“The Spark in the Machine” by Dr. Daniel Keown

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Subtitle: How the Science of Acupuncture Explains the Mysteries of Western Medicine

Recommended to me by:Tracy Andrews, LAc

This is a fascinating look at how acupuncture channels correspond with fascial planes and embryonic development. The author is a medical doctor as well as an acupuncturist, and includes vignettes of using acupuncture in the ER.

Unfortunately, as part of the correspondence with yin and yang, he emphasizes the “yin” passivity of the egg during fertilization. That has been debunked since the early 1970’s, as this article in Discover Magazine, June 1992 points out.

When he doesn’t have that basic fact about fertilization correct, I wonder how much poetic license goes into the rest of his information about fetal development. The book is still an interesting read though!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Tear Soup” by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen, illustrated by Taylor Bills

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Subtitle: A Recipe for Healing After Loss

Grandy, a “somewhat wise” grandmother with a long silver braid, has suffered a big loss. In gorgeous detailed illustrations we see her making tear soup with her tears, memories, and time. She grieves alone and with friends. She gives it all the time it needs, far longer than some people think it should take. Eventually she’s ready to put her soup in the freezer and only eat it occasionally.

A loving, compassionate look at grieving big losses in children’s book format, but appropriate for any age. Highly recommended.

Grief Watch website has more books, and a free download of the “cooking tips” and “recipe” from the back of this book.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

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Recommended to me by: my cousin

Bedridden with a severe neurological illness, Elisabeth Tova Bailey finds companionship and entertainment in watching a woodland snail go about its life on her bedstand. The snail is housed first with a potted violet plant, and then in an elaborate terrarium. The book describes the snail’s life in carefully observed, lyrical detail. Her illness, circumscribed life, and slow recovery are described along the way, but are not the focus.

Quoted from a letter:

I could never have guessed what would get me through this past year—a woodland snail and its offspring; I honestly don’t think I would have made it otherwise. Watching another creature go about its life…somehow gave me, the watcher, purpose too. If life mattered to the snail and the snail mattered to me, it meant something in my life mattered, so I kept on… Snails may seem like tiny, even insignificant things compared to the wars going on around the world or a million other human problems, but they may well outlive our own species.

I enjoyed learning more about snails, and about resilience. Recommended!

Elisabeth Tova Bailey website

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Come Shining” edited by Jill Elliott & Alison Towle Moore

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Recommended to me by: Tina Tau

I bought this book to read Tina Tau’s essay about going to sea on a sailing ship in 2016 with an international group of novice sailors. Her essay is a meditation on what it means to be American and how we look to the rest of the world, watching our political disarray and increasing gun violence with compassionate eyes.

The book grew out of a writing group “On Writing in a Dark Time,” with additional poems and essays from all over the country. The sections are “Facing the Darkness,” “Reflection in the Dark,” and “Finding Our Way Forward.”

I liked the individual essays and poems in the book, and each one does not feel depressing on its own, but collectively they weighed me down. I kept wandering away from the book and then finding it again and reading a few more, which is why I’m only posting about it now at the end of 2018.

I’ve found that in conversations with people about the dark times we are in, we naturally find an alternation between worry about ongoing disasters, and appreciation of the small details of the present. I wish this book had more of that alternation.

Recommended in small bites for its lively personal essays and poems, many anchored here in Portland.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Conversations on Writing” by Ursula K. Le Guin with David Naimon

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Recommended to me by: sturgeonslawyer

I read this because I will read anything by Ursula K. Le Guin, and alas there won’t be more wise words from her to read. I feel her loss as an emptiness in the world where her steadiness and integrity used to be.

The book is an edited transcription of radio interviews with David Naimon of KBOO here in Portland, divided into sections for fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. It includes a few excerpts by Le Guin and others that she referred to in their conversations.

A short, choppy book, great for learning little bits about Le Guin and about writing and about reading and about life.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Bikequity” edited by Elly Blue

book coverSubtitle: Money, Class, and Bicycling

Recommended to me by: Elly Blue at Microcosm Publishing bookstore

A collection of close to twenty articles about the intersection of biking, class, race, and social inequity from a variety of viewpoints. Each article was clear and engaging. Since I bike for transportation and care about social justice, this zine/small book felt comforting and inclusive to read. Recommended!

Available at Microcosm Publishing.

book coverI commented to Elly that I was starting to notice judgment about biking around as I near age 50, and she also recommended a smaller zine, “Pedal by Pedal, a zine about women over 40 who ride bicycles,” edited by Julie Brooks.  Also inclusive and comforting to read.  There are more women like me out there!

Available at Microcosm Publishing.

“The Educated Heart” by Nina McIntosh

book coverSubtitle: Professional Guidelines for Massage Therapists, Bodyworkers, and Movement Teachers

Recommended to me by: Ethics and Boundaries class in massage school

I re-read this book because I’m planning to write about dual relationships. Nina McIntosh writes lucidly about the need for clear boundaries as a bodyworker.

The book is filled with guidelines and anecdotes from her own practice and from extensive research and interviews with other bodyworkers. “Being professional is an educated way of being kind.” A strong framework around scheduling and fees helps clients feel safer and keeps practices running more smoothly. Attention to the daily small ethical and boundary decisions helps avoid big disasters.

Highly recommended for practitioners who use touch, and for clients who want to better understand their responses to different practitioners. This book is dear to my heart and had a big influence on how I run my practice.

This blog post by Laura Allen talks about meeting Nina McIntosh, and sadly, about her death from ALS in 2010. Laura Allen put out a 4th edition of “The Educated Heart” in 2017.

“The Newcomers” by Helen Thorpe

book coverSubtitle: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom

Recommended to me by: My friend Linda K.

Helen Thorpe spent a year and a half observing and helping in an ELA (English Language Acquisition) class at South High School in Denver Colorado. Her journalist’s eye is both clear and compassionate as she watches a classroom of newly arrived teen refugees from around the world learn English basics.

I remember when ELA used to be called ESL, English as a Second Language, but it is an apt name change since some of these kids already speak three or four languages, and maybe read and write in three or four alphabets.

Both the school as a whole and the beginning ELA teacher Mr. Williams in particular are dedicated to welcoming kids from around the world and helping them succeed.

I was worried that the book would focus on the tragedy of young refugee lives, or look down on the kids, but the book celebrates them as strong, determined, resilient young people. Difficult circumstances and traumatic stories are described with a light touch, clearly and with compassion.

Helen Thorpe gets to know the kids by interacting with them in class (with the help of Google translate on their phones), interviewing them with hired translators, and visiting a few of them at home to talk with their parents. She also learns about the history of war and oppression that has caused these families (and some unaccompanied minors) to flee their homes, sometimes multiple times.

After the school year, she visits the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is still in crisis, and meets some relatives of one of the families she got to know.

The book was written in 2016. It shows both the dedication of the people who help refugees get oriented and settled in the US, and the worsening effect of Trump’s rhetoric on students who are harassed on city buses for wearing hijab or having dark skin. It ends with Trump’s election and the shock of knowing that refugees need help more than ever, but not having an incoming caseload because of Trump’s Muslim Ban.

Highly recommended! Learn about what refugees’ lives are really like, and how hard the lucky ones who make it into the US work to become established here, while enjoying getting to know this group of teens and the people around them.

Population Mountains – a way to visualize the population and surroundings of some of the cities the immigrants came from (not affiliated with the book).

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Nurturing Resilience” by Kathy L. Kain and Stephen J. Terrell

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Subtitle: Helping Clients Move Forward from Developmental Trauma, An Integrative Somatic Approach

Recommended to me by: Taking a class from Kathy Kain

I took a 3 day class from Kathy Kain last year and learned techniques that I use every day in my practice, so I was excited about this book. It turned out to be dry to read and only talked about a couple of techniques at the end, which I had already learned in the class. On the positive side, the extensive client examples include gay parents and genderqueer clients.

The first part introduces attachment, polyvagal theory, and neurological development. Interoception is perception of our internal state. Exteroception is perception of the external environment through vision, hearing, touch, etc. Neuroception is the perception of safety and threat. Interactions with parents and other caregivers help an infant make sense of incoming stimuli and assess safety vs. threat. Without playful and caring interactions, the infant develops a strong sense of what is a threat, but does not develop a sense of what feels safe.

They discuss the ACE study and the health effects of early trauma. The Window of Tolerance is the nervous system’s comfortable, functional, social state. Threats result in hyperarousal (fight or flight) and hypoarousal (freeze, immobility). Someone with a dysregulated nervous system has a very small window of tolerance. They may have a faux window of tolerance, where they manage to function despite being under physiological stress.

The second half of the book more directly discusses clinician interventions for clients with developmental trauma. The emphasis is on teaching the nervous system how to stay more regulated, and to offer co-regulation, where the client’s nervous system is steadied by the clinician’s regulation. The authors emphasize that developmental trauma is largely non-verbal, patterned in the body, so interventions need to address the body directly.

Interventions they discuss: gentle touch on the kidney area of the lower back, and helping the client practice noticing same/different around their triggers.

Recommended if you want a lot of information about developmental trauma, and don’t mind a somewhat uneven presentation.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“My Brother’s Husband Volume 2” by Gengoroh Tagame

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Recommended to me by: Reading Volume 1

This graphic novel is the second half of Mike’s visit to his dead husband’s brother’s family in Japan. It’s a quick read, and at the same time touches on a lot of emotionally powerful themes. The meaning of “family.” Making things right after a family member has died suddenly. Being in the closet, and out of it, as a gay man in Japan. Politeness, and its difference from kindness and courage.

For example, young Kana and her friends openly welcome her gay uncle Mike, in contrast to the more guarded welcome of the adults. Yaichi (Kana’s father) does come around in the end.

Recommended for learning more about Japanese culture, and for seeing how hidden homophobia can change under gentle pressure.

Available at Powell’s Books.