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10.17.07

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Phaedra

'Couple Kissing': 'Point Reyes Visions' collaborators Richard Blair and Kathleen Goodwin' s new book reminds aspiring photographers to always bring a camera along. This shot was taken in the '60s in Half Moon Bay.

Local Lit

Our twice-yearly look at what the neighbors are up to

By Gretchen Giles, Patricia Lynn Henley and Gabe Meline


Plunk the entire state down on your coffee table in the breathtakingly beautiful 'California Trip' (Color & Light Editions; $49.95) by West Marin photographers and writers Richard Blair and Kathleen Goodwin. Also the creators of the bestselling Point Reyes Visions, Blair and Goodwin have compiled 600 photographs on 300 pages in an 11-by-11-inch clothbound creation that celebrates all the nuances of California. The resulting book lets viewers journey through both geography and time, because the pictures were taken over a 30-year period.

Blair moved to California from New York City in 1969; South African native Goodwin has lived in the Golden State since 1974. Together, these two longtime transplants have created a visual hymn of praise to their adopted home.

"We felt that California picture books had not gone deep enough—that pictures of beaches and tourist attractions were not enough, that they were missing the real issues and many of the amazing things that California is known for," Blair writes in a notes section at the front of the book.

Printed overseas and currently hung up in customs, this book should be on every California coffee table, just waiting for someone to open it up and dive into images ranging from San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf to the orange-red hills rippling through a Death Valley canyon; from nude sunbathers to identically dressed elderly matrons; from coyote pups peering out of an irrigation pipe to a pampered poodle posing in the window of an RV—and more. This book is California, at least as Blair and Goodwin have seen it over the last three decades. Enjoy the trip.

—P.L.H.

There are simply not enough good things to say about 'Don't Shoot! I'm the Guitar Man' (Buzzard Press; $14.95) by Sebastopol musician Buzzy Martin, a first-hand account of teaching guitar to inmates at San Quentin State Prison. Martin writes in an unpolished but incredibly addictive journal-entry style about the triumphs and horrors of bringing music behind the walls of the "Q," relating his weekly visits without a drop of judgment but with candor, humor and sympathy. Spanning three and a half years of weekly music classes, the book offers an honest picture of everyday prison life—and the eventual toll it takes on Martin's upbeat demeanor.

Enduring riots in the yard, advances by inmates dressed as women, cruel practical jokes from "lifers" and the general inertia of life behind walls, Martin holds fast to the redemptive power that his music brings the inmates; the book especially shines when describing touching moments of their heartfelt, grizzled appreciation. Some nights, Martin drives home from San Quentin downright nauseous at what he's seen, but the next week, he's always back at it, teaching hardened cons how to play "Jailhouse Rock." A compelling portrait of the transformative power of music and of the impact that it can make on men from drastically different walks of life, Don't Shoot! is highly recommended.

—G.M.

When a new Zak Zaikine book comes across our desk, we can't help but smile. The Sebastopol artist whose paintings and prints exude giddy good feelings and unfettered love has released his third book for the very young. Created with collaborator Karin O'Keefe, 'Eugene and the Magical Carrot Tree' (Moon Valley; $22) continues the nocturnal journeys of young Eugene, a rabbit first introduced in Zaikine's Eugene and His Magical Dreams. In the Carrot Tree, our young rabbit eats from a special carrot, flies into the cosmos, meets the King and Queen of the Carrots, morphs into a lapin-influenced mermaid and returns home with knowledge of both worlds, thus establishing our bunny as a classic mythic hero on the order of Dante's seeker. Except, of course, that he's much more appealing to the preschool set. Another sweet treat from Zaikine.

—G.G.

If it's possible to make abstract, legalistic, bureaucratic concepts both tangible and palatable, then Windsor resident Daniel Imhoff's 'Food Fight: The Citizen's Guide to a Food and Farm Bill' (Watershed Media; $16.95) does just that for the byzantine laws and policies governing U.S. farms and food supplies. Every five to seven years, Congress passes and the president signs dense legislation known as the Farm Bill. This then determines what happens on literally millions of acres of U.S. farmlands, what sort of food most of us eat, how much that food costs and more. Utilizing dynamic photographs and colorful graphics, and dividing his topics into sections that are rarely more than three or four pages long (to accommodate Americans' notoriously short attention spans), Imhoff outlines both why the Farm Bill is vitally important and what we need to do about it.

"The Farm Bill matters because it makes some big corporations scandalously rich and drives other farmers out of rural areas—not just here, but in other countries too," he writes. "The Farm Bill makes us fat and produces a vulnerable food system. The Farm Bill legalizes and supports polluting and destructive practices, then spends millions trying to put bandages on damage inflicted by past and present programs. The Farm Bill artificially sets prices and interferes with fair markets, while officials tout the virtues of 'free market' and 'fair trade.' Its consequences include poverty, rural exodus, and famine."

With a foreword by Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma), Imhoff—author of numerous articles, essays and books including Paper or Plastic, Farming with the Wild and Building with Vision—has created a user-friendly primer on crucial U.S. policies that can be difficult to understand or simply sleep-inducing.

—P.L.H.

Mill Valley journalist Cathryn Jakobson Ramin was just in her early 40s when she realized that her brain was fogging up. Driving back from the movies with her husband, she couldn't recall the name of the film they'd just seen nor the name of that handsome actor whom she had liked so very much. The mother of two small children, active in her career and her home life, Jakobson Ramin was too young to have memory loss—wasn't she? Sure she was.

And then a friend just a few years older quit her job and jumped aboard the serotonin express because her memory was so bad that she was being brutalized by her younger colleagues. Soon the friend was taking long naps and just plain "resting." Jakobson Ramin was horrified. So she did what any good journalist would do: she sold a query to the New York Times Magazine about early-age memory loss, offering herself up as a guinea pig to try all the new and best techniques available today to stem, quell and predict brain problems.

That article has since morphed into a wonderfully written book, 'Carved in Sand: When Attention Fails and Memory Fades in Midlife' (HarperCollins; $24.95). While memory loss in senior citizens has been widely studied, the slippery brain that is just another gift of middle age, Jakobson Ramin soon discovered, has not. Subjecting herself to tests, brain exercises and—the elephant in this particular living room—the specter of possible Alzheimer's disease, she spins an entertaining and informative tale that smartly tugs from one chapter to the next, making this as readable as any novel. Even if you can't remember what the last novel you read exactly was.

—G.G.

From the 1912 Napa High School girls' basketball team in black bloomers and knee socks to union members picketing a winery in 2002, the evolution of the quintessential wine country hamlet is captured in words and photographs in 'Napa: The Transformation of an American Town' by Napa Valley College history professor Lauren Coodley with Paula Amen Schmitt (revised edition, Sept. 2007, Arcadia Publishing; $24.99). "The stories I sought were not those of the rich and the famous, but of those heroic individuals who tried to save farmlands, raise wages, and create and maintain family businesses," Coodley writes in the book's introduction. "I wanted to capture what ordinary Napans experienced throughout the last century, what they did for entertainment and how they felt about this town. I wanted to record the memories of the past as I watched the town transform into something new."

The center of the book contains more than 90 pages of photographs, helping to create an overall feel that blends a family photo album with personal stories and historical essays complete with footnotes at the end of each chapter. In the sense that all communities are changing daily, Napa's story is the story of Everywhere. The North Bay is definitely home to economic and social gentrification, and this book chronicles one town's journey on the road from farm-oriented backwater to upscale destination.

—P.L.H.

It's no accident that the Buddha became "awake" while meditating outside under the Bodhi Tree. Nature can do that even to someone who won't go on to lead a world religion. But what's crazy is how little most of us see, hear and experience when we're out of doors. In his new book, 'Awake in the Wild' (Inner Ocean Publishing; $14.95), Mill Valley author Mark Coleman takes the tenets of meditative Buddhist philosophy and teaches readers how to use them outside. Using poetic aphorisms and the words of the Buddha himself, Coleman reminds us how much better we all feel when we're outside, even during a mere walk around the block, and what a gift the perfection of nature is, if only we retrain ourselves to remember it.

Relearning how to pay attention when outside reminds us how to pay attention when we're in. And that's a practice we all need help with.

—G.G.

For women who grew up in a bygone era of strictly defined gender roles, the notion of actively hitting on a man might be off-limits or even repulsive. Not anymore, reiterate West Marin residents Donna Sheehan and Paul Reffell, whose 'Redefining Seduction: Women Initiating Sex, Courtship, Partnership, Peace' (Lulu; $15.95) serves as a handbook for the lady who's never experienced the thrill of walking right up and planting a wet one on the guy of her dreams. That's how Sheehan came on to Reffell, and using her own experiences interwoven with lessons from Charles Darwin, she hopes to encourage more women to seek the bliss that she herself has found.

In a style redolent of a self-help workshop, Sheehan explores age-old conundrums: Am I pretty enough to go on dates? Am I a slut if we do it on the first date? What if he doesn't call me back? For gals who succeed in navigating these dire waters, there's a special chapter on "making partnership last," which lays out instructions for keeping relationships zesty into (and beyond) the prime of life. Overall, the theme of the book is hope. "Men are everywhere," Sheehan writes, "and they are not all gay, married, maimed or porn freaks."

—G.M.

Even those of us lazy enough to favor the Corpse Pose hugely over all other asanas know that there's more to yoga than just pain and public humiliation. There's the full-body euphoria that lasts for hours after it's over and there's the breath, the concentration and the oneness that illuminate while it's going on—even when in a room with 20 other painfully humiliated souls.

Fairfax author and yoga teacher Nischala Joy Devi parses the something more in her new book, 'The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman's Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras' (Three Rivers Press; $12.95). Devi, a pioneer in using yogic technique to alleviate the suffering of heart and cancer patients, here wades deftly into the sutras of yoga, sacred texts ordinarily translated and explored by men. Devi's is very deliberately a woman's point of view, and she draws upon thousands of years of women's lore and intuition to consider and explain the philosophic underpinnings of this ancient practice, making this a must-read for the serious practitioner.

—G.G.

There's a strange rule in the world which dictates that what's good for us on a personal level often isn't necessarily good for business. We may keep an organic and sustainable home, say, whereas in business, we are easily wasteful in pursuit of the bottom line. But luckily for the future of humankind, environmental practices have been making inroads into the world of business lately. 'Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grass Roots' (PoliPointPress; $16.95), by Marin writers Kevin Danaher, Shannon Biggs and Jason Mark, shows how we can all get involved.

With stories of citizens, families, activists and community groups who have won victories against stagnant bureaucracies and gross polluters, the book inspires strategies for stepping up the green game past the compost pile and into the boardrooms. From Chicago to Oregon to South Dakota and Utah, an examination of revolutionary business models proves that it's possible to respect the atmosphere and the profit margin simultaneously. A local highlight is an entire chapter on Fetzer Vineyards in Hopland, whose solar-powered, biodiesel-fueled, employee-empowered practices are a beacon to winemakers everywhere.

—G.M.

West Marin writer and activist Norman Solomon is a recipient of the George Orwell Award, which honors contributions to clarity in public language. Not unsurprising, then, is his very honest and uncluttered book 'Made Love Got War: Close Encounters with America's Warfare State' (PoliPointPress; $24.95) which weaves personal eyewitness accounts with historical examination from the past 50 years to paint a saddening picture of ever-increasing American militarism. Drawing on four decades of activism, Solomon looks at major events from the baby boomer era to paint a picture of where we are now and how we got here.

A tireless critic of the American media, Solomon cites an enervating list of examples of the media's failure to use its power to challenge military action, supplementing his findings with 23 pages of sources. But he also repeatedly brings the message down to a human level, as he did in 2002 by traveling to Baghdad with actor Sean Penn to witness first-hand a war-torn Iraq. Almost like a condensed blog, Made Love Got War is rich with personal history and national shame, and Solomon expertly crisscrosses the two with well-written insight.

—G.M.

Marin author and illustrator Kellie Greenwald is something special, there's no question about it. Working with a bright, bold palette, Greenwald illustrates her autobiography, 'Kellie's Book: The Art of the Possible' (Rayve Productions; $24.95), with a verve and unabashed sense of love that few other authors bring to their own life story. That Greenwald, daughter of former Giants broadcaster Hank Greenwald, has Down syndrome is just a part of the story. What's more interesting indeed is just how much is possible for a person like Kellie.

Now 29, she has a boyfriend, has graduated from the College of Marin and held several jobs, regularly cooks for her family, makes funny jokes and is now a published author—totaling more accomplishments than many of us "normally" abled can claim at just 29. With interest in "outsider" art on the rise, Kellie's Book couldn't be timed better for an audience primed to enjoy the work of the differently abled and for readers, especially children, to get a smart glimpse into the success and strength of one extraordinary person.

—G.G.

Chi and Creativity: Vital Energy and Your Inner Artist (Blue Snake Books; $24.95) by Elise Dirlam Ching and Kaleo Ching is a gentle, graceful guidebook for blending spirituality, inspiration and life-awareness. Chi is the vital life force, the energy that flows through all living things. "With wonder and curiosity, creativity looks at the world--not so much what we do as how. Chi awareness is a simple as a tingling in your fingertips, as deep as the sea of the subconscious, as vast as the limits of the universe," the authors write in the introduction.

This large-format, soft-cover volume is for those who want to deepen their experience of the flow of Chi and of creation in their lives, as artists and as people. It's a textbook in the sense that it starts with basic precepts and builds on that foundation. However, it's not for Western skeptics who want a rational, black-and-white explanation of chi and other Eastern precepts. Rather, it offers soft-spoken guidance for those who want to awaken their muse by heightening their awareness of life energy flowing in and around them.

--P.L.H.


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