Futurism, Fabulism, Terrorism

J.G. Ballard despairs over our fate, and other East Bay book news.

Tomorrow never knows — or does it?: As the man credited with launching the contemporary tattoo and body-modification movements almost single-handedly, UC Berkeley grad V. Vale has been called a prophet. His 1989 book Modern Primitives (V/Search, $19.50) inspired a generation to ink, pierce, and decoratively scar itself, not to mention branding itself with hot metal and rerouting its genitals. But the native San Franciscan writer and publisher, whose own flesh has reached middle age without a mark, is now crusading to make America venerate an even more illustrious seer. J.G. Ballard Quotes (Re/Search, $19.99) compiles thousands of tidbits from the author of Crash and Empire of the Sun, both of which were made into films.

The author of more than forty books, Ballard — who lives in Britain and has been scarcely published Stateside — has always predicted the future with amazing and eloquent accuracy. Forty years ago — eons before porn Web sites and chatrooms — he wrote: “Sex times technology equals the future.” Eons ago too, he mused darkly that the future would be governed “by competing systems of psychopathology.” He has called cell phones “the protective cocoon” that allows users to “discreetly theatricalize themselves.” Perhaps his darkest prediction of all was: “Does the future have a future?”

In 1972, then-collegiate Vale discovered Ballard’s book Love and Napalm: Export USA in a secondhand bookshop. “It was completely prophetic. He predicted the election of Ronald Reagan 25 years before it happened.” Ballard’s 1973 novel Crash explores “the psychosexual implications of owning an automobile. He posited that a lot of people latently wish they would be in a car crash, because for most people today, a car crash will be the single most exciting event that they live through — if they live through it.

“J.G. Ballard is the most relevant living philosopher. He’s virtually unknown in America, yet he has psychoanalyzed the predicament of the near future, of the — I hate to call it — technofascistic society we’re becoming.” The death of Ballard’s crony William Burroughs in 1997 “made me wake up and think, ‘Hey, I’ve gotta do something about Ballard,'” says Vale, whose huge collection of rare Ballardiana assembled over three decades provided source material for this book.

And will Vale’s daughter, now nine, be getting tattooed or pierced? “Not while I’m paying the rent,” the trendsetter asserts.

How many Berkeley poets does it take to … ? The works of fifty, including Susan Griffin, Michael McClure, Al Young, Diana O’Hehir, Opal Palmer Adisa, Ron Loewinsohn, Carol Snow, and former US Poet Laureate Robert Hass comprise The Addison Street Anthology, new from Heyday ($14.95) and published in collaboration with the Berkeley Poetry Walk project, by which the city commissioned Hass and award-winning local poster artist David Lance Goines to design a series of 126 cast-iron panels incised with poems in porcelain enamel set into the sidewalk of Addison Street between Shattuck and Milvia. At a gala marathon reading launching the anthology at the Berkeley Rep on January 16, was there a dry eye in the house when local independent filmmaker Lenny Lipton performed “Puff the Magic Dragon”? Lipton was a homesick young man on that day in 1959 when, en route to dinner at a friend’s house, he felt a sudden yearning for his lost childhood. A poem coagulated in his mind — it took three minutes, he says now — and when he arrived at his friend’s house, he typed it up. His friend was Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary. The trio made a top ten hit of it in 1963.

Blood lines: A block away that same day, Fremont poet Yatindra Bhatnagar recited his eleven-stanza poem “Letter to a Child” at the Global Anti-Terror Rally, where a mangled Jerusalem city bus — the scene of a 2003 suicide bombing — stood alongside Martin Luther King Jr. Park. The author of more than twenty books in English and Hindi, Bhatnagar was inspired to write the poem after seeing a photograph of a toddler wearing suicide-bomber garb. Oh baby, he began against a backdrop of chants from about two hundred anti-Israel protesters in front of City Hall across the street. I saw your big brother dying on the road./He had just blown up a bus full of kids, and moms like yours. Of the protesters’ chants, the most interesting to Press Here was “Don’t believe the news, it’s controlled by the Jews.”

Sssss: When you’re dealing with wolves and rattlesnakes, the key is — don’t get bitten, says Roger Rapoport, Oakland-based author and publisher of The Wolf and The Rattler (RDR, $12.95), launching his “Dare to Love Us” series of interactive books for children about dangerous creatures.

“Kids have these nightmares about animals,” Rapoport says. “We wanted to tell the other side of the story. We wanted to show that wolves and rattlesnakes have their problems too — not that you should go up and cuddle them, but if you keep a respectful distance you won’t get bitten.”

Problems? “Well, the wolf is an endangered species. Its habitat is being eroded — they’re highly intelligent, so they know what’s going on. Rattlesnakes, meanwhile, don’t get much airtime in storybooks. There are tons and tons of storybooks about wolves, but rattlesnakes tend to be ignored, probably because they’re creepier.”

Each book has a sound chip that plays authentic animal noises. “In real life, wolves sound like babies crying. That macho howl is actually a Disney thing.” Isn’t everything?

Smell this: Journalist Justin Courter‘s debut novel Musk Dreams ($15.95), whose hero has a skunk-scent fetish and strives to find a woman who will understand him — and thinks he has struck gold in one with a fish fetish — is forthcoming from Omnidawn. Best known heretofore for publishing poetry, the Richmond outfit is also about to release Paraspheres ($17.95), a New Wave fabulist anthology comprising brazenly unrealistic stories, fables, and snatches of history that could, would, and will never happen by sci-fi cult idols Rikki Ducornet, Kim Stanley Robinson, and dozens more.

They come, they go: Cody’s Books is opening a new store in downtown San Francisco this summer. Easy Going is closing in February. And friendly Signal Books at UC Berkeley’s North Gate is up for sale. “It’s not a goldmine, but it has supported me for two years,” says owner Carson Hall, who is decamping for New York.

Art works: After his daughter was born with multiple disabilities, Leon Borensztein despaired over “the constant medical problems, ongoing therapies, the complexity of ‘special education,’ the heartless bureaucracy that was created to help you and your ‘special child’ — and how painful it is to witness others making fun of your disabled child.” Seeking to better understand his daughter, Borensztein began photographing disabled artists at Oakland’s Creative Growth Arts Center. One Is Adam One Is Superman (Chronicle, $40) depicts dozens of them alongside their works, with their own commentary. “Never put your tongue on someone else’s hamburger,” warns Anthony Eng, whose Prismacolor-marker drawings are complex and whimsical. Cerebral-palsy patient Carl Hendrickson, who cannot speak, spent two years building a Bauhaus-style alternative to his wheelchair. Autistic watercolorist Aurie Ramirez paints prostitutes in clown makeup, hard at work. “I can’t move my physical body,” Diane Rhodes declares, “but I can move paint.”

“I want to do all I can to change the stereotypes,” Borensztein says. His first photo sessions at the center were “exhausting physically and emotionally, exacerbated by the fear, pain, and agony connected to being the father of a disabled child. I didn’t even ask for the names of the people I photographed; I just wanted to take the pictures and leave.” But soon he came to savor his subject: “I learned to stop feeling sorry for myself.”

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