Music, a manual, and a biography are up this month.
Begin to Dance by Jenna Mammina & Rolf Sturm (Water Street Music, waterstreetmusic.org)
Musical borders dissolve in the potent alchemy of Jenna Mammina’s voice and Rolf Sturm’s acoustic guitar. Take the opening track of their second album of duets, a mash-up of the pop confection “Hooked on a Feeling” (a No. 5 hit for B.J. Thomas in 1969, a chart-topper for Blue Suede in ’74) and the late Chris Cornell’s 1994 hit with Soundgarden, “Black Hole Sun.” Jazz is the duo’s foundation, but the few standards here, such as “Dancing on the Ceiling” and “L-O-V-E,” are tucked in and around compositions by Prince, the Grateful Dead, George Harrison, Cheap Trick, Todd Rundgren, and the Doobie Brothers. Whether it’s pop, soul, rock, country, or swing, Sturm’s impeccable fingerpicking and strumming and Mammina’s perky vibe and birdlike facility keep your ears on their toes and your emotions in a constant swirl.
The Trail Runner’s Companion: A Step-by-Step Guide to Trail Running from 5Ks to Ultras by Sarah Lavender Smith (Falcon, 2017, 288 pp., $22.95)
Sarah Lavender Smith has written a great how-to book for runners who want to give up the road for trails. Following Smith from accomplished road racer to seasoned ultrarunner, the book sets out the basic differences and gets more technical without being too wonky. Smith, a coach and journalist who lives in Piedmont and Telluride, Colo., states a goal for each chapter, peppers in compelling personal stories, and puts a positive spin on her grueling sport. It’s inspiring to see pigtailed, pack-toting, headlamp-wearing Smith bounding through the Berkeley hills, dashing across high-altitude meadows, glissading on her butt down a snowy incline, climbing over big boulders, or crossing finish lines always with a huge smile.
—Judith M. Gallman
The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty: The Extraordinary Rise and Fall of Actor M. B. Curtis by Richard Schwartz (RSB Books, April 2017, 307 pp., $29.95)
Who was M. B. Curtis, and why should you care? Berkeley historian Richard Schwartz posits and answers those questions in his book about the first and most important American Jewish character actor who helped shape Berkeley in the 1890s. Famous for his portrayal of an oddball Jewish immigrant in the play Sam’l of Posen, he was a larger-than-life force of nature with many ups and downs whose work broke ground for future ethnic actors. While the play was in New York, he paid for the cost of lighting the Statue of Liberty’s torch. Later, he also funded a new train station, firehouse, paved roads, streetlights, and other causes in Berkeley, where he lived.
—Judith M. Gallman