Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Me Before You

Me Before You
by Jojo Moyes


I finished one of the best reads of this year’s RA Favorite books in Jojo Moyes’ acclaimed book, Me Before You.  Down on her luck, Luisa Clark, a late-twenties waitress, loses her job when her cafĂ© closes. She needs to find a new job to assist her parents and sister with finances as her father is on the verge of losing his own job.  Luisa is sent to the job retraining agency, and they suggest she assists a paraplegic for a six-month contract.  Luisa interviews with a stoic older woman, whom Luisa thinks is the wife of the invalid.  She is excited by the pay, more than minimum wage, and is surprised when offered the job since she has no prior experience in the field.  Luisa’s family is overjoyed by the news but also concerned she will be taking care of an old man.  Luisa learns that her patient is Will Traynor, a thirty-five-year-old who was permanently crippled in an auto accident.  On her first visit she realizes why the pay was so high for the position – Will is a very angry man who, at the height of his life in business and as a lady’s man, would never be able to take care of himself again.  She initially plans on quitting after her first days but is convinced by her sister that the family needs her income.  Luisa continues, even when her boyfriend, a top-level athletic trainer and triathlete, suggests this job is more than she can handle.  Luisa is thrown a twist when she overhears a conversation between Will’s mother and sister that he is planning on an assisted suicide in Switzerland. This was after a six-month agreement with his parents to hold off on this decision.  The rest of the book turns into “a love story” as Luisa works to change Will’s mind. Without even knowing him, she tries to convince him to stay alive and engages Will’s parents in the effort.  In the process, Luisa realizes that she loves Will and leaves her boyfriend.  The journey with Will is rocky, but he comes to see Luisa as a blessing – but will he change his mind regarding the assisted suicide?  This book has it all: ethical/moral decisions, poor/rich connection, and a love story for the ages.  Beautifully written with great character development.  This is a tear jerker and I certainly shed a few.  Hope you get a chance to read this one.  

Monday, July 24, 2017

Gang Leader for a Day


Gang Leader for a Day
by Sudhir Venkatesh

As a first-year doctoral student studying in the sociology program at University of Chicago, Sudhir Venkatesh is asked to look into the issue of poverty among low income people living in the housing projects.  Sudhir takes his survey to the streets and meets a man, J.T., who helps him learn about the inner working of the street gangs and all that is wrong in the poverty stricken Chicago area.  The story is an amazing inside look into poverty, gangs, money, sex, drugs, and all things that keep low income citizens from getting the support they need.  It is unbelievable that the author was given so much information from both the people who lived in the housing projects and the local police who have a tendency to suppress these people.  The hierarchy of “who is in charge” is complicated and exists as much in the projects as one sees in other areas of society.  The insertion of Sudhir, an Indian American, into an African American community also adds another dimension to the issue of race.  If you ever thought about a career as a sociologist, this one is for you.  The author spent six years in the most incredible “behind the scenes” locations within the gang world and has the details to prove it!  I listened to this one on tape, which included an interview with the author sharing his experience a few years after the book was written.  The author is now a faculty member at Columbia University.  

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running


What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
by Haruki Murakami

A personal favorite author of mine is once again represented in an RA book pick, and I’m glad to say I haven’t read it - until today.  Haruki Murakami’s memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, is a really fun read.  The author describes how he improved as an author through his commitment to running starting at age 33.  Between the time he started running and the book’s publishing date, he had run 23 marathons and averaged over 30+ miles a week!  After the marathons, he started focusing on triathlons. In one of the book's chapters, he discusses how he overcame his inability to swim through a personal trainer.  Like all skills, Murakami suggests that it is practice and talent that gets one to be good. He first perfected his skills as an author, and now we learn he’s a great runner as well!  He provides helpful hints and even a training regime in the book.  He doesn’t suggest that everyone should become a runner but that it has to be something you are internally motivated to do.  He shares stories from races, how to get through that last mile, and his 2005 journey to run his first NYC Marathon.  While he is not a pro, he has talent and believes he has vastly improved through his daily ritual of running.  This is a “tell-all” book about his rise as an athlete and his realization that, today, he couldn’t live without running.  I always enjoy reading books from novelists who show a new side to themselves, and surely Murakami has done so in this short book.  This is a great read for anyone who wants to excel at something and knows that physical exertion can bring calm, good health and clarity of mind.  I admire him more and more just thinking about his commitment to push himself to a new level.  Good book!

Monday, July 17, 2017

On Love



On Love
by Alain de Botton

I really enjoyed today’s book by Alain de Botton, which I finished while sitting on a beach in upstate NY. The book is titled On Love in the US (and Essays in Love in the UK).  The brilliance of the book is the ease with which the reader moves through the storyline and how the character evolves over time.  The author writes in a way that speaks to the emotions of anyone who has ever been in love.  The story moves chronologically and captures the phases of love through introduction, getting to know one another (an awkward stage), falling in love, staying in love, and then the crazy way love ends.  A twenty-something man and woman meet on an air flight from Paris to London, by chance sitting next to each other.  After pleasantries and realizing how different they are, a pseudo-comfort emerges, and here begins a journey of love!  De Botton captures every phase of the process, naming each chapter: Romantic Fatalism, Idealization, Subtext of the Seduction, Authenticity, Mind and Body, False Notes, Speaking Love, What Do You See in Her?, Intimacy….you get the idea.  De Botton’s male character is an architect and falls for Chloe, a hard-working business woman, who has been in love many times before.  Each phase is tested by both characters, with one taking the lead in the relationship at one point and the other at another point until a sudden action changes it all (I’ll save the heartbreak for you as this is quite a good read and don’t want to spoil it).  I loved the stories and the intricacies of the relationship that is shared.  It really does speak to anyone who has have fallen in love, been dumped or is in love now.  You will understand all of the phases, the guidance that he provides, and have a chance to reflect on a central question: what do you really want in a relationship?  Great read.

Blackbird


Blackbird
by Larry Duplechan

I’m in the reading groove for RA Favorite books – four books in four days!  Just finished Blackbird by Larry Duplechan, the coming-of-age story of a seventeen-year-old African American boy growing up in the Los Angeles area and how he comes to terms with his sexual orientation.  This book, in many ways, falls into the “Jodi Picoult” type of book, capturing a wide range of issues in a single story.   Johnnie Ray Rousseau, an aspiring actor/singer, gets rejected from the lead of his senior year play because of his race, but this rejection sets him on a path to discover something else. He finds his first homosexual love encounter, which gives him the confidence to tell his parents that he is gay.  This is a quintessential 1980’s story, featuring dated beliefs surrounding homosexuality.  It was lauded at the time as a book that helped break barriers on young gay men’s identity issues.  This high school drama includes: religious zealots in the community, a teenage pregnancy, suicide, a father beating his son when he finds he is in bed with another male, dual personality disorder, and older male seduction of our lead character.  At times I felt it was pretty raw and attempted to be a gay version of the Holden Caulfield story.  It shows the stark contrast between the view of homosexuality in that decade compared to how it is seen today.  This might read well for younger teenagers from more remote locations of our states.  There were some pretty stereotypical “gay” references that the story could have done without.  It was ok, but it may have resonated better with a reader from that time period.

    

Citizen


Citizen
by Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine’s book, Citizen, was a relatively quick read (90 minutes) but did an excellent job describing the many challenges that Black Americans face.  The book mixes images, artwork, and experiences ranging from microaggresions to assault of Black people in the US.  From Serena Williams and the times she faced racial discrimination from tennis judges to the physical attack of one man trying to drive home, pulled over by the police because of the color of his skin.  Her seven-chapter book made me stop and pause, realizing how privileged I am because I’m a white male. I am not subjected to conscious and subconscious attacks because of the color of my skin.  The chapters are short but cut deep into the fabric of the problems our country faces.  Rankine’s words are direct and offer the reader an opportunity for self-reflection.  She discloses her own journey through a handful of experiences in which she was treated differently, from her job search to being the only black student in a classroom.  Chapter six is the hardest to read as she chronicles the stories of so many Black Americans (Treyvon Martin and James Craig Anderson) who have died at the hands of those more privileged, followed by stories of Hurricane Katrina victims.  A lot of perspective can be gained through exposure to the struggles that non-white people face.  I plan on using some chapters in the book for my class on campus community.  Well written using a “millennial format” – big font, less text on the page.  It will be hard for me to put away the perspectives of non-majority people having read this book.  Thanks to Claudia Rankine for sharing a perspective that needs to be told.  A must read.

Too Big to Fail


Too Big to Fail
by Andrew Ross Sorkin

Finished a long, LONG book on the financial crisis that plagued the states in 2008: the subprime mortgage fiasco.  Not surprisingly, the book, Too Big to Fail, by Andrew Ross Sorkin, was the favorite of an NYU Stern business school student.  The story chronicles how the US Government, led by Hank Paulson (Secretary of the Treasury) and Tim Geithner (President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York), helped the sale of the beleaguered Bear Sterns, watched Lehman Brothers & AIG both implode and observed JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs near the brink of collapse.  The watchful eye of the government was not well received by the American people as the rich got richer!  This behind-the-scenes exposĂ© was filled with information from text messages, emails, documents from the government, and personal stories from participant interviews.  An amazing story depicting the struggle of greedy men fighting to maintain their wealth and reputation….It’s a long one that gives great perspective on the inner workings of wealthiest of the wealthy.  If you are interested in the banking world, this one is great at tracking how things went bad.

Monday, July 10, 2017

American Pastoral


American Pastoral
by Philip Roth

Finished listening to another favorite book.  I have noticed a higher percentage of RA’s sharing new books (42% of those I am meeting compared to 36% last year).  Today I finished American Pastoral by Philip Roth. Roth uses his ‘alter ego’ from previous stories, Nathan Zuckerman, an author, as the narrator of the story.  Zuckerman begins his story by meeting a classmate (Jerry Luvov) at their 45th high school reunion.  Jerry shares the story of his brother, Seymour “Swede” Luvov, whose nickname comes from his great looks and athletic build.  Swede is a star athlete and inherited the family business, a baseball glove-making factory.  Jerry shares the tragic story of Swede’s life. 

Swede was married to a state beauty contest winner and Princeton graduate and had a daughter, Merry (short for Meredith).  The Swede and his wife had different religious affiliations (Swede, Jewish & Sylvia, Catholic), which may have played a part in Merry’s confused state.  Merry had a horrible stutter and later became an anti-Vietnam warrior.  At age 16 she made a bomb and blew up a local building, which killed one innocent person.  Merry ran away and, five years later, her father found her and discovered she was the culprit in the bombing.  Swede was supposed to live a perfect life – instead, his daughter blows up a building and his wife has an affair with their doctor, who apparently also helped Merry evade the law after the bombing.  The story is told after the Swede has died with Nathan reliving all the moments through Jerry.   A rather lively story, especially as told through the voice of a true NY Jewish man, which I loved!  Compelling story, great action, and the unveiling of a man who really deserved better than what he got from his wife and daughter, and who dies at 68 from prostate cancer.  Loved the twist at the end of the story of why and how the Swede’s father died.  It all comes together.  Exceedingly well written and holds the reader in interest throughout.  Great book!

Friday, July 7, 2017

A Little Life


A Little Life
by Hanya Yanagihara

Such a depressing and emotionally draining book.  Hard to say I could ever read something like this again.  I knew listening to it that the subject matter seemed very similar to another book I had read, People in the Tree, and, surprisingly, it was by the same author: Hanya Yanagihara.  The subject matter and storyline of this book, A Little Life, bothered me so much that it took me a long time to finish.  I was forced to seek advice from some Facebook friends on how to finish a book you really didn’t like.  The story is about four college friends but focuses mainly on the life of Jude, who walks with a severe limp.  His three male friends all struggle after college with their careers, but as the story continues, all become leaders in their fields of study: lawyer, artist, actor, and financial investor.  Jude is close to the friends but always holds back sharing his past and his life in general.  As the book progresses, the reader learns why.  Jude was orphaned as a child and grew up in a Christian home with religious men who sexually abused him.  Later, Jude escaped and was taken to another home, but he was again sexually abused.  He then ran away and became a prostitute but was soon captured by a mentally ill doctor who attempted to kill him by running him over.  In the end, he survives, receives an education and is reunited with his three best friends.  The rest of the story chronicles how Jude struggles to live a normal life – but that never happens. Instead, he turns to self-harm to avoid thinking about the pain of his past experiences.  His friend, Willem, now a world renowned actor, falls in love with Jude and they attempt to work through his self-harm.  Jude is also adopted as an adult by his law school mentor, the friend who stands by and watches the self-harm. But another tragedy strikes: Willem tragically dies in an accident after the two begin moving forward in their relationship.  There is one final tragedy in this story, but I’ll leave the last one for you to read, if you can get through this one.  This is probably one of the worst books I have ever read.  Yes, I am someone who enjoys “happily ever after” books, and I can generally deal with tragic endings, but this one is over the top.  I’m sure someone will get something out of this one, but I’d warn anyone considering this read that the author clearly has a proclivity towards pedophilia and sexually repressed older men.  I personally would not recommend this book: the length and content did me in.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Deep Secrets



Deep Secrets
by Niobe Way

I will admit, it’s hard reading an RA Favorite book that is clearly a text book for a psychology class, but so it goes…and how do I know it is a book for class? Well, it is written by a NYU faculty member!  Niobe Way’s Deep secrets: Boys’ friendships and the crisis of connection is the subject of this post.  Dr. Way’s findings surprised me – I didn’t think that 14 to 18-year-old adolescents were as interested in same sex friendships as she describes.  Dr. Way provides a review of all recent literature on young boys’ thinking about their gender and notes how her book is slightly different in its approach.  She studied male youth from New York City, which offers a rich diversity of ethnicity and socio-economic backgrounds.  She details the hidden issues that complicate the relationships that young boys so desire to have, or at least those the researcher believes are most relevant.  Much of what I read seemed almost like common sense.  She weaved in literature and direct quotes from young men she studied for all four years of their high school experience.  She focused on the developmental changes within the students from one year to another.  While many changed as they engaged in relationships with girls for the first time, the desire to have ‘solid’ best friends to rely on did not waiver.  I started to think back to my own friendships and what I experienced during high school, albeit it was different as I attended an all-boys military school (so I think we were a year or so behind developmentally)!  Even though I have two boys, I still didn’t find this to be a book for the top of my list.  I would only recommend this book should you decide to enter a doctoral program in adolescent psychology, and, in that case, maybe it will be one of the required readings.  In the end, always fun to see an NYU faculty member have their book added to the RA Fav list.