Going Bump in the Night 

This month's East Bay book news.

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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.

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