Adam Mansbach's latest novel is about a novelist: Tristan Brodsky, self-absorbed genius, inattentive dad. In the midst of touring the United States promoting it, Mansbach became a dad himself; daughter Vivien was born April 22 after a 59-hour labor. (Mom Victoria Häggblom is a fiction writer too.) Cutting his tour short to rush home to Berkeley when a pregnancy complication arose "made me feel better about my chances of not turning out like Tristan," Mansbach tells Press Here. "I've always worried that I'd be a guy like Tristan."
The End of the Jews (Spiegel & Grau, $23.95) is not about the Final Solution but about the margins of cultural identity: "Those margins are crucial and interesting," Mansbach says, "because they're where art tends to happen." The most creative members of communities, he says, are often the least comfortable, least settled ones for whom "identity becomes a tool they're grappling with."
Mansbach's previous books probed black-white borderlines; at his recent Cody's reading, "I fielded demands to rap." After he obliged with a cussword-punctuated verse, one attendee asked sternly whether he planned to use such language in front of his newborn child.
Berkeley crowds: You just can't please 'em. "Suddenly I was being grilled on my prospective fathering skills," says the author, who will be at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center on May 13 and who has begun a new novel about graffiti and sentient plants.
You & I-And-I
Havasupai Indians living at the foot of the Grand Canyon hail Bob Marley as the fulfillment of ancient prophecies "that a black man shall help lead the red man out of his subjegation." And "high up in the Himalayas ... are those who believe Marley is a reincarnation of Vishnu," writes reggae archivist Roger Steffens, whose spectacular Reggae Scrapbook (Insight Editions, $45) is a must-have for fans, packed with pics and backstory. Steffens (aka "Ras Rojah") tells Press Here he lived in Berkeley in 1973 when he first read about reggae in Rolling Stone: "I went out that day and bought my first reggae record, the Wailers' Catch a Fire, at Pellucidar Books on Shattuck. It was a used copy, the one with the Zippo cover that opened in the middle, revealing a bright flame, and it cost $2.25. I was entranced from the first notes, and the next day I saw The Harder They Come in that tiny Northside Theater, and when the chalice was lit on the screen, the entire audience followed suit.
"I saw Bob Marley for the first time at a hastily arranged show at the Paramount in Oakland in July 1975, sitting next to the famed bookseller, Moe, in the front row of the balcony. Moe kept shaking his head and asking me, 'What the hell is he saying?' Bob's locks barely touched his shoulders, a mild look these days, but in that epiphanic time he appeared like something out of the wildest African jungle movie you've ever seen, dancing as if in trance, and casting an arm straight forward in hypnotic embrace of his flabbergasted audience."
Steffens has devoted his life to reggae virtually ever since. With the book's photo editor, Peter Simon, he'll be at San Francisco's Babylon Falling bookstore on May 10.
Chez Panisse distributed "peace baguettes" — peace-sign-shaped loaves on poles — for protesters to carry in 2003, write Ken Kolsbun and Michael S. Sweeney in Peace: The Biography of a Symbol (National Geographic, $25). The symbol was designed in Britain in 1958, we learn, and late-'60s California conservatives called it "the Broken Cross of the Antichrist." Catchy!
Who's Laughing Now?
His character Chester the Molester lured little girls by placing hand puppets and hot-dog buns you-know-where: Hustler cartoon editor Dwaine Tinsley was at the crest of his career when, in 1989, his daughter told cops he'd had sex with her for five years. Most Outrageous (Fantagraphics, $19.99) is Berkeley attorney Bob Levin's biography of troubled Tinsley and of late-20th-century American porn: "For those who dared Dwaine's alleys, there was gold among the fanged rats and aborted fetuses that filled the Dumpsters."
Boys in Kabul auditioning for the film version of Khaled Hosseini's novel were asked to fly kites, according to The Kite Runner: A Portrait of the Marc Forster Film (Newmarket, $19.95). Hosseini, who left Afghanistan as a youth and settled in Fremont, describes the weirdness of watching his saga being filmed in China.
A man sucked his psychotherapist's toes, doffed her underwear, "and licked her womanhood" as their relationship stopped being clinical in Player Related (View House, $13), the latest from San Leandro novelist Shadrach Linscomb. Its randy protagonist has many amours, but knows he's being used: "I'm your little freak slave," he tells one sadly.
Oscar Wilde's indecency trial spurred 19th-century anarchists to rally for gay rights, Terence Kissack recounts in Free Comrades ($17.95), new from Oakland's AK Press. Applying to same-sex relations the anarchist "principle that each person was the sole authority and judge of his or her acts," these avant-garde activists were squelched after World War I, when "communists succeeded in seizing the Left."
Hallelujah, It's Raining Radicals
In 2002, ex-SLA member Bill Harris lived in Oakland (and coached his son's soccer team) when he was arrested for his role in the murder of an innocent bystander during a rootin'-tootin' revolutionary 1975 bank robbery. This arrest and its aftermath are fictionalized in The Ancient Rain (St. Martin's, $24.95), a new thriller by Domenic Stansberry, who will be at Moe's on May 20. Liberated any Symbionese lately?
Based on statistical calculations detailed in Richard Florida's Who's Your City? (Basic, $26.95), cities have distinct personalities and we're happiest in those that suit us best. Oakland scores "highly on openness and neuroticism, but low in conscientiousness, extraversion, and agreeableness. ... Such regions are likely to be a good fit for people who are creative but perhaps also lost in their own world."
Come Out, Come Out
After last month's column, a reader accused Press Here of being (1) unable to remember high school and (2) unaware that cartoonist Ariel Schrag was already iconic among East Bay youth before Simon & Schuster published (this year) the comics she drew while attending Berkeley High in the '90s. Wrong and wrong. The point was not to trash Schrag (who makes you laugh while crying) but to note that a huge company might at least somewhat have been spurred to publish a high-schooler's drawings because they explicitly detail a lesbian's coming out, a topic the corporate overlords long neglected but now ordain très chic. Shrag's third teen comic, Potential ($15), is a tender bundle of love, puke, gushing menstrual blood, and a dyke-scenester teacher discussing dildos.
MC Hammer — whose Fremont mansion had a bowling alley and seventeen-car garage — is described as "a little too stiff, floating awkwardly around the beat" in Old School Rap & Hip-Hop (Backbeat, $16.95), part of the All Music Guide: Required Listening series, edited by Chris Woodstra, John Bush, and Stephen Thomas Erlewine.
Ready, Aim, Om
"What is the military's present paradigm for the warrior?" wonders Richard Strozzi-Heckler, who teaches meditation and aikido to soldiers. "While millions of dollars are spent developing robots to fight wars, the role of the soldier is quickly being reduced to that of technocrat and computer operator," rather than a paragon of "the traditional warrior virtues of service, courage, selflessness, loyalty, and commitment." Berkeley's Blue Snake Books offers the psychologist/sixth-degree black belt's memoir, In Search of the Warrior Spirit ($19.95).
She appears in the Aeneid but never says a word: Now she's the heroine of Berkeley-born Ursula K. Le Guin's new novel, Lavinia (Harcourt, $24). While Vergil's "poetry is so profoundly musical, its beauty ... so intrinsic to the sound and order of the words, that it is essentially untranslatable," this book is a kind of attempt: "an act of gratitude ... a love offering," declares Le Guin, who has written more than fifty books herself.
A spate of new UC Press poetry books includes Leslie Scalapino's it's go in horizontal ($16.95). Sample lines: "I mean I see a man (in a crowd such as a theatre) as having the body of a seal in the way a man would, say, be in bed with someone, kissing and barking, which is the way a seal will bark and leap on his partly-fused hind limbs. ... I undress him simply by thinking about the way he walks as being the way a baboon walks slowly on his hind legs with his tail held erect." And: "whereas the minute struggling ahead of hurt one is not split structure there while being it." And: "are — their — rungs — there — breath's?"
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