Sunday, August 28, 2016


After writing a series of memoirs (“The Third Floor,” “Dreamscape In A Minor,” and “Rita’s Road”) Chicoan Judi Loren Grace takes a novelistic turn in “Meadowlark” ($16.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle).

It’s a compelling family saga spanning decades, told mostly by a woman who seemed to have the ideal marriage. Her husband Jim, “my security and friend,” is successful in the stock market; the couple, restless, “relocate to a small town called Dunsmuir and semi-retire.” Their daughter, Dana Bea, is headed to college.

In Dunsmuir, “my boring life magnifies and morphs into a lovely locked cage,” even as she reminds herself to “stay in the shadows … always glide through life unnoticed and detached. It’s the safest route.”

Tragedy strikes. Jim dies in her arms of a heart attack. Dana Bea is a frequent visitor and early in 1984, life for mother and daughter will take another unforeseen turn. A toddler is being abused in a neighboring house.

Later, when Dana Bea has left, her mother encounters the angry father searching for his child. Then she finds the toddler, a two-year-old, lying in the snow. She shelters the little girl and so begins a life of paranoia, a fear of being arrested at any moment for kidnaping a child. The girl is given the name Jessica, and Jessica later calls her savior “Nettie” (for being a safety net).

Dana Bea secures a fake birth certificate and the two make plans to move with Jessica to the coast and start afresh. There Nettie meets Sam, a former Texas Ranger, who helps shield Jessica from prying eyes. But is he just a plant? “With a pounding heart, I try to keep my fear in check. Worrying this is a trap.” Paranoia grows.

“We were not longing for adventure. Dana Bea and I closed our eyes and dove in head first, and in doing so we both did a full swan dive into a life of crime.”

Yet “Jessica is worth saving and protecting, and I will go to the ends of the earth to keep her parents from getting her back.”

The meadowlark sings, unseen, a peaceful song. But will peace ever come?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

“Tina The Ballerina”

“Let me tell you the tale of Tina / Who became a great ballerina.” And so begins a bedtime story told by Carol Gray to her two young daughters back in 1967.

The original Tina was a stuffed elephant who was befriended by a baby doll named Betsy Anne. Gray “painted backdrops, constructed sets, and tailored costumes” for the characters, then “photographed her scenes and bound them into an album with the story’s text.”

Though the album has faded with time, and the daughters have grown, now Chico resident Gail Stone and her sister Lisa Stone of Paradise have brought the story to a wider audience.

“Tina The Ballerina” ($18.95 in hardcover from True Blue Innovations), by Carol J. Gray, features glorious full-page illustrations, based on the original album, by the incomparable Steve Ferchaud of Paradise. The book is available locally from Made In Chico, the Rabobank branch on Forest Avenue in Chico, Gallery Interiors in Oroville, My Girlfriend’s Closet in Paradise, and at

Tina’s elephant days are just too routine. “‘Surely life should not be so empty and boring, / Perhaps it will change if I go exploring.’” Soon, Tina meets a little girl named Betsy Anne who quickly incorporates her into Betsy’s family.

But Tina is forlorn. “Jumping rope was not such a treat. / Said Tina, ‘I seem to have too many feet!’ / Betsy said, ‘Try it. It’s really quite fun. / And don’t be discouraged, you’ve only begun. / If you try there’s nothing you cannot do, / Especially if someone has faith in you.’”

Betsy’s mother “sewed a blue dress with a frill” so Tina could go off to school with Betsy Anne. Tina is welcomed with great cheer, and joins Betsy in dancing class as they practice for a show. But more discouragement: “Before the mirror, on the eve of the dance, / Poor Tina surveyed her figure askance. / She noted each bulge and turned slightly green, / ‘But I’m positively elephantine!’”

Yet Tina didn’t want to let Betsy down, and persevered, and what happens next is the stuff of dreams.

Friends giggle with delight in the book, and readers will find the joy infectious.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

“Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class On The Art Of Organizing And Tidying Up”

Books for getting organized continue to find an audience, and I’ve read many of them myself (though just where those books are I haven’t a clue). For Tokyo-based Marie Kondo, much of the advice those books offer is misplaced. Instead of focusing on cleaning room by room, and inducing guilt if you keep something, she has created the “KonMari method.”

On the heels of her bestseller, “The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up,” Kondo’s new book is really an encyclopedia of how to handle the various categories of stuff in one’s life, from how to fold turtlenecks and what to do with old greeting cards and stuffed toys, to “storing books attractively” and “putting memories of past lovers in order.”

“Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class On The Art Of Organizing And Tidying Up” ($18.99 in hardcover from Ten Speed Press; also for Amazon Kindle) begins with the six rules of tidying.

First, be committed; then imagine the kind of life you want to live (so tidying has a goal); “finish discarding first” (otherwise you won’t know how much room you’ll need); tidy by category, not room; follow the right order: clothes first, then books, papers, komono (miscellaneous stuff) and sentimental items; and, finally, “ask yourself if it sparks joy.”

That last is the key. Touch each item, “holding it firmly in both hands as if communing with it. Pay close attention to how your body responds when you do this. When something sparks joy, you should feel a little thrill, as if the cells in your body are slowly rising. … Remember that you are not choosing what to discard but rather what to keep.”

Even that lowly screwdriver in your junk drawer can spark joy once you recall all the scrapes it’s gotten you out of.

Tidying up is very different from cleaning. “Tidying,” Kondo writes, “is the act of confronting yourself; cleaning is the act of confronting nature. … You could say that tidying orders the mind while cleaning purifies it.” Tidy first—go on a tidying marathon, she suggests—and where you live will spark joy. Then keep it clean.

Sunday, August 07, 2016


At the headwaters of Western philosophy, Plato warned us not to be taken in by mere perception. The images we perceive are but copies of copies, he said; only the intellect could “see” true Goodness or Beauty. The image is not the reality.

But would it be possible to intertwine words and images so those images push us to understand more deeply the reality that the words alone cannot adequately describe? That’s the goal of an extraordinary “graphic novel” called “Unflattening” ($22.95 in paperback from Harvard University Press) by Nick Sousanis.

Sousanis has joined the full-time faculty of San Francisco State University to teach “comics as a way of thinking.” Though it may sound like a prime example of misspent education, Sousanis’ book is a serious challenge to the status quo which, he claims, serves to narrow our vision and undermine our potential.

He draws on a nineteenth-century satiric novel called “Flatland,” by Edwin Abbott, in which “A. Square” tells of life in a two-dimensional world. He can’t imagine a world of three dimensions: A sphere passing through Flatland would only appear as an expanding and contracting circle. Similarly, we have trouble breaking through our “reliance on a solitary vantage point … a single line of thought … where we see only what we’re looking for.”

Instead, comic art can be used for crucial ends in bringing to our attention multiple perspectives in which “distinctive viewpoints still remain” but they are “now no longer isolated … (but) viewed as integral to the whole.” Sousanis uses the thought of scientists, philosophers, literary critics and artists to connect, as in a web, a phantasmagoria of images.

The bottom line? “Perception is not dispensable. It's not mere decoration or afterthought, but integral to thought, a fundamental partner in making meaning. In reuniting thinking and seeing.” Sousanis’ black-and-white drawings are choreographed with the text in minute detail and are never mere illustrations of the words.

In comics, when the eye travels from panel to panel as a conversation unfolds, time turns into space (the physical space of each drawing). If time is the fourth dimension, then comics can help us grasp a reality that A. Square could never even dream.