‘A to Z’ double-header

I’m doing not one but two book signings Saturday for “Pomona A to Z.” The first is at Claremont’s Rhino Records, 235 Yale Ave., from 1 to 3 p.m. The second is at Pomona’s Magic Door Books, 155 W. 2nd St., from 7 to 9 p.m.

Evidently I’m the starting author at both places. Let’s see Clayton Kershaw try that.

The Magic Door signing is sure to be low-key, given the intimate size of the store, and you get the benefit of the Second Saturday Art Walk (but the downside of searching for parking).

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing at Rhino: Will I talk a little and read a chapter? Or will I just sign? I definitely won’t sing.

I’m anxious about the Rhino thing and am doing my best not to think about it. After all, they have a small stage where Berlin, Dengue Fever and other bands have performed, which is probably where I’ll be, and the idea of standing there talking into a microphone, and gazing out over the aisles — as some continue their shopping and wonder why this man is talking at a record store — is kind of intimidating! And yet, what other chance will I ever have to do it?

In related news, after falling from No. 10 to No. 23, “A to Z” is back at No. 12 on the Rhino sales charts for the week, behind Judas Priest and Jack White but ahead of the Black Keys and Weird Al Yankovic. Not bad for a book — the only book in the Top 25.

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Reading Log: July 2014

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Books acquired: none.

Books read: “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time,” Jeff Speck; “The Portable Poe,” Philip Van Doren Stern, ed.; “What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East,” Bernard Lewis; “The Gateway Arch: A Biography,” Tracy Campbell.

A random month of titles, and like last month more nonfiction than is typical for me. I read a book on how pedestrian (and cyclist) life tends to make towns and cities more pleasant and livable, a fat book of Edgar Allan Poe pieces, a scholarly attempt to explain Middle Eastern history and a sociological, political and architectural look at St. Louis.

“Walkable City”: A chatty exploration, published in 2012, of what makes a downtown work: two-way (and narrow) streets, fewer and more expensive parking spaces, senses of scale and place, bicyclists, pedestrians, lively storefronts, places worth walking to, working neighborhoods as opposed to isolated landmarks (LA’s Disney Hall is criticized), trees, transit and, in a small surprise, awnings.

“Portable Poe”: It’s tough to find a uniformly excellent Poe anthology: Either they’re missing a few great stories, or there are too many weak ones, or they don’t include any of his poetry. What decent Poe book wouldn’t have “The Raven”? Many of them. This one, published in 1945 and totaling, ulp, 666 pages, offers a wide-ranging overview of his every writing mode, except maybe we don’t want an overview if that means we have to wade through his dull, dated essays and articles. Useful in its way, with a good selection of stories and poems both, but more Poe than you probably want.

“What Went Wrong?”: I had hoped for a clear, concise summary of centuries of Middle East history, which admittedly is a lot to expect. Published in 2002, “What Went Wrong” was okay, informative if dry, but for this neophyte, Lewis was so scholarly and history-minded, he didn’t really answer the provocative question in the title. What went wrong? (Subsequently I learned that Lewis favored the invasion of Iraq and may not have been the best person for an even-handed history.)

“Gateway Arch”: Deeply researched but very readable exploration of one of America’s most instantly recognizable monuments, which also happens to be a piece of modernist sculpture. Campbell’s book, published in 2013, explores the three-decade effort to remake the St. Louis riverfront (40 square blocks were leveled), the wrongheaded thinking that separated a tourist attraction from downtown, why once-great St. Louis has faltered — and yet why the Arch is still astonishing.

Not counting three books received as gifts, I’ve bought only three books in 2014 and have read two of them, both this month: “Walkable,” bought in Austin, and “Gateway,” bought in St. Louis. (The third, already underway, will be read in August.)

“Poe” came from a vacation last year, where it was bought at Moe’s in Berkeley, and “Wrong” was purchased at the B&N in Rancho Cucamonga back in 2002 or so, when getting to know more about the Middle East was on our minds. I got bogged down in the (very long) introduction, realized this might not be the book for me and set it aside before recently resurrecting it, for good or bad.

I’ve read the Poe intermittently since last fall (there was overlap with other Poe I read in the interim too), started “Walkable” in March before putting it aside for later and began “Wrong” in May, so this was in part a month of wrapping up a few books in progress. How was your month? Is summer proving to be a good season for reading, or a poor one?

 Next month: many slim books.

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Column: Remembering Richard Sather, Pomona’s first casualty of Vietnam

Sunday’s column is about a Navy pilot from Pomona who died 50 years ago Tuesday during a retaliatory air strike for the Gulf of Tonkin skirmish. Researching it was a learning experience: I’d heard of the Gulf of Tonkin incident and resolution but didn’t know much about them. Anyway, it seemed worthwhile to remember Dick Sather a half-century after his death, and I hope you’ll agree.

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Column: With tribute, coffee house regular gets one last perk

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A tribute at Claremont’s Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf to a regular who died leads off my Friday column. There’s a photo with the column of Anthony Raya at the coffee house. If you’re a regular in that area, you’ll say, “Oh, that guy!” And here are two photos from Wednesday morning of the scene so you get a sense of the memorial and Raya’s regular spot.

I happened on this by accident. On a whim, I got breakfast at Jamba Juice that morning before going into work and sat down at one of the outdoor tables. I spotted the memorial across the walkway, walked over and realized who it was for. As a frequent customer at Coffee Bean, I could fill in some of the rest. An employee and the manager came out to check on the table and I got Raya’s name and details from them.

Wish I’d known about the memorial tribute that took place the night before, but I felt like I’d lucked out by seeing the memorial table and by knowing some of the story already. This is one of those small moments in the life of a community. They happen all the time; the general public (and us as journalists) rarely know about them and the people involved don’t think “this is news,” but once in a while, we find one and can make something from it.

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* Update: I saw this addition on Friday. Click on the photo for a more readable view.

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Restaurant of the Week: Pizza Barn

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Pizza Barn, 2021 Foothill Blvd. (at D), La Verne; open daily

It’s not in a barn, unfortunately — how cool would that be? — but rather in an older, oak-shaded strip center. I’ve seen Pizza Barn for years, especially as a regular at Taste of Asia in the same building, and remember a positive New Diner review of the place, but I had never stepped inside until one recent Monday evening. There is only one window and the door is wood, so you don’t really know what you’re stepping into.

Well, it is kind of barn-like inside: The ceiling is exposed and peaked. It’s also kind of bar-like: There’s a bar, a small one, with maybe nine beers on tap, and posters for Miller and Coors. They also have small tables and one long table for communal dining or large groups.

You order at the counter. I got a small sausage and mushroom pizza ($10) and a Coke from a very personable employee and took a seat. The Home Run Derby contest was on the TV. A few guys were seated at the bar, a small group at the big table and a few other patrons scattered around, and a couple of people came in for to-go orders. For that night, at least, it was basically a middle-aged crowd.

Besides pizza, the menu has calzones and stromboli, hot and cold sandwiches (including one called Mario’s Ultimate, which sounds like a Dagwood, a little of everything), a few pastas and salads, burgers, wings, and fish and chips. (Yes, fish and chips.) They serve all you can eat spaghetti on Wednesdays for $4 and tacos (yes, tacos) on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

My pizza had generous toppings, lots of cheese and a thick and crispy crust. The slices were dense and chewy. I ate half and took the other half home; when ordering, I’d thought about getting a 12-inch medium to ensure I had leftovers, but that didn’t prove to be an issue even with a 10-inch small. It was what I would call a good bar pizza.

The decor is as eclectic as the menu. I saw sports trophies, a shelf of kerosene lamps, a couple of random framed pieces of art, a Lotto machine, video games, paneling and ceiling fans. Pizza Barn probably hasn’t been remodeled since it opened in 1992, nor should it be. It’s got character.

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UC LV?

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This looks like a scene from UCLA this week, but it’s actually La Verne. Reader Nathan Keeler shot this at 3:50 p.m. Wednesday at D and Sixth streets, across from Roynon Elementary, where a car struck a hydrant and broke it. The water was jetting up 40 feet high, Nathan says. A little spot news on my blog. Nathan, by the way, is 16 and a resident of Claremont. Thank you, Nathan! Nice picture.

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Claudia Lennear at Rhino

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Claudia Lennear, right, talks about her musical experiences Saturday with KSPC-FM’s DJ Ike Rhythm (as station general manager Erica Tyron handles the sound duties). This took place on the stage at Claremont’s Rhino Records. Were you there? A few dozen of us were, and the talk was fascinating. Lennear, you’ll recall, was a ’60s and ’70s backup singer who was featured in the documentary “20 Feet From Stardom,” and she lives in Pomona.

I shot two short videos. In one, she talks about her 1973 solo song “Not at All,” about Mick Jagger, and in the other, she performs the song “Gee Whiz” a cappella.

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Peach donut season

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Donut Man in Glendora (915 E. Rt 66) is renowned for its fresh strawberry donuts, generally available February to July. It’s less well-known for its other fresh fruit donut, the peach, in part because the peach season is so much shorter, often only one month. Last year I missed out completely. On Sunday I got one, bought directly from Donut Man Jim Nakano himself, who was manning one of the order windows.

Check out this bad boy. At $4, it’s the most expensive donut I’ve ever bought, but it’s well worth the dough (ha ha). And yes, that’s a fork partly visible in the photo.

Personally I like the peach better than the strawberry. I think the taste pairs better with the donut shell. The fact that it’s rarer no doubt adds to the allure.

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