Local Lit

Our twice-annual roundup of select new books by local authors


Occidental author Chester Aaron’s latest novel, ‘About Them’ (El Leon Literary Arts; $20), revisits the largely vanished world of his very first book, About Us, an autobiographical exploration of a 1930s Pennsylvania coal-mining village. While the book is a work of fiction, it is inspired by Aaron’s experience growing up in a small community as part of the only Jewish family in town. In this “sequel,” Ben Kahn returns to his hometown as an old man after the unexpected death of a childhood friend. While there, he reconnects with a childhood love, the daughter from the town’s only African-American family. Aaron says he was inspired to write the rest of the story after he became haunted by characters who had been left out of the first book. For the 88-year-old author of 26 books, working on the novel offered a chance to reconnect with buried memories and people. “Writing brought them back in body and soul,” he told the Bohemian last May. “I miss them now more than I did when I started.”—L.C.

‘One and Only: The Untold Story of “On the Road”‘ (Cleis Press; $22.95) praises Lu Anne Henderson as the catalyst for the Beat Generation, having brought together the love of her life, Neal Cassady, with Jack Kerouac. Despite two extreme opposite personalities and upbringings, Cassady and Kerouac allowed Henderson’s influence to bring out their similarities: their heart, their caring and the desire to do good across rigid cultural boundaries—essentially, the embodiment of the Beat Generation. This coupling led to the famed journey now forever documented as On the Road. Beat historian Gerald Nicosia and Henderson’s daughter Anne Marie Santos write of this mysterious, often reclusive woman who not only changed a generation, but also started a social shift that resulted in beatniks, hippies and punks, and continues today to influence the freedom movement.—A.F.

To most, the idea of aging is as appealing as hip-replacement surgery. Typically, when we think of those dubbed “seniors,” we think of glacially slow drivers or wise old pipe-smoking grandpas. Rarely have we seen the words “senior” and “sex” in the same sentence—until now. ‘Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex’ (Seal Press; $16.95) is the latest book from Sebastopol author and senior sexpert Joan Price, a self-described “advocate for ageless sexuality.” Price writes honestly and shamelessly about later-life sex, covering a gamut of topics from erectile dysfunction and loss of lubrication to sex toys for seniors. Naked is incredibly well-sourced and surprisingly touching, with candid stories from everyday people as well as advice from leading experts. Since we’re all headed in that direction, Price’s book is a refreshing reminder that when it comes to the libido, there is no age limit.—J.D.

In 2006, Kenny Johnson founded This Sacred Space, a nonprofit organization that facilitates meditation and empowerment groups at San Quentin. Anchored in the notion of psychospiritual growth, the organization promotes the idea that change is possible, no matter what one’s life condition. Johnson’s new autobiography, ‘The Last Hustle’ (Non-Duality Press; $16.45), tells the story of his early years as a hustler, thief and pimp, and how a nascent spirituality slowly helped him untangle from a life of crime. After years in and out of jail, Johnson finally ends up in federal prison, where he discovers meditation and books on Eastern philosophy. “Prison is a unique opportunity for self-study and self-contemplation,” writes Johnson, and his particular opportunity involves, among other practices, Buddhist philosophy, Bible study and astral projection. Released for good in 1997, Johnson exited into the world radically transformed and on a vibrant spiritual path, enabling him return to do empowerment work behind prison walls as a changed man.—L.C.

‘Finnish-American Poetry’ features works by Johanna Rauhala, Bill Vartnaw and Don Hagelberg in a small volume of open-format poetry. Rauhala’s poetry is set apart by her creative use of space, especially in “Knell,” which, despite its dark undertones, reflects on things that make life meaningful for the author—nature and her family being a big part of it. Vartnaw’s verse also largely features the natural world and the tradition of family, especially in “Sustenance.” The author visits his place of ancestry where instead of a house he finds lingonberry and blueberry bushes “& those who could, ate the berries – as one.” Hagelberg is strongly influenced by family and tradition, such as partaking in a sauna in “Steam-Cleaned.” The sauna goes beyond a mere indulgence; it is almost a spiritual ritual meant to clean the attendees from physical and psychological mud. A unifying theme is that of dessert, mostly blueberries, once again reverting to the natural world that the Finnish culture dearly appreciates.—A.S.

It’s tough being a sick and lonely kid when your bestest imaginary friend tries to kill you. In Sonoma County author Anya Parrish’s ‘Damage’ (Flux; $9.95), Rachel plays such a friend to diabetic Dani. Together they explore the creepy hospital floors, but their games turn deadly when Rachel pushes Dani off the roof. Time and therapy banish the evil friend from Dani’s world, and as a cautious teen she keeps her secret to herself. Naturally, Jesse, a love interest with an equally frightening predator, teams up with Dani after a horrific accident occurs, bringing back these imaginary (or are they?) demons. Even terrorists and the FBI get involved as the young lovers seek the truth behind their menacing monsters. Part Twilight, part Hunger Games, Damage pits governmental, parental and medical authorities against two teens seeking revenge in a violent and bloody sci-fi fantasy that is sure to spawn a sequel.—S.D.

‘You Never Know: Tales of Tobias, an Accidental Lottery Winner’ (Wheatmark; $21.95) shares the story of Tobias Hillyer, whose life is upended when a car accident kills his parents and leaves his brother, Simeon, brain-damaged; Tobias later drops out of college to become Simeon’s caretaker. Told by author Lilian Duval, Tobias’ journey swiftly shifts from a young person on a conventional upward path to a unexpected yet enriching detour. Expecting to leave all of his troubles behind after winning the lottery, Tobias learns that keeping an open perspective, embracing the flow of life, staying in the present moment and following the signs is what truly creates a happy life.—A.F.

Memories and contemplation are the main focus of Ed Coletti’s newest book, ‘When Hearts Outlive Minds’ (Conflux Press; $18), which mixes the melancholy of remembering the author’s recently departed father with the joy of the present. Coletti ventures into poetry from every angle, from the playful “than,” purely focused on sound and rhythm, to the reverie that is “When Hearts Outlive Minds”—reminiscent of the wave speech Hunter S. Thompson often cited—to “piles of brown leaves,” where the words on the page lively mimic the swaying of falling leaves on autumn. “So Many Poems” is touchingly personal; the reader fully empathizes with the author as he tends to his father for perhaps the last time. At the same time, “no bird is (just) a bird” and “Simply Read a Book” celebrate the continuity of life. Ultimately, the reader is left with the simple reflection that “the flowers still will grow.”—A.S.

Tina Marie started writing poetry after a physician casually suggested it as a healing practice for her debilitating anxiety disorder. “I pick, rip, peel, clip, itch, scratch, shave and pumice the skin on the bottom and sides of my feet every day,” she says, “until I’m unable to walk.” It is just this kind of confessional lyricism that peppers her debut poetry collection, ‘Every Heart Has a Halo’ (Publish America; $9.95). With alliterative titles like “Orchestrated Obsession” and “Satin Skies,” Marie’s poems explore everything from feral kittens and single parenting to sinister insanity and drug-lord-related murder. The book also showcases Tina Marie’s floral photography and her fierce appreciation for her family. But it’s the transformative power of words that truly underpins this work: the author moves from depression to celebration, captured perfectly in the poem “Picking Poetry Instead of Skin, Amen!”—J.D.

As the historical girding of her first novel, ‘A Woman of Heart’ (Mazo Publishers: $18.95), Marcy Alancraig takes on 20th-century Petaluma and the communist, Zionist chicken farmers that carved out a life there between WWI and the Great Depression. A broken hip and bed rest spurs 78-year-old Rheabie Slominksi to share life secrets with her granddaughter in this potent drama. The old woman suffers an “unhappy haunting” by the spirits of her mother and two sisters, all killed by Ukrainian soldiers in a pogrom during the 1917 revolution in Russia. As Rheabie tells her stories, her granddaughter Shoshana delves deeper into the family secrets—alcoholism, domestic violence, adultery—that have haunted the family for years. It becomes Shoshana’s responsibility and driving impulse to heal the painful past, help her mother and grandmother reconcile and move forward into a brighter future.—L.C.

The North Bay’s glass spilleth over with wine and food writings, but happily, ‘100 Perfect Pairings: Main Dishes to Enjoy with Wines You Love’ (John Wiley & Sons; $16.95) plows new ground in this fertile field. Napa author Jill Silverman Hough makes food and wine pairing simple, starting with a brief chapter of guidelines that any neophyte can follow. The author stresses a lack of perfection and little need to understand all the grassy, oaky, sloshy nuances that pop up all too often in wine discussions, and instead focuses on simpler yet delicious ways to bring out the best in both wine and entr–es. Each of a dozen wines, from Sauvignon Blanc to Cabernet Sauvignon, boast their own chapter of recipes, and include several vegetarian dishes. Try the “wine-y macaroni and Jarlsberg” with Viognier, or the “tipsy tri-tip” accompanied by a robust red. Appetizing photos and helpful tips are sprinkled throughout the book to stimulate the eyes as well as the palate.—S.D.

Though often somber, there is beauty in the almost otherworldly language of the poetry in Amy Trussell’s collection ‘Physical Address: Elegies and Spirit Poems.’ Perhaps the shortest poem in the volume, “Below the Horizon,” is the most lively in its description: “the radio antenna wicks Muddy Waters out of the air – who wraps his voice like kudzu around your Satellite.” “Black Clouds of Silk” has remarkable use of metaphors, such as “Your body oils are grafted to my ribs.” In “Heart Full of Lead,” Trussell combines both imagery and anecdote in a feminist criticism about the perils of war. Previously published poems such as “Flaming Tongues of Wheat” and “Pomba Gira” make their appearance in this volume, alongside newer material like “Burried Gypsy Skillets.—A.S.

In a sequel to her 2008 children’s book The Princess of No, Sebastopol author Jade Turgel switches genders, and exclamations, with ‘The Prince of Uh Oh!’ (Nomadladygirlboks; $22). In a series of densely illustrated scenes sure to engage the detail-oriented child, the protagonist kicks, defaces, destroys and mutilates nearly everything in his path, from flowers to wallpaper to sand castles, until everyone who sees him approach cries “Oh, no!” A lesson is learned at the end, naturally, but the path of destruction to get there is fun indeed—a baseball in grandma’s cup of coffee, some scissors to a doll’s head, an overflowing bathtub. Perfect for the rambunctious child, with expert illustration by Max May.—G.M.

It’s common knowledge that right-brain thinkers are creative and holistic, while those who lean towards left-brain thinking tend to be significantly more analytical and dualistic. In this comprehensively researched book ‘The Whole-Brain Path to Peace: The Role of Left-and-Right Brain Dominance in the Polarization and Reunification of America’ (Origin Press; $21.95), James Olson argues that a willing integration of the two hemispheres is exactly what’s needed to reach lasting peace on earth. He calls this brain lateralization. Tragic distortions can result from a lack of balance in our hemispheres, writes Olson, who argues that Democrats tend to be right-brain and inclusive, while Republicans leans toward the individualistic anima of the left brain. “In a healthy culture, we find a center of power made up of left- and right-brain-directed individuals cooperating and competing in an environment of mutual respect,” says Olson. After the whole debt ceiling debacle, maybe this book should be required reading for the entirety of Capitol Hill.—L.C.

The juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness seems intrinsic to this postmodernist world. If Sarah Palin and cityscape skylines aren’t enough to convince you, then take a look at Rohnert Park artist Kevin Soriano’s latest art-poetry collection ‘How to Destroy an Angel: Version 1.2’ (self-published; $36.95). “I deal in running paint,” Soriano says of his style, which makes use of alkyd, oil, spray paint, glass shards, latex, ink and charcoal to produce pieces that are as enticing as they are grotesque. Whether he’s admitting to a fetish for thigh-highs or to the fact that his “poetry isn’t all that great,” his writing style is blunt and self-referential, a sort of journal entry penned to the world. These emotionally charged musings pair well with visual representations of women (the angels of the title), some winged and celestial, others bloody and victimized, all of them uniformly naked. Much like the theme itself, the book is both poorly edited and yet aesthetically alluring.—J.D.

Whether through practicing shamanism or playing music, Francis Rico (aka Frank Hayhurst of Cotati’s Zone Music) harnesses the energy of the universe and spreads it to the surrounding community. Rico shares his passion and path to enlightenment through his book, ‘A Shaman’s Guide to Deep Beauty’ (Council Oak Books; $18). Vivid stories of Rico’s own journey to the “crack between worlds” while seeking guidance and knowledge from Castaneda-like Don Juans intertwine with 11 chapters outlining intensive practices for seekers unable to reach Machu Picchu or the Himalayas. Chapters titled “Forgiveness Is the Key” and “Suffering Is Optional” echo Buddhist teachings, but most of Rico’s lessons take place in Mexico and South America. Rico intersperses his personal history with teachings for connecting with the “mojo of the universe,” and his colorful past and friendly voice will entrance those who wish to deepen their knowledge of the world beyond what’s reported in the daily news.—S.D.

When I started at the Sonoma County Independent in 1994, there was a genial man around the office with gray hair, flowery speech and a finely skewed sense of humor who spent much of his time with such now-antiquated instruments of old journalism as the darkroom, the X-Acto knife and the wax coater. He was John DeSalvio, and he drew very funny editorial cartoons and wrote very good feature articles. DeSalvio’s book ‘God Told Me to Draw These’ (self-published; $18) collects his cartoons and writings from 1983 to 2000, and many of them haven’t aged much—sadly, war, homophobia and corporate greed are still rampant. Even the dated entries are a fun trip through memory lane; as the back cover states, if you like seeing a cartoon of Jesse Helms with his head up his ass, then you’ll want this book.—G.M.

High Up North

In ‘Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War’ (High Times Books; $12.99), SSU professor Jonah Raskin turns his journalist’s eye to the infamous Emerald Triangle. He chronicles a year in marijuana—from seed (or clone) to harvest—stopping along the way to interview growers, law enforcement, lawyers, journalists and activists. Raskin reveals a nuanced and rapidly changing world that has grown up around cannabis, and seamlessly weaves his own history into the journey. He proves that there is still much to be said about California’s illegal agriculture.

Beginning with his own father, a smoker with a personal marijuana garden, Raskin introduces a cast of characters that practically tell the story for him—his “marijuana poster girl,” a strong yet elegant “old-school” pot grower who dealt in cash, grew organic and sunbathed on her porch, even as pot-searching helicopters circled about her garden; conflicted Mendocino County sheriff Joe Allman, who wants federal drug enforcement agents out of his jurisdiction but doesn’t want to shut down cultivation completely; and a cancer survivor named Raven, whose outdoor plants grow tall on a South-facing hill in plain sight. These stories played out while California voters considered Proposition 19—to legalize and tax marijuana—and Raskin captures the particular angst of that epoch. Longtime marijuana activists rejoiced at the de-stigmatization of smoking and growing pot, while growers fretted after their livelihoods, and the price of marijuana plummeted in a saturated market.

Raskin is sometimes nostalgic for the noncommercial pot culture of the ’60s and ’70s, but more often his memory provides color for what could otherwise be a series of boring historical footnotes. Though he offers many clear insights about history, economics and politics concerning marijuana, Raskin doesn’t always keep his journalist hat on. He goes to the frontline, and he smokes a lot of pot, and tells an engaging, entertaining story. —K.M.

Sonoma County Library