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Ubik, by Phillip K. Dick, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, 2012, $13.95, 227 pp
Phillip K. Dick is everywhere. Eleven of his works have been adapted to film, the best-known being Minority Report, Total Recall and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? aka Blade Runner. The world of Ubik is no less of a mind-fuck. It follows Joe Chip on a quest to get back to 1992; Ubik's 1992. It's a weird futuristic amalgamation of fantasy and reality. Written in 1969, there are machines in Dick's 1992 that come very close to mirroring the technology of reality 1992. Dick writes with an economy of words. With the slightest detail he's able to convey solid, fleshed out characters and settings. His characters glide through the world like they're moving through gelatin; hallucinatory and dreamlike. In the end, Ubik plays out more philosophical than sci-fi. And, like its author, it too is everywhere.

The UFO Phenomenon, edited by Pat Daniels and Sara Schneidman, Time-Life Books, 1988, 160 pp. The editors have compiled thousands of sightings and encounters with unidentified flying objects. Volume three in the Mysteries of the Unknown series, it's a worthy attempt to provide an unbiased accounting of the phenomenon, representing views of believers and doubters alike. Includes some eyebrow-raising government explanations, including car lights, ball lightning and swamp gas. The book wraps up with some interesting theories about just where UFOs might be coming from.

Ultimate Punishment, by Scott Turow, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004, $18.00, 164 pp. Turow writes fictional legal thrillers that often wheedle their way onto The New York Times bestseller list. In Ultimate Punishment, he turns his pen on his own profession (he's a crimnal lawyer) and carefully weighs the pros and cons of the death penalty.

The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People, by Jonathan Schell, Metropolitan Books, 2003, $27.50, 433 pp. The author of the anti-war classic The Fate of the Earth is back. This time he argues against the usefulness of war to resolve conflict, in The Unconquerable World. If war, he reasons, leads to annihilation, then what's the point? Instead he advocates Ghandi-style nonviolent resistance.

Understanding Power: The Indespensible Chomsky, edited by Mitchell and Schoeffel, The New Press, 2001, $19.95, 450 pp. Here, the editors have assembled (in their judgement) the best of Noam Chomsky's talks on political power. Essential reading for both Chomsky veterans and new initiates alike.

Understanding the Bible, by John R.W. Stott, World Wide Publications, 1972, 254 pp. This book approaches the Bible as a portrait of Christ rather than a history of Judaism. In Stott's hands it's a compelling approach, although he risks further alienating Jews from Christians. What would Jesus do?

The Vegetarian Family Cookbook, by Nava Atlas, Viking, 2004, $17.95, 338 pp. Geared to the parent that's concerned about America's child obesity trend, this cookbook is chocked full of healthy recipes that taste great.

Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison's Kitchen, by Deborah Madison, Broadway Books, 2007, $19.95, 228 pp. These recipes are for suppers, not dinners, the author is quick to point out. The Difference? Dinner, according to Madison of San Francisco's Greens restaurant acclaim, is an event. Supper is a meal thrown together with what you've got on hand. Vegan concoctions abound.

Venturesome Vegetarian Cooking: Bold Flavors for Meat- and Dairy-Free Meals, by J.M. Hirsch and Michelle Hirsch, Surrey Books, 2004, $21.95, 210 pp. A collection of great-tasting vegan dishes that disprove the assumption that "vegetarian" need be synonymous with "bland."
The Virginian, by Owen Wister, Classic Press, 1968, 282 pp. Regularly featured in Harper's, Wister's stories of the Wild West were hugely popular, and they afforded him the means to travel there on a regular basis. By all accounts he'd fallen in love with the cowboys of the American frontier on a summer vacation in the 1880s. By 1902 he'd organized his experiences and the characters he'd met out west into a novel. The Virginian was the first cowboy novel, and remains the bellwether for an entire genre. Illustrated by Don Irwin.

Visions and Prophecies, edited by Pat Daniels and Sara Schneidman, Time-Life Books, 1988, 160 pp. This, Volume six of the Mysteries of the Unknown series, may leave the reader wanting. It delves into the "science" of fortune-telling (Numerology, Phrenology, Palmistry and more) but leaves out the very thing that makes this series a good read: critical analysis. Where are the detractors of Alphitomancy (the swallowing of a specially baked barley loaf for purposes of divination), Hippomancy (deciphering the future through the gait of horses during cermonial processions), and Zoomancy (foretelling future events through the interpretation of reports about imaginary animals and sea monsters)? Includes an interesting history of Tarot artwork.
A Visit With Magritte, by Duane Michals, Matrix, 1981, 60 pp. In 1965 Michals had the good fortune of meeting surrealist painter Rene Magritte. This book documents that encounter through intimate photographs taken at the artist's Brussels home.

Visits From the Afterlife, by Sylvia Browne and Lindsay Harrison, Dutton, 2003, $25.95, 269 pp. In Visits From the Afterlife, Browne promises to reveal "the truth about hauntings, spirits and reunions with loved ones." She begins by clarifying the difference between hauntings (spooky) and mere visitations (just plain creepy). In Browne's world - that is to say the world beyond the grave, the fourth dimension - there are two classes of citizenry: spirits and ghosts. She writes with a frank conversational style as if she just dropped in to gab about ghosts. It's noteworthy because in her candidness lies her gift to reach readers with afterlife weirdness that otherwise might go unconsidered. Includes tools to thwart psychic attacks.

Volunteer Vacations: Short-term Vacations That Will Benefit You and Others, edited by Bill McMillon, Doug Cutchins and Anne Geissinger, Chicago Review Press, 2006, $17.95, 435 pp. This, the ninth edition, profiles 150 organizations that run volunteer-vacation programs around the world. If your idea of a vacation entails more than relaxing poolside, this book is for you. Think of it as globalization for progressives.


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