Mermaids in the Smog 

In this month's East Bay book news, Weetzie Bat gets a holiday, and cheerleaders: You've been warned.

When candy bars croon: In cult-fave Francesca Lia Block's latest novel featuring hot oddball heroine Weetzie Bat, Necklace of Kisses (Harper Collins, $21.95), a mermaid is held captive at a hotel whose desk clerk is cobalt blue, whose boutique is stocked by a lady who ejects silk from her body, spiderwise, and where a Milky Way in a minibar sings like Barry White. Everything evokes something sweet -- towels smell like cake, kisses taste like cake -- and clothes assume numinous significance. They fly, they yearn. Pretty things "are the fetishes that protect Weetzie," UC Berkeley alum Block tells Press Here. "They're the things that keep you here. I was having a personal crisis while I wrote this book, and the way I could have an orgasm back then was to walk into Nordstrom during a sale -- I mean that almost literally, not quite. I'm not saying I'm proud of that. But I needed that beauty. When I'm safe and secure, I can think about other things, but not back then." Block was crisis-bound as a Cal undergrad English major twentysome years ago: "I was very lonely and I was depressed and I hated the dorm. I was anorexic at Berkeley. The scene was conducive to it -- I put myself under a lot of stress to do really well. Control. Perfectionism. But that's where I learned to write." She's never seen mermaids, fauns, or ghosts, as Weetzie does, "except out of the corner of my eye" -- but you never know where the next griffin will turn up. Although typically dubbed a magical realist, Block frowns on considering magic all that different from reality: "Get rid of the fucking labels -- that's the point."

Civil War's over, sez he: Self-described "Uncle Tom sellout" and Cal grad Mason Weaver was a government employee overseeing Section 8 programs in the '70s when he became convinced that public subsidies foster a master-slave mentality, as he writes in It's OK to Leave the Plantation (Reeder, $12.50). "I was interested in the civil rights movement," says Weaver, who will speak at Cal on October 20, "but not interested in 'getting something from the Man.' I wanted nothing to do with the Man but wanted to do for myself. I used Berkeley to prepare myself to compete in America; I fought for the civil rights to do so." The book's title pisses people off: Cops were called and a student was found guilty of "disruption" for posting a flier announcing an upcoming Weaver lecture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Cumin get it: Cal grad Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's best-selling novel The Mistress of Spices (Anchor, $13.95) is now a film from Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha and her husband Paul Mayeda Berges. Starring Bollywood babe Aishwarya Rai -- her nic is "Hot Ash" -- and filmed on location in Oakland and the Isle of Man, it premieres at the Toronto Film Festival September 8. Divakaruni's colleague Amitava Kumar, author of Passport Photos (UC Press, $21.95), has dubbed her "a high priestess at the South Asian Victim Olympics" whose characters include "the cabbie who has been assaulted, the battered woman in a brutal marriage, the young woman who wants to marry a non-Indian, the Punjabi boy who has joined a gang. ... I cringe at the bathos."

Grand Slam, ma'am: She's a finance guru and all over TV and the newest of her dozen volumes is The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke (Riverhead, $24.95). But Suze Orman used to be YF&B herself -- leasing a gold BMW and draining her 401(k). Her big epiphany about getting out from under came during a 1990 meal at the Emeryville Denny's, Orman now reveals.

Sorrow knows: Today she's the author of a new historical novel in which medieval Welsh king Maelgwyn ap Cadwallon fends off a baron and enters a marriage of convenience to a woman some call a bitch. But now ex-Berkeley Rep dramaturge Nicole Galland is talking for the first time about how she was robbed and raped at gunpoint by an assailant who insisted that it wasn't rape and tormented her for over an hour when she was a Cal grad student. The still-unsolved crime took ten years off her creative life, the author of The Fool's Tale (Morrow, $25.95) told a reporter this month in her native Martha's Vineyard.

Can't stop won't stop: Kneeling on a carpet where shod feet have walked sends the grossed-out heroine of Kim Addonizio's new novel Little Beauties (Simon & Schuster, $23) racing home from work to shower. And launder. She does that a lot. "I met a woman who was a 'washer,'" says the celebrated Oakland poet. "I was fascinated by her coping rituals. I knew right away that I wanted to write about a character with obsessive-compulsive disorder." Addonizio imagined herself into her heroine's "well-scrubbed skin by taking my own anxiety and asking myself: What if I needed to wash in order to get through this?"

Fire up: Cheerleaders gotta watch it or their larynxes will grow dangerous voice-altering nodes, asserts a voice coach and ex-UC Berkeley singing instructor whose clients include the Dixie Chicks, Faith Hill, Randy Travis, Linda Ronstadt, Christina Aguilera, Huey Lewis, Kenny Chesney, and Bob Weir. "As exciting as it is to root for the home team, leading yells can seriously damage your vocal cords," says Renee Grant-Williams, author of Voice Power (American Management Association, $17.95). She urges proper throat care, breathing, and posture: "Stand with a solid grip that presses into the ground." 'Coz nobody likes nodes.

Where in the world is Saranap? It's the unincorporated neighborhood between Lafayette and Walnut Creek, named by rancher Sarah Naphthaly, as revealed in Dorothy Ligda's Saranap Then and Now (Pleasant Hill, $15.95).

Get this: What happens when an autistic woman works a phone-sex line to learn about men? "Hilarity abounds," promises Serena, the one-named Mills College-grad author of Trocadero! (n2print, $15.95). She's not autistic herself but says she has "difficulty with eye contact." ... Not eating is good for you and enemas can be performed with "a gourd and vine," Jeremy Safron advises in The Fasting Handbook ($11.95), new from Berkeley's Celestial Arts. He advises being coached by a "fastician" through a span of abstinence, which purges toxins and parasites and rejuvenates body parts such as ears. "The ears are often in constant use," Safron notes sagely. ... A "loctician," on the other hand, transformed the head of ex-Oakland Tribune reporter Lonnice Brittenum Bonner, who writes in Nice Dreads (Three Rivers, $12): "Black women experience a visual oxymoron when they see long locked hair. It can't be real because everyone knows nappy hair doesn't grow long enough to hang, it only grows out, as in an afro ... the long-hair fantasy -- Rapunzel, Indian-runs-in-my-family, Goldilocks, Cher, Jan and Marcia, the Asian chick on Soul Train when Don Cornelius was the host -- is all about straight hair." BS, she insists. ... "The spikes of my stiff purple punk hairdo hold up my halo," Berkeley poet Alexandra Yurkovsky observes in her debut volume, Wanting (Beatitude, $12.95). But what kinda saint is that? She also notes, "I fear my own kind: the Bitch."

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