Thursday, March 31, 2011

George Keithley limns the night


Maybe because it's "the cruelest month," as T.S. Eliot would have it, April is National Poetry Month. In a time that mixes "memory and desire" we need the poet to call our attention afresh to the little corners of our lives. And so, just in time, we have "Night's Body" ($19 in paperback from WordTech Communications) by George Keithley.

He'll be reading his poems at Lyon Books in Chico on Tuesday, April 19 at 7:00 p.m.

The retired Chico State University professor illuminates the night we all must traverse. In five sections ("At Four in the Morning," "Winter Nocturnes," "Women at Night," "In the Night of Unknowing," and "Summer Night") Keithley awakens memory and desire in the context of shadows. The "Tree House," "A tree of stars / where our children stir and dream // they are flying from limb to limb / among the shining creatures taking shape / the moment the mind makes them out-- / The Hunter, two Bears, the Princess, the Swan, / dance on the dark floor of heaven. . . ."

But the heavenly visions are anchored to the earth. In "The Driver," "Before us Search and Rescue had planted flares. / Unsteady stars, they flamed up, hissed, flickered / over the slick creekside, revealing tape / that sealed the 'discovery site'--bold yellow / like the body bag laid out upon the bank. . . ."

And what will we do to the animals? "Who can inhabit the unholy sleep / of the soul once they wander / silently away? Who'll bark, howl, / bray, croak, whirr, whinny, all / together raise their joyful noise?" ("When They Leave" won the Pushcart prize.) The poet continues: "Droves of animals who mate and thrive / and swarm before our eyes only / to disappear when we dream / because they are too innocent / to survive."

"Winter Night": "Silence / thrives in the black night and we know / at the heart of this clarity / is sorrow." Then "The Dance": "Memory spares us nothing touched by love-- / You wept without a sound while my fingers brushed / your blouse--apple blossoms--then we walked down / among the last trees, their shifting shadows, / into the light to join the others."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Paradise author shares improbable life, from prison inmate to Cousteau diver


What better title? "Extreme: On Living in the Intensity of the Moment" ($18 in paperback from Drugs Bite, summarizes the mind-boggling downs and ups of Stephen Arrington's life. The Paradise resident tells a first-person story of becoming addicted to marijuana (and, later, harder drugs) as a bomb disposal frogman stationed in Hawaii in the late 1970s. He was busted and kicked out of the Navy. Today he's a drug educator.

The gripping narrative is a sad history of bad choices. Arrington's picture hits the front page of the Los Angeles Times on October 21, 1982 as one of the accused drivers in a cocaine-smuggling operation masterminded by auto magnate John Z. DeLorean. It meant prison for Arrington and there, he writes, he found the freedom from self-deception he could not otherwise escape.

The author is scheduled to be interviewed by Nancy Wiegman on Nancy's Bookshelf tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio, 91.7 FM).

In prison he realizes that "all my choices were pre-determined by my quest for self-fulfillment on my terms. My relationship with God was also for my convenience." It's two in the morning. "There is no sudden decision, I just find myself climbing down from the bunk in my shorts and getting down on my knees on the cold concrete floor. The last thing I see before closing my eyes are the shadows of the jail bars silhouetted on the lower corner of the cell's wall. ... I am not sure that I am going to pray until it happens."

By 1985 he was out, landing a job teaching at the College of Oceaneering in Los Angeles. There he saves a student's life after a near-drowning. Receiving a Red Cross Certificate of Merit, "I look down at the signature upon it in wonder." It is personally signed by President Reagan. "I remember hearing President Reagan announcing his war on drugs while I was driving that drug-laden car in Florida."

Still thirsting for adventure, he's offered the job as Chief Diver for the Cousteau Society. In 1988, preparing for a filming expedition to Maui, he meets Cindy, she of the "playful hazel eyes," who lives in Paradise and who became his wife.

An improbable life indeed.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Writer Philip Yancey scheduled to speak in Chico Sunday morning


Though he bills himself as a journalist, Philip Yancey manages in his many books not only to ask searching questions about God but to put the church on notice that superficial answers will not do. Yancey is an editor-at-large for Christianity Today; his books include "What's So Amazing About Grace?"; "Disappointment With God: Three Questions No One Asks Aloud"; and "Where Is God When It Hurts?: A Comforting, Healing Guide For Coping With Hard Times."

His latest is a response to the "new skeptics" who question God's goodness and very existence. "What Good is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters" ($23.99 in hardcover from FaithWords; $10.99 in Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook e-book) puts it bluntly: "Often when people pose a question like 'What good is God?' they are asking why God doesn’t intervene more directly and with more force. Why did God let Hitler do so much damage, or Stalin and Mao? Why doesn’t God take a more active role in human history?"

Yancey is scheduled to speak at all three morning services this Sunday at Bidwell Presbyterian Church (located next to Chico State University). He'll give one message at 8:30 and 9:45 in the sanctuary, and a second at the El Rey Theater in downtown Chico at 11:11. The presentations are free and open to the public; best seating is at 8:30 or 11:11.

"What Good is God?" is arranged in ten parts, each recounting a trip in search of answers, each presenting a talk Yancey gave. "This book," he writes, "relates stories from places like China, where the church grows spectacularly despite an atheistic government; and the Middle East, where a once-thriving church in the heartland now barely hangs on; and South Africa, where a multicolored church picks through the pieces of its racist past. In the United States I have visited not only Virginia Tech and a convention of prostitutes, but also a group of alcoholics in Chicago and two enclaves in the Bible Belt South."

Yancey's book is not a logical defense of Christianity, but a picture of God at work in the trenches. The author is convinced that "for whatever reason, God chooses to make himself known primarily through ordinary people like us."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mud-lover Dick Cory muddles through


Chicoan Dick Cory is a man of the sod. The theme runs from "Six Boys and a Bag of Dirt" (essays about growing up in small-town Nebraska) to his latest compilation, "Seeking Common Ground" (self-published paperback; write the author at to order). Cory writes that the title conveys "multiple meanings and connections to earth. My books promote the value of dirt. We all have a stake in protecting this common ground."

But, as the author makes clear, that doesn't mean everyone has to agree. "Seeking Common Ground" is dedicated to long-time writing teacher Hannie Voyles, whose poem, "Contradiction," celebrates the energy produced when "We meet and merge, / and counter and clash." In seventy-six chapters, Cory takes some decidedly strong views, from the importance of unions to his wish not to be cremated or buried but to be turned into soap slurry and purified at a water treatment plant. (Ever the punster, he calls this "a slurry with a fringe on top.")

Cory will be signing copies of his books this Saturday from 1:00 - 4:00 p.m. at Made in Chico, 127 W. Third Street.

The chapters include several short stories (a sexy murder mystery and a steamy gym workout among them) and ruminations on the importance of one's conversational community. For Cory, that means the R.O.D.E.O. club ("Retired Old Duffers Eating Out"). "Our former professions, political and religious views, and lifetime experiences cover the full spectrum. We agree and disagree with equal passion." Other essays opine about the demise of bumpers (replaced by plastic that breaks at a mere nudge) and the difference between care giving and "caretaking." Some of the reflections are somber, some more light hearted (Cory is a notorious prankster).

He claims to have been the first to use "reality check" back in 1976 or so. And "it may be dum (mud spelled backwards), but I love mud" (except for "mud slinging by rivals with muddled-minds" who "seek to muddy the waters of progress").

Cory's generation came after "the Greatest Generation" and "carries no moniker. . . . All of our experiences (including six-man football), work ethic and job stability are recorded in our brain. This legacy must be shared with our descendants if they are to profit from our successes and failures."

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Under Lake Oroville, the town of Bidwell still beckons


For seven years Chuck Smay has been digging into the historical records of a small town that for a short time in the nineteenth century was the seat of government in Butte County. His work, some written in the first person, reads like a mystery story as he pieces together evidence from old deeds as to the businesses there and old maps as to the size of the place. General readers will enjoy the winsome narrative and armchair historians will appreciate the carefully chosen details.

"The Town of Bidwell at Bidwell's Bar: Boom and Bust, 1848 - 1860" ($25 in paperback from the Butte County Historical Society, has a companion website, Copies of the book are available at the Society's Museum Store in Oroville (

Smay provides first an overview of the town's history with a chapter devoted to its various names (Bidwell, Bidwell's Bar, Bidwell Bar). Next is the story (an adventure, really) of map reconstruction and then several chapters devoted to the post office, the town's newspaper, the National Hotel, and the bridge at Bidwell's Bar. There are also historical photographs and a wealth of appendices.

In 1854 the editor of the Butte Record in Bidwell "expressed his view of community values": "Dropping into one of the newly erected saloons in town the other evening, we were surprised and shocked to see the youth of Bidwell, gathered around several tables, and engaged in the nefarious business of gambling."

There's also the story of a political fight for the future of Bidwell. "Between 1853 and 1856 Bidwell was the center of county government." A fire gutted the town in 1854, but the residents rebuilt. "In 1854 talk started about the construction of a permanent bridge across the Feather River at Bidwell" and "the local newspaper championed the continued prosperity of the town and unlimited future growth."

But the town failed to reckon with nearby Ophir (Oroville) "which began flexing its political and economic muscle," causing "vicious editorial exchanges" between rival newspapers. Bidwell lost. "Its remaining glory was perpetuated by a bridge, tollhouse, orange tree and a small community of businesses that served the needs of the local residents who refused to leave the area." But now, in print, it lives again.