New East Bay Nonfiction and Music

New East Bay Nonfiction and Music

One book upends fires and one rethinks democracy while a new CD puts a kink in common sense.

Fire in Paradise: An American Tragedy by Alastair Gee and Dani Anguiano (W.W. Norton & Co., May 5, 2020, $26.95, 242 pp.)

This account of the deadliest fire in America in a century — the Camp Fire that devastated the mountain town of Paradise  — is a page-turner from the get-go. The authors are Bay Area journalists who introduce readers to likable Magalia locals and rustic cabin dwellers John Sedwick, a strapping senior citizen with a healthy respect for fires as a former firefighter, and his artist daughter, Skye, 50, as central characters illustrative of the area’s unique inhabitants. The details of their lives lend verisimilitude sure to hook the most callous of observers who won’t be able to stop themselves from finding out what happens to them and the others they meet in the pages. The fire claimed the lives of 85 people. The narrators weave in historical details that add interesting perspective on the tragedy.                             —Judith M. Gallman

True False by Negativland (Seeland,

True False is a dazzling theater-of-the-mind masterwork from the 40-year-old East Bay-born audio-collage group notorious for its dustups with U2 and Casey Kasem and for packaging its previous release with bits of member and radio host Don Joyce’s cremains. Decades-old work of Joyce and the late Richard Lyons and Ian Allen is melded with that of current members Mark Hosler, David Wills, Peter Conheim, and Jon Leidecker, plus such guest musicians as drummer Prairie Prince and guitarist Ava Mendoza. Mashing up and looping early samples from the group’s Over the Edge KPFA radio program, left- and right-wing rallies, Fox News, and other sources, True False throws bombs into our “common sense” understanding of politics, advertising, social media, technology, male power, and happiness. Negativland looks at our world and reminds us, “This is not normal.”                                             —Derk Richardson

We Keep Us Safe: Building Secure, Just, and Inclusive Communities by Zach Norris (Beacon Press, 2020, $24.95, 198 pp.)

The topics human rights activist Zach Norris covers in this book — criminal justice and community empowerment — are arguably the most important ones facing Oakland and the East Bay. Executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Norris urges Americans to move from the present fear-saturated approach to democracy and public safety to one more akin to a society imbued with caring culture to ensure safety and security for all. A lifelong Oaklander, Norris suggests turning deprivation, suspicion, punishment, and isolation on their heads, replacing them instead with accountability, resources, relationships, and participation. Norris maintains an optimistic perspective that such a world can one day come about. The book, which includes a forward by Van Jones, goes on sale Feb. 4.                                               —JMG