Friday, December 31, 2010

Netherland


Happy New Year’s EVE!  Getting close to another new year beginning.  Hope you all will begin to start your long list of resolutions.  Before we go there, let me tell you about the last book I read in 2010. Well didn’t end on a high note for sure.  Today was Netherland by Joseph  O’Neill, a story of a Dutch man, Hans van den Broek, and his life in NYC after 9/11.  How his life is changed by his wife’s decision to uproot his son after the World Trade Center bombing to London and finding meaning as an outsider in the US.  While the writing is quite good and witty at times, the story didn’t go anywhere for me.  In the reviews that I read on the book, Hans' life is compared to Gatsby… really?  While I appreciated the struggle he had in maintaining relationships after his wife left the country, didn’t find it to even be in the realm of Gatsby.  The storyline of finding male friendship through playing cricket and being introduced to Chuck Ramkissoon, a man from Trinidad trying to bring cricket to the states, was a good diversion until Ramkissoon was found dead in a canal in Brooklyn.  Too many unfinished and unconnected story lines here.  While we don’t always need things to be tied together, might help to have some closure.  The ending left me wanting for more, like an ending.  The wife story line was bizarre and went nowhere for me.  While the book has been hailed as an award winning story, it wasn’t for me.  How did Rachel (his wife) come back to this guy, after the Chef and other guys?  Maybe being an “insider” to NYC makes this a misunderstood book for me.  I listened to this one on tape and needed to go back and re-listen to the last chapter saying, is that it???  A "skip it" for me.  Hope next year brings me to some better reads.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The American Revolution


Going back in history on the American front with Bruce Bliven's The American Revolution.  It is an interesting favorite book as it is more of a childhood format for the history of the battles between England under George III and the beleaguered American troops led by George Washington.  The book outlines all of the major battles from Saratoga to Battle of Bunker Hill, Trenton, Charlestown, and Yorktown.  The reader learns about Benedict Arnold as well as the relationship between George Washington and his generals.  The pictures were strange… all buildings that housed different British and American troops during the battles.  Having grown up in upstate NY, always good to hear about the role Albany, NY played in the battle and General Clinton and the Battle at Ticonderoga.   If you haven’t been to upstate NY, you really should.  Fort Ticonderoga is beautiful, especially in the summer time.  A nice overview, albeit really brief, nothing in depth.  Probably a good read for 4th – 6th graders, not overall strong read.  Certainly gives the key details, might be a good reminder for anyone studying for a history exam in middle school.  Not something I would add to my list.  May serve as a good read to a youth.  Skip it.
  

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wild at Heart


A huge departure from yesterday’s comedy/mystery to today’s book, Wild at Heart by John Eldredge, a Christian minister.  Here’s his website:  http://www.ransomedheart.com/.  For those who aren’t Christian, may be a difficult read, well, even for some who are.  A very interesting concept, men are wild at heart and need to get back to being warriors, of sorts.  Not sure I agreed with a lot of his perspectives, ie get our young males into the woods, climb a mountain, shoot a gun, get the animal instincts back into the young warrior.  His “clips” from movies and lyrics from songs worked well, enjoyed and knew most of the movies/books/songs he referenced. Such as “the question that haunts every man”… from Jackson Browne’s The Pretender:  “Are you there? Say a prayer for the Pretender who started out so young and strong only to surrender”  or Paul Simon’s The Boxer: “In the corner stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade and he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down and cut him till he cried out in his anger and his shame, I am leaving, I am leaving but the fighter still remains.”   He also introduced verses from the Bible to support his point.   Even for those not practicing as Christians, the message remains strong:  “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs.  Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who come alive.”  Some nuggets that help with the reflection process in what I am to do in this world to make it better, and more importantly, to make myself better.  I do think for many non-conservative Christian thinkers the focus on men’s trials and tribulations may be a bit much.  The common sense and storytelling parts kept me reading, the preachy approach not so much.  There is a place for this type of read that can assist people through difficult transitions, but probably for females, at least many I know in college, this will be a hard book to stomach.  Appreciate the perspective, just not the type of book that I’d put in a top 50 or more….  Those looking for one way to think about enhancing the male perspective go climb a mountain, venture into the wild, or simply read this book.  I’ll stick to the mountain!  

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England


Now this book was funny.  When I say clever, it really is!  Brock Clarke’s An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers' Homes in New England keeps you alert and interested from start to finish, though I did have a hard time when Sam went back to his home (the one with his wife and children) and the in-laws and Thomas were dressed in Muslim garb?  Otherwise, you had me.  The reader does need to pay attention as so much of the story is connected, each action produces a reaction.  Stay away from being a “Bumbler” as our narrator Sam Pulsipher suggests as it has lasting effects on one, ask Sam - he would know.  Sam, the protagonist, inadvertently burns down the former home of Emily Dickinson.  Unfortunately Thomas Coleman’s parents were in the house at the time, having some “hanky-panky” upstairs.  Sam dropped a cigarette in the house when he snuck back into the home late the evening after he was unable to see the real aspects of the tour provided from the non-profit agency.  After a ten year sentence in prison, where he meets junk bond prison-mates (white collar criminals), he is released but decides to start a new life after leaving town (everyone hates Sam for what he did), attends college, marries Anne Marie, has two children, gets a job at a Plastics Company, and then guess what…. Thomas Coleman decides he wants revenge for the death of his parents.  Unfortunately, Thomas never told his wife about the fact he served time in prison and he told her his parents died in a fire.  Thomas goes to Anne Marie and creates his own set of lies about Sam and then the story spirals quickly using connection after connection after connection of the lies, the characters, and fires in other homesteads of the famous writers of New England.  Sam plays detective as he knows that he will be the main suspect in the crimes.  Sam’s mother, father, and all of the people who wrote to Sam while in jail asking him to burn down other famous author’s homes are also brought into the story.  And don’t forget about the ex-bond junkie cellmates, they also show an interest in Sam’s story.  If you ever saw It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1960s movie), this is it.  If you haven’t, same concept, running around after the arsonist.  Like all good novels, a twist in the end.  Not sure I liked the ending though.  A fun read.  I’d add it to the list.  Funny tidbit, I went to the library and they gave me the large print version, not sure I can now go back to small print versions!  Getting old!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Never Let Me Go


I am clearly on a roll of GREAT books.  Last week, not so much, this week absolutely.  Kazuo Ishaguro’s Never Let Me Go is a moving story told from the point of view of Kathy H., who reminisces about her life from childhood to the present day.  Another British setting, three books in a row, interesting (all random for sure)!  Kathy grew up in a boarding school, Hailsham, where human beings are cloned to become donors for transplants for others.  This is where Kathy and the others, Tommy, Chrissie, Ruth (all first-named clones without a last name, only a first letter with no surname), grow up under the guidance of the Guardians, Madame, Emily, and others.  At Hailsham the focus is on staying healthy and not feeling emotions.  The second part of the book brings Kathy and a few of the Hailsham children to the Cottages, a place where decisions are to be made as to their future, being a donor or a carer.  And the third part is where Kathy works as a carer and also reconnects with her past.  The story revolves around the relationships between Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy.  Kathy has always had strong feelings for Tommy but her friend Ruth ends up in a “coupled” relationship.  Throughout their time at Hailsham and the Cottages, strange feelings arise between the three which come back at the end to serve as an understanding of why Hailsham and what is happening with society in relation to the clones/humans.  The story comes full circle when Kathy ends up serving as carer for Ruth and later Tommy.  Ishiguro does an outstanding job as an author in making the reader think about the role of cloning and also the ethical role our society may play as cloning develops into our future.  The title of the book comes from a fictitious song but serves as a reminder of what one creates has feelings, emotions, and deserves this life as much as us.  Clearly there is an influence of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.  The depth of the story and characters are remarkable.  Great read.  

Sunday, December 26, 2010

One Day


Every once in awhile we are taken back to a time in our life that will remain frozen, as we decide we never want to leave it.  Funny, huh?  Not really, makes great sense.  Especially for someone like me, who tries and stay “frozen” in time at the best days of my life, college.  Even though it is set in England, college life transcends the Atlantic.  You see, this book I just finished (thanks much Taylor, who suggested it) starts on the last day of college, graduation day and that’s where One Day by David Nicholls begins the journey of Emma and Dexter.  The book returns to the intersection of the two characters' lives every July 15, from 1988 until 2007.  The book really resonated with me, as it is set just around the time I was graduating from my college experience, and many of the things that occur were things that I saw, did, and miss to this day.  Dexter, a “live now” guy who never seems to leave the freshman “get drunk” live large life, and Emma, an activist feminist, begin as friends after they hook-up (not sure that is the term for today, but apropos for the 80s).  Hook-up in the sense, they don’t have sex, maybe more than kissing for sure…. Nonetheless, they separate but end up crossing paths every year, and then some.  It becomes a love story that the reader is pulled into and while I don’t know how Emma would want to be with Dexter as he seems to be the antithesis of Emma, you root for them as the years go on.  Dexter ends up marrying someone else, oh no!, while Emma stays single.  Many turns occur and finally…. Well, not sure I want to reveal what happens to be honest.  Let’s just say that your heart should be warmed and also torn at the end.  Life has a really funny way of not always delivering us what we deserve, or does it?  Nicholls' characters are believable and I was drawn into the complexities of life and what we think we want we really shouldn’t and we should be aware of what is in front of us.  A love story that all 40-somethings will love.   I listened to this one driving through the blizzard of 2010 NYC to Albany and back.  Good read for sure. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Garden of Eden


One of my all-time favorite books was written by the author of this book, Ernest Hemingway.  This read, The Garden of Eden, was published posthumously after his wife delivered it to his editor with a box of other works not completed.  This could lead one to believe that the final “touches” may be missing in the book.  Nonetheless, I realize once again why Hemingway is an outstanding novelist.  In Garden of Eden, we find David and Catherine as newlyweds with the backdrop of Cote d' Azur, the Mediterranean coastline of the southeast corner of France.  A beautiful location for a married couple to fall in love with the same woman who comes into their life as Catherine searches for whom she is sexually.  Catherine has had traumatic family experiences, where her father commits suicide and simultaneously kills his wife.  The reader is left to figure out if this background has left scars on Catherine, or whether this erotic adventure into a three way love affair is already a part of what she has become.  David, an American writer, is left trying to struggle understanding his wife’s preoccupation with looking like a man (as she constantly wants to get her hair cut like his), using David’s barber.  The sexual tensions and complicated psychological depths of the characters are real and ask the reader to seek a tender understanding of Catherine’s development as a person, which she herself seems to be struggling with.  Her journey seems to be much ahead of her time.  The Garden of Eden, a fitting name for this novel as we see Marita, the new object of attention for both Catherine and David, as the forbidden fruit which Catherine (ie Eve) has taken a bite and now wants her husband to have this forbidden fruit.  Hemingway is a master and this one won’t let you down.  Oh, and yes, For Whom the Bell Tolls is in my top 5.   

Friday, December 24, 2010

America (The Book) Teacher's Edition: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction


A funny, satirical read by John Stewart, of the Daily Show!  America provides the reader with the history of our country, political formation, the branches of government, and how elections for the Presidency have been won.  I laughed out loud pretty regularly.  I especially liked the supreme court judges puppets that you had to match body to robe.  I learned so much “mis-information” about our history as a nation.  As Stewart claims on the cover of the book, “A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction.”  The discussion questions and classroom activities would have kept me much more active in Social Studies than the betting on the Super Bowl that Mr. Campbell did in 10th grade S.S. at LaSalle, although I think I won the pool.  The catchy drawings and side page “Were You Aware” and “Insta-Polls” captured Stewart’s light heartedness.  Add in a few pages of satire from Stephen Colbert (especially his “expressions or wardrobe for dressing like a TV Journalist") and you have the makings for a LOL (laugh out loud for you non-computer readers) series of moments.  Written in 2004 this is surely to become a period piece a few decades from now.  Conservatives may not laugh as much at this one.  A good read for what it is.   As he states in the book, if you are reading this while taking care of bathroom business you can leave it here and pick up later.  

Monday, December 20, 2010

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City


Memoirs are an interesting read.  Couple that with the type of the trials and tribulations of many who don’t live the “American Dream,” and you have Another Bullshit Night in Suck City.  Not sure that the title actually captures the book at all, but I guess it means something to Nick Flynn, the author, and his father (Yes there is a line from his Dad that refers to living in Boston as a homeless person.  Sorry Bostonians, even without the homelessness piece, the term is fitting… not a big Boston guy….  Nothing personal).    Flynn, who is just two years older than me leads a difficult life growing up with an alcoholic father who is homeless and a mother who goes through a series of relationships and husbands and eventually commits suicide while Nick is attending UMass Amherst.  Nick moves to Boston where his father drifts from apt to apt and eventually to the shelter that Nick works at.  The book’s format drifts from current reality to the past interweaving the demise of the smooth speaking dad.  Nick’s pain is felt often through his disclosure of his own troubles with focus and drugs/alcohol, though that really is not the focus of the story.  It is really a story of failed relationships, false hopes, and unclear directions.  The pressures our society place on people to be something that OTHERS feel they should be in many ways serves as message to live your life with no regrets, be aware of those who can help us, and seek your own answers to the questions that haunt us.  The back and forth nature (style of writing) didn’t work as well for me and actually served as an annoyance.  Lots of sympathy for the characters involved through this raw real-life story.  I just learned from José in my office that Flynn taught at NYU!! In SPSS.  How cool is that?  NYU students, take advantage of those great authors.  Flynn’s depiction and history were painted with a realism and truth that captured the reader.  Surprised it hasn’t become a TNT movie of the week.  Not top ten material, but wouldn’t throw it away.  You have to like this style of “realism” like Dry and others that fit this style.   

The Sound and the Fury


I have learned I really like books that make sense, well yeah.  Sometimes I read books that are “All-Time Best Books” and I just shake my head… William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury was one.  It has taken me seven days to finish this one.  I had the chance to speak to Elizabeth in my office (who loved this one) about the book.  She said you really need to listen to the language of this and how wonderful it is.  Well I tried to do so and it just wasn’t working.  The book is broken into four separate chapters (which are not altogether connected) as they come from the voices of 4 different characters.  The first section was difficult at best, a stream of consciousness which was hard to understand with so many characters all seemingly screaming and all over the place (well it is from the point of view of Benjy, a 33 year old man with mental handicap). Second section goes backwards through the voice of Quentin, Benjy’s brother (the Harvard boy) and leading up to his suicide.  Fast forward to the day before chapter 1 as Jason, Quentin’s brother, narrates; and finalizes the book in chapter 4 where Dilsey, the servant of the family is the narrator.  Each point of view shares the same thoughts as the family declines in stature financially, from a faith perspective and the various deaths that occur.  The style lost me, though chapter 3 was actually the most coherent for me.  While Faulkner is renowned for his writing style, I found the book either over my head, not engaging, or bad timing for this read.  Top 100???  Add this to the list of my –“unfavorites” such as Things Fall Apart, another from the Times All Timers.  Maybe I should have read this one in my English Honor’s seminar?  A pass for me. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Sirens of Titan


Well when you are on a roll of not so good books, sometimes it continues…  Last week I read a great Vonnegut book, this week, not so much.  I listened to this one, The Sirens of Titan.  I guess the sci-fi genre is either really good or not so much.  Sometimes Martians are fun and exciting, well not here.  There is always an outrageousness to his stories and yes the political, the religious, and the sex usually thrown in too. Malachi Constant, our hero, the richest man in the land in the 22nd century! He takes a journey from Earth to Mars as we prepare for an intergalactic experience in dealing with Winston Niles Rumfoord that ends at Saturn’s moon, Titan.  There are some funny moments, especially after Rumfoord establishes his new church, the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent, which serves to unite Earth after a Martian invasion!  Rumfoord can only seemingly exist on Titan where he works to help repair damaged spaceships.  Watch those small metal parts though… (I’ll save that for you to read).  And don’t forget Kazak, Rumfoord’s doggie.  Constant is transported back to Earth, where he ends up dying, in Indianapolis of all places.  There is a lot to this one, invasions, battles for superior being, and much more.  Hard to stay totally focused, maybe I need some attention medicine?  Between this one and The Sound and The Fury, damn!  These two don’t go together at all!  Preferred Cat’s Cradle, more humor and interest!  This is clearly a pre-cursor to Douglas Adams' books.  The influence of Vonnegut is easily seen here.  I’d take a pass, other Vonnegut books make the grade…

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Desert Flower


An interesting read of sorts.  Desert Flower by Waris Dirie, take a peek at these pics: http://www.fanpix.net/gallery/waris-dirie-pictures.htm and you will see who this book is about.  Desert Flower is an autobiography of a woman, Waris, who grew up in Somalia and later ventured to London.  The early chapters capture her life in tribal life in Somalia.  As an American it is hard to read some of the horror, especially for women (young girls) who go through a ritual of getting “circumcised” by the gypsy woman using a razor blade…. frightening.  Waris does escape after the horrifying experience (she is also to be married to a much older man through an arranged wedding her father has made).  On the way out to Mogadishu (the capital) she is almost raped as she hitchhikes through the country side.  She is reunited with her sister (who also ran away after her father had arranged a wedding for her too!), then off to her aunt’s home (where she finally finds a home as a “slave laborer” of sorts for the family).  Tired, don’t be, it gets better… Waris decides she wants to join the uncle when he is named Ambassador to London and work as his servant abroad.  She stays four years and meets a guy from church who wants her to become a model (she has no idea what a model does)!  She eventually marries to stay in London, crazy story, and loses a good amount of money through a “bad lawyer” and then marries again to keep her status as a citizen and not get deported to Somalia.  OK, I realize she had a really tough life, but she is something else.  Her “naiveté,” as she portrays it is not so believable and almost makes her not very sympathetic.  The duel between the man who volunteers to be married to her (and then becomes her stalker) is a bit outrageous.  Waris does not help the belief that models are not smart… in fact she clearly fits the mold.  Luckily this is a quick read.  Yes you can watch this “heartwarming tale of African woman makes good” as she cries and tells all on Barbara Walters in the late 1990s.  Now she lives in Brooklyn!  Sorry, but she really turned me off as she tries and make everyone else seem evil and unable to help her.  There has to be another side of Waris that needs to be told….  Skip this one, though she is a beautiful woman, wish she was a bit more modest….     

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Joy of Cooking


It has been a busy week, grading papers, holding traditional events (can you say MIDNIGHT BREAKFAST!) and getting the semester to end on a high note.  So a real departure in the traditional readings and on to a new type of book, well kind of, The Joy of Cooking!  Two of this year’s new RAs chose this one.  I enjoyed learning how to set a table, eating a well balanced meal, knowing how to cook, and knowing what pans to use.  All great how-to’s in preparing a dinner, breakfast, brunch, or lunch!  Wow, hope my wife and kids don’t have high expectations for me.  In terms of meals, well this book has literally thousands of menus for favorite and of course obscure items for your meals.  Bacon stuffing for your fish?  Pat-in-the-pan cheddar dough, how about “turtles” for desert?  Pickled ginger for your favorite meal accoutrement?  Of course you can learn how to make jams, jellies, or preserves.  Which wine should go with that lamb dinner?  When your partner is ill, how about making chicken soup?  Appetizers?  How about a beer cheese dip in a bread bowl?  Getting hungry?  How to use grains in your meals, prepare a great turkey stuffing?  Need a better icing for that Passover sponge cake?  Vegetables always important and salads, you’d be amazed at the selection.  This book is crazy….955 pages of how to make a side, main meal, or desert item.  My mind is spinning, as will yours.  Every kitchen should have this as a staple ingredient!  Buy it as a holiday present and surprise someone.  Hmmm, maybe I’ll do the same.  Fun read!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Edible Woman


Well you had to think this run of great reads would have to end… it did.  What a hugely disappointing book by Margaret Atwood, whose book The Handmaid’s Tale I really enjoyed… not this one, The Edible Woman (it was her first, let’s cut her a break, right? NO.).  First the detail and detail...and detail in describing the moment was a bore.  Marian, the central character, falls in love (well not really I think), she succumbs to what any woman should do (well at least how Atwood presents her) by choosing to marry a man who helps create her current persona.  You know that won’t last, especially when she is out on the road doing her day job, interviewing men and their beer habits.  She finds Duncan, a graduate student and over time she begins an affair of sorts, yes it finally culminates in sex with him when she abruptly leaves the “coming out party” right before her engagement party.  Peter, the fiance, has been allowed, yes I will say allowed, by Marian, to become the woman he says she ought to be (I guess a metaphor for male domination of the 1960s, when the book was written).  Lot in this huh?  Well, heck no, Marian’s roommate, Ainsley,  has her own drama, in wanting to get pregnant and does with Marian’s unsuspecting friend, Len.  But as Marian “frees herself” from the male version of whom she should become, Ainsley slips into the stereotypical woman (or how Atwood clearly is trying to illustrate it), by getting pregnant intentionally as a single woman, then getting scared and needing a husband – yes, meets him at the wacky coming out party.  A feminist nightmare (Ainsley) and a hero for Marian, I would suggest not!  Through an eating disorder by Marian, well she can’t eat she needs to be thin like males think woman should be!  Do I sound angry?  Not really.  Just find the whole story line uninteresting and lacks the meaning I think Atwood may want the reader to have.  The title doesn’t really capture the story, well Marian and her new boy-toy Duncan eat the “woman cake” she makes to share with her ex-fiancé, at this point, to illustrate she is free to be who she wants to be, a fat, single sexed-up woman.  Skip it.  Not worth your time.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Forgotten Fire


A really nice way to end the weekend in reading - Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian.  This is a true story told from the letters of Bagdasrian’s uncle who lived through the atrocities of the First World War as an Armenian living in Turkey.   His uncle grew up in Bitlis in a very privileged and wealthy environment until the Turkish people joined forces with the Germans.   Vahan’s whole life came crumbling down.  First his father and most every adult male disappeared, then his remaining family members were carted away on a journey of death.  Vahan, the only remaining member of the family, struggled to escape the sadistic and inhumane treatments where the Armenians were walked into cesspools of contaminated water, placed in houses to be burned, and shot in the back if they didn’t walk without food or drink for days on end.  Amazingly he lived to tell his tale, serving as a servant to a Turkish man, a servant to a Armenian doctor (who was under Turkish rule), living as a “deaf” gypsy, and escaping to find some Armenians who escaped to Constantinople.  Along the way Vahan fell in love, showed true bravery in finding the faith and strength to use the incomprehensible death of every family member to never give up.  This is an all too true representation of humanity on this earth.  It is written so we will never forget that evil lurks in the hearts of people.  Inspiring that a 12-14 year old can move forward and reach safety even though all is lost around him.  I had not known much about the Armenian genocide, but it is estimated that between 300,000 to 1.5 million were killed.  Forgotten Fire serves many purposes, therapeutic, inspiration, and promoting a collective consciousness that our society should not let the fire for freedom, individuality, and personhood to ever be out of our awareness.  Strong read.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cat's Cradle


While I have had mixed feelings on the work of Kurt Vonnegut in the past, not a fan of Breakfast of Champions, I loved Slaughterhouse Five.  So went into reading Cat’s Cradle thinking, hmmm… we’ll see.  A pleasant surprise.  The book follows the story of the author (Jonah) trying to find out about the fictional character Felix Hoenikker (who was the co-inventor of the atom bomb) and happened to be playing the game “cat’s cradle” during the dropping of the bomb.  Jonah goes on a journey to attempt to piece together Hoenikker’s past and happens to find his sons and daughter along the way, albeit on a flight to the island of San Lorenzo.  The “can’t believe all of these coincidences bringing all the characters together on this crazy island could happen” .. happens!  Vonnegut’s brilliance in bringing a wildly fascinating storyline – the crazy scientist who is playing kids games while the world is overcome with the terrifying threat of the A bomb dropping – gives us all a world of the bizarre that is this world.  What would a political portrait on war be without a statement on religion, so he discusses Bokononism (a post modern faith that combines the cynicism of life and “God’s will” with intensely peaceful rituals.  Practice it on this island, and consider yourself “hooked” – on a hook through your stomach!  You think this is all warped, how about finding out that Hoenikker left his three children the next “A bomb” at his death scene, ice-nine!  Newt, the son who is a little person, brother Frank (who gives his fiance, the beautiful Mona, and the next presidency to Jonah) and sister Angela are the wrong three to have ice-nine, for sure!  As in most good books, the ending brings things together and allows the narrator a place to find his truth.  There is MUCH more to this book than the brief overview above, but for sure, this is a top 100 all-timer for sure.  Vonnegut hits on all cylinders with Cat’s Cradle.  A classic for it’s time.   Love the reference to the 3 characters on the plane being Cornellians (alums of that fine Ivy Cornell, yes where nephew Harry attends!)   Add this to your list!

Friday, December 10, 2010

1602


An interesting read with a compilation of an 8 issue series called 1602, the comic version of what it would have looked like to have Spiderman (for this reading it was Peter Parker pre-“Spidey”), The Fantastic Four, Thor, Captain America, etc. brought into the Elizabethan age.  Imagine Peter Parker serving as Nick Fury’s apprentice (Fury was the Queen’s chief intelligence officer) to help and spoil any threats to the Queen, or Rojhaz (later known as Captain America) a Native American Indian who serves as a bodyguard to the first American born child (Virginia Dare) and so on.  The characters from Marvel Comics all play a role in the death of the Queen and how they attempt to save the new born country, America.  This creative story, holding onto the histories and underlying character traits of the Marvel heroes we know are applied to their 1602 character portrayals.  For a kid who grew up collecting Spiderman comics, it was a real treat.  My sister, Linda, was dating a guy in the 1970s (yes I am that old) who loved comics, and so we started collecting.  I have a bunch of the original Amazing Spiderman collection (which Linda is holding, I hope J) and loved the storylines and intricacies of the villains who all have a flaw.  These flaws are also within and overcome by our heroes.  While the villains succeed in the killing the Queen, know that the heroes save the day with our friends in America.  The book is taken from the 2004 series and the illustrations are great, as is the story.  Pick it up, especially for those who love the Marvel group.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Transgender Warriors


Always interesting to read something that educates one on the untold history of a group or individual.  For me, Transgender Warriors by Leslie Feinberg did just that.  The book was available from the LGBT library too, right around the corner from my office.  Not only did the author write the book based on their individual struggles with dealing with how our society “labels” and places people in categories, but a nice history of the trans movement from Dionysius, Joan of Arc, Oscar Wilde, the AIDS era, RuPaul, and finally to Dennis Rodman (the book was written in 1996 so it doesn’t have latest updates).    Helpful terminology and understanding between the differences of gender expression, gender identity, transvestites, male/female change, oppression, discrimination, and more.  Feinberg’s inclusion of Fredrick Douglass as the quintessential  supporter of the oppressed (by his speech at the first women's rights convention, in the Seneca Falls Convention, as the only African American) illustrates the need for the oppressed to stand up and support each other, no matter the line of demarcation.    As Feinberg notes, “as to the question of what connects lesbian, gay, bi and trans people, I think that answer can only be found by examining the relationship between body, desire, and gender expression.”  Feinberg then adds, “Since these are tightly braided aspects of my identity.  I fight for my right to be whole.”   One aspect of the book that was difficult to agree, though I can understand the perspective, was Feinberg’s connection and belief that capitalism is in many ways reinforcing and holding down those challenged by our society for free gender expression and that communism or some sort of philosophy to operate under may serve people who are the plight of the community under such a societal construct.  While I have never had to walk in Feinberg’s shoes, I can only imagine what each day may be like.  Feinberg continues to advocate and speak on these topics today.  Amazing ability for Feinberg to receive an education based on the road illustrated in the book to be able to research and write a book that is known as the “foundational work” in this area.  Worth a read to educate yourself on the trans movement and anyone who will ever work with trans people you will be helped by understanding the concepts and history.   

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Hobbit


A classic read, which I don’t completely remember from my youth, but I do remember the follow-up stories…  The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.  How could it not be in the best books of all time category?  This fantasy tale tells of Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit, who is called into “duty” by the Wizard Gandalf to assist the band of twelve dwarfs to seek their claim on their treasures lost during earlier battles now guarded by the Dragon Smaug.  The dwarves aren't happy that Bilbo is there to “assist them” but he comes in to save their butts often during this epic journey.  Through goblins, the black forest of Milkwood , giant spiders, and the black waters, Bilbo is there at every turn.  Lucky for him he discovers a “ring” – yes the ring from The Lord of the Rings (the next series of stories by Tolkein), while interacting with Gollum (the riddler of sorts!).  The ring allows Bilbo to vanish from sight, as he becomes invisible to the eye, though he can see all.  The life and death struggle continues with the battle with the Dragon and finally after the dragon is slayed (by the wood-elves) it is a battle that Bilbo tries to stave off by giving the dwarf heirloom of Thorin to the wood-elves.  Thorin is outraged, but eventually after the battle of the Five Armies he forgives Bilbo and gives a portion of the treasure to him.  What a great journey that keeps one on the edge of their seat.  Tolkien is a genius and paints a tale that lasts through the ages.  Wow, just learned this is going to be a movie in 2011!  Hope it is as good as the book.  If you haven’t read in awhile, a quick read, add it if you haven’t.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Road


A special bonus read!  While it isn’t yet one of the RA favorites, it was recommended by a former RA who I recently saw, so I decided it might be good to pick it up on a Sunday afternoon.  The Road by Cormac McCarthy is another post-apocalyptic tale of a father and son who happen to make it through the near world-ending catastrophe.  I love the name of the characters, “boy” and “father.”  The father takes the son on a journey south as winter approaches towards the sea.  The backdrop of their travels is a dark earth with no vegetation.  The mom committed suicide early in the story as she sees no hope on earth without food and safe refuge for the family.  Most of the small contingents of people who are alive have turned to cannibalism.  The father is realistic yet wants to keep his son alive, while the son serves as the symbol of faith believing in the good in people that they meet along the way.  In the closing passage the father dies, leaving the son to fend for himself, but the son finds a man (who has his own family) who tells him he has been following them and invites the son to join his family.  An interesting note is that the son is greeted by the man on the third day, clearly some reference to the Christian belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day.  The epilogue attempts to give some thoughts on nature and the future.  Certainly a departure from the Pretty Horses which I read last month.  What a depressing journey: mom commits suicide, dad is dying, people eating kids, and a family thinking hope is in a father and son journeying to the beach (which is the end of the road!).   These post-apocalyptic tales aren’t always very hopeful are they?  I guess that’s why you do need to have some faith….  Something to think about folks.  Not my favorite read for sure.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Dharma Bums


OK.  I do love the journey of life books, you know I say that often, don’t I?  So this one was an interesting read, though very “period specific” – i.e. the pre-hippie age (in my opinion).  The Dharma Bums tells tales of travel around the US on foot, hitchhiking, jumping trains, looking for my peaceful self.  The central character, Ray, is said to be crafted after the author himself, Jack Kerouac, and the influential mentor, Japhy Ryder, is Gary Snyder, a man who introduced Kerouac to Buddhism.  Ray attempts to find peace and the meaning of life on Desolation Peak in the state of Washington to preparing a meal for a truck driver in the deserts of the Southwest US.  The travels around and around and around the US is tiring; stopping off to his mother’s in Ohio, back to the Southwest, Cali, Northwest Coast, back East and back again.  This seemingly endless search for something is characteristic in many ways (to me) of the lack of meaning that I often see in drifters who believe the grass is greener elsewhere.  While that is not the intent of the trips, as I read it, it does give one the sense of traveling to something and never finding it.  Though Japhy does seem to find it in his final trip by leaving everyone behind (he even throws the woman he just had sex with the past evening off the ship) and heading to Japan.   I did enjoy the concept of giving and how important it is to the Buddhist tradition, a spiritual tradition I am less aware of in the scheme of most traditions.  The finding of self has always been important to me on my journey.   Being the youngest of 6 growing up in the late 60s (I was 5 ok… not that old), I do understand the significance Kerouac’s writings had on the generation, just not connecting with me.  I was able to read this one in a few hours.  Again, timing of books is critical in whether it connects with you or not.  I’ll have to find a better time to read it I guess…  I’d pass on this one.

Friday, December 3, 2010

MoneyBall


I was so hyped to read the latest book based on being a NY Mets fan, MoneyBall by Michael Lewis.  The concept of the book is very intriguing.  It chronicles the history of sabermetrics and using statistics to choose your baseball team.  This becomes increasingly important as teams in smaller baseball markets, aka Oakland, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay, compete with the “beasts” with all of the resources.  Why is this so important to the NY Mets fan, you ask?  Well, the Mets just hired a new General Manager named Sandy Alderson, who is in some ways the father of this movement when he served as the General Manager of the Oakland A’s.  Alderson was caught in the change of frugality with new ownership in Oakland and was forced to think this way.  He hired a number of young Harvard/Yale types who crunched stats to say who may be the college players to pick in the draft, oh yeah high school players were not in the offing with this movement.  The majority of the book follows those hired by Alderson to make this happen.  Guess what?  Most are now in key leadership positions for the Mets so I feel happy for our future!  The book also presents a top draft pick of the Mets in the 80s, Billy Beane who was hired by Alderson and is the real prototype of this thinking.  Beane’s story is one worth reading.  Crazy hyper guy.  The book takes a year in the life of the draft and the fight between the old baseball guys and the new techno stat guys.  The 2002 draft is the focus.  Well guess what… not all the super stat kids made it.  So I guess there is no definitive answer as to who will.  A mix between the stats movement, the life of Beane and others around him, and a few chapters on players who made it even against the odds (though they had great stats)!  Put on your list when spring training comes, for those liking baseball.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The White Tiger


OK, so I admit it… my wife is smart.  Last night I started listening to a new book on tape.  The reader was super fast but with an Indian dialect so I didn’t think anything of it.  She said it sounds like it is sped up.  It wasn’t until the last few minutes while at work that I played it from my office that it was completely different and slower!  No wonder I got through this new book so fast.  It is interesting I picked up The White Tiger yesterday as I had the chance to have brunch at a really close NYU friend’s home, who happens to be of Indian descent and we discussed the caste system in India.  Well, guess what The White Tiger is about... the caste system in India.  The book is clearly a “dark comedy” reflecting the current day system in place.  Balram, the protagonist telling the story, is at the lowest level in the “food chain” and works his way to become a servant of a wealthy Indian man, serving as his personal driver.  We learn of the experiences of humiliation that some servants face in India as a driver, “when I am not in the car, leave the AC off, I want you to track your mileage so I know you aren’t cheating me, no heat in the car when I am not there in the winter”... you get the point.  Balram actually works for a pretty nice wealthy man, though he does forget at points (after a drunken night on the town with his wife) to be decent in terms of G-rated play with his wife in the back seat.  There are some laughs among the absurdity of it all.  Finally Balram realizes the only way out of his sad life is to kill his boss by slashing him to death with a bottle of Johnny Walker Red.  Hmmm, I don’t know how anyone can drink that stuff.  Not for me for sure!  And it looks like he will get away with the murder, taking the money from the pocket of the deceased boss.  He ends up at the top of the caste system with the money he has taken and starts his own taxi service in Bangalore where he has escaped.  An interesting tale illustrating one man’s belief of the “flawed” democratic system.  Balram suggests that socialism would be a better way to go.  I guess if one doesn’t experience what Balram has you might not think democracy works.  The more I read about Indian culture the more I wonder if there isn’t a serious problem.  Others thoughts on this?  Love to hear.  Gave me lots to think about.  If you like dark humor, you’ll like this one!  

Monday, November 29, 2010

Gilgamesh


So strange to be back to work after a four day respite.  Welcome to Monday!  Nice to see and feel the bustle of campus life.  I don’t often talk about the work I do over the blog, but I am blessed.  I have a great position and work at a great institution.  NYU has everything one could ask for... great students, great faculty, and in a great city!  So let’s get to the reading, huh?  The oldest story of all time, well some say… Gilgamesh.  I know there are numerous versions translated but this version was quite short in duration, from my standpoint – especially since I listened to it on tape.  The translator’s notes were longer than the story.  It was a wonderful read in terms of the story of friendship, immortality (or seeking immortality), experiencing the physical expression of love/companionship,  strength, seeking to be the best and responding to the Gods.  Had a little of everything.  Gilgamesh was the absolute epitome of strength and was challenged when Enkidu, a younger version of himself, came forward.  Together they traversed the world to rid their country of an impending force of Humbaba and later the Bull of Heaven.  When his dear companion Enkidu dies, he seeks to find the secret of eternal life but what he finds out is what we all will find at the end of the journey, “there is an end!”  Certainly is a pre-cursor to the stories we read daily just different backdrops.  I hadn’t read this one since high school.  Great to be re-introduced to it.  Add it to the list!  

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire


It has been a long weekend of reading and listening.  Trying to read between listening is not an easy thing to do.  But sequel to the good read of a few weeks ago… this time, part 2.  You know they always say the second book is not as good as the first, not so here. I thought book two was actually better.  The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson was a continuation of the first story, same characters but much more focused on the implications of the early life of Lisbeth Salander.  One always needs to pay attention to each of those little hints from the first story and guess what, they come out as important elements later on.  Nothing like thrillers that have turns at every corner.  I have had a great week of books to read/listen to this past week or so.  Another bestselling book from the list.  This one focuses on the story of exposing sex trafficking, though that is really a cover for the history of Lisbeth’s growing up and connecting the dots.  I don’t want to give too much information on this one, other than to say I really enjoyed it.  You can’t put this down.  I love the sexual triangle that pits Lisbeth and her two lovers, Mikael and Miriam.  Mystery, intrigue, and surprises all throughout.  I hope RAs place the last book on the list!!!  Buy this book!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Devil in the White City


Another long ride gave me the chance to do some power listening from audible.com.  Have I told you how expensive this journey to read all the RA favorites… no idea, but it has been a pretty penny.  Time for some non-fiction and a book that has been the favorite for multiple RAs.  The Devil in the White City by Eric Larsen is an excellent story that chronicles two stories at the same time.  First the building of the World’s Fair celebrating the 400 year anniversary of Columbus discovering America (can you even believe that we would celebrate the 500 years?  With all of the issues revolving Columbus, not so!). The windy city (or the white city – no idea that’s what it was called) wins the bid.  The trials and tribulations surrounding the build-up and intricacies involved in the landscaping, building, and the triumphs of the unions are all captured and at the same time following the life of Dr. H.H. Holmes, the first known serial killer in the US.  Larsen does an outstanding job of weaving the two stories together and providing a historical perspective on so many things that we benefitted from in our growing up. Throw in a few euphemisms that I now know the historical context and you have a read that also teaches the readers a few things.   I also loved the fact that the reader was the same person who read Alexander Hamilton’s biography.   I would add this to the list of reads.  I understand why this was a bestselling book.  Well done.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Art of Possibility


Hope all enjoyed the Thanksgiving festivities.  We had a good time eating and cooking.  I also had time to finish 1931 (a good year, huh?) out of 5300 runners in the Troy Turkey Trot!  Not bad.  A good day to recover and read The Art of Possibility by a husband and wife team, Benjamin and Rosamund Zander  (stream of consciousness… I had a kid named Zander on my LL team for a few years).  Back to the read… well some pretty nice nuggets on how to deal with others and think before acting, but overall disappointing.  This is a classic self-help book written by a conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and his wife, Rosamund, who serves as a psychotherapist.  When I read the starfish story (if you don’t remember it, here you go: http://muttcats.com/starfish.htm) as a lead into a chapter, I know that I may have read the best part of the book already.  Very simplistic concepts that we should all employ.  Spend time talking to a wise old man or woman on a park bench and you’ve read this one…. Save the $3.00 and get a latte from Starbucks.  A pass….

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Hunger Games


An excellent listen!  As we drove up to upstate NY, I had the chance to listen to a great future (apocalyptic) read… The Hunger Games.  The story was engaging, loved the characters, and the thrill of what would happen next.  The story had it all, except for the ending was not what I thought it would be, except to say, I’m sure there will be a sequel, too much left up in the air (JUST GOOGLED it, yes it is one of three books! Am I smart or what?).  The Hunger Games was the 2120 type “Olympic games”… but with a huge twist.  The winner is the one who kills the other 23 kids from the other districts.  The protagonist (Katniss) is not chosen to lead her district, rather she stands in for her little sister who was chosen.   Katniss and her partner, Peeta, come from District 12, the poorest of the 12 districts in the country (which was North America), now called Panem.  Once chosen for the tournament we experience the pre-game parades, interviews, and then the main event.  Death is not becoming, especially when you fall in love.  Unfortunately no RA has placed the second book as a favorite?  Oh dear!  A very good listen, and I’m sure just as good a book.  High marks!  But now I want to read the second book….  I guess I have to wait until I get through the next 140+ books first.  

Monday, November 22, 2010

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle


A nice read, certainly off the path of what I have been reading lately, a short engaging story of the high seas, no this is not like Hemingway… instead it is by Avi (love the name!), The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.  Poor Charlotte Doyle who shares this story years after she experienced the trip of her life.  Can you imagine parents sending their child from England to the US on a cargo sailboat in 1832?!  Her father, who owns the shipping company, has his daughter on the voyage.  The other families who were scheduled to join the trip back out when they learn of the infamous captain (Captain Jaggery) at the helm.  Jaggery’s last voyage was one in which he cut off the arm of a sailor.  Charlotte is warned not to go on board, but the man dropping her off gives her no choice, fire his butt Mr. Doyle!  Charlotte learns that she has entered a “mutiny” voyage.  Death, trials (yes, Charlotte goes on trial for murder), and becoming a true sailor for a 13 year old girl, this one has it all!

The book is probably most impactful for the age range of Charlotte, 11-15.  Simple, fun, exciting, and a coming of age story.  Love the ending – shouldn’t we all run away and follow our dreams, especially 13 year-olds?  Great lesson, huh???  Give this one to your young niece, she will love it.  For those over 16, hmmm…  probably not. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy


Happy birthday to my sister, Linda.  So I will base my review on what my sister might think of this book – a famous sci-fi, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s not only sci-fi, but has some comedy, and a bit of Eugene Ionesco (Theatre of the Absurd) for sure.   The characters visit the planet of Magrathea, which seems like a fun place with Earth gone.  The first character we are introduced to is Arthur Dent, an Earthling from England who fights to ensure his house doesn’t become a thoroughfare for others to get to Point B from Point A faster.  From there a number of other characters come and go in this revolving door, such as Ford Prefect, an alien from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse who is a researcher for the eponymous guidebook; Zaphod Beeblebrox, Ford's semi-cousin and the Galactic President; the depressed robot Marvin, the Paranoid Android; and Trillian, formerly known as Tricia McMillan, a woman Arthur once met at a party in Islington and the only other human survivor of Earth's destruction. Confused yet?  Don’t be.

Back at planet Magrathea, we are introduced to Slartibartfast, a planetary coastline designer.  He tells the story of a race of hyper-intelligent beings who built a computer named Deep Thought to calculate the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. The computer, often mistaken for a planet (because of its size and use of biological components), was destroyed to make way for a hyperspatial express route, could this be the route that our early protagonist Arthur Dent tried to fight?  This really gets over the top when we are introduced to the mice – yes, the mice who made it from earth to Magrathea.  Who could think a book as eccentric as this could be a bestseller?  What was happening in the late 1970s when this was written?  Hmmm now I know why it was a best seller.  Be awake, Red Bull might keep you super focused for this one, and would be fitting!  Not my favorite for sure – give me Dirk Gently by the same author, Douglas Adams.  And now I learned he had various versions of this book, yikes!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Mists of Avalon


When you have been reading a really LONG book for a LONG time there is a sense of accomplishment that goes beyond words, especially when the book is not one in which you really enjoy.  Fast forward to The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimnmer Bradley.  When I say long, I mean it…. at this moment in time, there are 1-2 books I have started that fall in the category of LONG.  When I finished Alexander Hamilton, which I really enjoyed, it took me 6 months, starting and stopping.  This one is longer.  I have never been a fan of the whole King Arthur fetish.   This book differs from almost all of the other books I have read from the “Arthurian” tales in that this particular book is heavy on the female perspective, which is a nice twist of describing blood, gore, sexual intrigues, religious uprisings, and the fight for power and the throne.   Aren’t all of these stories the same? 


The tale spans a few generations, first with Morgaine, the story’s protagonist, when she is just a little girl and taken to Avalon by her aunt to become a priestess and experiences the tensions of the religious/non-religious coalitions. While there she goes through a ritual on birthing and meets her half-brother, Arthur, whom she didn’t know.  She later has a child, Gwydion, or Mordred (which she is later called).  Confusing? 


Later after Arthur’s father dies, he ascends to the throne.  He gets the magic sword, love those magic swords! Guess what it is called… Excaliber.  Arthur, with sword in hand, fights off the invasion of the Saxons.  Unfortunately Arthur is not as lucky in bed, meaning his wife and he can’t conceive a child.  This leads to Gwenhwyfar, the wife, to have strained relationships with the circle of Morgaine, Camelot, and all.  The knights of the Round Table of Camelot leave to search for the Holy Grail but Mordred, the bastard son of Arthur and Morgaine, takes the throne.  The major battle is fought in the end where Arthur and Mordred’s men fight each other and Morgaine is left in the end alone to share the story of what happens to Camelot.  Lot of drama, with intrigue, but again, not a fan of the Arthur years….  A number of books top this one.  Glad to have finally hit page 875!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Every Second Counts


Today’s topic is one that goes far back in my history, much like many of you I am sure, cancer.  30+ years ago my father was stricken with cancer and again two more times.  I am lucky as he was a fighter and remains healthy and active today.  Lance Armstrong’s Every Second Counts chronicles his fight against cancer (four years after he began remission) during his second Tour de France race.  The book goes from stories of the people who he helped, the struggles of morning treatments, to the fear of cancer returning, losing the race, and finally to his struggles with married life. The book also follows the allegations of Armstrong’s drug use and his team (Postal) members.  Armstrong’s vulnerability shows in moments of his failing marriage as a husband and how he sometimes wasn’t aware of how important his role of fighting cancer played when meeting a cancer stricken man at the White House.  Armstrong’s stark upbringing in a single family household seemingly taught him how to fight, persevere, and never give up even in the presence of pain and desperation.  The physical pain he endured was thoughtfully presented as was the failure of others to endure.  He serves as a role model for many with his active involvement in his own foundation.  One thing I have learned first-hand from fighters (like my father) is that it is innate and I don’t think it can be taught.  My father can think away headaches and the pain of living with limited to no stomach or intestines, though still works in his own business at age 80+…  inspirational… hmmm he wouldn't say so, nor would I.  It is the way of life, knowing how important he is to our family and also to the community that he interacts.  Armstrong inspires us for his ability to fight on the bicycle, 7(!!!) times on the tour, and serves as hope for those who fight the worst with the disease.  As a human, there are sides of Armstrong that comes through in the book that are not so attractive, ego and self-absorption, but so too do we all have our quirks and personality “traits” that make some folks attracted to us and others not.  At times the book is motivating, but at times I really didn't like Armstrong which affected my own feelings of the book.  Not sure it was integrated as well as it could have been… was it supposed to be about tour number 2? An epilogue and then another, reviewing tour win number 5, sprinkled in with a diary of details that, to be honest, were not all that interesting.  I felt I was tuning in to a weekly serial and missed a year or two of shows.  I still admire what he was capable of accomplishing.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Brideshead Revisited


English novels seem to me to have a similar feel to them (a huge generalization, for sure)!  In this best-selling book (in its time), we go back to the war days of WWI and WWII, though not much about the war, but the intricacies of relationships, religion, and facing our demons.  Brideshead Revisited  by Evelyn Waugh was published in 1945.  The lead character, the voice of our narrator Charles Ryder, who is studying at Hertford College at Oxford University, meets and befriends Sebastian Flyte, the son of a wealthy family.  Flyte seemingly has strong feelings for Charles (homosexual overtones, though hard to figure out completely) early in the book until it appears Charles has eyes for his sister Julia.  The story revolves around the three characters growing apart after their initial time at Brideshead.  Sebastian heads to Morocco and falls into alcoholism, though near the end of his life he turns to a monastery and finds some solace in life.  Julia and Charles marry others and realize that their marriages aren’t based on the love that they find in each other after all these years.  But as a subplot throughout is the role of faith, Catholicism, plays in the lives of the three, Julia and Sebastian as growing up Catholic and Charles – a non-believer who loses out to Julia in the end because of her inability to re-marry (in part because of her faith).  The story is much more complicated with the family upbringing of Charles without a mother, and the Catholic issues with Sebastian & Julia’s parents, especially the last scene where their father is given his last rites and he comes back to the church (after leaving for a time), hence Julia’s response to Charles.  Brideshead is revisited at the very end by Charles at the conclusion of WWII (years later) in a scene that makes one think has he been called by God back to this place?   Characters are believable during this time of war and questioning of whether there is a God, a sign of the time.  Good depth and lots of sub issues that create a complication of understanding some of the real messages here.  Need to pay attention to the details as the author may be telling us one thing, or not?  Not the best book, but worth a read.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Top Girls


I think this is the last PLAY, yes another one!  So, I guess this one is actually pretty entertaining, so I will not go into detail about my Tisch students who want a play to be a best novel.  Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls is set in Britain and brings in the stories of historical women and parallels them with the modern women of the day.  The opening scene is pretty funny when the “dead women’s society” – Pope Joan, Griselda (the patient wife from the Clerk’s Tale in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales) and Lady Nijo, a Japanese mistress who becomes a Buddhist nun – have dinner with Marlene, the driven “can’t hold her down” woman of the 1980s (when it was written).  The tempo, language, and interaction make the first Act go by quickly.  The remaining scenes follow Marlene’s history before rising to the top at Top Girl’s Employment Agency.  We learn that Marlene left her poor upbringing and illegitimate child with her struggling sister and faces a “Man’s World” as the top dog at the agency.  The last scene of the play is set one year before and we learn about the choices that Marlene makes before she makes it “to the top”...  if that in fact is the top, is it where women, or anyone, want to be?  Interesting question.  Lots of levels in this story, I probably missed a bunch, for sure.   Overall, as a play as a book, not bad.  I could actually visualize this play pretty well.  Maybe my directing shoes are getting ready to be put on?  Hmmm…  maybe not, no more plays on this list (!),  well until I meet another Tisch student, huh?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sybil


A nice classic to read for those interested in the psychology of a person, Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber.  The story is based on the true story regarding multiple personalities.  You certainly need to be aware that this is not an easy read.  The horrific events that lead to Sybil’s condition stem from her schizophrenic mother who tortures her in ways too gruesome for this blog.  After her mother’s death, she finally gets to meet the doctor whom she was unable to meet when her mother was alive, Dr. Wilbur, who has moved to NYC.  Dr. Wilbur, a female psychologist, works with Sybil over an eleven-year period to identify the sixteen personalities that are within Sybil.  These personalities seem to reflect aspects of family members who negatively influenced her in some way.  Each personality attempts to keep Sybil caught hidden in the past.  Having three sessions a week, Dr. Wilbur slowly works to have Sybil confront her fears and meet each personality.  Her father’s guilt of allowing his sick wife (who dies during Sybil’s teenage years) to raise Sybil provides the funds for her to meet with Dr. Wilbur. The story is alleged to be the real life story of the author.  “Sybil” a pseudonym for the lead character is said to have fully recovered and become an artist and college professor.  A book like Sybil allows the reader to understand the complexities of mental illness and how we as a society should not overlook these diseases.  If you really want to be moved by determination and the desire of one person to help another, you will find the book rewarding in the end, but a tough read to get to that point.  It was a bestselling book in its time.  Complicated work.  Need some time with this one.  

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Arcadia


So I met with a friend of a friend’s son who wants to attend NYU.  This is his DREAM school.  I love NYU, don’t get me wrong, but high school students out there, note: there are a lot of great schools out there, not just one.  If you don’t get into your top rated school, you will survive!  Sorry, needed to get that out there.  OK.  I said this before and I will say it again (hopefully not too often), but a play is not a favorite book.  There is just way too much missing, especially for someone like me with an MFA in Directing.  It’s almost like being teased reading a play and not experiencing it live.  Arcadia by Tom Stoppard…. I guess it is ok.  Not a real fan of period pieces AND current day in the same story on stage!  Throw in Lord Byron, a love affair, hidden stories, educational snobbery and well, what else?  1809 to 1993 back to 1809 to 1993... you get the idea.  Same set, leave the same props on stage.  I started to picture it, but got frustrated I was reading someone’s favorite book.  This is hard, especially when I am listening to a book on tape (just started) that I’m REALLY liking – hope to finish it this week, stay tuned – oops, yeah Arcadia, hummm…  Byron left a book behind that we didn’t know about – never published, hidden at a country house in Derbyshire – not even a fan of Byron’s work either.  OK – sorry theatre lovers, I love plays, don’t get me wrong, but I ask RAs for their favorite book???  All actors should have a favorite book too, you know.   The melodrama of the scenes from 1809 annoyed me, one of my least favorite period for plays so almost everything is stacked against me liking this from the start.  I actually like some of Stoppard’s works.  Take a pass on this one.  I may try and see it when the production comes around and will update this blog entry at that point in time.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dinotopia


A great day to read a children’s book , my son Alex’s 16th birthday!  I remember the days sitting in bed with him as he said “Just one more page please” and of course I relented and read another, and then another page.  It was probably a book just like tonight’s Dinotopia by James Gurney.  A story of a father and son lost at sea and land on a far away place, Dinotopa, where dinosaurs rule the world.  Will and his father are the only two to survive the ship wreck.  Luckily the dolphins retrieved them and brought them safely to home.   The story has the two journey through various exotic lands and learning that others have also been kept captive in this inescapable land.  The story is enhanced by the beautiful renderings that reflect the land.  The detailed pictures help bring the reader to the majestic land of mystery and adventure.  Both Will and his father meet others who help them on their journey in search of a way to “go back home.”  In the end, Will’s father reflects that their journey makes him realize that their old world was richly rewarding, “but here on Dinotopia my eyes have been open to the wonders of a new world” where animals communicate with people and there is a lifetime of adventures to live.  Escaping out of this world into a new one is a dream for many.  For one, I like this world.  While the journey is exciting, give me NYC any day.  What a great book to help kids and adults alike paint vivid pictures and assist in deepening your imagination.  The illustrations alone are worth viewing.  A good, fun read.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Bonfire of the Vanities


I wish I picked up the book I was reading rather than start and finish the Tom Wolfe novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities.  The story is set in NYC!  That’s about it… well not really.  100 years from now it will be considered a “period piece” as it reflects the greed, self-preservation, racism, and behind door politics of the era.  The characters, centering around four men, all have some flaw - greed, power, alcoholism, etc.  Sherman McCoy, the millionaire, accidently visits the Bronx on his way to the airport with his mistress (Maria).  That is a huge detour for those of you who don’t leave the borough (how he didn’t know after crossing the bridge?)!   McCoy is faced by a few African-American men late at night in which it “appears” a hit and run occurs when he exits his car, avoiding garbage cans.  The local DA (Abe Weiss), up for re-election, tracks down McCoy as the culprit when the two men complain of the hit and run.  Between the humiliation for McCoy through the bad press (Peter Fallow, an alcoholic reporter who attempts a revival on his career following the alleged “hit and run) of the “incident” and his relationship with the mistress, he contemplates his life. The various story lines all intersect with a ho-hum ending.  The story and the drab, “I have such a bad life” characters make me want to scream!  Not worth your time… A highly rated book for its time.  Take a pass!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


Does the hype make a book less fulfilling to read or not?  Well, for this one it didn’t hurt the book at all.  I finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, a thriller with some really interesting characters.  Mikael Blomkvist, a publisher for a political magazine Millennium, loses a libel case and has been sentenced to three months of prison.  After he steps down from the magazine, he is approached by Henrik Vanger, of the wealthy Vanger Group, to find out who killed his niece, a mystery that has eluded him for 40 years.  The interesting twist - it is someone from the family!   Like most great thrillers, Blomkvist is trailed by a mystery woman (who has hacked into his computer and learns of his investigation), the woman (Lisbeth) then is found by Blomkvist and joins him in the search.  I didn’t go into detail about Lisbeth, she is a complicated character with a harrowing experience with the man overseeing her inheritance (you’ll find out why she’s the girl with the dragon tattoo and what things she tattoos on others!).  The story has great drama as each family member is believed to be the murderer, but with all good thrillers...(possible spoiler, highlight to read) the murders are of others and not who you are led to believe is dead.  OK – enough of the details.  Read this one!  To think this is a trilogy is exciting.  Yes, the second book is on the RA list, but not the third, so I guess I will have to wait until meeting more RAs next year.  Add this one to your list!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek


You know I am not a big fan of short stories… well, I will say this read is VERY descriptive and paints beautiful pictures, heck I feel like I just left the new Walden Pond.  Surely the author, Annie Dillard, was very much affected by Thoreau in her book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  The book was lauded as a great series of stories, which are connected by the scenery and experiences of the season changes at Tinker Creek, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Roanoke, Virginia.  I really want to visit them, for sure.  While I was lifted to the beauty and serenity of the location, not someone who is “brought” to a place when I am in the mood I was for this book.  Give me a Grisham book anytime over this type of read.   Sorry folks, unless you are at the beach where you are falling asleep all of the time or interrupted incessantly and it doesn’t matter, I’d leave this one for another day and time.