In the Stacks: Books on reptiles, Buddhists top this week's library selections

Posted: Sunday, November 23, 2003

There's so much great new non-fiction this week that I had a hard time picking what to write about! Here's what really caught my eye:

"Alaska to Nunavut," by Neil Hartling with photographs by Terry Parker. Looking for an excuse to plan a river trip? One flip through the breathtaking photos in this book of northern rivers will be enough to send you scrambling for maps. The book features brief facts about 10 rivers in Alaska and Canada, a bit about each area's history and geology, as well as excerpts from previous travelers' adventures. This slim book is just enough to give readers a taste of what's out there.

"Firefly Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians," edited by Tim Halliday and Kraig Adler. Every page I open to in this book has more amazing photos than the page before: glass frogs (yes, they really are transparent), newts in defensive positions, close-ups of the special pads on the undersides of gecko's feet, snakes swallowing eggs bigger than their heads, and more. Great photo captions will draw you into the text, which is comprehensive and well organized. It's amazing for browsing, and students doing reports will find this a great resource, though younger ones will need help with the text since it is aimed at adults.

"Spoken Here," by Mark Abley. The difficulties in keeping languages alive in cultures that have been over-run by Westerners are well-known here in Alaska, and reading about other cultures working to maintain their language and culture in Australia, Indonesia and even the United Kingdom is fascinating. Abley poses many philosophical questions that do not have answers, for instance: If a dying language borrows words for concepts that don't exist in that language, does the language become polluted? Or does the borrowed word improve the language's chances at relevance, and thus, survival?

"Our Own Devices," by Edward Tenner. NPR calls Tenner "the philosopher of everyday technology." Here he takes on what he calls "body technology" -everything from athletic shoes to baby bottles - and mulls over the ways in which changing technologies change the way our bodies and minds function. Unintended consequences result from seemingly innocuous activities. Wearing shoes, for instance, protects our feet but rearranges bones and changes our natural gait. It's thoughtful and fun reading.

"What I've always known," by Tom Harmer. Harmer, a white man living in the Pacific Northwest, apprentices himself to a Salish elder in this galvanizing memoir. He learns to interpret his dreams, track and hunt deer and participate in sweatlodges and healing ceremonies in his quest to discover what it means to live in full awareness of the Earth. He writes well and without affectation about his spiritual and physical lives and how both change as he begins to focus on them.

"This Precious Life," by Khandro Rinpoche. Rinpoche, a Buddhist nun who was brought up in Tibet, writes about the core concepts of Buddhist philosophy. She is basic enough for beginners, but thorough enough for more advanced practitioners. She addresses human birth, impermanence, suffering, karma and refuge with thoughtfulness, humor and compassion.

"The Mummy at the Dining Room Table," by Jeffrey A. Kottler and Jon Carlson. This fascinating book collects cases from 30 eminent therapists, who answered the question: What was your most unusual case? Their answers show how widely human behavior ranges in the face of a huge variety of situations. Most interesting to me were the therapists' reflections on the ways the cases were handled at the time and the ways in which these difficult cases influenced the therapists themselves.

"The Chess Artist," by J.C. Hallman. A window into the world of chess, where down-jacketed die-hards, barely able to move the pieces, play in a Manhattan park, and a convicted murderer uses a chess game to try to escape from prison. Part of this world is the Russian province of Kalmykia, whose leader is a chess-obsessed former prodigy who has declared chess a compulsory school subject and built "Chess City." Part history, part travelogue, part memoir - all interesting!

"Crisis on the Korean Peninsula," by Michael O'Hanlon and Mike Mochizuki. Is there a way to avoid war with North Korea? The authors of this book, both foreign policy scholars, say that yes, there are ways to pacify North Korea and maintain stability in Asia despite the nuclear threat.

•••

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. In honor of the holiday, all branches of the Juneau Public Library will be closed Thursday. Also, the Juneau and Douglas libraries will be closed on Friday. The Mendenhall Valley Library will be open Friday, but there will be no storytime.

• If you'd like to place a hold on any of these titles, call the Juneau Public Library at 586-5249. If you have Internet access, your library card and a PIN, you may place your own holds by going to our Web site (www.juneau.org/library) and looking at our catalog.



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