If there is anything different about what West County residents
are reading this summer, it’s that we seem to be trading our beach
books for more serious, topical fare.
Independent booksellers are feeding reader appetites for
everything from organic farming to counterterrorism and fighting
major illness. They’re also stocking up on a wealth of titles by
local authors.
“People are reading a lot of nonfiction,” said Susan Ryan, owner
of Guerneville’s River Reader. “I’m surprised, because people
during the summer usually want to read lighter stuff.”
Titles such as Michael Pollan’s sustainable-eating manifesto “In
Defense of Food” and Harvard brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor’s
memoir “My Stroke of Insight” have been flying off her shelves.
Unlike the usual lineup of frothy romances and hardboiled
detective fiction, booksellers say, we aren’t reading for escape
this summer.
Current political titles have sold well lately in Windsor, said
Dean Winegarner, owner of Pages Books on the Green. In Healdsburg,
customers are reading up on how to survive the financial
“Books on finance are definitely selling much more strongly than
they did even six or so months ago,” said Katie Thompson, manager
of Copperfield’s in Healdsburg. At Copperfield’s Sebastopol branch,
titles on permaculture and water conservation have been popular as
readers respond to environmental concerns.
“Up here, we’re being drought-tolerant,” manager Robin Laine
noted, adding that customers seem eager for ways to diversify their
gardens. The store will host an event with Harmony Farm Supply and
Nursery July 14 on designing with drought-resistant succulents.
Foodie titles are big this year, too. Michelle Obama may have
made waves when she planted an organic garden on the White House
South Lawn last spring, but sustainable agriculture goes back at
least a century in Sonoma County.
Just ask Jonah Raskin, the Sonoma State professor whose book
“Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating, and Drinking Wine in Sonoma
County” chronicles a year in the locavore renaissance. Raskin will
read from the book at an August 1 fundraiser at Windrush Farm to
benefit the Sonoma County Book Festival. Currently in the south of
France on a book tour, Raskin noted that eating locally is an
international phenomenon.
“I went shopping in a farmer’s market this morning and bought
sweet, ripe local peaches and the first of the summer tomatoes,” he
said. “The Saturday market reminded me of Sebastopol.”
Raskin is among a plethora of Sonoma County authors who have new
titles this summer. One of the county’s great secrets is the sheer
number of writers who call the area home.
“Turn over a rock and you’ll find a writer anywhere you go,”
said Sonoma County Book Festival’s Nadja Masura. She likened the
area to Cicely, Alaska, the fictional town at the center of the
quirky 1990s TV drama “Northern Exposure.”
“You can’t take people here at face value,” she said. “Every
farmer is an intellectual.”
Or, every intellectual is a farmer, at least in the case of
Raskin, who worked at Rohnert Park’s Oak Hill Farms while writing
“Field Days.”
If you’re into the county’s agricultural history, now is a good
time to read up on intentional communities, said Sebastopol’s Art
Kopecky, the author of “New Buffalo: Journals from a Taos Commune”
and “Leaving New Buffalo Commune.”
“Somebody gave me ‘Ringolevio,’ by Emmett Grogan, who was famous
for being one of the Diggers,” the 1960s San Francisco
counterculture movement. Even at an intimidating 500 pages, Kopecky
said, “It was pretty engrossing.”
For books on the communal scene, Kopecky recommends “EcoVillage
at Ithaca: Pioneering a Sustainable Village,” by Liz Walker, and
“Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and
Intentional Communities,” by Diana Leafe Christian.
Healdsburg writers Mary Lynn Archibald and Stefanie Freele are
making time for fiction.
For Archibald, summer usually means mysteries: “They’re like
potato chips: You read them quick, and then they’re gone.” (And you
can’t eat just one, which brings us to another top nonfiction
seller, former FDA commissioner David Kessler’s “The End of
Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American
Archibald, whose second memoir “Accidental Cowgirl: Six Cows, No
Horse and No Clue” was a finalist for the National Best Books 2008
Award, echoed what others have been saying: “Nonfiction has been a
staple for me.” She’s stocked her reading table with Fred Burton’s
“Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent” and Rick Bragg’s
“All Over But the Shoutin’,” a memoir of the Pulitzer Prize
winner’s impoverished northeast Alabama childhood. Archibald also
recommends Jeane Slone’s novel “She Flew Bombers: From the
Factories to the Bases During World War II,” based on the true
history of Women Air Force Service Pilots.
“That was hazardous duty — several people were killed, and the
women didn’t get much recognition for it.”
Slone’s hero, Violet Willey, is based on Healdsburg WASP
Florence Emig Wheeler.
“I’ve been very much into reading short story collections lately
— which are perfect for summer,” said Freele, whose short-story
collection “Feeding Strays” comes out this fall.
On Freele’s list these days are Michael Czyniejewski’s
“Elephants in Our Bedroom” and Tania Hershman’s “The White
When it comes to Sonoma County poets, classics seem to be
standard summer fare. Sonoma County Poet Laureate Mike Tuggle of
Monte Rio, who will be reading August 5 at River Reader, is
currently returning to Shakespeare — “the Arden paperback, it’s a
big book and the print is fairly large and I have bad eyes” — and
Yeats — “There’s a marvelous compendium of his poetry and prose
published by Scribner, it’s a wonderful book I got at River Reader
in Guerneville.” He’s also tackling, believe it or not, Proust.
“There’s so much in the history of poetry and writing that it’s
really overwhelming. The more I read, the more I find out I don’t
know. It’s kind of a wonderful, vicious circle.”
Poet Gillian Conoley, whose seventh book “The Plot Genie” is due
out this fall, is in Florence reading Dante’s “Divine Comedy.”
“Yesterday I went to Dante’s house,” she said. “I wake up very
early in the morning so I can trundle around on the cobblestone
streets before all the shops open — this is when Florence looks
most like it did when he was alive.”
Former Sonoma County Poet Laureate Terry Ehret said, “For me the
impulse in summer reading is really what I call filling the well.
I’m looking for reading that will spark my own creativity.” She’s
currently tackling Ursula K. LeGuin’s “Changing Planes;” two new
releases by local poets, “Body Rhymes” by Donna L. Emerson and
“Collected Works of Eugene Ruggles;” and William Pratt’s anthology
“The Imagist Poem,” which she said “I can recommend to readers who
want to see where modern poetry began.”
Summer is a good time to discover poetry, Ehret suggested,
especially for readers who don’t know where to start.
“The best solution is to go to poetry readings, and there are
many almost on a daily basis in Sonoma County. Even if you’re not
familiar with how to read poetry or what to look for in it or what
it may be saying to you, if you can hear the poet’s voice, it’s
your invitation in.”
And that, book lovers say, is the beauty of summer reading: a
time to catch up on all you’ve missed during the year, discover
local writers, expand your horizons and, this year especially, read
to feed your mind.

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