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10.08.08

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Phaedra
CREATRIX: Sonoma Collage Studio cofounder Audrey von Hawley's work is showcased in 'Living into Art.'

Local Lit

Our twice-yearly look at the neighbors

By Suzanne Daly, Gretchen Giles, Gabe Meline, Hallie O'Donnell and P. Joseph Potocki

The Sonoma Collage Studio is so much more than a place where aspiring artists gather to use found images, cutouts and the magic of glue to create work. In Sonoma author Lindsay Whiting's telling of the studio and 10 of its students, Living into Art: Journey Through Collage (Paper Lantern; $24.95), it is a place of healing, reflection and an outlet for deep personal knowledge. Whiting tells her own story of coming into herself through collage and profiles nine other Collage Studio members, generously reproducing the surprising juxtapositions of their work in full-color gloss, adding thoughtful quotes from famous thinkers and studio notes for the aspiring collage artist. —G.G.

 

Delving into the depths of sexual and romantic nuances, Graton author Justine Michaels documents her experiences with a select few men using poetry and prose in The Cock Chronicles (Justine Michaels Publications; $16.95). The first half of the book contains the majority of the poetry, some of which is erotic and some of which pertains to the experience of being a woman. The book has a decidedly different change of graphic scenery and tone midway through, when we are suddenly introduced to a third-person prose narrative, in which the author writes about herself as a character, replete with sexual fantasies that take place in Safeway supermarkets while waiting in line at the meat counter. An ephemeral rendezvous with a sea captain and then a marine (their members also make a few guest appearances to help the show along) follow, and there is even a sitar-playing heartbreaker by whom she is jettisoned, as he feverishly jaunts back and forth to Thailand, finally returning to the mother of his child and leaving Michaels with a gaping void and a sense of betrayal that can only be filled with the next Great Phallic Hunt. —H.O.

As the birthplace of electric guitars, motels, skateboarding and fortune cookies, the Golden State boasts diversity unmatched by any other place in the nation. Golden Numbers, a California Numbers Book (Sleeping Bear Press; $17.95) is a delightful children's book that focuses on the wonders our beautiful state has to offer, and teaches the principles of counting at the same time. Written by Alexander Valley resident David Domeniconi and skillfully illustrated by Pam Carroll, Golden Numbers reaches out to readers of all ages. Little ones will love the colorful pictures of volcanoes, wildlife and activities, while adult readers can absorb interesting facts that range from deserts to snow-capped mountains to redwood forests. Short rhymes and Illustrations including cable cars, snapshots of national parks and monarch butterflies describe the numbers one through 12 and—counting by tens—from 20 to 100. Sidebars on each page give detailed information about a variety of topics interesting for all ages.

Golden Numbers is a companion to G is for Golden, a California Alphabet (Sleeping Bear Press; $17.95), also written and illustrated by Domeniconi and Carroll. Following the same format, each letter of the alphabet is explored through the state's golden lens. Adults can refresh their knowledge of literary figures ("J is for John Steinbeck"), history ("M is for missions) or geography ("Y is for Yosemite"). Both books are sure to be enjoyed continuously as the little ones grow. —S.D.

In Hollywood's sci-fi creature-feature Independence Day, a technologically advanced race of unappeasable locustlike aliens sets to devouring every earthly resource, intent on eliminating its every human inhabitant as well. In The American West at Risk: Science, Myths, and Politics of Land Abuse and Recovery, by Sebastopol writers Howard G. Wilshire and Jane E. Nielson with Richard W. Hazlett (Oxford University Press; $35), the three detail how, since the European "discovery" of the New World, we Americans have been both the moral and the literal equivalent of Hollywood's loathsome alien conquistadors, specifically when it comes to how we have mistreated our previously wild West.

The American West at Risk has "college textbook" written all over it, and that's a shame, because this is an engaging and clearly writ account of what horrendous deeds we have done and continue doing to the 11 contiguous states which form the arid Western United States.

Depressing stuff, for sure, but if we're to inform ourselves in order to intelligently deal with powerfully negative forces, you'll be reading this excellent volume and keeping it close at hand for ongoing reference. Highly recommended. —P.J.P.

Paula Deen may be the Food Network's grand dame of butter, sugar and lard, but another Paula—Paula Thomas Oandasan—gives Deen a run for her Crisco with There's Not a Healthy Recipe in This Whole Damn Book: A Guide to Southern Comfort Food (Publish America; $19.95). With as many truly laugh-inducing passages as there are charming typographical errors, Oandasan's book is a no-bullshit primer on dishes such as Leftover Tater Tot Omelet, fried squirrel, fried Spam sandwiches and A Damned Good Cheese Ball. (Vegetarians are begrudgingly accommodated with One Hell of a Green Salad.)

Reading less like a cookbook and more like a primer on enjoying life—her recipe for pancakes says "use Bisquick mix," then goes on to recommend stomping in puddles on rainy days—Oandasan's book comes directly from her life experience as a cook at Occidental's Morningstar Ranch commune in the 1960s. Opinionated, kind, anti-PC and a firm believer in random acts of kindness, Oandasan is on a one-woman mission to make food fun again, but more importantly, to make life worth exploring. The last chapter of the book is titled "Any Day Is 'Special Day.'" Why not make fried venison backstrap with gravy? —G.M.

Hector Lee was a well-educated, down-home Western storyteller. Picture him holding forth around a campfire, the logs popping, sparks flying up toward clear skies and the harvest moon, gesturing dramatically while spinning out one of his many tales. Lee, who died in 1992, was a Sonoma State University professor who once served as president of the California Folklore Society. Over the years, he recorded hundreds of legends and folktales for radio. His posthumous 20 Tales of California (Rayve Productions; $12.95) is a collection of previously published works showcasing Lee's narrative literary chops.

Between the covers, Lee twists California history up with folklore, humor and mystery into a series of pithy vignette-like yarns. There's no shortage of the usual subjects in 20 Tales of California. Legendary figures Lola Montez and Lotta Crabtree have their time in the spotlight, while famed outlaws Joaquin Murieta and Black Bart crop up along with early Alta California star-crossed lovers Concha Arguello and Count Nikolai Petrovich Rezanof.

Pure folktales are also included. A lubricious corker titled "High Spirits" pits man against wife to see who'll get most from a jug of liquor. "Once Upon a Winter Night," is a fine Western fable mixing the brutality of the Old West with the generous spirit of Christmas. Numerous North Bay towns, sites and long-gone personages play prominent roles in these entertaining stories. 20 Tales contains stories to be read aloud to the kids or to settle in to with a steaming mug and a stuffed chair as late-season rain pours down, greening California's golden hills of summer. —P.J.P.

Wrapping together a futuristic nightmare of environmental obliteration and political corruption, Queenelle Minet's novel In Memory of Central Park: 1853–2022 (Synergy Books; $13.95) comes with a soft side. In 2050, New York City is interconnected in a terrorist-proof, rising-ocean-tide-proof shell, and Central Park has been turned into a community of luxurious flats by the Liberty Party (which, like the Clear Skies Act, stands for anything but its actual namesake). Noah is a psychotherapist who has never known the "old" New York City and who finds love with his brother's wife, Margaret. The problems accumulate when New Yorkers start dying mysteriously and the Liberty Party vanquishes anyone who dares talk about it.

Minet, a Larkspur psychotherapist, draws on her field for the problems facing Noah regarding his place in society and his relationship with Margaret. Their quandary—to stay encased in the dangerous structures of the city, or to escape to the long-abandoned outside world—resonates more than ever today. But perhaps more than anything, Minet draws on her own love of her late husband, Aron Spilken, who began the manuscript for In Memory of Central Park and who died suddenly in 2003. Part environmental warning, part political satire and part elegy to a loved one, Minet's book reads like the personal work that it is. —G.M.

Are beans vegetarian? Heirloom Beans (Chronicle Books; $22.95) by Napa Valley Family Farm League founder Steve Sando and Oakland's Vanessa Barrington, begins with Sando being asked just that question. OK, so perhaps it's a silly question to ask, but just goes to show how little some of us know about these delicious essentials. New World cultures rose and fell because of the bean, and I seem to recall that some cultures used them as currency, but there's more to this book than just beans. Indeed, there's everything that goes together with the cute little musical bubbas. Like the fennel, radicchio, hazelnuts and bacon in the authors' Mayacoba bean salad, or the picadillo and corn enchiladas with spicy rio zape bean sauce. How can anyone go wrong with a steaming pot of Black Calypso, Christmas Lima, Eye of the Tiger or Red Nightfall beans?

Heirloom Beans combines sumptuous photographs of these shiny little tummy pleasers, together with appetizing and adventuresome recipes and purchase, storage and cooking tips and a tantalizing foreword by the French Laundry's Thomas Keller. The book is dedicated to "anyone who has ever put a seed in the ground and enjoyed the miracle that follows." I can't wait to go home tonight and fix me up some. —P.J.P.

Catharine Bramkamp is a licensed real estate agent who began her career with abominably terrible timing: she entered the market two years ago. How to spend her empty days during the market lull? Why, write Death Revokes the Offer (A Few Little Books Press; $14.99), of course, a murder-mystery novel about a realtor who discovers a dead body in a $4 million Tiburon home that she'd just placed on the market. To Allison Little, Mr. Mortimer Maximillian Smith ("He had two interesting first names to make up for the third") collected bad art, preferred bad décor and had a dull house. But she needs the sale, and his dead body gets in the way.

Little, who makes a return appearance after Bramkamp's first book, Time Is of the Essence, is determined to close escrow—even though the house's $15,000 front doors have strangely disappeared. Through a series of sketchy situations and clues that come out of nowhere, Little even manages to find a good man. Throughout Death Revokes the Offer, the Rohnert Park author utilizes her insider's knowledge of the real estate market, and elicits awareness of just how dangerous an agent's job can be. If the market stays stagnant long enough, it's good bet that the third in the series will be on its way. —G.M.

When an abused parrot enters Nancy Ellis-Bell's life, she knows she is in for more responsibility and adventure than she has previously experienced with the many stray animals she has cared for. But the Willits author does not anticipate how much more she is taking on when she adopts Sarah, a one-legged blue and gold macaw with a nasty distrust of humans. The Parrot Who Thought She Was a Dog (Harmony Books; $23) chronicles the relationship between longtime animal lover Ellis-Bell and Sarah, a parrot who hasn't been out of a cage in almost four years. Ellis-Bell's Willits farm is also home to husband Kerry, two dogs, two cats and a pond full of koi, all of which undergo adjustments to accommodate the newest member of the family.

Once uncaged, Sarah embarks on a path of destruction, scattering food all over the floor, tearing up dog toys, defecating throughout the rooms and even opening drawers and strewing the contents all over the house. Ellis–Bell's business also suffers due to the macaw's penchant for cussing and screaming loudly when the author is on the phone. Gradually, Sarah settles in and, through patience and love, adapts to her new home.

A final physical and emotional challenge presents itself when the macaw is allowed outside to relearn how to fly, and rediscovers complete freedom. This informative and heartwarming book can be appreciated by both animal lovers and readers who enjoy the antics of a wild pet from the safety of a dander-free armchair. —S.D.

Violence erupts on the playground and a child is injured. Though 50 kids might have witnessed the event, none will come forward. Their code is silence, unless they want to be the next one face-flat on the tarmac. Teachers and administrators are stymied, a camera is installed, a police officer alerted, everyone is just a little bit less free. It doesn't have to be that way, according to the Santa Rosa–based nonprofit Community Matters. They have released a new workbook that may be essential reading for parents and school staff alike that introduces in plain language their main tenets.

Named after their program, Safe School Ambassadors: Harnessing Student Power to Stop Bullying and Violence (Jossey-Bass; $19.95) is a joint efforts of Graton resident and Community Matters executive director Rick Phillips with Santa Rosa's Chris Pack, Community Matters' program director, and youth development trainer John Linney of Texas. The best way to stop schoolyard bullying and other harassment techniques before they impact a person's adulthood, they argue, is to engage and empower the students themselves so that becoming a mute witness with a wrong-headed code of silence is no longer acceptable in the school's culture. Heady stuff. Better yet—it works. —G.G.

The Images of America series is to history books what poesy is to poetry. That's not a bad thing, particularly when the reader is more interested in quick illumination rather than a long, serious read. Judging by their title numbers, the series publishers have hit upon a formula that really works. The series boasts more that 4,000 titles, each sketching out a historical portrait of an American town, hamlet or city through collected photos and limited text in order to convey a sense of place, starting from a given settlement's first recorded beginnings.

Images of America: Calistoga, authored by John Waters Jr. in conjunction with Calistoga's Sharpsteen Museum (Arcadia Publishing; $19.99), is another in this enormous and still-growing series of softcover archival picture books. Calistoga can lay claim to being the most Old West–like of today's North Bay towns. Accordingly, a lone cowpoke astride his pinto graces the book's cover. There's plenty of Sam Brannan and Robert Louis Stevenson inside, along with facts and photos attesting to the seismic and geothermal activity these environs are noted for. This little book won't replace a leisurely trip to the Sharpsteen Museum, but for those hungering for a little Calistoga history from home, it'll do just fine. —PJ.P.

Longtime San Rafael residents will thrill to Early San Rafael (Arcadia Publishing; $19.99), a recent installment in the Images of America series, but they might be smart to introduce the book to their children to keep the flames of heritage alive. A rich history unfolds in the book's many photos, from the old courthouse, destroyed by fire in 1971 after a hundred years of service (and hangings in the basement), to the steamer ships at Point San Quentin that took passengers to San Francisco, to the early construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, a landmark that would change San Rafael forever.

There's the San Rafael Improvement Club building, which was used by the Victor Talking Machine Company at the 1915 Panama Pacific International Expo in San Francisco and was subsequently floated across the bay to San Rafael; the San Rafael Golf Club, located on what's now the Marin Civic Center site; the many beautiful old movie theaters, like the Orpheus and the El Camino; and the San Rafael Municipal Baths, a Sutro Baths-style indoor pool. Numerous dry-goods stores, haberdasheries, cobblers, and milliners abound from the era when the plumber could also be the mayor (1913), and the book concludes with the San Pedro peninsula, picturing Italian immigrants working for the McNear Brick Company alongside hardworking residents of China Camp who would eventually be forced out by anti-Chinese sentiment. All in all, a fascinating dip into the past. —G.M.

When Lucille Campilongo's youngest daughter, Gina, flew the nest for a year abroad in Italy, she didn't leave unprepared. Her mother lovingly penned Lucia's Survival Guide and Cookbook (iUniverse; $12.95) to assist her daughter in the art of living on her own. The hand-written notebook contained favorite family recipes, a shopping list useful in stocking a pantry for the first time and household hints for the absolute beginner.

  Twenty-eight years later, Gina Campilongo-Friedman, a resident of San Rafael, surprised her mother with a published copy of the now well-worn notebook. When Campilongo-Friedman was copying it for her own departing daughter, she realized it could be of use to many fledglings setting up house. Lucia's Survival Guide and Cookbook is written in the chatty, no-nonsense style of an Italian Nona. Locals can also enjoy Lucia's Italian dinners through Oct. 31 at Vasco Restaurant, 106 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley. Call 415.381.3343 for further information. —S.D.

Founded in 1909 by such members as Jack London, the California Writers Club now has 18 branches in the Golden State, including the Redwood Writers Club, based in the North Bay. Devoted to helping writers hone and market their craft, Redwood Writers host monthly meets and annual contests and also collects its members work. The third and latest such compilation, Vintage Voices: Four-Part Harmony, edited by Karen Batchelor, Ana Manwaring and Pat Tyler (iUniverse; $11.95), consciously weaves the prose, poetry and essays collected into a songlike rhythm.

Writing instructor Marlene Cullen's short sketch of a woman's life, "Hannah Mae," is followed abruptly by James Seamarsh's two-page vignette in a prostitute's room ("Second Story Bedroom"), which in turn is followed by "Beneath the Canopy," Helen Pitt's memoir of a widow taking her young son to the Queensland tropics. With the intimate voice of first person predominating, Vintage Voices gives a palimpsestic glimpse into the lives of our neighbors that is well worth searching out. —G.G.  


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