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.