Thursday, September 30, 2010

Plato's Symposium

A huge departure from previous readings, especially as it relates to the time period of the material…Symposium by Plato (This obviously must have been a graduate student’s favorite book, right?  If you said yes, you are CORRECT.).   Symposium is the story of a group of men debating “love” and all its forms during a drinking party (hmm… how often does that same thing happen today in our college residence halls? --- LOTS I’m sure!)  Learning the gods who created love, how love is conceived, acted on, and which sex “loves better.”  A bunch of male philosophers debating love makes for an interesting debate, if you like the philosophical dialogue.  Short read with lots of levels that require patience and concentration.  Don’t read this one late at night or when you are tired as it may quicken the pace at which you grow tired.  Not a huge fan of ancient Greek philosophic texts and I completed my graduate degree.  Please don’t let the graduate student “BB” know I said that.  Maybe if there was a context for reading this book I’d enjoy more.  For a class, I’m sure it’s a perfect read in connecting to the coursework, outside that context as a stand alone… not really.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Power of One

One person, one dream… The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay tells the story from the voice of a young Englishman growing up in South Africa in the 1930-40s.  When his mother has a psychological breakdown, he is sent away to a boarding school where he is ridiculed by his classmates, especially one in particular, “the Judge.”  The Judge ends up coming back to face Peekay in the final part of the story.  Peekay is taught to box after his traumatic boarding school days. Peekay’s journey brings him to travel.  On the trip, he is introduced to the boxing champion of South African railways.  He learns aspects of the boxing.  As the story unfolds, he meets a father figure who emerges in his life who educates him on the value of life.  Peekay and Doc are challenged by the beginning of World War II where Doc is imprisoned when he fails to register as an alien visitor.  During Doc’s imprisonment, Peekay visits and is introduced first hand to the hostile treatment of the African blacks who are held captive.  Peekay is constantly facing (both to himself and witnessing others) treatment because of their nationality.  A resounding theme is how racism and discrimination are rampant everywhere on this earth, it is hard to ever get away from it. This is true in South Africa and with Apartheid as Peekay tries to rise against it.  The journey and relationship between an educated man (Doc) and the solo “adopted son” makes for a powerful statement on the bond between the elder and the youth.  Boxing is a central theme and how it is seen as the “right way” to battle in relation to fighting and war.  While it is a long read with lots of side stories and developing relationships, I enjoyed this one.  A complex view of growing up as an outsider and how good beats evil on some small level in the end!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Hours

I read another Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Hours, by Michael Cunningham.  Riveting…  The novel tells the tale of three generations of women, Virginia Woolf (as herself), a woman from the 1950s (mother of one and expecting another), and finally a female editor from the 1990s.  The action takes place during one day and all connected to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (as Woolf was in the midst of writing it!).  The author used an ingenious writing approach to connect the three women.  Woolf’s mental illness, similar to the issues that the character Dalloway faced, was present in all three women with a twist in connecting all three of them.  It is a beautifully written book and the theme of suicide certainly does leave a reader with a sense of depression and anxiety for woman in our society as a whole.  To be able to take a piece of writing like Woolf’s and add characters directly impacted and connected to Woolf is pure genius.  Cunningham in no way is replicating Woolf’s work but adding to the level of complexity that only Woolf can do.  This is Pulitzer Prize writing and worth a read.  Not simple stuff at all.  Adding today’s social issues like AIDS and you have it all.  Probably not something to read on a rainy day in February.  What I re-learn on reading books like this, not everyone’s story is rosy and happy.  Life is complicated and the book’s cover has lots of things behind it.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dandelion Wine

It’s nice when you get to read a second book from the same author as a favorite book.  This time my attentions turned to Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury.  I am impressed that he can write from so very different points of view and style of writing.  This book was SO different from Fahrenheit 451, which I really enjoyed reading (a sci-fi futuristic book).  This was not at all.  The book in essence was a series of short stories held together by the summer of 1928 in a fictional town in Illinois.  Just like the wine, the joys of summer between two brothers and many things that happened in the town made for a memorable visit.  While the story seemed to be held together by the boys' journey, it didn’t work for me.  Sorry, but I didn’t get the joys of the three friends walking through the ravine and finding yet another friend dead in the woods or Doug’s (he is the brother of the narrator) potential death from an illness, and the Time Machine (where’d that come from?).  I never tasted the wine that Bradbury was trying to have the reader drink.  While it was a quick read, I dozed numerous times.  Lucky I read the second half while riding the bike at the gym.  Not so high on this book.  I’d take a pass.  I still have The Martian Chronicles to read (still on the list) so Bradbury may get a higher rating.  Oh well.  Hey, there are a lot of books on the list and I’m not going to love them all, am I?  Only one more week of meeting this year’s RAs, so an updated favorite list coming next week!

Friday, September 24, 2010

1,000 RAs Interviewed!

What a wonderful day!  It was a special one in the onset of this project, yes to meet each RA.  So when I am constantly asked, why do I do this?  I respond, “a long time ago, when I attended some management leadership seminar, someone said that if you are afforded the opportunity to meet every person in your organization, I should try and do so.”  Well, that is one answer, the other reason is the chance I get to interact with the most amazing group of students that one could ever imagine.  Today was a special day.  I met my 1,000th RA since I began this project.  Shantum, an RA in Third North, is a great guy.  His favorite book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull – a great read – I had already finished and was able to ask some in depth questions about why this one?  And true to form, Shantum made me once again realize why I do this work…  working with outstanding students. So I asked him why was J.S.L. his favorite book and he explained it much as the bird who learned to soar to heights and pushing himself to do the things others never thought he could.  An inspirational meeting with an inspiring young man.  What have a learned about the 1,000 interviews?  NYU attracts smart, diverse students who will change health care policy, education reform leaders, world travelers, Broadway stars, millionaires, politicians, writers, and of course people with an ethic of care and independent thinkers.  So I count myself lucky to be here!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Hmmm… well, just finished The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.  Interesting story about a child (Christopher) with autism who faces death, loss, misunderstandings, and the mysteries of disappearance and intrigue.  What a world it must be to see life from a completely different way than most.  The mystery of how someone with autism is so intelligent, literal, and alone.  This is a book that the initial mystery of the death of the neighbor’s dog is solved early and then the aftershock of how the dog dies is revealed which leads Christopher to a journey to find safety.  I will say that while I was brought into the story, I didn’t necessarily think that Christopher’s response to the characters (Mother and Father) made complete sense to me in the end.  While I didn’t anticipate a “kumbaya” ending – I did think the “let’s throw a puppy” to make all things better was a cheap ending!  The story was compelling, the ending less so.  Can read this one in 3-4 hours.  Not on the top of the list, but if nothing else to read, it’s ok.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


I really enjoyed reading Kindred by Octavia Butler, a story of time travel from 1976 back to the days of her ancestors in the age of slavery (early 1800s) in the Maryland region.  The protagonist (a black writer named Dana) shuttles back and forth to the past whenever Rufus (the son of the land owner) is hurt or about to die.  Dana is placed in a strange predicament in attempting to help Rufus and at the same time learning about her family heritage.  Her “trips back in time” take little time from her 1976 life, but each time she returns a good amount of time passes in Maryland.  Dana, on one of the earlier passages back, takes her husband, Kevin (a white man), with her to Maryland and this allows Kevin the opportunity to first-hand experience the harsh realities that slaves face.  Dana is beaten and removed from Kevin for a portion of their time in Maryland.  Once reunited, they escape back to 1976.  I think the author does an outstanding job of illustrating today’s racism (Kevin’s family rejects him when he marries Dana) and paralleling this with the treatment of slave owner’s illegitimate children sold to other slave owners.  The “time traveling” adds nicely to the story interweaving the alleged abuse of Kevin to Dana (which isn’t really happening since it is what happens when she is on the farm) and the emotional trauma that happens when Dana is living in her present, knowing she is needed back to make the present happen.  The story captivated me and once again brought forward the issues of how hatred and greed can, and still do, rule our society.  A definite read!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Collector

The psychology behind why someone does something seen outside the bounds of human decency is often never known.  Today’s favorite book, The Collector by John Fowles, is an intricate view (from a few perspectives) of a collector of butterflies, which later turns into a collector of women.  This thriller is a precursor to a Stephen King-type book (like Misery), yet the main character in this book has no inclination to kill his “hostage.”   The main character, Frederick Clegg, is a town clerk who wins money unexpectedly which allows him to focus on his obsession of butterflies… and then Miranda, a beautiful, young art student.  Clegg traps her and brings her to live with him in his secluded home in the rural regions of England.  The book is told from the point of view of Clegg, then Miranda, and then back to Clegg.  During Miranda’s captivity, she tries to shake her fear by understanding why Clegg would hold her hostage.  She attempts seduction and even trying to kill him, to no avail.  Every time the reader thinks she will gain freedom, guess what happens?  The ending is as good as the story.  Horrific, but true to the story.  Excellent psychological portrayal of a man who has never been in a relationship with meaning, or at least not having the capacity to do so.  Thanks Dylan for the suggestion.  And to think it is on my son’s 11th grade read list this semester.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Wow.  Just finished a great read!  An updated version of Catcher in the Rye by Salinger… The Perks of Being a Wallflower,by Stephen Chbosky.  The 1990’s version of what it is like being an adolescent in Anytown, USA.  The story is a series of letters written by the Narrator (Charlie) from the beginning to the end of his freshman year.  The issues of sex, mental illness, drugs, and being different in a world that says “acclimate now or else” are all addressed from the view of a 14 year old.  What a GREAT read.  Thank you RAs for suggesting this one.  Perfect timing when I think of the transition phase that the students I work with at NYU are going through as freshmen.  I felt sad for Charlie, I was proud of him, I envied his naiveté, I was frustrated by him, and I really liked him all in one read.  If you ever had or will have a son, read this book.  You will never forget how hard it is to enter this difficult cultural change… HIGH SCHOOL.   Charlie finds friendship when you think it isn’t possible but he also learns how vulnerable you can be in speaking your mind, or not knowing how or what to say.  Charlie exists in all of us.  The author’s brilliant approach of using the “letter writing” to someone – (who is he sending these letters to?, not that it really matters) – the therapeutic exercise of writing reminds us all how important reflection is in our life.  A must read especially for parents, heck for anyone who is about to experience transition.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Nanny Diaries

It is a great feeling to read a book and see the authors are alums of the institution I work, NYU!  Today’s read, The Nanny Diaries, was about a student of NYU (Nanny) who becomes a nanny to a wealthy Upper East Side family (If this is an autobiographical story, which it is penned to be, how scary!!!).  Nanny is the only “parental figure,” poor 4 year old Grayer's Mom (a philandering uber-rich “have no time for my son”) and Dad (conartist!) are so self absorbed with their own social standing that they forget they actually have some responsibility for their son.  Throw in a love affair with a neighbor (Harvard Hottie) and Nanny has some challenges.  She gives her life to Grayer and is later let go by the X’s (love how the author has disguised the guilty!).  The “Nanny Cam” twist shows that good can overcome evil.  How could I not enjoy this quick read written by NYU’s alums from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study.  It also gives a glimpse into the rich and “infamous”… shame on you parents who don’t love the fact that you are a parent.  The most important role I can play is having some impact on the value set my children will have in their life.  Good read!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Wake Up Sir!

Happy 60th anniversary to my parents!  Tomorrow is the big party.  Today finished reading Wake Up Sir! Hmmm.  Another alcoholic/pot smoking/can’t get my life under control story.  It’s interesting how often this tale is told.  The imaginary servant “Jeeves” adds an extra piece to this emotionally drained protagonist, Alan Blair.  Jeeves is a fictional character in the short stories and novels of P. G. Wodehouse, being the "gentleman's personal gentleman" or valet – kind of creepy if you ask me (not to mention a rip-off from Wodehouse…).  Interesting to note the locations of this tale are all places that I know well, Montclair, New Jersey (uppity upperclass community), Sharon Springs (resort area in the Catskills), and Saratoga Springs (the art colony) and yes, uppity summer resort for the rich and famous.  The cover of this novel gives the reader the idea that this is a “hilarious” read. Well if you are using the Albany Times Union as one of your reviews, can’t be a good sign.  Did I laugh, a few times, more like “duhhh” ok…  No, not that funny.  The book was a quick read, luckily, as I enjoyed where the author was taking us, but then the ending left me hum “being hit over the head by a concrete slab”.  Too bad Alan Blair wasn’t at the end of this story.  Alcoholics tend to be in high praise for RA favorite books.  While I didn’t fall asleep – as the title would suggest “Wake up, Sir” – I wish that the character did.  Oh and I forgot to mention the whole crabs (yes crabs, not the kind you eat either) incident…  a chuckle for that one for sure.  Add this one to the list, but not to my list.  I hope the author’s other books bring the reader on just as interesting journey, but ends somewhere else.  This is a skip, unless you enjoy the perils of the lost.  

Thursday, September 9, 2010

All the King’s Men

The ramifications of trying to be a savior to the people and then falling in to the same traps as your predecessors was one of the themes within the 1946 book, All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren.  Willie Stark goes from country hick to idealistic lawyer to candidate for governor, which on his second time around, wins.  The narrator of the story is the journalist (Jack Burden) who catches wind of the rapid ascent during his first run for office and then later works for Stark.  Intertwined in the story is the “burden” Jack and others carry when Stark changes dramatically and face his turncoat ways.  Burden’s first love, her brother, and uncle all get wrapped in Stark’s web of becoming “Hitleresque” in running the state.  Actions having lasting consequences comes back to haunt Anne Stanton, her uncle, and of course Stark.  No one can escape the ascent of a little power. 

This is an oldie, but goodie.  The book was a hit movie in its day, and remade just a few years ago (I guess that’s one way to say it is standing the test of time.).  Political stories, aka John Grisham, still have staying power.  Will take more than one sitting to finish this one.  

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

It is so interesting to read a recent bestselling book.  The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz was a brilliant mix of current day life, historical recount of the Dominican Republic political turmoil of the 1900s, and three generations of one family.  Always nice to have some discussion on residence hall living on a college campus --- yes Rutgers (Demarest Hall, it has special interest housing now, but in the book home to students who need special accommodations of sorts…  Diaz interweaves these three perspectives through the voices of two characters who are attracted to each other sexually, but do not end up together.  Both are mainly tied together through Lola’s brother Oscar, a very heavy young Dominican, who has never experienced a real relationship with a woman until he visits his grandmother in DR.  Unfortunately for him, he chooses a whore for his first love.  I guess no one ever really chooses what type of person to fall in love with, but when you don’t have many options, this is one I certainly wouldn’t choose.  Another added interest in the story was my own learning on DR.  I learned about the dangers in the DR for those who opposed the leadership.  A Columbia U student back in 1950’s was later taken away and killed after he published his dissertation when “thugs” came to NYC and abducted him and returned him to DR.  The language and culture that Diaz shares shows that many Dominican males are pretty ruthless and sex driven, actually almost all of his male characters, except Oscar who has the opposite experience, but is also pretty violent.  I have enjoyed reading books that give me a glimpse into the culture and history of their heritage.  I enjoyed this book a great deal, though there was a great deal of rape, brutality and murder, it was juxtaposed by humor at times.  The character of Oscar was certainly reminiscent of many students I have interacted in my time on college campuses who turn inward when they do not connect with others through use of their artistic, creative, and adventurous side.  Oscar’s pre-occupation with comics, dungeons and dragons, and sci-fi fantasies painted a picture of the student who is thwarted by others and escapes into a world created by others in the future. A world that students have no other place to turn when no one else gives them the time of day.  Many interesting levels in this book.  A few surprises, and a few tears.  A great read!

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Well it certainly took a long time to read this one… I even had to watch the movie as I was having a hard time getting through it… but after watching the movie, which was pretty good (most books to movies are awful, e.g. Time Traveler’s Wife, The DaVinci Code.. enough said!),  I had a renewed energy to finish it off – Kindle style!  Emma, By Jane Austen, was the story of the matchmaker in the age of time where it was the logical thing for a woman of means and time on her hands to make matches for women in her town.  Emma and her matching worked once and then she was “off her game.”  The movie portrayed Emma as a young, rich, and clever young woman but she was likable.  In the book, I found Emma not the same type of heroine.  She lacked sympathy and seemingly uses her friend Harriet by changing her mind from agreeing to the marriage proposal of one suitor (Mr. Martin) to a person who is above her intellectual and economic means, Mr. Elton.  Emma meets her match in her sister’s brother-in-law, Mr. Knightley, who challenges Emma to stop playing “God” and be more focused on living the values a young woman of her background should be demonstrating rather than how she is currently behaving.   Like all “oldie but goodie” books, in the end the heroine is faced with her own faults (seeing how her matchmaking backfired) and loses out on the man she has grown to love.  Funny thing, her presumed suitor thinks that she in fact will not accept his proposal and he almost leaves town.  In the end, all for naught, Emma and her suitor clear the misunderstandings, which again center around her dear friend Harriet who seems to be thwarted in love once again, and guess what happens?  Emma and her suitor find love in each other.  And guess who the marriage proposal is from?  A mystery of sorts, but in the end everyone seems to get the matches they deserve –Mr. Elton and Miss Hawkins, Jane Fairfax and Mr. Churchill, and yes, Harriet too gets a match!  It is hard at first to keep all of these individuals straight.  Again, a hard read for me at first, but this classic is probably one worth reading, though I wouldn’t put it at the top of the read list.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

And Then There Were None

Well, I decided to read a book that isn’t on the list yet (well will be in another few months when I update the list).  Two RAs I have met in this round of interviews noted it was their favorite book, Agatha Christe’s And Then There Were None. I actually worked as an Assistant Stage Manager many years ago in the play version, Ten Little Indians.  This is a murder mystery extraordinaire where ten people who have been witness to murders in the past are all invited to this little island – and they are the only ones there.  There is no way to leave the island, alas the boat is gone that brought them there. One by one, they die off.  All deaths tied to a nursery rhyme. When it is down to three, a surprising turn of events occurs which only leads to 1, and guess what happens to that person?  Christie is the quintessential murder mystery author of her time.  This is a good read for those who like a pretty interesting who-done-it story that I think sets the stage for many of today’s murder mysteries (e.g. Clue).  The variety of deaths is almost like Prof. Plum in the Dining Room with the Candlestick!  You won’t be sorry you read this one!