Thursday, December 30, 2010

Booked for 2010

Three categories dominated the reviews this year. First, memoirs: "The Story of Another Child's Christmas in Wales" (Lynn Elliott); "I Grew Up In Latvia" (Zig Vidners); "Burning Bears Fall From the Sky" (Peter Edridge); "A Life To Remember" (Gregory Ghica); "From Harlem To Hollywood: My Life In Music" (Van Alexander with Stephen Fratallone); "Google Brain" (Gordon Greb); "Sometimes, Memories Are All We Have" (Shari Edwards).

Next, novels and short stories: "Crown of Dust" (Mary Volmer); "The Great Bay" (Dale Pendell); "Rubber Tuesday" (Phil Coppock and Mrs. Bower's 2008-2009 4th Grade Class); "Captured By Desire" ("Kira Morgan"); "Rose Cottage" (Olivia Claire High); "Voices of a City of Gold: Stories From Oroville, California" (Leslie Hale Roberts); "Murder at the Altar" (Terry Phillips); "Desiree" (Doug Keister); "Heart of a Pirate" (Pamela Johnson); "The Departure Lounge" (Paul Eggers); "The Last Baktun" (Lisa Westwood); "The World Is At Your Feet" (G. Donovan Oakes); "Gene Pool" (Steven Maass and Katherine Terstegen); "Submerged in Darkness" (Shannon A. Hiner).

Finally, the broad category of self-help: "The Pebble Path: Returning Home From a Forest of Shadows" (Jan Hasak); "The Couples Thrival Guide" (Shannon Sheridan); "To Believe Or Not To Believe: The Social and Neurological Consequences of Belief Systems" (Rahasya Poe); "Alligators in the Water Cooler" (Judith Munson); "The Tao of Forgiveness: The Healing Power of Forgiving Others and Yourself" (William Martin); "The Mindful Path Through Shyness: How Mindfulness and Compassion Can Help Free You From Social Anxiety, Fear and Avoidance" (Steven H. Flowers); "Deep Down Things" (Lin Jensen).

Add three volumes of poetry: "Where Once" (Sally Allen McNall); "Vortumna" (Sarkis Shmavonian); "Gorrill's Orchard" (Jeanne E. Clark).

Throw in some history: "Hops and Dreams: The Story of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co." (Rob Burton); "Durham Locations, Landmarks, Lads and Ladies" (Adriana Farley); "The U.S. Navy's Coastal and Motor Minesweepers, 1941-1953" (David D. Bruhn); "Chico History Minutes" (Verda Mackay).

Politics: "House of Lords" (Charles W. Frank).

Guides: "Mount Shasta Guide to Fun" (Robin Kohn); "The Birds of Bidwell Park" (Roger Lederer); "Light Travel: Photography On the Go" (Tom Dempsey).

And season with kid stuff: "The Famous Nini: A Mostly True Story of How a Plain White Cat Became a Star" (Mary Nethery); "Math Wise!" (Jim Overholt and Laurie Kincheloe); "Crowlyle Finds His Caw" (Vic Sbarbaro); "Love and Logic Money-isms: Wise Words About Raising Money-Smart Kids" (Jim Fay and Kristan Leatherman).

That wraps up the year, except to remind do-it-yourself authors that Publishers Weekly is now featuring quarterly listings of self-published works. Submissions close January 31, 2011. Details:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The day after Christmas


For those who embrace what the Christmas carols herald--the coming of God to earth in the form of a small child--the "good tidings of great joy" speak of a new kind of life here and now. Yet for Christians around the world how this life works itself out on the "day after Christmas," and all the days yet to come, is not easily answered. It is an "in-between" time when believers are not yet fully formed but are wooed by God's grace to conform more and more to the image of the God-Man.

This is the starting point of a provocative new book by N.T. (Tom) Wright, formerly Anglican Bishop of Durham (in the U.K.), now Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St. Andrews University in Scotland. "After You Believe" ($24.99 in hardcover from HarperOne; $11.99 in Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook e-book formats) is subtitled "Why Christian Character Matters." It matters, Wright maintains, because it's true to the kind of life transformation set out by the New Testament.

"Character," he writes, "--the transforming, shaping, and marking of a life and its habits--will generate the sort of behavior that rules might have pointed toward but which a 'rule-keeping' mentality can never achieve. And it will produce the sort of life which will in fact be true to itself--though the 'self' to which it will at least be true is the redeemed self, the transformed self, not the merely 'discovered' self of popular thought."

Wright draws upon the ancient tradition of virtue to illuminate what he means by character. Virtue--excellence--comes through practice and enables the person to respond appropriately in a wide variety of situations.

But the Biblical idea of virtue, Wright says, is not about celebrating the individual. "Christian virtue isn't about you--your happiness, your fulfillment, your self-realization. It's about God and God's kingdom, and your discovery of a genuine human existence by the paradoxical route--the route God himself took in Jesus Christ!--of giving yourself away, of generous love which constantly refuses to take center stage."

Christians are to be a royal priesthood, clothed in "humility, charity, patience, and chastity." It is nothing less than the practice, through God's power, of becoming fully human.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lynn Elliott remembers Welsh Christmases. . . .


Born and raised in Cardiff, Wales, Lynn Elliott, a professor of English and creative writing at Chico State University, shares family memories with groups around the country. He's now reworked his autobiographical tales into "The Story of Another Child's Christmas in Wales" ($10.95 in paperback from Memoir Books). Elliott is scheduled to be interviewed by Nancy Wiegman on Nancy's Bookshelf, Friday, Dec. 24, at 10:00 a.m. on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio, 91.7 FM).

Decorations have "all mystically appeared, overnight, in James Howells' department store, Queen Street, heralding the beginning of Christmas season in the sea-faring capital city of Wales, Cardiff. I am four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten and eleven years old, chocked full with accumulated memories of food, joy, song, and jolly, wind-swept shoppers."

Mostly Lynn is eleven, a celebratory mixture of naivete and sarcasm. Reading the book, listening to the tone, I thought of Jean Shepherd's voice-overs in the classic film A Christmas Story. Young Lynn is lurching toward adulthood.

"Last year," he says, "before the prospect of Lynn attaining manhood entered my parents' minds, I got a cowboy suit for Christmas. Dressed in my boots, spurs, leggings, chaps, shirt, gun belt, guns, waistcoat and one-gallon hat, I sidled out of the front door into Forrest Road, seeking a show-down with Billy-O the Kid, the bully who lived ten houses down from ours. Did Wyatt Earp ever fight in snow? No time to ponder the question, as an iceball--not even a snowball, but an iceball!--hammered into my ear and slid slowly, like a polar iceberg, down my once-warm neck. I reentered the sheriff's office, crying for my mother and vowing that next year I'd get a snow-scooping machine gun. . . . "

There are drunken carollers, oddball neighbors, Tiddles the cat exacting revenge on a certain boy's Meccano set tower, but everything moves toward Christmas Day night and the Elliott family gathering, the flowing elderberry wine and singing relatives, and Auntie Bess ("a diminutive woman with a voice like an air raid siren"), all tinged by quiet news that Grandma Elliott may be celebrating her last Christmas. And for grandma: Lynn's boisterous, be-wigged performance as Ethel Merman.

How can one be sad this night when "everything's coming up roses"?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Chico writer remembers her Latvian childhood and the pain of exile


Zigrid (Zig) Vidners writes for the "younger generations of exiled Latvians," recalling her childhood in the city (Riga, the capital) and on the family farm in the years between world wars. The story quietly unfolds in "I Grew Up In Latvia" (paperback, self-published; for purchase information contact the author at

The first half of the book takes the author to her thirteenth year and recounts mostly happy memories. Life is much more unsettled in the second half. Zigrid encounters the first feelings of love and faces the implications of war. The story is really a love affair with Latvia and invites slow reading on a rainy day to take in the sights and sounds of a time long past.

Lyon Books is hosting a signing in the new year on Thursday, February 17 at 7:00 p.m.

The author remembers some of "the most joyous celebrations in Latvia, the Midsummer Fest" called "Ligo," "to sway." People begin to sway, "reaching out toward each other and toward the higher powers who bring them blessings." She is close to her father, a military man, but has an uneasy relationship with her mother. Zigrid learns to herd cows and loves to spend time in the nearby forest.

But history intrudes. Latvian freedom "was interrupted by the forceful invasion by the Soviet Union in 1940, which brought a pattern of terror that many Latvians would never forget. The outbreak of World War II brought German occupation in 1941, then a Soviet onslaught again in 1944. Knowing what this would bring, many made the hard decision to leave their beloved country to save their lives."

At fifteen, "a strange thing happened to me. . . . As I looked at the pale evening sky against the dark treetops of the forest, I thought how another day was gone and the night was coming. But then these ordinary thoughts took on a deeper meaning. It was as if somebody had said these words to me, making me realize that 'my night' too would come one day. . . Was it God who talked to me for the first time?"

In the end, Zigrid and her family must flee Latvia for Germany. That is another tale, for another book.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Paradise poet sees the folly of history, finds tenderness that touches the dead


Sally Allen McNall's new book of poetry travels the world, encountering violence but also a measure of love. "Where Once" ($14 in paperback from Main Street Rag) is part of the publisher's "Editor's Select Poetry Series." Lyon Books in Chico is hosting a reading by the author on Tuesday, December 14 at 7:00 p.m.

In "Goodbye to Byzantium" the poet laments: "It is tender where I cannot go. / Baghdad, where once gardens. / A shore where once wild strawberries this small." There are "Concrete Particulars" to attend to: "Yes, but in this book of horrors you refuse, / this documentation of systematic, categorical death, / writer and reader must step back, if only a step, / or tenderness could not touch the dead, as it must." That word again: tenderness.

If tenderness cannot stop the "lively venom, vaccine / against hope," perhaps it can work its way into the "Hard Places": "I say on the phone I have given alms to Muslims and my friend says shut up shut up hangs up // e-mails me you could be accused of giving money to terrorists // You can't live the Berber's life, / he said, without some hard places forming in you."

The book's cover shows a detail of "Six Wooden Blocks" by G. Daniel Massad; "Six Wooden Blocks," the poet writes, "--named revenge, remorse / repentance, regret / remembrance, release // You might spend / a whole morning / stacking them / in one order / then another // . . . They are fashioned / of heartwood, / oiled, heavy, / never softening / to the touch."

But poets live, like Keats, Whitman. And Wordsworth. "You say goodbye to your unhappy childhood," the author writes to Wordsworth in "'Fallings From Us, Vanishings.'" "You learned how to love. And I say, forget / that it turned to fear and finally indifference, forget / that hope had to be relearned later and elsewhere, forget / your thousand poems to the members of other species. // There is anger everywhere in the world and sorrow / following. Even the Buddha would not tell you to forget / this, while you are busy remembering the bobolink, snow-cricket, brown bat, peony, honeysuckle."