Thursday, April 26, 2018

"The Organ Shortage Crisis In America: Incentives, Civic Duty, And Closing The Gap"

Kidney disease "is the ninth leading cause of death in the United States." Yet, according to Andy Flescher, former Religious Studies professor at Chico State University and now Core Public Health Faculty for the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the problem has a solution.

"Other than a lobe of the liver," Flescher writes, "the kidney is the only transplantable organ one can donate while still alive. … Roughly between 5,000 and 6,000 people annually are living donors, which on average amounts to between 20 and 30 percent of all organ transplantations carried out in a year."

Flescher's proposals at first seem counterintuitive, but they get at the very nature of human altruism. "The Organ Shortage Crisis In America: Incentives, Civic Duty, And Closing The Gap" ($29.95 in paperback from Georgetown University Press; also for Amazon Kindle), by Andrew Michael Flescher, is an extraordinary exploration of what "giving the gift of life" actually means to donors.

Flescher is a "living donor advocate" working directly with those considering giving a kidney, such as a man planning to donate to his ex-wife; a woman wanting to donate to a person she met on Facebook; and a woman ready to donate to her girlfriend. Flescher's reports show the care taken to ensure informed consent.

One would think that such altruistic behaviors could be encouraged by changing laws to allow for the buying and selling of organs. It turns out that there is good reason to believe such incentives would actually have the opposite effect. 

Human altruism is mischaracterized as a rare and saintly gift with no return expected. The reality is that the altruism of the donor is about establishing community, "furthering the relationship between the giver and the recipient." A payment would only muddy the waters.

The book addresses better ways of making the path easier for living donors. A key prescription is for readers to devote "two to four hours … to visit someone currently undergoing dialysis." One will be forever changed in the encounter; "the limits of what is possible versus what isn't are redrawn, for ourselves individually and for society together."

Thursday, April 19, 2018

"The Disappearing Theatre"

Heather Altfeld ( teaches in the Honors Program and for the Humanities Department at Chico State University. Her book of poetry, which won the Poets at Work Prize, draws on childhood memories within the context of a world hellbent on brutalizing itself.

In a blog post she writes: "Like many Jewish children of the post-war era, I was instructed in Holocaust studies at a very young age, and learned that nearly any amount of suffering could be endured so long as you were not on the train."

And yet we must not "disqualify any sorrow or grief that cannot measure up to the death camps." Thus, poetry: "Poetry attempts to weaken the despair of loss and to document it with beauty and presence in a kind of archive that does not simply disseminate information."

In "The Disappearing Theatre" ($12.95 in paperback from Poets @ Work Press) the poet notes that "I learned as a child not to speak much of happiness.// … What good is it, after all,/ to gather treasures in each room of childhood when all our pockets/ are filled with holes? What good is it to swing/ from a rope up into the trees when somewhere children/ are swinging from ropes beneath trees?"

The poet takes readers into the "country of fallen things" where "the dybbuks climbed out/ from under all the beds/ of all the little children/ to kiss their dreaming foreheads…." (The dybbuk, we're told, "is a disembodied Jewish ghost wandering among the living and thought to have some unfinished business in the world.")

"I was present at these events," one poem says, "and now I tell them to those who listen./ If they had not happened, dreamers,/ this news would not have to be told."

Heather Altfeld is scheduled to lead a poetry workshop at the WordSpring creative writing conference on Saturday, April 28, on the Butte College main campus. It's entitled "The Beginning Of Terror: The Question Of Beauty In Modern And Contemporary Poetry."

WordSpring is sponsored by the Butte College English Department with help from a number of local businesses. Registration is $45 for students and educators and $75 for community members. For details, visit

Thursday, April 12, 2018

"Rudy's Rules For Travel: Life Lessons From Around The Globe"

Mary Jensen ( describes herself as a "recovering grants writer"; after retiring as Professor Emerita from Chico State University she kept a promise to her late husband, Rudy, to tell the story of their marriage.

The memoir, beautifully and sensitively written, is a self-deprecating account of what happens when an uptight adventurer marries a frugal World War II vet who, as a new American citizen, flew US Air Force missions over his German homeland and who now can hardly wait to explore the world. On the cheap.

"Rudy's Rules For Travel: Life Lessons From Around The Globe" ($16.95 in paper from She Writes Press; also for Amazon Kindle) shows how a "marriage of opposites" can have its hilarious moments. Mary's own rules ("Expect the worst"; "Remain alert. Always") contrast mightily with Rudy's spontaneous approach.

Late in his life Rudy tells neophyte travelers: "You may wonder about going to politically unstable places. Well, there are two ways of looking at them: one, they are dangerous now. Two, they may be more dangerous later. … You have to remember that you'll never be younger. And you'll probably never be healthier. You've just got to grab that brass ring when it comes by."

And therein lies a tale, many of them, from Mexico City in 1976 to France in 1994. "Adapt," says Rudy's very first rule. "Never shower alone" ("position the day's dirty clothes under your feet, add soap, stomp, as in crushing grapes"). And: "Relax. Some kind stranger will appear."

Indeed so. From Rudy showing up at someone's house (he thought it was a bar) to a poignant quest to connect with his German roots (with the "wounds of war" still fresh in memories), this is a book of laughter and tears. 

And very small suitcases.

"Rudy's Rules" will appeal to readers of Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love"; Kirkus reviews selected it as an Indie Best Book of the Month. 

The author is hosting a book launch event on Saturday, April 28 from 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. at ABC Books in Chico. Proceeds from event sales will go toward the local American Association of University Women scholarship fund.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

"The Murderer's Maid: A Lizzie Borden Novel"

It's 2016 and the first day at the coffeehouse job for twenty-something Brooke. "She's adjusted her speech and her clothing to look like the illegal immigrant she's posing as, so she can be paid under the table. This is what she's had to do to avoid being tracked: she changes her name every few years, moves, and finds a job where an employer is happy to look the other direction in exchange for paying a pittance."

Her mother had been murdered and she fears for her own life. But is Brooke, a devotee of true-crime stories, simply being paranoid? Her psychology and unsettling family history are explored in a cracking-good yarn by Erika Mailman. 

"The Murderer's Maid: A Lizzie Borden Novel" ($25 in hardcover from Bonhomie Press; also for Amazon Kindle), as the title suggests, also intertwines the death (by hatchet) of Lizzie's father Andrew and her stepmother Abby on August 4, 1892. 

At trial Lizzie was acquitted, perhaps because the jury didn't think her strong enough to twice wield the murder weapon. Yet doubts remain. Did her maid know more than she's telling?

The novel begins, in fact, in 1889, with the Irish maid, Bridget, newly hired by the Bordens. The story hopscotches between Bridget's time and Brooke's, as Brooke and her friend, Anthony, make plans to stay at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast (a real place) in Fall River, Massachusetts. She has discovered Lizzie is a relative. And now Brooke's life is really at risk. 

An author's note explains what's real and a novelist's invention in Lizzie's puzzling case. 

Mailman (who has also written a neo-Gothic trilogy under the name of Lynn Carthage), is scheduled to lead two workshops for WordSpring 2018 on Saturday, April 28, at Butte College. 

One is on writing young adult fiction; the second recounts the research process into the Borden family and how the novelist can "create a character that bends known history but still adheres to historical authenticity." 

Registration for the creative writing conference is $45 for students and educators, and $80 for community members. 

It's sponsored by the college's English Department, Associated Students, and local businesses; details are at