Cultural evolution: For an au courant if not always ivory-smooth China, check out Beijing-bred UC Berkeley grad Annie Wang's crisp novel Lili (Anchor, $13). Its ex-con heroine takes nothing for granted and pegs hypocrisy, pretension, and greed for exactly what they are -- with wicked wit. China today "is in a period many people call a stage of 'moral vacuum,'" remarks Wang, who will be at Orinda Books on July 11. "For example, many young girls think it is cool to have many rich or foreign lovers, and like to brag about it because they believe it shows how attractive they are." Currently working on two new novels in two different languages -- "when I get tired of writing the English one, I switch to the Chinese one for fun" -- she recalls her experiences at sixteen during the Tiananmen Square uprising as "like being in Berkeley in the '60s." Without Tiananmen, "I would be like a typical Chinese youth today who only cares about material things."
Fairy tale: In the winsomely illustrated new kids' book King & King ($14.95) by Dutch artists Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland, it's the same old story -- but not. The queen wants her son, the prince, to marry. Princesses are submitted for his approval, but the prince doesn't care ... until one girl brings along her good-looking brother. Originally published in the Netherlands, it's just out in English from Berkeley's Ten Speed Press.
Fun with futons: She died about a thousand years ago, but Lady Murasaki Shikibu is at it again with the flickering torches and fog-swept bamboo. A String of Flowers, Untied ... ($18.95), from Berkeley's Stone Bridge Press, is a jumbo collection of 400-plus love poems from Murasaki's The Tale of Genji, Japan's uncontested all-time literary classic. Light as air yet so swollen with longing that they seem about to burst at a touch, these shimmery little verses trace the ups and downs of Murasaki's randy royal hero. "Genji," explains translator Jane Reichhold sensibly, "rhymes with Glen G."
Before the fatwa: The first time Salman Rushdie saw The Wizard of Oz, he recalls, "Dorothy's place struck me as a dump." At the time, "I had a pretty good home. ... But Dorothy? Maybe we should invite her over." Rushdie's book on that movie -- along with Camille Paglia's meditation on The Birds and ex-Berkeleyite Gary Indiana's book on Pier Paolo Pasolini's brutal, taboo-busting Salò or the Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom -- are part of a series published by the British Film Institute and now being distributed by University of California Press. Other BFI titles include reference bonanzas such as a Bollywood encyclopedia.
The bitte end: When Danielle Jatlow was last in Berlin, her German friends "were shocked that I didn't know the names of their best-selling authors" -- Jochen Schmidt, for instance, and Thomas Brussig."It was embarrassing for me," says Jatlow, who now publishes the Oakland-based literary journal Watchword, which specializes in Central and Eastern European writers. "It was embarrassing for America. I'm into translations, because that way we can bring other cultures to readers who don't have the luxury of traveling." The latest issue, featuring Lithuanian poet Eugenijus Alisanka, is just out; check www.watchwordpress.org for a peek.
Yangtze rhymers: Each poem in A Thousand Peaks ($19.95), new from Berkeley's Pacific View Press, appears in Chinese characters, Chinese words rendered phonetically in the Roman alphabet, literal English translation (of the "leaf see-off go come wind" variety), and loose but lyrical translation, with drawings and commentary spotlighting key people, places, and contexts. Old pals such as Li Bai and Wang Wei are here, but so are less-familiar female poets and a sample from an adolescent Mao Zedong.
Great name, eh? Orgasms of History ($18.95), from the ever-rad, Oakland-based publisher AK Press, is a look at riots, uprisings, and revolts by French author and Paris '68 survivor Fremion. Captured in surprisingly adorable cartoons and lively commentary are Spartacus, the Durruti Column, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and almost a hundred more.
Endangered speakers: How to Keep Your Language Alive ($15.95), from Berkeley's Heyday Press, offers effective methods for learning your own ancestral language without pesky classes or daunting dictée."Language-learning doesn't have to be in the hands of professionals," says its author, UC Berkeley linguistics professor Leanne Hinton. Working with a native speaker and this book, learners can effect "a natural immersion." The method can even help those who want to learn "dead" languages. Cornish, anyone?
That's us: It was the rampant rhetoric blaming America for 9/11 that inspired Rob Cohen and UC Berkeley grad David Wollock to write Why We Rule! 101 Great Reasons to Love Our Country (Harper Entertainment, $13.95). Those reasons include Deep Throat, kidney transplants, and Slinky toys.
"We're talking about a new breed of patriotism," says Wollock. "I have tattoos. I love sex and drinking and drugs and hardcore rap and I love America." On a book-signing tour of US military bases, they shared a tank with cheerleaders and gained a newfound respect for soldiers.
"They might not be our first choice of friends," Wollock concedes, "but they kick ass." Spawned in a class-clown spirit, Why We Rule! has surprised its authors with how serious it has since made them feel.
"In 26 years, this country has invented more shit than anyone else. The world looks to us for everything. They come to us with their hands outstretched. It's not that we're a nation of greedy pigs and no one else is greedy," Wollock says. "We're just bigger."
Hep to hep: Two years ago, Cara Bruce was diagnosed with hepatitis C. "The doctor said, 'There's no cure, there's nothing you can do, and you'd better stop drinking.' It was a total shock." The young Berkeley writer bought every book she could find on the disease, but they all focused on liver failure and never "on the fact that you could live."But you can, as Bruce and Lisa Montanarelli reveal in The First Year: Hepatitis C (Marlowe, $14.95), a holistic how-to. When she was first diagnosed, "I didn't know if I could ever date again," Bruce says now, "or have kids." She found out she can -- but still marvels at the lack of public awareness concerning a virus that strikes one in fifty people worldwide and can be transmitted via tattoo needles, razors, and other surprises.
Snippets: When the laying-on of hands doesn't work, what next? In Faith Beyond Faith Healing (Paraclete, $13.95), Pinole's Kimberly Winston introduces real people who really believed, then had to reassemble shattered hopes. ... Berkeley's Elizabeth Partridge will read at Cody's Fourth Street on July 27 from her new Woody Guthrie biography for teen readers, This Land Was Made for You and Me (Viking, $21.95). ... Alameda County adobes abound in Janice Marschner's omnibus California 1850 (Coleman Ranch, $19.95).
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