Local Lit

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


Growing up in poverty in San Francisco in the early ’70s, Petaluma author Frances Lefkowitz acutely felt all the things she lacked, both physically and psychologically. In her book ‘To Have Not’ (MacAdam/Cage; $14.50), Lefkowitz describes her life on the fringe of society. She did not have a stable home environment—the family moved nine times in 17 years. She did not have a complete family—her parents divorced when she was 10 and divided the children between them. She did not have a stay-at-home parent, much to eat or new clothes unless she shoplifted them for herself.

But genetics isn’t measured in dollars, and Lefkowitz inherited a scrappy survival instinct and make-do attitude, along with book smarts. Working hard, she earned scholarships to an Ivy League university. But she found herself feeling like a “have-not” once again among her upper-class East Coast peers. How she manages to break free of her marginal living situations and lifelong feelings of inadequacy, and find happiness and a sense of worth is insightful reading for our “more is better” society.—S.D.

Like a hardbound, 249-page version of the humorous bumper sticker “Militant Agnostic: I Don’t Know and You Don’t Either” comes Michael Krasny’s latest book, ‘Spiritual Envy: An Agnostic’s Quest’ (New World Library; $22.95). Host of KQED 91.1-FM’s talk show Forum, Greenbrae resident Krasny has also spent a lifetime pondering the possible existence and social implications of humankind’s ideas of God. “This is a book for seekers who long for answers,” he writes in the foreword. “Answers, however, lead to some of the most vexing philosophical questions of our civilization’s history.” Part personal memoir, part dissertation and always thoughtful, Spiritual Envy pulls the veil not only from religious diehards but atheist icons as well, and, as the title implies, yearns for the elusive comfort and order that comes with following either path. Krasny does great good with the subject, and with trademark poise delivers his bottom line: We don’t know. —G.M.

Matt Flores’ ‘Thrownology’ (Blurb; $38) is a flighty collection of images of everyday objects being tossed into the air, inspired by Phillipe Halsman’s “jumpology” series of the ’40s and ’50s. The pictures, many with an outstretched hand in the corner, are punnily captioned. “Passing the Buck” features a tiny plastic deer flying from hand to hand, while “Throwing Back a Couple of Cold Ones” shows a figure in a sweatshirt lobbing beers behind his head. The Santa Rosa author found his photos’ settings in and around the Bay Area.—S.J.P.

As a contributor to Tablet and Vice magazines and, occasionally, the Bohemian, Santa Rosa cartoonist Vanessa Davis captures in incredibly funny Roz Chast&–like illustrations the thrills and travails of life in her first hardcover book, ‘Make Me a Woman’ (Drawn & Quarterly; $24.95). A collection of comic vignettes featuring friends, family, dresses, travels, boyfriends, jobs, insecurities, loves, worries, outings and, well, anything that happens in Davis’ life, Make Me a Woman is the kind of book one finishes with a feeling of knowing and liking the author. Growing up Jewish is a reigning theme in Davis’ work, but as the book’s title implies, the underlying inspiration comes from being a young woman in the modern world. With hints of self-deprecation while finding meaning in life’s details, this is pure cartoon gold.—G.M.

Bodega investigative journalist Peter Laufer has somehow found himself out of war reportage and into animals. Laufer, who discussed his work on butterflies with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show in 2009, released ‘Forbidden Creatures: Inside the World of Animal Smuggling and Exotic Pets’ (Lyons Press; $19.95) this summer. In this exploratory work, Laufer sets out to expose the underground animal-smuggling industry. Laufer offers a look into his expeditions and enlightens readers as to what is being smuggled, where this is occurring, who is responsible for it, what can be done to stop it and how the future looks for these species. The book’s cover and inside pages have the textures and colors of animal skin, and Laufer highlights numerous encounters with people in the business. What Laufer uncovers is not only interesting, it is actually shocking.—H.S.

‘The Virgin Diaries’ (CreateSpace; $12.95) by Windsor authors Kimberley Johnson and Ann Werner, is an anthology of firsts. The mother-and-daughter team questioned 72 people about losing their virginity. Inquiries range from the obvious “How old were you?” to the more complex and open-ended “Why did you choose to lose your virginity at that time with that person?” The responses, compiled into a series of essays, run the gamut from heartwarming and humorous to tender and romantic to painfully awkward. Interspersed with the personal accounts are quotes like “Credibility is like virginity. Once you lose it, you can never get it back,” as well as a few statistics on subjects like masturbation and faking orgasms.—A.D.

What will happen on Dec. 21, 2012? How will Dec. 21, 2012 change our lives? Harmony Festival founder Debra Guisti of Sebastopol presents viewpoints on the whole Mayan-calendar-end-of-the-world issue in a new book, ‘Transforming Through 2012: Leading Perspectives on the New Global Paradigm’ (Yinspire; $17.95). Featuring the writing of 33 scientists, researchers, mystics, astrologers, indigenous elders and more, Giusti’s collection circumvents the Hollywood doomsday interpretation of 2012 in favor of a look to the future after the “great shift.” Come the day when the universal clock reaches 11:11, when the Mayan calendar ends and when the solar system crosses the galactic equator, Transforming Through 2012 gives a one-stop primer on evolving with the date’s predicted consciousness change. Naysayers continue to downplay the 2012 phenomenon as just another Y2K, but as the foreword by George Noory, host of “Coast to Coast AM,” portends, “No big deal. Or is it?” —G.M.

Women during the latter half of the 1800s are usually depicted as saloon hussies, rabblerousers like Annie Oakley or the silent, long-suffering, hard-working type á la Little House on the Prairie. (And let’s not forget noble sacrifice: Sacagawea.) Thankfully, Sonoma County resident Ida Rae Egli has taken the time to research and edit writings by the many unknown women who moved to the western shores of the nation and had the time and presence to write about their experiences. Compiled into ‘No Rooms of Their Own: Women Writers of Early California, 1849&–1869’ (Heyday Books; $16.95), these essays, stories, journal entries and letters shed new light on life in California as seen through a woman’s eyes. Topics run the gamut from housekeeping to grizzly bears, birth control to fashion, gymnastics to delirium, offering readings of interest to both male and female readers.—S.D.

Sonoma author Carol A. Collier continues the adventures of Anna Wall in her latest novel, ‘River Dreams’ (AuthorHouse; $15.49). Collier’s previous Anna Wall book, An Appalachian Summer, provided romance and suspense and, for Wall, a new husband. River Dreams finds Wall finally accepting an offer of marriage from her high school sweetheart, Bill Collins, and the newlywedded couple take a cruise in Brazil along the Amazon river. Wall experiences mind-opening visions of a metaphysical landscape, invisible before her entry into shamanic healing, and returns to her native Virginia with a new awareness of the destruction caused by mountaintop removal. Clear-cutting and coal mining actually fit nicely beside domestic life in Collier’s prose and, inspired by her real-life father’s experience in the mountains and backroads of Virginia, paint a vivid picture of love and environmental activism in the Appalachians. —G.M.

Author Maria Finn wants us to do it on rooftops, windows, in dark corners and preferably with worms. A Sausalito local, Finn follows up on her memoir Hold Me Tight and Tango Me Home with ‘A Little Piece of Earth: How to Grow Your Own Food in Small Spaces’ (Universe Publishing; $19.95), a how-to guide to growing food even in the tightest of spaces. In this cleverly written book, each chapter focuses on edible goods from shiitake mushrooms to banana trees, all grown in whatever space is available both inside and outside the home. Finn’s detailed instructions are accompanied with hand-illustrated sketches of various plants and pottery. Growing an entire salad in an apartment is great advice, Finn claims, because “the ladies do like a guy with a garden.”—R.O.

In an age of “pills for every problem,” San Rafael author, psychologist and therapist Padma Catell makes a thought-out, exhaustively researched case for proper prescription practices in ‘Drugs & Clients: What Every Psychotherapist Needs to Know’ (Solarium; $39.95). Covering the gamut from alcohol to Zoloft, Catell looks long and hard into the pros and cons not only of psychoactive medications but such everyday over-the-counter mood enhancers as caffeine, nicotine and antihistamines. Ever wonder why marijuana causes a decrease in motivation? Drugs & Clients can tell you, with easy-to-read synopses and helpful graphs, providing a bibliography with each chapter for further reading. Useful for psychologists, nurses, therapists and social workers, Catell’s window into the tools we use to keep us feeling normal is engaging reading for anyone who takes antidepressants, drinks, smokes or has a cup of coffee every morning. And, yes, that’s most of us. —G.M.

Santa Rosa author Moore “Mike” Moran released ‘The Room Within’ (Swallow Press; $16.95) in June 2010. His second book of poetry, this volume contains poems about war, loss, friendship, religion and birth, as well as poems about his encounters with people and nature. He adds humor in “The Truth Concerning the Pizza in Monterey,” in which he recalls a time that he and a friend enjoyed authentic pizza that is hard to find today. “Today you can only get pizza at the franchise parlors in town where the freshest thing going is the waiters,” he writes. Also of particular note is “Silent Night,” a four-line poem with a powerful meaning. Moran’s first book of poetry, Firebreaks, won the National Poetry Book Award in 1999.—H.S.

Elspeth Benton of Santa Rosa employs the unlikely pairing of Zimbabwe and a children’s daycare center at a prestigious technological institute in Pasadena as the settings for her murder mystery, ‘Crucial Time’ (iUniverse; $16.95). The story follows a young Zimbabwean couple and their family as they navigate international politics and social unfamiliarity when they move to California. Aided in their transition by their son’s preschool director, the couple find themselves embroiled in a love triangle, surrounded by jealous ex-lovers and menacing vigilantes. Benton has an extensive career in early childhood education, which she extensively incorporates into her book, adding an unusual facet to this mystery story. A short glossary of words from the Shona language helps readers get a feel for the Zimbabwean culture while retaining authenticity to the characters’ conversations.—S.D.

At press time, the Giants and Phillies are slugging it out in the postseason and, if you’re a Giants fan, you may know the feeling of time stopping in its tracks while the game is on. ‘Baseball: In and Out of Time’ (Jaxon’s Press; evidently free) by Santa Rosa author and poet Timothy Williams extends that carried-away feeling for America’s favorite pastime for 31 pages’ worth of stories, ruminations and insights into the Redwood Empire Baseball League, a local men’s senior baseball organization. With short, sharp imagery, Williams tells of 70-year-olds who throw no-hitters, rookies with nosebleeds, players who have heart attacks and coaches with cerebral palsy. The reader is left with a feeling that these are players who want to play the game until they die, who want to beat rhythms with their gloves until all of life becomes one endless at-bat and the ninth inning its sweet journey home.—G.M.

Looking at the life of another person can lead to a dangerous habit of critical introspection, relieved only when all that people-watching grants a peek behind the public façade. In this way, the watcher is reassured that these folks are still human beings. So goes the title story of ‘In Envy Country’ (University of Notre Dame Press; $20), a collection of stories on contemporary hetero American relationships by Joan Frank of Santa Rosa.—S.J.P.

North Bay author Bo Caldwell bases her most recent novel, ‘City of Tranquil Light’ (Henry Holt; $25), on the lives of her maternal grandparents. Will, an ordinary Midwest farmer, receives a message from God that compels him to move to the North China Plain in 1906. Upon arrival, he quickly meets Katherine, a fellow missionary and dedicated nurse. Will and Katherine marry and work to improve the conditions of their beloved Kuang P’ing Ch’eng. City of Tranquil Light is told through the perspectives of both characters, and contrasts a beautiful marriage with a deteriorating nation. A story about love, struggle and faith, this novel not only honors the lives of Caldwell’s grandparents, but also provides an intimate historical view of China at the turn of the last century.—H.S.

For Andrés R. Edwards, it’s very easy being green. The Fairfax-based author of The Sustainability Revolution has written a new book, ‘Thriving Beyond Sustainability’ (New Society Publishers; $17.95). In the bleak world of climate change and environmental calamity, Edwards looks forward to a future where sustainability and resilience are indeed possible. In this latest work, Edwards urges people, companies and entire societies to reinvent themselves in the face of a changing world. Of particular note is the first chapter, “Lessons from our Ancestors,” in which Edwards examines how the relationship between traditional cultures and their natural environment can benefit even the most modern urban dweller. Throughout the book, Edwards profiles and offers examples of laws and initiatives passed, innovative and efficient building designs and projects and events that are all doing their part to save the planet.—A.D.

It’s amazing that Marti MacGibbon survived her harrowing life and had the guts to recount it in all its raw and disastrous detail in her book ‘Never Give in to Fear: A Memoir’ (CreateSpace; $14.99). An aspiring and talented young standup comic, MacGibbon left her native Texas for the bright lights of San Francisco. But instead of pursuing her natural talent, she ended up living a crank addict’s life on the Russian River. The Pink Elephant in Monte Rio and Guerneville’s Cinnabar coffeehouse are familiar settings for MacGibbon’s frenetic antics. Descriptions of a near miss with serial killers Leonard Lake and Charles Ng, a three-month stint as a sex slave in Japan, surviving Russian River flooding, homelessness and drug addiction will make readers glad for the safety and comfort of their armchairs. Not until page 293—in a 305-page book—does MacGibbon see the light and find the strength to change her destructive lifestyle. Not too preachy, the author’s candor and sense of humor keep the pages turning.—S.D.

Dedicated to “everyone who has stared the status quo in the eye and shouted, ‘Fuck You!’,” the 146-page anthology ‘Punk Rock Saved My Ass’ (Medusa’s Muse; $10) is by no means a history of punk nor an analysis of its enduring appeal. Rather, in personal zine-like stories, chapbook-style poems and opinion pieces worthy of a Maximum RocknRoll column, the collection, edited by Terena Scott and Jane Mackay, opts for the personal attachment its writers have forged with punk rock and the salvation it has provided. “Punk Rock Girl in a Redneck Town” is an exemplary snapshot of enduring the taunts of jocks over piercings and colored hair; “Cut. Paste. Repeat.” describes being transformed by Patti Smith; and “Punk Rock Love Letters in a Cassette Case” begins with the explains-it-all statement, “I was angry. I hated everyone and everything.” Throughout, the book paints a portrait of punk’s positive punch and offers the reader a peek into the chaos-theory freedom found in everything loud, fast and out of control.—G.M.

‘Dig In: Sweets’ (The Gluten Free Lab; $10) by self-described food nerds and Healdsburg natives Aly Anderson and Heather Prandini is a short but sugary recipe digest featuring everything from cookies and brownies to chocolate ganache to peach-berry crisp—all without a hint of gluten. Full of glossy color photographs and cute captions, Dig In: Sweets goes beyond to offer alternatives to the gluten-intolerant crowd. Looking particularly tasty as well as photogenic is the banana-chocolate swirl loaf, a concoction made with almond meal, rice flour, potato starch and quinoa flour. The book also contains an extensive index of the gluten-free flours used in its recipes.—A.D.

Is war inevitable? According to Santa Rosa author Kathleen Barry the answer is absolutely not. In her most recent book, ‘Unmaking War, Remaking Men: How Empathy Can Reshape Our Politics, Our Soldiers and Ourselves’ (Phoenix Rising Press; $17.95), Barry not only answers the question but offers a way out. Focusing on the ever-escalating levels of violence against women, Barry addresses how men are made expendable and offers ways for them to move away from their social expectations. She emphasizes the presence of empathy and how it threatens promoters of masculine character. Barry constructs a compelling argument about violence toward women being connected to masculine values, but convinces readers that there are solutions and there is hope.—H.S.

Santa Rosa choreographer, dancer, watercolorist and poet Amy Trussell delivers her fourth book, ‘The Painted Tongue Flowers’ (Deva Luna; $14.95), as a collaboration with painter Krista Lynn Brown. In it, the power of the feminine reigns, with imagery of birth, breasts, seeds, milk, umbilici and the petals of Venus. Men are not entirely absent from Trussell’s poetry; interpersonal relationships find eloquent flight in “Spirit Guide,” “The Beloveds” and “Intuition,” thoughtfully placed alongside each other. Brown’s paintings, with O’Keeffe-like entendre, are the perfect complement to Trussell’s verse. —G.M.

Sonoma author Tami Casias’ debut novel ‘Crystal Bound’ (OOMM Books; $15) tells the tale of 16-year-old Julie, a not-so-normal teenage girl. Coupled with the usual teen drama, Julie must also come to terms with her emerging powers, or as her grandmother puts it, “the ability to transform her life and the lives around her for the better.” In the end, Julie will have to use her special gifts to not only save a friend, but also reunite her shattered family. Casias weaves a spell for readers as Julie navigates the murky waters of adolescence, dealing with friends and enemies in addition to alternate realities, telekinesis and visions of the future.—A.D.

Santa Rosa Junior College prof Joel Rudinow’s R&B-loving side takes the lead in ‘Soul Music: Tracking the Spiritual Roots of Pop from Plato to Motown’ (University of Michigan Press; $28.95), an unusual blend of music history and philosophy. His loving analysis of the origins of his subject reaches back to the Reconstruction to outline the symbiotic history and cross-pollination that the sacred (spirituals, initially) and the profane (blues) shared in the evolution of modern gospel music. That history then provides a nuanced context for understanding the more contemporary discord when pioneering figures such as Ray Charles and Sam Cooke took the fervor and emotional power of black church music into the secular realm of popular songs.

But Rudinow also views this through the prism of his academic specialty, referencing the Pythagoreans’ theories of numeric-based harmonics, and tracing Plato’s theories of moral psychology as a basis for attempts to qualify the emotive power of differing keys and tempos. Along the way, we get extensive discussion of seminal bluesman Robert Johnson’s fabled deal with the devil, the role of the Staples Singers in bridging gospel and “message” music during the Civil Rights movement and a deconstruction of the authoritarian orthodoxy of neoconservative beacon Leo Strauss. A working musician as well as an academic, Rudinow offers ideas for both fans and philosophers to chew on, though each may pick and choose which chapters they prefer to dwell on.—Bruce Robinson

It is well known that the prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam, had multiple wives. But there is some question as to exactly how many. In her new book, ‘Untold: A History of the Wives of the Prophet Muhammad’ (Monkfish; $18.95), Novato poet and speaker Tamam Kahn comes down on the side of inclusiveness, counting a total of 12, as she concludes that Mariyah, a Coptic Christian woman from Egypt, should be numbered among them, even though other scholars have considered her no more than a concubine. Also among the group are two Jewish wives and women from strong matriarchal traditions in the Muslim world. Surprisingly, only one of these many wives bore children who outlived their father.

Muhammad’s abundance of wives came only after a rewarding 25-year first marriage to Khadijda. Following her death, Kahn reports, “He married widows, generally,” giving those women status and a home they would otherwise have lacked. Others were marriages of political alliance, resulting at one time in a household of eight simultaneous wives. “That was pretty chaotic, I think,” the author observes. Untold is the result of extensive research, almost entirely in English, but with a focus that other Islamic scholars have generally bypassed. It is also presented in the infrequently used form of a prosimetrum, in which the factual narrative is laced with dozens of Kahn’s poems, offering a lyrical, more intimately personal portrait of the women as she recounts their histories.

“Who do you think you are?” the Sufi author demands of herself in the opening poem, challenging her standing to offer this somewhat personalized account. “I am a pilgrim, a pen with a child’s heart / following the foremothers through / doors shut on centuries of stolen words,” she answers. “I am here with a message: / Conversation with these women / Will never end.”—B.R.

How often is birth depicted in movies by a lot of grimacing and heart-rending howls of pain from sweat-drenched actresses, who, after much panting and a few encouraging words from a husband/friend/doctor, give a final push to expel a baby far too big to be an actual newborn? And how many women offscreen say that they truly enjoyed their birthing experience? In ‘Orgasmic Birth: Your Guide to a Safe, Satisfying, and Pleasurable Birth Experience’ (Rodale; $17.99), authors Elizabeth Davis and Debra Pascali-Bonaro compile scores of testimonials from women and their partners who have experienced birth as an ecstatic process.

A Sebastopol resident, midwife for 30-plus years and a published author of six books, Davis defines orgasmic birth as “a birth experience in which a woman is connected to her body and experiences anything from pleasure to ecstasy to the actual experience of orgasm.” She further explains how the physiology of birth lays the groundwork for physical pleasure, due to high levels of oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone.” This hormone is released by women during lovemaking and, surprisingly, is also found in women during labor in amounts 10 times higher than at any point in her life. Unfortunately, the affects of oxytocin are negated by adrenaline, whose release is often caused by the atmosphere of the hospital setting, so most women are completely unaware that birthing has the potential to be a pleasurable experience. Extremely well-researched, the book offers a six-step guide to having an orgasmic birth, including a program for reaching optimal health during pregnancy, a three trimester checklist and personal stories. Tasteful black-and-white photographs illustrate the book, and the text is broken up by highlighted commentary from new parents.

Elizabeth Davis appears on Thursday, Oct. 28, at Copperfield’s Books, 138 N. Main St., Sebastopol. 7pm. Free. 707.823.2618.—S.D.

Sonoma County Library