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Page 32: Five Short Takes on New Vermont Books

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Seven Days writers can't possibly read, much less review, all the books that arrive in a steady stream by post, email and, in one memorable case, a murder of magpies. So this monthly feature is our way of introducing you to five books by Vermont authors. To do that, we contextualize each book just a little and quote a single representative sentence from, yes, page 32.

Inclusion here implies neither approval nor derision on our part, but simply: Here are a bunch of books, arranged alphabetically by authors' names, that Seven Days readers might like to know about.

The Green Mountains Deep: Fiction About Disabled Vermonters by a Disabled Vermonter

Jill M. Allen, Railroad Street Press, 116 pages. $12.

It's embarrassing to still be drinking your parents' blood when you're in your twenties.

That wonderful sentence comes from "Dead Zone," a short story in which a young woman's fortunes change precipitously after her wheelchair bogs down in the mud of a Montpelier cemetery. Suffice it to say, the denouement involves vampires, but not in the way you'd expect. "I wrote this book to fill holes," writes Jill M. Allen of Burlington in her introduction to this short volume of prose and poetry, self-published through St. Johnsbury's Railroad Street Press. Few fictions spotlight characters with disabilities without making disability the center of the narrative, she points out, and even fewer are actually written by authors with disabilities. Allen fills those holes with writing that's sparkling, witty and fun, whether she's spoofing traditional ballads or introducing us to characters such as a scrappy Vermont farm girl whose boyfriend surprises her with a pink wheelchair lift on their own unusual version of Valentine's Day. We hope she'll produce a second volume.

— M.H.

The Avant Garde of Western Civ

David Holdridge, Press Americana, 222 pages. $15.

The concrete in our projects didn't dry and our "burn rate" or "money spent" was significantly behind donor expectations.

In David Holdridge's memoir of his years heading charity relief and reconstruction efforts in Iraq after "Shock and Awe" (remember that?), the "donors" are the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Defense. While those entities' representatives remained safely ensconced in Baghdad's Green Zone, Holdridge lived and worked among Iraqis, encouraging them to take ownership of civil projects funded by the U.S. The fraught world of American aid abroad deserves every revealing window it can get, and Holdridge's perspective is chilling. A pool gets built in Kut and quickly sinks; women in black abayas are the key to change but nearly impossible to reach. "A few Western civ types are not likely to overturn thousands of years of traditional decision making," Holdridge observes early on; by the end, he believes the U. S. Agency for International Development should be "abolished." Discursive and lacking some basic factual framing, Holdridge's narrative is also bracingly honest in its cynicism.

— A.L.

Timeless Truths for Modern Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to a More Focused and Quiet Mind

Arnie Kozak, Skyhorse Publishing, 272 pages. $19.99.

Your spiritual growth will benefit to the extent that you can hold to the three principles of self-reliance, anti-speculation, and responsibility.

Arnie Kozak is a clinical assistant professor in psychiatry at the University of Vermont College of Medicine and the author of numerous books on Buddhism, introversion, meditation and mindfulness. The last term, which has gained attention in recent years, refers to the cultivation of a mental state in which one focuses on the present while accepting one's feelings, thoughts and sensations. Timeless Truths, due out in mid-January, is geared toward beginners in the field, promising to "[tell] you everything you need to know to get rid of stress and gain newfound peace." While getting through this book might be somewhat of a haul — it includes nearly 300 pages about learning not to do stuff, and the last two sections are called "Going Deeper" and "Going Even Deeper" — Kozak's dips into first person keep the text relatable. If recent events have you fretting about the future, this guidebook to living in the present could be just what the doctor ordered.

— S.W.

Caveat

George Osol, Onion River Press, 296 pages. $14.95.

They were arrested for planning an attack on the Paris Metro of all things — coordinated explosions during rush hour.

George Osol is a professor at the University of Vermont College of Medicine who's published numerous scientific papers, as well as an essay on the poetry of Jim Morrison. Caveat, released by Phoenix Books' new self-publishing arm, is his first novel. It tackles more than a handful of hefty issues, including romantic betrayal and terrorism. Michael is a cyber-security expert struggling in his marriage. After his wife tells him she no longer loves him, he hops across the Atlantic to Paris, hitching up with a mysterious woman along the way. Soon he's embroiled in an explosive affair. While Osol's grasp of perspective can be shaky, and not all readers will be comfortable with Michael's attitude toward women, this novel has plenty of action to keep it moving.

— S.W.

Memory Warp: How the Myth of Repressed Memory Arose and Refuses to Die

Mark Pendergrast, Upper Access Books, 444 pages. $19.95.

Throughout her months of "remembering," Michelle disclosed that she had been held naked in a cage full of snakes, that the sadists had burned and butchered stillborn babies and fetuses in her presence, killed kittens, and forced her to perform lurid sexual acts.

Readers will surmise from this book's title, and the quote above, Vermont author Mark Pendergrast's position on the concept of repressed, or recovered, memory. The jacket copy is sprinkled with such phrases as "the worst pseudoscience in psychology" and "dangerous junk science theories." Actual social science agrees: The American Psychological Association has stated unequivocally that little or no empirical evidence supports the notion of recovered memory, at least regarding child sexual abuse.

Yet, back in the 1980s, a tsunami of such claims emerged, along with widespread — and ultimately discredited — panic about "Satanic ritual abuse." Pendergrast has been down this road before with his 1995 book Victims of Memory. According to this new tome, he has reason to believe the recovered-memory phenomenon has, well, recovered. Memory Warp explains why and delves further into the science that still says it isn't a thing. Though a dense read, the book is a dramatic clarion call and includes an advice section for families, advocates and even attorneys.

— P.P.


The original print version of this article was headlined "Short Takes on Five Vermont Books"

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