Hats, Pipes, and Tripe

In this month's book news, a robotic Philip K. Dick goes missing.

Kill me now: “If I must be on a team, let it be a losing one,” Mike Madison declares in Blithe Tomato ($15). “Let me share the quiet camaraderie of defeat … let me live in a conquered land.” New from Berkeley’s Heyday Books, it’s ostensibly about farmers’ markets, with a foreword by the author’s sister, Greens Restaurant owner Deborah Madison. But the flower-grower vents about the war in Iraq and how he’d rather be “vanquished” and belong to a “despised race” loathed by his “victors.” Umm … would he prefer nuclear winter, or concentration camps?

Guts: In a 2004 story, the Oakland Tribune‘s Jolene Thym wrote that chef Thomas Schnetz “makes the menudo he grew up eating.” She quoted Schnetz: “When I grew up, that was one of the few dishes that my mother made all the time.” Odd. In Doña Tomás (Ten Speed, $29.95), named after the Oakland restaurant he co-owns with coauthor Dona Savitsky, Schnetz muses that the intestiney soup “was misstated” in the Trib “as being a treat my mother would lovingly make for the family, when in reality the thought of tripe makes her shudder.”

Dick is popular: Live-action footage frames traced by artists, then fed to software create a realistic cartoon Keanu Reeves for A Scanner Darkly (Pantheon, $23.95), the graphic novel based on Richard Linklater‘s rotoscoped film, based on the 1977 novel by the late Berkeley author Philip K. Dick (the K stands for Kindred), who saw visions of Jesus and ancient Rome and believed the KGB was after him. But what became of the life-size PKD android, built by David Hanson of Dallas-based Hanson Robotics with a team from the FedEx Institute of Technology’s Institute for Intelligent Systems and staff from the Automation and Robotics Research Institute at the University of Texas at Arlington, with the help of Dick’s relatives? Shown at a Chicago tech fair last year, it sported lifelike “skin” and camera-eyes with biometric identification software letting them watch and follow passersby. It talked like Dick, too. During a flight last December from Las Vegas to San Francisco, the android vanished, according to its makers. Theft? Fandom? Or the KGB?

Semper Fidel: Days after UC Berkeley alum Lea Aschkenas arrived in Cuba, a local — “I admired his long black fingers, so thin” — proclaimed his love: sobbing, trembling, speaking dreamily of her big toe. Es Cuba (Seal, $15.95) is Aschkenas’ kiss-by-kiss account of romance on an “illegal island” where she saw her relationship as “a revolutionary act in its own right,” and herself and Alfredo as not merely two hot sweaty people “but as two races, two nations. We had been carrying with us the bitter, twisted history of racism.” Now the pair are married and live in Marin.

Race ya: Skin hue is also the raison d’être for Not a Genuine Black Man (Hyperion, $22.95), HBO-bound comic Brian Copeland‘s growing-up-in-San-Leandro memoir, subtitled “How I Claimed My Piece of Ground in the Lily-White Suburbs.” Sometimes it’s hilarious: “The one good thing about hair like mine is that your friends don’t have to hold it back for you when you’re heaving your guts out into the toilet.” Haha! But wait. If Copeland’s career is built on this, then what say all those modern scholars — Joseph L. Graves, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Alan Templeton, Alan Goodman, and the makers of that influential PBS series, Race: The Power of an Illusion — who insist that race doesn’t exist?

Pimp my novel: “Black women are better whores,” proclaims a character — who is one herself — in I, Stagolee (North Atlantic, $15.95), Cecil Brown‘s second book about an 1895 murder that spawned a ballad that some say spawned rap. Brown’s Berkeley Ph.D is in narrative African-American literature and folklore; this rich tale probes a sensitive, intelligent pimp — “We pimps … protected our women against the brutal police. … Never hit a woman and she will always find her way back to you” — who owned sixty Stetsons and killed a man for a hat. The word “mack,” we learn, comes from the French maquereau — mackerel, snif snif.

Make them pagan: “The goddess is electronically savvy” as a magical nanny in Ruby (Harper Collins, $21.95) — coauthored by Carmen Staton and Cal-grad cult icon Francesca Lia Block — heals a paralyzed Brit movie star who’s a lot like Orlando Bloom, though the novelists’ publicist calls it a coincidence. “Orion Woolf” sports “reckless brown curls,” has been voted the world’s most eligible bachelor and, healed, shoots a fantasy epic in New Zealand about “battling a race of beings” who were good but went bad. Like Woolf, Bloom broke his back in a fall and was told he’d never walk again.

The holy thing: Hand-hewn labyrinths in Oakland’s Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve and the Lafayette lab of Ecstasy synthesizer and popularizer Alexander Shulgin are among hundreds of Golden State sacred spaces cited in The Visionary State (Chronicle, $40). Erik Davis is a reverent crackup — one chapter is called “In Guad We Trust” — and Michael Rauner‘s glorious photographs could make a celery stick convert.

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