Guns, Bombs, & Magic 8-Balls

This month's East Bay book news.

Be very afraid: Is the Cold War over? “Depends on how it’s defined,” says former Secretary of the Air Force Thomas C. Reed, who was a special assistant to Ronald Reagan for National Security Policy and a consultant to the director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. His At the Abyss (Random House, $24.95) is an insider’s view of the conflict, complete with dirt on spies, the killing of Josef Stalin, and White House intrigue sparked by Nancy Reagan. Reed defines the Cold War as “an armed politico-military confrontation between the two nuclear superpowers that could have led to a nuclear holocaust,” in which case, “yes, it is over. Thousands of Soviet nukes raining down on our heads is no longer likely.” But, he adds wryly, it’s “always a possibility, of course, depending on who rules Russia.

“Did we win? Yes, as we — the Reagan White House — defined ‘victory.’ Not with US tanks in the streets of Moscow, but rather by forcing the Soviet Politburo to seek the consent of the governed.”

So we can relax? Nope, says the man whom H-bomb patriarch Edward Teller once called “one of Livermore’s most creative designers of thermonuclear devices” and who now lives in Healdsburg.

“The threat of a nuclear war between east and west is at least in abeyance,” Reed tells Press Here, “but it has been replaced by the possibility — I think likelihood — of a nuclear terrorist event sometime during this decade … unless we pay serious attention.”

Lovely fairy tales: Once upon a time, Berkeley’s Tricycle Press published a beautiful picture book for kids called King & King ($14.95), by the Dutch team Linda De Haan and Stern Nijland, in which handsome Prince Bertie eschews all the eligible princesses to pick gallant Prince Lee instead. Now a North Carolina husband and wife are threatening to remove their little girl from the elementary school where she checked out the book. According to the Associated Press, the child’s father protested the book’s subject matter, saying “something like that … is not in our beliefs.”

Love ‘n’ rockets: A friendly public-policy analyst living in Alameda is the brother of a Sudanese warlord; reporter Deborah Scroggins recounts meeting him in Emma’s War (Vintage, $15). Wedding said warlord — the already-married Riek Machar — in 1991, horsey-teethed white British aid worker Emma McCune became enmeshed in a deadly rebellion whose facets included famine, massacre, and Osama bin Laden. Scroggins makes McCune’s wild life and early death seem worthy of a movie — which it will be: Nicole Kidman has already signed up for the lead role.

Size doesn’t matter: Berkeley’s tiniest art gallery is located in Berkeley’s tiniest bookstore: spanking-new Book Zoo, tucked inside the shopping and dining atrium at Telegraph and Blake. Its inventory spans the secondhand gamut. Its gallery has room for only one item.

When terror was tectonic: A saucy Cal grad-cum-opera reporter narrates James Dalessandro‘s 1906 (Chronicle, $24.95), a quake-based new novel that sprang from a film treatment the author sold five years back to Warner Bros. His original inspiration? Titanic.

Ink, nudge: Don’t wanna wind up with a Japanese- or Chinese-character tattoo that you think means “sunrise” but really means “rear door”? (It happens.) Trust Designing with Kanji (Stone Bridge, $14.95), in which Tokyo reporter Shogo Oketani and Cal grad Leza Lowitz clearly define 130 characters.

Mama Weer All Crazee Now: Around the same time Cal-student heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped by cultists on Berkeley’s Benvenue Avenue, another girl was abducted on the other edge of America. Eight-year-old Virginia Holman‘s kidnapper was her own psychotic mother, who set up a MASH unit in the family’s seaside cottage for victims of an imminent but imaginary war, as Holman recounts in Rescuing Patty Hearst (Simon & Schuster, $12).

“People ask how I feel about ‘losing’ my childhood, but to me my childhood was simply my childhood. That’s not to say I didn’t struggle,” she says. Her memoir describes stockpiling supplies for expected “victims” and consulting a Magic 8-Ball for battle strategies.

“I have pangs when I compare my son’s relatively normal childhood to my own. But mostly I am grateful to be here now,” says the Pushcart Prize-winner, “and to have my mother alive and in my life, even though she is still very ill and in a nursing home.”

In 1974, “that famous photo of Patty Hearst as a gun-toting mama was everywhere. It was a huge story. I thought she was powerful, a female Robin Hood. … As an adult, I realized how powerless she really was when she was with the SLA.”

Homeless ec: Squatting is fun, says the guy who calls himself Tiger, though panhandling “is really fucking boring.” After her mom “married a really rich dude,” seventeen-year-old Sweet Leaf couldn’t stand the luxury anymore, ran away, and lived on the street. Leroy carries a crowbar so that he can sleep in “that break-in place” — the one that’s always boarded up. Berkeley’s homeless describe their lives in Tales of Young Urban Squatters (Regent, $14.95), edited by filmmaker Claire Burch, who just had a pacemaker put in.

Pith in the city: Lonely Planet guidebooks have long been undisputed factmasters; now they have extra pith as contributing writers get more freedom to vent their voices and opinions, says Berkeley’s Richard Sterling, editor of the new fourth edition of Lonely Planet San Francisco ($17.99). Planning a June wedding? Check out its updated coverage of gay events throughout the year.

With a spoon: After watching armadillos mate, “you can walk right up to the exhausted male and end his life with one quick blow” from a baseball bat, shell him, and make him into chili, advises Elantu B. Veovode in The Contented Poacher ($24.95), new from Berkeley’s Ten Speed Press. She also tells how to make trail mix with roasted grasshoppers and put chipmunks through a meat grinder. Pickled hen, tomato marmalade, and other vintage recipes punctuate Encarnación’s Kitchen ($24.95), new from UC Press and based on California’s first Spanish-language cookbook, originally published in 1898.

Tree male: Dashing into Chez Panisse for ham and cardoons, how many patrons really notice the tall tree out front? It’s a bunya-bunya, rare in America but familiar in Australia, where its nuts were once an aboriginal staple, as revealed in Mike Sullivan‘s Trees of San Francisco (Pomegranate, $19.95).

Plum trees, ever popular, don’t thrill Sullivan. “Fruit-bearing trees on the street are generally not a good idea in an urban or semiurban environment. They create a mess, attract bees and wasps, and may even present safety hazards,” says the author, who says that in post-WWII Bulgaria, “the Communists thought non-fruit-bearing trees were ‘bourgeois’: They objected to anyone or anything that didn’t ‘work.’ They planted the capital, Sofia, with ‘working’ trees — fruit-bearing pears, plums. The result was a huge mess.”

Get out: Pick pluots in Brentwood, rent rowboats at Lafayette Reservoir, cruise Oakland Harbor in FDR’s yacht, tour Fairfield’s Jelly Bellies factory: Elina Wong‘s Kids’ Adventures Around San Francisco Bay (Kids EdVentures, $16.95) is more fun for the postpubescent set than its title suggests.

An esoteric antidote: Madonna and Britney claim to be Kabbalists. Having studied the mystical stuff for decades, Berkeley psychotherapist Estelle Frankel disses the “tremendous chutzpah” of such claims, but her book Sacred Therapy (Shambhala, $25.95) reveals in clear language how obscure spiritual secrets can heal postmodern pain — “transforming brokenness into holiness,” Frankel says.

“I think Freud would have gotten a chuckle out of my book. He worked so hard to divorce psychology from its roots in religion. But despite itself, psychoanalysis is utterly Jewish,” she says. “It transforms tools originally used by rabbis to interpret sacred texts.” Such tools include free association and the idea of the unconscious, “which comes directly from the Zohar” — a set of texts allegedly written by a cave-dwelling 2nd-century mystic.

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