Unnecessarily Large Steaks 

In this month's East Bay book news, whips and Elvis memorabilia make the scene.

Written at age 22 and recounting her bout with weighing 52 pounds, Walnut Creek-born Marya Hornbacher's bulimarexia memoir Wasted sold a million-plus copies and was a 1998 Pulitzer nominee. Its new sequel, Madness: A Bipolar Life (Houghton Mifflin, $25) begins as "I am cutting patterns in my arm. ... Blood runs in rivers ... wrapping around my wrists. ... I have been cutting for months. ... I split my artery." She is rushed to a hospital, where "I am a steak. They are cutting me up to serve me." Later: "Sean is telling me he loves me and has to kill me to save me. ... We haven't eaten for days. Someone is screaming. It may be me." Hellooo, talk-show circuit!

Pixie pix

A high-schooler wrote a comic book in 1995 chronicling her just-finished freshman year: Concerts! Crushes! Kisses! ("I missed him alot.") The next summer, she did it again. ("Pass the glitter eyeshadow.") Improving a bit over time, the art is ... teenage-kid art, evoking Cathy Guisewite's strip "Cathy." Tequila! Piercings! The school is Berkeley High! Do you care? Simon & Schuster thinks you do, releasing Awkward and Definition: The High School Comic Chronicles of Ariel Schrag ($15). Might the fact that Schrag (now a Columbia grad who still cartoons) comes out as a lesbian in this book have anything to do with it? ("I do dream about girls ... alot.") And has threesomes? Ya think?

CoCo Coping

Growing up in apartheid-era South Africa, Nesta Rovina "felt guilty and ashamed of what white people did, yet I was one of them." As a Contra Costa County home health therapist, she admired African-American matriarchs and other Richmondites such as a non-English-speaking seventeen-year-old mom. By contrast, Danvillers were "bland, boring, and smug in their spacious cocoons of security and prosperity." In "an unnecessarily large suburban home," one couple cooked "unnecessarily large steaks," their rooms "decorated in Elvis memorabilia." The horror, the horror! Nearby, "sleek, tanned, perky young women with straight blonde hair drove without apparent regard for anyone." Rovina's memoir, Tree Barking (Heyday/BayTree, $14.95), is articulately arch.

Danville, you say

Danviller Karl Burlison's new novel, Love in Both Directions (PublishAmerica, $12.95) is about two successful gay men whose relationship faces a major challenge. Can love survive? Does the author like large steaks?

Sourcing that snack

A Berkeley woman's tale involving Japanese senbei crackers eaten in San Francisco Chinatown in the 1920s was among the evidence in a 1983 court battle over who invented fortune cookies: Los Angeles-based noodlemaker David Jung or "a Japanese (!) immigrant named Makoto Hagiwara" who tended Golden Gate Park's Japanese tea garden, writes Jennifer 8. Lee in her history of the Chinese-food diaspora, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles (Twelve, $24.99). Hagiwara's side won.

Camo capers

When he's not tracking illegal egg collectors in Scotland, David Schwartz lives in Oakland. His fifty-plus books include Super GrandpaFeet, Eyes, G Is for Googol, and Q Is for Quark. His latest, Where in the Wild? Camouflaged Creatures Concealed ... and Revealed (Tricycle, $15.95), just won the 2008 American Association for the Advancement of Science/Subaru Science Books and Films Prize and was placed on the prestigious John Burroughs List of Nature Books for Young Readers.

Prize patrol

Another (formerly) local winner is Berkeley-bred Kate Christensen, whose novel The Great Man (Doubleday, $23.95) just netted the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. She'll get $15,000 for this tale of a model-banging famous artist/unfaithful husband/neglectful dad. And Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union (HarperCollins, $26.95) is up for an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Winners get cute little mustachioed busts of Edgar Allan Poe (hence the name).

Want Tibet?

The author of Miss Peggy Lee: A Career Chronicle (McFarland, $49.95) is serious about international politics. "What is happening now in Tibet is sickening and unacceptable," San Leandro's Robert Strom laments in a letter urging friends to boycott the Beijing Olympics. "I believe that Tibet should be returned to its people and the Dalai Lama must return to his home. ... I encourage you to ... help stop what will turn into the newest genocide."

Whip it

Alone with her soon-to-be lover, Devesh Khanna, grad-student Josie listens to him singing "Ek baar tumko jab baraste paaniyon ke paar dekha thha." And then: "Yoon laga thha jaise gungunaata ek abshaar dekha thha." That explains it! He ties her up, cuffs her, and whips her with a cat-o'-nine tails as she calls him "sir" in UC Berkeley creative-writing lecturer Melanie Abrams' novel Playing (Black Cat, $13). "His name was luminous in her mouth, and she said it over and over like a mantra."

More laurels

Abrams' husband Vikram Chandra is — for his massive Mumbai mystery Sacred Games — among several East Bay nominees for the 27th annual Northern California Book Awards. Others include Fritjof Capra for The Science of Leonardo; Lisa Margonelli for Oil on the Brain; Adam David Miller for Ticket to Exile; Jessica Fisher for Frail-Craft; and Robert Hass for Time and Materials. Oakland poet Al Young gets the Fred Cody Award for Lifetime Achievement at the April 13 ceremony in the San Francisco Main Library. The public is welcome; a reception follows.

Picaresque detours

He's working on a novel about how, in the '60s, a young poet (but in God's name who??) undertakes "a bizarre odyssey that takes him from a San Francisco jail cell to a Los Angeles psychiatric hospital, with numerous picaresque detours in between, in search of his role in the Revolution." In the meantime, Stephen Kessler's poetry volume, Burning Daylight ($20), is new from Berkeley's Littoral Press.

Rome sweet Rome

Arriving in Rome in 2004 with a UCLA diploma and scant Italian, Walnut Creek's Michael Gyulai marveled at cobblestones laid in "a time before Mack trucks, before asphalt and steamrollers." Meanwhile, "a new buildup of snarling fenders growled at my shins." Then he became a bartender, as fictionalized in his novel Midnight in Rome (iUniverse, $16.95).

Local splendor

Caves, creeks, lakes, waterfalls, woods — even snow-capped peaks: The East Bay Regional Parks include nearly every wilderness wonder you can think of. The district increased from 60,000 to 97,000 acres in the '80s, thanks in part to the artistic activism of Bob Walker, whose lush photographs illuminate In Our Own Backyard (Wilderness Press, $25). With text by his friend, documentarist Christopher Beaver, it's a coffee-table testament to a devoted individualist who died of AIDS in 1992 — and whose ashes were scattered from a helicopter over the hiking trail named for him in Livermore's sprawling, sunflower-speckled Morgan Territory Regional Preserve.


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