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.