Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sacramento writer on building the Christmas community


The carols proclaim Jesus Christ, the God-Man, has come into the world. What are the economic implications for the way we live with each other? One writer says it's about cooperation.

Andrew McLeod, a recent Chico visitor who works for the Davis-based California Center for Cooperative Development, explores the Biblical roots of cooperative living in "Holy Cooperation! Building Graceful Economies" ($17 in paperback from Cascade Books). McLeod writes that he became a Christian as a teenager but "lost interest in religion" in his college years. He even began to see the Church as a hindrance to the kind of democratic managed organizations he was becoming interested in, such as the New Riverside Cafe in Minnesota, a vegetarian restaurant he and almost thirty others co-owned.

Yet McLeod began to realize that some of what the Bible said about community supported his interest in cooperation. He noticed the "blossoming interest in community building" within the "primarily evangelical churches" he has been attending. That led to the development of a Web site ( and his book.

He recognizes that "Christianity and cooperatives have much in common, but they are not identical, and any attempt to bridge those differences should not gloss them over." Though he is admittedly not a theologian, McLeod finds a provocative picture of cooperation in the Old Testament in the prophetical call for justice within human society. In the New Testament Gospel stories Jesus talked about loving one another, using one's worldly resources to help others in need. The early believers shared what they had for the good of the community and operated with decentralized leadership.

McLeod's book is not without controversy. "The United States' wealth is the result of centuries of injustice," he writes, "and some atonement for that is necessary" including finding ways "to make do with less. . . . The Bible clearly shows that God would prefer that we organize ourselves in ways that share power and resources much more broadly than our capitalist empire allows. . . ."

Examples include the Mondragon cooperative system in the Basque region of Spain, the Jesus People USA movement, and offshoots of the "new monasticism" such as the Church of the Sojourners in San Francisco's Mission District.

Christmas is here. How, then, shall we live?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New novel has a Chico connection


Darien H. Gee is married to former Chicoan Darrin Gee. Some years ago the couple moved to Hawaii where Darrin operates the Spirit of Golf Academy and Darien (writing under the name of "Mia King") balances life as a mother of three with her growing reputation as an author. Her romantic stories tell of modern love, won and lost and won again, and are leavened with a love of food and a special recipe section at the end.

"Sweet Life" ($14 in paperback from Berkley) , featured by several book clubs, is a hearty confection. Paul and Marissa Price both have good jobs in New York. He's 44, she's 41, and daughter Pansy is eight. When Paul gets the opportunity to manage a company-owned resort on the Big Island of Hawaii, he paints a glowing picture of Paradise to a reluctant Marissa. Eventually, realizing she's being selfish, she gives up her job as a consultant and agrees to the family move.

But Hawaii turns out to a bit short of idyllic. When Marissa meets Paul's young and voluptuous secretary, Malia, her suspicions are raised, and she has a hard time adapting to the role of a stay-at-home mom living in a many-roomed fixer-upper house. Marissa has a rather frosty encounter with the company masseuse, Kavena, and her only friend seems to be Jane, the barista at the local Kava Java shop ("a ten-dollar-an-hour glorified coffee waitress who was sixty years old"), who sets Marissa down and says, "Spill!"

When Paul tells Marissa (on Valentines Day, no less) that "I just need to find myself" and asks for a trial separation, her world is upended. Divorce? But, as King reminds readers, things are not quite what they seem, especially when Malia, Kavena and Jane end up renting some of the rooms in Marissa's house to help her stay afloat. And so begins a transformation in Marissa's life.

Marissa not only finds herself, but more than she bargained for. The central theme of "simplicity" runs throughout the novel. "All her years with Paul," muses Marissa at one point. "They hadn't been bad years, just busy years. Too busy, maybe. Too busy to notice the good things."

It's a sweet story (with a bit of salty language) seasoned to perfection.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Former Chicoan on golf's personalities


Though now living in Hawaii with his family, Darrin Gee writes that he grew up in Chico, attended Sierra View Elementary and Bidwell Junior High and graduated from Pleasant Valley High School. An expert in "mental golf," he operates the Spirit of Golf Academy on the Big Island. His new book is "The Seven Personalities of Golf: Discover Your Inner Golfer to Play Your Best Game" ($17.95 in hardcover from Stewart, Tabori & Chang).

Gee bases his list on his own observation and is careful to add that "there are more than just the seven generalized personality types" and that "the individuals mentioned as examples of each personalty type are not necessarily solely and totally defined as such. In other words, this is all in fun." But it's fun with a purpose. Each chapter is devoted to one of the types, complete with a "golf profiler" questionnaire, a list of the type's strengths and weaknesses, and how those players with different types can make use of the type in question to better their game.

Take the Gamesman, exemplified by Lee Trevino. "He approaches each shot as if he's on the craps table in Vegas. . . . It's not the money. It's about the thrill." The Gamesman may be easily distracted, but is fun-loving and goal oriented. How does this help a non-Gamesman? Gee noticed that one client, Erin, was so caught up in making the perfect swing that "her stomach would literally ache" if it wasn't. Gee told her to "stop playing standard stroke play and play 'Hit till you're happy.' In this game, she could hit as many shots from the same place until she hit one that she liked." Eventually she put aside the intricacies and just played the game. Erin began "to hit her first shot exactly the way she wanted."

Other types include the Intimidator (Tiger Woods, naturally), Methodologist (Nick Faldo), Swashbuckler (the "go-for-broke" Arnold Palmer), Steady Eddie (Tom Watson), the Artist (Steve Ballesteros), and the Laid-Back (Fred Couples). The Laid-Back personality adopts "relaxed intensity," a "complete balance of maintaining your normal level of relaxation while heightening your concentration and focus."

The book is illuminating, even for non-golfers, in part because golf is like life. You gotta bring the right personality to it.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Orland couple tells a Bigfoot tale for kids


Bob and Peggy Bishop of Orland have not exactly met Bigfoot, but they can dream, can't they? What they have done is write a colorful story for kids ages four through eight called "Bigfoot and Joshua" ($9.95 in paperback from The story features full-color illustrations by the inimitable Steve Ferchaud of Paradise.

According to an authors' note, Peggy Bishop "is a retired kindergarten teacher" and Bob Bishop "has created and distributed Bigfoot souvenirs/gifts for more than twenty years." When I accessed it, their Web site was a work in progress, but offered not only the book but a "Bigfoot lives" pin and decorated shot glasses.

The story begins with young "Joshua, his sister Emily, and his Mom and Dad . . . going on a camping trip to the mountains." Camp setup is fun, but "that night Joshua told his family that Bigfoot lived in the nearby forest. Emily laughed and said there is no such thing as Bigfoot. Joshua knew she was wrong and he was going to find Bigfoot."

The next day Joshua slips away into the forest. When Joshua's parents find him missing, they call a Forest Ranger. "Emily told the Ranger that she believed her brother went to look for Bigfoot. Emily asked the Ranger about Bigfoot. He told her that a lot of people believed they had seen Bigfoot in the nearby forest. They said Bigfoot was very big, hairy and smelled badly."

The search is on for Joshua. As others join, Joshua himself is lost and scared. Suddenly he hears a noise, and there's a terrible stink. "Joshua knew that Bigfoot . . . was sometimes called the Skunk Ape." And then there's a giant foot. Bingo!

Bigfoot gets Joshua safely back to camp under cover of darkness. No one believes his tale the next day, of course, and Joshua wonders if the whole adventure was nothing but a dream. But not so. There are those--footprints.

A section of questions and answers in the back of the book tells youngsters that the story is not true, but it could have been ("if there was a real Joshua and a real Bigfoot") and that no one knows for sure if Bigfoots are real. One can dream, can't one?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Darkroom magic: Turning good holiday pictures into excellent ones


Grass Valley fine-art photographer Seán Duggan, along with co-author Katrin Eismann, are both Photoshop experts. The image manipulation software, made by Adobe, is the key, they write, to making good pictures great. Their expertise is shared in "The Creative Digital Darkroom" ($49.99 in paperback from O'Reilly Media). Lavishly illustrated with "before" and "after" examples, the book contains detailed guidance and there are dozens of sample files that can be downloaded from Readers can work along with the authors in using Photoshop and other tools to produce the best images possible.

This is a book for serious photographers. Its focus is not on cropping techniques and the repair of damaged images, important as those may be, but rather on tone and contrast, exposure control, color correction, sharpening and focusing, and special effects. The first part of the book covers what's required for the digital darkroom and how to get images into the computer by using digital cameras or scanning. Once a good image has been selected, subsequent chapters deal with how it might be enhanced, so the "good" becomes "great." The many tutorials along the way are geared for Photoshop CS3, though the techniques will work with other versions and even other image editing software.

But the book is more than a step-by-step guide. Imagine sitting down in the company of two master photographers who care most of all about what a picture wants to be. "Listen to the image," they write. "As you look at the image and consider what you can do to improve it, try to think in broad concepts rather than in Photoshop technical terms. . . . Try to imagine how making certain areas lighter or darker or adjusting contrast might change the image. The human eye is attracted to lighter areas and to contrast. How can such adjustments help to guide the viewer's eye through the image?"

In another part of the book they caution against "the call of the Photoshop siren that tries to convince us that with enough time, effort, and layers, we can fix the flaws in any image and rework the barely adequate into a stunning photograph."

Pick the best, and make them better, and along the way be thankful for such wise words.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Diplomat's wife remembers a European childhood


Chico resident Helga Ruge, born in Wiesbaden, Germany, is the author of the memoir "Flashbacks of a Diplomat's Wife" and a fictional story, "Wither the Promised Land." Now she turns to novelized autobiography in "More Truth Than Fiction: Growing Up in Europe Between the World Wars" ($11.95 in paperback from Clay & Marshall Publishing Company, available at local bookstores or by writing Her purpose, she says, is to "leave an account of my childhood for my family" but also "to share with readers everywhere what life was like in Europe during the early 1900s."

She notes that "the many events and experiences I write about are factual and, though their names are fictitious, the human beings in my story are very real. And because I find autobiography without dialogue dead and boring, I give voice to these people even though it's not possible to recall exact words spoken so many decades ago." The story chronicles the life of Peter Heimbach and his wife, Lisa, and their two daughters, Helen and Inga, from 1922 to 1938.

Living in Biebrich, a small town near the Rhine, the little family was not immune to the instability of post-war Germany. "Inflation was so rampant that every day brought new prices" and "many Germans were out of work and hungry." Peter spent "four years in an internment camp in Russia during the war" but returned, intact, and now had a job "selling pills for his company," a job which eventually would take him, and his family, to the Soviet Union, then Romania, and back to Germany.

Baby Helen (nicknamed "Helly"--for good reason, as it turns out!) is born in 1922 "just as the church bells rang in Christmas at six o'clock in the morning." Helen is forever wandering off, causing Lisa, especially, no end of grief. "Impulsiveness was the most natural thing in the world to Helly."

Ruge's apt descriptions of everyday life is intertwined with the growing threat of Communism (where Peter's co-worker in Russia is arrested for unfaithfulness to the revolution) and the unraveling of German democracy and the rise of the Nazis. The reader is drawn into the pulse of domestic life, squabbles and all, in a story that in the end is about love and grace.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chico abortion doctor tells his story


Bruce Steir writes that "I attended medical school twenty-three years before Roe vs. Wade became the law of the land. The only position that I had about abortion back then was that my sister should have been allowed to have the choice to have a safe, legal abortion instead of having to go through the heartbreak of giving birth and then giving her baby up for adoption to another family." He adds that "abortion was thought of as a criminal act in 1957, during my senior year in medical school."

Steir was Medical Director for the Feminist Women's Health Centers in Chico, Redding, Santa Rosa and Sacramento for a dozen years in the 1980s and 1990s. In December 1996 he was performing abortions at a clinic in Riverside and he writes that "one of the women died that day. It was the only death I had ever been responsible for. Over the course of my career I performed somewhere around 40,000 legal abortions."

Sharon was 27 years old and in the second trimester of her pregnancy; apparently Steir had perforated her uterus. He writes that the County Medical Examiner "referred to the death as accidental," but that several weeks later he was charged with second-degree murder by Riverside County prosecutors.

Rather than pursue the matter through what Steir describes as a "lengthy and costly hearing with the Medical Board" he surrendered his medical license in 1997 at the age of 66. The criminal case drained his savings and, seeking to avoid incarceration, with the advice of friends and family he entered a plea bargain to involuntary manslaughter. But the judge sentenced him to Riverside County Jail for a year (6 months of which was to be suspended for 1000 hours of community service).

Steir tells his life story in "Jailhouse Journal of an OB/GYN" ($15 in paperback from AuthorHouse Though time "has a way of dimming the memory for some details," the book gives the reader a sense of a man with few regrets. "An existing pregnancy that is not wanted is an accident or a mistake," he writes. "It doesn't really matter which it is. People make mistakes and as long as they do there will be erasers on pencils and delete keys on keyboards."

Thursday, November 06, 2008

New chapbook from Chico State University's philosopher-poet


Troy Jollimore, who teaches philosophy at Chico State University, won the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry for "Tom Thomson in Purgatory." That book introduced a unique poetic persona, exuberant, unguarded, and bigger than life, and he returns in four of the fifteen poems in Jollimore's new chapbook, "The Solipsist" ($10 in paperback from Bear Star Press

A solipsist is a skeptic about the existence of the outside world. In the title work, the poet seems to agree: "Don't be misled: / that sea-song you hear / when the shell's at your ear? / It's all in your head. // That primordial tide-- / the slurp and salt-slosh / of the brain's briny wash-- / is on the inside." At the end, though, a question is raised "that comes up again and again, / as to why / God would make ear and eye / to face outward, not in?"

These poems raise questions, contort the comfortable ways we (or some of us) think. "Tom Thomson Indoors" wants a doorbell installed. "The installation man didn't understand: / 'You want your doorbell on the inside, sir?' / Well, yes--didn't he grasp it? Only fair / that prior to intruding on't, he give / the world some sort of warning. (Not that world / had shown the converse courtesy to him . . . )"

The poet explores the inner life of "Regret." "I'd like to take back my not saying to you / those things that, out of politeness, or caution, / I kept to myself. . . . Yes, I'd like to take back / my not frightening the pigeons that day with my wild / protestations of uncontrolled love, my not scaring / them off into orbit, frantic and mad, / even as I now sit alone, frantic and mad, / racing to unread the book of our love / before you can finish unwriting it."

In "Penguins," the poet unwrites the poem: ". . . and all the penguins in Worcester Square / (for 'penguins' read 'pigeons') / have, like dodos, forgotten how to fly / (for 'fly' read 'do long division'). . . ." The same poem isn't the same.

Jollimore gets inside your head with some brilliant skullduggery.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Local metaphysical author on the "sacred wisdom" of animals


According to an author's note, Victoria Hunt "has studied metaphysics and earth spirituality for over twelve years. A third-level Reiki master and member of the British Druid Order, she teaches Celtic-based earth-centered spirituality. . . ." Her new book, "Animal Omens" ($15.95 in paperback from Llewellyn Publications) describes almost thirty "animal encounters" (nine from friends) which, she writes, may help people "reconnect with the world of nature" and through nature to the Spirit world.

Hunt will sign copies of her book in conjunction with the Chico Art Studios Tour this Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Felver’s Corner Art Gallery & Antiques, 196 East 15th Street in Chico.

Each "encounter," such as seeing a crow in an oak tree or a toy snake in the park, is followed by an "Omen" section about the characteristics of the animal (Crow has an "ability to move undetected between the dimensions of time and space"; Snake symbolizes "death and rebirth") with guidance for what such an encounter might mean. Crow, she writes, points to change, and brings "a message from the Otherworld"; Snake says "you will soon shed some aspect of yourself that no longer serves you."

Hunt reveals something about her own journey, describing a "shift in consciousness" in the mid-1990s "as a member of a family of hereditary 'ultra-sensitives,' people whose senses are heightened beyond the normal" which may even include "the gift of levitation" in her bloodline. She talks about her spirit guide, Balthazar, and her experience with past-life regression, garnets and auras, the Fair Folk of the woods, and her service to "My Lady," the Goddess, who tells her of metaphysical "philosophies held for only the most enlightened seekers."

In her comments on the white tailed kite, symbolizing "powers of the mind," the author writes that "our inner being, in its truth and purity, is held back by layer upon layer of mind and body and subconscious chatter. We lie naked and vulnerable in the mud of fear, longing to be released, to fly above what we are in physical form, past what holds us back and keeps us chained."

Though Hunt's gnostic worldview is inimical to my own, we do share a common interest in learning aright from the animals.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sweeps month for Dick Cory


Dick Cory is a Nebraskan through-and-through, even after calling Chico home for four decades. He begins his third volume of memoirs, "Sweepings From Under the Rug" (paperback; for ordering details contact the author at, by describing his dad's office. "In the center of Cory's Store in Alexandria, Nebraska was a roll top desk elevated by a one step high platform. My dad . . . would sit at this throne doing ledgers and ordering, when he wasn't waiting on customers, stocking shelves, or sweeping the front step. . . . As a youth, I loved that desk with its mysterious creaks, pigeonholes, and tiny drawers."

And now Cory has metaphorically cleaned out all the little drawers of his own and has gone through all the sweepings, and the result is an eclectic collection of reminiscences, political commentary, letters to the editor, short stories, poems, songs, and self-reflection.

He'll be signing copies "Sweepings" at ABC Books on East Avenue in Chico this Saturday from 1:00 - 3:00 p.m.

Never one to pass up a practical joke or harebrained scheme, in 1956, during the formal "Military Ball" on the University of Nebraska campus, he and some buddies (lacking dates) replaced all the bulbs on the sorority porches with red ones. "You get the connotation to those fraternity boys returning their dates to a red light district?"

In 1975 he and a friend tried to obtain a donkey for the annual Paradise Gold Nugget Days' Donkey Derby, but Betsy had other ideas.

These days he and his cronies meet every week at a restaurant as part of club "R.O.D.E.O." ("Retired Old Duffers Eating Out"). "We most all have wives to share trivial pursuits (that one will get me in trouble!), but not the camaraderie offered by the lunch bunch."

Cory writes that "I'm emotional. I get fired-up about causes such as winning Nebraska football games, environmental issues, injustices of humankind, nostalgic memories, and sad movies. . . . I can tolerate chaos and self-inflicted delays. These characteristics drive my wife, Jan, insane. . . . Old rusty vehicles, farm implements, windmills, and weathered paint on barns and farmhouses hold special fascination for me."

Cory, too, has weathered much, but he's not about to rust away. He's writing a murder mystery.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Local author, two-time breast cancer survivor, to speak tonight in Chico


As a patent attorney for a biotechnology company in the Bay Area, Jan Hasak's life was never to be the same when she and her husband Jim "found a painless tiny lump in my breast in mid-December, 1995. I had turned 43 just two months earlier." She tells her story in "Mourning Has Broken: Reflections on Surviving Cancer" ($17.99 in paperback from Xulon Press).

A Christian since 1989, and mom of three sons, she writes that "I had never experienced any significant personal suffering up to that point." That was about to change.

Hasak will be signing copies of her book tonight from 6:00 - 8:00 p.m. at the American Cancer Society's "The Shop" on Mangrove Avenue in Chico. The event is called “Life By Chocolate” with chocolates prepared by Upper Crust Bakery and sponsored by Butte Community Bank. Admission is a $10.00 donation to The American Cancer Society’s fund raiser called “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer."

"My initial journey into the world of cancer was shrouded in mourning," Hasak writes, "the feeling of loss and grief over what could have been. But later I encountered a springtime of refreshing and blessing. This book is an account of that crossing through life-threatening challenges. . . ."

Hasak blends a deeply personal account of her experience of God's sustenance with details of her research. She provides the reader with invaluable reflections on treatment options, the value of vitamins and herbal supplements, support groups, and what not to say to those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. With the removal of lymph nodes she faced lymphedema, a debilitating swelling of the arm as fluid accumulates. The author's book and Web site ( provide key online resources.

When a routine checkup in 2003 finds "another lump in the same breast in which the first tumor was discovered," she writes that "I felt that my body had betrayed me in a big way." Instead of a lumpectomy with the first diagnosis, she faced a bilateral mastectomy. And another round of grieving. "God does not condemn such feelings. But in contrast to the secular world, Christians are not to grieve as if they have no hope."

"Mourning Has Broken" is a compassionate and spiritually encouraging companion.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

"Finding Beauty" author to appear Wednesday at Chico State University


Terry Tempest Williams is Scholar in Environmental Humanities at the University of Utah. A poet and naturalist, she lives in both Castle Valley, Utah, and Wilson, Wyoming.

Now, with the just-published "Finding Beauty In a Broken World" ($26 in hardcover from Pantheon), Williams offers an extended meditation on the endangered Utah Prairie Dog, threatened by developers, and on the genocide in Rwanda, taking pieces of shattered natural and human worlds and constructing a mosaic. "There is a way of being in the world that calls us beyond hope," she writes. "Mosaic is not simply an art form but a form of integration, a way of not only seeing the world but responding to it."

She will be appearing at Laxson Auditorium at Chico State University this coming Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Sponsored by Chico Performances (, her presentation is part of the On the Creek Lecture Series. Tickets are $22 Premium, $17 Adult, $15 Senior, $13 Student/Child; for more information call the box office at (530) 898-6333.

"Finding Beauty" begins in Ravenna, Italy, where Williams learns the ancient art of mosaic, the controlling metaphor of the book. She writes that "I believe in the beauty of all things broken," and mosaics exemplify for the author an attempt to come to terms with the brokenness of the contemporary world. Her style is also a mosaic: thousands of short prose paragraphs, letters, poems, quotations, field notes (from several weeks spent in a 10-foot tower observing Prairie Dogs).

She writes in the New York Times in 2003: "As we find ourselves on the eve of war with Iraq, why should we care about the fate of a rodent, an animal many simply see as a 'varmint'? . . . Quite simply, because the story of the Utah prairie dog is the story of the range of our compassion. If we can extend our idea of community to include the lowliest of creatures, call them 'the untouchables,' then we will indeed be closer to a path of peace and tolerance."

"One million Tutsis were murdered in one hundred days. Their killers were neighbors with farm tools, machetes, and hoes." Today there exists a genocide memorial, housing bones. Tiles spell out "Let Us Remember." It is a mosaic.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Chico author Lin Jensen on the imagery of words


Lin Jensen is the founding teacher of the Chico Zen Sangha and an accomplished author.

Saturday at 6:30 p.m., as part of the Artoberfest celebration, he will present a talk entitled "Words Into Images: The Art of Painting Pictures with Language" and will read from his newest book, "Together Under One Roof: Making A Home of the Buddha's Household" ($16.95 in paperback from Wisdom Publications). The talk and book signing will take place at Avenue 9 Gallery, 180 E. 9th Ave., Ste 3, in Chico.

For Jensen, the "Buddha's household" encompasses everything. "Every object you and I touch is Buddha," he writes, "and every house--including a homeless shelter or a prison complex or the downtown mall with its sprawling parking lot--is the exact place where the Buddha takes up residence." This realization, he says, is not something reserved for Buddhist greats, but for "ordinary minds," which "Zen insists . . . is as holy as it gets."

Jensen's collection of short essays celebrates not only life's ordinary experiences but the human power of naming those ordinary things. "We fleshly, earth-bound creatures are writing a language of creation, word by word. . . . Putting names to things, rather than taming the world by substituting language for living fact, infuses the world with a wild wonderment known only to creatures who trade in words."

While we must not confuse words with the things they name, Jensen writes, nevertheless the naming suggests close attention to the world. Naming something "bestows upon the things of this world a quality of intimate observation that I personally equate with love."

Jensen uses his words to characterize Buddhism as "kindness" borne of the "knowing that nowhere does there exist a single separate self. The perception of no self is one of compassion, since compassion is not so much a matter of feeling as one of identification." This identification extends beyond the Buddhist community (the "sangha") to one that is "inclusive of all beings." All this is not easy, since "human lives are 'ten thousand beautiful mistakes' as the old masters liked to point out." Jensen's is Zen with scraped knees, zazen (meditation) with an itch. Still, "we find our voice each day in the words the universe utters."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

M*A*S*H star and activist Mike Farrell slated for Chico visit Saturday


From a bit part in The Graduate, to eight years on M*A*S*H as B.J. Hunnicutt, five seasons of Providence, and a part in Desperate Housewives, shy Mike Farrell has realized a childhood dream of becoming an actor. As a kid growing in West Hollywood he delivered groceries to the likes of Groucho Marx, Jimmy Stewart, and Lucille Ball, but these days "the beef" is in his outspoken activism.

It's all detailed in the new paperback edition of "Just Call Me Mike: A Journey To Actor and Activist" ($16.95 from Akashic Books).

Farrell will be appearing in Chico for a book signing and free-wheeling question session this Saturday at 7:00 p.m. at the Trinity United Methodist Church, 285 East 5th St. Tickets for the free event are available from the co-sponsors, Chico Peace and Justice Center and Lyon Books.

Both George McGovern and Bill O'Reilly have praised Farrell for his honesty, and the book highlights Farrell's decades-long involvement with what he calls "people issues" ( including "equal rights for women and minorities, . . . the right of the disadvantaged to a social safety net, . . . and an end to the death penalty").

But Farrell writes that he is not a pacifist: "I believe in the right of self-defense, be it personal or national, but I also believe in finding peaceful resolutions to disputes and oppose war except in the face of the most dire national threat." One time, introduced to Nicaraguan Sandinista officials extolling the virtue of the socialist revolution, Farrell was sickened by the "triumphalism" and evasion when he ventured questions about how "people's lives were being improved." In effect he asked "where's the beef?" and found only the stuff one finds in a barnyard.

Married since 1984 to actress Shelly Fabares, Farrell believes 9/11 should have been treated as "a grotesque and inexcusable crime" rather than an act of war; "America's emotional tension found an outlet in the war in Afghanistan. And it played into the hands of media manipulators who transformed George W. Bush from an inept bungler to a war president."

Farrell's Hollywood stories are frequently funny, but the author never loses sight of his bottom line: "Everyone deserves what everyone wants--love, attention, and respect."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Chico novelist writes of the power of love


It begins with a softball game in Madison, Iowa in 1950; before the story ends a young man faces almost certain death far away in the Korean War. The story is a tribute to a young woman's love--as well as the survival teachings of one George Grey Eagle on the Blackhawk Indian Reservation. It's a romance built on the theme of acceptance of those who are culturally and religiously different than ourselves; after all, one character says, "If God can accept people in heaven from all faiths, then who are we to question whom God accepts?"

"Love's Journey" ($19.95 in paperback from Books by Mode, is by Chico CPA James (Jim) Rozendaal. Rozendaal will be signing copies at Lyon Books in Chico on Tuesday, Sept. 23, at 7:00 p.m.

The first-time novelist was raised on an Iowa farm and knows the importance of religious tradition in small-town life. And therein lies the rub. Tommy Van Haaften, just out of high school and working in construction, falls in love with Allison Jorgenson, a tall blond Swede completing nursing school at the University Hospital in Des Moines. But the Dutch ought not mix with the Swedes, at least according to family tradition. The two fathers are adamant that their children not marry "outside their faith."

The story is straightforward and the language (and the lovers) chaste and even polite. This is in part a tale of military heroism, but it's also the story of almost mystical intuition. Grey Eagle talks to Tommy about Allison: "Love is the driving force in the universe. Your connection to her will be your ticket back. So the stronger the connection, the more certain your ticket." To Allison, grieving over Tommy's distance, he says: "You need to find your own sense of knowing. And when you do, it will sustain you no matter what the external circumstances."

When Tommy is wounded, captured and beaten on the battle front, his mother feels similar pains. She remains confident of his return.

Along the way Allison is befriended by a newspaper publisher who takes an interest in Tommy's ability to withstand torture. Eventually his story is published and becomes a book entitled "Love's Journey." Those looking for a happy ending will find it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Chico poet rests a spell, and remembers


An author's note says Chico poet Tom Fuszard is also "a corporate communications consultant, speechwriter, lecturer and speakers' coach," and his background shows in the clarity and directness of his work.

"Places To Sit and Other Poems" ($9.95 in paperback from Felicidad Press out of Chico) is a collection of remembrances. In "Regrets" the poet writes: "Not wise to dwell on the past, / they tell me, / but now I have the time." The time is spent thinking about "What I Learned When I Started to Listen": "That wars are fought / mostly by people / who had nothing to do / with starting them // That a lot of people / are afraid all the time // That much of the world / is in a mess / and a lot of it is because / nobody listens."

These simple words give the reader pause, especially on a day of national remembrance.

Many of the poems are personal, recalling boyhood memories. In "Bird," the poet writes: "I have no idea why / I took your life. // One thinks little / about things like that / as a boy of nine. // You were there / on your little branch / and I with my / puny air rifle / just shot and you fell / and bled in the leaves / and died. // It was not to test my aim, / of that I am sure. / I had killed hundreds / of bottlecaps, / executed dozens / of glass jars. // . . . I did not think about / eggs in a nest / waiting to be warmed / or fledglings waiting / to be fed / or another waiting / for your return / and never knowing / why you did not."

The opening poem, "Places To Sit," has something to say about a park bench, a barstool, a witness chair, and more. Including deep grass: "For people in love, mostly. / People who want to be / away from the crowd. / See, he's brought a little book of poems. / He will read some, and they will see / the depths of each other's eyes / for the first time."

This little book of poems remembers love.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Advocate of Hindu Vedanta to sign books in Chico


Anna Hourihan, publisher of Redding-based Vedantic Shores Press (, has edited a series of lectures on the Hindu philosophical school of Vedanta which serve as a good introduction to the teachings of Hindu mysticism. Delivered by her late husband at the University of Guelph, School of Continuing Studies, in Ontario, Canada, the lectures are presented in "Children of Immortal Bliss: A New Perspective on Our True Identity Based on the Ancient Vedanta Philosophy of India" ($16.50 in paperback), by Paul Hourihan.

Anna Hourihan will be speaking and signing copies at Lyon Books in Chico, Wednesday, September 10 at 7:00 p.m.

The book begins with the claims of Vedanta, that "nothing exists except the Divine Being, or Brahman. . . . Truth is One; sages call it by different names. . . . The very nature of the Soul is divine: the Cosmic Self manifests as the individual Self or Atman. . . . The primary goal in life is to realize, through direct personal experience, the divine nature within our own self."

For the author, the ancient Hindu teachings of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita are "the most sophisticated of all religious writings" and "represent the seedbed of everything that is deep, universal and mystical in the world." Thus the mystical traditions of Islam (the Sufis), Christianity (especially Meister Eckhart), Buddhism (Zen), and Taoism are all "confirmations" of Vedanta teachings.

Though Vedanta accepts "all religions as valid," what Hourihan means is "not the truth in them but the truth in us"; that is, a religion is inspired to the extent that it helps convince the person that his or her Self is identical to Brahman. The path to such realization, the author says, is through meditation, the experience through which even ordinary persons gain "the awakening of our true self."

The ego-power of individuality, including a fascination with "occult techniques," must be eliminated; "we are not sinners seeking somehow to be saved but rather we are an unknown purity seeking to merge with the Unknown Purity."

Buddhists, Christians and Muslims may well be uneasy at Hourihan's reinterpretation of their doctrines, but read with discernment the book is a clear exposition of the claim that "The Self is all, and you are the Self."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Greg Mortenson climbs the "inner mountain"


The Karakoram Highway (KKH) in Northern Pakistan "is one of the most daunting engineering projects humans have ever attempted. Hewing principally to the rugged Indus River Gorge, the KKH has cost the life of one road worker for each if its four hundred kilometers."

Named after the nearby Karakoram Range (giving the letter designation to one of its mountains, K2, the second highest peak in the world), the highway project forms a starting contrast to a very small, very quiet, but in some ways equally daunting project undertaken by mountaineer Greg Mortenson: The construction of a school, for boys and especially for girls, in a little village in the Baltistan area of Northern Pakistan.

The true story is told in "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School At a Time" ($15 in paperback from Penguin) by Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Mortenson's co-author spent two years interviewing many who touched his life; he found a life that touched many others in its single-minded determination to make a quality education (and actual school rooms) available to village children living at the edge of existence.

In advance of Mortenson's April appearance in Chico, Chico State University ( and Butte College ( have designated "Three Cups of Tea" as the "Book in Common"; other community organizations are also starting discussion groups and the E-R will be archiving stories dedicated to Mortenson's work.

Tragedy and failure have haunted Mortenson's life. After his sister Christa died of a seizure on her twenty-third birthday Mortenson in 1993 wanted to place her necklace at the summit of K2, but he failed to reach the top. He got turned around in his descent and entered an unfamiliar village, Korphe, where he met Haji Ali, the village chief, who told him sharing the third cup of tea means "you join our family."

Mortenson promised to return and build a school, and the story (told in the third person) traces the circuitous route he took to keep that promise. Hounded by failure, then by success, Mortenson is complex: An infidel in a Muslim land who gained respect and love from religious authorities, whose vision of building schools continues today, and whose inner climb is the most inspiring of all.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Roger Aylworth on the wonderful world of widgets


"When we were first married," longtime E-R columnist Roger Aylworth writes, "Susan and I agreed on a division of labor. Susan hates to iron men's shirts, and I am no great fan of dishwashing, so I agreed to take care of my shirts, and my bride took over the sink duties. In the long run this has meant that the dishes almost always sparkle, and I wear a lot of wrinkled shirts."

Such is life at "Casa Aylworth," and now fans of Aylworth's family humor column can revisit the bouncing brood of seven kids and two parents, and new readers can become fans. "A Place in the Shower Schedule: 101 Favorite Columns" ($16.95 in paperback from Delphi Books, chronicles the sometimes goofy events surrounding a man still smitten with "the saintly Susan" (whom he married in 1970) and the veritable plethora of "widgets" and "grand-widgets" who have made their entrance along the way.

The author writes about his column that "what I wanted to do is produce 'feel good' humor, situations where people would laugh with and not at other people. . . . With six sons and a daughter I realized I had an enormous reservoir of material."

The columns are loosely arranged by category, such as "On Being Roger" (in which the author finds that wearing a tuxedo to work can add "woo-whoo to the world"--even at his advanced age); widget wars (including the never-enacted "bottom-otomies" of recalcitrant widgets); and "Getting Fit" (wherein Aylworth realizes that his "body warranty" has expired).

There are also tales of animals (what happens when Flashy the hamster gnaws through a water line feeding the dishwasher, for instance) and encomiums to "the coolest truck in the whole, entire world!"--a vehicle the author christens "MAH TRUCK!"

Parenting never really ends, Aylworth observes, but it's "the capacity to enforce parental edicts that fades. I discovered a long time back that true parental power begins to disappear very early in the kid-dad relationship: Real control peaks the day before the little guy grabs the spoon in his own tiny fist and begins to shovel the mashed peas into his own mouth without help."

Readers will want to shovel in the columns in this warm, wise and wascally book.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Teardrops on parade from local photographer/writer


Chico's Doug Keister has a thing for "classic recreational vehicles"; his previous books include "Ready to Roll," "Silver Palaces," and "Mobile Mansions," all dealing with one form or another of vacation trailer. Now, with "Teardrops and Tiny Trailers" ($19.99 in hardcover from Gibbs Smith), Keister surveys "compact motorhomes and trailers."

The result is a book chock full of colorful interior and exteriors of teardrops, "canned hams" ("so called because their ovoid shape resembles a can of ham"), and glittery Airstreams. The cover shows a teardrop trailer built by the Gypsy Caravan Company of Bell, California, in 1937. The author notes that "fastidious care by a mere three owners during its lifetime has left this trailer in unrestored mint condition."

Teardrops became popular in the 1930s as do-it-yourself projects. Some teardrops were built from kits and conveniently had room for two--if you happened to be raccoons. But what the trailers lacked in space they made up in style. Keister shows dozens of restored trailers hitched to vintage cars. "Tiny trailers," he writes, "are a decorator's dream: a tidy well-defined space that seems to accept just about any stylistic ethos." There are blue ones and shiny ones, trailers that recall the Sixties, aircraft design, or an Arts and Crafts touch.

Canned hams reflected the teardrop style (though later the little teardrop came into its own with its aft kitchen) and became immensely popular in the 1950s, with their external styles "heavily influenced by the era's flamboyant automotive designs." Remember two-tone paint jobs and wraparound windshields, anyone? The makers of canned hams tried to make them cool, too.

The boler trailer (small "b") was created by a Canadian fiberglass septic tank developer. You can see where this is going. In the Sixties the compact fiberglass trailers, which looked sort of like bowler hats, hit the market. Though never wildly popular they were durable; some are still on the road.

The Airstream aluminum trailers got their start in the 1930s but are still popular; smaller Airstreams these days are marketed under the Bambi name. Keister also adds a chapter on the European love affair with tiny trailers, and there are two pages of online resources.

It's a fun book, and clear that tiny trailers are nothing less than portable personalities.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The origin of Orland's "Farm Sanctuary"


In 1985 Gene Baur worked at Greenpeace in Chicago, became a vegetarian, and (with his then-wife Lorri) founded Farm Sanctuary.

The story is told in "Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food" ($25 in hardcover from Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster). The organization focused on "downers," animals "down on the ground, unable to move on their own because they were sick, injured, or dying." Rather than tend to such animals or humanely euthanize them, which would be expensive, factory farms and stockyards routinely put them in the "dead pile"; sometimes such animals wound up in the food chain.

Farm Sanctuary volunteers photographed the abuses and in some cases removed ailing animals and restored them to health.

Eventually Farm Sanctuary relocated to a farm in Watkins Glen, in upstate New York, where victims of the factory farm system were named and nursed. Later, "one of our supporters, a professor at California State University, found available land suitable for a sanctuary near Orland . . . and donated about a hundred acres to us." Baur writes that the "Orland shelter has a visitors' center with an outdoor pavilion. . . . We've built barns and shelters where the animals can come and go as they please."

Actress Kim Basinger filmed a public service announcement on behalf of Farm Sanctuary featuring Henry the Holstein, "a frail baby calf" Baur rescued from "a crate at a calf ranch." Henry is now "a happy resident of the Orland shelter" and "weighs in at over two thousand pounds. He gets plenty of fresh air and grass to graze on."

Ultimately, Baur writes, "the best way to promote health, compassion, and sustainability is to adopt a vegan lifestyle. . . . Animal foods, including meat, milk, and eggs, waste vast resources and are inherently violent." But, he says, "if you continue eating meat and dairy products and you are concerned about animal welfare, then I hope you'll avoid factory-farmed meat, milk, and eggs."

The book is written in a quiet, reasonable tone (underplaying the controversy that has attended the work of Farm Sanctuary over the years), inviting the reader to consider that each farm animal "has a distinct personality as well as his or her own needs, fears, and desire to live."

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Grass Valley author remembers his days as an L.A. motorcycle officer


William W. "Bill" Wilhelm spent 20 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, 18 of them as a "motor officer." When he retired in 1973 he had logged more than a million miles "without a preventable accident." That's not to say he had an "easy street" job, though. He saw his share of bodies, criminal shenanigans, official bureaucracy , and bad cops; and he worked the Watts riot in the summer of 1965 and the Sylmar quake in the San Fernando Valley in 1971.

Wilhelm has collected his reminiscences in dozens of vignettes. Though there are no accompanying photographs (a personal camera was forbidden on the job), his sprightly prose and dry wit paint a vivid picture of life from the officer's perspective in "Code Two 'N' a Half" ($12.95 in paperback from Oak Tress Press,

"Many see the motorcycle officer only as the dreaded image in the rear view mirror. Surely this guy has no sense of humor. His talent must be limited to eating doughnuts, hiding behind billboards and looking as if he doesn't understand the problem." Wilhelm is out to dispel the stereotype.

One time, after stopping a speeding motorist, he recognized a man he had served with in the Marine Corps during World War II. But he didn't recognize Wilhelm. Just before writing a citation, the officer "tilted my head back and told him I was getting a message. Then I told him, 'You were a Marine in the war. . . . You had a friend named Bill. I can see you and him in a foxhole.' He looked at me as if I were a complete nut case. 'I'm not getting Bill's last name.'" "Wilhelm," said the driver, and then the officer removed his helmet and sunglasses; "I told him he'd better keep his speed down, because the police department was short on Marines who were with him in the war."

The LAPD uses Code 2 for "get there legally, but without delay," and Code 3 for "emergency." When another unit had Code 3, Wilhelm notes that sometimes, when backup units "were riding fast to get there, the inside joke was that were were rolling 'Code Two 'n' a Half.'" Readers will enjoy the trip.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fire in California: What we need to know


David Carle was a California State Park ranger for almost three decades. He brings his experience to a timely book: "Introduction to Fire in California" ($18.95 in paper from University of California Press), scheduled for August publication, is one in a series of "California Natural History Guides."

The book contains 15 maps and some 90 photographs (including one of "Richard Nixon on his roof during the Bel Air fire of 1961" spraying water with a garden hose while smoke billows in the background); in five chapters it covers the nature of fire, vegetation types and fire across California, file policy, how to prepare for a wildfire, and a history of major fires in the state. That includes the Fountain fire in central Shasta County in 1992 which consumed 300 homes; and the Southern California fires in 2007, some set by arsonists and spurred on by the Santa Ana winds, that burned half a million acres and 2000 homes and killed seven.

Carle details how CAL FIRE responds to wildfires throughout the state. "Estimated flame lengths are one way to consider firefighting options. . . . So long as flame lengths stay below four feet, hand crews using shovels and axes can construct fire lines near the front of the fire.

"The heat and danger from rapidly spreading fire after flames are between four and eight feet high mean that fire lines must move back a considerably greater distance; only bulldozers or other heavy equipment can clear fire lines along the fire front. . . . A fire with flames between eight and 11 feet requires air tankers or helicopters to drop fire retardant. . . . Beyond 11-foot flames, direct fire suppression is simply no longer effective. No amount of water or retardant can make an effective dent in the energy being released."

The chapter on "Getting Ready: Life on the Edge" is worth the price admission. It diagrams creating a defensible space around your home and what to do during a fire evacuation ("bring combustible patio furniture indoors" and leave some lights on so firefighters can find your "house at night or in heavy smoke").

One way to thank the firefighters and volunteers is to become more informed about fire. This book will help.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Not fire, but ice: Paradise native's Donner poems


Perhaps it's ironic that I read Shana Youngdahl's chapbook, "Donner: A Passing" ($12 in paper from Finishing Line Press, on the third day of my evacuation from the area threatened by the Camp Fire. Though we were well cared for by friends, there was no mistaking the sense of displacement that must have gripped the group of nearly 90 people. My battle was with fire, theirs with ice, and the outcome was far different. The fire danger lessened, and we returned home. For the 81 trapped in the Sierra snows in the winter of 1846, one accounting says 36 died.

Youngdahl, a Paradise native who now teaches at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa, has written 25 short poems that retell the story of the Donner Party, from packing day in Springfield, Illinois, in April 1846, to the survival a year later of a man named Keseberg, one of the party. "It is rumored, he bragged: he ate their children, / even called them by name, claimed Tamsen / died of grief upon George's death. . . ."

The reader is advised first to read one of the narratives of the Donner Party which exist online, and then to take up quietly, carefully, Youngdahl's terse, searing words. Lansford Hastings had promised a shortcut to California, but what little guidance he offered proved fatal. First came the desert trek: "To moisten children's mouths, Tamsen gives each / a lump of sugar wet with mint. / Later: a bullet to chew."

Later comes the fateful climb into the mountains, the snowfall which stops the party dead in its tracks, and the unspeakable events that to this day are not perfectly understood. The cabins are inundated in snow. "Little movement, this, the felling / of trees. The dead / frozen-eyed storms. // The bible murmured aloud, a forsaken / mountain where few breathe. // Each day the same bones / boiled and chewed. // The known world: thinning."

"It had been Tamsen's plan," the poet writes, "to feed her children flesh / from frozen bodies. Perhaps / they did not know what the meat / was, and could only stare / at the fire. . . ."

Ice is like fire. It burns a hole in the heart.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Chico High School grad co-authors comprehensive look at Costa Rica


Scott Pentzer, recently inducted into the Chico High School alumni hall of fame (he graduated in 1984), has lived with his wife, Meg Tyler Mitchell, for almost four years in San José, Costa Rica. His parents, longtime Chico residents, wrote me recently that Scott "is director of Latin American programs for a consortium of colleges and universities located in the U.S. Midwest that offer a Latin American experience for their students. The couple received doctorates in Latin American Studies at Tulane University in New Orleans."

Now they've collaborated on "Costa Rica: A Global Studies Handbook" ($55 in hardcover from ABC-CLIO), part of a series devoted to selected Latin American countries. The handbook is not a travel guide but rather a highly readable and nuanced survey of Costa Rica's history, politics, culture and economy, useful not just to travelers but to students and business people as well.

The book is divided into two parts; the longer narrative section addresses everything from geography to health care, from political and social challenges to arts, literature, and soccer. The second, smaller, section is a reference guide which includes notes on language and etiquette.

The authors write that "Costa Rica is a very small country in an out-of-the-way corner of Latin America. Costa Ricans themselves have been heard to muse on how small their population is compared with some of the giants of the Americas, how many times the 4 million Costa Ricans could fit in Mexico City. . . . Perhaps these perspectives explain their habitual use of diminutive forms in their speech, giving them the self-imposed nickname 'ticos.'"

The handbook notes that "Costa Ricans are private people; family always comes first, before almost every other obligation"; sometimes "hospitality to strangers is a nice attitude to adopt, if it does not really have to be taken too seriously. Costa Ricans themselves joke that ticos love to invite people to their houses, but they never give out the address."

If a theme pervades the book, it's that of the troubled Costa Rican self-image. "The country is passing through a moment of institutional crisis and self-doubt" just when tourism is increasing and foreign investment is heating up. Mitchell and Pentzer provide a dose of reality behind the tourist brochures.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Undiscovered wine country: California's Central Coast


William Ausmus, a research scholar in the Communication Studies Department at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, writes that though there is a deserved "ocean of verbiage paying homage to the wine regions of Napa and Sonoma," the area from Monterrey to Santa Barbara has gotten short shrift. "In the vast archipelago of California wine," he says, "the Central Coast is very much an undiscovered country."

That changes with Ausmus' "Wines & Wineries of California's Central Coast" ($24.95 in paperback from University of California Press) which contains detailed profiles of almost 300 wineries visited by the author. Together with "Nancy A. Clark, my sweetheart and fellow wine aficionado," Ausmus, despite his self-described "European bias," "was astounded by what I saw and, perhaps more important, by what I tasted."

The first part of the book considers the region's geology, history, and "terroir," a French word "that describes the natural components necessary for growing premium-quality wine grapes" such as sunlight, climate, and "the lay of the land."

The second part is an encyclopedic guide to the wineries, many of which have tasting rooms, with interviews of winemakers (making the book delightful reading) and the author's own rating of their offerings based on a five-star system (ranging from "good, drinkable wines" to wines "comparable to other world-class wines"). As an entry into the offerings of each winery, Ausmus provides two selections, his own and the recommendation of the vintner.

In thousands of tastings, "I looked for the visual appeal of the wine--that is, the color, clarity, and depth of wine in the glass. I describe to the best of my ability the predominant flavor notes in its aromatics (also called the nose or the bouquet). I share with you the taste of the wine in the mouth, focusing on the balance and integration of all its elements."

Ausmus gives 5 starts to the 2002 Pinot Noir produced by Sea Smoke Cellars in Lompoc; the wine has "wonderful aromatics of cherries, cranberries, raspberry fruit preserves, cinnamon and cardamom spice, smoke, earth, violets, and crème de cassis."

"Taste responsibly," Ausmus reminds his readers, "have fun, and remember that wine is more than just a food or a beverage"; it's part of culture. He quotes Galileo: "Wine is sunlight, held together by water."

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The story of Durham in historical photographs


Durham residents Adriana Farley and Jan Holman, drawing on their decades-long research into community history, have just published "Images of America: Durham" ($19.99 in paperback from Arcadia Publishing, Replete with 237 photographs from special museum collections and dozens of individuals, the book is an engaging anecdotal history of "The Town Where Volunteers Make a Difference."

"Durham" is available at various local outlets and the authors will be signing copies at the Durham Branch of the Butte County Library tomorrow night from 6:00 - 9:00 pm.

The book is divided into eight chapters, covering such areas as the founding families, farming, schools, and transportation. The authors write in an Introduction that "July 4, 1870, marked the turning point in the Sacramento Valley for transportation. . . . This was the day the California and Oregon Railroad tracks were completed into Chico from Sacramento and San Francisco. This track line marked the beginning of Durham and many other small towns."

More specifically, "the establishment of the Durham Post Office on February 27, 1871, and the completion of Durham's first flour mill in 1873 were the keys to the successful early growth" of the community. The town's economy depended on grain crops; but, "by the start of the 20th century, the first almond trees were being planted in the Durham area. Durham would become the heart of California's almond country. . . . The establishment of the Durham Land Colony by the state in 1918 had a marked effect on . . . introducing farming diversity and an irrigation system. . . . The agricultural base of Durham in 2008 includes thousands of acres of rice, almonds, and walnuts, with a few pecan orchards and field crops."

The photographs are fascinating, even more so if one has family ties to the area. There's a shot of "Hap's Beer Barrel," billed as the smallest restaurant in the world (three stools); the 1936 fire between Durham and Campbell streets, which destroyed the entire block; and Sitton's Groceteria store in the midst of the flood of 1937.

"Durham's identity," the authors write, "is not measured by . . . famous events. It is measured instead by its enviable quality of life, small-town atmosphere, volunteerism, work ethic, self-motivated youth and caring populace."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Seattle novelist has no known connection with Chico


Looking for a novel that will mess with your mind and have you wondering just who the crazy person really is? Looking for a science-fiction tale worthy of Philip K. Dick, but friendlier?

Then you might be looking for "Bad Monkeys" ($20 in paperback from HarperCollins) by Matt Ruff. (A smaller paperback version is due from Harper in August, but you really won't want to wait.)

When I wrote Ruff asking for some kind of Chico connection, he was kind enough to reply: "Sadly, I’ve never been to Chico, though I’ve probably flown over it at least once or twice. However, I do note that San Francisco is pretty close, and not only does Jane hail from there, but I’m sure she’d have been happy to come up your way and kill somebody if only the opportunity had presented itself."

"Jane" is Jane Charlotte and when we first meet her it is 2002 and "she is dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit," waiting. A man enters the white room Jane is in and introduces himself as "Dr. Vale." "Do you know where you are?" he asks.

She answers: "Unless they moved the room . . . . Las Vegas, Clark County Detention Center. The nut wing."

"And do you know why you're here?" "I'm in jail because I killed someone I wasn't supposed to."

But this is no straightforward crime novel. Dr. Vale notes that Jane claims to be part of a "secret crime-fighting organization called Bad Monkeys." Well, not quite. "We don't fight crime," Jane corrects Dr. Vale, "we fight evil. There's a difference. And Bad Monkeys is the name of my division. . . . The Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons."

As Ruff fills in Jane's back story, we learn of the NC Gun, which kills using "natural causes"; the convoluted history of her brother, Phil; Jane's tracking of an evil janitor; the Scary Clowns (who "consider Las Vegas to be their fiefdom"), another secret and rival organization; guys named Wise and True; and a mysterious coin bearing the slogan "Omnes Mundum Facimus," "we all make the world."

Indeed, as Churchill said of Russia, "Bad Monkeys" is a "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." You'll go ape.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Co-founder of PrayNorthState to sign books Saturday at Barnes & Noble


James Wilson, who with his wife Diana, founded PrayNorthState in 2001, tells about a Promise Keepers meeting in San Diego. A young man responded to the gospel message "of abundant life, not just hereafter but right here and right now, in Christ Jesus." Counseled by a volunteer, the older man asked about other needs to pray for. The young man explained that his very religious father-in-law, when he heard his daughter was going to marry an unbeliever, refused even to meet with him. And now the young man wanted prayer that God would reconcile the family.

"The older man standing before the younger man began to tremble," Wilson writes, "as he asked the young man for the name of his wife. When he named her, the older man began to weep as he gasped out the words, 'Young man, I am your father-in law. Can you ever forgive me?'"

Drawing on the Bible and recent events in Redding, Anderson, and other cities, Wilson concludes that "the commitment to be an ambassador of reconciliation is foundational to the paving of the highway in the desert that makes way for the Lord to bring His transforming Spirit to bear in our communities. . . . Transformation is an out-breaking miracle that cannot occur while the people of God are at war with one another."

"Living As Ambassadors of Relationships: Reconciling Individuals, Families, Genders, Denominations, Cultures, Liberals and Conservatives, Jews and Gentiles, and the Generations" ($16.99 in paperback from Destiny Image), while taking a strong stand on traditional values, calls for Christians from charismatic, liturgical, and evangelical traditions to unite in ministering to their communities.

Wilson will be presenting his vision, signing books and answering questions this Saturday from 1:00-3:00 p.m. at Barnes and Noble in Chico.

An Anglican priest, Wilson is convinced that the prophetic ministry of the Holy Spirit is alive today and that, properly employed, the weapons of spiritual warfare achieve powerful results. "I have personally witnessed traffic accidents and satanic ritual activity disappear from a community following the strategic application of indiscriminate blessing, unmerited forgiveness, and the celebration of the Lord's Supper."

There is no easy triumphalism in Wilson's controversial and challenging book. The ambassador is also in need of reconciliation.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Willows writer: Rekindling the awe, revisiting memories


Daniel Thomas and his wife live near Willows on land they call "The Ten." Those acres formed the center of the earlier "Essays from The Ten." Now, Thomas has essayed beyond "The Ten" to visit places within a hundred air miles of his home. Approaching seventy, and facing health issues that limit his sojourns, Thomas finds vast diversity right in his own backyard.

As he explains in "100 Miles" ($9.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing), "going west, I would travel across the Sacramento Valley floor over the Pacific Coast Range to the California coast. I would view fields of rice, rows of vineyards, mountain forests, and crashing waves. Turning north, I could visit majestic Shasta Dam, see the craggy peaks of the Trinity Alps. . . . Steering south, I could visit a refuge where a million geese and ducks winter. . . ." Yet the pieces in his new book are really about an inner journey to recapture the "sense of wonder" of a boyhood long past.

Thomas will be signing copies of his book at Lyon Books in Chico this Saturday at 3:00 pm.

What the author calls his "wanderitis" takes him to Fruto, "a small settlement hidden in the foothills some fifteen miles west of Willows" that no longer exists. His cousin David lived on a ranch seven miles away, and, back in the 1950s, after bicycling to the Fruto store, "the first thing he and I would do was to lean the bikes against the rough hewn posts supporting the slanted covering of an uneven wooden porch, stagger inside, hardly noticing the sounds of the squeaky pinewood floor, plop down dimes, and order a Nesbitt's Orange."

Near his property Thomas revisits the "Corning Domes," "the result of uplift on the eastern edge of a fault, called the 'Corning Fault,' located along Interstate 5 extending north to Red Bluff." The author and his son Marc recount paddling the Sacramento River from Redding, and it's clear Thomas is searching for "destinations that would restart my zest for life," the zest of that youth so long ago. He concludes that "I discovered once again that my reverence for the harmony and beauty of this particular part of California is well founded."

The awe has returned.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

How Bucks Lake came to be


Plumas County native Scott J. Lawson edited several "Images of America" books on the region and has now produced "Saga of a Mountain Meadow: A History of Bucks Ranch and Bucks Lake" ($19.99 in paperback from Old Mountaineer Publishing). With over 180 historical black-and-white photographs and maps, Lawson traces the development of the Bucks Valley region west of Quincy and how the need for power led to the creation of Bucks Lake in the 1920s.

The author will be appearing at Lyon Books in Chico for a book signing on Wednesday, June 11th, at 7:00 pm.

Lawson writes that "soon after the first gold miners struck rich diggings" on the East Branch of the Feather River's North Fork "at Rich Bar in 1850, Horace Bucklin, Jesse Healy, and Francis Walker took up a land claim in Bucks Valley, about eight miles by steep and winding trail south of that fabulous find. Their mountain valley was the most practical stopping place and grazing area to be found near Rich Bar. Soon, though, Bucklin moved on to Nelson Creek and other diggings, leaving behind his nickname 'Buck' on the valley."

Images show the "Oroville-Quincy stagecoach parked in front of the Bucks Ranch Hotel in 1896" and an advertisement for Bucks Ranch in 1900 offering "saddle horses and teams to let." It wasn't until 1908 that the first automobile chugged through the Valley. Bucks Ranch had numerous owners, including Wheatland cattleman David N. Jones.

"In 1925," Lawson notes, "Robert Storrie and Robert Muir purchased the Jones estate and other properties at Bucks and formed the Feather River Power Company. Their ambitious plan was to build a dam at the outlet of the valley to create a reservoir that would help supply California's ever-increasing demands for hydroelectric power. Despite the remote location and often primitive equipment of the time, in an amazing three short years their vision was realized. Connected with the Bucks Creek Powerhouse at Storrie in the Feather River Canyon, Bucks Lake entered the hydroelectric arena." Eventually P.G.&E. bought the powerhouse.

Lawson writes that Bucks Lake "took almost seven years to fill"; eventually recreation replaced logging and "in 1984 the Bucks Lake Wilderness was established."

"Saga" is an essential guide to the almost forgotten past of an unforgettable place.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Paradise novelist tells a romantic tale of young love


Though Linda Peelle-Haddeman of Paradise has been at sundry times an English teacher and an actress, her real love is libraries, and she's worked for the Butte County Library and now for the Bayliss Library in Glenn County. Her new novel, "Sylvia's Book" ($18.65 in hardcover from Stansbury Publishing in Chico) by Linda Kathleen Peelle, tells the romantic tale of 18-year-old Sylvia Hill who is also a lover of books (and opera).

Though written in the third person, the story makes it clear that this is Sylvia's work, and thus the reader can forgive the rather exuberant if naive optimism expressed by the main character and her tendency to find "the moral of the story" in every experience. After all, she tells us herself that she has been born "with an unusually philosophical nature."

The novel begins in London on Sylvia's eighteenth birthday, toward the very end of the nineteenth century. Her father Elbert, a businessman, is scheduled to sail to Manaus, Brazil, to examine the rubber plantation near the Amazon and to report back to a group of potential investors. But when Sylvia's mother suddenly dies, Elbert can take comfort only in Sylvia's presence. "His grief broke through and he cried, in great wrenching sobs that shook his whole body--this man who had not cried since he was a little boy. Sylvia cried with him, putting her arms around him, able to think of nothing except her loss."

Thus begins a new chapter in Sylvia's life and she accompanies her father on the trip. On board she meets a young missionary doctor named Richard ("like a big brother"). She also meets the manager of an opera house who is on his way to Manaus and then, after disembarking, she is charmed by the "young and very talented tenor, Angelo Rossini," and falls head-over-heels in love with a womanizer.

Eventually she says to herself, "I'm ready to take back my life. The man I loved was not real. He was just an image." After her father's investigation proves dangerous (he survives a gunshot) the two escape to America, symbol of opportunity and a fair reward for hard work. Sylvia at last finds true love based on real friendship. Just what the doctor ordered.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Chico author's life through the eyes of his favorite truck


Robert Woods and his wife Wanda make their home in north Chico now, but Woods, a retired science teacher and Naturalist/Interpreter for the U.S. Forest Service, loved to roam. Encouraged by the Writers Group of Chico Prime Timers, Woods has published an account of his travels that is gentle, good humored, and told in part by his truck.

Says the truck: "Although I was manufactured for sale in 1953, my first recollection is from the autumn of 1960 when Bob and Lea Woods purchased me for $450 in Yreka, California. They anticipated a move and needed a vehicle with some hauling capacity. Though I'm only rated as a half-ton pickup, I'm quite well built, and have overload springs and a Barden bumper with a very substantial trailer hitch. My paint job at that time was rather dashing, with most of me a bright International red, trimmed with ivory white."

Bob called his truck, made by International Harvester, "Cornbinder." In "Travels With Cornbinder" ($15 in paperback from Cornbinder Press) Woods and Cornbinder alternate in telling the tales of a family that included Lea (who passed away in the 1990s) and their four children. Wanderlust gripped Woods. From Idaho to Portland to Willow Ranch (in Modoc County) to Many Farms, Arizona (where he taught Navajo students), to Susanville (where he taught prisoners) and to Forest Ranch, Bob and Cornbinder tell the story of a teacher in love with the great outdoors.

One spring morning, after Woods had accepted a teaching job in a two-room school at Sawyers Bar ("a remote settlement on the Salmon River in the mountains of western Siskiyou County"), he and Lea were sitting on their porch sipping coffee when, as Cornbinder tells it, "a stranger suddenly appeared. A young black bear had entered their front yard through the open gate. . . . The scrawny appearance of the animal indicated that it needed food, so Lea hurried to the freezer. . . . She found a steelhead trout about two feet long, and offered it to the visitor who willingly accepted the treat." No one was harmed.

Cornbinder, now restored, has been in the family for 45 years. The truck is in it for the long haul, and so is Woods.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The plague of plagiarism


It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. And lest you think me a little Dickens for stealing a famous line as my own, please know that judge Richard A. Posner thinks characterizing plagiarism as "literary theft" is just plain misguided.

Posner is a judge on the US Seventh Circuit Course of Appeals and a professor at the University of Chicago Law school. His meditation, "The Little Book of Plagiarism" ($10.95 in hardcover from Pantheon), reaches a pragmatic conclusion. Defining plagiarism as "literary theft," he writes, is "inaccurate; we'll see that there can be plagiarism without theft. And it is imprecise, because it is unclear what should count as 'theft' when one is not taking anything away from someone but simply making a copy. When you 'steal' a passage from a book, the author and his readers still have the book, unlike when you steal his car."

Wait a minute. Plagiarism without theft? Well, consider certain popular textbooks. In some cases the "authors" named on the cover aren't even alive; others have worked behind the scenes updating the book and consenting to having someone's else's name applied to their output. Who is harmed? Not the public, really, but other textbook authors who have to compete against "big names" long dead. But because we're all in on the game maybe this isn't plagiarism after all.

Posner says plagiarism shouldn't be "a crime or a tort" but "the kind of wrongdoing best left to informal, private sanctions" including "ostracism, ridicule, and cancellation of contracts." While it's easy to "copy and paste" from the Internet, services such as also make it easier to detect plagiarism and so the incentive goes down. Those who plagiarize out of sheer audacity wouldn't be deterred by criminal sanctions anyway.

Posner opts to define plagiarism as "fraudulent copying" in which the notion of fraud is heavily dependent on what he calls "reliance." "By this I mean that the reader does something because he thinks the plagiarizing work original that he would not have done had he known the truth. . . . If he's a teacher he gives a bad student a good grade" and that may harm other students by altering the grading curve.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Novel mixes sex, radical politics and nanotechnology


Author Emory Menefee, now approaching 80, lives with his wife Josephine in Richmond, California. Though he received a doctorate in physical chemistry from MIT, and has published dozens of research papers, "The Cultivation of Weeds" ($11.95 in paperback from ExPress, available at is his first novel. One of his children, longtime Chico resident Lisa Menefee Baker, wrote me about the book and noted that her parents were frequent Chico visitors.

A strange complacency came over me, probably because my orange juice was spiked with the drug misamine, and I agreed to do a review.

I'm kidding, actually, but such a chemical does play a significant role in this novel of the near future. Young Carl Grendil, social misfit, is drugged into the SOS, the super-secret "Soldiers of Sacrifice," a Division of Intelligence-sponsored "revolution in American soldiery" whose purpose "is to insinuate themselves closely enough to an undesirable opponent to introduce an armament of lethal and microscopic weapons." The miniature "neurobots" penetrate the victim, lodge in the brain, and produce a painful death seemingly from natural causes. Enemies of the US simply drop from the scene. The SOS operative is sworn to escape undetected or to commit suicide. Better this than a massive and unending war such as the US tried to fight in Iraq.

Carl's mother, Lyn, is strikingly beautiful and increasingly estranged from her husband Ed, a former physics professor made rich through his invention of the so-called "F-chip" which, implanted in computers sold to other countries, would undetectably "phone home" to US intelligence officials. Ed's partner in the development was the paranoid Robert Sikes, one of the founders of the SOS and its headquarters in a privately-owned "ring of mountains" in Northern California.

Ed is the likely presidential candidate of the popular "Reform Party," which called for "nearly all the government functions that had been privatized in recent years to be restored under a new kind of government control," namely the users of the services themselves. The entrenched powers in Washington called it "socialism." The current President of the US wants Sikes to use the SOS to eliminate Ed, and therein lies a tale of sex, violence, death, and the lesson Carl learns from weeds. Fun stuff. Would you like some orange juice?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Wolfe in the fold: Chico State professor photographs his life


Byron Wolfe is not only an associate professor of photography at Chico State University, he is also a collaborator on two books, about the American West and Yosemite, that document the extraordinary project of shooting contemporary images from the exact vantage point, season, and time of day of classic phonographs half a century or a century old.

But even in these majestic works it's clear that Wolfe is also attracted to some of the flotsam and jetsam left along the trail: a candy wrapper or a piece of plastic from a child's toy. They are part of history as well, and that got him to thinking. He asked his students to take a daily picture of ordinary life. And he decided to do the same thing himself.

"Every day between my thirty-fifth and thirty-six birthdays," he writes, "I tried to make at least one complete new and compelling photograph. The idea was to create a narrative that was attentive to place, change, and the meandering pace and flow of life." Now, half a decade later, the pictures have been collected in "Everyday: A Yearlong Photo Diary" ($29.95 in hardcover from Chronicle Books). His two young sons appear often, but, "because the pictures were mostly about the world that my wife and I inhabited, we were rarely visible in them."

Many of the pictures, displayed chronologically, have short captions; others stand by themselves. A couple of times Wolfe's camera failed; at other times he gives us a small gallery to represent the day, such as images of five of his father's trees bending under the weight of the snow two days before Christmas. There are pictures of spilled milk, chicken eggs, children sleeping, burnt toast and blood. With small children in the house, and a dad who is not the best gardener, there's likely to be blood.

Some of the images are far from prosaic, like the world contained in a drop of water on Wolfe's Weeping Santa Rosa Plum tree. There's the image of a TV showing the President announcing the war with Iraq on March 19, 2003. The face of the president is blocked by the silhouette of a young boy gazing at the news.

"Everyday" is the stuff of life.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Yosemite as you've never seen it, through the lens of Chico State University's Byron Wolfe


"Yosemite in Time: Ice Ages, Tree Clocks, Ghost Rivers" ($29.95 in large-size paperback from Trinity University Press) is the just-released softcover version of a book first published in 2005. It's an extraordinary "rephotography" tour, courtesy of Byron Wolfe, Associate Professor of Photography and Digital Imaging at Chico State University, and Mark Klett, Regents Professor of Art at Arizona State University in Tempe.

What is rephotography? According to Rebecca Solnit, a San Francisco-based writer who contributes three major essays to the volume, "by standing in the same place at the same time of day and year (which is necessary to get the angle of the light right) you return to the site of the photographer's choices--how he went onto the very lip of a cliff, what he chose to crop out and what he chose to show of the landscape. . . ." The photographers in this instance are Carlton Watkins and Eadweard Muybridge, who photographed Yosemite in the 1860's and '70's; Edward Weston (1973), and Ansel Adams (mid-twentieth century).

Klett and Wolfe have taken their own stunning panoramas from the present day and overlaid them with precisely aligned images from the earlier photographers. The "Four Views from Four Times and One Shoreline" shows Lake Tenaya in 2002 with black and white photographs from Muybridge, Adams and Weston. The hills and mountains have changed little; the shoreline itself, once studded with boulders and trees, is smooth. It's as if little holes in time have opened up, and the reader can gaze in awe at what once was.

Solnit, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, writes that "truth is like rock. But meaning is like the pines." In her essay on the "politics of the place," Solnit notes John Muir's vision of the Sierra Nevada as forever "virgin wilderness . . . a place apart . . . a place hitched to everything else in the universe except other people. . . . But a century later Muir's vision needs radical revision." The book explores just what that new vision might be. Truth endures; meanings change.

The writing is superb, the photographs high art with just a touch of whimsy: Yosemite in all its glory.