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Spanking the Donkey: Dispatches from the Dumb Season by Matt Taibbi (New Press hardback). Not one of the "popular kids" on the high school-esque Democratic campaign trail, muckraking Taibbi felt free to take acid during debates, don a gorilla costume to question John Kerry, and seek out real people instead of scripted photo-ops. The result is a hilariously acerbic take on the made-for-TV candidates and the media who make them. The bulk of this book has been published in the pages of Rolling Stone, the New York Press and The Nation, but it's worth shelling out hardback prices just to read extra material from Taibbi's experiences going undercover as a Bush campaign volunteer in Florida. -- Karen Shugart

Dr. Futurity by Philip K. Dick (Vintage paperback). Vintage continues its valuable Philip K. Dick reissue series with one of the sci-fi genius' darker novels (and that's saying something). A renowned doctor, Jim Parsons, finds himself hundreds of years in the future where society is in the throes of passionate death worship and it's illegal to save lives. Parsons becomes involved in a life-saving underground with results that resonate in our own culture's destructive bent. One of Dick's specialties was the "time-travel-gone-bad" story and this is one of his best. -- Dana Renaldi

Creating the Land of the Sky by Richard D. Starnes (University of Alabama hardback). With a subtitle like "Tourism and Society in Western North Carolina," I expected a dry, academic treatise, but fortunately I was wrong. Starnes, a Western Carolina prof, relates how tourism grew as a major economic force in the NC mountains, beginning in the 19th century, then blooming with the growth of American consumer culture and its fascination with romanticized versions of "hillbillies" and the Cherokees. He does a great job of recounting the tensions that developed when tourist attractions did little to improve the lives of those who lived in the mountains, as well as the conflicting effects of selling regional culture to the mainstream. -- John Grooms

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