Trip: Bite-size hammerhead sharks, packed into cans for snacking; a church steeple impaling an eight-hundred-pound boy's eye; snortable lines of "uncut Dr. Phil" in his sci-fi amnesia satire Zanesville (Villard, $14.95), Kris Saknussemm spins freaky imagery like Lewis Carroll on ... uncut Dr. Phil. How does he do it? Well, he grew up in Berkeley, and now lives amid the ruins of an Australian quartz-crushing mine, under a pine planted to mark Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Nearby fruit trees shade Chinese miners' graves. It's true. He lives there. With a dingo.
Flush: Seated near Nicole Richie at a poker tournament, UC Berkeley grad Pat Walsh "had a hard time seeing her because Penn Jillette was in the way. I had a hard time seeing anyone," Walsh says, "because Penn Jillette was in the way. He's like Hagrid of Harry Potter fame." How to Win the World Series of Poker (or Not) (Plume, $13) traces Walsh's hilarious sojourn seriesward and its lessons about humankind. "Poker brings out people's worst qualities," he says. "Poker players are, by and large, good and kind. They're just not that way at the table. Once you sit down, they want to take all your money and watch you slink off. Poker players like rules and abhor cheats they'd make good policemen if that job could be done sitting on one's fat ass." He'll play Internet poker for pennies until dawn, but it's not an addiction. Gambling addicts "find more highs in games dependent on luck. Good poker players are constantly working to eliminate luck from the game. ... Poker is hours of boredom punctuated by seconds of terror/joy, whereas craps or blackjack deliver a fresh dose every couple of minutes. Poker is addictive in the way sudoku is, not the way heroin is."
Ding dong, Darwin: Evolutionary factors are conspiring "to make penises even longer," Alameda's Joe Quirk writes in Sperm Are from Men, Eggs Are from Women (Running Press, $19.95), a spunky primer on the sociobiology behind who bangs whom and why. "Pretty soon, getting an erection will mean a slap in the face by your penis." He confesses that he's no scholar: "Uh ... credentials?" Which is cool until, amid all the yuks about nuts, you encounter such puzzlers as "the Japanese tribes in the high Himalayas the Sherpa, Bhutia, Lepcha." Uh ...
Speaking of weewees: Berkeley seventysomething Jane Juska declared a yen for 'em (on literary, chatty guys) in her sad-salty best-selling 2004 sex memoir sexoir? A Round-Heeled Woman. Now in Unaccompanied Women (Villard, $23.95), Juska writes about ... being a Berkeley seventysomething who wrote a sad-salty 2004 sex memoir. Lost lovers. Lost female friends such as Meredith who not grokking the fact that "great fucking beats great shopping" nurses a grudge, then dies. Lost leases. Transformed into a cult icon, Juska juggles burka envy and threatens not to tip a New York cabbie if he votes Republican. He's busy shouting at another motorist, "Fuck yo mama!" Further linguistic follies erupt when a Chinese blood-bank technician blurts, "Oh! You write book about slut!" As Juska hastens to add, the young lady says "srut."
Imitations of Asians: They're popping up everywhere! In ex-Oaklander Ariel Gore's stigmata saga (stigmaga?) The Traveling Death and Resurrection Show (Harper San Francisco, $13.95), a "wiry Asian" motel clerk lauds our narrator: "I like you hair. Blue streak. Very fashion." In a recent New Yorker article, Daniel Raeburn conjures a Japanese doctor who bows, intoning, "So sorry." Chinese folks eat dog meat in Berkeleyite Cornelia Read's debut thriller, A Field of Darkness (Mysterious Press, $22.95) but only inside the minds of its heroine's mayo-wolfing in-laws, who also admire Billy Graham, wear hideous hats indoors, mistrust "hebes," and laugh at tabbouleh. Guess what? They're rednecks! ... If you've reached a certain lit-hipness pinnacle, it's perfectly okay now to blurt faux-ethnospeak and to roast racist slackjawed yahoos who might, um, blurt faux-ethnospeak.
Tequila sunrise: Warts, squash sandwiches, an exploding kitchen, and visions of a woman who "would make herself throw up into a bedpan and later drink the vomit" flit through Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion (Whereabouts, $14.95). Stories by 24 writers are arranged regionally by Berkeley's C.M. Mayo. Staking a bivouac in the border wars, she declares on the first page that Mexico's boundaries have been "brutally cut back by the United States."
Stomp: Serving milk and cookies at Diesel to launch her rhyming picture book, Baby Shoes (Bloomsbury, $15.95), Oakland's Dashka Slater imagined what folks she knew back when would say: "'She used to write about the politics of race in urban America, and now she's writing about children stepping in puddles.' All I can say in my defense is that shoes are a subject of deep interest to children and to all right-thinking people." Sandals once transfixed Slater's year-old son. "It's actually not that different doing readings for the under-five crowd than it is doing readings for the over-21 crowd. Having done more than my share of poetry readings in bars, I'm used to people wandering onto the stage with bottles in their hands and shouting."
Put a cap in ya: A black man killed a black man in a St. Louis bar for not letting go of a hat. This 1895 incident spawned a song, covered by everyone from Leadbelly to Tina Turner to Nick Cave. Oakland team Derek McCulloch and Shepherd Hendrix' new graphic novel Stagger Lee (Image, $17.99) is a towering testament, seven years in the making, to a homicidal antihero whom McCulloch calls "an icon just waiting to be re-embraced." But he too wrestled with language. Writing authentic dialogue launched "my biggest crisis of confidence. I grew up in Canadian suburbs in the 1970s which, outside of maybe Iceland, is about the whitest environment imaginable." Never having met an actual African American until he was an adult living in Berkeley, he says, "it seemed the height of arrogance to think I could write convincing dialogue for a 19th-century mack. ... My first rule was to go easy on the dialect. I really don't like laboriously phonetic dialect writing anyway, be it Ebonics or H.P. Lovecraft-style New Englandese or Irvine Welsh Scots. Well, actually, I do like Welsh, but I wouldn't try writing Scots dialogue that way myself. My preference is to write the dialogue in something close to standard English, with just enough consistent variations that the reader gets the sense of the spoken rhythms and fills in the blanks. My second rule was to use, wherever possible, authentic dialogue from contemporary accounts of events. Billy Lyons' last words really were, according to witnesses, 'You cockeyed son-of-a-bitch, I'm gonna make you kill me.'"
end times: Now that Cody's is closing its Telegraph store, folks keep coming in and announcing: "'I bought my favorite book here, I discovered my favorite author here, I met my wife here,'" says events coordinator Melissa Mytinger. "For a lot of people it's a very dramatic, nostalgic, emotional event." Soliciting customers' personal anecdotes at CodysBooks.com/story, the staff is compiling a memory-booklet for the store's fiftieth anniversary, which falls on July 9. "I suppose you could call it a wake," says Mytinger, who laments the "gauntlet" that Telegraph-by-night has become. "But for us it's a joyful wake. ... Independent booksellers are dinosaurs," she sighs. "And it's not just Amazon's fault." Upon being told that his June 9 appearance will be the store's penultimate, jPod (Bloomsbury, $24.95) author Douglas Coupland "said he was honored to be one of the last."
What the Fork - January 17, 1:52 PM
Culture Spy - January 11, 9:55 AM
What the Fork - January 3, 2:06 PM
What the Fork - December 22, 12:12 PM
What the Fork - December 20, 11:39 AM