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Jeff's Picks

Book Cover Orr, Gregory
The Blessing

Nonfiction
Gregory Orr’s poetry is golden nectar for all those who have ever longed to find meaning in the incomprehensible suffering of life. His memoir, The Blessing, is a story of intense sadness and loneliness, but also intense beauty. When Orr was twelve years old, he accidentally shot and killed his little brother in a hunting accident. The emotional gulf that separates him from his parents is profound, and the grieving boy comes of age in a vortex of guilt and despair. But art has the power to redeem even the most wretched…it’s no exaggeration to say that poetry saved this beautiful man’s life. His recent collection, Concerning the Book that is the Body of the Beloved, is a stunning testament to the power of poetry to transcend confusion, to gently lead us out of our nightmares and back into our hearts.
Recommended by Jeff, July 2006

 
Book Cover Dava Sobel
The Planets

Nonfiction
From bestselling popular science writer Dava Sobel, a personal introduction to your local Solar System. With equal parts science, mythology, cultural history, and astrology, think of it as a miscellany of the heavens. Or a traveler's guide to the evening sky. With each chapter dedicated to a heavenly body, you can savor them in any order you choose. Each is thoroughly absorbing, with delightful wonders on every page. A celestial treasure chest!
Recommended by Jeff, January 2006

 


Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China
by Rachel DeWoskin
NonFiction
Rachel DeWoskin spent the early 1990s working as a PR consultant in Beijing. She also just happened to be the unlikely star of a wildly popular nighttime soap opera, adored by some 600 million Chinese television viewers. Oh, and did I mention that she's a brilliant writer? Foreign Babes in Beijing is a priceless snapshot of unforgettable people riding on the euphoric waves of an ancient city's latest cultural renaissance. Don't be fooled by the fluffy title; this is one of most insightful memoirs you'll read this summer.
Recommended by Jeff, August 2005

The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power by Joel Bakan
NonFiction
Corporate entities are programmed for one purpose only: to produce profit for the shareholders. Is there such a thing as "ethical" corporate behavior? Maybe, but only so long it doesn't affect the bottom line. Corporations, as Joel Bakan makes perfectly clear, are in fact legally obligated to place profit-making above everything else; profit at the expense of individuals, society, and sustainable life on earth. More alarmingly, Bakan explains how corporations have hijacked the very government that created them; in less than a century, they have come to dominate and corrupt nearly every aspect of our existance. The Corporation is an eye-opener, to say the least. In today's climate of corporate deregulation and privatization of anything and everything, Bakan's book is a revelation.
Recommended by Jeff, April 2005

Earth: An Intimate History by Richard Fortey
NonFiction
Richard Fortey is a senior paleontologist at the Natural History Museum of London. His beautifully illustrated book takes readers on a geological tour around the world, from the San Andreas Fault, through the Alps, across Newfoundland, to the Middle East, Hawaii, and down to the ocean floor in search of the distant past. In story after story, Fortey shows that our planet is in a state of constant movement and change. The mountains and valleys that we see around us all hold clues to the past; Fortey shows us how geologists are unraveling the great mysteries hidden in rocks to gain an overall understanding of the history of the planet. While the physics and chemistry behind Fortey's findings are clearly explained, a wealth of entertaining anecdotes and fascinating facts (did you know that the Appalachian Mountains used to extend all the way to Scotland?) make Earth: An Intimate History fun to read. This is an excellent introduction to the latest trends in geology.
Recommended by Jeff, February 2005

The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins
NonFiction
The Ancestor's Tale takes readers on a sweeping journey through human evolution. Beginning with the present and moving backwards in time, Dawkins introduces us to our genetic ancestors from apes and other vertebrate mammals all the way back to the very beginning of life on Earth four billion years ago. Dawkins is a meticulous scientists as well as a great storyteller, employing the most up-to-date research from the constantly evolving field of genetic archeology, including fossil and DNA evidence. A wealth of charts, illustrations and timelines will help readers grasp the science behind Dawkins's compelling theories. Bridging the gap between science and the humanities, the narrative structure of The Ancestor's Tale is loosely based on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales: the "pilgrimage" to our evolutionary roots is divided into 40 tales, each based on a separate group of organisms, each playing a critical part in the story of life on Earth. Although the scope of this book, weighing in at over 600 pages, may seem a bit daunting, Dawkins provides a unique, big-picture perspective on human evolution that is well worth the effort.
Recommended by Jeff, Februrary 2005

Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas by John Shirley
NonFiction
John Shirley, the award-winning novelist and short story writer, has finally succeeded in creating something the world has been in need of for quite some time: a truly accessible and engaging introduction to the ideas of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, one of the most remarkable and enigmatic thinkers of the 20th century. Known to his followers simply as "the Work," Gurdjieff's no-nonsense system for self-realization bridges the scientific knowledge of the Western world with the spiritual understanding of the East, offering incredible insight into the human psyche and great faith in the power of individual transformation to benefit all of mankind. Shirley's introduction offers fascinating anecdotes about Gurdjieff and many of his well-known students, emphasizing the oral tradition of Gurdjieff's teachings and how they are carried on today.
Recommended by Jeff, August 2004

Good-Bye Chunky Rice by Craig Thompson
Graphic Novel
This short but affecting graphic novel documents the sorrowful journey of a solemn little turtle named Chunky Rice as he follows a mysterious inner voice that compels him to leave his beloved friend Dandel for a new and unknown future. Each of the characters (including a graceful and stoic mouse, a little misfit birdie, a rough-and-tumble boat captain, and bipolar pair of Siamese twins) is sketched with a depth and emotional poignancy that belies the beautiful simplicity of this tenderly-illustrated book. Thompson's greatest strength as an illustrator and storyteller is his ability to take emotions that simply cannot be articulated in words and make them palpable in a way that no conventional novelist could. For readers who are new to the graphic novel format, this is an excellent place to start. Thompson's longer work, Blankets, is also highly recommended.
Recommended by Jeff, August 2004