Sunday, October 25, 2015

“Miguel, Mateo & The Magic Fish”

According to an author’s note, Chico writer and photographer Lisa West “became fascinated with Mayan culture on a trip to Yucatan, Mexico, in 1987.” Much later, teaming with illustrator Theda DeRamus and translator RocĂ­o Guido, West created a fanciful tale of twin brothers and a mysterious world.

“Miguel, Mateo & The Magic Fish” ($12.99 in paperback from Star House Books), and an associated coloring book, are for kids with a third- or fourth-grade reading level. A glossary highlights some of the key aspects of Mayan mythology West uses in weaving her story. There’s the fish Kukulcan (or Quetzlcoatl), once a man; ceremonial pyramids, the sacred Jaguar, fearsome stone creatures that come to life at night, and magical twins who win the day.

Things begin peacefully enough. “The morning Miguel and his twin brother Mateo snuck off to go sailing, the sky was as blue as their mother’s shawl.” The boys, both ten (though Miguel, twenty minutes older, is more daring) set off in their father’s dinghy to look for fish. “No one will even notice we’re gone.” That’s Miguel.

As for Mateo, he’s about to respond when a storm appears and the wind begins to blow. “They tugged at the sail with desperate hands, the ropes digging deep into their skin. The sail ripped away from the mast, flapping wildly. Terrified, they crouched low, gripping the sides of the boat as it spun and rocked violently in the angry sea.”

The storm stops just as suddenly. The boys find themselves near a strange jungle beach; there in the water, “a marvelous fish. Gold and blue scales covered its body, and green feathery plumes grew from its head.” The fish, once a man who had tried to lead his village to safety, tells Miguel and Mateo that “only twins have the power to overcome the magic that keeps me locked in this shape. I brought you here because I need your help.”

The twins must find the jade ring and in so doing find courage.

The colorful paintings on every page, and the text in both English and Spanish, make for a captivating journey into the cultural imagination of an ancient people.    

Sunday, October 18, 2015

“Syllabus Of Errors: Poems”

Troy Jollimore, who professes philosophy at Chico State University, is also an acclaimed poet. His first poetry book, “Tom Thomson In Purgatory,” won the 2006 National Book  Critics Circle Award for Poetry. His new collection, “Syllabus Of Errors: Poems” ($16.95 in paperback from Princeton University Press; also for Amazon Kindle) is for the birds.

At least its five sections pay homage to the songs of birds, “sound-lovers, who cultivate the pursuit of sound-combinations as an art,” to quote Walter Garstang’s “Songs Of The Birds” from 1922, and for Jollimore the poet is no less a lover of sounds. “On Birdsong,” the first poem in the book, puts it this way: “Poison, in proportion, is medicinal./ Medicine, ill-meted, can be terminal.// Brute noise, deftly repeated, becomes musical./ An exit viewed from elsewhere is an entrance. …”

Wrapped in the celebration of sounds, the poet seems this time out more pensive, more aware of loss, less patient with hackneyed philosophy. “Reason informs us,” the poet says in “Critique Of Judgment,” “that birdsong is sublime/ but can’t be beautiful: beauty is conferred/ solely by operations of the human mind./ Meanwhile, from that low-hanging branch, the lyrebird// is waging an ongoing, spirited battle/ against philosophy….”

While “twentieth-century artists were trying to tell us … that anything could be art,” the poet of “Ache And Echo” is having none of it. Those artists held beauty “in contempt.” “But me, I can’t// give up my beauty, I’m an addict, a beauty/ fiend; if you want to take it away/ you’re going to have to pry it from my cold dead hands.”

This is no ethereal unreal beauty, but something brute, bodily; there’s “the pain/ of being some particular body,// of dragging a narrative behind you,/ like a swimmer tangled up/ in heavy nets, feeling the ocean,// its whole weight, beneath him….”

“Say it: we are animals,” the poet says in “On Beauty,” “which does not mean that we must all be criminals,/ but only that desire is constitutional,// that we are fixed to perpetrate the species--/ I mean perpetuate—as if our duty// were coupled with our terror. As if beauty/ itself were but a syllabus of errors.”    

Sunday, October 11, 2015

“The Plant-Based Journey”

Butte College instructor Lani Muelrath, author of “Fit Quickies” workouts, turns her attention to cultivating a “whole food, plant-based” lifestyle in a new, best-selling book called “The Plant-Based Journey” ($16.95 in paperback from BenBella Books; also for Amazon Kindle).

The author is a compassionate (and witty) guide for those who may want to adopt a new way of eating for dietary or environmental reasons, but who don’t know where to start. The book is structured like a path. “The journey,” she writes, “invites you to center what you eat on predominantly whole plant foods: vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, fruits, nuts, and seeds.”

The first section, Awakening, offers reasons for going plant-based and an insight into Muelrath’s own journey of over four decades. The Scout section addresses the question: “How do you morph your current shopping, cooking, and eating styles to align with your new ideal, and avoid common pitfalls?” As Muelrath says, she’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to.

With the Rookie stage, “it’s time to eat!” And “when 90 percent of your calories come from a variety of whole, plant-based foods, you’ve clearly achieved Rock Star status.” Finally, the Champion works on mastery. Muelrath presents the “ten-day plant-based makeover,” in part to reorient taste preferences.

A final section discusses exercise and “mastering strength of mind.” There are real-world case studies throughout; a recipe section (“Portobello Pot Roast,” “Crispy Coconut Waffles”); and a wealth of endnotes pointing to research from respected medical journals.

Be wise: “It’s best not to sit down at Thanksgiving dinner and announce to everyone, ‘I don’t eat anything with a mother or a face!’” That may be true, but there are better ways to handle “persistent food pushers.”

“Real life,” Muelrath writes, “calls for flexibility and ‘perfect enough.’ … Cultivate the attitude and mind-set of possibility, joyous anticipation, and opportunity.”

Barnes & Noble in Chico is hosting a book signing party this afternoon at 2:00 p.m. which will also feature some of Muelrath’s recipes. And she will be interviewed on Nancy’s Bookshelf, with Nancy Wiegman, this Friday, October 16 at 10:00 a.m. on North State Public Radio ( online, or KCHO 91.7 FM on air).