Brilliant and wacky Stephan Pastis, creator of the raging "Pearls Before Swine" comic strip, has left Santa Rosa and his drawing board for a bit to talk up his first non-cartoon book.

Everywhere the ex-lawyer goes on his book tour, he's greeted by standing-room crowds, eager media coverage and positive reviews.

"Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made" is an illustrated children's novel that stars a fairly clueless 11-year-old

detective and his sidekick, a polar bear named Total.

"It's just crazy" is how Stephan described the tour Monday from Tucson. He sees himself as much more a writer than a cartoonist, so it's no surprise a highlight of his tour came during some free time in Hartford, Conn., and a docent's VIP tour of Mark Twain's home.

"She moved the velvet rope so I could stand next to the desk where he did his writing," said the clearly awed author/cartoonist.

"And she moved it again so I could stand next to the bed he died in.

SPEAKING OF BOOKS: Lovers of words and food dream up the most delectable ideas for raising money for the Sonoma County Public Library Foundation and the Free Bookmobile.

Nibble on this one: Starting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol, some of the county's finest purveyors of chocolate will serve guests something to savor while they watch Hitchcock's "To Catch a Thief."

The $35 admission also buys — a book.

THE KETTLE KING is back at it.

Russ Swart is the good egg who brought in record donations to the Salvation Army the past two holiday seasons by manning a red kettle at the Safeway in Bennett Valley all day for weeks on end.

He now readies to ring the bell beside a green kettle for the St. Patrick's appeal. Russ will be at the Yulupa Avenue Safeway from about 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. this Friday and Saturday — and he invites all the kids who've helped him ring the bell and watch the pot at Christmas to come see him.

Don't be surprised to see green kettles spring up now and again over the next few days at other Safeways and at the Oliver's, Raley's, G&G and Lucky's in Santa Rosa.

Saturday, volunteers will dance jigs (maybe) alongside kettles outside of Russian River Brewing's pub on Fourth Street and the Nutty Irishman on Piner Road.

I'll pull the 1 to 3 p.m. shift at the Irishman. Swing by with a bit o' the green.

TAKE THESE CHAINS: I spied them as I drove on Santa Rosa's Dutton Avenue.

Three men grasped the ends of hefty chains, like you would a jump rope, and ran while dragging the chains behind them.

It hurt just to watch. I thought to dial 911 but I didn't see that anyone was enforcing the torture on the fit, muscular trio, and I imagined that if it's self-imposed it's probably legal.

So I drove on. But even now my heart aches for the chain-draggers.

And my shoulders.

And legs.