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The Powell's Playlist | June 18, 2014

Daniel H. Wilson: IMG The Powell’s Playlist: Daniel H. Wilson



Like many writers, I'm constantly haunting coffee shops with a laptop out and my headphones on. I listen to a lot of music while I write, and songs... Continue »

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Rebecca Lexa has commented on (5) products.

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction by Gabor Mate
In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction

Rebecca Lexa, November 11, 2010

Do any research on addiction in the mainstream consciousness, and you'll almost immediately run into a plethora of pathologizing messages perpetuated by the U.S. "War on Drugs". These can basically be summed up as "Drugs are bad. Drug users are bad. Therefore, shun and stigmatize drug users to avoid getting hooked on drugs".

Yet the reality faced not only by addicts, but by those who work in the field to rehabilitate them, is that addiction isn't merely a value judgement. It is a coping mechanism, albeit one with many negative side effects, for dealing with a host of mental illnesses, traumas and other problems. Gabor Mate, a doctor who has been working with the population of addicts in Vancouver, B.C., writes a realistic and yet compassionate telling of his experiences not only as a treater of addicts, but as an addict himself.

Through his writings, it quickly becomes apparent that the solution to the problem of addiction is not so simple as getting drugs off the streets. There are reasons that addicts become hooked; no one goes in wanting massive health problems, a criminal background, and an inability to stop an increasingly destructive habit. Instead, Mate reveals the social, psychological, and personal elements that lead to and promote addiction. The reader is reminded again and again that addicts are also human beings, and that the only difference between "us" and "them" is how we each deal with the sometimes massive psychological stressors we may face in the course of life.

The book is nothing short of controversial. Mate makes a cogent argument for providing incurable or otherwise challenging addicts with safe, controlled amounts of whatever their drug is as a way to avoid promoting further criminal behavior in the pursuit of another hit. The reality he presents is that while yes, some people can ultimately replace their addiction with a better coping mechanism, it's not that simple for everyone, and so alternatives need to be in place if we are to restore these people to basic human dignity.

"In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts" is a much-needed counter to the constant barrage of overly simplistic, condescending, and marginalizing "Just Say No" sound bites. Written by someone who has done the work for years and is intimately as well as professionally familiar with addiction, these words carry an incredibly important message as we work to help people face the illness that is addiction.
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Changes (Dresden Files #12) by Jim Butcher
Changes (Dresden Files #12)

Rebecca Lexa, April 26, 2010

Jim Butcher is a $&*&@%!@%.

Why?

Because, quite frankly, even as quickly as he gets his books out, it's not fast enough. Especially after this one. Allow me to explain my ire without giving away too many spoilers.

For those who have read the series, remember Susan? Harry Dresden's ex-girlfriend who was taken away by the Red Court of vampires? She's back--on page one, no less--with the news that Dresden's a daddy, and has been for eight years. As if that's not enough, the little girl named Maggie has been kidnapped by the Red Court and Susan has come to ask for help. And that's all within the first chapter.

That opener sets the pace for a book full of nasty surprises, plot corkscrews, and the most overwhelming set of challenges that our black-sheep wizard protagonist has encountered--and we're talking about a guy who rode a reanimated Tyrannosaurus skeleton in a previous book. Instead of cluttering the storyline with a bunch of new characters, Butcher keeps it trimmed to the core, deepening our understanding of familiar faces as this newest set of trials opens them to greater vulnerability and risk.

As for readers who haven't yet discovered Butcher's works, while I generally suggest starting from the beginning, Butcher makes enough references to previous books that you should get the gist of what's going on sufficient to enjoy the story. He has a good sense of how much to share without being redundant, but allowing for a healthy refresher.

Oh, and I'm sure I'm not the only one of Butcher's fans who wants to throttle him for the ending. (Note to the author: we are just mollified enough by the fact that the series has several more books in the works.) But I won't spoil that for those of you who haven't gotten to read this one yet. You'll just have to find out for yourself.
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Toolbox for Sustainable City Living: A Do-It-Ourselves Guide (Do-It-Ourselves Guides) by Scott Kellogg
Toolbox for Sustainable City Living: A Do-It-Ourselves Guide (Do-It-Ourselves Guides)

Rebecca Lexa, July 4, 2009

Many resources on sustainability and permaculture focus on rural settings--buying a piece of open land, maybe an old farm, and restore it to a green paradise. This is a good goal to have, but not realistic for everyone. There's simply not enough room for everyone to have several acres--not unless we want to further crowd out wildlife and destroy more virgin wilderness. Like it or not, cities are a reality we have to live with, and so their greening is crucial to continued sustainability.

"Toolbox for Sustainable City Living" is a great starting point for this awareness and the action that springs forth from it. Based on the activities of the Rhizome Collective, who have created their own sustainability training center in Austin, TX, the text is a great resource for the urban dweller who wants to maintain their own small patch of city territory in as eco-friendly a manner as possible. It's divided into five areas of concern: Food, Water, Waste, Energy, and Bioremediation.

I say this is a great book for beginners, because it includes projects at all stages of sustainable development. They're not organized according to difficulty, but it's pretty apparent to this newbie that some of the projects are a bit out of my reach at this point. However, the variety is a strong point of the book, because it allows the beginner to have some low-hanging fruit--and then continue up the tree as resources and skills are available. I may not be ready to create my own greywater system, but I can certainly start up a vermicomposting bin. Additionally, if you're a renter and can only do so much with the property you're renting, there are still numerous options available to you right now, as well as things you can plan for in the future if you decide to buy your own home.

Be aware that because there are so many projects covered in this book, there are usually only a few pages at most dedicated to each, and the instructions may be bare-bones. This is a great book for brainstorming, but be prepared to supplement the information in it with other books, websites, classes and other resources. This makes it a very good book if you're looking for new ways to green your home, but don't let it be your only resource.

Overall, this book is exactly what I need right now. While I've been increasing the level of sustainability in my home for a few years, I'm still a relative novice, and the information gave me some great ideas as to what I can do beyond recycling, gardening, and cooking from scratch. I'll be hanging onto it for quite some time.
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Snark: It's Mean, It's Personal, and It's Ruining Our Conversation by David Denby
Snark: It's Mean, It's Personal, and It's Ruining Our Conversation

Rebecca Lexa, February 9, 2009

Snark! It's all over the internet, having been transmitted like a viral infection from traditional media. Now with the additional anonymity that comes so easily online, snark has exploded--and degraded in quality as well. Enter David Denby. In this fascinating exploration of snark as a form of humor, he clearly delineates where it's been, where it is now--and where it could potentially go.

Snark isn't a recent phenomenon, instead tracing its roots back to ancient Greece. Throughout its long and thorny history, its basic characteristics have remained the same--personal attacks designed to humiliate and denigrate, but with a certain amount of flair not found in simply abuse. Denby takes great pains to differentiate snark from its cousins, satire and sarcasm, and give it its own niche in the world of humor and commentary.

Yet snark has become cheapened in modern usage, and has lost enough of its edge to be a bludgeon instead. Denby spends an entire chapter dissecting the principles of modern snark, which ones are useful beyond the initial laugh, and which are merely juvenile posturing and insecurity. And this is where things get really good.

Without completely dismissing the art of snark, Denby skewers a number of modern snarkers (you may be startled by who gets targeted!). In doing so, he makes a heroic effort to rescue snark from the morass of merely vengeful abuse and anonymous internet harassment, and instead brings it back to its nobler purpose--social commentary and a call to a particular higher ideal (while still getting a chance to dig into someone's vulnerabilities for a laugh).
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Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body by Jennifer Ackerman
Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body

Rebecca Lexa, January 25, 2009

Our bodies are fascinating structures. In a twenty-four-hour world, it's entirely too easy to lose touch with them and their carefully orchestrated cycles. We condition ourselves to ignore hunger, fatigue, even illness, all in pursuit of work, play, and other activities. Unfortunately, this takes a toll on us over time.

Jennifer Ackerman, a writer for National Geographic among other publications, presents the result of her research and inquiry into circadian rhythms, the natural cycles of the body. Often associated with sleep, circadian rhythms influence numerous processes, from digestion to sex. These patterns aren't one-size-fits-all, and Ackerman does an excellent job of informing the reader just why it is that some of us, for example, can leap out of bed as soon as the sun's up while others crawl out for coffee at the crack of noon.

The book is organized in an innovative fashion. Ackerman begins with what happens when we first wake up and break our fast, then proceeds throughout the day, with meals and naps and--of course--work. Later chapters explore the night life (and the perils of the third shift), and finally bring us back around to what happens when we're asleep. This organization helps make the material a lot more relevant to literal everyday occurrences.

Ackerman has a knack for writing informatively and thoroughly, while keeping the material accessible to the layperson. This is a great book for commuting and other casual reading. For the very intrepid reader, there are extensive endnotes revealing her source material, a wealth of information for anyone wanting to explore beyond this book.

I know for myself that I've become much more aware of what I do to my body on a daily basis from reading this book. "Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream" is a great user's manual for the body, and it's one that I'll be using to adjust my habits in ways that are both feasible and effective.
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