Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Big Little Lies


Big Little Lies
by Liane Moriarty

As vacation comes to an end, I finished another RA Favorite book: Big Little Lies by Liane Morairty.  Set in Australia, the book brings together the stories of a group of mothers whose children are entering kindergarten in a local public school.  Each of the three main characters are connecting through their children and their own journeys in life: neglect, refusal, and rape/domestic violence at the hands of men.  At the same time, a side story is presented through the children, one of whom is wrongly accused of bullying another child in the classroom.  In the end, the characters and stories all tie in when a tragedy occurs involving the death of one of the women's husbands.  In many ways, the book reminds me of a Jodi Piccoult book, where the story is okay but the message is the ‘main thing’ that makes it worth reading.  I have heard that the book turned into a movie/TV series, which was pretty popular.  Unsure how different the book is from the movie.  I did listen to this one on tape, so the dramatic effect was much akin to a movie.  It is a microcosm of much of what happens in our society today: ‘urban legend’ fiction becoming fact and the inevitable bonding over shared misery.  A bit of what was termed many years ago as the “chick flick” genre.  Real life at its best.  It does have some good “oh wow, I didn’t expect that” moments.  Probably a good beach read. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

I'm Still Here


I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
by Austin Channing Brown

Thanks to Tyler Miller for suggesting I read I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown. The book was suggested as an additional reading for my class on campus communities, which I think fits very nicely.  The author shares her real life experience as a black woman in a white world.  She begins by sharing how she is a ‘minority’, one of only a few black children in her school, and the experience of hearing the “n” word used by a classmate. She also details the tiring role of being an educator when a well-meaning white person shows both their privilege and their ignorance through words/actions.  What I appreciate in the book is the author’s honesty and transparency, not hiding the exhaustion resulting from her daily work as a racial justice educator.  Brown’s book differs from others by bringing in the Christian perspective, which speaks to me.  She packs a great deal of lessons in this very short 180+ page read.  For being such a young woman, Brown provides valuable life lessons, and I would add this as a must-read for all white people who really want to understand the daily challenges of living in the skin of a black person.  Ignorance doesn’t cut it, so read books like Brown’s or Renee Watson’s book (from the perspective of a high school student) or Ta-Nehisi Coates’ (a contemporary black author) who also shares his life experiences, raw and personal.  White America still needs to hear the lessons that MLK, James Baldwin, and Malcom X shared fifty years ago, many of which seem to have gone unheard.  It is more than time to be uncomfortable and hear first-hand how we are stuck as a society in the US, still bound in the chains that don’t let people of color be truly free from the verbal and non-verbal, conscious or unconscious, attacks that occur each and every day.  Important read for all.

  

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Healing of America


The Healing of America
by T. R. Reid

I often wonder how students select their favorite book, and this one is no different.  While the book is very educational and helpful in understanding the state of health care in our society today, I don’t think I would take it with me to a deserted island or give it to a best friend for a present.  Nonetheless, it provides perspective on how different countries approach health care.  The book, The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care by T. R. Reid, details the author’s journey to get his shoulder ‘fixed’ from an old injury sustained while in the military. During the process, he decides to find how other country’s health care would address his needs as a patient.  Reid actually visited physicians and had the same injury evaluated and was also able to get costs for the corrective work.  Needless to say, the US system was one of the worst!  (Note this was done prior to the health care reform bill passed during President Obama’s term in office).  As Reid argues, providing health care to all citizens is a moral and ethical issue, so why doesn’t the US do it just as the rest of the world?  Reid goes to France (rated #1 by the World Health Organization), Germany, Japan, UK, Canada and Asia to see physicians.  He provides in-depth data that helps to illustrate how far behind we really are in relation to other countries (with the exception of our research and facilities/equipment).  In the end, we should provide equal access to all.  Again, helpful read for all, but especially those studying global public health or related fields.  Will become dated in a few years as it was written in 2009.  

Friday, July 27, 2018

Parenting Out of Control


Parenting Out of Control
by Margaret K. Nelson

Thanks to Kristin Balicki for sharing this book as part of the preparation for Pre-College students at NYU.  She used the books to prepare staff who will interact with parents and their high school students coming to NYU this summer.  The book is called Parenting Out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Times by Margaret Nelson, a sociologist at Middlebury College specializing in parenting.  The book is the result of a study of 97 parents across socio-economic backgrounds and various regions of the United States to better understand how they “manage” the relationship between them and their children.  Her question focused on the motivation of parents who were adamant about knowing their child’s every move and would buy into any technology that secured that knowledge.  She then wondered if these were the same parents who were engaged in hyper vigilant practices – so controlling of their children and unwilling to launch them into adulthood. Nelson clearly did her homework given the hundreds of citations throughout the book.  My critique of the book is that it is rather redundant.  After she answers the questions early in chapter two, the rest of the book continues to answer the same question.  The final conclusion? Middle class parents who work in professions considered to be “white-collar” seem to be more hands off than lower socio-economic class parents who have more to worry about their children because they aren’t there to watch them.  OK.…  97 parents being interviewed made for a pretty generalizable study?  I’ll leave that for the reader to decide.  I was hoping for a bit more information on the parenting piece.  The info on the latest technology parents could use was quite robust.  In many ways, I felt like it was a book more about the technology and what was working/not working for parents.  Ho-hum…. Read the conclusion, probably all you need to read.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Art of Community

The Art of Community 
by Charles H. Vogl

When I did a call to Facebook friends for books on “community” for the class I am teaching in the fall, I didn’t expect to find such a great book in The Art of Community by Charles Vogl. He learned about community through the process of forming one as a PhD student at Yale.  Vogl draws upon the rich history of the various religious heritages to illustrate his seven principles of community. The book is easy to read and can help any community organizer, religious leader, or even a student affairs professional.  Vogl, who never felt he experienced true community before, learns how to do it, and then goes on to write about it.  So accessible and a real treat for anyone who needs to train RAs in the coming month for building community.  Thanks to Elizabeth Cox for sending the recommendation!  I’ll be using the book for class in the fall.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Sing, Unburied, Sing


Sing, Unburied, Sing
by Jesmyn Ward

And yes, the rain continues…so I finished yet another book, this one a gift from the President’s Office at NYU for assisting in the selection process for the Presidential Fellows initiative. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward is an award-winning book set in rural, “deep south” Mississippi.  This is a beautiful story that brought tears to my eyes.  Written in the voices of three characters, a grandson (JoJo), a mother (Leonie), and a man who died at a young age (Richie, who served in jail with JoJo’s grandfather decades ago), come together to explore their fears and what got them to today.  Family dynamics are a very complicated thing, but add race, hate, and the evils that become of them into the lives of one black family in the depths of Mississippi and it’s a whole different story.  Pop, JoJo’s grandfather, serves as his father when Jojo’s real father, Michael, a white man, is imprisoned.  Pop and Mam, his grandmother who suffers from terminal cancer, have raised him and his younger sister, Kayla, while his mother, Leonie, works (or does drugs, whichever she has the time or money to do).  It is usually the evils in the past that cloud the present, and, for this family it is the tragic death (murder) of their son (Leonie’s brother, Given) and the death of Pop’s friend from decades before that has this family where they are today.  Ward interweaves the spirits of the past into this haunting reality.   I highly recommend this book to all.  The truth of how our pasts never leave us is front and foremost in this book.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Piecing Me Together


Piecing Me Together
by Renee Watson

I have no idea how this book got on my desk, but I read it as the rain continued to come down during this vacation…oh well.  Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson is another young-adult book but could be read by anyone looking to better understand the power of prejudice and the significance of skin color in the world today.  Jade, a poor black teen growing up in Portland, Oregon, receives a scholarship to a predominantly white private high school and is forced to leave behind some of her best friends, who are also black.  Her mother reminds her that her education will help her escape the socio-economic challenges that her family faces.  Jade’s journey includes joining a young women’s empowerment program though her school, which ultimately leaves her with a scholarship to college.  Her assigned mentor, an alum of the school and a black woman with financial means, faces significant challenges as a result of her disparate life experience.  The book provides a terrific learning opportunity for readers on: difference within race; paying attention to the subtext of messages; and the complexities of race/socio-economic differences.  Watson hits the mark in this easy-to-read tale aimed at young adults, but it is a valuable read for all who care about changing the narrative of this generation.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Uprooted


Uprooted
by Naomi Novik

Enter the fantasy world known as the kingdom of Polnya, and the life of Agnieszka, a teenage girl whose world gets turned upside down when she is chosen at an annual ceremony at which a young teenager is chosen to live with ‘the Dragon’.  Naomi Novik’s Uprooted is a fun and engaging young-adult book whose purpose is to bring you into a world of wonder, surprise, friendship, and suspense.  We are first surprised that young Agnieszka is the Dragon’s choice as opposed to Kasia, the beautiful best friend of Agnieszka.  The Dragon is allowed to choose a teenage girl as a reward for serving as the protector of the land for the King.  While Agnieszka is initially an unexpected choice, we later learn why: she has secret powers she didn’t know she had – but the dragon did!  When the Dragon is called away to rescue the land from evil powers, Agnieszka is called home (to help Kasia) and realizes she has special powers that can help save townspeople.  During the escapade, she almost dies and is rescued by the Dragon, who is not happy with her for leaving the tower.  Later, her friend Kasia is captured and brought into the forest where she is permanently stuck into the wood.  Again, Agnieszka and the Dragon are needed to remove the evil spirits within her and attempt to extricate the evil spirits.  The last and major fight for Agnieszka, the Dragon, and Kasia involves the King’s son, Marek, who wants to find his mother who has been trapped in the evil woods for years.  The ensuing journey has a great deal of surprises for Agnieszka and the Kingdom of Polnya.  A fun read that keeps you interested through the end.  Friendship always seems to rue the day in this classic young-adult book.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness


The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
by Arundhati Roy

A rainy first day of my summer vacation, so I decided to finish reading The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy.  The book is set in India over a period of a few decades.  I can’t say I loved the book as the stories developed slowly with lots of new characters interspersed throughout. Additionally, the two main characters intersect eventually through the war and the ensuing destruction that occurred in India during the late 1980s to early 2000s.  While the stories were slow in terms of action and significant details, some of the characters and their lives piqued my interest.  There are two main characters: Aftab, the son of a Muslim couple, who was born with male and female body parts; and Tilo, a female architect who gets caught in the intelligence service of India and the leader’s heinous attacks on anyone in his way.  The reader learns first-hand the impact that living in the Middle East (Iraq, Iran, Syria) has on the common people.  One of the more interesting stories involves Aftab changing his name to Anjum and transitioning to female and a ‘hijra” (an intersex person in the Indian culture).  Anjum’s transition, life within the hijra community, becoming a mother, and attempting to find happiness in a world that is full of destruction is her challenge.  Tilo’s journey includes falling in love, escaping the violence and destruction around her, and arriving to a better understanding of her role in the life of others. Lots of people come into and leave her life throughout the story.  It was twenty years between books for Roy, and she clearly utilized a good amount of historical moments in time here, including battles that occurred throughout the Middle East.  An important story in better understanding the devastation that so many experienced – I just didn’t connect with the intermingling of the various stories.   

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Healing of America


The Healing of America
by James Morrison

I hate when I read the wrong book…same title, different author.  Though a bit dated and inaccurate in some of its predictions, The Healing of America by James L. Morrison is a good read. Written in 1997, the book focuses on welfare reform in the late 1990s.  Morrison provides great data trends (the wealthy are getting wealthier – that continues to be true), but not all of his predictions make it to the present.  His most compelling arguments come in the last chapter: how to reform the welfare system.  “The inner city is the land of the forgotten”, though in some cases the inner city is composed of the ultra-rich, such as in Manhattan, San Francisco, and other booming cities. The poor, on the other hand, are driven to the “other side of that line” to places perceived as more “invisible”.  We do need to continue to balance individual and community rights, create more self-directed communities, change laws that harbor prejudice towards people of color, and enter a mindset of fitness for all.  The book mixes data points, theory, and practical principles very well.  A great read for public policy, economic, and activists/civic leaders who want to make a change in our society to level the playing field.