Clowns Say No 

In this month's East Bay Book news, clowns say no and kleptocrats march on.

Lone ranger: Berkeley is the last place you'd expect to hear a world-famous writer say, "I encourage everyone to mock and belittle multiculturalism at every opportunity — we need to attack it." Yet that's what Mark Steyn, syndicated columnist and author of America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It (Regnery, $27.95), said during a lecture in the UC Berkeley Art Museum's Grand Theater, sponsored by Cal's Naval ROTC. He warned that worldwide loathing of the United States and "the end of the American era" — a prospect "that Europeans have been gleefully contemplating" — would hasten "a new Dark Ages" in which "failed states run by kleptocrats" would hasten "what I call a reprimitivization." Europe "is about to encounter an unprecedented catastrophe," Steyn predicted, perhaps spearheaded by Russia, "a greatest-hits medley of all the disasters" whose "future is already checking in at reception" in a welter of AIDS, nukes, and terrorism. Meanwhile, China's one-child policy has created a huge gender imbalance which dooms it "unless China is planning to become the first gay superpower since Sparta."

Karl dealership: "After a charismatic, tyrannical king takes control" of the mythical city of Damas, reads the press release for UC Berkeley grad Beth Winegarner's novel Beloved (, $11.04), "capitalism and slavery are forced on its people." The heroine is "a young girl nearly orphaned" — nearly? — who "watches as her peers are sold into forced labor." Which, dammit, always seems to happen under capitalism, but luckily she has a magical dagger. Winegarner will give a real dagger to the first reader who can solve a puzzle embedded in the story; send guesses to "My novel takes its name from the VNV Nation song," explains the author, an ex-Chronicle music critic. "The sociopolitical material is almost straight Karl Marx. ... Marx predicted that capitalism would someday break down because the people who worked in the factories and the fields would eventually come to hate 'the machine,' the powers that controlled their workload, their hours, their pay. When that happened, Marx said the people would rise up and destroy the machine. ... He called this communism. I liked the idea that you could show a society where that had already occurred." You can! It's called Cambodia, circa 1975.

I said sow: The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek and the Oakland Museum's garden are included in 1001 Gardens You Must See Before You Die (Barron's, $34.99), edited by Rae Spencer-Jones. So get going. ''Cause you're going to die.

Art attack: Clown Torture is one of Bruce Nauman's best-known works, a 1987 video installation featuring several screens, some upside-down. One shows a clown screaming "No!" Another shows a clown looking horrified while reciting a nursery rhyme. Another shows a clown using a public toilet. Often cited as one of America's greatest living artists, Nauman is the focus of an exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum and a book, curator Constance M. Lewallen's A Rose Has No Teeth (University of California/BAM/PFA, $39.95), which depicts such works as "Device for a Left Armpit," "Storage Capsule for the Right Rear Quarter of My Body," and "Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square." In one chapter, UCB art professor Anne M. Wagner explains helpfully that during the '60s, "Nauman was just at the beginning of a process of dismantling an entire system of representation theretofore impervious to exhaustion, a system deeply bound up with solidity, presence, coherence, thingness, and embodiment." Sure he was.

Wonderwall: A 1921 Indianapolis balloon race inspired Wonder Bread's name and logo. By the late '60s, Wonder was running its "Helps catch boys" ad campaign, with winsome models offering sandwiches. Sample lines: "Bait the trap" and "Remember, boys love to eat." New from Berkeley's Ten Speed Press, The Wonder Bread Cookbook ($12.95) comprises taste-tested recipes sent by customers to Wonder HQ for treats such as Wonder Blintzes, Tropical Wonder Casserole, Pigs in a Wonder Blanket, the potato-chip-wich, and rolling-pin-flattened slices fashioned into "crepes" — all temptingly photographed by Leo Gong.

Blog rolling: Restless doing data entry in Walnut Creek, Colby Buzzell joined the army. Deployed to Iraq as a machine-gunner with a Stryker unit, ex-sk8erboi Buzzell started blogging. His raw, irreverent posts morphed into My War: Killing Time in Iraq (Berkley, $15), newly nominated for a Blooker Prize in the second annual competition among books based on blogs, sponsored by but open to titles from all publishers. This year's judges include Arianna Huffington. The winning "blauthor," to be announced on May 14, nets $10,000.

Killer comic: Nominations are piling up, too, for Derek McCullough and Shepherd Hendrix' Stagger Lee ($17.99), published by Berkeley's Image Comics. The dazzling graphic novel about a pimp who killed a guy over a hat is up for numerous 2007 Glyph Awards, described as "honoring the best in black comics." Stagger Lee might just win Story of the Year, Best Writer, Best Artist, Best Male Character, Best Female Character, and Best Cover. Winners will be announced at the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention this May in Philadelphia.

Slime dunk: Captured and sold into slavery, a young African boy carries nothing with him across the sea but an okra pod in Boalt Hall grad Kaye Washington's The Tale of the Magic Okra Seeds: How Gumbo Came from Africa (AuthorHouse, $14.90). A taste for the mucilaginous mallow inspired the San Leandro ex-lawyer's time-traveling venture into fiction.

Bookworms gone wild: Marking the massive renovation and expansion that was finished on April 6, 2002, the Berkeley Public Library's Central Branch is throwing itself a fifth-birthday party this April 6. Patrons are invited between 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. for cake, bottled water, and live music. A press release declares: "Library staff knows how to celebrate."

Slay ride: Sometimes nothing gets the job done like biting someone in the ankle, as characters learn in The Next Victim (Kensington, $19.95), the twelfth thriller by UC Berkeley grad Jonnie Jacobs. Sample line: "Him like a panting mongrel around a pedigreed bitch in heat."

Broken chain: Barnes & Noble is closing its downtown Berkeley store on May 31, thus increasing the already-massive number of boarded-up storefronts — several ex-bookstores among them — along that city's Shattuck, Telegraph, and Euclid avenues. Goodbye, large magazine section. Farewell, serene in-store fountain.


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