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Off the Grid: Santa Rosa author Joan Frank's 'Great Far Away' follows hippies close to home.

Local Lit

Our biannual look at what the neighbors are up to

By Suzanne Daly, Gretchen Giles, Gabe Meline and P. Joseph Potocki

Windsor publishers and writers Norm and Barbara Ray frankly hope to knock their readers' socks off with a heady Wow! (always capitalized and with an exclamation mark) when recommending cheese and wine combinations. Their newest release, The Wine & Cheese Pairing Guide (Rayve Productions; $15.95), considers the marriage of some 150 wines to 340 different cheeses, resulting in combination suggestions that the Rays or trusted experts have reported induce Wow! experiences when taken together. This easy-to-read book, winner of USA Book News' "Best Book" award, would be a perfect gift for a new neighbor or friend who has just moved to the North Bay and is as-yet unversed in the local ways of the mouth. The Pairing Guide explains cheese from udder to rind; wine, from budbreak to malolactic. Featuring two informative charts and much simply explained background—including glass styles, rind applications and general "rules" of coupling two of nature's great delights—the Pairing Guide is a handy resource.—G.G.

While oft associated with the Beats, Philip Whalen was more accurately a seminal voice in San Francisco's amazing poetry renaissance of the 1950s. Being somewhat non-Beat, however, didn't save him from being portrayed as one "Warren Coughlin" in Beat-god Jack Kerouac's Dharma Bums. Whalen studied Asian philosophies and was ordained a Zen priest in 1973, serving as the abbot of San Francisco's Hartford Street Zen center for 11 years, until his death in 2002, at age 78. Not to let Whalen's light go dim, Guerneville resident Michael Rothenberg has edited a new treasure of the poet's work, The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen (Wesleyan University Press; $49.95), surely the most comprehensive edition ever published. Gary Snyder said of Whalen, "Philip was always the purest, the highest, the most dry and oddly cosmic, of the Dharma-poets we've known—we are all greatly karmically lucky to have known him." For all of us who never met the man, The Collected Poems is a superb way to get to know what this exceptional poet is all about.—P.J.P.

There's an old maxim about pictures telling a thousand words, but the images collected in Historic Photos of Sonoma County (Turner; $39.95) only ask a thousand more. To the casual onlooker and serious student of history alike, each detail in these evocative and largely unpublished photos—with text by fifth-generation Petaluman Lee Torliatt—opens up new worlds of wonder. Spanning the years 1867–1979, over 200 photos bring to life the early years, the earthquake years, the Depression era, the 1950s boom and the modern era of Sonoma County. Torliatt's captions are informative and well-written (no surprise, considering he taught high school English), and each chapter features an introduction briefly explaining its era—just enough of a springboard for the curious mind. Questions arise about the fate of the Cal Theater, the Sonoma County Courthouse, the Occidental Hotel, Petaluma City Hall and all of these buildings' attendant way of life. In its final pages, chronicling the rampant commercial development in the 1960s with Hugh Codding's shopping malls and the early stages of Paul Golis' "planned community" of Rohnert Park, Torliatt's book ends with a subtle framework of sad answers.—G.M.

Each fingerprint is composed of between 50 and 100 lines, each having its own signature. They are "easily classifiable formations" called "pattern minutiae," assures Tiburon's Richard Unger, author of Lifeprints: Deciphering Your Life Purpose from Your Fingerprints (Crossing Press; $16.95). "The FBI does not need all 10 of your fingerprints to identify you. Comparing the pattern minutiae of one line of one fingerprint may well do the job." Founder of the International Institute of Hand Analysis, Unger estimates that he's studied some 52,000 pairs of hands since 1969 in his study of dermatoglyphics, or "skin carvings." Our fingerprints are formed some five months before birth, and Unger asserts that these most individual of lines contain directives to the specific life purpose, life lesson and spirit marking (which he terms a "soul initiation") that each of us possesses. Understanding these better can help us chart our course in the world. Emphatically not couched in New Age whoo-whoo—a foreword by a retired Stanford University School of Medicine neurology professor helps to ease any discomfort on this point—Unger's voice, rather, is jocular and comforting, promising that any of us, with a little help from his book, can better understand not only our personality arc but the very reason for our existence.—G.G.


C alled the "Dean of Western Writers," Wallace Stegner was an ardent environmentalist active in the Sierra Club who taught at Harvard before founding the creative writing program at Stanford. He won innumerable awards, including a Pulitzer Prize (Angle of Repose) and the National Book Award (The Spectator Bird). To get a notion of Stegner's influence on latter 20th-century literature, one only need consider a few of those he taught: Ken Kesey, Robert Stone, Scott Turow, Edward Abbey, Tom McGuane, Gordon Lish and Larry McMurtry, to name a published few. Now Pulitzer Prize–winning West Marin journalist and author Philip L. Fradkin gifts us with Wallace Stegner and the American West (Knopf; $27.50), a beautifully written, well-researched and nicely footnoted biography of a literary figure who leapt from his ivory tower time and again to act on behalf of the earth. Such legacy is not taken lightly.—P.J.P.

W endy Johnson's thoughtful, poetic and gorgeously illustrated reflection on 25 years working the gardens at Marin's Green Gulch Zen Center, Gardening at the Dragon's Gate (Bantam; $25) is a perfect meditation of its own for the gardener. Johnson suggests sleeping out overnight in the garden before planting, visiting the plot in driving rain, walking it every day, truly considering its "genius" before planting the first seed. She also advises planting weeds, specifying those particularly recommended by the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center's own Doug Gosling as being complementary to good growing practices. Part master class, part Zen reflection and 100 percent beautiful, Dragon's Gateis a must-have for anyone who has ever had the pleasure of placing a seed in the ground and watching it grow.—G.G.

There's a scene in The Queen where Helen Mirren, as Queen Elizabeth, stares in rapt awe at a moose in the middle of a meadow. The two share a reverent pause, and Mirren conveys a deep sense of royal humility. As if to serialize this scene, George Clooney in last year's Michael Clayton communes also with nature, staring deeply into the eyes of a gathering of horses on a crisp New England dawn. Why do these experiences resonate so much? Because just about everybody's had them, that's why, and in Sightings: Extraordinary Encounters with Ordinary Birds (Chronicle Books; $14.95), author Sam Keen relates his own. Starting with a childhood spent in the fields of Tennessee searching for the indigo bunting and falling in love with his art teacher through a shared love of birds, Keen winds his way across the country to conclude in Glen Ellen, where he bows down in the presence of a hooded merganser. Keen's birdwatching revelations chronicle his own spirituality, and a permeating philosophic theology infuses scripture and Christian history into the world his beloved creatures inhabit.—G.M.

Holey photomoley! Digital art photography Ó la Blade Runner meets I, Robot from post-industrial scrap heaps on the planet Dune in 'Salvaged: The Art of Jason Felix' (Insights; $35). Spawned by San Rafael's own Insights Editions, Salvaged is sorta like taking factorial sculpture, photography and paintings, spinning them into a cyclotron, cooking 'em up in a nuke and mixing down the leftovers in a computer. All this from a former Green Bay cheesehead quietly living with his presumably human wife and two "naughty" cats while creating video games in Victorian San Francisco. Ya gotta love these, whatever the hell they are.—P.J.P.

Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell walked on the moon and then had what he calls "the window seat" on the ride back to Earth. As he tells it, the trip home prompted a total transformation in Mitchell's understanding of reality and himself. He went on to found the Institute of Noetic Sciences, now based in Petaluma. The institute itself has now released a book, Living Deeply: The Art and Science of Transformation in Everyday Life (New Harbinger Publications/Noetic Books; $16.95) that details a decade's worth of research into transformative living, or, as IONS calls it, living deeply. Co-authors Marilyn Mandala Schlitz, Cassandra Vieten and Tina Amorok traced traditions both worldwide and obscure, and conducted hundreds of interviews with such well-known teachers as Ram Dass, Angeles Arrien, Sylvia Boorstein, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ralph Metzner, Starhawk, Huston Smith and others to create a science-based primer for living a fuller, more realized existence. It's all just within reach.—G.G.

The Great Far Away is a memoir, veiled in fiction, that charts the goings on in Ferris, an idyllic community in Northern California. Ferris is remote and small, a "town that time forgot," and a tribe of bohemians avoiding straight life descend on the town to forge a life of their own. As the residents have kids, form careers and transform Ferris itself into a microcosm of straight life, author Joan Frank's voice remains observational even though she was clearly a participant, something she finally acknowledges over halfway through the book, recently tapped as a Northern California Book Award nominee. A distraction for the local reader is to guess where exactly Ferris is (descriptions of the flooding "Rincon River" make Guerneville a solid guess), but that shouldn't take away from Frank's power of description. When she speaks of decayed houses "given over to gray bone," it's an invitation into the evolution of 1970s bohemian life that she retells in the pages to follow.—G.M.

Arcadia Publishing continues its popular and effective pop-history format with Mill Valley photographer Suki Hill's Then & Now Mill Valley (Arcadia; $19.99). Then & Now is chock-full of, yes, photos from the Mill Valley of yesteryear matched with photos of the same place and/or thing today with lively text providing essential info. A 40-year resident of the area, Hill ensures that Then & Now Mill Valleywill interest all those bygone Bay Area fans, and, of course, anyone who currently lives in or around Mill Valley.—P.J.P.

"Energetic fitness" is the mantra for Fairfax author Bruce Frantzis, wose book The Chi Revolution (Blue Snake Books; $19.95) outlines and debunks several myths that Frantzis sees as surrounding Western society's misconceptions about true health. With one's life force energy, known as chi, flowing clearly and freely throughout the body, spirituality, physical health, mental health and sexuality are all enhanced. Frantzis outlines philosophies as well as practical physical methods for opening up your body's energy channels for optimum health—and who doesn't need that?—G.G.

Imagine swimming in the warm ocean of the South Pacific, clandestinely witnessing the love-making of surgeonfish. Imagine being high on the effects of nitrogen narcosis watching in rapture as hordes of reef sharks swim within an arm's reach. These imaginings become reality for the arm-chair diver in The Fragile Edge: Diving and Other Adventures in the South Pacific (Houghton Mifflin; $25). Sebastopol author Julia Witty is a long way from home while diving in the Tahitian Islands, documenting the life of the coral reefs and surrounding waters. Well-known for her documentaries and articles chronicling the destruction of the world's oceans, Witty helps the land-bound to understand the beauty that lies below the surface and the detrimental effects humanity has wrought on his environment in this newest work, recently nominated for a Northern California Book Award.—S.D.

Begun in 1998 as a fundraiser for the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), the "Ranches and Rolling Hills" art show is now an institution. Having raised some $600,000 for MALT over the last nine years, the "Hills" exhibition brings together the best Marin County artists in depicting West Marin's rich rural landscape. Just in time for the exhibition's 10th anniversary, MALT has released a handsome coffee-table book, Ranches and Rolling Hills: Art of West Marin—A Land in Trust (Windgate Press; $50), celebrating the artists and their visions of rural Marin. With forewords by curator Michael Witt, art historian and Irvine Museum executive director Jean Stern and an explanatory note from MALT's Elisabeth Ptak detailing why her organization's work is so important to all of us, Ranches most of all reminds the viewer of the particular beauty of those historic rural farmsteads that mark Marin's coast as seen through the eyes of some 135 different artworks (Larry Iwerks' Burbank Road is adjacent). A reception to celebrate the book is slated for Sunday, April 13, at Toby's Feed Barn, main street, Pt. Reyes Station. 2pm. 415.663.1158.—G.G.

Eáven a cranky old fart enjoys illustrative whimsy, and the new crop of children's books offers plenty. Tommy the Turtle Takes a Tumble (Livevest Publishing; $13.98), written by Santa Rosa author Yvonne Koslowsky and illustrated by Kevin Collier, is a fanciful animate-animal poesy depicting Tommy's first day at gym class. The Tails of Brinkley the Berner: The Beginning (Brinkley Books; $16.95) is the real-life story of a Healdsburg canine character and his extra-special friend. Healdsburg author Laura Leah Johnson spins the story of Brinkley and co-star Luca, two Bernese mountain dogs who were bosom buds back when Brinkley was a pup. Even through hardship, they've remained inseparable ever since. Jen-Ann Kirchmeier's watercolors are knockout first-rate. Kirchmeier has the uncanny ability to bring the dogs to life, and the way she pulls focus on them while including unfocused suggestions of human activity in the background and surrounding the furry stars in colorfully impressionistic landscapes and backdrops really hits the mark.—P.J.P.

Four hundred sixteen pages may seem like a short amount of space to fully tie together a skewering of Tricky Dick in a fantasy world where the Vietnam War never happened, hemp is a fuel alternative, Timothy Leary is the arch-nemesis-hero, and cameos are made by Jim Morrison, Duane Allman and Jimi Hendrix, but damned if William Scott Morrison doesn't give it a hearty shot with The Energy Caper, or Nixon in the Sky with Diamonds. In an alternate universe called Earth One, the Kennedys and Martin Luther King are still alive, and Watergate never happened. What's not so alternate on Earth One is that America is in an energy crisis, and President Nixon, who has declared a war on drugs, wrestles with a plan to turn one of his war's key enemy plants into a fuel for cars. Morrison has a barrel of fun throwing historical figures together in unlikely scenarios, as with Nixon coveting a spot on Mount Rushmore. Ralph Metzner, co-author with Leary of The Psychedelic Experience, calls it "a truly enjoyable read."—G.M.

C har Matejovsky's Stones & Bones (Polebridge Press; $19), illustrated by Robaire Ream, is a fanciful jaunt through evolutionary science executed so well it must have Jerry Falwell turning back to stardust in his grave. The story of evolution is told in some lucky white-bearded grandpa's incredible library, replete with fireplace, bizarrely tentacled fishbowl, cat, turtle and two unnamed and speechless grandchildren. This book definitely does not speak down to its readership. In fact, I'd recommend Stones & Bones to children ages two to 102. It's an exceptional example of making learning really fun.—P.J.P.

Former Sonoma County Poet Laureate Terry Ehret'sthird collection, Lucky Break (Sixteen Rivers Press; $15), finds the poet exploring how even disastrous division allows new beginnings. The title poem inspired by a sculpture of the same name by Sonoma County sculptor Warren Arnold, Lucky Breakis organized into four sections spanning a wide range of styles and prompts, including deliberate mistranslations of other's works. Ehret has always been an accessible, exciting writer, and Lucky Break ably finds her in high form. Ehret appears at Readers Books on Sunday, April 13, with Gillian Wegener and Dan Bellm. 130 E. Napa St., Sonoma. 3pm. Free. 707.939.1799.

Other poetry on our desks includes Santa Rosa writer Amy Trussell's Meteorite Dealers (Moria Books; $11) and San Anselmo writer Prartho Sereno's Causing a Stir: The Secret Lives and Loves of Kitchen Utensils (Mansovar Press; $16). Sereno's whimsical paintings inform short poems that fancifully depict the unseen activities of such as the butter knife and dessert fork. Also from Sereno is the more traditional collection Call from Paris (Word Works; $10).

Not available in wide distribution but well worth a look is the Prison University Project's Open Line Winter 2008 compilation of writings from San Quentin Prison. Poems, short stories and illustrations mark this chapbook. Michael Endre's untitled memory strikes a particular chord: When I was a young boy we lived in a small white house. My mom and sister shared the only bedroom and my brother and me shared the couch bed in the living room. In the summer time, I would build my own room with cardboard boxes in the back yard. Our dog followed me to school and waited at the janitor's shed until school let out. I remember the wood floors squeaked at home and the windows were little. —G.G.

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