Tag Archives: Books

A mystery aunt revealed in Lucy Jane Bledsoe’s new novel

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Lucy Jane Bledsoe is a Berkeley resident who has written five novels, two collections, and seven children’s books. Her new novel, A Thin Bright Line, which she will discuss Oct. 16 at 5 p.m. at Laurel Bookstore in Oakland, is based on the life of her aunt, who died in a fire when Bledsoe was 9. She later discovered they had many similarities.

Alison Bechdel, the author of Fun Home, described A Thin Bright Line as “gripping historical fiction about queer life at the height of the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement.” Berkeleyside recently caught up with Bledsoe to learn more about her novel.

Why did you write a novel about your aunt’s life?

In 1966, when I was 9 years old, my aunt and namesake, Lucybelle Bledsoe, died in an apartment fire. I remember her well; she was kind and funny. But details about her life were elusive. My dad, her brother, told me that she studied for, and passed, the bar exam, without ever going to law school. My mom told me that she was terribly independent and that even in the 1950s and 1960s she wouldn’t let men hold doors open for her. It frustrated me so much that I couldn’t know her better. Yet when I questioned my parents, I couldn’t get more than these few stories from them.

One day a few years ago I was telling a friend about my aunt and she suggested I Google her. Since Lucybelle died in 1966 and was just a farm girl from Arkansas, I didn’t expect to find anything. But I did: two items popped up on the internet. One was an obituary in the Journal of Glaciology. The other was a three-page entry in a new scholarly volume published by Routledge called The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science: Pioneering Lives from Ancient Times to Mid-20th Century.Continue reading »


Ruth Whippman: Why are Americans so obsessed with happiness?

Ruth Whipmann cropped
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For her new book, America The Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks, Berkeley resident Ruth Whippman embarked on what is described on her website as “an uproarious pilgrimage to explore the American happiness machine, tackling both the ridiculous and the sublime.” We caught up with Whippman —  ahead of her conversation with Lauren Schiller at Berkeleleyside’s Uncharted: Festival of Ideas on Oct. 15 (tickets here) — to ask her more about what her research uncovered. 

What prompted you to write ‘America the Anxious’?

We moved to Berkeley from the UK in 2011. I was immediately struck by the fact that there seemed to be a real cultural focus on happiness here, almost an obsession— something that was very different from my experience back in the UK. In my first few months in the States I probably had more conversations about happiness than in the rest of my life put together, whether that was people worrying that they weren’t quite as happy as they could be, or evangelizing about the different methods they were trying out to become happier, such as mindfulness or positive thinking or various self-help techniques.

There seemed to be a real anxiety around the topic, with this constant feeling from people that there was this perfect ‘happy-ever-after’ out there for the taking that they weren’t quite managing to achieve. As a journalist, I was curious as to what was behind all this, so I started looking into it and found that there is a multi-billion dollar industry devoted to selling happiness in America and that it is growing all the time. Americans spend more time and money looking for happiness than any other nation on earth. But, despite all this effort, they rate as some of the least happy and most anxious people in the developed world. The book was my journey to understand why, and what was going wrong. … Continue reading »


Photographer Elaine Miller Bond puts wildlife center stage

Elaine Miller Bond shooting in Tilden Regional Park. A launch event for her new book, Running Wild, happens tonight, Monday Oct. 3, at Books Inc in North Berkeley. Photo: Kathleen Costanza
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“You never know when it’s going to take off,” says Elaine Miller Bond, pointing her camera up at a red-tailed hawk perched on a power-line in Berkeley’s Tilden Regional Park. “It could be 30 seconds, could be 45 minutes, could be never.”

At that exact moment, the hawk spreads its wings and swoops towards the ground before ascending, as Miller Bond pans her camera and clicks dozens of photos in rapid succession.

As a wildlife photographer, Miller Bond has spent over a decade peering at animals­ through her lens — from hummingbirds to black bears —waiting to capture the perfect moment. Many of her stunning images and accompanying essays have been published exclusively by Berkeleyside. Now, Heyday Books, the nonprofit publisher based in Berkeley, is publishing her first children’s board book, Running Wild, which features her wildlife photography alongside verbs that explore how animals move.

At her book launch party on Monday, Oct. 3, at Books Inc. in North Berkeley, Miller Bond will describe the behind-the-scenes making of the book, and answer questions about her creative process. … Continue reading »

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Review: ‘An American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes, and Trial of Patty Hearst’

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Jeffrey Toobin will be in conversation with Bill Petrocelli at Book Passage in Corte Madera tonight, Tuesday Aug. 16, at 7 p.m.

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In early 1974, the United States was in turmoil. Richard Nixon was about to be impeached, the Vietnam War was still grinding on, the OPEC Oil Embargo was underway, and an average of 2,000 bombs had been exploded in the country in each of the three preceding years. Then, on Feb. 4, a 19-year-old woman bearing one of the most famous names in the country was kidnapped in Berkeley. Her grandfather was the press lord William Randolph Hearst, a towering figure in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Patty Hearst, or Patricia as she strongly preferred, was a junior at UC Berkeley. Patricia’s story is brilliantly chronicled in American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin.

The sensational kidnapping of Patty Hearst

Only the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr. could match the sensationalism of Patty Hearst’s seizure from her apartment. Now, more than 40 years later, the Hearst kidnapping quickly headlined news stories around the country. It was not just that Patricia’s name was famous. The kidnappers were an unknown and mysterious revolutionary band calling themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army. They were the same people who three months earlier had assassinated the universally popular superintendent of Oakland schools, Marcus Foster. … Continue reading »

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Tom Dalzell: The man behind new book, ‘Quirky Berkeley’

Tom Dalzell, holding his new book, Quirky Berkeley, at the Homemade Cafe. There will be a book launch party tonight at the North Branch of the Berkeley Public Library. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Tom Dalzell has so many passions that he has to get up at 3:30 a.m. each day to attend to them all.

A highly regarded labor leader, a world expert on slang, and – in the last five years – the world’s strongest proponent of Berkeley’s quirk, Dalzell’s constellation of interests would exhaust a lesser man. But, at 65, Dalzell seems to be just gearing up.

His next act starts tonight, Monday, with the launch party for his new book, Quirky Berkeley, just published by Heyday.

The almost-pocket-sized tome is a compilation of how Dalzell has spent much of the past few years: walking around Berkeley, noticing the odd and interesting objects created by residents, and writing about them for his website, Quirky Berkeley, as well as for Berkeleyside. The $15 book, which seems destined to become an instant Berkeley classic, is full of colorful photos and probing insights into many of Berkeley’s most interesting quirks, including the Giant Orange House on Spruce Street, Buldan Seka’s large ceramic creations (also on Spruce), artist Mark Bullwinkle’s steel sculptures around town, Mark Olivier’s beach trash art, and Eni Green’s Doggie Diner head and other dachshund knickknacks on Harper Street. Dalzell also highlights the city’s many colorful mailboxes, benches, animal sculptures and sidewalk art.

     Read Tom Dalzell’s Quirky Berkeley articles on Berkeleyside.

“I am struck every time I walk in Berkeley by the plenty of the quirk that I see,” Dalzell writes in his introduction. “We enjoy a special kind of freedom in Berkeley, unbound by convention or conventional thinking, unafraid of change or what others may think. The quirky stuff is an outward and physical manifestation of that inward freedom.” … Continue reading »

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Shop Talk: Mad Monk, Neeko, Serena & Lily, more

The Mad Monk Center for Anachronistic Media. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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MAD MONK CENTER FOR ANACHRONISTIC MEDIA Ken Sarachan’s Mad Monk Center for Anachronistic Media threw open its doors in April after years of construction. The spacious space at 2454 Telegraph Ave. that formerly housed Cody’s Books now holds thousands of used books and LPs (brought from the basement of Rasputin’s down the street). There are no CDs or DVDs, only “analog” media. Thus the name. Sarachan has said he has plans to install a café and music venue in the space, but those elements have not arrived yet. Bookmarks, T-shirts, and book bags are also on the way. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley writer Yaa Gyasi adjusts to fame, accolades for debut novel ‘Homegoing’

Yaa Gyasi. Photo: Michael Lionstar
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By Frances Dinkelspiel and Mal Warwick

Yaa Gyasi had just returned to her Berkeley home after a whirlwind tour of bookstores around the country to promote her debut novel, “Homegoing,” and she sounded a bit tired Tuesday on the phone.

Her book, which starts with the tale of two half-sisters in Ghana in the 18th century and then follows 12 of their descendants for 200 years throughout Africa and the U.S., was published in early June to extraordinary reviews. The New York Times wrote about it twice (with Pulitzer-Prize winning author Isabel Wilkerson calling it a “hypnotic debut) as did scores of other media outlets, including NPR, Time Magazine, the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and Slate. Mal Warwick said in his review for Berkeleyside (which appears at the end of the article) that Gyasi has a “marvelous way with words.”

After Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the mega-bestseller on race, “Between the World and Me,” finished the book he exclaimed his delight on Twitter: “Finished Yaa Gyasi’s ‘Homegoing’ yesterday. Thought it was a monster when I started. Felt it was a monster when I was done.”

Of course, the fact that the book was sold for about $1 million in 2015 after 10 publishing houses competed to buy it increased the hype factor.

Gyasi, 26, who moved with her boyfriend to Berkeley in August, said she has been surprised – and a bit exhausted – by the attention. … Continue reading »

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‘Sara’s Song’ captures era when there were two Berkeleys

Tina Jones Williams' mother and father in the early 1940s. Williams' book, Tina's Song,  is loosely based on some aspects of their lives. Photo: courtesy Tina Jones Williams
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On Saturday, June 18, author Tina Jones Williams will lead a discussion about her new novel “Sara’s Song” at the Rosie the Riveter Visitor Education Center in Richmond. The book is inspired in part by her family’s move from Chicago to Berkeley during World War II, and follows her first novella in the Julia Street Series, “Some Things I Want You to Know.” Both Williams’ mother and Sara, the novel’s protagonist, worked briefly as welders at the Richmond Shipyards. Berkeleyside spoke with Williams, a Berkeley native who grew up on Julia Street, about writing a book of fiction that captures an era when two Berkeleys, a Black one and a White one, existed parallel to each other, rarely intersecting on the corners of openness and acceptance. 

Was your mother the inspiration for the novel?
The two main characters, Sara and Ben, are very loosely based on my mother and father. They did in fact leave Chicago in 1943, moving their small family (I wasn’t born yet) to Berkeley. Some of the parts, and some of the events, and some of the people did, in fact, happen. The other thing that I will say: the very best parts of Sara are my mother, for sure. … Continue reading »

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25 years after the Oakland/Berkeley firestorm, Risa Nye pens memoir

Risa Nye
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On Oct. 20, 1991, a wildfire ripped through the Oakland hills and parts of Berkeley, killing 25 people and destroying 2,483 houses and 437 apartments and condos. Risa Nye, an Oakland writer who writes the Ms Barstool column for Nosh, was at home with her family in Oakland when the fire began. Since it was on the other side of the freeway, Nye, who was about to turn 40, didn’t quite believe the flames would reach her house. So when the family evacuated, they took some precious items but left behind many important keepsakes.

Read Berkeleyside’s special 20th anniversary Firestorm coverage.

Nye has written a memoir about the tragedy and how she and her family coped with their losses called, “There Was a Fire Here.” She Writes Press published the book, which Zac Unger, a former Oakland firefighter and the author of “Working Fire,” says is a “searing memoir” that is “told with humor and grace.” There will be a book release party for Nye Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at The Bay Area Children’s Theater Performance Hall, 2162 Mountain Blvd. in Oakland (corner of Mountain and Snake Rd). Nye will be in conversation with Alex Green.

Berkeleyside recently spoke with Nye about her book.

What motivated you to write a memoir about the fire 25 years after it happened? How hard was it to recreate the events of that time? What techniques did you use to capture the period?

The memoir had been in the works for many years. The push was to get it published this year in honor of the 25th anniversary of the fire. The anniversary provided a good incentive to get it done in a timely manner. Recreating the events wasn’t hard at all — I had kept newspapers from 1991, starting with the day of the fire, in a big box, and I had access to other reports and documents online. Another great resource was a short film, made by a Stanford graduate student just a few months after the fire, which included footage of the fire and interviews with my older son and me. I’d also kept a journal during the planning and reconstruction phases, so I had my words as well as the words of others to refer to as I wrote. … Continue reading »

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Adam Hochschild examines the Spanish Civil War

spain in our hearts
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@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

A few weeks ago I read and reviewed Richard Rhodes’ Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World It Made, which was published last year. More recently, Adam Hochschild, a Berkeley resident and lecturer at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, tackled the same material in a book published this year. It’s the book that Rhodes tried and failed to write. It’s called Spain in Our Hearts. I found it to be an outstanding and deeply moving tale of an event that has received far too little attention by historians. (Amazon lists just 334 history books involving the civil war as compared with 114,985 for World War II.)

To write this important new book, Hochschild pored through the letters, diaries and newspaper dispatches written by Americans who served in the war. These men (and a few women) served as either soldiers in what came to be called the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, as doctors or nurses serving them and other soldiers of the embattled Republic, or as reporters who fed the American press with on-the-scene accounts of the fighting. … Continue reading »

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Daughter aims to chronicle life of Moe’s Books founder

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His Telegraph Avenue bookstore, just four blocks from the UC Berkeley campus, became so famous that the San Francisco Chronicle once wrote: “India has the Taj Mahal. Berkeley has Moe’s.”

Moskowitz died in 1997, but his bookstore lives on. And now, his daughter, Doris Moskowitz, wants to commemorate her father’s life and the culture and politics that made Berkeley an essential part of the Free Speech and anti-Vietnam War movements. She has launched a Kickstarter campaign to publish Radical Bookselling: A Life of Moe Moskowitz.

The book, designed by Grégoire Vion, will detail Moskowitz’s life, and how he came to open a bookstore in 1959 (the precursor to the current store). It will be image-rich, with photos of what happened on Telegraph Avenue during the fight to stop the war and to create People’s Park; as well as posters of happenings at the store and around town. The book also recounts Moskowitz’s battle with Berkeley to retain the right to smoke his cigar in the store. … Continue reading »

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‘Farmsteads’ celebrates our local food purveyors

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Award-winning journalist Sarah Henry, for many years Berkeleyside’s food writer, has just published her first book: Farmsteads of the California Coast. The book profiles 12 innovative farmsteads through an exploration of their sustainable practices, the delicious produce they grow and the food they make. The book’s photographer is Erin Scott, author of Yummy Supper (and an occasional Nosh contributor). The book includes 24 recipes courtesy of publisher Lisa McGuinness, an accomplished home cook. We talked to Henry about the thinking behind the beautiful tome, and what she learned while researching and writing it.

What led you to writing this book?

I was approached to write the book by Yellow Pear Press publisher Lisa McGuinness. Lisa had visited Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero, was charmed by the whole experience, and wanted to know more about the coastal farmers who grow and produce the diverse and delicious food we are fortunate enough to eat. … Continue reading »

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In the hands of feminist press, Calamity Jane rides again

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By Judith Coburn

What was the best book the actor Ethan Hawke read last year? Calamity Jane’s Letters to her Daughter. (The second was Berkeley writer Greil Marcus’s A History of Rock ‘n Roll in Ten Songs) When Alta Gerrey, founder of Shameless Hussy Press, the first feminist publisher in America, heard about those choices, she rushed to her favorite Copymat on College Avenue to run off 50 new copies of the Calamity Jane book. Shameless Hussy had initially published Calamity Jane’s letters in paperback in 1976; its first edition is now selling on Amazon for $300. Hawke’s endorsement was followed by a recent shout-out from a blogger at The Paris Review.

“Calamity Jane is a feminist icon,” said Alta, who prefers to go by her first name as she did as a poet for many years on the Berkeley poetry scene.

Alta said Calamity Jane has taken her licks from mainstream biographers and filmmakers, like the men who made HBO’s Deadwood. “They just depict her as a drunk and a whore,” she said. Historians of the West quarrel over whether she was really married to Wild Bill Hickok and whether he is the father of Janey to whom the letters are written. Some regard the letters as fiction. … Continue reading »

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