On the other side: Oakland-born Amy Tan has written about people who see dead people, and Winona Ryder has portrayed a person who sees dead people. The author and the Petaluma-bred actress and Saks shopper were among many stars who came out for Litquake, a two-day fest celebrating the local and the literary last month in San Francisco. Readings featured East Bayites April Sinclair, Rebecca Walker, Beth Lisick, Sylvia Brownrigg, Paul S. Flores, Guy Johnson, Robert Hass, Wendy Lesser, Pam Chun, Rabih Alameddine, and Edie Meidav -- not to mention the disparate likes of Po Bronson, Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler), and Irvine Welsh. An invitation-only party at the Backflip found Dave Eggers, Stephan Jenkins, and Vanessa Carlton schmoozing poolside. As the Türi vodka -- Estonia's finest -- flowed, a female guest swam a few laps in her underwear, then was toweled dry by an obliging quartet of naval officers in dress whites: it was Fleet Week, after all. Trainspotting (and, this year, Porno) author Welsh was the vortex of a tight circle that Press Here was either too cool or too uncool to intrude upon, choosing to eavesdrop instead. The Scot was clearly overheard saying, "And he fuckin' fell asleep!"
Cowering in Concord: More than one hundred exorcisms performed on grave sites in Concord's Black Diamond Preserve have not quelled the occasional sound of ghostly laughter and weeping, not to mention bells tolling, reports Dennis Hauck in Haunted Places: the National Directory (Penguin, $16.95). Not only that, but a poltergeist is said to have tormented workers in an office building on Franklin Street in downtown Oakland, and a photographer is said to have snapped a picture of a phantom hand emerging from the lawn under UC Berkeley's campanile, off which a student had recently jumped to his death.
Hauck, who is the California coordinator for the Ghost Research Society -- and also happens to be an alchemist -- still remembers clearly his own scariest experience:
"I saw claw marks form on the side of a house in Grass Lake, Illinois. They formed right before my eyes like an invisible hand was making them, and they dug deep into this old sun-faded redwood siding, revealing fresh wood underneath. No one could have faked that, and I became convinced that we are dealing with some kind of real force at work that very few people understood."
Using a technological metaphor, he says hauntings can arise when "the energy of some specific event is 'recorded' on the premises where it occurred. In these cases, it is 'replayed' for sensitive people. These do not necessarily have to be traumatic events. There are many cases of ghostly presences playing the piano or gardening or reading -- doing something they greatly loved in life."
Which might account for the specter that Hauck says haunts Room 219 of UCB's Faculty Club: It reads poetry aloud. That is so Berkeley.
Hello, sailor: The USS Hornet is haunted, too, according to Barbara Smith, who in her new Ghost Stories of California (Lone Pine, $10.95) describes an apparition that has a way of appearing and disappearing en route to the engine room of the aircraft carrier, which is now a tourist attraction on the Alameda waterfront. An Oakland ghost and yet another spectral Alameda swab are among many others in this collection of putatively true accounts. But the most haunted part of the state, Smith says, is Hollywood. While there on a research mission she was staying at the Hotel Roosevelt -- which is where Bill "Bojangles" Robinson is said to have given Shirley Temple her first tap-dance lesson, and which is allegedly haunted by both Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift.
"On my last night there, I was sitting in bed with the light on, writing some additional notes so that I wouldn't forget the 'color' of the place. It was very important to me that I do the best possible job in order to show respect for the film greats of the past -- especially the women. As I sat and thought, the bedside light turned itself off. Fully a minute later it turned itself back on. I felt oddly comforted by the anomaly and have always wondered if that simple act -- ghosts love things electric and electronic -- was one of the spirits' way of indicating their approval of my work."
Time out: In his second baseball time-travel novel, Two in the Field (Plume, $14), Berkeley's Darryl Brock sends a modern San Franciscan back to Cincinnati in 1869, where in this book's prequel he was a member of the first professional baseball team, the Red Stockings. Prodigious research brings Samuel Clemens and General George Custer into the cast of characters. If Brock himself had the magic to actually meet the Red Stockings, he says, "I would want to work out with them, to see how they played the game then -- sans gloves, masks, shin guards, or other protective equipment. And to see what tactics they employed, hear the slang they used, try to judge to what extent their attitudes resembled those of pro players today."
Speaking of which, how would Barry Bonds fare back then if race was not an issue (although it was)? "He would perform superbly in any era," Brock asserts. "One thing he would love about playing in 1869 is the fact that intentional walks hadn't yet come into use, so opponents would definitely pitch to him -- for a while, anyway."
Fly girls: In Japanese animation, girls have the power. "The situation comedy Bewitched was very popular in Japan and helped give rise to the entire 'magical girl' genre, of which Sailor Moon is a prime example," explains Patrick Drazen, whose exhaustive Anime Explosion! ($18.95) is new from Berkeley's Stone Bridge Press.
The genre dates back to 1966 and the Japanese TV series Mahotsukai Sally (Sally the Witch) which ran for more than a hundred episodes, two of which are mainly the work of young animator Hayao Miyazaki, now world-famous as the creator of Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.
"Magical girls tend to have secret identities," Drazen notes, "and generally do not flaunt their powers in public. Sailor Moon, Pretty Sammy, Cardcaptor Sakura, Saint Tail, Minky Momo, and many others fall into this category, and so may Birdy, the intergalactic policewoman who hides in the body of a hapless male student in Birdy the Mighty."
The book explores each of these icons in detail -- from Magical Princess Minky Momo, whom Drazen calls "nothing less than an updated gender-bender version of the story of Momotaro the Peach Boy" to "the oversleeping, overeating, whiny, klutzy crybaby who has to save the world, keep up with her homework, and chase after a boyfriend: Sailor Moon."
Forsooth: Back in the day when he was touring as an illusionist's assistant, Joseph Martin was a skeptic. And it was in this headspace that he had his first tarot-card reading.
"I thought there had to be a gimmick," the Oakland artist recalls. Yet the reader got so many things right about him that Martin turned into a true believer. Seven years later, he's the creator of his own original deck, Quest Tarot (Llewellyn, $34.95). Each Technicolor card in the kit, whose instructional guide Martin also created, includes images of gemstones and runes and other clues along with a lushly impressionistic rendering of the card's traditional portent. Older, more standard decks give virtually no clues with their simple assemblages of coins, cups, swords, and wands: Martin's "visual hints," as he calls them, make divination easier for newbies and readers "who don't have photographic memories" that retain, for instance, that the Nine of Swords may indicate news of a death. Avows the former nay-sayer: "It really is possible to tap into the divine and get amazing answers."
You will meet a stranger: Also new on the augury front is Susan Levitt's Complete Tarot Kit (US Games Systems, $35), which includes two different decks along with a workbook, chart, and introductory book by Levitt, who has been reading cards professionally for thirty years and counts Academy Award-winners among her clients. The guidebook began as a stack of photocopied notes in 1986. "People kept asking me to teach them what I knew, so I'd hand out copies of my notes. Hundreds of copies -- but then Kinko's got more expensive."
When she first took up the hobby as a youngster in Chicago, tarot cards "were considered the devil." So she moved to an Oakland loft. These days, she says, "everyone in Berkeley reads the cards. It's like having a therapist." She hopes her new kit, designed with beginners in mind, "will help the rest of the world learn to do what we've been doing in the Bay Area for decades."
Life saver: In her debut novel Love Made of Heart (Kensington, $23), set among familiar San Francisco landmarks, Teresa LeYung Ryan explores in appealingly unpretentious prose how abuse and mental illness wreak havoc in families.
"My parents risked everything to immigrate to this land because they wanted their children to have a ghost of a chance," says Hong Kong-born Ryan, who now lives in Kensington. When her novel's twentysomething protagonist discovers that her mother is trying to starve herself to death, she's caught completely off-guard. "Ruby's mother had survived the immigrant experience under tremendous strain," and responded by trying to "shut down her world. Not only did Ruby have to help save her mother, but she also had to grapple with taboos. She was saddled with society's views on mental illness -- the rich or famous have 'breakdowns' and go to sanitariums; poor people are 'crazy' and get locked up."
Ryan says she reclaimed her Chinese heritage while writing the book. "I was so focused on being an American girl that I abandoned my ancestral gifts. The immigrant story can break and heal hearts. I needed to heal mine."
Indie aid: Dorothy Allison and Alice Walker will headline two benefits at Berkeley's Northbrae Community Church, on November 9 and 16 respectively, to support Boadecia's, the independent feminist bookstore in nearby Kensington. Pat Mullan of the Committee to Help Boadecia's Survive and Thrive notes that when the store first opened ten years ago, feminist bookshops dotted the Bay Area. In today's "horrible climate," that number has dwindled. Asked to help out, Allison and Walker were "dying to do it. With terrific speed they said, 'Yes, don't pay us, please,'" Mullan reports. For more information, call 510-559-9184.
The envelope, please: Winners will be announced this week in the annual $30,000 Kiriyama Prize, a Bay Area-based contest open to books promoting deeper understanding of life on the Pacific Rim. Previous winners include Ha Jin, Carlos Fuentes, Ruth Ozeki, and Manil Suri. UC Berkeley's Joanne Sandstrom, editor and circumnavigator, is one of this year's nonfiction judges.
What the Fork - March 24, 10:21 AM
What the Fork - March 14, 2:30 PM
What the Fork - March 14, 11:39 AM
What the Fork - March 6, 11:53 AM
What the Fork - March 2, 5:12 PM