author interview

Illustration by José Cruz / Heyday Books

California‘s agricultural bounty feeds millions, but much of that is made possible by legions of little-seen farmworkers. A new collection of oral histories lets them tell their own stories.

Through his conversations with the agricultural workers featured in Chasing the Harvest, journalist Gabriel Thompson reveals that despite the undeniable challenges they face, these are people who find much to appreciate about their lives.

The Gold Rush brought tens of thousands of dreamers, seekers, entrepreneurs and charlatans into California, each, it seems with a story to tell. A new non-fiction book samples dozens of these first-person accounts to create a multi-faceted portrait of a tumultuous time.

The Gold Rush was covered in great detail and enthusiasm by the newspapers of the day, and those accounts can still be found today. Bu for accuracy and detail, historian Gary Noy cautions that they should be read with a certain amount of skepticism.

The man behind the arch-gothic Lemony Snicket books for young readers says the Peanuts comic strip was an important influence on his writing.

The deeper he delves into the world of Peanuts, says author Daniel Handler, the darker it seems to him.

 Handler’s most recent novel, We Are Pirates, also features a teenaged girl as its central character. But he says the story itself was inspired by his life in San Francisco.

In both novels and a memoir, award-winning writer Reyna Grande examines her own past as an illegal immigrant, arriving,  assimilating and succeeding in modern California. She shared her story in person with students at a Santa Rosa middle school yesterday. 

John Perkins, the self-described “Economic Hitman,” says the problems he helped create-- before reforming--have gotten worse in recent years. But he’s got a recipe for turning things around.

John Perkins says he has been encouraged in his call for consumer activism to counter corporate overreach in private conversations with many top executives in the companies that are driving the debt economy.

It’s been half a century since the Beach Boys were at their peak in the 1960s, yet their music endures and surviving members of the band maintain a busy concert schedule. One of them is founding singer Mike Love, whose new autobiography charts the often rocky history inside the band.

With dozens of books about the Beach Boys already published, why another one? Love says he wanted to offer his own unique perspective.

Our coast is home to dozens of varieties of strange, often elusive, sometimes slimy, yet almost always somehow edible sea life. Kirk Lombard knows where to find them, and what to do with them.

Despite his affinity for "underdog" fish, Lombard reserved one of his longest chapters—a full nine pages—for a popular species he lauds as culturally, economically and recreationally important:  salmon.

  Carl Hiaasen’s latest novel mocks reality TV, restaurant inspection standards, product liability lawyers, and beach restoration opportunists. But he insists that it’s all rooted in the skewed reality of contemporary south Florida.

Carl Hiaasen’s writings also include several books for younger readers, the most recent one being, Skink. He recalls being surprised when it was suggested that he pitch something to that audience, but with a little key guidance, he found a second niche.

  Herbalists have long recognized numerous and varied medicinal uses for many of the plants we think of as weeds. But that’s not all they are good for, argues Katrina Blair, Durango, Colorado ‘s defender of wild weeds.

  Blair's fascination with wild plants of all sorts began while she was still quite young, an epiphany she recalls quite clearly.

katrina Blair and her colleague,Tyler VanGemert, will present a workshop on "The Chi of Edible Weeds" at the Yoga Society of San Francisco on Friday afternoon at 3 pm. Details and reservations at (970) 247-1233.

Food and Water Watch

The subtitle of Wenonah Hauter’s new book is, “The Battle for the Future of Energy and the Environment.” Its subject is fracking.

Setting the stage for her indictment of fracking, Food and Water Watch founder and CEO Wehnonah Hauter devotes the opening chapters of Frackopoly to a concise, critical history of the industry that promotes it.

Sonoma Stompers

  Armchair analysts tell themselves they could run a baseball team better that whoever is really doing it. But when two sportswriters got a chance to actually do that, it wasn’t quite what they expected.

How do two guys who mostly write and talk about baseball wind up helping to run a team? Sam Miller, co-author with Ben Lindbergh of The Only Rule Is It Has to Work, says it was the indirect result of an off-the-cuff comment on their podcast.

  Down through human history and around the globe, there have been occasional times and places where creativity and innovation flourished.  In The Geography of Genius, reporter Eric Weiner explores the conditions they share.

  Former NPR journalist Eric Weiner says he elected to apply a geographic approach to his survey of creative clusters, because he hoped it would offer insights that more conventional analyses have missed.

  From the emergence of animals to the development of agriculture, new species have regularly displaced their predecessors.  So it may be time to rethink the viability of restoring lost or disappearing ecosystems.

  The most impactful invasive species on the planet is said to be humankind. In North America, says permaculture designer Tao Orion, arriving Europeans overwhelmed a sustainable food crop that had previously provided for countless generations.  And, she says, if revived, it still could.

Efforts to root out invasive plants and restore native ecosystems are difficult and expensive. They are also doomed to fail, unless we understand why the new arrivals are thriving. 

Tim Palmer

 Climate change is being felt even at the highest peaks in the Sierra Nevada, where the remaining glaciers in California are melting away. So Tim Palmer set out to capture them on film, while it was still possible. He talks about that project on this archive edition of the North Bay Report.

Even before the first western men reached California, the natural environment was altered by the presence of native people. In State of Change, an impressive work or historical ecology, Laura Cunningham illustrates what the state might have looked like then—or even hundreds of years earlier.

  What do Socrates, Leonardo Da Vinci and Albert Einstein have in common? They were all early advocates for the use of solar energy.

  Over the centuries, many innovative uses have been developed for simple solar devices, notes John Perlin, author of Let It Shine, the 6000 year story of Solar Energy.

 Despite their preferences, more Americans die in hospital beds than their own beds. To avoid that, says Marin health journalist Katy Butler, we need to face up to our own mortality, and then plan for it.

Old and more recent events in local history are strands in a brand new mystery novel based on the Sonoma coast, as a pair of frequent visitors from the Midwest set their art-themed novel there. 

  Having two authors share a single, first-person narrative voice can be a tricky balance. Michael Hinden says he and his wife, Besty Draine, manage it by trading off regularly, and through a "non-aggression pact" regarding each other's editorial choices.

  Plowing, using pesticides and fertilizers and other common agricultural practices actually contribute to global warming. But adopting alternative practices could reverse that, as a growing number of small farmers are already demonstrating.

  Industrial agriculture has dominated the industry for years now, but with a far higher carbon footprint than traditional methods. But reporter Kristin Ohlson says small farmers who are reverting to those historic practices are finding them profitable as well as green.

Between the missions and the ranchos, northern California was a male-dominated realm in the 1870s. But it is from the accounts of a handful of women there that we get an inside picture of what day-to-day life then was really like.

We have these detailed accounts of life in early northern California thanks to the vision of a single man, says Santa Clara University History professor Robert Senkewicz. Fortunately, his vision was unusually inclusive for its time.