Yay or Neigh 

The Lives and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger is back, Oakland produces the world's biggest comic book, and people pretend to be ponies for kicks.

Adults don hooves, tails, and other equine accessories and demand to be swatted with crops and ridden for many reasons, writes Emeryville author Rebecca Wilcox in The Human Pony, a manual on grooming, hitching, and harnessing "pony players," who are depicted prancing, heads bound in leather-and-metal bridles, bits clenched between their teeth, muscles straining as, nearly nude, they haul carts full of riders through parks. "Why do people become ponies?" Wilcox asks, as well she might. "Motivations include objectification, exhibitionism, control, denial, sex, play time, emotional vacation, escape, increased imagination, community, relationship, usefulness, service, strength, beauty, and self-expression." As for getting into "pony headspace," she advises: "Do you smell the leather, latex, or carrots? Can you hear someone telling you what a good pony you are?"

Ab Cruncher

America is obsessed with virginity and that's just sick, insists Jessica Valenti. In The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women, out next year from Berkeley's Seal Press although its publicity drive has already begun, the Feministing.com founder — who was named one of Elle magazine's 2007 IntELLEgentsia — blasts abstinence advocates, laments America's "public punishments for those who dare to have sex" and, according to a press release, "offers solutions that pave the way for a future without a damaging emphasis on virginity."

History Around Here

Is it unethical to publish the locations of archeological sites that morons might vandalize? Presenting the new online edition of their book Native American Indian Sites in the East Bay Hills, James Benney and Bob Bardell of EastBayHillPeople.com beg to differ. "Although there appears to be an interest group that would deny you the right to even know about these places," they assert, a wider knowledge of such sites can actually fulfill the authors' mission statement: "Preserve, Protect, and Study."

Bee Good

If economic havoc means you can buy only one book for your little angels this year, let it be Bee & Me. Coauthored by Walnut Creek's Lisa McGuinness and Oakland's Leslie Jonath under the pseudonym Elle J. McGuinness, this heart-tugging tale of a boy who frees a bee from a window after it tells him that, were its species to stop gathering pollen, "There'd be no more apples, no flowers to smell. Still, you humans decide you don't like us that well," features luscious art by Heather Brown with the astounding patent-pending Ani-motion paper-engineering technology, which creates action on each heavy page as you flip it: wings whirr, figures run. An appendix tells kids how they can help honeybees, which (although it doesn't say this) have experienced a massive die-off in recent years.

Eco-Pioneer

Environmental historian Bonnie Gisel and photographer Stephen J. Joseph spent years finding — then using an Epson flatbed scanner to scan — hundreds of plant specimens picked and preserved by John Muir and now residing in herbaria around the country. In actual fact, "the specimens looked very gray," Joseph remembers. "Many of them had been sprayed with chemicals, eaten by bugs, broken ... glued and taped." He used Photoshop to "remove" all signs of glue and tape, "repair" the plants, and "restore" their hues. New from Berkeley's Heyday Books, the result is Nature's Beloved Son, a glorious coffee-table assemblage of the specimens looking almost new, with fascinating text about the pioneering botanist, who nearly lost half his vision when a metal file accidentally pierced his right eye in 1867.

Humongous Laughs

A book three feet high, sixteen inches wide? Priced at $125? You'd have to laugh at Kramers Ergot 7, new from Oakland's Buenaventura Press, even if you didn't know that it was the year's most-talked-about comix anthology — the latest in what many call the decade's most influential comix series — whose sixty hotshot contributors include Dan Clowes, Matt Groening, Adrian Tomine, Souther Salazar, Chris Ware, and Ben Katchor. Its huge format lets you see every teensy detail, just as you were meant to: a revolutionary comix experience.

Slandro Then

San Leandro: land of oyster farms, dairy farms, tons of rhubarb, and the California Rhubarb Remedies Company. Archival photos pack Cynthia Vrilakas Simons' Images of America: San Leandro, which also memorializes Ah Bing, Kim Yuen, Toy Sing, and Lock Sing — the four Chinese laborers killed in an accidental explosion while damming Lake Chabot in 1889.

Dribble and Die

In Robert Greer's mystery novel Blackbird, Farewell, new from Berkeley's Frog Books, an NBA draftee who "was always polite in a refreshingly un-American way" — WTF? — is one of two guys slain on a basketball court. It's the latest in Greer's CJ Floyd series.

Classic Redux

Also new from Frog is Cecil Brown's reissued 1969 novel The Lives and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger, in which African Americans escape stateside racism in Copenhagen, where they mix it up explicitly with blond women. (Sample line: "AAAAIIIIEEEE OOOOOHHHHH I — I — AM AM AAAAIIIIEEEE ... I I AM A NIGGER, I AM A NEGRO.") In its epilogue, Brown muses that whites try desperately, laughably, to understand the meaning of jive. "But they will not find it here, not the same meaning they find in fine 'homes' in the Berkeley hills, Wall Street, Pepsi Cola, Perry Como, toilets, Nixon, crew cuts, and Cadillacs." Certainly not in crew cuts.

Ultimately

Recycled wood, recycled tile low-flush toilets, concrete tables: Sunset magazine's new duo of hefty design guides, Kitchens and Bathrooms, features remodels by architects and designers such as Albany's Kathryn Rogers and Kathy Farley. A hint of torture haunts this line: "Originally envisioning a pleasant green kitchen ... the owner ultimately agreed to white."

Postmodernists and Pork

Sex and academia go together like ... sex and academia. "The force of Foucault's thesis is to minimize the existence of sex as a preexisting thing ... and to see instead how apparatuses of sexuality wrap around the body and its sexual organs to produce different kinds of pleasures and relations of alliance," writes UC Berkeley rhetoric/film studies professor Linda Williams in Screening Sex, which charts naughty bits from Casablanca to Shortbus. You might find yourself wincing as you revisit so-called erotic classics. Ewww, did Marlon Brando's character really say, in Last Tango in Paris: "I want to get a pig, and I'm gonna have the pig fuck you, and I want the pig to vomit in your face, and I want you to swallow the vomit ... I want the pig to die while you're fucking, and then you have to go behind him, and I want you to smell the dying farts of the pig." Thanks, professor!

Eating Mud

Marching with Che Guevara at her middle school in early-'60s Beijing, Sonia Song and her classmates sang an anti-JFK melody: "Gangster chieftain became the president..../Egg is laid by a dog..../Tomorrow I'll strip off your skin..../Kennedy/Will be down on the ground, eating mud." A year later, teenage Red Guards were murdering school principals and torturing Song's mother, who remained a devoted communist nonetheless. In her memoir, Donkey Baby, Song recounts being a People's Liberation soldier, emigrating to Berkeley, then happily joining the polyamorist movement. (Having translated Deborah Anapol's book Polyamory: The New Love Without Limits into Mandarin, she awaits the Chinese government's permission to sell the book there.)

The World As We Know it

Eight-foot-long tubeworms thrive at the mouths of undersea volcanoes; the Inuit wait patiently around ice-holes for seals to come up for air, then blast them with shotguns; and outer space is polluted with "billions of bits of old spacecraft," which "now orbit the planet." New from UC Press with gloriously illustrated sections on everything from acanthite to zooplankton, The Encyclopedia of Earth: A Complete Visual Guide will captivate you through a whole winter's worth of blizzards, fallstreaks, sun showers, supercell storms, and monsoons.

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