City of gracious book talks

Photo by Allison Evans

Last Wednesday evening I spoke at the Carnegie Building in Upland for what turned out to be one of my most successful events ever. There were 36 in the audience, according to one friend who counted. After speaking and reading for maybe 20 minutes, I took questions. And questions, and questions. Interesting, amusing, thoughtful questions, for a little more than an hour.

Usually, say at a service club talk, there’s only 20 or 30 minutes for questions, so to have a relatively open-ended discussion was rare. But even at that, no audience has ever had this many questions. There might have been a couple more if the librarian hadn’t wanted to wrap up. Because people seemed so interested, my answers tended to be full and reflective as I talked about books, writing, my journey to Ontario, council meetings and more.

One friend said afterward, “I’ve never seen an audience so engaged.” Thanks to everyone who turned out — including three Upland council members — for being there and being, sincerely, such a great audience. It was lucrative too: I sold 16 books.

Photo by Ann Lara

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Column: After 20 years of questions, finally, some answers

Friday marks 20 years for yours truly at the Daily Bulletin (huzzah!), and my column is about the milestone. Rather than reflect on two decades, I did something I’ve considered doing for a slow day for years: I compiled a FAQ about me and my job. Hope you find it of interest, and thanks for reading me for whatever portion of my 20 years you’ve followed by work. Even if it’s just since, say, Wednesday, it’s appreciated.

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Restaurant of the Week: Thai Original BBQ

Thai Original BBQ, 2911 Chino Ave. (at Peyton), Chino Hills; open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Ah, the food of Thailand. With Chinese food on the rise thanks to a wave of immigrants, Thai cuisine is kind of waning, it seems to me, aside from Pok Pok and Jitlada in L.A.

Thai Original BBQ has been in the Rolling Ridge Plaza for some years, so it’s nothing new either. But a Thai-shy friend had tried it out, liked it and suggested meeting there for dinner.

There’s a fish tank as you walk in and the walls have a lot of tourist posters, not to mention portraits of the Thai royal family (RIP). You get the sense that the owners haven’t redecorated in a while, but the look is comfortable and lived-in. So was our sagging banquette.

We examined the menu closely. It has the standards in pork, chicken, beef, noodles and rice dishes, but with more emphasis on seafood than is often seen.

I got the mixed pad Thai with chicken, pork, shrimp and tofu ($10 for the basic, probably a couple of bucks more for this version), which was solid and unspectacular.

My friend had the crab cakes, which appear on the menu as “Dearest Crab” (!), two fried crab cakes the size of baseballs with crab, pork, mushrooms and onion, served atop shrimp fried rice ($13). We liked it. If you’re married and eating there, call your spouse “dearest crab” at your own risk.

Service was attentive. Overall, this was a pleasant, old-school Thai experience but an unexceptional one. The restaurant is part of a small chain founded in 1978 that has locations in LA, Fullerton and Cerritos.

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Ontario among ’30 Best Neighborhoods in America’

The blog of CarRentals.com chose the “30 Best Neighborhoods in America” — among them: The Woodlands, Texas; Minnetonka, Minnesota; Beaverton, Oregon; and Salem, Massachusetts — and Ontario was among them. The city is described as being in the Riverside Metro area rather than a suburb of LA. Here’s what the blog says in full, under a photo of the Improv stage:

The Inland Empire of Southern California is loaded with cheeky towns that are perfect for weekend getaways. One such town is Ontario, where the Chaffey Community Museum of Art will invigorate your passion for fine paintings. After talking in hushed tones at the art gallery, enjoy side-splitting laughs at the Improv Comedy Club. Who knows, you might just witness the next Eddie Murphy take the stage.

Perhaps not how many of us would think of Ontario, but it’s always interesting to see ourselves as others see us. Still: “cheeky”?

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Reading Log: February 2017

Books acquired: “Born to Run,” Bruce Springsteen; “Hillbilly Elegy,” J.D. Vance.

Books read: “Wanted Man: In Search of Bob Dylan,” John Bauldie, ed.; “A Working Man’s Apocrypha,” William Luvaas; “The Variable Man,” Philip K. Dick; “The Invisible Man,” H.G. Wells; “Behold the Man,” Michael Moorcock; “The Female Man,” Joanna Russ.

Hey, man. Notice a theme to all the titles above, man? Yeah, they all have the word “man.” [shrug]

Struck by how many unread books I own with the word “man” in the title somewhere, fore or aft, I read many, but not even half, in February. In the order presented above, there was a 1990 book of essays and interviews about aspects of the Nobelist’s life and work, a 2007 short story collection, five long science fiction stories from the mid-1950s by one of my favorite authors, an 1897 classic that spawned various movies and parodies, a 1970 British New Wave science fiction novel and a 1975 feminist science fiction novel.

The Dylan book was for fans only, but quite enjoyable. The story collection was average. This isn’t the author’s fault, but the review that prompted me to buy it said many stories were set in the Inland Empire. Well, about four of them were set in Palm Springs and environs, but that wasn’t what I was hoping for. The PKD book was quite good, with “Minority Report” among the stories.

Wells’ novel had plenty of surprises, which I wouldn’t have expected to be able to say at this point. Did you know the protagonist was an albino, and thus halfway to invisibility from the get-go? Would you have guessed that he’s prone to sneezing, being a guy who’s walking around in the outdoors with no clothes? It was a fun mix of humor and horror.

Moorcock’s novel, about a time traveler who wants to meet Jesus, isn’t for the doctrinaire, but I found it powerful even if the ending is pretty obvious, one might even say inevitable, from page 2. Lastly, Russ’ novel has its flaws, such as being nearly plotless, but it’s a great example of what science fiction can do, in this case the incorporation of autobiography and social commentary on women’s status in society in the 1960s and early ’70s, even in a story that has aliens. Even if the story was hard to follow at times, I found the writing and subject matter refreshing and eye-opening. Some of the concerns about women’s place have dated, but my sense is that most have not, sadly.

Where did these books come from? The Dylan was bought in (ulp) 1995 in Victorville, the PKD at the San Diego Comic Con in 2005, the Luvaas from Amazon in 2007, the Wells from Book Rack in La Verne in 2010, the Moorcock sometime in the ’00s and the Russ in 2011 in Whittier. (I owned the Moorcock in my Illinois period, sold it unread before moving, and then bought the same edition a second time a decade or so ago. It was a particular pleasure to read it.)

With six books in February, making up for a mere two in January, I’m at an average of four books per month, a bit more respectable.

How was your February, readers?

Next month: “Funny in Farsi” and more to be determined.

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