Friday, September 3, 2010

Local Literary Horizon Filled with Fellatio, Famine, and Subprime Loans

By Anneli Rufus
Fri, Sep 3, 2010 at 12:55 PM

East Bay authors and East Bay publishers are pumping out new books about economic apocalypse, oral sex, and baby animals.

Tea Partiers are paranoid, notes UC Berkeley public policy professor and ex-Secretary of Labor Robert Reich in his new book Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future. In a nutshell, we're boned. What might help? Reich suggests Medicare for all and "a sizable increase in public goods such as public transportation." Ha ha, tell that to AC Transit, which just proposed yet another series of massive service cuts. For the middle class, he suggests a "reverse income tax" in which "instead of money being withheld from their paychecks to pay taxes to the government, money would be added to their paychecks by the government." But most of all: "Higher marginal tax rates for the wealthy." Chapter 4, after all, is titled "How Concentrated Income at the Top Hurts the Economy.") In Tea Party language, this is known as "spreading the wealth around."

San Francisco Chronicle sex columnist Violet Blue gives a blow-by-blow on you-know-what in The Ultimate Guide to Fellatio, an illustrated handbook newly reissued in a second edition by Berkeley-based Cleis Press. Each page is packed with hints, such as "I heard this from a gay guy: Take a deep breath and hold it in. That stops the gag reflex."

When low-income folks borrow money at 15 percent interest from the only people who will loan them anything, that's called "payday loans" and "vulture finance." And the veritable vultures who make those loans — and reap that interest — get very rich. Ex-East Bayite and former Express editor Gary Rivlin interviewed some of these along with perpetrators of other sleazy, fleece-the-desperate schemes to research his new book Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. — How the Working Poor Became Big Business. What could be more timely than an expose of fringe financing, predatory subprime lending, and all the other rackets by which millions of Americans have plunged ever more helplessly into ever deeper debt? "It’s based on the two years I spent hanging out on the economic fringes with pawnbrokers and check cashers, payday lenders, and those in the strange business of offering instant tax refunds," Rivlin writes in an email.

A bridal couple who fell in love when both were just sixteen die horribly in a limousine crash, minutes after their wedding. Berkeley author Ayelet Waldman's novel Red Hook Road works backward and forward from that moment, probing the effects of tragedy and class on the pair's bereft families, one rich and one not. Waldman dedicates this book to her husband, Michael Chabon, "as ever."

Cartoonist Robert Crumb's daughter Sophie Crumb, who is also a cartoonist as is her mother Aline Crumb, and who clearly inherited much talent from both sides, lived briefly in Berkeley's Chateau co-op a few years ago. Sophie Crumb: Evolution of a Crazy Artist tracks her life through her strange and accomplished and truly remarkable drawings — from self-portraits involving urination, executed at age three, to almost photographically detailed images of her pregnant self in 2009. "Robert is a compulsive archivist," writes Aline Crumb in her preface to the book, "and carefully saved and dated thousands of Sophie's drawings. Sophie was a prolific artist starting at a very early age." Nonetheless, "Robert and I are keping a low profile. Not wanting to use Robert's fame to motivate you, we are counting on you, our discriminating readers, to perceive the value of this intimate body of work that takes you through the subtle but dramatic development of a young artist."

New from the University of California Press, The Coming Famine: The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It is Australian science journalist Julian Cribb's dire proclamation on skyrocketing worldwide food costs. Between 2005 and 2008 alone, food prices rose by 80 percent. In Asia alone, rice prices "soared by almost 150 percent in a single year." Panics, fuel costs, economic collapse, population growth, and other triggers are causing massive food shortages that over the next few decades, Cribb alleges, "are probably the greatest threat the human race has ever faced." The possible solution? "Cooperation, sharing of knowledge, and the subordination of national pride, greed, and fear will see us through." Subordinate that national pride. Subordinate it now.

New in paperback, Berkeley novelist Elizabeth Rosner's national bestseller Blue Nude is set mainly at the San Francisco Art Institute, where a formerly famous German painter-turned-teacher and an Israeli nude model meet and contemplate their pasts. Modeling, the latter muses, is like "swimming in the air, alone."

For the littlest readers and pre-readers, infant forest creatures gaze cutely from the thick cardboard pages of Katherine Brumage's Baby Yosemite, new from Heyday and the Yosemite Foundation.

Multiple Lowell Thomas Award-winning travel author and longtime Oaklander Jeff Greenwald awaits the November release of his new memoir, Snake Lake. Eight years in the making, it revisits a span during the 1990s when Greenwald was romancing a local photojournalist, befriending a high lama, watching the "people's power" movement gain strength, and worrying about his increasingly depressed brother back home.

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