Sunday, September 25, 2011

Salman Rushdie's magic carpet ride graces Chico


Luka's father, storyteller Rashid Khalifa, the "Shah of Blah," is Asleep, lost in his own world and, growing weaker by the moment, unresponsive to anyone around him. His twelve-year-old son must enter the World of Magic with Bear, the dog, and Dog, the bear, in a desperate effort to find what will bring his father back to Reality.

"Luka and the Fire of Life" ($15 in paperback from Random House; also available in Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook and Google eBook formats) is Sir Salmon Rushdie's follow-up to "Haroun and the Sea of Stories." Left-handed Luka is Haroun's younger brother, and now it is his time to enter the world which exists "in parallel with our own non-Magic one."

Here are the sources of "White Magic, Black Magic, dreams, nightmares, stories, lies, dragons, fairies, blue-bearded genies, mechanical mind-reading birds, buried treasure, music, fiction, hope, fear, the gift of eternal life, the angel of death, the angel of love, interruptions, jokes, good ideas, rotten ideas, happy endings, in fact almost everything of any interest at all."

But the keepers of the World of Magic cannot abide the upending of the flow of Time that imagination wreaks on their precious Order of Things. Luka is almost vanquished, but one must never discount one's friends, especially if they have a magic carpet.

The Order of Things in our Real World is not so sunny, either. As part of Chico State University's President's Lecture Series, Rushdie will speak on "Public Events, Private Lives: Literature and Politics in the Modern World." The presentation is Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the university's Laxson Auditorium. Tickets are available online (, through walk-up at the University Box Office (corner of 2nd St. & Normal Ave.), or by phone (530-898-6333). Premium tickets are $40; Adults $35; Seniors $33 and Students/Children $25.

Nobodaddy, Luka's nemesis, the being sucking the life from his father, is clear that the tale is not just a story. "You of all boys should know that Man is the Storytelling Animal, and that in stories are his identity, his meaning, and his lifeblood. Do rats tell tales? Do porpoises have narrative purposes? Do elephants ele-phantasize? You know as well as I do that they do not. Man alone burns with books."

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The hardest summers


Bill Carter has a penchant for putting himself into difficult situations. In "Fools Rush In" the Pleasant Valley High School grad traveled to Bosnia during its civil war. Now he faces the brutalities of nature.

"Red Summer" ($16.95 in paperback from Schaffner Press; also available in e-book editions for Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, and Google eBooks) is subtitled "The Danger, Madness, and Exaltation of Salmon Fishing in a Remote Alaskan Village."

The village is called Egegik ("pronounced Ig-GEE-gek") "which would not exist," Carter writes, "except for one thing: salmon, specifically sockeye salmon. Every year, in June, for at least the last eight thousand years, sockeye salmon, also called reds, enter Bristol Bay. They do not come in the hundreds or even the thousands. Tens of millions of sockeye salmon come, loosely gathered together in the shape of a giant ball, swirling in a counterclockwise motion, resembling an underwater hurricane." Then the fish leave the hurricane and "enter the river systems of Bristol Bay."

Carter had gotten a phone call that took him to Egegik, where he was to spend the next four summers as a set netter. Their "operations are stationary, with one end of the net tied to the shore, the other end to an anchor somewhere in the river, usually three hundred feet offshore." It is humbling work. "We have been at it for almost nineteen hours," he says at one point. "In the end we deliver 28,000 pounds of fish. ... My take is 10 percent, or $1,120 for nineteen hours of work."

Why do this? "The weather is brutal and the work is both difficult and dangerous. And at the end of each season I promise myself I will never do it again. I return to Egegik because I need a place where nature still has the upper hand, reminding me that my existence is fragile and fleeting."

Carter works for Sharon and her fishing partner, Carl, and the book not only connects with their lives but the rhythm of Egegik itself, where the only law is Fish and Game. In the end, he is married, and feels "like I've fully arrived in this place. I relish the silence. I feel connected to these people, to this river." And now, finally, he can leave.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Harrowing tales of Orland's first responders


Marianne Paiva grew up in Orland where she worked from 1993 to 1997 first as an emergency medical technician and, in the last two years, as a paramedic serving Glenn County and Chico. Now a Chico resident, and a former Northstate Voices columnist, Paiva teaches sociology and has done extensive field research on paramedics. She is also a gifted writer, and the experiences she relates grip the reader with unforgettable, brutal images.

Those stories are contained in "Breathe: Essays From a Recovering Paramedic" ($14.95 in paperback from Memoir Books), available online at and in Chico at Lyon Books.

Paiva will be signing copies of "Breathe" tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. at Bella Day Spa, 15 Williamsburg Lane.

"In paramedic school they never teach you how to treat a patient who has tried to commit suicide by slitting his own throat," she writes. "They teach you to bandage a stab wound, a sucking chest wound, a slice on the arm. They tell you how to splint a fractured femur and how to help a baby breathe again, but they never tell you how to bandage a throat that has been slit from ear to ear. I think somewhere, they assume that the person will be dead and there will be no need for bandages." In part, because of the work of Paiva and her teammate, the patient (they are always patients, never victims) survived.

There are other stories where the outcome is far different. Paiva captures the moment-by-moment urgency in the mind of the paramedic: "What do I do now?" Sometimes it is not enough. And sometimes there is that one call that calls an end to a career. "I am done, I realize. I am done. I can't take any more babies beaten and scalded with hot water. And mothers who extinguish cigarettes on their children and fathers who rape their sons and the people who cover it up. ... I can't take one more boy struck by a car on his way to school and my best friends being shot by their boyfriends."

Now, years later, "sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and wonder when the pager will go off." There are many who are grateful that, back then, it did.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Corning olive grower remembers the sixties


Charles Rouse was 23 and an Air Force vet when he transferred from Citrus Junior College in Glendora to Occidental College in northeast Los Angeles. His junior year at "Oxy" began on September 22, 1966. Now, half a lifetime later, he has endeavored to come to terms with the forces that shaped the age--the War in Vietnam; recreational drug use; the rise of the hippies--and with his own experiences. The story unfolds in "Two Years At Occidental College In The Late Sixties" ($14 in paperback from CreateSpace; also available in Amazon Kindle e-book format).

"This is not a young man's story," he writes, "or a young man's point of view or a young man's memory. This is me telling the story of more than forty years ago." Then, Rouse adopted the Objectivism of Ayn Rand (her work drew him to major in philosophy). Now, "I retain my civil libertarianism but have been for many years a middle-of-the-road pragmatic Democrat." The book is in part a meditation on the ever-changing patterns of life.

Rouse was recently interviewed by Nancy Wiegman on Nancy's Bookshelf on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio), 91.7 FM. The archived program is available at

Each academic term receives its own chapter, and Rouse begins by listing his classes and setting the context with reference to events in the larger world. He remembers the language: Folks were "freaked out" and everything was "amazing" if it wasn't "gross."

He was shy and awkward around others, yet eventually welcomed female companionship--only to have his heart broken when they moved on.

But it was the drugs that precipitated the biggest crisis. By the late sixties Occidental was no stranger to LSD, marijuana, and even meth. A "friend" gave Rouse some kind of hyped up dose of something, and that led to panic attacks, flashbacks, and years of therapy.

The book helps remind us of "the spirt of the time, the zeitgeist whooshing down the corridors of the dormitories, the awakening in the students, the young people wearing button-down shirts one week and paisley the next." The music was "Donovan, Dylan, The Beatles, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and it all sounds so dated now."

And yet, as events unfolded, maybe things were not so Occidental after all