Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

West of West Center is born

In my Sunday Spotlight column, I introduced Bee readers to local author Mark Arax’s ambitious plan to create the new West of West Center. He envisions the center as a virtual history museum — with a major focus on agriculture — consisting of recorded interviews with prominent central San Joaquin Valley historical figures. Another component is a book-publishing arm, as I explain in my column:

And then Arax thought: Why not broaden the West of West concept to make it a sort of virtual history museum? And then — those Arax wheels are always turning — why not include a regional book-publishing component? Some of the books could be underwritten by local figures with worthy stories to tell, and those funds and proceeds from sales could subsidize books — fiction, memoirs, histories — from other worthy authors.

The first major release from the center is Betsy Lumbye’s “Beyond Luck: The Improbable Rise of the Berry Fortune Across a Western Century” (West of West Books, $25). Lumbye, a former executive editor of The Bee, got to dive into the remarkable story of Clarence Berry, a poor Selma farmer who struck it rich in gold at the turn of the 20th Century in the wilds of the Yukon Territory, and then returned to the San Joaquin Valley to make a second fortune in oil. (Berry Petroleum in 2013 was sold for nearly $5 billion.) The story of the Berry family’s fame and fortune is bookended by the oldest living descendant of Clarence Berry’s grand-nephew, Peter Bennett, now 92, who received a big chunk of inheritance. Bennett lives in Fresno today and is a prominent local philanthropist, but he’s avoided the spotlight.

As for the book itself, I devoured it in just a couple of sittings: It’s a good and fascinating read. (And I’m not just saying that because the author is my former boss.)

The launch of the West of West Center will be 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 13, at the Fresno Art Museum.

Pictured: Peter Bennett and Betsy Lumbye. (Bee photo by John Walker)

Just in time for Halloween; a creepy books list

Because no holiday (or whatever is its we’re calling Halloween these days) is complete without a listicle, here are five creepy books. As chosen by me and in no particular order.

1.Frankenstein,” Mary Shelley
As the story goes, Shelley wrote this book at 19 years old, as part of a horror-story competition with a bunch of other 19th century authors. Looks like she was the big winner because, close to 200 years later the story — or some form of it — continues to be enjoyed. If you think you know Frankenstein and haven’t read Shelley’s version, make it a priority.
2.Bedbugs,” Ben H. Winters
As introduction, Winters may be best known as the guy behind “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters,” and “Android Karenina.” Don’t let that trick you. Here, he created a story of New York paranoia that rivals “Rosemary’s Baby.”

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Alex Espinoza wins an American Book Award


A shout-out to Alex Espinoza, a Fresno State English professor, whose book “The Five Acts of Diego León” is one of the winners of the 35th annual American Book Awards.

The awards are given by the Before Columbus Foundation, a nonprofit founded by author-playwright Ishmael Reed. Here’s how they’re chosen:

The American Book Awards were created to provide recognition for outstanding literary achievement from the entire spectrum of America’s diverse literary community. The purpose of the awards is to recognize literary excellence without limitations or restrictions. There are no categories, no nominees, and therefore no losers. The award winners range from well-known and established writers to under-recognized authors and first works. There are no quotas for diversity, the winners list simply reflects it as a natural process. The Before Columbus Foundation views American culture as inclusive and has always considered the term “multicultural” to be not a description of various categories, groups, or “special interests,” but rather as the definition of all of American literature. The Awards are not bestowed by an industry organization, but rather are a writers’ award given by other writers.

Fourteen books were awarded this year, including Jamaica Kincaid’s “See Now Then.” Espinoza will get to pick up his award Oct. 26 in San Francisco. (Take pictures and send them to the Beehive, OK?)

After the jump: a list of this year’s winners.

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Read all about it: Fresno State’s ‘Between the Pages’ a strong and fun exhibition

In my Sunday column I put the spotlight on a fine new exhibition at Fresno State’s Madden Library titled “Between the Pages: Intersections of Books and Technology.” From my column:

One of the delights of this clever and good-hearted exhibition, co-presented by the library’s Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature and the Special Collections Research Center, and curated by Jennifer Crow and Tammy Lau, is the way it nudges the viewer toward a greater appreciation of the staying power of books, no matter the format or technology that made them possible.

Books come in many forms: printed, audio, pop-up versions, digital. You can trace their progression in “Turning Pages” — from the hieroglyphics on a facsimile of the Rosetta Stone to an iPad version of “Horrible Hauntings,” billed as an “augmented reality collection” in which readers are able to see and interact with 3-D ghosts.

I summarize my thoughts about the exhibition in the above video review version of my column.

Test your book knowledge with Bookopotamus trivia app

booksI’m not usually one for cell-phone/tablet games (OK, I do have “Word Mole” on my BlackBerry), but Bookopotamus could quickly grow on me.

The audio-book trivia app is totally fun for anyone who reads a lot.

The game works like this: You get audio of a quote and are asked to guess, against the clock, what book the quote is from (it’s multiple choice). The quotes comes from bestsellers (“Girl with a Dragon Tattoo”) and the classics (“Moby Dick”). There are contextual clues that can help if you’re slightly less well read. Scores are based on the speed of the answer.

I got “The Metamorphosis” in two words; “One morning.” Just saying.

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Beehive bookclub: Your favorite book of 2013?

EleanorPark_coverAnother year is over and it was chock full of good books — at least for me. How about you? What was your favorite book of 2013? Tell us about it in the comments. It doesn’t need to be published in 2013, just something you read in 2013. In the meantime, my fellow Beehivers and I share our favorite books of the year.

Bethany: “Eleanor & Park” by Rainbow Rowell. I just want to hug the two teen characters in this young-adult book. It’s a book that starts with the humiliation of a new girl’s first day on the school bus but quickly lets readers relive that intoxicating first love, all set in 1986. The novel is written from the viewpoints of both chunky, poor, redhead misfit Eleanor, and Asian not-quite-as-much-of-a-misfit Park. Their adoration of each other just yanks at your heartstrings.

Anyway, it’s not all schmaltz. Hand in hand with this love story are some heavy themes about poverty and abuse and the damage it can do to a person. It’s a well-rounded read that will keep you thinking about it for days.

Joshua:Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. Yeah, so this book is more than 80 years old. It’s also strikingly (eerily) relevant, which is probably why it’s a classic. Boiled down, the book is a meditation on the meaning of happiness and contentment in the modern age (Huxley’s or ours or the one prophesied in the book). What are we giving up to chase happiness? What would we be willing to give up? And what is life like for the “outsiders,” those who battle the status quo. This was one of those books that I should have tackled years ago and never did, even though I carried a worn paperback copy with me through three or more moves.

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The New York Times notable books of the year

I can’t really do justice to what I feel during my annual exercise of reading the New York Times list of 100 Notable Books of the Year — which is then narrowed down, in a separate feature, to the 10 Best Books of 2013. I feel excited, to be sure, at the prospect of two new lists to devour. I feel a little apprehensive — if I haven’t read any of them, what does that say about my own cultural literacy? Arrogance, yes, at least a little, if I’ve actually managed to read anything on either list. And I get a little grumpy if I’ve read something new that I feel should be on the list and isn’t.

But mostly I feel this big, swelling sense of So Many Books, So Little Time. As I read the two lists there’s an alternate track running in my mind that’s spinning little fantasies of uninterrupted book-gorging bachannalia: me holing up for a weekend in a cabin with a stack of books; me spending a week in Hawaii on the beach with a stack of books; me volunteering for extended study of the Antarctica ice sheet in an isolated research station for a season with a stack of books — well, you get the idea.

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Book lovers, the big sale is happening now

booksaleThe giant Friends of the Fresno County Library book sale is going on at Sierra Vista Mall now. The sale has taken over two storefronts at the mall near Kohl’s and has just about every book imaginable. One store carries fiction and the other carries nonfiction and children’s books. There’s DVDs, music, games and puzzles in there too.

Books range from 50 cents for paperbacks to $2 for coffee table books.  Last year, 200,000 items went up for sale (including movies, music, puzzles, etc.) Seriously, I walked away with a neck ache from turning my head sideways to read all the titles last year.

The sale is a major fund raiser for the Friends of the Library and last year raised $38,000.

Book sale hours (more details here):

Thursday, August 22 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Friday, August 23 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Saturday, August 24 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sunday, August 25 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Win tickets to David Sedaris

SedarisYou’re interviewing David Sedaris and trying to not let on the fact you’re nervous. The guy is, after all, the rock star of authors, an NPR favorite whose books are the rage with your most literary friends. But he’s done this before and quickly sets you at ease and shares all sorts of great stuff (much of it hilarious, but unfit for the daily paper).

Sedaris will be in town on Thursday with his lecture tour, which is part of the Broadway in Fresno series.

We have tickets to share.
Just leave a comment below. Tell us which story you’d like to hear Sedaris read aloud. We’ll pick winners at random. Contest will close at 4 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday) and winners will be notified by email. No repeat entries, please. Complete rules are on the jump.

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Beehive Book Club Vol. 11: What we’re reading

bookclublogo-thumb-100x68-42087We’re taking Donald’s Beehive Book Club and shaking it up a bit. Since we’ve got several book lovers on staff here and we have wildly varying tastes, we thought we’d jump on his bandwagon and share some of our recent notable reads too. And we want to hear about what you’re reading, so feel free to tell us in the comments section.

Bethany: The “Game of Thrones” series by George R.R. Martin.
The Game of Thrones book series has completely sucked me in. I just finished the third book, A Storm of Swords, and downloaded the next one immediately to my Kindle.

The series, officially called “a Song of Ice and Fire,” centers around the Stark family and its six kids. The family is scattered across a fictional land similar to Old England, dealing with war, dragons, murder, arranged marriages, and a growing threat from something supernatural in the north. Or as a friend of mine calls the series, “bad things happening to good people.”


It’s getting to the point where I’m ditching TV to read because frankly, the heroes in ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” have nothing on pre-teen Arya Stark’s adventures with her pint-sized sword, Needle.

I’m not usually a fantasy fan and I don’t have much patience for big books (the last one was 1,177 pages), but I’m so attached to this family now I have to see what happens. The author has a tendency to get a bit wordy at times, but he also takes the character you used to hate and turns him into a multifaceted person you find yourself rooting for.

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A letter from the new Mike Oz


For those following the count-down clock, we’ve hit the zero hour (to the chagrin of at least one user). Those following me over from my previous gig at Fresno Famous will need no introduction, but the rest of y’all probably want to know what I am about.

First off, I like lists. So:

  •  Downtown. When the Vagabond Lofts were built in 2006, I was the first to move in. Literally, the very first resident in the complex (OK, I had a roommate). I was what then-council member Henry T. Perea called an urban pioneer. I fully buy into the idea that a city is only as good as its downtown, and that Fresno can be (heck, it already is) a vibrant, cultural hot-spot. To that end, I’ll be keeping up with the city’s efforts to get people back to the urban core. For now, check out I Believe in Downtown Fresno. You don’t have to take the pledge, but you can at least get informed.
    To keep from being all north Fresno vs. south, I also have an affinity for Fig Garden Village and the Tower District and have no problem hanging out at River Park when I need to.

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The Beehive Asks: What book do you want for Christmas?

It’s been a LONG time since I’ve posted an installment of my Beehive Book Club, an occasional series in which I and some of my book-loving readers share what we’ve been reading. I’ll be putting that post up tomorrow in advance of a book-themed package of stories in Sunday’s upcoming Spotlight section. To kick things off, I’m posing a quick question right now: What book do you want for Christmas?

There’s a bunch of titles I’m eyeing myself, particularly now that the New York Times has released its annual list of 100 Notable Books of 2012. Tops on my list: “NW” by Zadie Smith; and Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up the Bodies.”

If you share with me by mid-morning Thursday, I’ll try to use your answers in Sunday’s Spotlight section.

Beehive guide to December entertainment

December is jam packed with local entertainment options you won’t want to miss. You can go to see lots of theater, check out Christmas concerts and live bands and even see a dragon, among other things. So check out our “Don’t Miss It” guide to December and start filling up your entertainment calendar. View the full PDF below.

PDF: The Bee’s “Don’t Miss It” entertainment guide for December.

Toys bring Nicholas Sparks to tears

TS3.JPG Many of you won’t admit it, but you probably have shed a tear while reading a Nicholas Sparks book or seeing one of the movies adapted from his works. No one really believed you were having an allergy attack while seeing “The Notebook.”

The guy knows how to make you cry. He’s at it again with the release of “The Lucky One,” the feature film starring Zac Efron that opens Friday. That’s why I thought I would turn the tables on him and ask which film has brought him to tears.

” ‘Toy Story 3′,” Sparks tells me without hesitation. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting that answer.

Sparks explains that his oldest son was 3 years old when he saw the first “Toy Story.” It was the first movie the young moviegoer sat through from beginning to end. The author clearly recalls how much his son was laughing at the end of the film when Buzz and Woody are going through their antics.

Fast forward 15 years to “Toy Story 3.” The animated film looks at what happens when Andy gets to the age where he’s headed off to college and leaves his toys behind. It was hard for Sparks to hold back the tears as he thought about his own son heading off to college.

As a matter of full disclosure, there are two movies that always give me “allergy attacks” — the baseball film “Field of Dreams” and “Somewhere in Time,” one of the greatest love story movies ever made.

What movie always makes you cry?

Is anyone excited for Stephanie Plum to hit the big screen?

I was checking the movie calendar the other day to see what films were being released later this month, and noticed “One For the Money,” staring Katherine Heigl, is in theaters Jan. 27.

Is anyone excited about this movie?

I’m curious because I know this is a HUGELY popular book series (the the latest book just came out) about bounty hunter Stephanie Plum and her exploits – some involving a couple of hot guys. This is a book series with a beloved leading lady that’s sold millions, so why isn’t there more buzz? If Facebook friends is any indication, “One For the Money” certainly hasn’t reached the anticipation of “The Hunger Games.” Is it the casting? Lack of promotion? Maybe the fans are happier just reading the books?

Attention book lovers: Big book sale benefits public libraries

booksale.jpgCBS47 is hosting a gigantic book sale at Sierra Vista Mall this weekend to benefit our public libraries and literacy programs. My buddy Zara Arboleda from Channel 47 showed off the selection this morning on her Twitter account. Most books are under $5. Looks like I need to head to the mall to shop.

The sales is today through Sunday. Here are the hours:

  • 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. today and Friday
  • 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday
  • 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
  • Photo: @ZaraTV

    The Beehive Asks: Is it OK to change words in classic literature?

    MARK_TWAIN_Huckleberry_Finn.jpgThis story about cutting the N-word from two Mark Twain classics “Huck Finn” and “Tom Sawyer” is getting a lot of attention today. Here’s the gist, from AP:

    Mark Twain wrote that “the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter.” A new edition of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer” will try to find out if that holds true by replacing the N-word with “slave” in an effort not to offend readers.

    Twain scholar Alan Gribben, who is working with NewSouth Books in Alabama to publish a combined volume of the books, said the N-word appears 219 times in “Huck Finn” and four times in “Tom Sawyer.” He said the word puts the books in danger of joining the list of literary classics that Twain once humorously defined as those “which people praise and don’t read.”

    The news is definitely drawing some criticism. Personally, I think it should be left alone. There are many things in history that are offensive. Acting like those moments didn’t happen doesn’t help anyone. I’d rather confront and learn from the past.

    What do you think? Does changing one word matter?

    An early Christmas


    One of my favorite stories of the season is posted: the New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year. (The print version is scheduled to publish Dec. 5.) If I could clone myself a couple of times, I’d snuggle under a blanket for a few weeks and read every book on the list. Alas, a quick glance through the list indicates I haven’t yet read one. (Surely someone can beat that.) I’d better get cracking.

    The Beehive Asks: What are you reading?


    UPDATE 2/19: Thanks for the great feedback. I’ve already added three books to my reading list. (That is, if I ever get through “Infinite Jest.” But I just hit 19% on my Kindle, and I’ve got a rainy weekend ahead of me.) It’s good to know there are so many enthusiastic readers out there. I’ll check back in on the Beehive every now and then to talk books.

    ORIGINAL ENTRY 2/15: I’ve been a reading fiend the past couple of months. Part of it’s because of my new Kindle, which I fessed up to in the latest round of Beehive obsessions.

    At the moment I’m tackling one of those big, ultra-hip, wunderkind novels that I resisted reading for years because it was so literary high fashion: David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” (Let’s just put it this way: the footnotes have footnotes. And there are a couple of hundred pages of them.) I’m only about 8% of the way through — one of the benefits of reading a Kindle is you get an exact calibration of how much you’ve read — and so far it’s kind of a slog. So if any “Infinite Jest” fans read this, send some encouragement my way.

    In the meantime, what are you reading?

    After the jump, my most recent read.

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    Beehive Obsessions: Volume 11

    You know how it is when you find something you love and instantly you want everyone you know to love it, too? Here is a list of things the Beehive is into at this very moment. We invite you to share your obsession in the comments.

    Rick: It hasn’t started yet, but I can’t wait to see the final episodes of “Lost.” I can’t imagine how any ending would be completely satisfying. I’m also hooked on “Burn Notice,” “Modern Family” and “Secret Diary of a Call Girl.”
    Heather: My new obsession is making sure that the seafood I eat is sustainable. “Sustainable” is one of those buzzwords that gets thrown around a lot, but in this case, it means that I’m trying hard to follow the guidelines for responsible seafood eating set by Seafood Watch, a Monterey Bay Aquarium program that keeps track of which seafood items are safe, healthy, and fished or farmed responsibly. Why is that important? Because we can’t eat seafood if there’s none left in the sea, and I love me some shellfish.

    Kathy: I’m really into the marriage of Netflix and PS3, which allows me to stream movies to my TV with the push of a button. It gives me a a whole library of movies at my fingertips. Plus, I get Blu-ray movies sent to me in the mail to supplement the live selections. Since the Netflix warehouse is in Bakersfield, it only takes a day to get a new movie. If that’s not awesome enough, the service is pretty cheap: $11 a month.

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    Tacos with a side of T & A


    You remember Tony Stamolis, the photographer who released the book “Frezno” last year?

    Well, he’s got a new book that’s soon to be released — and this one comes with another taste of Fresno. Whether that’s tasty or distasteful is up to you.

    “T & T & A” is the title of Stamolis’ new book. The first T is for tacos. The T & A part, well you know what that means, right? Basically, the book is 200 pages of naked women and tacos (not a euphemism). It’s not naked women eating tacos. It’s just pictures of tacos next to pictures of naked women. I guess you’d call it alt-porn with food.

    I’m guessing this is either (a) the greatest thing you’ve ever heard or (b) quite offensive. But that’s probably the point. “Frezno” had that this-book-might-offend-you thing going too.

    Of local interest: About half of the tacos in the book hail from Fresno — places such Tacos Tijuana, Don Pepe, Castillo’s and Taqueria Superior. The rest are from L.A. and New York. Stamolis said maybe one of his models is from Fresno, but didn’t sound too sure.

    The book is due to be released in March via Sump Books. For now, there’s a Web site with some teasers of what’s included in the book. Before I give you the link, I need to make it clear this is VERY, VERY, VERY NSFW. Now proceed, if you wish.

    Sucked back in to “New Moon”


    “New Moon” is my least favorite of the four “Twilight” books, so I haven’t been as crazed about this movie as I was for the first one. But that all started to change the last week couple weeks.

    It started with the “New Moon” soundtrack, which I love. Then, Rick put together this fun package of interviews with the “New Moon” cast. After reading all the stories and listening to the audio clips, I was feeling more positive about the movie.

    Then I watched Stephenie Meyer on Oprah. That was followed up by getting lots of happy and excited e-mails from Beehive readers who won tickets to the Wednesday screening.

    This weekend I found myself talking about the movie with friends and realizing I’m really pretty excited about the movie. I even busted out my “Twilight” DVD last night to get a little fix and grabbed my copy on “New Moon” to re-read a few parts.

    So, if you need a “New Moon” fix over the next few days until you see the movie, check this cool “New Moon” feature out. And, be sure to come back to the Beehive later this week and over the weekend to post your review of the movie. We’ll randomly pick winners next week from the comments on that post to win movie t-shirts and posters.

    Win tickets to a screening of “New Moon”

    UPDATE: The winners are: Amber, Kristin, Michael Torres, Lisa Vang, oona171717, Lauren R., Bella, Becky Lindh, Art Falcon, Renee, Brian Murray, Tanya, Shelly, Kaylynn Conant, Nichole Leyva, Kathy Pippig, Lissa777, Cristobal, John, Jennifer, Amanda Castro, MikeQ, Jim Stempien, mari, Estie. All winners have been sent an e-mail with details about picking up the tickets. Congratulations!

    Be sure to come back next week to post your review of “New Moon.” We’ll select winners from that post to win “New Moon” t-shirts.


    ORIGINAL POST: Don’t hate me, but I was among the members of the press who got a chance to see “New Moon” over the weekend. I needed to see the movie to interview the cast for a package of stories you will see in the Fresno Bee and at

    Critics were sworn to secrecy as to the quality of the movie. My thoughts will be revealed along those lines Nov. 20 when the movie opens.

    Some of you will get to evaluate the movie for yourself before it opens to the public. The Beehive is giving away 25 pairs of tickets to see the 7 p.m. Nov. 18 sneak preview of “New Moon.” The screening will be held at the Manchester Stadium 16.

    All you have to do is leave a comment below telling us why you’re anticipating the movie. The 25 winners will be randomly selected from those comments. Use a real e-mail address because we will notify winners via e-mail. Tickets will have to be picked up at The Fresno Bee. Entries will be taken until noon Friday and winners will be announced Friday afternoon. (Please note, these tickets do not guarantee you will get a seat at the screening because the movie studio gives out more tickets than seats to ensure a full house.)

    Good luck and I hope to see you at the “New Moon” screening.

    Official rules on the jump.

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