Don Rogers: For Christmas, these books
My interest in the cultish organization paled to my daughter’s while reading “Reclaiming My Decade Lost in Scientology,” Sands Hall’s memoir recently reprinted and renamed in paperback.
That was fascinating, too, but I was more taken with Hall’s family story — her father, the author Oakley Hall, 50 years ago co-founded the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley her sister Brett Hall Jones now leads. Also, at her reading a couple of weeks ago at Beers Books in Sacramento, I found myself thinking about this juxtaposition between living artistically and the strict, strict rules of conduct in Scientology.
That and Hall is a spellbinding writer full of lessons for we neophytes. I’ve stolen at least one structural idea from her novel, “Catching Heaven.”
Her memoir crackles like a novel. Some have told her it reads like a thriller, and I can see that, though it isn’t a thriller and while dramatic, not a novel either.
But it is well worth giving as a Christmas present.
Here is risky ground, making book recommendations, especially local ones from a whole sea of great work by authors who live here. I could run out of room just listing titles in this space.
Perhaps it’s a betrayal, then, to confess my two favorite reads this year came from out of town: The 2019 Pulitzer winner “The Overstory,” by Richard Powers, changed how I fundamentally look at life itself. “The Ends of the World,” by Peter Brennan, exposed me with a shiver to deep time, along with the role of carbon dioxide levels in the five great extinction events previous to our era and the effect we’ve had on other species and the world’s environment since we developed a prefrontal cortex.
Neither book has anything over “Engineering Eden,” by our own Jordan Fisher Smith, intricate and powerful as nature’s web, or “The Great Glass Sea” and everything else written by Josh Weil. I’ve read both of these twice so far, and I sample Weil’s work often — whenever I need to see what real writing is and how far I have yet to go. Contrary to so much of the self-help literature out there, we can’t be humbled enough, I suspect, as full of ourselves as we are at present.
Ah, which brings me to a self-help/leadership book published just a few weeks ago by one of Silicon Valley’s first executive coaches, Dan Foxx, a Grass Valley resident. He has lots of reason to be proud. In midlife he remade himself and became something few at the time had ever heard of: “A what coach?” A quarter century later, well, I’m reading all about it, getting his lessons for almost free through the page, only a mite diluted perhaps compared to him in person, whom I know firsthand to be dynamic.
Humility is a central part of the wisdom here, even with the challenge to dream bigger than you might think you can and then to go about achieving just that. This is what love put into action looks like, something Foxx learned in his turn from the late Leo Buscaglia, a Glenbrook resident famous in his day.
Another mentor, Rachel Howard, has a new novel out, “The Risk of Us,” about the trials and joys in the gantlet of trying to adopt a foster child. I’ve only sampled passages so far, but it’s creeping up to the nightstand and I expect to read it in full before the year’s done.
I have read her memoir, “The Lost Night,” which could be a thriller if she had not gone deeper with it. She founded the popular Yuba Lit that brings in authors and poets for readings as well as showcasing local talent, and I can recommend her intensive classes as well, having taken one.
Gene Berson’s book of poems, “Raveling Travel,” goes with me to work in my backpack and serves as mental sherbet between tasks. A storytelling quality about his poems invites me into the dream, and then suddenly I’m paying attention to things I might not notice otherwise, better than shrooms. Not that I, well, you know. Things of our youth, a bucket list of sorts.
And the Kiriotises, Dimitri and Ingrid, a pair, she the poet with her 2019 collection “It Started with the Wild Horses,” and he with his short story collection, “The Quiet Time,” which I still think about. Her book will take Berson’s place in my backpack sometime soon, but I know her work — and her fine ear — from our writing group.
Oh dear, I’ve only started and already my word allotment is up. Haven’t even gotten to Gary Snyder, Molly Fisk, Iven Lourie, Chris Enss, Gary Noy, Joe Harrington, Kim Culbertson, Mary Volmer, so many others.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at email@example.com or 530-477-4299.