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Brevity is the soul of flash fiction, and to do it well, one must have a concept and execute it with no wasted words. Far too often, logorrhea remains hard to restrain for most authors. Conversely, 'The Ice Cream Vendor's Song' (Wordforest; $8.95) benefits from Sonoma County author Laura McHale Holland's compact vision. In stories as short as four sentences, she's able to convey a full picture, or at least enough of the full picture for readers to want desperately to fill in the details on their own. There's a subtle Raymond Carver streak running beneath Holland's stories, and a story like "Still There," in which a man is telling a woman he's had enough, appears to veer into "Little Things" territory from the start. Holland is smarter than that, though, and the twist that comes five paragraphs later is entirely unexpected. Those who enjoy short reads with plenty of imagery and context left the imagination will want to seek out this collection.—G.M.
Mystical, earthy, poetic gardening advice becomes intertwined with recipes, cooking suggestions and appreciation for natural beauty in the 33-page 'Sonoma County Garden Cookbook' (Wild Ginger Press; $15.95) by Jorinda Gravenstein. Sections of the book begin with short verses praising Sonoma County, which sometimes take over the narrative. Some sections are entirely devoted to describing symbolism of local trees and plants; others serve as helpful guides to identifying local trees and plants, most of which are not usually considered edible. Still, here one can find a recipe for manzanita: "Eat fresh or sprinkle over-dried berries on salads." Keeping it real, the book then offers a description of a buckeye tree—but under recipes, it reads, "All parts of the buckeye are poisonous." These recipes read more like a menu, giving only the most basic of instructions and ingredient lists. This is great for seasoned chefs to glean ideas, but for home cooks, it can be confusing and intimidating. At any rate, this isn't your standard cookbook. There are no glorious, close-up food-porn photos of duck eggs atop burgers on fresh, glistening brioche buns; rather, like a college literary review, the layout design simply centers the text on paper. Because of this, it's best to read it as a food-poetry book rather than a cookbook.—N.G.
Jacob Needleman is a philosopher who has had a distinguished career of writing and teaching for over 50 years, and has seen his influence spread to D. Patrick Miller, a leading writer in the journalism of consciousness. Napa native Miller has followed Needleman closely for decades, and has recently released his book 'Necessary Wisdom' (Fearless Books; $14.95). The book is a series of conversations between himself and Needleman on subjects like time and love, the meaning of money, the soul of America and meeting God without religion. From this book, readers will learn to question deeper and to practice their own philosophy, which has been the goal of Jacob Needleman's career.—T.M.
Sonoma's extensive history is massive, but 'A Short History of Sonoma' (University of Nevada Press; $21.95) instead succinctly wraps up key events in the town that was once the county seat. One thing's welcome: it's much more in-depth than those Arcadia postcard galleries so cheaply passed off as history books, thank heavens. Those might begin at the Bear Flag revolt, if you're lucky. Written by fifth-generation Sonoma resident Lynn Downey, this history goes all the way back to the Native Americans, when Sonoma was a border area for Patwin, Pomo, Miwok and Wappo tribes. Downey swings into the Bear Flag Revolt and General Vallejo's era nicely, and covers surrounding areas like Agua Caliente, Fetters Hot Springs and El Verano. Jack and Charmian London receive a whole chapter, as does "The Tourist Trade," which shows that out-of-towners have always received a mixed welcome. Downey's success here is in writing an accessible story that never delves too much into historian nerdiness; it would be just as appropriate on hotel nightstands for visitors as it is bookshelves for Sonoma residents.—G.M.
In the vein of Michael Pollan, 'Hungry For Change: Ditch the Diets, Conquer the Cravings and Eat your Way to Lifelong Health' (Harper One; $26.99) brings in several doctors, case studies and scientific facts to support the claims we should all know to be true. James Colquhoun and Laurentine ten Bosch, producers of the documentary of the same name, put down the information on paper and give suggestions as to why we, as a nation, are so unhealthy. Solutions explored include: eat organic; use a juicer; limit gluten intake; no processed sugary foods; read labels; and eat good fats.
There are also healthful alternatives to everyday foods like milk, white bread, white sugar and soda. Sure, some are far-fetched; not many people are going to immediately adopt pumpernickel in lieu of the starchy white bread or start drinking macadamia milk in place of moo juice. But there are plenty of good ideas, and about half the book is made up of simple recipes to get the ball rolling. It doesn't take a crazy diet to lose weight; it just takes information and a little extra effort to cook that burger at home instead of idling in the drive-through.—N.G.
'Know Yourself, Forget Yourself' (New World Library; $14.95)—the very title is a paradox, and that's no mistake, writes Marc Lesser. In fact, the Mill Valley author's five "core truths" also include "be confident, question everything," "fight for change, accept what is," "embrace emotion, embody equanimity" and "benefit others, benefit yourself." Lesser, an "executive coach and mindfulness teacher" who lived for 10 years at the San Francisco Zen Center, explains these seeming paradoxes with the goal of helping readers see the bigger picture. Why, Lesser asks, do we do what we do? Is our daily work building to a higher goal in life, or is it mere tedium? Optimistically, Lesser presumes the former, and hopes to tease it out of the reader. Those who work minimum wage may not connect with some of the book's loftier language, and that's OK; Lesser is not paid to aid those toiling at Target to find the joy inherent in restocking shelves. Founded in the Silicon Valley at Google, his Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute assists companies, like Farmers Insurance, in finding balance and direction. The good news is that Lesser's writing style is plain and direct, and the book makes its point in anecdotes, citations from Buddhist texts and personal reflection.—G.M.
Fred Abercrombie, who organizes an annual facial-hair appreciation festival known as the Petaluma Whiskerino, now has a book honoring the beer-beard connection. 'Craft Beerds' (Abercrombie Alchemy; $19.95) collects photos of craft beers from around the world (mostly from the United States) with label artwork celebrating the inexplicable love of beards by brewers. This could be a kitschy coffee-table book, but thanks in large part to a fun layout and professional photography by Tyler Warrender and David Hodges, it's actually tough to put down. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign that received 134 percent of its goal, this hardcover book is packed with over 250 pages of photos and perfectly brief explanations of beer labels, with the North Bay well represented. Lagunitas, a proud sponsor of the Whiskerino, is featured with the mustached dog logo, as is North Coast's burly Rasputin imperial stout, which was cited as inspiration for the book. Rouge, Bell's and other beard-friendly breweries make several appearances in chapters like beardly beerds, Vandyke beerds, red beerds, devilish beerds and more—17 in total. Even looking only at the labels in the book, with no mention of flavors, popularity or technique, inspires a dip into a cask-pulled stout and a lick of the foam off a bushy moustache.—N.G.