Thought-provoking winter reads

Although the longest night of the year came and went in December, darkness still arrives early in January.

When the couch or easy chair calls your name during these long evenings, consider spending those moments wrapped up in a cozy blanket, reading a book that stretches your mind. That way, you can count your couch time as an asset toward your list of New Year's goals, instead of a liability.

To help you choose your winter reading list, we asked local booksellers to recommend their favorite books with backbone. Read on for their suggestions.

Politics and economics

It seems as if this year's presidential election is weighing heavy on the minds of the booksellers at Powell's Books at Cedar Hills Crossing (3415 S.W. Cedar Hills Blvd.), because several of their book suggestions centered on economics and politics.

Bookseller Phil Clark recommended 'Cracking the Code: How to Win Hearts, Change Minds and Restore America's Original Vision' by local author Thom Hartmann.

Hartmann's previous book, 'Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class - And What We Can Do About It,' won a silver medal in the 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards. He is also the host of a nationally syndicated Air America radio program and of a daily morning show on Portland's KPOJ radio.

The 'code' Hartmann refers to in the title of his latest book is the code of communication. Most of us, he believes, are 'unconsciously incompetent' communicators.

'Cracking the Code' promises to teach readers how to become more effective communicators: how to tell a story, to whom to tell that story and why. Armed with these communication tools, Hartmann's readers should be better able to dissect and react to political messages.

Hartmann writes: 'Some politicians' efforts at persuasion are conscious, intentional, systematic and, of necessity, deceptive because they don't share the worldview held by the majority of Americans. To respond, the rest of us must learn to communicate more effectively.'

On Jan. 22, the Washington County Peak Oil Reading Group, which meets monthly on fourth Tuesdays at the Cedar Hills Powell's, will discuss 'Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future,' by global warming activist Bill McKibben.

In 'Deep Economy,' McKibben argues that 'more' is no longer 'better' for the global economy. Because of the uneven distribution of wealth, fixating on bigger and faster economic growth doesn't serve the best interests of the majority of the world's population.

McKibben also points out that 'simple, cheap, concentrated power lies at the heart of our modern economies' - i.e. fossil fuels. Experts project that we will deplete the world's supply of fossil fuels in the not-so-distant future, using up what McKibben calls 'a onetime gift that underwrote a onetime binge of growth.'

One of the Cedar Hills Powell's managers, Frank Payne, suggested readers pick up 'The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,' by Naomi Klein, a choice which was seconded by Will Peters, the book buyer at Annie Bloom's Books in Multnomah Village (7834 S.W. Capitol Highway).

Klein is an award-winning journalist whose column for The Nation and The Guardian is syndicated internationally. About four years ago, Klein began investigating the free market's response to shocking events like war, terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

She traveled to Baghdad, to Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami, and to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. She found that businesses were treating these tragedies as economic opportunities, using the public's disorientation after these massive collective shocks to achieve control.

Klein wrote: 'By the time Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, it was clear that this was now the preferred method of advancing corporate goals: using moments of collective trauma to engage in radical social and economic engineering.'

Peters, Annie Bloom's book buyer, says that 'The Shock Doctrine' is a very important book 'in this age, as the world is increasingly globalized.'

The culture of food

Have you ever talked with a child who thinks that carrots originate in plastic bags, or that fish are square, because that's the shape of frozen fish sticks? At first it seems funny, but if you stop and think about how far removed most of our food is from its original state, odds are that your smile will fade fast.

Our diets today are mostly made up of what author Michael Pollan describes as 'edible foodlike substances,' processed packages of nutrients that our great-great grandmothers wouldn't even recognize as food.

As a result, we no longer know how to eat. We rely on a plethora of 'experts' with their own agendas to tell us what we should and shouldn't eat, how much, and even when we should eat it.

In his latest release, 'In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto' Pollan aims to answer the questions raised in his previous book, 'The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.' Can we reclaim the joy of eating while supporting our communities and protecting the environment?

Payne, a manager at the Cedar Hills Powell's, and Annie Bloom's book buyer, Peters, both feel that this is an intriguing book.

As Peters puts it, 'It should be thought-provoking for anyone, as everyone eats.'

Concerned by many of the same issues that Pollan addresses - such as the fact that the average American meal travels about 1,500 miles before it reaches the end consumer - best-selling author Barbara Kingsolver and her family decided to spend one year procuring as much of their food as possible from their back yard, or from neighboring farms.

Kingsolver, her husband, and her 19-year-old daughter all contributed to 'Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,' which is part journalistic investigation and part memoir of the family's year of eating local. The book comes recommended by Brandi Rinauro, a bookseller at the Cedar Hills Powell's.

Finally, if you're interested in learning more about how we came to eat the way we do, check out 'Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes From and Why We Need to Get it Back,' by Oregon author Ann Vileisis.

By studying old cookbooks and historic advertisements, Vileisis chronicled the changes in how our nation has shopped, cooked and thought about food over two centuries.

If none of the above titles pique your interest, stop by your neighborhood bookstore and ask what's new in your favorite section. Or visit to find the Book Sense Picks, a monthly selection of eclectic new books chosen by independent booksellers.

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