When she wrote Diet for a Small Planet in Berkeley thirty years ago, Frances Moore Lappé never dreamed that the "tiny booklet" she was passing around for free would become a classic. Exposing the food-scarcity myth, showing how the world could feed itself, Lappé was hailed as a revolutionary. Still, some of her worst fears have come true.
One-fourth of all Americans now eat at least one fast-food meal a day. A new McDonald's opens somewhere in the world every five hours. Africa's biggest employer is Coke. Such statistics scald readers at the start of Hope's Edge (Tarcher, $25.95), Lappé's latest book. Coauthored with her daughter Anna Lappé, it's a road trip to communities that are making their own rules about food and fighting big business. Splicing recipes into lively commentary -- including Anna's paean to East Bayite Jack LaLanne -- the pair visited Bangladesh, Brazil, Kenya, and Chez Panisse.
"We're hoping to create a shift in perception," says Lappé. "We can now look at fast food the same way we look at tobacco. We wouldn't think of having Philip Morris set up shop in our high schools," she points out, but fast-food chains and soft-drink companies now have that privilege.
"We're being duped, exploited, and conditioned," says the author, who will appear with her daughter at Cody's on Telegraph on Feb. 12. "We're the only species that chooses to eat things which make us sick."
But mainly her message is a positive one.
There's an Africa in Mississippi, down a dirt road along the western bank of the Sunflower River. Its name appears on old US Army Corps of Engineers maps, and it's where runaway slaves settled who had no faith in finding a better world among the white population up north. A separate community like that of Jamaica's Maroons, it was called New Africa in the 1930s, by which time it had stores, a sawmill, and its own post office.
Hearing old stories at a family gathering inspired Mississippi-bred Berkeley attorney John Hatch to write a book about the place and its heroes. The result is a four-part epic love story set amid a swatch of American history that doesn't make it into standard textbooks. Mississippi Swamp (2ndsightbooks, $27.98), Volume 1 of Hatch's New Africa Chronicles, plunges right into the Confederacy.
Young slave Cicero Morgan learns about politics in the home of Jefferson Davis, then grows up to become a political official himself.
"Exploitation is exploitation," says Hatch, who will appear at the Oakland Public Library's main branch on Feb. 23. "And some of the exploited are always going to become the exploiters." His rich characterizations and knowing descriptions bring to life a long-gone time and place.
"I didn't want to write just another story about suffering and dying and calling on Jesus, which is how slavery has been written about" most prominently in the past, he says.
Berkeley Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon has been speaking up in defense of a Denver bookseller who refused to turn one of her customers over to the cops. A raid on the trailer of a suspected methamphetamine lab operator turned up a volume entitled Advanced Techniques of Clandestine Drug Laboratories, authored by the probably pseudonymous Uncle Fester, along with a sales receipt from Denver's Tattered Cover bookstore. Bringing a search warrant to the store, four officers demanded to know the identity of the man who had bought the book. The shop's owner refused.
A subsequent court hearing supported the police, though the battle raged on with an appeal in Colorado's Supreme Court, the ruling for which is pending. Chabon is among a group of noted writers now publicly weighing in on the side of readers' right to privacy. Among other things, they've contributed to the Tattered Cover's legal defense fund.
All tied up -- or just wish you were? New from Emeryville's Greenery Press is Japanese Bondage ($17.95), by UC Berkeley grad Midori. The sleek fetish diva created this step-by-step guide to the centuries-old art of rope bondage with photographer Craig Morey. Wanna hogtie a sweet (but consenting) someone? Let these two show you the ropes.
A submarine is no place for claustrophobics or cowards, as San Francisco Chronicle reporter Carl Nolte learned while writing his new book about the WWII sub now berthed across the bay at Pier 45. A tribute to the "steel tube" that "went out on six war patrols, prowled the seas as a hunter and a killer, sank six ships ... and rescued seventy-three men who had been left to die by a cruel enemy," USS Pampanito (San Francisco Maritime National Park Association, $14.95) is packed with facts and pictures.
Nolte met vets who had served aboard the sub at a Pampanito reunion. "They had formed a kind of bloc that most of us could never understand," the reporter recalls. Fighting a war in such close quarters "under extreme and constant danger" creates a bond, he realized, "that never breaks." One old soldier, seeing the vessel after so many years, "kissed the deck."
Submarine crews volunteered for a form of combat that, at depths of more than 400 feet, was more frightening than other kinds but had its perks: a bed every night, and no rain. Capturing the trauma of out-and-out battle and the edgy poignancy of shore leave on tropical-island paradises, the story taught Nolte that "American people rise to the occasion." He'll be signing books in front of the sub at 11:00 a.m. on March 23.
Decommissioned in 1945 at Mare Island, the Pampanito is now a tourist attraction, outfitted just as it was in wartime. While writing the book, Nolte slept on board now and then. Lying in the underwater darkness as the sub rolled gently on the bay's currents was "spooky," he says, "and wonderful."
Those book-business mergers just keep on comin': Berkeley distributor Publishers' Group West is being acquired by San Diego-based Advanced Marketing Services for upward of $35 million. As its basic m.o. is routing big-budget bestsellers into chain stores, Advanced Marketing wields great power over what Americans read. PGW, on the other hand, has made a name for itself since 1976 by distributing the product of lesser-known, mostly medium-sized, and in many cases literary publishing houses.
Even with relatively small press runs, his company's new releases usually take two years to sell out, says Richard Grossinger of Berkeley's North Atlantic Books. Who could have predicted, then, the wildcat popularity of Walter the Farting Dog and The Deepening Complexity of Crop Circles?
Illustrated by Emeryville artist Audrey Colman and written by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray, Walter ($14.95) -- the tale, aimed at grade-schoolers, of a gastrically challenged animal -- trotted onto the Boston Globe's bestseller list.
As for crop circles, "People have been saying they're passé," says Grossinger, who set up shop in 1977 and specializes in martial-arts and alternative-medicine titles. But a big Hollywood movie about them is in the works, which makes Eltjo H. Haselhoff's new book ($20) timely indeed.
"I was talking with four different crop-circle authors," Grossinger laments, "and I've already lost one of them to a major publisher."
North Atlantic has long been linked with the Berkeley Ecology Center, and ever since 1992 the publisher's warehouse at 9th and Gilman streets has been the hub of a unique experiment the likes of which Penguin or Ballantine would never attempt. It's staffed by Berkeley High students.
"Some of them are in bands, or need to help their families, or are struggling in one way or another," Grossinger says. "They've been hiring each other for ten years now."
Coyotes ... in Berkeley? Yip -- and cats and bats and does as well. In The Carnival of Animals (Creative Arts, $14.95), Robert L. Smith and Fran Williams Smith recall the pets and woodland creatures with which, over the last fifty years, they've shared their Berkeley Hills home. Capers involving skunks and cookie-snatching raccoons give a Wild Kingdom feel, while strays and disabled pets offer life lessons galore.
"Some of my friends insist that animals don't have personalities," says Robert Smith. "But they do, and they show it in a thousand different ways."
A ne'er-do-well Pleasanton teen becomes a serial rapist and murderer in Rope Burns by Robert Scott (Pinnacle, $6.50), a true-crime page-turner whose gritty realities hover close to home. This tale of a young husband who paired up with a crank-addicted prostitute in whose specially outfitted van the pair trolled Northern California highways reveals, as if you didn't already know, that danger might live right next door. Before their 1997 arrest, the duo assaulted not only strangers but also their own teenage daughters and their daughters' friends. Familiar landscapes herein include Dublin and Union City.
New from Berkeley's Stone Bridge Press, Holly Thompson's novel Ash ($16.95) is about an American woman who revisits Japan, where, as a child, she saw her best friend die. Thompson, a first-time novelist, faced challenges in being a member of one culture and writing about another.
"If you truly believe in your characters," then the way to portray them is by "plunging deep into their psyches," says Thompson, who will appear at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books on Feb. 4. For her, language presented Ash's biggest hurdle.
"Certain conversations had to be imagined first in Japanese, then translated into English," she explains: "I couldn't simply write them in English without any thought to the Japanese that the characters were actually speaking."
In these perilous times, Weekends Away (Without Leaving Home), fresh from Berkeley's Conari Press ($15.95) shows how to see the world without hardly even going outside. Authors Nina Lesowitz and Lara Morris Starr collected recipes, fun activities, video-viewing tips, and other ideas for recreating distant climes in your own living room. A publication party is set for Feb. 2 at Diesel.
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