Hand-Cranked Houses 

In this month's East Bay book news, Michael Savage exhibits tenderness, everyone may or may not be mating with a local poet, and Prozac cures everything.

A bunch of people had sex with Daphne Gottlieb: gals, guys, gays, hets, trannies, on a pool table, in a dungeon, slapping her ass, drawing blood with a whip, calling her a goddess, using a Glock, musing "Does she want it harder? Slower?" and remembering, afterward, "She felt so much softer than anyone I'd ever been with" and "She gripped me tightly and pulled, letting her thumbnail scratch the tip of my penis." Or did they? Gottlieb actually exists, and is a Lambda and Audre Lorde Award-winning Mills-grad and self-identified queer San Francisco performance poet. She's the editor of Fucking Daphne: Mostly True Stories and Fictions, new from Berkeley's Seal Press, an anthology whose dozens of stories by dozens of writers (including Stephen Elliott, Ariel Gore, and Charlie Anders) are all about ... well, fucking Daphne. Did they? Dude, don't you understand anything? The back cover calls it "a collection that blurs the lines between reality and fiction. ... Harnessing the playfulness of a hoax, the seductiveness of literature, and the edginess of the avant-garde, Fucking Daphne will appeal to a culture intrigued by 'reality' and hungry to know what may or may not be going on behind the scenes." Call it the ultimate experiment in a whole new kind of narcissism and someone will call you repressed.

In That Same (Throbbing) Vein

Two lushly photographed models in Lesbian Sex: 101 Lovemaking Positions, new from Berkeley's Celestial Arts, demonstrate "Fur-Lined Teacup," "Peach Gobbler," "the Bush Agenda," and 98 more, with text by Jude Schell. In position #37, "Imperialism," one partner perches atop a tall chair while the other "kneels, worshipping ... honored to have been given the privilege to orally please her highness." The book's photographer is Robert Wright. Is that ... a guy?

Illin'

"By the time I started college," Jennifer Traig writes, "I had already had skin cancer, meningitis, pancreatitis, and blood poisoning" — but she hadn't. She'd just thought so. Heart attacks and other cancers were yet to come. Actually, they weren't. (But her eczema and BDS were real.) The Berkeley author's memoir Well Enough Alone: A Cultural History of My Hypochondria is hilarious (home stool collection "involves making a deposit into a toilet attachment that resembles a plastic cowboy hat") and sad, because hypochondria is a genuine obsession, time-consuming and expensive: The Merck Manual gives it "a 5 percent cure rate," Traig writes. "This means that you are far more likely to recover from leukemia." Spoiler alert: She found a cure, and it's Prozac. This "miracle in a gelcap ... really did solve all my problems."

Seemingly Cheerful

Cataloguing an exhibition by Asian-American artists at San Francisco's Kearny Street Workshop, Activist Imagination features the work of Berkeley's Donna Keiko Ozawa, who "stores stuff (like 180,000 used chopsticks) in Richmond" and whose mixed-media piece Sheep House entails a cute little wooden house which, turned on a rail by a handcrank, emits sheep noises from a toy hidden inside: "This seemingly cheerful piece," Ozawa explains, "continues my critical examination of the American ideal of success and happiness, the pursuit of which is often mistakenly viewed as separate from politics, yet sacrifices our humanity and freedom." Ba-a-a-a. Also in the book, Sri Lanka-bred writer Pireeni Sundaralingam remarks that V.S. Naipaul's Nobel has made South Asian writers the vindaloo du jour: "We joke that, as a South Asian, you just need to stand on a streetcorner with a notebook and pen and people will throw money at you." But only if such authors act appropriately ethnic. "Play this game," Sundaralingam proposes. "Go into a bookstore and find a single book by a single South Asian contemporary artist that doesn't have a naked body, a sari, or both" on its cover.

Okay, Play

Too lazy to visit the nearest bookstore (that hasn't yet gone out of business)? Let's look at the latest stack of books to arrive at the Express. India-born and -bred UC Berkeley grad Anne Cherian's engaging novel A Good Indian Wife is about a Bay Area anesthesiologist juggling both his blond secretary and the nice girl his family has arranged for him to wed. Cover: Sari on a female figure photographed from the armpit down.

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Pistols

Some say the Founding Fathers didn't really mean that it was really okay for Americans to really own guns. So attorney Stephen P. Halbrook of Oakland's Independent Institute wrote The Founders' Second Amendment, a painstaking analysis of the amendment so many love to hate. "This exhaustive textual analysis," Halbrook writes wearily, "would never have been necessary in the nearly first two hundred years of the republic. It was only beginning in the second half of the twentieth century that the Orwellian view gained currency ... that 'keep' does not mean to possess, that 'bear' does not mean carry, that 'arms' do not include ordinary handguns and rifles." Lock and load.

That's Hot

Like a scary souvenir of 2008, David Carle's Introduction to Fire in California, new from UC Press, explains how and why. A pyro would slaver over its pictures, including one of Richard Nixon — in neatly pressed slacks, necktie, and button-down shirt — hosing down his roof during the 1961 Bel Air fire.

The Grudge Report

Walt Disney, CNN, Terry Gross, and many more get skewered in Ishmael Reed's Mixing It Up, a collection of essays featuring the Oakland poet/playwright/novelist/journalist "taking on the media bullies" and detailing "hit jobs on me." (Among other charges, he compares Ms. magazine's editorial staff to a plantation.) Commissioned by the San Francisco Opera Company to write a libretto based on Christ's arrest, Reed created Gethsemane Park, in which "Judas is the hero ... he's a recovering crack addict." Afterwards, he visited Jerusalem. It was 2000: "The second intifada had begun and the tourist sites were deserted, allowing Carla and me to take a leisurely stroll through the Garden of Gethsemane and other places." That's one well-timed violent uprising! The chapter "Going Old South on Obama: Ma and Pa Clinton Flog Uppity Black Man" critiques Clintonian strategies. (Spoiler alert: They're racist.) But look who laughs last.

All Crossed Out

Jesus (yeah, him again) was depicted throughout the early Christian world as a child, teacher, and king. It wasn't until later that he started being depicted as a corpse. The crucifixion was post-11th-century Europe's version of the smileyface. Thus began "Western culture's ongoing love affair with violence," write Oakland theology scholars Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker in Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire, a hefty excoriation of Crusaders, Puritans, and others for whom "the erotic joy of paradise was transformed into a union of eros and torture." Ouch! You're pokin' me with that crown of thorns! As "citizens of a New World stolen," the authors urge us to reclaim the painless version of paradise by embracing "ethical grace," which they define as being "attuned to what is beautiful and good and responsive to legacies of injustice and currents of harm."

Can You Hear Me Now?

You have a roommate inside your head. His or her nonstop yakking takes turns scaring, distracting, and depressing you. Even when you try to meditate, "your roommate won't cooperate. ... It just talks and talks," writes Michael A. Singer in The Untethered Soul, a coproduction of Oakland's New Harbinger Publications and Noetic Books. "You've been locked in there with a maniac." If it was a real flesh-and-blood person, you'd be "hugging the far corner of the couch in a desperate attempt to get away." We are not those voices, insists Singer in this bracing contribution to the new happiness-studies genre. A genuine self is in there, but this jive-talking "roommate" is "pretty much the cause of every problem you've ever had." Invoking God, the Tao, and yogis galore, Singer urges self-knowledge through "unconditional happiness," a radical refusal to feel sad: "You have to mean it when you say that you'll be happy for the rest of your life. Every time a part of you begins to get unhappy, let it go. ... No matter what happens, you can enjoy it. If they starve you and put you in solitary confinement, just have fun being like Gandhi."

Touch That Dial

Attracting eight million-plus listeners weekly, UC Berkeley Ph.D Michael Savage is "truly savage," with his denunciation of illegal immigration as "an invasion" and his "continual assertion of a 'homosexual mafia' trying to concern the state of world affairs." Yet "sometimes Savage exhibits a rare and startling tenderness," marvel Rory O'Connor and Aaron Cutler in Shock Jocks: Hate Speech & Talk Radio, an anguished rallying cry in what the book's back cover calls "the fight for America's airwaves" — a realm that is almost wholly conservative. The "talk radio problem" — which the authors say more and more Americans agree is "dangerous for democracy" — stems from immensely popular micmasters who "set up straw dogs like 'illegal aliens' and ... demonize anyone that the right sees as 'the other.'" Furious yet? "As a society, we cannot afford to stand by," urge the authors. "We need to take action." They urge you to boycott the hosts' sponsors, support independent media, and align with the National Council of La Raza.

Head Case

After surviving a horrific head injury, a woman is suddenly able to read minds in Matthew McKay's novel Wawona Hotel. Thus during intimate moments with her husband ("These tits could launch a world war," he proclaims) she discerns that he would prefer a bit of the old ultraviolence, or at least some action with a totally unwilling partner. A psychology professor at Berkeley's Wright Institute whose multimillion-selling nonfiction books include Thoughts & Feelings and When Anger Hurts, McKay also writes poetry, of which he sneaked a bit into this novel; thus it contains the line "mosquitoes disappear in the lips of dragon flies."

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