Santa Cruz homeboy Wallace Baine leads the pack of inventive pageturners this summer
Full reviews of:
The New Good Life by John Robbins
Standing Up to the Madness by Amy Goodman and David Goodman
Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott
Ravishing of Lol Stein by Margarette Duras
THE HOT LIST FROM LOCAL BOOKSELLERS
If Santa Cruz had an official spokesperson, it may very well be personified in Wallace Baine, a 19-year veteran writer of the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Throughout his notable career, Baine has covered the highlights of the Santa Cruz arts and entertainment community. His columns, wonderfully dubbed “Baine Street,” manage to be both humorous and thought-provoking. You just can’t but trust the man. Beyond Baine’s Sentinel offerings, he’s also the man who steers the Gail Rich Awards, an annual ceremony honoring locals making a difference in the art community. Baine’s verbal panache combined with witty flair have earned him myriad accolades over the years, so it makes sense that his latest achievement, an engaging tome entitled “Rhymes With Vain,” made its way to the top of our summer reads list. Here, he opens up with GT.
Why did you decide to publish this book?
It’s odd that a cover photo inspired a book and not the other way around. But the photographer Dina Scoppettone corraled me shortly before the Gail Rich Awards last January (that’s why I’m wearing the tux on the cover) and said she wanted to take my photo, just for the hell of it. When I saw that photo, the book’s title came to me, and then the idea to publish a “greatest-hits” style collection of my Sentinel columns from the past 10 years.
This is your first book?
Yes. It is self-published through a company called Fast Pencil, a start-up by a Santa Cruz guy named Michael Ashley who, ironically, used to work at the Sentinel (though I didn’t know him then). The book came about, first, when I met Michael and I saw how easy self-publishing is nowadays, and secondly, thanks to the cover photograph.
You have written so much throughout your career, how did you choose which of your past columns to feature?
Choosing what was to go in the book was a big task, seeing as how the end result is just a tip of the iceberg of the verbiage I’ve produced since I began at the Sentinel. Only a few were sure things. I’m sure if I were to start the process from scratch today, I would probably have chosen a bit differently. Even today, I found an old one that probably belonged with this collection. I’m not much of a clipper, so it was difficult gathering this material in any kind of organized way.
Do you have a particular column in the book that stands out as your favorite?
I’m not really comfortable choosing a favorite or two among them. I have them, of course, I suppose. But I’d rather readers come to them open-minded and choose their favorites. My attitude toward these columns has remained pretty constant over the years. When I read them a day or a week or two weeks after they are published, I find them tedious, labored and generally mediocre. They are hack work, essentially. But somewhere around the three- or four-month mark, they rise dramatically in my esteem, and only then can I find value in them. It’s funny how they change over time.
How long have you worked at the Sentinel?
This month marks my 19th anniversary of working at the Sentinel, which catches a lot of flak from people. But in the past couple of years especially, I think the paper has shown real moxie and I’m proud to be part of it. My job is not to do the hard-news reporting; instead, I just want to give readers a different kind of material, something with humor, perspective and personality—and to cover the arts/entertainment community in this incredible town the way it deserves to be covered … | Leslie Patrick
“Rhymes With Vain” is available at Bookshop Santa Cruz, 1520 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, and online at wallacebaine.com.
The New Good Life by John Robbins
In the years following the publication of his bestselling book “Diet For a New America,” John Robbins became a leading voice in environmentalism and health. But it was through his personal financial experiences that Robbins found the insight to write his latest book, “The New Good Life: Living Better Than Ever in an Age of Less,” which was released in May. Before diving into a detailed map for how to achieve financial freedom, Robbins gives the reader a glance into the events that shaped his own relationship to money. He recalls his lavish childhood as the son of the Baskin Robbins ice cream co-founder, where, despite having an ice cream cone-shaped swimming pool, a yacht (aptly named The 32nd Flavor), and a mansion to call home, Robbins grew extremely unhappy. We learn of his plight from the Robbins family at age 21, when he chose to leave every cent of his family’s money behind in pursuit of a purer lifestyle. But perhaps most poignant in current economic times is the tale of how he fell victim to Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme in 2008, lost almost all of his hard-earned money, and was faced with how to keep his family afloat.
Needless to say, Robbins has survived many battles with the idea that “money can’t buy happiness.” Fortunately for us, the perceptive and inspiring man we’ve come to love for his environmental, dietary and health advice came out of it all with an amazing vision for the future: a thing he calls “the new good life.” In the book, you’ll learn how to identify your money personality, reduce spending and live costs, and life more fully with less. Good Times caught up with Robbins, a Santa Cruz resident, to hear more about the experiences that led up to the book’s penning and what living the new good life is all about.
You’ve tackled a lot of subjects in your books—what inspired you to write about money?
A lot of people are hurting right now, and I don’t think we are going back to the way it was a couple of years ago. The economy won’t recover to be like it was. The old myths, the old belief systems, the old definition of prosperity and success that guided our economic lives aren’t credible any more. And so we need to learn to live with it in a healthy way, we have to find some solid ground. The reason I titled the book ‘The New Good Life’ was because I think we can achieve a higher quality of life while consuming less.
The saying goes “money can’t buy happiness,” but, as you point out in the book, for many people a few hundred dollars can be the difference between making rent or being evicted.
After the Maddoff blow, if someone had said to me ‘money can’t buy happiness,’ I would’ve said they were full of crap. If your basic needs aren’t being met, it’s devastating. But what [the saying means] is just that, after a certain point, after basic needs are covered, money no longer is happiness. More isn’t better. Yet in our society we have structured the game so that more is better. We have made corporate greed more important than basic human needs.
Your life journey has seen extreme financial highs and lows—what did you take away from these experiences?
I was born into riches. I made a change: I chose to have no access whatsoever to my family’s fortune and to not at all depend on Baskin Robbins money. That was stage two: from riches to chosen rags. After my books became popular, significant money came into [my family’s] lives. Stage three was earned riches. Then our life savings was stolen, and stage four was unchosen rags. Unchosen rags are really different. It was devastating. Stage five was working our way back to sufficiency. What I got out of this devastating blow to our family’s security was empathy for others who are going through this, and, secondly, a real commitment to get out of it. I didn’t have time to mope. I had to cope. Madoff stole our money, but I wasn’t about to let him steal the rest of our lives. And frankly, a lot of people helped us.
In the book you relate that generosity you experienced to a quote from the Dalai Lama about the importance of having compassion for others, so that if you “face tragedy, there will be plenty of people who will come to help.”
Exactly. We are going to need each other in the days to come. In the old good life, everyone had their own washing machine, their own car, their own television—their own little world of stuff. And that’s what they interacted with and depended on. They just tried to make the pile bigger. In the new good life, we don’t depend on our things so much; we depend on our relationships with people. In the old good life we were taught to love things and use people. The new good life is about using things and loving people.
How else does the new good life differ from the old?
The pursuit of the old good life was always ‘shop till the planet drops,’ it was never environmentally sustainable. So in that sense there may be some good that comes out of this. It also took a terrible toll on us as human beings; it severed our connection with our spirits, the natural world, and the deeper rhythms with the world.
Generally, if you say someone is a success, what you mean is that they’ve made a lot of money. I think that’s a deeply impoverishing way of looking at the goals of human life. To me, a successful person might be someone who loves fully and well, who contributes to the well-being of others, who adds beauty to the world. There are many definitions that speak to our capacity for joy, our ability to laugh, our self-respect. I think there is an opportunity here if we are wise and careful to move into the new economic times and actually experience a higher quality of life, a richer life—richer in the things that make life worth living.
In the old good life, the prevailing idea has been ‘he who dies with the most toys, wins.’ I say, in the new good life, he or she who lives with the most joys thrives. | Elizabeth Limbach
Standing Up to the Madness by Amy Goodman and David Goodman
Just because it’s summer, it doesn’t mean the brain synapses should stop firing. A sweet new read that educates while it entertains can become a favorite summer sidekick like that overused beach towel you’ve had since before the new millennium.
You know a book is good when you search for it in your bookshelf over and over again, only to remember that you’ve given said book to someone else to read. Such is my relationship with “Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times.” Leave it to NPR’s Democracy Now! maven Amy Goodman, with co-author and brother David Goodman, to pen a book that gives revealing insights. Hope comes in the form of this 250-page tribute to the power of, well, anyone.
A non-fiction that will draw you in like a fiction, the Goodmans’ 2008 publication (the latest in a series of three books by the sibling team) presents myriad true stories of bravery shown by everyday people whose acts went against local authorities or defied the government to defend basic freedoms. Best of all, it’s written for everyday people; no need to worry, it’s not a convoluted, you-need-PhD-to-read type of book. It’s clean, concise, and commanding without being overwhelming—an easy read for anyone from students to elders. You’ll feel like a teen reading the “Twilight” series, only the drama is real and the non-airbrushed vampires, more often than not, come in suits.
The Goodmans kick off “Standing Up to the Madness” by retelling the infamous story of the White Rose underground resistance group in Germany that campaigned against the Nazis. Maintaining personal principles, a responsibility to act, a resolve to stay true to one’s own set of moral laws despite the laws of those governing—these are quickly established as the pervading themes. Twelve stories are presented in four chapters that each open up with a well-known “turning point” in history: the Montgomery bus boycott, the Pentagon Papers, the Soweto uprising in South Africa, and the GI movement of the ’70s. These introductions segue into lesser-known accounts of heroism. Short and tasty, the stories span about 20 pages long, making for a perfect read for a pickup-and-go summer schedule.
As you’d expect, these are Bush-era struggles, but the true-life characters vary in ages and types; the young Oakland architect whose T-shirt stating the White Rose motto “We will not be silent” in Arabic and English led him to be detained at JFK airport; the steadfast librarians in Connecticut who refused to adhere to the PATRIOT Act and spy on their patrons, as demanded by FBI agents; the high school students who brought freedom of speech to light when their theater production reenacting testimonies by Iraq War veterans was shut down by school administration; the plight of American psychologists protesting the use of their practice in military torture tactics; Iraq soldiers-turned-conscientious objectors to the war.
Building upon the book’s opening quote from Gandhi, “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Next they fight you. Then you win,” Amy and David Goodman have crafted a scintillating eye-opener that unearths real incidents of activism as enthralling as any Grisham novel. And whether or not the book triggers you to raise your own voice—it will surely help you keep the faith as a reminder that one seemingly ordinary maneuver can lead to extraordinary transformations.
Simply put, “Standing Up to the Madness” is a must-have that you won’t be able to bring yourself to keep. The need to pass it forward for someone else to read will be too strong. | Linda Koffman
Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott
Anne Lamott is by far a rare bird. She’s had a fascinating and successful career as a non-fiction and fiction writer, her book, “Bird by Bird,” has inspired many writers on how to tackle the craft, and she often infuses accessible spirituality into her books. She’s irreverent and believes in God; she’s deep and hilarious; she’s a smart writer, whose every book turns out being an inspirational read. Yet again, she has wowed fans with her latest novel that was released earlier this year, “Imperfect Birds.”
You can’t help but wonder how much of this story is based on people and places that Lamott is familiar with. As a resident of Marin County, she has set her book in the same area, and the characters are so realistically constructed, that you’re curious if one of them could be a portrait of Lamott herself.
“Imperfect Birds” revolves around a seemingly normal family—at first. There’s Elizabeth, the middle-aged struggling alcoholic mother, James, her second husband, who’s a writer, and Elizabeth’s beautiful but troubled daughter, Rosie. The three of them carry out a typical life in the Bay Area, but piece by piece, things begin to crumble around them, as the parents take on the hardships that many parents endure when their children get caught up in drugs and alcohol. That’s when reality hits. All the meanwhile, Elizabeth is trying with all her might to squelch the sense that things are unraveling around her, and that her daughter might very well be out of control.
Lamott does such a refined job at telling this story that it will surely pull at the heartstrings of any parent with a teenager—the author taps into the conflict, the fights, the yelling, the meanness, the daughter/mom makeup, the seduction of drugs, the carelessness with which a teenager can throw away her life, and so on. And Lamott creates each experience with painful and moving reality. Again, you can’t help but wonder if she’s gone through any of these experiences in her own life.
Along the journey of “Imperfect Birds,” we meet a slew of characters that flesh out the story—there are Jody and Alice, the teenage friends of Rosie, who are just as you would expect—experimental, wild, and completely irresponsible. (Just what every mother detests.) Then there’s Rae, Elizabeth’s best friend and sometimes spiritual guru of sorts, who offers up wisdom and even a trek to a sweat lodge, to both literally and figuratively sweat out the stress caused by Rosie and by life in general.
“Imperfect Birds” is magnetic and riveting—a page-turner at its finest. For any long-time fan of Lamott’s, you’ll eat this book up in no time. It’s a powerful and very real account of parenthood—and a story that will stay with you long after you’ve finished the book. | Christa Martin
The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir
Simone De Beauvoir is a name everyone, man or woman, should be able to say they have read. She is widely regarded as the founder of modern feminist thought, has lived the life of an outspoken philosopher and activist, and was the intellectual and romantic partner of the infamous French existentialist, Jean Paul Sartre. Many may have successfully avoided reading Beauvoir up to this point, however, as her most famous book, “The Second Sex,” numbers a repellent 1,000 or so pages in length. Before you skirt away from her section of the library, consider reading “The Woman Destroyed.” This book is her easy-to-read compilation of three short stories, each with its own voice, character and writing style.
In the three short stories that make up “The Woman Destroyed,” Beauvoir captures uncannily the inner workings of the human mind. Her ability to put inner anxiety and self-doubt to words is remarkable. Her three protagonists in the three short stories are relatable and deal with different life issues. The first story, “The Age of Discretion,” follows a woman in her later years on a roundabout trip through anxiety over aging, the loss of her son to separate political ideals, and the feared loss of her husband’s affections. The second is the biting inner monologue of a woman alone in an apartment building on New Year’s Eve and her critique on the nature of humankind. The third, written in the form of diary entries, is the heartbreaking story of a woman who discovers her husband’s infidelity and struggles to little avail to cope with the reality.
It is important to keep in mind that when Beauvoir was writing, the societal positions of men and women were different and her three female protagonists were written as archetypal “problem women.” They exposed the way in which a lack of inner strength and personal ambition, as well as a patriarchal society, could ultimately “destroy” a woman. Thus, the story can be read as Beauvoir’s feminist call to action, pleading with woman of her day to harness and make something of their individual lives. It can also, however, be read simply as an entertaining and insightful capturing of the human emotional sphere. Though Beauvoir writes with an agenda and a political point to make, it is easy to forget she is doing so. Her words are so naturally woven and her plot lines so riveting that the book is an enjoyable and incredibly accurate depiction of the lives of women in the 1960s, as well as the inner reeling of the human mind. | April M. Short
Ravishing of Lol Stein by Margarette Duras
Like reading a riddle with no answer, French writer Margarette Duras’ “The Ravishing of Lol Stein,” sends you meandering down the boulevard of insanity, and leaves you questioning everything— including yourself. The story, published in 1966, follows a girl named Lol Stein who lives in a small town that exists in an undefined area somewhere near the sea. The book’s point of departure is at a lavish ball. When Lol Stein’s fiancé leaves her suddenly, mid-song, for another woman clad in a black dress, Lol drops instantly out of the realm of normal consciousness and reality. The narrator during much of the novel is (questionably) a man named Jack Hold who follows Lol in an attempt to understand her. He becomes, it seems, fascinated by her, almost like a scientist with his study, and is overcome with a yearning to understand, dissect, “ravish” Lol Stein. In the process, the narrator appears to become enamored with Lol. However, nothing about the story or narration is entirely clear, everything is up for interpretation, and there are echoes throughout that hint that the story is told by Lol’s own split-personality.
When put simply, the novel follows Lol Stein’s journey through insanity and a revisiting of the past. It jumps from Lol’s lapse into a bedridden state following the initial shock of her fiancé’s abandonment; to her jarringly quick marriage to the first man she sees when she stumbles from her bed. She proceeds to move away from the town of her youth with her newfound husband, produce several children, and lead a relatively normal existence. Ten years pass in the length of about two pages, and Lol returns with her husband to live in her parents’ old house. Once back in the original town, Lol takes silent, daily walks through the streets of her old town. Lol tracks down her friend, Tatianna, who witnessed the fateful moment at the ball when Lol lost her fiancé and her sanity. She begins to experience things, sexual or not, vicariously through Tatianna and Jack Hold. The narration becomes more and more jumbled and looped from this point on. It is never entirely clear who is speaking.
The book is easy to read but difficult to stomach or define. It is, at its core, a twisted and voyeuristic love story, as well as an examination of identity, experience, reality, and the tenebrosity of the human mind. It is an engrossing story written with intrigue and lyrical imagery, and is worth reading despite its deceptive narration. However, this read is not ideal for the reader who needs resolution and clean-drawn conclusions, as it leaves quite a lot up for speculation. | April M. Short
THE HOT LIST FROM LOCAL BOOKSELLERS
Taking the Leap Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears by Pema Chodron
Pema Chodron shows us how to break free of destructive patterns in our lives and experience a new sense of freedom and happiness. Drawing on the Buddhist concept of shenpa, she helps us to see how certain habits of mind tend to “hook” us and get us stuck in states of anger, blame, self-hatred, and addiction.
The Energy of Money A Spiritual Guide to Financial and Personal Fulfillment by Maria Nemeth, Ph.D.
A new approach to woring with energy that can free your spirit, expand your vision, and help you achieve your purpose. A soulful guide for
Buddha’s Brain The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom by Rick Hanson, H.D. with Richard Mendius, MD
Buddha’s Brain draws on the latest research to show how to stimulate and strengthen your brain for more fulfilling relationships, a deeper spiritual life, and a greater sense of inner confidence and worth.
Awakening to the Spirit World The Shamanic Path of Direct Revelation by Sandra Ingerman & Hank Wesselman
Shamanism is the most ancient spiritual practice known to humankind. As a method, it is a form of meditation combined with a focused intention. As a spiritual practice, shamanism can become a way of life that may utterly transform the one who practices it. Awakening to the Spirit World brings together a circle of renowned Western Shamanic elders to present a comprehensive manual on the oldest and most reliable human technology for accessing the realms of spirit.
Wired for Joy A Revolutionary Method for Creating Happiness from Within By Laurel Mellin
Mellin presents a simple yet proven way to train your brain to move through stress and back to joy.
BOOKSHOP SANTA CRUZ
The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
Udall’s story sets you down amidst a cast of vivid characters and allows you to follow them around, poke into their homes and secrets and listen in on their thoughts until you love or despise them as much as your own family. This is a novel that will remain glued to your hands from start to finish.
Fifty Grand by Adrian McKinty
Fans of Lisbeth Salander, Stieg Larsson’s fierce lead character in his Millennium trilogy, should pick up the fantastic Fifty Grand by Adrian McKinty, which features Detective Mercado, another kick-ass female detective.
Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
Whitehead’s semi-autobiographical tale—about a 15-year-old black kid who goes to a mostly white Manhattan prep school and summers in the Hamptons—is tender and hilarious.
The Passage by Justin Cronin
This riveting novel—in which a military experiment with an exotic virus turns the subjects into vampire-like killers that overrun the earth—is a masterpiece of post-apocalyptic fiction.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
(Re)reading this powerful American classic (published 50 years ago this summer), it is easy to see why it remains one of the most acclaimed and best-loved stories of all time.
CAPITOLA BOOK CAFÉ
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
Be swept away by this coming of age story, set by day in a New York private school, by night in a Chinatown sweatshop, based on the author’s own experience, it is honest and inescapable.
Roseanna by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
First published in 1965, this reissue perfectly captures the spare, no nonsense tone the best Swedish writers are currently bringing to detective fiction. Think Mankell, Vandermeer, Larsson, but these guys were there first.
Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival by Norman Ollestad
The harrowing yet exhilarating story of surviving a mountain and a father, each a mirror of the other.
Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook by Anthony Bourdain
A raucous continued take on all things Tony: his heroes, his villains, his thoughts on such essential summer food as the hamburger. Read it and eat.
Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman
Not for the faint of heart, this travel tale is a white-knuckled ride into the heart of a China newly open to the world, at times funny, always honest, and downright scary.