Tuesday, December 28, 2021

"Abandoned Chinatowns: Northern California"

With floods and civil war in China in the mid-nineteenth century, many Chinese men came to Northern California during the gold rush boom not so much to start over but to "earn enough money to provide for their families back home and to return to their homeland with financial security." 

As southern Oregon writer Margaret LaPlante points out, this led in the 1850s and beyond to the establishment of numerous Chinatowns and created tension not only among non-Chinese but also within their own communities. "Fires swept through Chinatowns continually," she writes, "but the Chinese showed their resiliency by rebuilding time and time again."

LaPlante captures some of these Chinatowns through hundreds of historical photographs in "Abandoned Chinatowns: Northern California" ($23.99 in paperback from America Through Time). San Francisco's original Chinatown was destroyed by earthquake and fire in 1906. Other Chinatowns throughout Northern California had their own challenges. 

One photograph shows the "third Joss House in Oroville's Chinatown; the first two burned." The Joss House, or Chinese temple, "was built in 1863 using bricks manufactured in nearby Palermo. In 1937, after a series of vandalism and thefts, the town decided to turn the Joss House into a museum," still also available for worship.

LaPlante writes that the "Chinese who lived in Red Bluff built elaborate tunnels underneath the downtown. Most of the tunnels stretched out to the Sacramento River. As in most Chinatowns, there was a great deal of opium, gambling, and prostitution."

In Truckee, many Chinese "worked on the railroad. The Truckee Chinatown burned in 1878 but was rebuilt on the outskirts of town. In 1886, during the anti-Chinese movement, Truckee's ... 'Caucasian League' ordered all Chinese residents to leave Truckee on their own or they would be shipped out in boxcars."

LaPlante devotes an entire chapter to detailing "anti-Chinese sentiment." The 1870 Naturalization Act forbade Chinese from becoming citizens and vestiges of discriminatory policies remained until at least 1965.

The Chinese "planted vineyards in the wine country; they cleared the delta...; they installed irrigation for orchards; and they worked in the fishing industries and in canneries.... They operated laundries, restaurants, markets....."  LaPlante's book is a timely reminder of what has come before.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

"The Yahi Storyteller"

Lewis Foreman, a correspondent tells me, was part of the Chico High School graduating class of 1959. Now, in his eighth decade, he has written and illustrated a book of extraordinary tales that tell of ancient civilizations, galaxy traveling machines, and a perpetually sunlit garden world at earth's center.

And it begins with the story of a talented drummer whose stage name is Frosty. Years ago "he had left his home town of Chico, Ca., which had not satisfied his musical desires, and moved to the City." In San Francisco he finds "drugs and Rock and Roll" and later sets off to Reykjavik to explore his Viking heritage. What he finds is no less than the Reality behind all mythologies--and sword-and-sorcery adventures aplenty.

"The Yahi Storyteller" ($39.92 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle) prefaces Frosty's own incredible journey with the long tale of Sky Hawk, part of the Acoma Anasazi, who "had wandered the southwest and had eventually entered California," coming to the land of the ancient Yana nation and the Yahi people.

Only a few Yahi survive the cattlemen's attacks (and Foreman's book does not look away from the grisly slaughters), but they do find hidden caves in which to live, and eventually Sky Hawk the storyteller is welcomed into the Yahi family.

"The Great Spirit is the manifested Father and Mother Creator," Sky Hawk tells the children, "and has been called by many names. The Navaho people call it the Holy Wind, the pale-skins call it the Holy Ghost."

Father and Mother Creator, neither male nor female, "are beyond creation." "They, together with the manifested Great Spirit, are the Creator. Three, yet all one. They are Power, Wisdom and Love." 

This back story sets the stage for Frosty's literal slide into the Viking era, where the drummer is renamed Sigmund Thorsson, summoned by the leader, Ice Wolf, to learn drums--and to explore a strange tunnel into the center of the earth wherein Centaurs, Sprites, Satyrs, Dragons and apes reside. 

The dark lords and their Fallen minions have arisen to enslave others, so the Viking exploration turns into a battle with cosmic consequences. 

Foreman's fertile imagination is wonderful to behold.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

"Miseducation: How Climate Change Is Taught In America"

Spring 2019. "Sixth-grade science teacher Kristen Del Real had invited me to come by during her prep period, so for the first time since age thirteen," Katie Worth writes, "I found myself walking the halls of my alma mater, Chico Junior High School." She had returned to find out what kids were being taught about climate change.

Worth worked with FRONTLINE and The GroundTruth Project, part of a team that won an Emmy for the interactive documentary "The Last Generation" (bit.ly/3dMzMNL) about three young people living in the Marshall Islands. Rising sea levels threaten their very homeland.

One of them moved with his family to Oklahoma, and Worth wanted to know what his textbooks said about climate change. The answer fit into her larger investigative journalism project now published in book form: "Miseducation: How Climate Change Is Taught In America" ($16 in paperback from Columbia Global Reports; also for Amazon Kindle).

Worth "traveled to more than a dozen communities to talk to kids about what they have learned about the phenomenon that will shape their future. What I found were points of friction in abundance." 

Del Real explains that several years earlier, students started to lose interest in their climate change "solution projects" because a history teacher "was showing them YouTube videos alleging that global warming was a hoax...."

And yet, Worth writes, "the more that scientists have studied a link between human industry and global temperatures, the more unambiguous they have found it." 

Her report explains how "climate deniers" create "climate doubters" among the general public in a striking parallel with tobacco industry tactics. She is frank in her reporting that climate scientists don't know everything, and she interviews climate skeptics and fossil fuel advocates. 

But the bottom line is that climate change is falsely presented as a debate, as if coming from "legitimate scientific disagreement."

In 2019, Paradise Intermediate seventh-grader Nakowa Kelley said in Marc Kessler's science class: "This global warming stuff? My parents said it's not true." With care and attention, Kessler tells Worth he helps students search for the truth, but it is a challenge. 

The previous November Nakowa's house disappeared in the Camp Fire.

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

"Follow The Crypto"

Retired Chico State dean Stephen W. King (swkingbooks.com) has just published the second novel in the Lucas Bitterman series, and it takes up King's interest in the new world of cryptocurrency. 

Luke, a member of the Secret Service, finds that, after an earthquake in Bellingham, Washington, he must "Follow The Crypto" ($18.99 in paperback from FriesenPress; also for Amazon Kindle). As the story unfolds, readers will learn not only about how Bitcoin works but why it's the favored monetary system for various nefarious doings and for avoiding taxes. That's because it's untraceable. Sort of. 

The earthquake doesn't cause much damage, except, as a news alert says, to "one side of a three-story downtown building." It falls nine feet into one of the old mining tunnels under Bellingham; nobody hurt, but investigators find strange things in condo 2A, where someone named George Kennedy lives. We're talking "digital wallets," code numbers, and cash. About $30,000.

George has made it known to local bank tellers to expect big deposits because he's a professional gambler. In actuality, of course, George is not; he's not even "George." But before he flees the area he wants to visit the bank one last time to retrieve "almost five pounds of gold bullion coins--about $150,000 worth of American Eagles and Canadian Maple Leafs."

Luke, serving as one of the Secret Service representatives on the government's Joint Task Force on cryptocurrency crimes, is soon involved in what is becoming a bigger case than one about a local con artist's bad luck. Staying with an old friend and his wife near Lake Whatcom, Luke unravels a drug smuggling scheme that stretches from Bellingham down the I-5 corridor all the way to Mexico.

Along the way we meet not only the corrupt officials running the operation but a greedy wannabe. And, after a killing, the question becomes whether the good guys' plot to catch the murderer will work. 

But there is more. Once motives have been revealed things get increasingly complicated and Luke wrestles with the "inherent tension between law enforcement and criminal justice." King is at his best in asking where justice may be found and, fortunately for readers, his answer is not encrypted.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

"Paradise Found: A High School Football Team's Rise From The Ashes"

Paradise High's junior safety Dylan Blood said it this way: "After all we've been through, we have each other's back in everything; we play for each other. It's win or death. If it wasn't for Paradise, none of us would be who we are. Paradise is something within each of us, and we're fighting for it together." 

It's the spirit of "CMF"--"Crazy Mountain Folk." And it's captured in a heart-rending new book by LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke. Reporting on the Bobcats' first football season after the Camp Fire, Plaschke entered the life and thoughts of Coach Rick Prinz, the coaching staff, athletic director Anne Stearns, the players, and those who cheered them on. 

"Paradise Found: A High School Football Team's Rise From The Ashes" ($28.99 in hardcover from William Morrow; also in audiobook and Amazon Kindle formats) reads like a cliff-hanging thriller--because it is.

Readers may know how the season ended, that cold (and rainy) dose of reality, but will not be prepared for the many stories of players and their coaches escaping the burning town and then living what came next: disruption, anger, questioning, and--commitment to football. It is enough to reduce a book columnist to a puddle of tears.

"'Football became the thing that bound the town together,' explained Jay Bell, athletic director at the high school from 1985 to 2004. 'Paradise is a different kind of town, and we had a different kind of football program.'"

On Thursday, November 8, 2018, coach Prinz texted team members at 8:10 a.m., confirming practice that afternoon at 3:00 p.m. unless the smoke got in their way. Little did he know.

Much later, after the season, at the banquet to honor the players, Prinz recalled that text. Then he said: "Eleven minutes later, we were running for our lives. These young men faced the reality of death. ... I could see the anguish and fear in my players' eyes. We didn't have a school, we didn't have a practice field, we didn't have cleats, we didn't even have a football!" But, of course, they had something else. 

You must read this book. Period.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. Send review requests to dbarnett99@me.com. Columns archived at https://dielbee.blogspot.com

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

"I Lift My Eyes To The Hills: God's Help In Times Of Trouble"

Back in 1983, when Stephen Payne was going to Chico State, he and a friend, he told me in an email, "decided on a lark to build a raft out of inner tubes and plywood and float down the Sacramento River for two days." Aside from almost capsizing in a patch of whitewater, they made it, a cause for thanksgiving. 

Now living with his wife, Laura, in Southern Oregon (with an uncle and aunt in Orland), Payne finds continuing reasons for thanksgiving, not least of which is Laura surviving stage-4 melanoma. Yet, as a Christian, he recognizes that "in the midst of the storm, when all had seemed bleak, it was not easy for me to remain grateful to God." 

He found comfort in the Psalms which provide assurance that "the Lord will watch over your coming and going, both now and forevermore." Thus, "whether he answers as we hope or not, he is still faithful, and he is still good."

That conviction is expressed in his coffee-table book "I Lift My Eyes To The Hills: God's Help In Times Of Trouble" ($19.99 in hardcover, self-published, available at www.liftmyeyestothehills.com), featuring his stunning full-color photographs of the natural world (and its people), all set within the context of the Psalms of thanksgiving.

Ten chapters each focus on a verse, such as Psalm 96:12, "let all the trees of the forest sing for joy." Payne presents a brief exposition; a set of his glorious images taken in Oregon, California, and around the world; his own accounts of nearly capsizing as he faces metaphorical whitewater; and chapter discussion questions.

He and Laura spent a decade with Wycliffe Bible Translators translating the New Testament for the Kwatay people in Senegal; Steve now trains national translators. Through it all he continues his love of photography. 

Tourists snap the sunset's "burst of color" and then leave, but with patience the photographer begins to see "the high clouds overhead start to glow with the pastel shades of alpenglow." That, he writes, is like committed love, for God or one's spouse: "enduring, soft, tender, and patient," even in the midst of rapids.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

"Rickety Stitch And The Gelatinous Goo: The Battle Of The Bards"

"Listen," the living skeleton says to encourage the lovely Canta in a new graphic novel, "You don't need a big audience to sing. You don't need adoring fans or chests of gold. And you don't need approval from anyone. You just need the music. ... We sing because we love to. The melodies, the stories ... they inspire us."

The skeleton, along with his sidekick, a talking hunk of gelatin, and a group of oddball friends, have journeyed far to the city of Harp's Edge, there to join in a great music competition that will, in an unexpected way, bring down the house. 

"Rickety Stitch And The Gelatinous Goo: The Battle Of The Bards" ($16.99 in paperback from Knopf Books for Young Readers; also for Amazon Kindle), illustrated by Ben Costa, and created and written by Costa and James Parks, is the third outing for Rickety and company.

Book 1 of "Rickety Stitch And The Gelatinous Goo" set our heroes on "The Road To Epoli"; Book 2 saw them on "The Middle-Route Run." For Costa and Parks, both from the Bay Area, Rickety's stories are part of a larger universe, the Land of Eem. Readers coming first to Book 3 will miss the backstory, but there's plenty of action--and poignant betrayal--to keep teens and adults mesmerized.

Rickety desperately wants to find out who he is, and his purpose. He comes from an earlier time, never co-opted by the again-resurgent Gloom King; as one character puts it, he's "the undying ember of a golden age that has been all but forgotten." 

Throughout the story, there are flashes of that reality, and oh, the song: "What Once Has Been, Again Shall Be," written by Costa and Parks, and sung by former Chicoan, and now Oaklander, Evin Wolverton, who co-wrote the lyrics (listen at RicketyStitch.com). Wolverton performed in several E-R Sessions, back before the Plague.

Outcasts and outsiders find courage together. As the song says, "For every sorry heart, we'll lift each other/ For every crashing wave, we'll brave the sea." Though a deep sorrow has come upon the world, Rickety's antics will keep readers in stitches.

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

"Letters From A Korean Foxhole: Remembered Words Of A Forgotten War"

Elizabeth Venturini writes that when her dad, Louis Joseph Venturini, "turned 20 years old in December 1950 ... it was his turn to go and serve his country." Six months earlier "75,000 soldiers from the North Korean People's Army poured across the 38th Parallel, the boundary between the Soviet-backed Democratic People's Republic of Korea to the north, and the pro-Western Republic of Korea to the south."

Louie was "honorably discharged from the Army in October 1952" after serving in Korea and being severely wounded by grenade shrapnel. His almost daily letters home revealed few details of his experiences in-country, and when he returned he had terrible nightmares for a time and "wanted to forget what had happened."

He married in 1954 and after a few years, as the family grew, they moved to Chico from Los Angeles. Here Louie farmed almonds and prunes and, as "a licensed building and plumbing contractor, he established ... the L-V Plumbing Company."

Later, as Elizabeth read the hundreds of letters her dad had sent home, "I realized they would tell the story of the Korean War as he experienced it in 1951, not as portrayed by the Hollywood genre of films." He was "uprooted from his civilian life and home like thousands of other young men, to serve in a country no one had heard of, for people no one knew, and for a war nobody understood."

Those letters, including family photographs and careful notes Elizabeth adds for context, have become "Letters From A Korean Foxhole: Remembered Words Of A Forgotten War" ($14.95 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle with more at lettersfromakoreanfoxhole.com).

Most begin with "Dear Folks, Just a couple of lines to let you know that I am okay and hope you are all the same." Louie seems much more concerned with the well-being of those at home, and acknowledging salami Elizabeth's grandmother would send, than with the military challenges he faced. 

Poignantly, Elizabeth adds comments made seventy years later when she interviewed her dad. 

"A lot of good men died over there," he told her. "A lot of my buddies. Not much to say about that."

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

"A Carnival Of Snackery: Diaries (2003-2020)"

The Chico Performances page (chicoperformances.com/artists/2021-2022/david-sedaris.php) calls David Sedaris "author and humorist savant." His recent appearance at Chico State's Laxson Auditorium comes in the wake of his second volume of diary entries.

"A Carnival Of Snackery: Diaries (2003-2020)" ($32 in hardcover from Little, Brown; also for Amazon Kindle) takes its main title from the menu offering of an Indian restaurant in London. It's fitting, of course, for the hundreds of entries that range from poignant (the death of a sister, the dementia of his long-time agent) to preposterous (the lengths some people go to avoid any plopping sound when they use public toilets).

Some of the entries are just jokes, since Sedaris spends multiple hours signing books and hearing the latest funnies--most often of a scatological nature. Not to be outdone, he and his partner, painter and set designer Hugh Hamrick, after noticing some fresh manure spread on a nearby mansion's lawn, decided to call it "The House at Poo Corner."

Sedaris is not a conservative Republican (though his dad, in his nineties, is). "Trump won, and I'm in shock. Here it is, not even eight, and already three American friends have written to ask if they can live in our backyard in Sussex." But mostly he steers away from politics, picking up on human foibles he encounters at his readings all over the world.

Speaking of picking up, he has a few foibles of his own. His obsession is garbage; he constantly picks up litter wherever he goes (and has a garbage truck named after him, as well as a beetle, named by "a Greek entomologist in Tennessee"; "the Darwinilus sedarisi is a predator that eats maggots").

"I met a guy last night who stays home all day while his wife works. 'I'm living off the sweat of my Frau,' he said." Sedaris suggests a boat be named "Row v. Wave." "A bear and a pony go to a karaoke bar. 'Why don't you sing?' asks the bear, and the pony explains he's a little horse."

Sedaris' non-sequitur life is filled with profanely hilarious observations, a needed seltzer when life seems a pile of poo.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

"Exploring Intercultural Communication"

Butte College Communication Studies instructor Tom Grothe (pronounced "gro-tay") spent pandemic lockdown time writing a textbook about the pleasures and pitfalls of communicating across cultures. What's more, he's made it free to the public.

"Exploring Intercultural Communication" (published by LibreTexts, free at bit.ly/3mc3DnZ) is accessible as web pages or a PDF. In ten chapters Grothe moves from the "what is it" to the "how to do it," offering fascinating insights along the way.

For example, Grothe reminds us two words with same dictionary definition may be used differently in different cultures and even within a culture. "The word 'amigo' in Spanish is equivalent of the word 'friend' in English, but the relationships described by that word can be quite different. During my travels in Guatemala, I experienced 'hola amigo' as a common greeting, even among strangers. Just as in English, a Facebook 'friend' is quite different from a childhood 'friend.'"

Or take the offer of coffee. In some cultures, that means the host is suggesting guests stay a bit longer. In other cultures, "an offer of coffee after a meal is generally recognized as a polite way to indicate to the guests that they ought to leave soon." It's easy to think one's own cultural tradition is the way everyone does it. (Not true, of course, as the section on what counts as an obscene gesture demonstrates.)

Defining culture itself is notoriously difficult, in part because scholars no longer see it as something fixed. Culture "is influenced by historical, social, political, and economic conditions." Older books about the cultural norms of South Korea, for instance, are likely significantly out of date.

Grothe writes from an inclusive perspective, bringing non-Western and indigenous research to bear on examining the "power structures" inherent in cultural assumptions. From the experience of migration and identity to racism, privilege and stereotyping, the book does not shy away from considering, in a calm and reflective manner, some of the most divisive issues of our time.

Sections on intercultural conflict management, romantic relationships, communicating with people with disabilities and nonverbal communication all provide a comprehensive but friendly guide to the diversity--and ambiguity--of human interaction.

Tom, would you like some coffee?

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

"Where The Light Fell: A Memoir"

Ten years ago author Philip Yancey spoke at the El Rey in Chico, part of a series of talks sponsored by Bidwell Presbyterian Church. The best-selling author of  "What's So Amazing About Grace?", Yancey chronicles how "God chooses to make himself known primarily through ordinary people like us."

Now comes autobiography, a "prequel" to his other books. "Where The Light Fell: A Memoir" ($28 in hardcover from Convergent Books; also for Amazon Kindle) focuses on his early life through college days, a stunning tale of growing up in Georgia, of racism and white poverty, and of a mother visiting her own dashed dreams onto her two sons--with irreparable harm.

In 2007, in the aftermath of a life-threatening car accident, Yancey thinks that "in the face of death, old fears would come surging back. An upbringing under a wrathful God does not easily fade away. Instead," he says, "I experienced an unexpected serenity. I had an overwhelming sense of trust, for I now knew a God of compassion and mercy."

It wasn't always so. A year after his birth in 1949 his father, convinced God would heal him, succumbs to polio. Mother (that's what she wanted to be called) dedicates Philip and his older brother, Marshall, to become missionaries, a dream she and her late husband would never fulfill. "My brother and I are the atonement to compensate for a fatal error in belief."

Raised in fundamentalism, Philip and Marshall learn how to move audiences with tearful testimonies even as they imbibe racism. Over time Marshall is estranged from Mother, trying out new lifestyles every week, buying into hippie and drug culture, and Philip becomes the sneak and "trickster." 

"Like Marshall, I fully expected God to crush me someday--the threat Mother held over us. Yet from the Bible I am learning about a God who has a soft spot for rebels...."

Life is like a jigsaw puzzle, Yancey writes. "Only over time does a meaningful pattern emerge. ... In retrospect, it seems clear to me that my two life themes, which surface in all my books, are suffering and grace." Readers will find both in abundance in Yancey's unforgettable story.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

"Tiger Mom Wisdom: U.S. College Admissions Success Through Creativity, Character, And Community"

With a business degree from Chico State, an MBA from Pepperdine, and her College Counseling Certificate from UCLA, Elizabeth Venturini advises Chinese and American parents on how to get their student into prestigious American universities. 

Her advice is distilled in a comprehensive new guide called "Tiger Mom Wisdom: U.S. College Admissions Success Through Creativity, Character, And Community" ($16.99 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle). "Tiger Moms are the ones who run the household, take care of the kids, and supervise their children's education and extracurricular activities." They've been frustrated with China's "intensely competitive education system, where students can have their entire future determined by a single college admissions exam--the Gaokao."

And so Tiger Moms look to the U.S. American moms are more flexible regarding higher education and value creativity. By contrast, Tiger Moms believe in "academic discipline," that "the right degree from a prestigious school is ... one of the main factors determining a student's future economic and social standing." Venturini, in her book and website (collegecareerresults.com), blends the two perspectives. Prestige is important, but so is realism about the student's "inner spirit."

Her primary audience is Tiger Moms wanting to know what they can do to prepare their student for life in America. They should have encouraged their student early on to explore careers, think about their own talents, what they want to do with their degree, and "develop personal traits such as creativity, character, and community--all in anticipation of presenting them on their résumé for any future opportunity."

But if that hasn't already happened, Venturini has detailed guidance on what to do in this era of Covid, online learning, and in the wake of the Operation Varsity Blues admissions scandal. From boarding schools to how to write a good college essay (it's not enough to come across as smart; one must strive for "unique"), to community service, to what to do when the school says "yes" (or "no")--it's all there. She covers art, music, and film schools, athletics, paying for school, and college etiquette ("the art of charm").

In the end, she writes, "We are a Tiger Mom sisterhood!"

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

"Witness: Hearing The Voice Of God: A Spiritual Autobiography"

Chicoan Terry Hunt remembers being at the hospital bedside of a woman who had come to his talks at St. John's Episcopal Church. Dying, she didn't know what to do. "Maybe," Hunt said to her, "it is just like being born: there is nothing you have to do." Then he added: "Actually there is one thing you can do when it is your time to die, you can watch for Jesus and when He comes you follow him."

And then Hunt thanked her for trusting him "because you thought I might have a connection with God. I have wanted so deeply to be His priest, and you have recognized me as His man. Many others have not. Do you see now what a great gift you have given me?"

This spiritual longing suffuses "Witness: Hearing The Voice Of God: A Spiritual Autobiography" ($17 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle). The book is at times shockingly confessional as Hunt, now in his eighties, recounts his ordination as an Episcopal priest and the rocky relationships at the churches he served; business choices that went south; the painful ending of his official priesthood; and the divorce from his first wife.

Through it all, God was speaking "through events, or through the voice of friends, and sometimes enemies; through dreams, and other strange and luminous metaphors; and I mean He sometimes spoke in a quiet voice: one I heard, not with my ears, but in my mind." But though these "messages were not always easy to recognize or decipher," Hunt calls such moments "spiritual seeds," "opportunities to become more fully self-aware and responsible beings."

Married to Carol Jean since 1975, the couple since 1990 a fixture in Chico, Hunt has found that self-awareness can come powerfully through writing. Teaching workshops in spiritual autobiography, he has invited others to discover God's presence.

A series of epiphanies in Hunt's life (one with rattlesnakes) revealed his deep anger (especially at his father), showing him the wilderness he must go through in following Jesus. It's the way of becoming a disciple, "recruiting people to the union," to "spiritual transformation." 

And, for Hunt, the journey continues.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

"An Incredible Journey: From A Barcelona Eighth Grade Dropout To An American University Presidency"

In 1993, Chico Enterprise-Record reporter Larry Mitchell, in his profile of one of the candidates to succeed Robin Wilson for the Chico State presidency, wrote: "No one in Manuel Esteban's high school graduating class ever predicted he'd be in the running to become a university president. That's because Esteban had no graduating class. He never attended high school."

"Who could have imagined?" writes Emeritus Professor of Sociology Walt Schafer in his foreword to Esteban's newly published autobiography. They became close friends during Esteban's decade-long presidency.

Later, Esteban and wife Gloria moved from Chico to Santa Barbara and eventually to Academy Village in Tucson, where he completed his memoir.

"An Incredible Journey: From A Barcelona Eighth Grade Dropout To An American University Presidency" ($14.50 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle) is a chronological account mostly focused on Esteban's academic development, guided especially by his younger brother, Julio, who tutored him for the high school equivalency exams.

He rose in academic accomplishments, living in France, Canada, and the U.S., becoming a tenured professor and then an administrator. 

The last half of the book is devoted to Esteban's Chico State presidency and his efforts to move away from the party school image, instituting a speaker series featuring seven Nobel Prize winners and reaching out to the community to restore town-gown relations. At first Esteban the new president was the toast of Chico, but "then I made a very stupid mistake" complaining about being the lowest paid CSU President. 

That set off a firestorm of criticism, especially in the Chico Enterprise-Record. History Professor Joe Conlin became his bête noir, and Esteban's account reveals his own thinking in response to what one reporter called Conlin's "witty excesses."

Yet as the years passed even partisan media grew in respect for Esteban's efforts. In "lessons learned," he writes that "even if you are convinced that yours is the right action to take, you are never certain that those you are expected to lead will follow you." So, he writes, "take time to listen, learn, consult, and build alliances."

Wise words from a kid uninterested in school. Who could have imagined?

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

"There There: A Novel"

Native Americans came to the city, novelist Tommy Orange writes, "to start over, to make money, or for a new experience. Some of us came to cities to escape the reservation." They became Urban Indians.

In his teens Orange wanted to tell their story--and now he has. An enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, he was born and raised in Oakland and that's the locale of "There There: A Novel" ($16 in paperback from Vintage; also for Amazon Kindle). 

At first the title sounds soothing, offering comfort. But the words are those of Gertrude Stein, who grew up in Oakland but found later so much change had taken place there was no longer any "there there."

For one of Orange's characters, also born and raised in Oakland, the quote embodies reality; "for Native people in this country, all over the Americas, it's been developed over, buried ancestral land, glass and concrete and wire and steel, unreturnable covered memory. There is no there there."

"There There" is the Book In Common for 2021-2022, adopted by Butte College (butte.edu/bic), Chico State (csuchico.edu/bic), Butte County libraries, the City of Chico, and other organizations.

Before tracing the intertwining lives of a dozen main characters, all headed to the grand powwow at the Oakland Coliseum--and a violent ending, Orange in his Prologue details not only historical massacres of Native peoples, but how their faces have been appropriated. 

"Our heads are on flags, jerseys, and coins. Our heads were on the penny first, of course, the Indian cent, and then on the buffalo nickel, both before we could even vote as a people--which, like the truth of what happened in history all over the world, and like all that spilled blood from slaughter, are now out of circulation."

Dene Oxendene, filmmaker, mirrors Orange's boyhood dream of recording the stories of Urban Indians; Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield spends part of her life on Alcatraz during the Native American occupation; drug dealer Octavio looks for easy pickings at the powwow. A character writes: "It's anyone's guess what's gonna happen." 

What does happen is heartbreaking; yet, inescapably, the Urban Indian is no longer faceless.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

"Christ's Emperor: A Novel Of Theodosius The Great And The Triumph Of Christianity"

Retired Butte College administrator Les Jauron reaches back in history for his debut novel about the last Roman emperor to rule the entire Empire. 

"Christ's Emperor: A Novel Of Theodosius The Great And The Triumph Of Christianity" (self-published for Amazon Kindle), focuses on Theodosius' rule from 379-395 AD, especially his military planning and exploits and his attempt to bring Trinitarian (Nicene) Christianity to the Eastern Empire (which received plenty of pushback from Arian Christians and pagan Senators). 

Jauron, a West Point grad and retired military officer, writes in a notes section that "one of my primary motivations with this novel was to understand why Theodosius made the decisions he did." Sometimes he has to make alliance with the invading Goths to ward off other invaders; at other times he fights his cousin when he attempts to usurp the throne.

Most notable is Theodosius' relationship with Bishop Ambrose, whose authority over the Nicene Christians presents a formidable hurdle to any rapprochement with Arians (who believed there was a time "when the Father existed and the Son did not") and pagans. If Emperor Constantine had made Christianity legal in the Empire, Theodosius' hand is forced to make all other religions effectively illegal in the Empire.

Though throughout the novel a good number of severed heads of enemies and betrayers are delivered to Theodosius and others, Jauron is more interested in battle strategies; the letters that fly as fast as horses between various co-emperors; and in the excruciating decisions Theodosius must make to preserve his family dynasty and ensure Ambrose's favor.

Timasius, one of Theodosius' trusted commanders, confronts the Emperor after he defers to Ambrose in not punishing those who destroyed a synagogue. Theodosius replies: "To accomplish my objective to make Christianity the unifying force in the Empire, I need Ambrose and I don't need the Jews. So, the Jews get screwed, I look weak, and Ambrose looks like a hero. It genuinely sucks.... our world is not fair, it is not just, it just is. I have to accept this to be an effective ruler."

Much to ponder in this long novel about ends and means.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

"The Wildflowers Of Bidwell Park"

Renowned science educators Roger Lederer and artist-wife Carol Burr have the dirt on Bidwell Park. Or, more to the point, what grows out of that dirt. Their new collaboration is called "The Wildflowers Of Bidwell Park" ($24.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing, available locally from Magna Carta, Mangrove Gift and Garden, ABC Books, the Bookstore downtown, Bird in Hand, and Made in Chico).

Earlier volumes include "The Birds Of Bidwell Park" and "The Trees Of Bidwell Park," but this project was a long time in coming. After consulting with local botanists, Lederer and Burr narrowed the list of some 800 flowering plants in the park down to 112 to illustrate, though more than twice that number are given a nod or a description.

Defining "wildflowers" as "typically short, showy, herbaceous and mainly annual plants" (including those accidentally or intentionally introduced), the book presents on each page a colorful illustration, name, origin, size, where in the park the plant can be found, and some interesting observations and history. Organized by color, this is not a comprehensive field guide but rather a revel in the beautiful and bodacious flowering park.

It's clear that picking the flowers is prohibited by California law, so the health benefits often described (along with the sometimes poisonous effects) are not intended as a dinner menu. In fact, at least with one common weed in the park, "Handle the plant and you will never forget Milk Thistle." Though, the book ads, "its seeds have been used as a coffee substitute and are sold in health food stores" and the plant is the emblem of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Now the Perennial Sweet Pea: There are "4 species of pea in the park," often seen near Big Chico Creek. The Common Soap Plant "was used by indigenous Americans after being pounded and mixed with water, its soapy mixture used as a stupefying agent and placed into streams to stun and catch fish...." The seeds of the Shepherd's Purse "when placed in water, supposedly act as a sort of fly-paper for mosquitoes, reputedly attracting and trapping them."

The book will attract readers to marvel afresh at even the tiniest inhabitants of Bidwell Park.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

"What Became Of Little Jackie Smith?: A True Story Continued"

In 1950, a woman named Victoria jumped to her death from the top of the Security Bank Building in Fresno. For decades now her granddaughter, Vickie Smith Odabashian (after whom she is named), has been piecing together her story and that of her husband, Smitty, and their son Jackie Smith (Vickie's dad) and in so doing discovering her Armenian heritage kept hidden by Victoria's family.

Her dad reminded her of the fictional Andy Taylor of Mayberry, played by Andy Griffith: "Each was a lawman with uniforms similar in color and design, and both had a laid-back persona and a small-town approach to life." He worked in the Butte County Sheriff's Office, including as a detective and in search-and-rescue; some of his colleagues called him "Gentleman Jack."

But there is more to Jack's story, and until his death in 2012 he helped fill the gaps in what Vickie knew about her dad, including his traumatic childhood. Now the question can be answered: "What Became Of Little Jackie Smith?: A True Story Continued" ($15 in paperback from the Victoria Lazarian Heritage Association, available locally at the Cornucopia restaurant in Oroville; also for Amazon Kindle.)

Each chapter begins with "Little Jackie Smith Became..." followed by such titles as "An Astute Lawman"; "A Man of Principle"; and "Well-traveled." 

Something of an Oroville-based Forrest Gump figure, he met Ronald Reagan during the dedication of the Oroville Dam. Later in life, stepping away from local law enforcement, he became a Cleared American Guard after working in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska during the Exxon Valdez disaster. He was assigned to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, helping to protect the U.S. embassy there and then moved on to Moscow.

Vickie writes that reflecting on her dad's memorabilia, kept in his old Samsonite suitcase, "I realized that Little Jackie was not entirely left in childhood. ... I noticed it in the softening tone of my dad's voice in the mid-1990s when he first shared stories of his childhood with me for my college class assignment."

This is a quiet homage to a good man with a wide grin who faced so many challenges one could write a book about them.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

"Paradise: One Town's Struggle To Survive An American Wildfire"

The Chico Record called it "Paradise: The Town with a Future" on July 3, 1908. Now, rebuilding in the wake of devastation and contending with PTSD-inducing smoky skies, the future is decidedly mixed.

Former San Francisco Chronicle Journalist Lizzie Johnson, now with the Washington Post, embedded with some who survived the Camp Fire to produce an account of that harrowing day in November, 2018. Johnson's story, the fruit of 500 interviews, is unrivaled in its gripping emotional intensity, taking readers deeply into the lives of mostly working-class Ridge residents that fateful Thursday.

"Paradise: One Town's Struggle To Survive An American Wildfire" ($28 in hardcover from Crown; also for Amazon Kindle and in an author-read audiobook) bears witness, Johnson writes in the acknowledgements, "to the human cost of climate change.... I have hoped that my reporting would force others to heed the wildfire crisis unfolding in California. I have hoped that it would deeply honor fire victims...."

The book is divided into five parts (Kindling, Spark, Conflagration, Containment, and Ash), with an epilogue taking into account the September 2020 North Complex fire that "killed sixteen people and leveled the hamlets of Berry Creek and Feather Falls." 

Here are CalFire division chief John Messina, dispatcher Beth Bowersox, bus driver Kevin McKay, Heritage Paradise maintenance worker Jamie Mansanares and his and Erin's child Tezzrah, and Rachelle and Chris Sanders, and their newborn, Lincoln. Their stories, and others, told in astonishing detail, show courage and human frailty in the midst of a fire with a mind of its own. 

PG&E admitted culpability. The line broke on Tower 27 / 222, "the snapped cable flapping in the wind" because an old hook gave way. "Wind and weather had catalyzed its slow decay. It had been bought for 22 cents in 1919; a replacement hook in 2018 would have cost $19."

Those who attended the anniversary commemoration of the Camp Fire "thought of all the things they had lost: the Gold Nugget Museum, the Elks Lodge, Mendon's Nursery. The old Paradise sign topped by the bandsaw halo." Eighty-five lives.

This is stunning reporting, a chilling reminder of the continuing peril facing our beloved Ridge.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

"The Ruins Of Rough & Ready"

Northern California writer Clark Casey is no stranger to the Chico Nut Festival; he is, he says, "a bit of a nut nut." Which is good, since his new novel is just nuts. He plays it straight with historical reality--until about page 2.

The "historical" part comes in a short paragraph that sets things up. "Although there is some debate, the widely told story is that in 1849 a group of Wisconsin miners founded the town of Rough and Ready, California, which they proudly named after General Zachary 'Rough and Ready' Taylor. Shortly after, Zachary Taylor became president of the United States and passed a new tax on mining claims." 

Rough and Readians didn't take kindly to that idea and "voted to secede from the country and form their own independent republic. They remained a sovereign nation for nearly three months before voting to rejoin the union. There is no indication that the United States government ever knew of the secession."

So what happened between April 7 and July 4, 1850? Call it "The Ruins Of Rough & Ready" ($20.99 in paperback from White Bird Publications; also for Amazon Kindle; see clarkcasey.com).

The book is over-the-top funny and graphically violent, pretty much par for the curse in the Old West--the curse being gold-digging. Cue the get-rich-quickers. Thus, Rough and Ready, all men except for three women.

The only gatherin' spot in town is Lost Souls Church/Saloon (the reverend-barkeep forbids swearing). When Billy Fippin, the town drunk, discovers a huge gold boulder after an earthquake, it's clear the new tax will hit hard. Secession is the way out, and eventually Billy is elected President (after considerable squabbles among the bar's patrons, justice-served gunplay and a mountain of grief that lasts about a minute) with a rooster elected VP.

The question becomes how to get the huge nugget past the highwaymen and Alfred Slocum, who wants to plow under R&R since his dad owns the land. Time passes, and the reader is introduced to a host of oddballs, compelling back stories (the prissy reverend is not what he seems), and a plot so crazy it would have poor old Sisyphus LOLing.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

"Tongue In Chico: A Decade Of Merriment And Mayhem In A Town Near Normal"

C.L. Smith lives with his wife in California's wine country. When he graduated from Chico State in the late 1970s, he went into advertising and "played a key role in developing the iconic 'Don't Drip and Drive' and 'Can you hear me now?' ad campaigns for Winchell's and Verizon." 

But something kept nagging him (it wasn't his conscience, which would have had better sense). For three years in Chico he had written humor columns for Richard Peifer's Butte County Bugle and landed his work in other publications as well, and maybe it was time to revisit his college days. 

Teaming with designer/illustrator Randy Nowell, Smith and Nowell created an illustrated compendium (with new material too) designed to display something of the sexualized absurdity of those days. They call it "Tongue In Chico: A Decade Of Merriment And Mayhem In A Town Near Normal" ($7.49 in paperback from Tenderfoot Books and tongueinchico.com; also for Amazon Kindle). Think Mad Magazine. Only dirtier. As in lots of references to zucchini.

Smith recalls "the rollicking 1970s...when skinny-dippers ruled Upper Bidwell, the pot grown in the foothills sold for $6,000 a pound, and the mirrors of Craig Hall were lined with pure cocaine. And/or baby laxative."

Divided into four parts, Smith starts with Chico, then Santa Cruz (where he becomes managing editor of the alt weekly Good Times), then Orange County (where he meets lots of Hollywood celebs), and back to Chico with a naughty story of "The Legend of Calamity Jane and the Hooker Oak," involving Calamity and the Bidwells and it's a calamity alright.

"Confessions of a Parsley Grower" had me snickering. "How much is parsley going for on the black market?" Cohasset area grower: "We're getting anywhere from 15 to 35 cents a sprig now, depending on the strain and quality. More for heirloom."

Readers will find a day in the life of a perpetually horny Chico State student; "how to win big in strip volleyball"; and a "beginner's guide to common sexual terms." Think "not-quite-printable creative wordplay."

For those who want a narrow view of college life, this book will take your breadth away.

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

"The Case Of The Missing Game Warden: A Henry Glance Mystery"

Before December 13, 1956, life was good for Norm Bettis, a California Fish and Game Warden living in Gridley with his wife, Martha. Then, at sixty-two, with creaking bones, he confronts a group of bad guys involved in an illegal duck hunting operation. Prized ducks were hidden inside turkeys and sold to Bay Area restaurants so big-ticket customers could have duck dinners. 

It is pouring rain in the Gridley area on that fateful day when Bettis and his patrol car simply disappear. More than a decade passes, and the case grows cold.

So begins "The Case Of The Missing Game Warden: A Henry Glance Mystery" ($16.95 in paperback from Coffeetown Press; also for Amazon Kindle), the first novel by Steven T. Callan (steventcallan.com). The Redding-area resident spent his high school days in Orland, graduated from Chico State, then in Shasta County concluded a thirty-year career as a game warden.

His two previous non-fiction books include the award-winning "The Game Warden's Son" and "Badges, Bears, and Eagles: The True-Life Adventures of a California Fish and Game Warden." 

Now, in novelistic form, he turns his attention to a young Temecula man named Henry Glance, whose baseball-scholarship hopes are dashed in the late Sixties when his hand is injured in an accident. Stanford is out, but Chico State College beckons.

As a kid, Henry had stopped two goose poachers near his Southern California home and heard about Bettis' strange disappearance from the game warden who arrived. Eventually Henry himself becomes a warden, assigned to the Gridley area and Bettis' old territory. Blessed with good sense (and a photographic memory), the twenty-something warden is convinced he can solve the mystery and bring some closure to Martha.

Callan's story is a fascinating blend of detective work and chance encounters, and the kind of intuition needed to turn those encounters into actionable evidence. The issue is not so much whodunit but what it takes to convince a jury. The procedural aspects of the case illuminate the life of the warden set against a backdrop of 1970s Chico--and Gridley, where Henry and his bride live, ready to take on what comes next.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

"10 Years Of Spreading The Dirt!"

Remember when telephones had operators? Chicoan Dick Cory does. "Fern was the operator in our rural community of Alexandria, Nebraska, population around two hundred fifty in the late nineteen forties and fifties. She efficiently kept everyone in touch. Her knowledge of where people might 'hang-out' helped make connections when they couldn't be reached by phone. Ike Bowker and I were hired for a nickel to 'run them down' when an urgent call was waiting."

Cory is a retired junior high teacher, proponent of the revitalization of Teichert Ponds, and long-time columnist for a local seniors publication. The columns form the basis of a massive new collection called "10 Years Of Spreading The Dirt!" ($30, spiral-bound, self-published, available at Made in Chico or from the author at ubangarang@yahoo.com). 

The more than 130 pieces, including poetry, date from 2008 to 2017, dedicated to "Ruthie Crane and our collective merging families" and to "those directly affected by the Camp Fire of 2018." (A portion of the proceeds from the book and Crane's paintings will help the Covered Bridge restoration project.)

About his email address: "Most of my ex-students remember me as the chief preserver of the ficmythicus ubangarang," an endangered species (ahem) that has become his trademark.

About small town cafés: "Many of these rural communities have lost their newspaper.... Stories, gossip, and serious decisions are made hand-to-mouth (excuse the pun) at these cafés. These cafés take the place of town halls and civic centers."

Dirt (he loves dirt!) plays an active role in Cory's life. In the 1970s he created a company to do the dusty job of hand knocking almonds, calling it Knutes Kneighborly Knut Knockers. "Being too clean can be a sign of poor work habits." So there!

He closes the book with tributes to his mother and father. "I am thankful for being born to caring parents late in their lives at a time and place making me a member of the luckiest generation."

Like the telephone operator of old, Cory chases down memories and makes connections, bringing small-town wisdom and not necessarily politically correct observations to illuminate life in the twenty-first century. Readers will find him a genial companion.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

"The Illusionaires"

"As he passes through Redding he can still see them. The leftovers from his little outing. Blinking traffic signals, and darkened storefronts, and utility trucks on the move. He hadn't meant to cause this chaos. Hadn't known he even could. Only now is he feeling the ripples he'd left; the spoiled food, the fender benders, the missed appointments and disrupted lives."

Welcome to the alt history/fantasy world of "The Illusionaires" ($12 in paperback from missppelled press; also for Amazon Kindle) by Brian T. Marshall. For the Ridge-area writer the world in his newest novel is our own, the power outages real, save for their cause: magic. 

Marshall has crafted a world where spells work and magicians with various Talents (like the ability to conjure flying monkeys or mind-mess with electromagnetic radiation) are represented by the Sorcerers Guild. 

But the Guild is corrupt, and in 1938 stage magician Richard Constairs forsakes his dwindling audiences and travels to Hollywood, offering Louis B. Mayer his services as special effects wizard for a movie in production called The Wizard of Oz. Constairs wants to break the Guild's sweet deal with MGM by creating a new group called The Illusionaires.

Dangerous business indeed. There is a dark, perhaps unworldly, force behind the Guild, constantly seeking--something, and it's not pleased with Constairs. And how to bring together for the good of all a bunch of vain and self-promoting magicians who lie for a living?

Constairs is far from a model human himself. After a one-night-stand with his stage partner, knife-throwing Karla Livotski, he is befriended by Charlie, the Invisible Boy, goodness personified until Constairs' bumbling attempts to escape the bad guys causes Charlie to kill a man.

All of this has consequences as the lives of the characters intertwine. Over time, with "hoopla and hype," Constairs convinces the public "that magicians really could do just about anything. Cure cancer. Right wrongs. Get rid of that bathtub ring." But then--what really happens in the assassination of JFK? What happens to Apollo 11 as it heads for the moon?

And always that question: In order to fight Evil, must one become evil? In answer, Marshall the novelist offers a bravura performance.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

"Lulu! How Do You?"

When first we visited Lulu, her stomach ache (too much cake?) led to a strange dream in which she climbed inside herself and learned the outworkings of digestion, so to speak. She meets plenty of new friends along the way, all detailed in "Ewww! Lulu Meets The King Of Poo."

Now Lulu is back, a bit older, but even though she's tried to eat what's healthy she also gobbled a bunch of fluorescent gummy worms and now has a tummy ache. Since her earlier dream ended with a sneeze, she sneezes backwards ("Choo-Ah!") and she's back in dreamland where she meets her pal, Emily Enzyme. Her adventures play out in graphic novel format, for kids eight and above, courtesy of Chicoan Jan Condon and friends.

"Lulu! How Do You?" ($9.95 in paperback, self-published), is conceived and written by Janice Maximov Condon (janmaxcon.com), illustrated by Steve Ferchaud, with character design and production by Chris Ficken. The emphasis is on learning about gut microbes--and being kind to them. 

In Lulu's dream, all talk is in rhyme, not just some of the time. She meets Louie Liver, the "deliverer": "Those worms you ate at the end of your meal ... are not real food ... and not a good deal.... When you eat toxins what a risk it poses. It could make you ill from your head to your toeses."

Pammy Pancreas chimes in as do the Kidney brothers, Lefty and Righty ("we make your urine daily and nightly"). Ferchaud's colorful drawings show how everyone really likes what they're doing so long as they don't have to fight against the bad stuff, primarily sugary things, as Abby Acidophilus says ("If you eat lots of sweets, bad microbes attack us. They ruin our hula! They really do whack us"). 

What's good to eat? Fibrous veggies and fermented foods (yogurt, sauerkraut).

Condon writes in an author's note that she joined a Chico group following the nutrition principles of the Weston A. Price Foundation (westonaprice.org) "which changed the direction of my life." An occupational therapist, Condon has a "passion to share my knowledge of gut microbes and healthy food choices."

Right eating is, well, nothing to sneeze at.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

"Between Rock And Hard Places: A Mike McMahon Mystery"

Do you remember the Johnny Sands Band? Mid-70s? The "Time of Sands" CD? According to Chicoan Steve Metzger (who taught writing and literature for many years at Chico State and composition at Butte College), the band "was one of the country's most popular rock 'n' roll bands ... playing scorching southern rock a la Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers...." Johnny himself was a "brilliant songwriter and singer"--you don't remember?

Well, the story is all there in Metzger's new novel, "Between Rock And Hard Places: A Mike McMahon Mystery" ($15 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing, heidelberggraphics.com/Stansbury%20Publishing/between_rock_ord.htm; also for Amazon Kindle).

McMahon remembers; after all, aside from being a private investigator, these days he teaches rock 'n' roll history at Marin Community College. He has an on-again, off-again relationship with Becka Goldberg, who teaches Anglo-Saxon lit at SF State, and he is apt to evidence his love of wordplay at inappropriate times, but otherwise he is busy narrating the novel, minding his own business (actually, his job is minding other people's business, but that is to get ahead of ourselves), when Jimmy Rooney's recent widow pays him a visit.

Jimmy was the band's drummer; he'd been working on a tell-all book about the group when, on his way to deliver the finished manuscript to the post office, he suffered a cardiac arrest and drove off a cliff and died. Authorities chalked it up as an accident, but Sarah Rooney, now in her mid-sixties, is convinced it was murder. After all, Jimmy's office computer, with an electronic copy, had been stolen. 

What was in that book?

What follows is McMahon's unraveling of what turns out to be a twisted plot stretching all the way back to the band's demise when Johnny is killed in a plane crash on July 16, 1976 after a concert that very night. Along the way we observe McMahon's penchant for Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, his meeting with others associated with the band and its money, and the threat to his own life. 

The fun never ends, especially with a narrator who uses "lots of sentence fragments. Effectively. If sometimes unnecessarily."

It's necessary. Summer. Reading.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

"The Execution Of Admiral John Byng As A Microhistory Of Eighteenth-Century Britain"

In 1757, British Admiral John Byng was executed by firing squad after the island of Minorca, in the western Mediterranean, was lost to the French a year earlier at the start of the Seven Years' War. Why did his command fail? Was Byng a coward in battle? Was he treasonous? 

It turns out that Byng, in spite of his distinguished naval career, was executed for the "crime" of, well, not trying hard enough. 

For Navy veteran and Butte College history instructor Joseph Krulder such a fate demands fuller explanation than that offered by conventional military and political accounts. Using "microhistory," he delves into the social, cultural and economic backdrop to the "Byng affair" "with a very small time frame over a very wide region."

The resultant study breaks new ground in showing how cultural forces were manipulated by political elites to cast Byng as "an emblem of cowardice and treason despite the ample evidence that says otherwise...." In short, Byng was the fall guy.

"The Execution Of Admiral John Byng As A Microhistory Of Eighteenth-Century Britain" ($160 in hardcover from Routledge; also for Amazon Kindle) is a scholarly work yet highly accessible. 

Chapters explore the shaping of public opinion, such as the use of ballads, by Byng himself as well as his enemies, "to generate and guide public sentiment concerning the political crisis caused by Minorca's loss."

Newspapers presented partisan versions of Byng's story. The monetary costs of processing sea vessels captured by the Royal Navy may have (ironically) prevented Byng's fleet from being fully outfitted. Sailors brought aboard from inland towns spread sickness. 

In a story untold until now, Krulder traces anti-Byng sentiment expressed in sermons. There were food shortages in 1755-1756, anti-Byng "riots" portrayed as violent, and competing trading interests around the world diverting attention and undermining the idea of British nationalism and the empire's purported invincibility. Krulder concludes Parliament's inquiry into Minorca's loss had a "scripted outcome." 

His final chapter notes that political and social machinations are not unknown in the modern U.S. Navy, suggesting that a story seemingly so far removed from us is a cautionary tale for today as well.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

"Traveling The World With Hemingway"

When Curtis DeBerg retired from Chico State as a business professor in 2020, he had already been bitten by the Hemingway bug. It was less about Illinois-born Ernest Hemingway the Nobel laureate in literature (he was awarded the prize in 1954) and more, much more, about the places he lived that shaped him even as he shaped them.

"I tracked, trudged, limped, drank and slept at the places that were meaningful in his life--from Oak Park to Petoskey, from Paris to Pamplona, from Madrid to Venice, from Bimini to Uganda, from Montreux to Schruns, from Rapallo to Santiago de Compostela." DeBerg adds: "I wanted to 'feel' where he lived, read, wrote, ate, drank, fished, hunted, fought, loved and died."

Drawing on archival and contemporary photographs, and partnering with publisher Tom Pero, who provided images from previous visits to the Hemingway residence outside Havana, Cuba when travel became impossible because of the pandemic, DeBerg has created a feast for the eyes--and food for thought.

"Traveling The World With Hemingway" ($75 in hardcover from Wild River Press, wildriverpress.com) is a spatial, not chronological guide, to Hemingway places, including Ketchum, Idaho, with his fourth wife, Mary, where, paranoid, drinking excessively, Hemingway killed himself with a double-barreled, 12-gauge shotgun on July 2, 1961. He was 61.

DeBerg's book is not hagiography; early on, as an ambulance driver at the Italian Front in World War I, Hemingway "wasn't yet 19 years old, and he was dying to be a hero, even if it was of his own fiction." A serial womanizer, emotionally abusive to his wives, he always seemed to have someone new in the wings when his marriages deteriorated. He cultivated the larger-than-life masculine image portrayed in press accounts. He popularized bullfighting, though "Hemingway came to regret how he, almost singlehandedly, brought Pamplona to world fame." (Too many tourists.)

DeBerg mixes history with travelogue, and each page in his gorgeous coffee-table book is a wonder, unpacking details of Hemingway's life (like the series of concussions he suffered and his insatiable appetite for alcohol) that dig beneath the hype to show a very troubled man, searching for happiness, who changed the shape of American literature.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

"Clyde's Happy Tails: The Adventures Of Clyde The Rescue Cat"

Chicoan Sarah Downs is a cat rescuer, co-founder of the Neighborhood Cat Advocates (catadvocatestnr.org) which focuses on trapping, neutering, and returning feral cats or cats with no owner (with a caretaker assigned to feed them). 

Her children's book, begun as a tribute to her father, is now part of a fundraising effort to make it possible for her to relocate sixteen or seventeen feral cats living on the Marigold side of the Pleasant Valley High School campus (see @pvcatrelocationproject on Facebook for details).

"Clyde's Happy Tails: The Adventures Of Clyde The Rescue Cat" ($15.99 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle) is a sweet story with full-color illustrations by the inimitable Steve Ferchaud. (Search for "Clyde's Happy Tails by Sarah Downs" on Amazon to avoid being directed to books with "happy trails" in their titles.)

Clyde, we are told, "was found as a wee little kitten, lost and alone in a field." But a caring family brought him home, and when the tuxedo cat was old enough "he started his life full of adventure." That means he went outside.

"One day, Clyde was patrolling the neighborhood, you know, to make sure there was no riff-raff going on. Clyde hopped a fence a found he had a new neighbor. A dog!! But, the dog was tied up to a tree."

Ever inquisitive, Clyde wants to know the dog's name, but all he gets in return is a gruff "leave me alone!" He adds, menacingly, "Can't you see I'm a bad dog?" After all, he tells Clyde, he barks at strangers and was taken outside and tied to a tree. He must be bad, right?

"Clyde replied, 'Well, I don't think you're a Bad Dog. You didn't bark at me, and I'm a stranger!" That sets the dog (whose name is Petey) to thinking he's not so bad after all, and sets Clyde to thinking of a way to free Petey. It involves all the neighborhood cats working together, but they get the job done.

Clyde isn't finished. He introduces Petey to Joey, a neighborhood boy, who in turn takes Petey to meet Grandpa Tom. 

It's a perfect match.

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

"Able To Be Otherwise"

"Now, when I drive through Paradise with my family nearly two years after the fire," Anna Lenaker writes in her compelling memoir, "I see the charred marks the fire left in its wake all around. But I also see the frames of new houses being built...." Yes, "life is returning ... but it is a slow and painful effort--just as it is with grieving."

Lenaker faces great grief in her own life, enough almost to still her breath permanently. Yet through others' compassion, especially from her older brother Jay and his wife Teressa, girded with an inner tenacity, she is not only the homeless kid who sold her toys on the streets of Tijuana, which helped her mom buy drugs, but the adult who graduated from Brown University by way of Chico's Inspire School of Arts and Sciences and Chico State. Mind-blowing.

"Able To Be Otherwise" ($17.99 in paperback from New Degree Press; also for Amazon Kindle) weaves Lenaker's personal story with a vision of a world better addressing the triple crises of poverty, opioid addiction and climate change. "Each time we dare to acknowledge that things are able to be otherwise," she writes, "we move toward a world where everyone can breathe deeper." 

Haunted by "imposter syndrome" at Brown ("what am I doing here among all these smart people?"), her interest in philosophy, theology and public policy blossoms. After a year abroad in England studying at Pembroke College in Oxford, she graduates with a BA in Religious Studies and a Master's in Public Affairs. 

Her love of learning hearkens back to fifth grade as she settles in with Jay and Teressa (eventually moving to Magalia).

The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard's notion of a "leap of faith" shapes her life's mission of removing the stigmas around what seem to be intractable challenges, "to be willing to imagine radical alternatives to the present moment.... Believing in the possibility of change is sufficient justification for continuing to take on problems as daunting as poverty, addiction, and climate change." 

Lenaker invites the reader to "take the leap" as well; one day it will enable the world to breathe, even as her story takes your breath away.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

"Municipal Larceny vs. Steve The Barber: History, Humor, Hometown Politics"

"I am now in my sixtieth year of standing behind the iron chair," writes Oroville barber Steve Christensen. He adds: "After eight weeks of social distancing because of Covid-19, I decided to try my hand at writing a book."

The result is a compendium of Oroville and personal history, barbershop wisdom, and stories of Christensen's political involvement as a kind of local government gadfly. 

In his estimation local government needs reining in from illegal property grabs which are detailed in "Municipal Larceny vs. Steve The Barber: History, Humor, Hometown Politics" ($14.99 in paperback from BookBaby; also for Amazon Kindle). "Opinions of the author," he writes, "are based on observations and occurrences.... Probably, a few times, the secret agreements which were not intended for public consumption were accidentally leaked within earshot of the barber chair."

Two themes stand out. In the midst of appearing in front of the Oroville City Council, letters to the editor (some containing "a little barb"), lots of research, and the fight over the Utility Users Tax and other issues, Christensen comes across as good natured, convinced but open to being convinced. 

The second theme is Christensen's resistance to the city charging for services its employees would perform in the line of duty anyway. Back in 2012, he writes, "I did not know that if an on-duty fireman conducted an inspection at a business, the City had the option to charge that business for the time the fireman spent performing his task."

"My logic told me if the fireman was responding to an emergency, conducting an inspection, washing a fire truck, working out in the gym, or relaxing in the city hammock while on duty, his pay was exactly the same.... The fee money derived for the fireman's time spent does not go to the fireman, it is extra money for the city. I called it Municipal Larceny."

Christensen has survived, and so has his beloved Oroville. He notes that "the first thing they teach you in Barber College is to never say whoops." Readers might infer that if a few more city officials had said it, the book would have been much shorter.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021


Chicoan Mike Paull, a retired dentist and licensed pilot, is the author of a trio of mysteries featuring Bret Raven, who just happens to be a dentist and licensed pilot. In his new book he's crafted an international spy thriller that takes the reader into Iraq just after the death of Saddam Hussein on December 30, 2006. A small group of Americans from "the Agency" has a lead on the rumored gold hoarded by Saddam and now hidden--somewhere.

"Missing" ($15.95 in paperback from Wings ePress, Inc.; also for Amazon Kindle) tells the tale mostly through the eyes of forty-something flawed family man Craig Cooper, who lives with his wife, Fran, and their ten-year-old son Josh in Virginia. "Coop," as he is known, struggles to be a good dad and husband, forever promising to give up his dangerous missions yet being sucked back into them, even after the Iraq gold quest goes terribly wrong.

Coop and Randy Nichols ("the station chief for the American Intelligence unit in Baghdad"), along with an interpreter, meet a mysterious man named Mustafa in Sadr City ("the body bag capital of Iraq"), who may know something about the gold. But then a sniper kills Mustafa and Coop is shot in the back. "He reached around to tug at his shirt; it was wet and sticky. ... He dropped to his knees, looked at his blood-soaked hand and fell face down in the dirt."

Yet Coop survives. Ten months later, back at the Agency, Randy, now Deputy Director, is pressured to assign a reluctant Coop to revisit the failed mission. Josh is crestfallen; it's the last straw for Fran; and truth to tell Coop has a score to settle with whomever tried to kill him in Iraq.

Coop's small team includes Zoe Fields, in her early forties with "the angelic look of a college-girl, but underneath it she was as tough as nails."

She will need to be; both of their lives are threatened as they unravel the mystery and confront unexpected treachery. It's a nail-biter with the stakes ramping up from chapter to chapter as the two discover far more than they bargained for. 

Get the book and root for Coop.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

"The Tattoos Of Chico"

At a Chico gym, Karen McHenry writes, she saw "person after person walk past with tattoos on their arms, legs, and elsewhere...." Intrigued, she interviewed nineteen people. "Many had suffered loss and pain and commemorated their strength in the tattoos they chose. A few became 'addicted' to adding art to their bodies. All of them are admirers of ink and the way it enables them to carry their stories on their skin."

With photographer Sean Martens, she has published a stunning look at "The Tattoos Of Chico" ($24.95 in hardcover from Stansbury Publishing) celebrating not only those whose tattoos tell a story, but the artists who applied in the ink. 

Dolores (only first names are used) found solace, after the breakup of a difficult relationship, in a large and colorful peacock tattoo on one side of her body. It "took a total of three months to complete--twenty-one and a half hours in all--three hours for the outline alone." The artist was Ben Lucas from Eye of Jade Tattoo in Chico. Dolores found that "other people's reactions ended up being important."

The book's cover features a detail from RJ's tattoos reflecting the artistry of Joe Sanchez of Exclusive Tattoo in Chico. "What about tattoos is so addicting? RJ answers: 'I like standing out, being individualized with art--this tattoo, this artist. I enjoy having the art on my body. It's an expression of who I am.'"

Some tattoos are impulsive, as when Xavier asked artist Joey Sanchez at True Ink Tattoo in Chico for a tattoo on the roof of his mouth. 

Other tattoos are more reflective. Angel had reconstructive breast surgery after a double mastectomy; Dr. Emily Hartmann was able to take Angel's tattoos of a dragon and scorpion (from artist Juan at 12-Volt Tattoo in Chico) and, using the issue, moved them to her breasts.

The book ends with the story of David Singletary, co-owner and artist at Sacred Art Tattoo in Chico, written by Caitlin Forisano. Stop by, David says, "'keep the tradition alive ... because, we tattooed your parents....'"

If a picture is worth a thousand words, there are lifetimes to explore in this compilation of Chico ink.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

"Checklist Complete: Stories From My Life In Aviation"

Orland resident Gary Carter, retired Navy captain and former Delta Air Lines pilot, has a tale to tell. Actually, about fourteen of them, stories from his career in the military and his years in commercial aviation, all contained in a new memoir.

"Checklist Complete: Stories From My Life In Aviation" ($16.95 in paperback from booklocker.com/books/11717.html; a PDF version is also available) is replete with photographs provided by the author. 

One image is a publicity shot taken in 1980 of four S-3 jets "in a diamond formation (I'm number 3, the left wingman) flying by Mount Rushmore...." This was when Carter was a pilot trainer in "the navy's S-3A Viking Fleet Readiness Squadron, located at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego...."

Over a long career he would chart more than 16,000 flying hours. In that regard he wryly notes: "As is often said about aviation, experience is a hard teacher. First comes the test, then the lesson."

As a Midshipman Fourth Class (a "plebe") in 1970, he is aware of the hierarchy when groups gather for meals at the U.S. Naval Academy. Plebes are "society's lowest form of existence" and answerable to pretty much anyone else. 

When it came to passing food, up the chain it went with plebes getting the remains. Until one night Carter "took a scoop of applesauce, for some tragic and unexplainable reason, and then started to hand the bowl to my classmate beside me." A little infraction of cultural norms? Hardly: "The heavens parted, the world erupted, fire and brimstone engulfed me...."

Carter lived to tell the story, and many more besides, such as how a starter problem in the S-3 Viking was solved with a bent paperclip; being chewed out with unrelenting profanity (not spelled out in the book) by his two military bosses when a message Carter sent went astray; a lunch that cost $3000; and his brief encounter with Vin Scully when he piloted for Delta. 

Full of self-deprecating humor and technical talk (with acronyms explained), the book fittingly concludes with some of Carter's "lifetime maxims," including: "Never be out of airspeed, altitude, and ideas as the same time." Check!

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

"Tell Them What You Want"

"I'm Bernie, and I'm seven.... A social worker ... just picked me up from the Hamilton Ohio hospital and is taking me to live in some town called Oxford.... I was born in Lincoln Heights, a Colored part of Cincinnati, Ohio on March 1, 1946." 

Bernie's mother had been arrested, along with Johnny McVay, a violently abusive man "mama takes up with" at what Bernie calls the "Devil House." She is forced to cut the grass with scissors and had been severely burned from the fire Johnny insisted be kept going in the backyard. He calls her "Puke." 

Hospitalized for malnutrition, she is now headed to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Charles, an older, caring Black couple willing to take in the "State kid." Bernie's story spans the 1950s to the 1980s in the midst of a burgeoning civil rights movement. She faces immense challenges in her quest for a college education, but she's not a quitter. 

"Tell Them What You Want" ($16.95 in paperback from Culicidae Press; also for Amazon Kindle), by Laverne Merritt-Gordon with Beau Grosscup, is a stunning story. 

Merritt-Gordon was born in 1946 in Lincoln Heights, Ohio, one of sixteen children. She has degrees from Miami University in Ohio and Purdue University. She now lives in Florida with her husband Denman P. Gordon.

Beau ("Bobo") Grosscup--Chico State Political Science Professor Emeritus--shows up in Bernie's story. Growing up in Oxford, Ohio he meets Bernie when he is ten. "It takes fifty-some years of friendship," he says in the book's prologue, "before Bernie tells me her secrets."

As the 1970s pass, Bernie reflects on her college experience, two unsuccessful marriages, her two sons, Byran and Benton, and her efforts to escape that little girl who endured so much. 

She remembers "getting whipped with an ironing cord, eating food from garbage cans, flames burning up her belly.... My body sags as I realize that little girl is still with me. I thought, yes prayed, I had left her behind.... But she's still here, deep in my soul.... Slowly, the thought of little Bernie clinging to me for dear life begins to make sense."

Readers will never forget her.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021


Since her inaugural novel, "Venice Beach," Chicoan Emily Gallo has been chronicling the ever-expanding connections among a group of "misfits" who meet each other on the boardwalk. 

In her new book, Gallo, fueled by "endless cups of Earl Grey tea" at the Tin Roof Café, takes up the story of Kate McCoy. "After Kate's marriage broke up in her twenties, she had decided that motherhood and marriage were not in the stars for her ... until she met Lawrence" Ellison, a retired UCLA English professor.

They soon marry and now, after Kate's Peace Corps assignment, the LA couple is celebrating by exploring Anza-Borrego State Park during the day, and each other at night. "Just because we're on Medicare," Kate tells Lawrence, "doesn't mean we can't have a little fun."

"DREAMer" ($12.95 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle) begins with their discovery of a girl, perhaps about twelve, sitting "forlornly against a boulder" near Palm Canyon Drive. The girl seems unable to speak or perhaps doesn't know English. No one else is around, and so Lawrence and Kate invite the reluctant girl into the car and drive through a series of small towns looking for someone in authority.

In Julian (known for its apple pie) the girl refuses to go into the sheriff's office so the couple takes her home as they try to figure what to do next. It appears from some of the things the girl is carrying that her name is Marisol. Technically, she's just been kidnaped. And that is keeping Lawrence awake.

"I am worried for her," he tells Kate, "but the fact is that we haven't been straight with law enforcement ... and that is not going to help the situation.... Kate, you're not a Black man living in this country. You cannot understand how much I have to worry about in everyday situations."

What follows is an extraordinary detective story as Kate and Lawrence attempt to find Marisol's identity and whether she has relatives in the U.S., calling in friends to help and avoiding law enforcement. 

Gallo brings home the reality faced by children in Marisol's situation, and underlines the couple's compassion and tenacity in their quest against all odds.