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The Arts
04.06.11

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Phaedra

Spring Lit

Our biannual perusal of local authors' published work

By Leilani Clark, Jessica Dur, Gabe Meline, Shelby Pope, Alma Shaw and Mira Stauffacher


With baby bumps displayed in lurid colors on the cover of every tabloid and motherhood still pushed as a woman's ultimate role, it's refreshing to read books that explore the choice not to have children. In 'I'm Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood' (Steel Rose Press; $14.95), Santa Rosa-based writer and blogger Lisa Manterfield writes about coming to terms with infertility. A self-confessed "desperate mama-wannabe," Manterfield's baby addiction takes her down an obsessive spiral of failed fertility treatments. A final desperate wish that her husband would die early so she can have a reason to adopt drives her to seek sanity and love in her marriage instead of in childbirth. Manterfield writes like a seasoned memoirist in a clever and funny voice, and the book reads with the familiar warmth of a friend telling a long, meaningful story about going babyless in a baby-centric world.—L.C.

A botanist's dream, a designer's incitement to drool and any Californian's cause for celebration, 'Botanical Prints' (Counterpoint; $24.95) by self-taught printer, botanist and artist Henry Evans is a book of rare dedication. In his 31 years of printmaking, Evans, who lived his later years outside of St. Helena, depicted some 1,400 subjects: poppies, irises, cherry trees, violets, crab apple, daisies, redwood, grapes and many, many more. Some of his best are lovingly reproduced in this collection, along with excerpts from Evans' notebook. A series of photos are included showing Evans at his trusted 1852 Washington Hand Press, producing his detailed designs still cherished by art lovers the world over.—G.M.

Author Laura McHale Holland of Sonoma County tells an honest story of her childhood in the memoir 'Reversible Skirt' (Wordforest; $14). After her mother's suicide, her father desperately attempts to keep the family together by quickly remarrying and explaining to Laura and her two older sisters that his new wife is their mother. At the ages of two, three and four, the little girls believe their mother simply went through a transformation, and are given no opportunity to say goodbye to the woman that gave them life. Not until years later do they put the pieces together. Still in their adolescence, their father dies, leaving them to live with their step-mom, who becomes increasingly abusive and neglectful. This memoir takes the reader on a journey through Laura's true-life struggles and triumphs, and it exemplifies the complexity of overcoming a cruel childhood.—M.S.

You can't throw a cryptex these days without encountering scores of half-baked Dan Brown knockoffs: novels where experts are mysteriously summoned in the middle of the night by the government about a problem only they can solve, due to their knowledge of symbols, noetics or the sacred feminine. Yet Steven Meloan of Sonoma Valley and brother Michael Meloan manage to rise above these airport potboilers with 'The Shroud' (Neoteric Press; $12.95), in which a genetic research team is called by the Vatican to determine the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. The science-adventure novel combines a strong scientific background with a spiritual underpinning that delves into the ethical questions of cloning, stem cell research and the relationship between spirituality and organized religion. Any fan of thought-provoking, character-driven writing will find enjoyment here.—S.P.

The drive down I-5 between San Francisco and Los Angeles is one ugly jaunt. Industrial farming has resulted in flat plains broken only by circles of brown and rectangles of dust and dirt. Daniel Imhoff, a Healdsburg-based writer and researcher, notes that not only are industrial farms nasty-looking, they're dangerous to the environment. 'Farming with the Wild: Enhancing Biodiversity on Farms and Ranches' (Sierra Club Books; $29.95) explores the results of a multi-year research project to chronicle on-the-ground efforts to restore wild habitats within farming and ranching regions across the country. In it, Imhoff writes profiles from more than 20 states of farming and ranching operations that have integrated with networks of protected wildlands. Loaded with vibrant photographs of the various farming projects by editorial photographer Roberto Carra and produced by Watershed Media, out of Healdsburg, the book makes a welcome addition to the sustainable-farming canon.—L.C.

Would you pay $15 to find out who killed Kennedy? If so, pick up a copy of Ernie Barry's self-published book 'Bogart for President!' (Morris Publishing; $15), described as "an action adventure novel of love, sex, murder, and international intrigue amongst taxi drivers and their passengers in contemporary San Francisco." Even if the answer isn't quite what you're looking for (no spoiler alerts here), a rollicking romp ensues through the dramatic underworld of cabbies who spend their nights shuttling through schizophrenic, secret-filled streets. Set in the fall of 2001, the novel explores everything from 9-11 and Vietnam to hunger strikes and airport politics. The hero, Lennie Bogart, cruises the city with a cast of characters whose names include Doughnut Shop Rick, Vietnam War Marine Vet Henry, KGB Africa, Dapper Gay Dan, and Ex-State Cop Eric. Even the acknowledgements page is fun to read.—J.D.

Being seventeen is hard enough without being chosen as savior of your people. Such is the pickle that Kaede and Taisin find themselves faced with in Marin author Malinda Lo's 'Huntress' (Little, Brown; $17.99), a prequel to her award-winning debut, 2009's Ash. The young adult novel follows the girls, one a mortal and one a magical sage, on their journey to meet with the Fairy Queen to save their kingdom from disasters both natural (the sun hasn't shone in years) and physical (strange, unfriendly creatures who've taken up residence). Lo weaves together elements of the I Ching and assorted fairy tales to tell Kaede and Taisin's story, and as their journey progresses, the girls grapple with both the danger of their quest and their growing love for one another—a refreshing change from the glut of Twilight-esque boy/girl swoon-fests of the last few years.—S.P.

'CrotchMail: The Reckoning' (CreateSpace; $5.99) is exactly what it sounds like: the off-beat, mildly offensive, yet amusing recollections of Adam A. Aragon's blog in print form. Part Top 10 lists, part LSD-inspired haiku and part baloney, this easy read is full of imagination, off-the-wall humor and a dash of geekiness. Reminiscent of a zine, the author pens some remarkable short stories, such as "The Sandwich of the Future," which describes his short acquaintance with a sandwich that speaks to the consumer to customize its taste. Among all the nonsense we also find honest words of wisdom, such as "The best pick up line is 'Hello, my name is ______'". These are the misadventures of a 28-year-old man who isn't quite ready to live life dully.—A.S.

In 1965, when she was 15 years old, Jill Hunting's big brother Pete was killed in one of the first battles in the Vietnam War. Hunting, a resident of Sonoma County, has written 'Finding Pete: Rediscovering the Brother I Lost in Vietnam' (Wesleyan University Press; $24.95), a true story of her journey to reconnect with the brother who died all too soon. Pete's death was nationally broadcast, but his family was devastated; they didn't want to discuss the tragedy at all, and eventually stopped mentioning Pete's name. Several years later, Jill longed to learn more about her forgotten brother, but all of the letters Pete had sent home were ruined by a basement flood, and Jill believed to have lost any and all connection she had ever had to him—that is, until decades later, when a total of 175 letters came her way, written by those who had never forgotten Pete. This story is part memoir, part history and relatable to those who have suffered a similar loss.—M.S.

Last fall, when Free Mind Media lost its brick and mortar building—a humble, graffiti-tattered bastion of alternative media and anarchist empowerment—the independent co-op did not lose its fiery spirit. And so was created a zine, the 'Free Mind Medium' (fmm.zine@gmail.com). With more people clicking their way through information, print-based literature may be facing its most important curtain call yet. The FMM reminds us why zines still exist: because they're tangible evidence of struggle, movement, creative freedom, critical thinking and progress. With articles like "Dia de los Racist White People Shut Up Already Please," a sharp, witty critique of the ironic cultural appropriation and simultaneous rejection of Mexicans, the FMM exposes the raw grit that too many think but never say.—J.D.

When their mom's house is foreclosed upon, the Tompkins brood are sent to live with their uncle in Colorado. Instead of meeting him, the children are picked up from the airport in a pink, feather-covered taxi ushering them to Falling Bird, an upside-down town where kids are greeted as royalty. However, the kids quickly learn that something menacing skulks around the edges of their seemingly ideal new life, and the squabbling siblings have to band together to escape. 'No Passengers Beyond This Point' (Dial; $16.99) is Tiburon author Gennifer Choldenko's ninth book, and her experience writing for kids shows. Younger audiences will enjoy reading how the Tompkins kids fight to leave Falling Bird and return home, a journey that involves magic phones, a mysterious black box and a race against the clock.—S.P.

As the environmental correspondent for Mother Jones magazine, Sebastopol-based author Julia Whitty covers some of the most pressing issues surrounding our most precious natural resource: water. In her award-winning book 'Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean' (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $24), Whitty distills years of knowledge, insight and stories gleaned from her experiences as a documentary filmmaker, writer and deep sea diver. A moving, poetic meditation on the watery force that holds our earth in its grasp, the book explores the connection between humans, the failing climate, global warming and the seas of the earth, as the author travels and swims through the underwater depths of Antarctica, Newfoundland, the Sea of Cortez and spots in between. While anchored by research and science, Whitty herself calls the book "a very personal story of a life spent adrift on currents of curiosity and adventure."—L.C.

There are a select few among us who take masochistic delight in poring over government documents, legal correspondence and council meeting minutes. These demented few, for the most part, are referred to as "journalists," which is why any print review of Alvin Lee Block, M.D.'s 'A Dragon Is in the Valley' (AuthorHouse; $14) is bound to be biased. A date-by-date account of the effort to acquire the Napa rail line from Southern Pacific and form the Napa Valley Wine Train, the book contains such stunning entries as "Wednesday, 10 October 1984: Call to Gooch to discuss our October bid, but he's not available." The culmination of these commonplace entries, of course, is the improbable and inspiring revival of the railroad tracks into the wine train as we know it today, and a meticulous record of how it came to be.—G.M.

It's a common belief that in the early 20th century, fertility treatments didn't exist. But did they? 'The Doctor and the Diva' (Pamela Dorman Books; $26.95), written by Adrienne McDonnell, is set in Boston in the early 1900s, when a young obstetrician gains a following after building a reputation for helping couples to conceive. He is charmed when given the opportunity to help opera singer and member of a distinguished family of physicians, Erika von Kessler, in her struggle to become pregnant. His treatments end up being ineffective, but he is determined to find a procedure that works, willing to commit the unthinkable and risking moral condemnation.—M.S.

The incisive and disturbing prose poem "Walmart and ParentsElated with Children's Draft Incentive" by Healdsburg-based writer StefanieFreele is a good example of the new poetry collection 'Continent of Light' (CreateSpace; $10). In compact sentences,Freele imagines a chilling world in which a mother sells her children in uterofor $25,000 to the United States government for use as future U.S. soldiers,and where people dream of having a Walmart on every corner. Edited by David Madgaleneof Windsor, the collection features 54 contemporary writers, most from theGreater San Francisco Bay Area, and offers political poems with a specialinterest in social and cultural issues that have risen in the post—9-11landscape. In the poem "Deaf Dog Cafe," former Sonoma County poet laureate GeriDiGiorno laments the closing of her favorite local coffee house and itsreplacement by a Starbucks. Other local writers in the collection include"Gourmet Poet" Armando Garcia-Davila and Mike Tuggle. Named for a poem byKatherine Hastings, Continent of Light takeson the challenge of examining global issues through a literary lens andsucceeds with a bright success.—L.C.

Poetry chapbooks are nothing new to Sonoma State communications chairand Bohemian contributor JonahRaskin, whose 'Auras' (Jaxon'sPress) is the most recent collection of poetry. Titled as 15 various colors,the pieces represent the shades as vignettes of life's hues. "Black" opensquite naturally with death; "Blue" moves on more metaphorically to teenagerebellion and radio ballads; and the book closes with "Yellow," evoking a largeold man playing piano in his own mind. The images each color inspires are asurprise on every page, and Raskin's penchant for phrases such as "hoping to losechartreuse trousers in the buoyantly bored crowd" is what keeps each chapbook'srelease a notable event.—G.M.

Short slices of arresting imagery and whimsical tales unfold on the pages of 'But I Say,' the second poetry collection by Jane Kennedy Stuppin (Alexander Book Company; $15). Handily divided into sections—Solos, Science, Humor, Inner Tubes, Haiku, Prose Poems—the reader can be-bop around the playful worlds she's created according to mood and time constraints. Ruminations on everything from fireworks and carbon to Moby Dick and Snow White abound in poetry so rich in its simplicity that it might take a few beats to truly sink in. Stuppin has a way of evoking the ordinary circumstances of life—how many of us have stacks of magazines we never quite get to?—with spot-on hilarity and compassion. Delights like "An Invitation to Blue," an incantation of life lived in color, demand to be read over and over. And then there's the subtle philosophy of poems like "Time": Do not hesitate/to count your moments/in units of eternity. Prepare to be charmed.—J.D.


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