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A Marine Iraq War Vet Named Matt: An American Story in His Own Words

Recorded by James Vince

Toy Room Recordings, $15/CD

Though the setting is new, the themes are familiar. What else is there to be said about war? Only the details of each soldier's unique experience distinguish the tales fraught with fear, brutality, dehumanization and perhaps most evidently in this 76-minute audio release, confusion. Matt, just a guy in front of a microphone, often repeats that he's not sure why, between his two tours, he took drugs or beat an elderly man for no reason. But while fighting in Iraq, he witnessed "merciless" behavior — it's how he was trained to be after enlisting at age 17 — everything from the slaughter of civilians to abusive home raids based on faulty intelligence. After contemplating his own suicide, he later heard of the self-destruction of "the best Marine in our company." For Matt, it was a wake-up call. Consider this stark account as part of his therapy. — Matthew Schniper


Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life

Karen Armstrong

Knopf, $22.95/hardcover

Religious historian Karen Armstrong (A History of God, A Short History of Myth) turns her sights to spiritual practice. We ought to return, she argues, to compassion as the core of religious and spiritual tradition. She offers 12 steps (how else do we organize change?) to an enlightenment expressed in everyday actions toward others, tacking against the wind of fundamentalism, orthodoxy and abuse prevalent in current religion, with a perspective grounded in Sam Harris' The Moral Landscape: Morality based in compassion or empathy makes us human. Armstrong's intellectual foundation makes this more palatable, but it's still reminiscent of Buddhism-lite, Eckhart Tolle, self-help pablum. If Oprah still had a show, this would get her booked. — Kel Munger


Fire: A Queer Film Classic

Shohini Ghosh

Arsenal Pulp Press, $14.95/paperback

This entry in the Arsenal Pulp Press series on queer cinema is a standout, as Ghosh provides historical and cultural context within India and its film industry. She explores the creative process that led to the film Fire, and how it resonated with Hindu mythology. She also examines the political moment in which the film originated, including the rise of powerful right-wing Hindu activism during the first screenings and media's role in creating a controversy. This is that rare academic film text that a simple movie fan will enjoy. — Kel Munger

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