Saturday, December 8, 2018

New Micro (Extra Book)


New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction
edited by James Thomas & Robert Scotellaro

Thanks to Brandon for giving me a new book to read: New Micro – Exceptionally Short Fiction, edited by James Thomas and Robert Scotellaro.  The editors capture what they call, “the best of the best” of a relatively new genre of writing – stories that are short! The concept is that the stories bring you to a place of emotion, memory, or awakening in a “brief moment” compared to the traditional novel.  In this day and age of “get my attention fast” or lose it, the genre makes a great deal of sense.  All of the stories in the book are shorter than 300 words.  The ninety stories bring the reader to a point of recognition and then…the next story begins.  The stories in this book focus on relationships, the meaning of death, misunderstandings, missed opportunities, and silly anecdotes.  One thing I realized as I was reading (especially as a ‘speed reader’) is that one must really be “all-in” or you will need to go back and re-read the story.  While you may be able to zone out for a moment in a novel and still catch up, the micro story doesn't quite work that way!  Lesson learned: pay attention as it is really a quick moment to enjoy.  There are certainly some styles I enjoyed more than others, but love the concept, and a number of the stories were great.  It reminded me of attending the Moth events (https://themoth.org/).  Thanks again, Brandon!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Belong (Extra Book)


Belong
by Radha Agrawal

Happy Thanksgiving!  Finished a very reflective ‘self-help’ book called Belong by Radha Agrawal.  The book is broken into two parts: help for self and help to be connected in community.  This is a great New Years/holiday gift for someone special in your life.  The book can certainly help someone to think deeply about what it is they want to be in life.  Agrawal suggests that we start by writing it down, noting the high and low points in our lives. After that, we dig deep into identifying our values, interests, and abilities.  From there, we start with finding our healthy energy, get off social media, and begin to find those people who give us positive energy.  Such important aspects of being a better person.  Her formula for gaining energy includes: DOSE – Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, Endorphins.  Yes, changing attitude, having physical contact with others, getting exercise, dancing/laughing and sweating all make us healthy and happier.  The second part of her book focuses on how we build a community with others in the center of it.  Agrawal has created a business-building community through her Daybreaker initiative consisting of early-morning connections through dance, yoga, healthy eating and other high energy outlets (on a boat, in the park, on the streets, etc.)  Her model for community development is applicable to anyone interested in making connections with others.  A terrific book worth reading!  I plan on using it for a program at ACUHOI this summer.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Second Sex


The Second Sex
by Simone De Beauvior

During my travels to Australia and service on the faculty of GHTI, I was able to finish the last RA Favorite book for the 2018-19 RA staff.  The longest read for this year (and known as a ‘hallmark’ book for the beginning of the ‘second’ feminist movement), I finished Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir.  The book is a historical and sociological review of the experience of women throughout the ages and the stages of being a woman (child, youth, teenager, sexual initiation, getting married, being a mother, social life, maturity, and old age).  Published in 1964, De Beauvoir captures the European (mostly French) and American female experience of the day. Her introductory question is ‘what makes a woman’? as compared to man, woman is considered the devalued gender and she supports her claim with data and rich experiences taken from her research, novels surrounding the plight of women, and her own experiences. She shares how reproduction has hindered the view and strength of women and reaches back to the Goddesses succumbing to the Gods as the beginning of the plight of women. She provides historical perspectives to the role women play in family, in sex, in marriage, and in parenthood.  She shares perspectives and data on women joining the work force and experiencing “second-rate” pay, opportunity, and respect.  She uses works from D.H. Lawrence, Breton, Stendhal, Ibsen, Poe, Shakespeare and Goethe to illustrate her examples of women as the ‘other’.  She goes into depth on the social life of the rich married women and the other end of the spectrum, prostitutes.  She ends her book reviewing the independent woman, leading to the idea of women moving towards liberation, a goal she hopes is attained, where women and men will be completely equal.  It is one of the most detailed books on a dearth of issues surrounding the female experience.  This is a great book for any sociology students looking to do in-depth analysis as to where females sit in our society, from early civilization through the 1960s.  Important read!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Alamut


Alamut
by Vladmir Bartol

Sometimes I need to be much more careful about the author’s name before reading one of the RA’s favorite books as I read the wrong version!  The book Alamut by Vladimir Bartol tells the story of a warring nation, ideological religious differences, revenge, deception, and the death of innocent youth.  The story is set in the eleventh century in the area known today as Iran. Hassan-I Sabbah, one of the two warring factions, was banished years ago after losing to the members of the Seljuk empire.  He has not forgotten his loss and creates a plan to defend his current land holdings (and take on more).  He is currently located in an area of beautiful gardens, hidden from sight, and the castle of Alamut, which he is defending against the mighty empire.  Hassan uses trickery to convince his soldiers, three of whom the story describes in depth (Yusef, Suleiman, and Ibn Tahir), that he is the decedent of the great prophet and can provide them all the entrance into paradise.  He creates an elaborate plan to drug the three young soldiers and have them awaken in the gardens, surrounded by a youthful harem of beautiful girls, whom he has enslaved over the years.  After they return, believing they were in paradise, each of them believes Hassan is the prophet and work to overthrow the Seljuk leaders.  Two of the soldiers are so convinced they will return to paradise when they die that they kill themselves, and, through this action, convince the rest of the present army members that Hassan is the prophet, frightening the enemy and disrupting their movement towards Alamut.  The book, written half a century ago, serves as a precursor to what has happened in groups like the Talban and Al Queda: a belief that acting on behalf of a religious zealot, even if it means killing yourself (and others), will lead to becoming a prophet oneself.  This was a book I couldn’t put down as it really captures what we are experiencing in our society today, following people who do evil in the name of “God”….  There were a number of sub-plots which connected to the larger story, including the role women played in the society.  Well written, engaging, and fast-paced story.  Glad Fabio let me know I read the wrong version!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Turtles All the Way Down


Turtles All the Way Down
by John Green

I stayed up late to finish Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, a writer whose other books I have enjoyed reading.  I’d say I didn’t like this one as much…the message is good, but the story, ho-hum.  It is the tale of sixteen year-old Aza Holmes, whose father died suddenly a decade before, and now deals with anxiety and OCD with the fear of dying herself.  She doesn’t take her medications regularly, and so she suffers from severe anxiety when pressured into any given situation and has time to think.  She is smart, does well in school, and actively engages with her friends.  Her best friend, Daisy, becomes a bit of a detective when an old friend’s billionaire father, Russell Pickett, mysteriously disappears while being sought after for a slew of illegal business practices.  Aza had met Pickett’s son, Davis, when they both attended a summer camp for children who had lost a parent (Davis’ mother had died from an illness).  Aza and Daisy are motivated to become sleuths when they hear there is a $100,000 reward for information about Russell Pickett’s whereabouts.  Aza reacquaints herself with Davis who gives the two girls $100,000 to have them stop looking for his dad.  Meanwhile, Aza deals with the reality of her anxiety disorder throughout.  The weird twist to the story is that Davis’ dad left all of his billions to a pet tuatara, which he believes can help provide the key to infinite life.  The story is a bit over the top for me, but I do think the realistic aspects of what OCD can do is an important lesson to all.  In the end, Daisy and Aza do find the missing father, Davis and his younger brother make some choices that leave us with a sense of resignation, and Aza hopes to believe in something more than what her mind keeps telling her.  Again, not my favorite Green book.  I enjoyed Looking for Alaska much more.  Not exactly what I expected from the story, seemed a bit anti-climatic….

Friday, November 2, 2018

Mating in Captivity


Mating in Captivity
by Esther Perel

Getting to the end of the RA Favorite Books….  Finished reading Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity, a book written from a therapist’s stand point on what makes a monogamous relationship successful.  Perel shares a newer perspective on how to keep intimacy and sex with the same partner exciting for decades.  Written in 2007, Perel had over twenty years of experience and draws on many stories from clients. The failures of many sustained physical connections was a result of not understanding and owning our own histories and issues related to ourselves.  Why does sexual desire end despite the fact that we love the one we are married/partnered to?  How come sexual desire wanes as the years progress?  How does one unlock ‘erotic intelligence’? She goes in depth on how security can sap our vitality for the one we love and the need to know why we go back to our instinctual responses, unable to resist them.  At times, the book felt like I was reading the headlines you see on a magazine, such as Men’s Health or Vogue: “How to excite your partner by doing the unexpected” or “Unleashing the animal in you”….  It certainly can resonate with anyone committed to lifelong love and excitement with your partner, but, in the end, it also reads as a collection of case studies with the reader searching for the chapter that resonates with them.  Certainly a different type of read than I have been given before.  That’s why it is so fun to work at NYU!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest


One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
by Ken Kesey

Finished a classic read, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey, a book I have wanted to read for a long time (especially since I have never seen the movie).  The setting is a psychiatric, in-house hospital located in Oregon, which houses both ‘acutes’ and ‘chronics’. “Chief Bromden” is the narrator, who is a deaf and mute Native American patient.  The main focus of the book centers on Randle Patrick McMurphy, who is faking insanity after being arrested to avoid prison.  McMurphy causes all types of problems for the head of the hospital, Nurse Ratched, by encouraging the patients to think for themselves, which is very much against the daily routine that creates (or tries to create) calm and quiet among the men.  McMurphy galvanizes the others to push back against authority.  He organizes daily gambling tables, a deep-sea fishing trip, selects what to watch on TV, and dictates how loud the music should be played.  As time goes on, the Chief actually opens up to McMurphy and reveals that he can actually speak and hear!  For their bad behavior, both McMurphy and the Chief face electric shock therapy, but McMurphy continues his efforts to change the environment.  He plans a party one night that involves bringing in prostitutes for Billy Babbit, an emotionally distraught, virgin young man with a stutter, breaking into the medicine cabinet to hand out pills to patients, and lavishing them all with liquor. Nurse Ratched is furious to find the place in ruins and is shocked to see Billy asleep with a prostitute.  She threatens Billy by saying she may tell his parents, which causes him to commit suicide.  She later blames McMurphy for his death, prompting him to strangle her, but he is stopped by two orderlies.  While she is away recovering, patients start to be separated from one another. When she returns, she is unable to speak due to the injuries sustained in the attack by McMurphy.  When McMurphy returns to the ward, he is a changed man, having undergone a lobotomy and left in a vegetative state.  Bromden gives him ‘mercy’ by placing a pillow over his face until his life is extinguished.  The insanity of insanities…inside the ward of a psychiatric hospital, where one really doesn’t know the actions of those who are in charge, and where patients create a bizarre subculture.  A riveting story, which we listened to on our 10-hour round trip to a wedding in New Hampshire.  Was that how the psych hospitals ran in the 1960s?  I look forward to watching the movie someday.  Such meticulous detailing by the author.  Great character development, emotion, and display of how power and patience are exercised by different people in the ward.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Why Nations Fail


Why Nations Fail
by Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson

Finished an important and great read by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson titled Why Nations Fail.  After observing societies over a period of centuries, how do some of them succeed while others become steeped in poverty, illiteracy, and brutal warfare?  The authors approach the work in great detail – country by country, issue by issue, even using ancient maps to illustrate how the world was organized (by region) and how things have changed (or stayed the same).  Even when a country is rich in soil, natural resources, and human power, how does it fail?  The authors offer clear examples from historical rulers and other sources to explain how one country thrives and another fails.   Examples within the book for success/failure include: how Egypt brought down Mubarak; how institutions change through political conflict and shape the present; policies making countries poor; Stalin; the Glorious Revolution; and the age of Industrialization.   One of his points is: why aren’t countries more ‘inclusive’ in the development of their communities?  This is a very important read, especially given the state of the US government today.  As we all have heard over and over in our lifetimes, history repeats itself, so why aren’t we using past experiences to inform future success?  This reminded me of World History lessons.  I really enjoyed learning ‘why’ and thinking about what can I do as a citizen, through my vote, to ensure democracy is thriving in the US.  Great book with fifteen chapters that answer why nations fail today.  Read this one!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Number


The Number
by Jonny Steinberg

Finished another RA Favorite Book, this one written by a journalist in South Africa who wanted to learn more about the prison system and how one managed the challenge of being identified by only a number.  The book The Number by Jonny Steinberg shares the inside secrets of the 26’s, 27’s and 28’s (as they are known) within those incarcerated in South Africa.  Steinberg follows the life of Magadien Wentzel, who, at one time, had a promising future as a student, but was arrested and put in jail after the riots on his college campus.  At that moment, he needed to make a decision: how shall he respond to the inmates who want to know his allegiance?  The journalist spends 18 months (a year while he is in jail and the six months immediately following his release) with Magadien, learning what happens between the three notorious groups: the 28’s – the more aggressive group; the 27’s – the in-between “peace keepers”; and the 26’s, who work toward bettering themselves.  Steinberg also interviewed others with whom Magadien engaged: inmates, wardens, family members, some of his intimate partners (former lovers), and his daughters.  The story was written in the early 2000s post-Apartheid where the issue of blacks vs. whites remained.  The details of the sex-slaves while in jail, the abuse, aggression, fighting, drugs, and other issues raised clearly showed how the government was not interested in rehabilitation, but simply holding people they declared dangerous to others in prison forever.  This exposé gives valuable insight into the culture within a country which has been ravaged by racial issues.  Sad read.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Female Persuasion


The Female Persuasion
by Meg Wolitzer

Finished an interesting read called The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer.  After not being able to go to her dream school (Yale) because her druggie parents didn’t complete the FAFSA forms, Greer Kadetsky, the main character, has to settle for Ryland College. She attends on a full-ride scholarship while her high-school boyfriend, Cory, attends Princeton.  The book begins with Greer attending a guest lecture talk by Faith Frank, a renowned feminist. Greer, pretty meek and mild, feels a great attraction to the words and beliefs of Ms. Frank. Greer meets Ms. Frank in the bathroom after her speech and is given her personal business card, which initiates a long-lasting connection.  Greer’s biggest influencer on campus is Zee Eisenstat, a lesbian activist, who helps her after she is sexually assaulted by a rich male student (who receives a light punishment).  Greer ends up working for Ms. Frank and her ongoing educational campaign surrounding injustice to women.  The story takes lots of turns and twists, but, in the end, Greer has to come to terms with her value set when confronted by an ethical situation involving Ms. Frank. While her professional life skyrockets over her lifetime, her personal relationship with Cory ends after his own family tragedy (his mother kills his brother by accidentally running him over).  Cory gives up his consulting job to stay at home and care for his mother.   Greer’s story is one that examines the changing role of women in society today.  It touches on aspects of sexuality, women in the workplace, ethics, and juggling success and motherhood.  It also incorporates some tried and true notions of romantic love, being true to yourself and holding others to the level you expect of yourself.  Not what I expected.  Fun read.