinary.

Even as this reader at least is reeling from the machine-gun assault of the S-word, Heron transforms the utterly incredible into a gimlet-eyed view of the human condition, and hope in the midst of excrement. Sucker-punched, I couldn't stop reading.

Old Roland Gary (Ant is his niece) is in front of St. Thomas More in Paradise, half drunk, cynical and sarcastic, about to attend his late wife's memorial service. He spies the Gold Nugget Parade on the Skyway. "Floats, designed by children and other half-wits, rumbled down the street affixed to rusty old Fords spewing clouds of black exhaust to a raucous soundtrack of fiddles and beer-addled shouting. Grubby-faced children, smeared from head to toe in cotton candy, tugged on the floral petticoats of their grandmothers for money to buy one of the pieces of low-quality garbage housed under those white tents on the hill. ..." There was "a proliferation of fool's gold ... necklaces and bracelets, figurines — any and everything glittering with the same false promise the whole town had been founded on."

Then Dan, the winner of the Donkey Derby, appeared. The Derby "simulated the founding of Paradise, wherein one lucky group of miners found a 50-pound gold nugget in the river & and lugged it up the hill on the back of a donkey and started the town of Paradise, where the hopeful swarmed, staked their claims, fought and loved and killed and began lives — only to discover that the Feather River contained exactly 50 pounds of gold, and it had already been spent."

There. You have been warned.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Adventure crime novelist displays wisdom of Solomon


Steve Brewer of Redding made his mark with the Bubba Mabry mystery series and stand-alone titles such as "Whipsaw" and "Bank Job."

From the looks of it, he's starting a new series featuring 33-year-old Solomon Gage, all brains and brawn stuffed into a handsome package that everyone says looks like "Mr. Clean." You know, from the commercials.

Gage is introduced in "Cutthroat" ($14.95 in paperback from Bleak House Books) as a fix-it man for billionaire Dominick Sheffield and his family enterprises headquartered in San Francisco. Gage's mother worked for Sheffield as an executive assistant until she was killed in a car wreck. "I was 14," Gage tells Lucinda Cruz, the beauteous divorce attorney, "and Dom took me in, put me through school, trained me to be his assistant."

It was no ordinary training. As Brewer writes, "Solomon was educated in business, the humanities and the special skills (martial arts, firearms, evasive driving, risk analysis, etiquette) that made him the perfect right-hand man."

The word "cutthroat" has multiple meanings in the book. Cutthroat Lodge is the name of the Sheffield family sanctuary deep in Mendocino County. The nearby creek, of course, is full of cutthroat trout. And then there is Robert Mboku, a hired killer who wields a mean machete.

The plot has rat-a-tat action to match the gunfire in the book. Dom's two ne'er-do-well sons are mixed up in some nefarious back-room deals with none other than Gen. Erasmus Goma, Supreme Military Commander of the Republic of Niger. Michael Sheffield (who was "bald and wore a mustache") and his brother Chris are poster boys for all that's wrong in the world.

As Dom muses, "What is it about the children of the rich? & Why do they so easily succumb to vice? Look at Chris, with his gluttony and his greed. Michael, with his infidelity. & A man works hard all his life to provide for his family. The money turns around and destroys those he loves. & So different from Solomon. Sometimes, Dom felt Solomon could read his mind."

Early in the story Abby, the strung-out child of Dom's daughter, doesn't understand the biblical reference to Solomon. "What was he?" she asks. "A wise king." She snorts. "That's you? You're wise?" "I'm trying."

"Cutthroat" is a tad darker and the stakes higher than some of the other recent Brewer novels. The satisfying ending opens the door for more Solomon Gage adventures. Be on the lookout.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Author and environmentalist Paul Hawken coming to Chico State University


Paul Hawken, who lives on Cascade Creek in Marin County, has for years chronicled the growth of what he calls a new kind of social movement, one that combines environmentalism, concern for social justice and an affirmation of the rights of indigenous peoples.

His research bears fruit in "Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came Into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming" ($24.95 in hardcover from Viking). Hawken says there is no name for this movement, but it likely encompasses more than a million nonprofit organizations around the world that are working, mostly on the local level, not to "save the world" but to "remake the world."

Hawken is scheduled to appear at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Chico State University's Laxson Auditorium as part of the On The Creek Lecture Series. Sponsored by Chico Performances, tickets are $15 for adults and seniors, $10 for students and children. Tickets are available at the University Box Office at 2nd & Normal Streets; call 898-6333.

The first half of "Blessed Unrest" offers a brief history of the movement's development, and he is optimistic. "The as yet undelivered promise of this movement is a network of organizations that offer solutions to disentangle what appear to be insoluble dilemmas: poverty, global climate change, terrorism, ecological degradation, polarization of income, loss of culture, and many more. ... If you examine its values, missions, goals, and principles ... you will see that at the core of all organizations are two principles, albeit unstated: first is the Golden Rule; second is the sacredness of all life, whether it be a creature, child, or culture."

The combined work of these organizations acts almost like an invisible hand, transcending the excesses and selfishness that creep into any group, helping the world heal itself: "Specifically, the shared activity of hundreds of thousands of nonprofit organizations can be seen as humanity's immune response to toxins like political corruption, economic disease, and ecological degradation."

The second half of the book is a taxonomy of the organizations in the movement, thousands of which are presented on the WiserEarth ( site, which lists dozens of nonprofits in the Chico Area, including the Butte Environmental Council and the Chico Peace and Justice Center. Anyone can add to the database online.

For Hawken, the movement is one of cooperation and compassion, dedicated in all its forms to sustainability, "stabilizing the currently disruptive relationship between earth's two most complex systems - human culture and the living world." He adds, "I believe this movement will prevail."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Story of Chico's Stansbury home begins with Mississippi culture


The Stansbury Home museum is one of Chico's favorite wedding venues, but those who don't know its history can visit "The House at 5th and Salem" ($7.50 in paper, commissioned by the Stansbury Home Preservation Association) through the eyes of Frederick S. Clough, the grandson of Dr. Oscar Stansbury.

Originally published in 1978, the reprint includes numerous black-and-white historical photographs of the house and its inhabitants, an overview map of Chico in 1871, and a Stansbury family tree.

Sorting through family possessions, Clough found hundreds of medical notes and letters (one from 1793) which he used to create "an informal account of my grandfather's life — his beginnings in Mississippi, his boyhood experiences during the Civil War, his college days, his journey west and highlights of his life in Chico from his arrival in 1875 until his death in 1926. But how to go about it? After some reflection, I decided to present the story in the form of a series of simulated interviews with Grandfather."

The portrait of O. Stansbury (he never liked "Oscar") that emerges is that of a person with a keen sense of humor and, according to his wife Libbie, not much business sense. Stansbury was the product of the Old South; Clough has his grandfather say the following: "If you are ever going to understand me as you put together these reminiscences, you will have to accept the fact that, as repugnant as it may seem to you, we Southerners avoided the moral judgment as to whether slavery was good or evil. It was simply a way of life." A publisher's note in the book asks readers to consider the story in the context of its times.

The house, of "Italianate design," was completed in 1883 at a cost of $7,273, with a thousand dollars more for the property.

The book not only details everyday life in Chico, but also Stansbury's experience in San Francisco in 1906 when, on April 18, just after five in the morning, "I was suddenly awakened by a terrifying rumble like the sound of 50 railroad engines bearing down on me. The bed began to tremble and lurched partly across the room. ... The next six days, while the city burned ... I spent in Golden Gate Park taking care of the injured with what medical supplies were issued to me, still wearing the few clothes I had managed to put on when disaster struck."

Stansbury's story is part of the warp and woof of Chico, woven into our past, illuminating our present.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Friday, September 07, 2007

Writer recalls Chico State College in the mid-'60s


Dick Carlsen, who with his wife, Cathy, lives in Virginia Beach, Va., writes that he "graduated from Chico State College in 1968, received my master's from Indiana University in 1973, and have been working for the Navy as a government civilian employee for 34 years."
He recently published his first novel, which takes place at the college in the years 1964-1967, called "Happy Valley College" ($17.99 in paper from

Carlsen says the book "has a strong undercurrent of the Vietnam War and military draft." The author adds that "the reader will also pick up some similarities between the Vietnam War and the war in Iraq, where my son is currently serving."

Carlsen's twin brother, Don, is a Chico resident and NFL official.

The story is told by Dave Pederson, whose parents drive him to meet his twin brother Dan at "Happy Valley College" north of Yuba City. What follows is a chronicle of free-spirited guys in their natural element: keggers, rowdiness, romances, sports, spring break, keggers and, on occasion, classes. Actually, the group of guys who formed the "Raiders" (a kind of alternative to the fraternities on campus) ended up doing pretty well in school, but that's not the focus of the book. Transition is.

The prologue takes place years later, when Dave Pederson visits the portable Vietnam War Wall set up at a Naval base in Maryland, and maybe such an event was the catalyst for Carlsen to write his account.

The book reads more like memoir than novel, and I found myself reliving my own time at Chico State during those same years. Carlsen remembers the "CAC," the student center later replaced by the Bell Memorial Union. But for some reason he renames the nearby park "Sutter Park & named after General John Sutter, the founder of Happy Valley whose beautiful Victorian mansion sat off The Boulevard and adjacent to the college property, and was used for a 1930s movie 'Robin Hood'."

The language is sometimes rough, and swearwords abbreviated in the first half are spelled out in the last.

When the draft becomes a reality there is little talk of fleeing to Canada or becoming conscientious objectors. Everyone wanted to get into the reserves, and through a chance encounter Dave succeeds. Later, though, when his drill sergeant is lost in the war, Dave applies for active duty.

Maybe his reason suggests the "outrageously crazy days" at Happy Valley were bought with a price: "I want," he says, "to make up for my indifference toward the war and our soldiers when I was in college."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, e-mail Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Explicating Shakespeare and Snyder - A critic takes on William and Gary, more


Camille Paglia, professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, made a name for herself in the larger culture with "Sexual Personae" and a series of books that examined, to use the title of another, "Sex, Art, and American Culture."

Always the provocateur, Paglia is saddened by "poetry's declining status" which "has made its embattled practitioners insular and self-protective." Desiring to reach a wider audience, she has produced a volume of explications of individual poems in English that is humbling in its bravura performance and depressing in its worldview.

"Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-three of the World's Best Poems" ($12.95 in paperback from Vintage) takes its title from one of John Donne's Holy Sonnets (and one of the 43): "That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend / Your force to break, blow, burn and make me new."

Paglia writes that "Donne is appealing to God to overwhelm him and compel his redemption from sin. My secular but semimystical view of art is that it taps primal energies, breaks down barriers, and imperiously remakes our settled way of seeing. Animated by the breath force (the original meaning of 'spirit' and 'inspiration'), poetry brings exhilarating spiritual renewal."

But Paglia's worldview belies the wonder-working power of poetry. In Shakespeare's "Sonnet 73," the first work she considers, the bard reminds us "to love that well which thou must leave ere long."

"Whatever we seek or crave," Paglia writes, "a person, a profession, a high ideal — is evanescent. Nothing survives the ash pit of the grave. & Our sense of life's transience intensifies its pleasures."

At the end of the book, Paglia finds Joni Mitchell's performance of "Woodstock" "a harrowing lament for hopes dashed and energies tragically wasted."

In between, she calls Yeats' "Leda and the Swan" ("Before the indifferent beak could let her drop") the greatest poem of the 20th century. She notices that in Gary Snyder's "Old Pond" "a busy nuthatch & is & the modest, flutelike substitute for the authoritarian boom of the Judeo-Christian God" and all that is available to us is to subordinate our little selves to nature, "the here-and-now salvation of (Snyder's) 'naked bug.'"

The more contemporary poems Paglia picks are fairly thin gruel (such as Rochelle Kraut's "My Makeup," just one short sentence). Paglia finds sex everywhere, and she may well be confusing its drive with the more modest work of poetry, which only begets words.

Yet Paglia's line-by-line readings draw us in. This is a book to learn from, after all.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Friday, August 24, 2007

Redding writer contributes to 'Comfort' series


The "Cup of Comfort" Series ( features short, true stories, mostly by freelance writers, organized around a variety of interests.

Colleen Sell, based in Eugene, Ore., has edited 19 of the volumes, including one of the newest, "A Cup of Comfort For Writers: Inspirational Stories That Celebrate the Literary Life" ($9.95 in paperback from Adams Media).

She says in her introduction that "it took a while for me to realize that writing is not just something I do; it is an essential part of who I am." Storytellers understand that writing is not opposed to living; it's part of living. "It is important," she adds, "for us writers to share our experiences and emotions, to tell of our trials and our triumphs, and to speak our truths about the writing life."

Some of those lessons emerge in the chapter called "Potty Talk" by Redding resident Marla Doherty (who has also contributed to the volumes on mothers and daughters, women in love and dog lovers). A note on the 50 contributors says that Doherty "coordinates the Northern California Authors' Fair. & Her creed in writing and in life: live, love, laugh and embrace failure."

"Potty Talk" is about "growing up a wallflower in a family of yakkers. & It made me an observer of life lessons that I later carried to my writing. & Special honor goes to my favorite, Aunt Pauline (passed from this world and conveniently silent, unable to defend herself), because she smoked."

Smoking was off-limits in Doherty's family, so Aunt Pauline "pretended she didn't smoke. For love of his daughter, Grandpa pretended to believe her." At holiday gatherings, "Aunt Pauline would periodically withdraw to the bathroom — trailed by her younger, nonsmoker sisters — to sneak a cigarette or two and gab. & For years, we kids could only wonder at the secrets behind the bathroom door."

Then one day Doherty was allowed into the sanctuary. She found "my aunts and mother, away from the men, had a different way of talking. & Stripping pantyhose, picking a hangnail, using the toilet, peering in the mirror to remove bits of spinach wedged between their teeth, they described embarrassments, boasted victories, admitted mistakes, rehashed failures — stories they rarely divulged to anyone outside their circle."

That could be the coda for the book. From cancer survivors whose writing sustains them, to stories of rewrites, rejections, procrastination, love letters and writing groups (the "Inklets"), the writing life gets personal. The "Comfort" series is both an outlet for writers as well as a market. Maybe that's the best encouragement of all.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Web magazine co-edited in Magalia features Chico artist, Paradise poet


Lara Gularte is co-editor of the Web-only magazine called Convergence (; the Spring/Summer 2007 issue is now online.

Gularte moved to Magalia from San Jose in 2004. "However," she writes me, "my parents have lived in Magalia since 1983 so I am no stranger to the area. & I also host the monthly Poets on the Ridge poetry readings in Paradise." A poet herself, Gularte's work can be found at

The current issue of Convergence, Gularte writes, "features a local artist, Caitlin Schwerin. Much of her art was inspired by the landscapes of the Chico area, & art that will remind you of home. One of our poets, Shana Youngdahl, is a native of Paradise and a graduate of Paradise High School. Her poem, 'Walking the Sutter Buttes,' was inspired by a hike she took with her dad when she was 14 years old."

The poem contains striking lines:

You help me to where
the wind lives, and below
California spreads the
My arms are pale, body
losing its form,
in this long
I'm half-way to 14.
Above our great valley
I hear your deep
talk to cattle; it almost shakes
trees, and I know I will
you, everything.
The mission of Convergence, Gularte says, "is to unify the literary and visual arts and draw new interpretations of the written word by pairing poems and short fiction with complementary art. We keep the Web site free of clutter in order to better showcase the art and literature. In submissions to the journal we look for freshness, originality and a mastery of craft. Since 2003 Convergence has attracted national and international attention."

Convergence is ad free: "We do it for the joy of sharing quality art and literature with others by means of the Web. & Convergence's webmaster, Luis Ledesma, works as a mathematics and engineering professor at the National Hispanic University in San Jose. Elaine Bartlett, co-editor of Convergence, is a fiction editor for the literary journal, Meridian. I am a retired Santa Clara County public guardian/court investigator. I received my MFA degree from San Jose State University in 2006. I teach writing classes at Paradise Parks and Recreation and work as a tutor part time. From 2005 to 2006 I was a tutor at the Center for Academic Success at Butte College."

Click on the cover art by Caitlin Schwerin, entitled "E Neuf is E Neuf," and then scroll to the bottom to see information about free subscriptions and submission guidelines.

Convergence is a site to savor.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Friday, August 10, 2007

Shooter terrorizes a high school — A harrowing novel from a Chico teacher


Carrie Gordon Watson says on her Web site ( that she is "a high school teacher and young adult author. I haven't always been a teacher, but I've always been a writer." The Chico resident writes to me that "my 20 years of observation in the classroom have definitely helped this novel to take shape. & We as a community need to engage in discussion about school violence."

In "Quad" ($16.99 in paper from Razorbill/Penguin), the violence begins in the first chapter. Ranger Ng, a high schooler in his middle teens, is dying for a Mountain Dew. So, steeling himself against the bullies he knows hang out in the quad of fictional Muir High, Ng walks to the student store to satisfy his craving.

Sure enough, Ng has to deal with the jocks, including Brad Calvert, clustering near the soda machine. But their repartee ends suddenly when the sounds of "pop, pop, pop" register on Ng's brain. He shouts for the jocks to get inside the store. "Adrenaline shot through Ranger's body, coming out of his mouth in a blast of credibility. A flurry of students dashed past him into the student store. & Ranger turned, saw the wave of fearful expressions. Who would do this? he wondered. Who would want to shoot up the quad?"

Turns out plenty would. Watson's novel is really about what leads up to the violence, how so many of those in high school are victims of the meanness of others. The story is told in staccato chapters that move from the shooting going on in the quad to incidents in the preceding weeks and back again. There's Stone, characterized by Ng's friend Rufus as "the head juicer — Mr. Captain-of-the-football-team himself," whom the girls lust after. Like Brittany Smith, Nicole McClintock, Hayley Banks. Shaped by a dysfunctional home life, Stone is a demanding charmer who doesn't quite know when to stop.

Others have cause for rage, too. Sage Wood and her friend Paisley Reed are the butts of cruel jokes. Theo the brain and Maggie the writer are outsiders who plot revenge. Perry has never gotten over Christopher and now Christopher is falling for Stone, of all people, whom he is convinced is falling for him.

The language of the book is raw teenager as the freaks, the jocks, the preps, the choirboys, the techies and drama queens are confronted by the consequences of their choices. There is no happy ending here, just the haunting question: What has become of our sons and daughters?

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Colorful new gardening book focuses on state's native plants


Bay Area botanist Glenn Keator and San Jose horticulturalist and designer Alrie Middlebrook are on a mission. They want to convince Californians to plan and create gardens with native plant species in mind.


As Keator writes, "the most compelling reason is to create a sense of place. & What better way is there to remind ourselves of this special geographic region we call home than to recreate, in our own yards, the native gardens found in the wild? Anyone can have a garden with roses (mostly hybrids from China and Europe), petunias (from South America), fuchsias (from mountainous South and Central America), and impatiens (many from Africa)."

Besides, says Keator, native plants are already adapted to the area and likely will survive. They attract native pollinators and reduce the amount of water and pesticides required. Keator and Middlebrook make a convincing case in "Designing California Native Gardens: The Plant Community Approach to Artful, Ecological Gardens" ($27.50 in paperback from Phyllis M. Faber/University of California Press).
More than 300 full-color photographs enrich the book and several appendices provide sources of natives and a planting calendar.

The book is a practical exploration of a dozen plant communities in the state, several of which are well represented locally. Each chapter begins with an overview and is anchored by a diagram and explanation of one of Middlebrook's own garden projects or concepts.
Readers are provided with design notes, a scope of work for the given project and a rich compilation of plants to use. The goal is not to duplicate Middlebrook's work but rather to appreciate the beauty that can be created using California natives.

The authors conclude their chapters with an annotated list of "places to visit" to see the native plant communities in the wild. The Oak Woodland chapter, for example, pictures a "carpet of Ithuriel's spear (Triteleia laxa)" on Table Mountain; readers are directed to Loafer Creek State Park at Lake Oroville to observe "blue oak woodland mixed with gray pines and scattered interior live oaks." Keator notes that "many fortunate gardeners already have oaks on their property, yet many ornamentals require the summer water that slowly kills these magnificent trees. California's oak woodlands provide a fine palette of plants perfectly adapted to grow under oaks."

In the Grasslands chapter, Bear Valley in Colusa County features "glueseed, goldfields, royal larkspur, creamcups and owl's clover"; Feather Falls, an example of mixed-evergreen forest, presents such understory plants as western mock-orange and Sierra fawn lily.

And then there's the ponderosa pine. A sense of place, indeed.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Swimming with dolphins -- Chico biologist finds power in life stories


"When I was a junior in high school," Chicoan Cara Gubbins writes, "and had the opportunity to be a volunteer on a research project studying communication between people and wild dolphins, I jumped at the chance.

"On the day before we were to sail home, a huge group of at least 30 dolphins surrounded the boat. Everyone raced into the water. Dolphins of all ages and sizes surrounded us. Mothers whizzed past me with their calves in tow; juveniles swam in large packs, circling the swimmers while remaining a few tantalizing inches away from outstretched hands; older dolphins cruised the perimeter, eyeing the humans and watching for danger. ... Back on the boat, I knew that I had found my calling."

But the journey to a doctorate in biology was not the straight path Gubbins might have imagined. Personal tragedy intervened, her self-confidence withered and her dream died. But later, when a "summer job as a rafting guide" turned full time, her ability to face dangers restored her sense of self. She accomplished her goal.

Gubbins' account, "On Becoming a Scientist," is one of almost two dozen inspirational life tales collected in "Power Stories: Everyday Women Creating Extraordinary Lives" ($20 in paperback from JADA Press or Gubbins, who teaches biology at Butte College and is a Powerstories workshop leader, edited the volume in conjunction with Laurie Santulli and Fran Taylor Powers.

Santulli, now an executive consultant, realized her own dream of becoming a bodybuilder. Powers founded the Powerstories Theatre in West Tampa, Fla., in 2000, where, as Powers writes, "seven amazing women, most without any stage experience, were selected to perform in our first show, 'Let the Stories Move You.' For eight months we wrote and re-wrote our stories, memorized lines from the script I wrote to link our lives together, and learned to sing and move on stage." It was a resounding success.

Powers and Santulli tell their own stories in the book, a celebration of what might be called realizing the potential within. Rose Bilal, in "Don't Blame the Road," writes about being molested as a girl but triumphing over fear -- and prison; Iranian-born Afsaneh Noori (her first name means "fairy tale") talks of finding "Power Within"; Lisa Shannon tells of the death of her older brother, Scott, and discovering how to keep life "juicy and flowing."

And Ellen Winner, breast cancer survivor, finds the lighter side of turning 50. She quotes a birthday card: "Don't worry; you're not having hot flashes. It's your inner child playing with matches!"

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Thursday, July 19, 2007

CSUC professor takes stock of interfaith movement


Kate McCarthy, associate professor of religious studies at Chico State University, has done us all a great service in her survey of "Interfaith Encounters in America" ($22.95 in paperback from Rutgers University Press). Her research led her to examine several interfaith Web sites (including, conduct interviews with 14 people "involved in interfaith partnerships" and compare the Chico Area Interfaith Council with the more urban Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee. Prefaced by an examination of scholarly work on the way religions see the "other," the book is generous, deeply honest and marvelously readable.

"Interfaith projects & bring Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Pagans and others into conversation. But more subtly, they also expose the internal diversity of each of these traditions. In Chico & one Catholic church participates in the interfaith organization, another does not.

"As a Roman Catholic Christian," McCarthy writes, "I am also acutely aware of being a woman, which makes me in many ways an alien in my own tradition. & At the same time, I also inhabit, among other things, feminism and American political liberalism." Those who participate in interfaith community groups tend toward progressive politics and liberal religion. More conservative religious leaders, such as evangelical pastor Larry Lane of Chico's Neighborhood Church, tend to stay away. Why? McCarthy's long interview with Lane leads her to conclude that interfaith groups suffer from a perception problem. The reality is that "most members of community interfaith groups do not espouse the kind of pluralism that deems all religions equal or essentially the same."

Nevertheless, "too often, interfaith enthusiasts dismiss the efforts of dogmatically committed people of (usually Christian) faith on the assumption that anyone who believes anything that strongly must be closed to the enriching possibilities of conversation with a religious other." Interfaith groups focus on good works and "it was perplexing to me & to see how little conversation about religion was to be heard in their gatherings." The real place of negotiation between and among diverse religious traditions may be in interfaith marriages and on the Internet.

In the end, "It is worth attending & to the lessons from these encounters as we plod through what is coming to feel like our interminable culture war. They are relatively simple: (1) Be quiet and listen. (2) Find a point of connection, but not too many -- allow the other to remain other. (3) Enter deeply into your own religious identity, with all its difficulties and ambiguities. (4) Don't just talk; find something to do."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Listening to audio version of 'Thirteenth Tale': Grand story and spellbinding performances


Jill Tanner, born in England and trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, plays Vida Winter, a reclusive writer, a modern-day Dickens, in Diane Setterfield's "The Thirteenth Tale."

Published in hardcover ($26 from Atria Books), and scheduled to come out in trade paper in September, this first novel was a featured selection at Barnes and Noble stores across the nation. It's ideal for local reading groups and a great beach read (but more suited to old libraries where "Jane Eyre" jostles with "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes").

When Winter, aging and infirm, invites antiquarian bookseller Margaret Lea to be her biographer, Margaret hears an extraordinary and complex tale of green-eyed twins and families gone awry as Vida narrates what she calls "a ghost story." Margaret Lea is played to perfection by Bianca Amato, and the result is a 16-hour escape into a world where shadows lurk, the mists obscure one's vision, and the very nature of the story keeps the reader guessing.

The unabridged audio version is available direct from Recorded Books ( as cassettes or CDs or as a download to an iPod or other MP3 device through (Audible's license allows downloading to multiple computers and iPods.)
I couldn't stop listening. The book begins with a quotation from Vida Winter herself: "All children mythologize their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone? Heart, mind and soul? Ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won't be the truth; it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story."

But is Winter's story the truth? As more and more of her past is revealed, the pieces seem less and less to fit. Who is she? Who was she?
And then, after months of trying to put the picture together, Margaret knew: "I stopped dead in my tracks. For my mind, racing ahead of itself in a momentous act of premonition, had already submitted to this revised version of events. In a single moment of vertiginous, kaleidoscopic bedazzlement, the story Miss Winter had told me unmade and remade itself, in every event identical, in every detail the same -- yet entirely, profoundly different."

The performances are superb and lend gravitas to the unfolding tale. Entranced, I listened to the entire recording over two days, spending hours glued to a chair long after bedtime. The shadows were dispelled, but the emotional impact of the listening experience still lingers. If you're new to audio books on your iPod, start here.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Friday, July 06, 2007

North state writer offers pictorial tour of Lassen area's pioneer towns


"During the 1915 eruption (of Lassen Peak), Alice Olson and neighbors were fishing on Summit Lake. As smoke and ash intensified, they were forced away from their cabins. Crossing a part of the already devastated area, they led their spooked animals and went to Lyonsville, not returning until the following spring." (That's when Olson "spotted a hole in the shingled roof, and upon entering & found a hole in the kitchen table and a five-pound volcanic stone embedded in the floor.")

History is embodied in this caption, which appears underneath a picture of the simple cabin, and it is unfolded in "Towns of Mount Lassen" ($19.99 in paperback from Arcadia Publishing) by William Shelton. Part of the "Images of America" series, the book includes more than 200 black-and-white photo-graphs, most from Shelton's collection.

According to a news release, Shelton himself "is the curator of his own museum which houses his families' collection (Gathering Grounds Museum in Durham) as well as the Bruce Mansion in Chico." A retired logger with roots in the California timber industry going back six or seven generations, Shelton is "also retired from a second career in law enforcement."

Olson, of Red Bluff, was the author's great aunt; Shelton writes that she "homesteaded on Grassy (Horseshoe) Lake and named Jakie Lake for her son, Jakie Olson."

The book begins with several mesmerizing images of the mountain, which is actually misnamed in the book's title (it's Lassen Peak).
But the story is really about people, and the photographs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, taken in Lyonsville, Knauss Ranch, Engebretsen Town, Shelton's Camp and other locations, give a glimpse into the difficult life of logging.

Tidbits abound. "Samuel Westrope was born in Grants Lick, Kentucky (in) 1813, and was a cousin of Daniel Boone. Arriving in Chico & in 1864, (he) did not fit into city life, so he sold the family's home and came to what is now Mineral."

Another passage: "The greatest court trial in Tehama County history to this point was over whether Thomas J. Shelton Sr., who was accused of 'stealing and carrying away' 12,600 pine shingles from J.R. Markley, was guilty. He was consequently found not guilty for lack of evidence. This was mainly because the shingles in question had disappeared, having been flumed down to the Sacramento River the previous night."

Trestles, train wrecks, Dolbeer Donkey engines, the Champion Mill -- they're all here, in a volume that ends with a serene picture of the sleeping mountain, 31 years after the eruption.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Thursday, June 28, 2007

First novel of Chico native's wife is a captivating contemporary romance


Darrin Gee was raised in Chico but in 2000 he and his wife, Darien Gee, moved to Hawaii to tend to Darrin's Spirit of Golf Academy.

Though Darien had been a well-paid consultant, she says in her Amazon biography that "I felt the nagging call to write something other than client proposals and corporate finance reports."

And now it's happened. Writing under the name of Mia King, she has published "Good Things" ($14 in paperback from Berkley/Penguin,, which was listed on the Barnes and Noble general fiction trade bestseller list. The story is a page-turning modern romance featuring 40-year-old Seattle-based Deidre McIntosh. Her Martha Stewart-like home show is abruptly canceled when a rival TV station begins its own lifestyle show with socialite Marla Banks; on top of that, when her gay best-friend roommate moves out to join his French-doctor boyfriend, Deidre is left alone, single and unemployed. Then she loses her lease.

Deidre's life seems to be crumbling around her until she meets a man named Kevin Johnson. His gaze was "steady, attentive, intelligent. And handsome wasn't the right way to describe him; devastatingly handsome was more appropriate." It's mutual attraction, and their lives, haltingly, begin to intertwine. As King deftly plots the course, she fills her tale with the delights of hot food and hot sex (and even offers recipes for "orgasmic corn fritters" and "chocolate cherry crackle cookies" in a postscript).

Kevin is something of a corporate jet-setter but he has a retreat near the very small town of Jacob's Point four hours from Seattle, near Lake Wish, and he invites Deidre to stay there while he is away. Deidre finds a small cabin and moves in. Appalled at first by the dirt, she sets to cleaning the place. She meets Lindsey, owner of the town restaurant, The Wishbone, which refers, says Lindsey, not only to the lake but also to food, "about finishing a good meal down to the wishbone. My kids think it's about people, because you can't pull a wishbone by yourself, you need another person."

Over the next few weeks Deidre begins selling Lindsey some of her maple walnut scones in origami parchment pockets, just to raise some money. They're a hit. Deidre knows she won't stay in Jacob's Point forever, but how can she finance the pilots for her proposed new TV series?

Deidre has much to learn about the meaning of success. "Once you believe in yourself," Lindsey says, "the right people show up to help you." That's the nature of good things.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Chico native writes on mastering golf's inner game


The Oakmont course was tough. Angel Cabrera seemed to falter last Sunday on holes 16 and 17 in the U.S. Open, but on 18, according to Sports Illustrated's Gary Van Sickle, "he hit the gutsiest tee shot of his life & and made the most important par of his life. He earned the trophy."

In Chico not long ago, 102-year-old Elsie McLean hit a pretty gutsy hole in one, becoming, according to National Public Radio, "the oldest golfer ever to score an ace on a regulation course." What's the secret? Former Chicoan Darrin Gee says successful golfers know how to play the inner game as well as the outer one.

Though now living on the Big Island of Hawaii with his wife, novelist Darien Hsu Gee, and their two children, Darrin wrote me that he grew up in Chico, attended Sierra View Elementary and Bidwell Junior High and graduated from Pleasant Valley High School. He added that "my parents, Arthur and Betty Gee, are longtime Chico residents and active in the community (Chico State University professor emeritus for 30 years and Enloe hospital volunteer). & I did a guest clinic at Bidwell Golf Course a few of years ago for the members and other Chico residents."

Bothered by his own lack of progress in the game, he realized he was "trying too hard." Meditation and yoga helped him let go, and in 2000 he established Darrin Gee's Spirit of Golf Academy in Hawaii. From his experiences has come "The Seven Principles of Golf: Mastering the Mental Game On and Off the Golf Course" ($16.95 in hardcover from Stewart, Tabori & Chang). The book is beautifully illustrated with line drawings of simple golf exercises.

He begins the book with a question. How long does it take to play a round of golf? Four hours is average but, since each actual shot takes just a few seconds, maybe only three minutes are really devoted to swinging the club. It follows that "a golfer only needs to concentrate for a few seconds at a time & one shot at a time." Gee calls this the "inner game" "as it implies more than just mental mastery; sometimes the best thing you can do for your game is to get out of your head and trust your body."

So "get grounded" by finding the body's balance as you prepare the swing. "Feel the shot," "visualize it," and "find your natural swing." Develop a modest "pre-shot ritual" and "play one shot at a time."

Realize "golf is a journey" -- and so is life.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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