Winter's Tales 

This month's East Bay book news.

Piano, with plasma: It was Halloween, but neither Willie Brown nor former Secretary of State George Shultz wore costumes to the private art-gallery bash launching Blue Moon (Berkley, $22.95), a new mystery co-written by John Morgan Wilson and veteran society bandleader Peter Duchin. Set in a bygone Vertigo-era San Francisco, the novel concerns -- of all things -- a bandleader mourning the unsolved murder, two years before, of his UC Berkeley-alum wife. Then an ice pick messes up a performance he's giving at the Fairmont for an audience that includes Willie Mays, Herb Caen, Kim Novak, Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock, and Frank Sinatra with some Cosa Nostra pals. In-jokes abound, and keep an eye peeled for drag queens. The authors "tried to be nice" to all the real-life celebs they reanimated in the book, Wilson told Press Here. He laughed. "Except Sinatra."

Breaking and entering: UC Berkeley English prof and poet Ron Loewinsohn says he "held the world's record for being burglarized" -- seven times -- when he wrote his novel Magnetic Field(s) twentysomething years ago. Newly reissued by Dalkey Archive ($13.50), it's the unnerving tale of a meditative robber who gets off more on being alone in other people's homes than on what he can swipe from them. It was those repeated robberies -- "I swear, my name and address were in somebody's Rolodex" -- and anecdotes recounted by the cops to whom he reported the crimes that inspired Loewinsohn to climb inside a fictional felon's head. "The guy got my stereo, but I got a novel," reasons the author, who has been approached by a Canadian film producer about the story's cinematic possibilities. Rereading the manuscript for the first time in fifteen years to prepare for its reissue, "I came across whole stretches I had completely forgotten," Loewinsohn laughs. "I kept thinking, 'I wonder what's gonna happen next?' "

The future is now: Although you thought this was the wrong time of year for resurrections, also newly revived are three novels from the late Berkeleyite and Blade Runner author Philip K. Dick, who set his sinister Hugo Award- winning visions in a 21st century that is no longer merely a matter for speculation. In 1965's The Zap Gun (Vintage, $11), international weapons designers strive to save the world, circa 2004. In 1956's The Man Who Japed (Vintage, $11), rigid rules of morality govern a universe that has survived the nuclear war that ended in 1972. In 1967's Counter-Clock World (Vintage, $11), it's 1998 and the dead are coming back to life.

True north: She says she doesn't want to steal Oscar Schindler's fire. But Emmy Werner has found someone else "who really deserves the honor." Werner's new book, A Conspiracy of Decency (Westview, $26), isn't about how the Danes saved civilization, exactly, but how they saved Jews from extermination during WWII. When word reached German diplomat and shipping expert Georg Duckwitz of Hitler's plans to deport Danish Jews in 1943, he rushed from Copenhagen to Sweden, consulted with the Swedish prime minister, and arranged a secret mission by which thousands of Jews were smuggled across the sound, boat by boat, to asylum.

"It took more than a thousand trips," says Werner, who conducted hundreds of interviews with participants in "this exodus, which is almost a miraculous story." After discovering a box in storage at a Copenhagen museum containing the names of children who had been ferried, the Berkeley author began the laborious task of tracking down the grownups those kids have become. She also interviewed some who stayed behind in Denmark, in hiding, with the help of "everyone from the Danish royal family to fishmongers." Even today, Werner says, the names of Danish Resistance leaders remain secret. As did, until recently, Duckwitz' saga.

"Of course that was high treason," she says of what he did. "We talk so much about evil these days, it's nice to learn about someone who was really good."

Just add wienies: What to do with leftover green salad? Give it a spin in the blender and make it into soup. In Not Your Mother's Cookbook, new from Berkeley's Snow Lion Graphics ($16.95), Marina Bear and John Bear dare you to do it and love the results. This and the hundred-plus other recipes herein have been scrupulously taste-tested, so fear not the Coffeed Lamb, Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake, Sukiyaki Cacciatore, Popcorn Bread, Fried Spaghetti Pudding, Green Chili Maple Praline, Peanut Hamburger Balls, Crown Roast of Hot Dog, Potato Chip Cookies, and Vegemite Milkshake. This is the authors' seventh cookbook, and if it doesn't make you make Navy Bean and Peanut Butter Cookies (and don't be so sure it won't), it will at least make you split your sides laughing.

Its cover art is the work of Stanley Mouse, that veteran Bay Area cartoonist who designed the Grateful Dead's skull-and-roses logo and is making headlines this month: Mouse is suing Disney and Pixar, claiming they swiped the ideas for their Monsters, Inc. monsters from a pair of characters he's been drawing since 1963.

Back in the day: New this month is Africa, Love (2ndSight, $27.98), a follow-up to Mississippi Swamp and the second volume in John Hatch's New Africa Chronicles series . Twenty years ago, the Berkeley author and Harvard Law School alum heard his elderly aunt describe a shooting that led to a pitched battle in New Africa, the Mississippi territory where his family had its roots. Years of research led Hatch farther and farther from his law practice and into his new career as a writer of African-American historical fiction.

My fault: "On a clear day," writes Tim Palmer in Pacific High (Island, $28), his account of a nine-month trip up the Pacific Coast Range, rumor has it that "you can see more from Mount Diablo's double-top summit than from any other mountain in the world except Africa's Kilimanjaro." The main reason, notes the longtime nomad, is that "Diablo stands alone, with few other big mountains nearby to block the view. Beneath it lie the deracinated hills of the East Bay ... with four-garage homes and designer malls where the blue oak savanna sadly fades from memory."

Our own paradise lost notwithstanding, Palmer tells Press Here he loves the East Bay. He's spent a lot of time here before, during, and after the sojourn -- which spanned the slopes from Baja's whale-studded lagoons to Alaska's icefields. Whereas Los Angeles turns its back on its peaks, "the Bay Area's mountains are the keystones" of local culture, civilization, and sense of self. "The East Bay's regional parks are a model for the whole nation," Palmer declares. So enjoy them before the Hayward Fault swallows us whole.

"The geologists say it's the next big fault line to watch. It's one of the most urbanized fault lines of all." What, you didn't already have enough to worry about?

More hep cats: Berkeley High alums Benny Green and Peter Apfelbaum are among nearly two thousand performers featured in the newly updated All Music Guide to Jazz (Backbeat, $32.95). Reviews of 20,000-plus recordings augment profiles, discographies, anecdotes, and helpful "music maps" charting careers and developments.

The latest mews: He has written about dogs. He has written about elephants. And he has written about Sigmund Freud. Now Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson turns his attention to cats -- and they're gazing back at him not so inscrutably as you might suspect. In The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats (Ballantine, $24.95), the longtime East Bayite, now living with five felines and his human family in New Zealand, explores what's actually on their minds when they claw the couch, creep across the keyboard, and cuddle up to party guests who hate them. Contentment, anger, curiosity -- Masson mixes astute observation with findings from history and science to mount an excursion into cat consciousness so plausible you'll never again presume they're "just hungry."

Our presumptions often spell pain for our pets, says the former Sanskrit scholar.

"Cats need to be protected from boredom. They need other cats, other animals, and lots of human attention. If possible, give them a cat door -- the greatest invention of the 20th century," Masson urges. Moreover, "please do not buy a cat. Adopt one who needs a home from a local shelter. If you're really kind, you'll adopt an older cat who would otherwise be killed. He or she will remain eternally grateful. If you insist on getting kittens, take more than one from a litter so they'll have a brother or sister. It is important that they have company," he says, "especially if they won't be going outdoors."

Trussed: As another Navidad approaches, "I think about how so many Hispanic people, women like me, have made and enjoyed this simple food for thousands of years," notes Alicia Guadalupe Tapp, whose Tamales 101 is new from Berkeley's Ten Speed Press ($19.95). Recalling early days in East LA, when "Christmas to me was not Christmas without tamales," Tapp offers the lowdown on masa, husks, sauces, and fillings from traditional pork to tofu to king crab to chocolate, as well as regional versions such as peanutty Filipino tamales and pruney Nicaraguan nacatamales. She talks you through wrapping and tying, too, if you're game.

Beat it: In Edward Dorn: A World of Difference (North Atlantic, $25), Berkeley biographer Tom Clark (who has also done the honors for Jack Kerouac and Damon Runyon) explores an American poet whose fans call him part beatnik, part Gary Cooper.


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