Sunday, August 25, 2013

The printed version of "Nancy's Bookshelf"


Nancy Wiegman has been interviewing authors on Nancy's Bookshelf, aired on Northstate Public Radio (KCHO, 91.7 FM), since July 2007. The half-hour weekly program features local writers as well as visitors with a bit more notoriety, including Maya Angelou, Mike Farrell, Steve Lopez, Paula Poundstone, and Scott Simon. For each interview, it's clear to listeners that the host has done her homework, including the requisite reading. Her questions help the author tell the story of the book; they offer gentle nudges, astute reflections, compassionate understanding.

And now, with the help of husband Neal (book designer and transcriptionist extraordinaire), thirty-one of the interviews, including those above, are appearing in printed form. Reading "Conversations With Writers" ($14.95 in paperback from Yellow Arrow Press) is like sitting down to eat with some of the most interesting people; their words, which sometimes pass us by in audio form, become something different on the page: They are there to savor, to ponder, to read again. (Audio archives of the interviews are available on the site.)

Lyon Books in downtown Chico will be hosting a signing and discussion with Nancy and Neal Wiegman, Wednesday, August 28 at 7:00 p.m.

Nancy volunteers for the broadcast, directs the yoga program at Chico Sports Club, has a Master's in French linguistics, and was named Outstanding Woman of Chico in 1999. Neal has a Ph.D. in Spanish and is himself the author of several books, including the novel "Walking the Way: A Medieval Quest." (His interview by Nancy is included in the book, which also contains several photographs, additional notes by Neal, a list of the guests on each program through July 2013, and--full disclosure--several excerpts from this column and some kind mentions.)

Interviews range from Rob Burton, on the history of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in "Hops and Dreams," to Troy Jollimore, Chico State University philosopher and award-winning poet, whose "Love Poem" is just this: "I ache for you / with all of the teeth / that fell out of my mouth / when I was a child."

There's the story of Janis Joplin, from her sister Laura; Robb Wolf on "The Paleo Solution," Laird Easton on Harry Kessler ("The Red Count"), who knew Nietzsche; and more. The table is set. The book is the feast.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Chico author on reclaiming the art of conversation


"I live with my husband and a pair of yellow labs in Northern California," writes Peggy Jennings-Severe, "and am currently a student services administrator" at Butte College. And, oh yes: "I want to meet Oprah."

While Oprah can talk to anyone about anything, it seems, striking up a conversation is for many people something of a lost art. Over the years Jennings-Severe "watched older couples at restaurants, seated across from each other, eating in silence, which felt incredibly sad and lonely to me." Going out on a dinner date with husband Rhys was awkward: "It was if I had nothing to say that didn't begin with or include our children."

Yet people yearn for meaningful contact. What if they had a fun way to start the conversation? "Although my family, friends, and colleagues chuckle, roll their eyes, and mildly moan when I tell them it's time for verbal cards or begin an activity designed to break the ice, I think they secretly look forward to it--well, maybe not all, but most."

What changed the author's family is now available in book form. "Life Talks: A Guide To Bringing Back Conversation" ($15 in paperback from CreateSpace; also in Amazon Kindle e-book format) offers key questions and activities for baby showers, reunions, long car rides, retirement, Valentine's Day, and many more (see

Lyon Books in downtown Chico will be hosting a book signing (and conversation!) Monday, August 26 at 7:00 p.m.

For birthday parties, the group gets in a circle and someone begins by saying "'What I appreciate about __ is...' (No sarcasm is allowed.)" Such verbal cards last far longer than Hallmark. The birthday person joins in, too: "What is the most valuable lesson you learned last year?" "What questions about your life do you want answered in the coming year?" At family gatherings, members sort cards each with a quality written on it, like "creativity," "religion" "winning." Which are the most important, or least important? Surprises abound as the conversation gets going.

Thanksgiving gatherings are a great place to start. "What five things remain on your bucket list?" "You have been given unlimited resources to create a totally new and unique theme park. What would it be?"

This book will get people talking.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

"The Bard of Butte and the poet of Helltown"

Pres Longley, born in 1824, dreamed that one day his poems would be made into a book. Now, more than a century later, his dream has come true. "The Miner Poet: Poems of Pres Longley" ($19.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing), edited by John Rudderow and Nancy Leek, presents more than a hundred of his poems, along with a substantial dose of Longley's witty and self-deprecating prose, in a handsome volume that is simply a must read.
Lyon Books in downtown Chico will be hosting a book signing Tuesday, September 24 at 7:00 p.m.
The editors's introduction highlights the themes that captured the poet's heart, including Democratic politics, women's suffrage and the miners' plight; he "stood with them in their struggles against natural disasters, corporate greed, and ever-passing time."
He also wrote of his single status (he was almost 60 before he married) and "the effect that the gradual arrival of women had on the giant bachelor party that was gold rush California." For years he lived in a cabin "on Boneyard Flat, halfway between Centerville and Helltown, in Butte Creek Canyon. Helltown was a boom town in the 1850s, but by the time Pres settled there in 1866 most of the miners had moved on to the Comstock Lode and the Fraser River."
"I hold that true poets are prophets," he once wrote, "Whose voices are echoes sublime, / Whose songs are the anthems of nations / That float down the river of time." But he wasn't averse to writing about the small things, like bumping into a "Girl I Saw On L Street": "I've been in stormy battle's fray, / And heard the bullets whistle, / But never have been wounded with / So dear a little miss-ile."
"The rarest treasures of the tropic land," the poet observed, "On 'Rancho Chico' have been brought to stand. ..." He longed "for the good old days of yore, / When statesmanship was pure; / When men would scorn monopolies / Who tempted them with lure." He wrote for the Democratic Butte Record and skewered the Republican newspaper in "The Critic": "All must admit the man's a cheat / Who slobbers out the damndest lies, / Then hides himself behind a sheet / He calls the Chico Enterprise."
This is Pres Longley, the Bard of Butte.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

A children's book about friendship and reunion


The new children's story from Marcia Sbarbaro-Pezzella and her brother, Vic Sbarbaro, is a tale of separation and reunion. Illustrated by Josh Smith, "Penelope the Lonesome Pillow" ($12.95 in paperback from North State Children's Books) begins with a little cottage in the Swiss Alps. An aging and lonely widow, Gretene Fritzl, has only two friends, "a rocking chair and matching pillow that she had stuffed and covered. She called the rocking chair Roxie and the matching pillow Penelope."

Vic Sbarbaro, a Certified Health Education Specialist who teaches at Butte College and Chico State University, edited the story from one his sister wrote. Marcia, born in Weed, worked as "a special education teacher for disabled children" and now helps with her husband's restaurant, Pezzella's.

Mrs. Fritzl loved Roxie and Penelope ("Penny") and in turn they talked with her. "Mrs. Fritzl was always afraid to tell anyone for fear that they would think her crazy. Mrs. Fritzl was a religious woman; she actually felt that God sent down special blessings to this particular rocking chair and pillow. Why they even had cloth eyes, ears, and voices to keep her company."

But together-time was not to last. Mrs. Fritzl died. "It was a rainy day in the small Swiss village. The little Fritzl cottage was dark with grief. Roxie and Penelope both shed a thread of a tear for their beloved mistress. They would never forget her or her kindliness to them. They also realized they would never speak to another human being for a long time until they proved worthy of their special gift to talk."

What follows is is a long journey as Roxie and Penelope are put in separate boxes and shipped to America. Roxie's box gets an address, but somehow Penelope slips through the cracks and her box ends up at the Lost and Found. Then she gets passed from person to person, finally ending up with the Barnes family. Billy, the teenager, uses Penny as a cushion when he changes his car's oil. But his sister, Kathy Sue, who happens to be blind, takes a special liking to Penny. And when Kathy Sue's dad builds her a playhouse and brings home an old rocking chair for her to sit in--a little magic happens.