In the nose: When Jay McInerney first became House & Garden's wine columnist, as he recalls in the new paperback edition of Bacchus & Me (Vintage, $13), "eyebrows were raised." The grown-up Gen-Xer, after all, "had made my name, such as it was, by writing about people who abused controlled substances and ravaged their nasal passages." He also had "something of a prejudice against California wines." It took Alice Waters' disciple Lora Zarubin, latterly a restaurateuse in her own right, to set him straight.
"Coming of age on the East Coast," he conceded to Press Here, "I had better access to French wines. My interest in wine coincided with a string of great vintages from Bordeaux, while California was going through an awkward growth spurt. A lot of California Cabernets and Chardonnays in the '80s reminded me, figuratively speaking, of Sylvester Stallone and Morgan Fairchild: not exactly subtle." Decrying what he still calls "action movies in a bottle," the Bright Lights, Big City author took heart when, "in the '90s, a number of small-production, handcrafted California wines started to appear -- Marcassin, Peter Michael, Dehlinger, Harlan, Turley -- which set a new standard of power and finesse." And Berkeley's Kermit Lynch is one of the nation's top two wine importers, notes McInerney, a devoted customer. As for Northern California wines, "they continue to inspire. The quality gets better every year -- though I'm worried about prices."
You go, girl: Fluffy silver hair gleaming in the late-afternoon light, Jan Morris was wearing stripes and shyly accompanying Lonely Planet's Donald W. George to the refreshment table during a reception preceding her talk at UC Berkeley's Wheeler Hall earlier this month. The queen mother of travel writing, whose transgendered status is such ancient history that mentioning it is totally uncool but which is still a marvel (having been achieved thirty years ago without denting her career), was launching Lonely Planet's new "Conversations" series. The company plans to produce several onstage discussions with celebrity adventurers every year. Morris' first book, Coast to Coast: A Journey Across 1950s America ($16.95), is being reissued this month by San Francisco-based Travelers' Tales.
Stars and trekking: At that same reception, Jeff Greenwald was telling some friends about the time an energetic His Holiness the Dalai Lama inadvertently knocked a pen out of Greenwald's hand. Before the Oakland travel writer could bend to retrieve it, the exiled Tibetan leader threw himself to the floor only to pop up seconds later, pen held high.
The first author ever to circumnavigate the planet while issuing a steady stream of cyberdispatches -- a Wired gig that turned into a book, Size of the World -- Greenwald is just out with Scratching the Surface (Naga, $18), a collection of previously published articles spanning his twenty-year career. Trekking in Bhutan, watching Iranian customs officials confiscate his Absolut, chewing the fat about alcoholism with on-the-wagon moonwalker Buzz Aldrin: it's all here, though it's available only at selected stores and via www.jeffgreenwald.com.
Borders have dissolved and towers have crumbled since he first set off "carrying a seventeen-pound Smith Corona" in a backpack. Next month he's headed for Buddha's birthday festival high in the Himalayas: "Circling the base of Mount Kailash ensures a good rebirth, or" -- better yet -- "no rebirth at all." Recounting the moment when, flying over Australia, he first heard that Oakland was in flames, Greenwald gets as personal as ever in this book; learn, for instance, what happened to his loins in a Japanese electrified bath.
High drama: A climbing expedition in Kyrgyzstan, sponsored by North Face of San Leandro, ended horrifyingly in August 2000 when Islamic militants seized a group of American climbers, who escaped six days later after one among them pushed their captor over a cliff. In edge-of-your-seat Over the Edge (Villard, $24.95), Greg Child tells the tale -- and its aftermath, in which American reporters refused to believe the climbers' account. Yet more thin-air triumph and tragedy await in Fatal Mountaineer (St. Martin's, $35.95), in which Berkeley climber Robert Roper tracks the late Everest-topper Willi Unsoeld, who named his daughter for a Himalayan peak only to watch her die on one.
Amazing adventures: Berkeley Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon and San Franciscan Andrew Sean Greer will bare their tales at the San Francisco Public Library on May 9, reading together to launch Short Story Month.
Ramblin' man: Maybe you've spotted Gregg Allman around his Oakland home or performing on an East Bay stage with the Alameda All-Stars. Wax nostalgic over pix and fax in The Complete Allman Brothers Band Discography ($34.95), new from bigtime fan Dean Reynolds; e-mail him at email@example.com for details.
Spirits rising: Journeys out of the body -- and, now that he's retired, in the RV -- intrigue Berkeley psychologist Charles T. Tart. Lately, the UC Davis professor emeritus is also promoting Adventures in the Supernormal (Helix, $26), a newly reissued memoir by the late Eileen Garrett, America's most celebrated psychic medium. As an MIT student studying hypnosis in the '50s, Tart won the first-ever grant from Garrett's parapsychology foundation.
"She was sensible but skeptical: it's so rare," says Tart, whose Web page of letters from mainstream scientists who have had psychic experiences gets thousands of hits every week. Academics like him who research the paranormal "face organized opposition," he says while fondly recalling Garrett, who got him started and saw dead people. "There are skeptics, and there are those who think this is the work of the devil."
Très hot: Plaques dedicated to famous African Americans such as Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Josephine Baker, and Richard Wright are affixed to buildings all over the city of ... no, mon ami, not Oakland. The City of Light. In Paris Reflections: Walks Through African-American Paris (McDonald & Woodward, $17.95), Christiann Anderson and Monique Y. Wells offer detailed walking tours celebrating "a rich history that intertwines with French history. It's inspiring to see firsthand the places where our achievements have been realized and respected," says Anderson, who exchanged the East Bay for France eleven years ago.
Anderson's research yielded surprises. Par exemple, "I discovered that in France, centuries ago, if a painted image of an African was used on a place of business it meant that the establishment served or sold chocolate."
Halls of the wild: When the World Trade towers fell, Christine Barnes was at Yellowstone's Old Faithful Inn. No phones in the rooms, no TVs, scant copies of USA Today -- unlike the rest of America, which was riveted to the shocking news, "we had time to digest it." Surrounded by the nation's oldest national park, enfolded in "such seclusion, out on that verandah," watching the suddenly iconic fidelity of Old Faithful, the former Oakland Tribune features editor got a special perspective on what makes America America.
In Great Lodges of the National Parks (W.W. West, $35), a companion volume to the PBS series, Barnes explores inns from Mount Rainier to Grand Canyon and beyond.
"This is architecture that fits into its setting," says Barnes, who recommends the oatmeal served at Yosemite's Ahwanee, where Desi Arnaz and Red Skelton used to stay (though not together). She also suggests heading for the parks in spring, "when the waterfalls let loose." As for rooms without phones and TVs: "That's a godsend."
Snippets: Express reporter-turned-novelist Dashka Slater tells a tale in Chronicle Books' new fiction anthology, Escape to Mexico ($14.95); so do Anaïs Nin, Graham Greene, and Jack Kerouac. ... For the brave sojourners of 2002, back-door man Rick Steves has thoroughly updated his guidebooks; they're fresh from Emeryville's Avalon Travel, plus brand-new editions on Venice, Florence, and Ireland. ... Marking Oakland's 150th year, William Wong, Francisco AlarcÓn, Forrest Hamer, and many others will read at the new African-American Museum and Library on May 4. ... Linger over a sensuous Italian repast with Oakland's Linda Watanabe McFerrin in Wild Writing Women: Stories of World Travel (Globe Pequot, $16.95), a new anthology by the local writers' group. ... Just out from Berkeley's Whereabouts Press, packed with whispers of revolution and the price of cigarettes, Cuba: a Traveler's Literary Companion ($13.95) includes a story by Before Night Falls author Reinaldo Arenas and joins a veritable conga line of recent books about the long-forbidden isle.web-only subhead:The latest East Bay book news.
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