Sunday, October 30, 2016

"The Lost Communities Of Lake Oroville"

The photograph shows Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown about to press a button that would "set off the first dynamite blast for the construction of Oroville Dam on October 21, 1961." With him are students from the community of Las Plumas which would be covered by the waters of Lake Oroville. One of them, Robyn (Foster) Payne, later wrote that "it was the beginning of the end of a way of life for me."

As memories dim of the small communities covered by the waters, local writers Larry R. Matthews (author of "The Building Of The Oroville Dam") and Scott C. Roberts have published more than a hundred black and white photographs, many from residents of those towns.

"The Lost Communities Of Lake Oroville" ($21.99 in paperback from Arcadia Publishing,, part of the "Images Of America" series, is a gallery of historical photographs, some quite rare, with detailed captions evoking life before the dam.

Before 1968, when the dam was completed, "most buildings were either removed or burned down, cemeteries were relocated to higher ground, roads and railroads were realigned, vegetation was removed, and all residents were relocated."

The book's six chapters consider areas radiating out from Oroville that would be covered in water, including Las Plumas and Big Bend Powerhouse. A 1968 picture of the south bank of the Feather River shows the huge powerhouse half submerged as "gates on the Oroville Dam were closed, and the water that would create Lake Oroville began to rise." There are also Bidwell Bar, Enterprise, Mooretown and Feather Falls Village.

The "Bidwell Bar suspension bridge, the old tollhouse, and the Mother Orange Tree" were saved (and relocated). The final chapter explores what was exposed as the lake level dropped in 2014-2015. One of the authors is shown in 2014 standing by a split rock near what used to be the Mountain Springs School at Enterprise (shown in another photograph).

In making these poignant images available, the authors have done an inestimable service.

The authors will be at the Book and Wine Pairing, Saturday, November 19, from 2:00-6:00 p.m. at Purple Line Urban Winery, 760 Safford Street in Oroville; for details visit

Sunday, October 23, 2016

"My Life On The Road"

Gloria Steinem, now in her eighties, has been a lifelong journalist and political activist. A founder of Ms. Magazine, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor, in 2013. Her work as a feminist organizer has taken her around the world, and for Steinem it's the traveling itself that has "felt like home."

"My Life On The Road" ($18 in paperback from Random House; also for Amazon Kindle) is arranged not chronologically but thematically. The seven chapters examine her early life (the book is in large part an homage to her father, a "rootless wanderer"); the college lecture circuit; why she doesn't drive; political activism; and more. It is full of anecdotes and optimism.

It's also the 2016-2017 Book in Common at Butte College (, Chico State (, Butte County libraries, and other organizations, with frequent community events related to issues raised by Steinem.

The author is scheduled to appear at Chico State's Laxson Auditorium, Wednesday, March 1, 2017, at 7:30 p.m. as part of her "My Life On The Road Tour." Tickets are now on sale through Chico Performances (; $25 for adults, $23 for seniors, $10 for youth, and free for Chico State and Butte College students.

"My father," she writes, "was unable to resist swearing, and my mother had asked that he not swear around his daughters, so he named the family dog Dammit." He always seemed to choose "spontaneity over certainty."

So with taxi drivers she's met over the years. One Manhattan cab driver tried to impress her with the celebrities he's encountered, including Donald Trump, saying he "has such an ego, he even tried to impress me."

Steinem supported Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign and encountered "Hillary Haters," women who agreed with her politics but couldn't understand how she continued a marriage in which, despite Bill's affairs, power was equally distributed. But when Steinem introduced the Haters to Hillary, "this woman they had imagined as smart, cold, and calculating turned out to be smart, warm, and responsive."

What has Steinem learned about politics? "Voting isn't the most we can do, but it is the least. To have a democracy, you have to want one."

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"The Advocate: Ritual Abuse"

Sunny McLane is an Advocate working out of the Butte County District Attorney's office, and the protagonist in a new novel by Yankee Hill resident Dawn Mattox. For Sunny, life is complicated: "I had a psychopathic ex serving time in prison, a repentant husband serving time in seminary, and an intern that I resented for being about to give birth to a baby I hated, fathered by someone I loved."

"The Advocate: Ritual Abuse" ($13.75 in paperback from Morningtide Publishing, also for Amazon Kindle; see is a thriller set in Butte County. Sunny, who narrates, is tasked by Butte County DA Jack Savage with helping those who may have been the victim of Satanic or sexual ritual abuse.

McLane is no stranger to abuse herself. Logan, her former husband, wanted her to get an abortion. He "finally won the argument when he pushed me off the upstairs balcony, crushing our child and any chance I might have had for another."

The author, retired as an advocate from the real Butte County DA's office, writes that "I am a Christian who writes fiction, which is not the same as writing Christian fiction. Real life is messy, politically incorrect, and peppered with a series of bad choices in-between good ones."

Sunny is also a Christian, mostly at war with herself, feeling abandoned by God, by her husband Chance, and by those in public service who just can't believe ritual abuse happens in Butte County.

Soon things become more than theoretical as Sunny finds a tortured animal at her cabin near Feather Falls. Then begins a heart-stopping roller coaster ride into a world of passion and perversion. She must save the life of a newborn (fathered by her husband Chance?) even as others lose their lives.

The book is intricately plotted with local venues woven into its tapestry so that the real places seem haunted by the characters. It's an unsettling tale, "grounded in a solid foundation," about something Mattox insists is in our midst.

The author will be at the Book and Wine Pairing, Saturday, November 19, from 2:00-6:00 p.m. at Purple Line Urban Winery, 760 Safford Street in Oroville; for details visit

Sunday, October 09, 2016

"The Mayans Among Us: Migrant Women And Meatpacking On The Great Plains"

Redding resident Ann Sittig teaches Spanish at Shasta College. Back in 2001 she taught in Omaha, Nebraska (her home state), and began studying the experience of Mayan women in Guatemala--and in Nebraska itself.

In the mid-1900s, meatpacking plants in Nebraska moved to "rural areas to be closer to the animals along with the railroad and highways." Mayan immigrants, fleeing the civil war that lasted from 1954 to 1996, found work at the plants so they could "fund their remesas, remittances or money wires, back to Guatemala."

Sittig "sought out a local Catholic mass in one of the meatpacking cities and from the pulpit I bid the women to tell me their stories. That day I met Martha Florinda González, and in 2005 we eagerly began our collaboration to gather the oral history of contemporary Mayan women living in Nebraska.…"

"The Mayans Among Us: Migrant Women And Meatpacking On The Great Plains" ($24.95 in hardcover from University of Nebraska Press; also for Amazon Kindle; and see, by Ann Sittig and Martha Florinda González, highlights the often harrowing stories of a group of interviewees. They journeyed to "El Norte," sometimes with purchased "papers" as documentation, "inventing a new Mayan-Nebraskan identity."

Sittig writes of González that "as a female Mayan leader in Guatemala, and now in her Nebraska community, Martha is trusted by the women, who followed her lead in opening up to me." Among those who shared their lives are Juana, twenty-six, mother of four, who spent at least three years at a local plant; and Manuela, twenty-five, mother of two, with five years at local plants.

These are real people, facing "psychological, sociological, and economical wounds" of war, poverty, and life in a new country. The book is "an "homage to the invisible, to the immigrants who often live in quite difficult physical and economic circumstances while contributing the unsung labor that keeps the U.S. economic machine in motion."

Sittig is scheduled to be interviewed by Nancy Wiegman, host of Nancy's Bookshelf, this Friday at 10:00 a.m. on There's a book signing at Barnes and Noble in Chico October 28, from 2:00-5:00 p.m.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

"Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life"

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the publication of Ray Carver's first book of short stories, "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" ($15.95 in paperback from Vintage; also for Amazon Kindle). The title story owes a great debt to Carver's experience in the northstate.

That experience is recounted in "Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life" ($33.99 in paperback from Scribner; also for Amazon Kindle), by Carol Sklenicka, specifically in a chapter entitled "Furious Years."

Carver and his family at first moved to a small house on Roe Road in Paradise. He started Chico State College in 1958 "and found a weekend clerking job at Terrace Pharmacy."

Sklenicka writes that "a new professor that year whom Ray admired was Dr. Lennis Dunlap" who "found the English Department 'entirely dead.' … By the time Ray reached legal drinking age on May 25, 1959" the family moved to Chico. A Dr. John Gardner, who would become a best-selling novelist, had been hired to take over the creative writing course.

Gardner "inculcated in him the desire to write literature; he had also shown him the near impossibility of earning a living by such writing."

Carver's story, "Will You Please Be Quite, Please?" chronicles the domestic life of Marian and Ralph Wyman. "They did their student teaching at the same high school in Chico in the spring and went through graduation exercises together in June." They were a happy couple, except Ralph "had taken it into his head that his wife had once betrayed him. …" And therein lies the stuff of emotional unraveling.

Carver's alcoholism nearly killed him. His own marriage unraveled. But in later years he mostly walked away from the bottle and toward poet Tess Gallagher, establishing a certain stability and even celebration of his accomplishments.

"'I don't know what I want, but I want it now,' Carver wrote in a pocket notebook. Perhaps a writer never knows exactly what he wants, but Carver had followed his impatience and yearning where it led him, into some very dark places, and then beyond, toward that elusive goal he'd glimpsed in his youth--a writer's life."

Carver died of lung cancer in 1988. He was fifty.