Friday, November 17, 2017

Children of the Matrix

Children of the Matrix
by David Icke

What a way to finish with the RA Favorite book list for 2017-18.  A total of over 950 books read in the past decade.  The variety of books always astonishes me.  I will say, I wasn’t able to connect with this last book, Children of the Matrix by David Icke.  It is hard to read a book that philosophically I just don’t get….  Icke is well known for serving as a ‘conspiracy theorist’ and his proclamations are pretty far out there.  This book was published in 2000 and focuses on the Illuminati and how they have infiltrated all powerful leaders in our society.  He proclaims that the governmental and financial leaders of the world all come from one of seven bloodlines, all connected through an early ancestry that involves mating of a reptilian and man.  If that isn’t so hard to believe, Icke destroys the idea of religion and quotes documents and materials from thousands of years ago to prove his points.  He takes on every institution and shows how society needs ‘hope’ in that which doesn’t exist.  He spends a great deal of time attempting to sell an older book he wrote, referring back to it at least 125 times in this 480-page book.   He believes in UFOs and provides significant data to prove his case.  Through and through, he attacks anything that is ‘structured’ in our world.  He believes that all institutions are connected to Satan and evil ways (such as being pedophiles, blood drinkers, killers of animals)…and the list goes on.  I thought it was so outrageous that I went online and watched him being interviewed by BBC reporters in 2016.  He is for real and believes 100% in what he preaches.  I was so underwhelmed and not at all in sync with his atheist and over-the-top claims on the “who’s who” of leaders from George Washington to Bill Clinton – all “evil doers” – that I had enough.  While I read the book, I was pretty disgusted with his claims, especially saying that one of my distant cousins (former comedienne Bob Hope) used to participate in demonic rituals, and I lost any and all faith that this guy has any sense at all.  I’m surprised that this book was a favorite.  Hard to find anything to connect with in this book.  Nothing redeeming for me in this one.  I guess I’m stuck with thinking about this one for a LONG time…hurry and hire some new RAs for the spring, I need a new book to read!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Gastronomical Me

The Gastronomical Me
by M. F. K. Fisher

M.F. K. Fisher’s book The Gastronomical Me presents a really creative and interesting way to write an autobiography of your early life by.  Fisher, who grew up in California, chronicles a 29-year period of her life from her childhood days through her 40’s.  Each chapter tells a brief history of what she was doing (at home with family, going to college, traveling around the world, being married to a young struggling professor, and finally being present as her second husband dies from a debilitating disease), but, just as importantly, she connects each chapter to food! From something she learned to cook, to an exquisite meal she had during the memorable experience she wrote about in the chapter, there’s always a connection.  Each experience in her life was connected to a new cuisine, a delicious dessert, or even home grown vegetables that simmered on the stove. Your taste buds will flare up as she describes in depth the food choice of that day/experience.  Fisher is a woman ahead of her time.  The first chapter begins in 1912, a time when woman had few opportunities to ‘follow their dreams’, but Fisher did just that.  She left home for college, ventured with her newlywed husband to Europe for his first job, then traveled the world after their marriage disintegrated and she fell in love with another man.  A really unique way to illustrate the coming of age of a fiercely independent woman while receiving new recipes and food choices to expand the palate.  A very accessible read that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Fisher’s life is one worth learning about.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim
by Mahmood Mamdani

Finished reading Good Muslim, Bad Muslim by Mahmood Mamdani.  I expected a very different book based on the title, thinking it was about how one can be perceived as a ‘good Muslim’ or ‘bad Muslim’. Instead, the book illustrated how the US has helped create a positive view of Muslims when they acquiesce to the country’s demands, and a negative view when they don’t adhere to the demands of US leadership. The book provides historical context on how powerful/rich countries have greatly influenced how another country is run, and not always in a positive manner.  The author’s historical backdrop, which includes periods from the French Revolution to the Cold War, describes how countries have not been very forthright with their people in communicating their real intentions when they attempt to form a ‘collaboration’ with Muslims. Of course, the book does also tie in the perception of Muslims being “bad” when countries manipulate them for their own benefit (in this case, oil or other goods/services or use of the collective people for political purposes – Iran vs. Iraq, etc.)  How could Osama bin Laden be a strong ally to the US and then be seen as terrorist enemy #1 in the world?  The ever-changing US foreign policy is analyzed and shown to be a major cause in the shift from once friendly “partners” to terrorists who allegedly bombed the Twin Towers in NYC.  Mamdani presents data and examples of how he believes the US actually fostered the terror that hit our country and the world by deciding to harness and even cultivate terrorists during the latter half of the Cold War as it sought to roll back the Soviet Union's global influence. He later goes on to suggest that no Chinese wall divides 'our' terrorism from 'their' terrorism. Each tends to feed the other.  Mamdani makes the distinction between "political Islam" and "Islamic fundamentalism". The reader is left to seriously question the succession of ‘fatal errors’ our leadership made in making deals with individuals/groups that the government later tried to destroy.  Most of what is presented in the book (Iran Contra hearings, 9/11, Central American unrest, military coups in South America) were all things I remembered growing up, and I found it helpful to gain another perspective.  Historians and those looking to serve in governmental leadership positions will enjoy this particular point of view, whether to agree with or emphatically debate. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Leopard

The Leopard
by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa

I really enjoyed reading The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa as I have been in the mode of ‘heritage’ learning as of late.  Having grown up around many Italians, and later living in Little Italy in NYC, learning about the Sicilian society was a treat.  The story begins in the mid-nineteenth century where the protagonist, Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina, and his people are in the midst of a civil war. The novel follows a 25-year period during which Fabrizio grows into an old man, facing the change of leadership within the country and the eventual merging of the separate “city-states” into one country with a changing political system.  Fabrizio’s family (nephews and children) play large parts as secondary story lines, showing the process of falling in love, family commitment to one another, and the challenge to stay true to the elders of the ‘tribe’.  Fabrizio’s own aging process as a family patriarch and the ability to stand firm against other governmental leaders to keep his community intact are traits to be admired and followed.  One gets a real sense of the old European traditions, politics, and family values.  I can see why this was such a huge success when it was published.  A strong book worth reading!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

In the Footsteps of the Prophet

In the Footsteps of the Prophet
by Tariq Ramadan

I always enjoy learning about topics that I don’t know as much as I should, so reading In the Footsteps of the Prophet by Tariq Ramadan was exceedingly helpful.  As NYU has experienced an increase in its Muslim student population, I have had the opportunity to engage with more RAs who are members of the Muslim faith tradition.  This book allowed me to learn the life story of the religious leader, the prophet Muhammad.  Muhammad received the last revealed book, the Quran, which shares the position of the faith leader.  He is believed to be the chosen one to reveal the message from God.  Muhammad reveals the path of spirituality by “transcending the respect and love for God in the worship and love they must offer to ask of the One who begets not and is not begotten”.  The book presents Muhammad’s life from beginning to end and shares the five pillars of Islam: Faith; Prayer; Charity; Fasting; and pilgrimage to Mecca.  A must-read for anyone curious about the origins and faith tradition of the Muslim religion.  The book helped me tremendously in understanding the historical context and many of the rituals I witness our students practicing.  We have a vibrant community on our campus, and, as Western society is confused by the teachings of the religion, I say this is a ‘go-to’ teaching guide to refer to in your introduction to the faith.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Punished – Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys

Punished
by Victor M. Rios

A similar read to Gang Member for a Day, the book Punished – Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys studies Black and Latino boys in the Oakland, California area. It is written by another sociologist, Victor Rios, who himself comes from the life of the boys he studies, having committed crimes and being a ‘self-described’ delinquent as a teen.  He was a member of a gang, witnessed murders, and was involved in illegal activities.  In the book, Dr. Rios follows 40 young men from his home area.  His main focus is to demonstrate that “punitive social-control” does not work.  Having more police, who physically intimidate the youth, only forces them to resist more.  Additionally, having teachers who aren't supportive and don’t create environments where kids are given multiple chances to prove themselves only pushes the students further away.  Three-strikes-and-you’re-out laws don’t work and will lead to more funds spent on jails.  Rios begins his book with definitions that explain ‘hypercriminalization’ (illustrating trends in how youth are punished today), the context of the area (the demographics and breakdown of diversity in the Bay area), and showing how few community programs exist as funding has been reduced.  After the inputs, Rios shows the outputs (consequences), which include more jails, more arrests, and the low graduation rates of youth in the urban center.  He provides a rich, qualitative voice from the youth who participated in his study.  He puts a face on the kids who aren’t given a name but feel only the wrath of the local police.  His data is substantial and once again proves the point that most government-led efforts, such as ‘attempting to help impoverished youth’ needs to be more than ‘carrying the heavy stick’ – more effort needs to be made to show the youth that getting out is possible.  Congratulations to Dr. Rios for escaping his gang and for his work in telling the stories of those who can’t escape.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Alamut

Alamut
by Judith Tarr

This was a hard one to wrap my head around, partially because it’s hard to listen to a book over a long period of time and especially so when you are also reading books at the same time. Three of my last six books on the RA Favorite list are connected to the Muslim religion.  Enter the world of Alamut by Judith Tarr. (Note: I only listened to book one, so I can’t tell you how it all ends.) Set in the 11th century, a war between the young King (representing the Islamic state) versus the stronghold, Saladin. It is a war representing two religions, and stuck in the middle is Prince Aidan.  The Prince is taken with the beautiful Morgiana, who is some sort of spirit (not human nor mortal).  She lures him into her bed, though he is already betrothed to another who is with child.  The battle between religions, temptation of beauty, and the inner struggle of doing the right thing all make for a compelling story.  In the end, the beautiful Morgiana shows up, unexpectedly demanding to keep Aidan for her own.  I guess I should read part two…but part one didn’t lure me in enough.  Aidan, the enemies in battle, the various wives and lovers made for some confusing storylines….  I’ll take a pass. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Great Unknown – Seven Journeys to the Frontiers of Science

The Great Unknown
by Marcus du Sautoy

I remain convinced that the diversity of interests and topical areas that RAs engage with at NYU is second to none.  There are some subjects that are beyond my full understanding – this book is in that category. In The Great Unknown – Seven Journeys to the Frontiers of Science, the author, Marcus du Sautoy, seeks to explore the seven ‘edges’ of knowledge in the areas of science that are unknown, and provides current and past lessons learned.  Sautoy provides historical research as he posits each of the seven ‘edges’: Chaos; matter; Quantum physics; the universe; time; consciousness; and infinity.  He notes early in the book that he is an atheist, though he does come to realize that IF God is like “this”, then it is plausible that he could be persuaded there is a God.  From Big Bang theory to the realization that the world isn’t flat; from math equations that help science be better understood to which number will my die land on when I roll it next….  This is a book for those who sit around contemplating how the world began, how it sustains itself, and what the future has in store.  Black holes, planets colliding, what neural transmitters help best with an activity – Sautoy is brilliant and asks questions that are great for any non-scientist stuck in an elevator….  This book is out of my own sphere of interest, but I would hand it off to math and science focused readers.  It is recently published (2017), so the information is pertinent to today’s greatest thinkers.  For me, a pass; for the science enthusiast, pick it up now!

  

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Surfacing

Surfacing
by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood’s second novel, Surfacing, is clearly a book that was supposed to be read on Halloween.  First, the protagonist is unnamed, an element of writing you don’t often find.  Second, we learn that our protagonist, a female in her twenties (I think), travels back to her summertime family cabin in the Canadian wilderness to find her missing father…. Has he disappeared to get away from something, did someone kill him, or did he kill himself?  Our protagonist brings three friends with her on the journey for her father.  The group is embedded in the 1970's culture of free love, where sex with each other, across lovers, has no boundaries.  We learn of our protagonist’s past: an abusive husband; losing her child to her ex-husband; a brother who drowned in the lake where they are now searching for her father; and some other family tragedies.  As the search continues, the protagonist learns of her father’s death (he too has drowned) and is challenged to find sanity having lived an insane life.  This journey is one worth reading.  Atwood’s ‘line crossing’ from real and imagined, finding sanity through devastating life experiences, makes for a great psychological downward spin.  No wonder I enjoy Atwood’s books so much...   

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Far From the Madding Crowd

Far From the Madding Crowd
by Thomas Hardy

Listened to a classic love story, one for the ages, in Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd.  The title confused me, but, after looking it up, I understood that it referred to a “frenzied” crowd, and what a crowd it is when it relates to the heroine, Bathsheba Everdene.  The story is set in rural England, where the protagonist, Gabriel Oak, a young farmer, begins his travels with a group of sheep and sets eyes upon the lovely Bathsheba, with whom he immediately falls in love but also realizes that she may be out of his league.  Still, he garners the courage to ask for her hand in marriage after spending numerous hours with her.  He is rebuffed and she leaves to live with her aunt.  After he loses his own sheep due to some bad luck, he, by chance, while looking for jobs, helps to put out a fire on a farm in a nearby town. He asks for a job but shortly discovers that the owner is…Bathsheba!  She reluctantly hires him.  Bathsheba discovers that she has a new admirer, whom she decides to play a trick on by sending the older, well-off farmer, William Boldwood, a Valentine’s Day card with no signature.  This blows up on her when she finds out Boldwood is serious about marrying her. She, once again, also spurns Gabriel, who learns of her ‘mischievous’ ways towards Boldwood, by firing him.  There is a third man who comes into Bathsheba’s life, the young and handsome Frank Troy, whom she eventually marries, even though he had promised to marry another woman prior. What he is unaware of, though, is that he impregnated his former lover.  And guess who this woman is…Bathsheba’s former servant, Fanny.  All the while, Bathsheba has rehired Gabriel to oversee the sheep and the farm, as things went badly without him.  Things get worse for Bathsheba as Boldwood has never forgotten about his love for her and awaits any opportunity to have her as his wife.  That opportunity comes when Frank Troy, also a bad gambler, learns of Fanny’s death and the death of his unborn child, which leads him to pronounce to Bathsheba that he loved Fanny more than he could ever love her.  He leaves and is presumed dead when his clothes are found near the ocean.  Boldwood offers to marry Bathsheba after a six-year period during which Frank’s death is accepted as reality.  As the years progressed, Boldwood pressures her more and more to marry him.  But before the ceremony is to occur, guess who returns?  Frank Troy!  What ensues is a twist for all times…Boldwood shoots him dead and is arrested.  Bathsheba, who still loved Frank through it all, is devastated, but who comes to save the day?  And yes this is how a love story ends…the guy gets his woman…. Gabriel, through his consistency and never-ending love for Bathsheba, finally has her realize love was in front of her all along.  In many ways, this story is a precursor for all of the drama serials that are on TV today.  It’s nice when the “good guy” finally is recognized for his undying love.  Melodramatic?  Sure, but the power of love wins out.