Sunday, October 31, 2010

All the Pretty Horses

Probably not the best book to read on Halloween… but it was on the shelf and so I picked it up.  Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses.  A semi-romantic story, where two young Texans (John Grady Cole and Lacey Rawlins) leave for a better life, in Mexico?, hmmm.  They meet up with a young teen that they reluctantly allow to join them on their trip.  After the youth, Blevins, loses his horse and pistol, he decides to break in and steal it back from a Mexican ranch, the whole group is doomed, well sort of…  Cole and Rawlins stay together and find work at a high-end ranch where Cole finds the love of his life, the daughter (Alejandra) of the rancher.  They have a torrid love affair but old aunt finds out and guess what?  She sends niece away at the same time that the Mexican police find Blevins (who stole his horse back and decided to kill the culprit) and then they round up Cole and Rawlins, whom they thought were involved in the shooting/robbery.  Young Blevins is killed by the sheriff but Cole and Rawlins get to visit the penitentiary where they almost die.  Alejandra’s aunt pays off the police to get them out with the one condition that Alejandra causes no more damage to honor by breaking off with her love Cole.  This love affair ends and in the final pages, Cole has his revenge by taking the sheriff hostage as he takes all three horses (his own, Blevins, and Rawlins) back to the states.  A nice, tidy story where all loose ends are tied up.  This western story was fine, but not sure if it deserves best selling status.  Story moves along and after yesterday’s lack of character development, I’ll take it.  Middle of road book for me. 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Martian Chronicles

Always nice to read a book from an author that I have read more than once, as was the case with this book, The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.  I will let you know my own feeling from the start... no, it was not my favorite of his books.  Fahrenheit 451 was much better, even the completely different, Dandelion Wine was a better read for me.  What I disliked about this book was the “episodic” nature of the book.  While the stories all tied to the theme of Earth as we knew it was GOING, and Mars was where one needed to be, I just wasn’t a fan of a disconnected character base that popped in for one part of the book and may or may not be referred to in the future.   The book was much like the “Twilight Zone” television series where each story provided another weird message that led one to believe that the world would end if… or if you do this… something bad could happen… you get the picture.  Bradbury presents a series of stories where space ships leave Earth just in time before it finally blows up based on the build-up of bombs (atomic and other types) and ideologies that are inconsistent and are not compatible when people don’t listen.  He also provides the psychological warfare where one is unsure of “their own being” (who am I?) and whether who we are at the moment isn’t really a reflection of ourselves which masks the Martian or robot hidden behind the mask.  A few of the short stories, as Bradbury describes it, are well written, but I was yearning for those characters to return.  The struggle of Spender and Captain Wilder ranks high on my list within the chapters.  Hmm.. give me Ender’s Game anytime.  I’ll take a pass on this one Ray, sorry.  90 years old!  Amazing.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Magus

After reading so many of the teen and kid books, this one was a real struggle!  I had read one of this author’s books within the past month, The Collector.  In this book, The Magus by John Fowles, more of the same with the weird psychological thriller.  For this one I would add, somewhat thriller.  First, it was way too long to keep you connected and interested, from my vantage point.  This one is set on a small Greek island, but the protagonist was captured, rather than capturing someone else.  I was less interested in the protagonist Nicholas Urfe, a teacher visiting to help out with local students in the school.  Urfe falls in love and then falls under the “spell” of Maurice Conchis, whom he stumbles upon while swimming in one of the beautiful beaches on the island.  We aren’t sure how Conchis bizarre behavior is framed though it appears that he may have been under the control of Nazis.  Nicholas is unsure of what is real and what is part of his imagination (or part of what Conchis creates).  Reading this late at night doesn’t help!  The novel ends with two lines of Latin poetry which may be interpreted to suggest one possible outcome or another but clarity is missing, which is appropriate and consistent with the rest of this unsatisfying book.  Not my cup of tea.  Too long for this type of read.  Skip it.  His other book is more of the same, shorter and more understandable for the average reader.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I really liked this one, another kid’s book, more teen than young child.  This was Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli.  The story of a life in a high school in Arizona when all breaks loose when a new student whom was home schooled arrives one day.  Stargirl is one of those special books that tries to teach our awkward high school kids not to judge a person by what you see on the outside, especially if it is different from everyone else.  Well Stargirl (yes that is her name, well at least for part of the story!) is that special kid who loves life and really gives to others, at the expense of being popular and fitting the mold of what kids are “supposed” to be like, you know completely homogeneous within their group.  Stargirl doesn’t play that game and that makes it bad for the student who falls in love with her, Leo Borlock (the narrator and protagonist).  Leo tells this story of his youth looking back and maybe learning was it more important to conform or to be yourself?  This heart-warming story makes you think about how we live our life and how we GIVE to others.  We should all think about it.  Being different for difference sake is ok I guess, but believing in something and not realizing you are different because of it is something special.  It’s a relatively short read.  (Spoiler Alert) I wasn’t completely hip on the ending, thinking that Stargirl actually died, or better yet was accepted by others.  Sorry, I gave it away.  No, the ending doesn’t fit into the box I guess I was trying to have happen.  Nice lesson with this book.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The View From Saturday

What a great read!  The View From Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg was easy to read and great for young kids who live in a world that is full of jealousy, anger, and hate, and yet we see four kids who are pulled together through karma?  I love when authors are able to bring disparate things together, have a profound meaning, and it just makes sense (and feels good).  Wrap these things all together and what do you have?  You have a story of four kids drawn together by a weird series of coincidences which lead to deep friendship using an elementary school competition, which they win, and teach their teacher something about life and herself.  Throw in the genius dog, the goof superintendent, the class bullies and you have the making of “Everyman’s” school life.  This is a really nice story.  I’d get it on the list.  Especially for those days that are gray and rainy.  Yes an overcast day, that would work for this one.  Sometimes it is through the clouds that clarity of sight is most often seen.  Have fun with this one!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Godfather

Time for a classic… one of the best books of the 20th century, even turned into a movie, The Godfather by Mario Puzo.  The book follows the fictional life of one of the top Sicilian families in the greatest city in the world, NYC!  Five Mafia families fight for control of underworld crime (gambling, extortion, and influence of the unions).  Dad Corleone is the first victim in this always revolving world of shoot before you get shot dead.  Puzo’s story is riveting and details a world certainly foreign to me, but seemingly had a pretty good run in the 1940s-50s where the book was set.  Family is everything is one theme in the book, so is revenge.  Getting back at those who have damaged the family name by any means necessary sets the stage for intrigue and betrayal.  The transformation of son Mickey into the worst of all “family czars” is one of the most interesting changes in a character I have read in quite some time.  If you haven’t read this thriller, add to your list.  Loving your family above all and why one should do it are all part of the fascination I have with this one.  Do yourself a favor and add to the list!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hope for the Flowers

And yet another kid’s book,  Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus, was my latest read.  I really don’t want to come across as anti-kids books at all, so I’ll say ok.  Maybe the meaning was much deeper than what was on the surface.  I keep trying to figure it out.  To be a caterpillar and unhappy crawling around with the one I love, or becoming a butterfly looking beautiful  (and chased all around by a net) and able to fly wherever you want to go.  In many ways the story has a meaning that puts down the ordinary life and suggests there is something always better for you in recreating yourself.  Maybe we should just accept who we are, where we are, and be grateful.  Not sure we give credit to those who persevere as much as we could.  Just because the new creature can fly, oh well.  And then again if I take a different slant at the reading of this, I could say, climbing on top of other caterpillars to see something in the sky that will teach me “the truth” should make me realize there needs to be another way at living.  So heck, I’ll make my cocoon and turn my life into something better.  Every time I read through this and reflect on the story I’m not really sure what it is I am learning… until I realize I need to look at the pictures (much better drawn than the last children’s book I read) and see that butterflies help make beautiful flowers by sharing their touch with each one.  I guess I get it, but I think it gives a bad wrap to those who are satisfied with their lot in life.  Heck, I’m a life coach, I’m not supposed to say that.  Everyone deserves better, right?  With education as the one constant, yes that would be true!  The story reads fast and for kids, may need a lot of analysis for them to get this one.  Probably need at least a fourth grade education.  You can clearly see that my 4th grade education hasn’t helped me on this one….

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Skinny Bitch

Sometimes the title of a book can really work and sometimes not so much.  Skinny Bitch – the no-nonsense, tough-love, tell-all, “be this way woman and DON’T COMPLAIN!” is really a cover for let’s go VEGAN.  It actually is a helpful read on how to eat well but I think the “over-the top” language with “F-bombs” and degrading the reader as moronic 17 year old rich girls is too much.  Written in 2005 by two women authors attempting to be funny and educate the reader on the meat world ruining our nation with lots of data and misinterpreted data sets by government and the lobbyist of the world.  The book made me re-think my eating for today, I didn’t eat that gob of cheese at the President’s Reception for Parent’s Day, so heck, it had some impact!  This is a quick read with some very helpful hints on diets and great websites to make your decisions on what you want to eat and why you would want to do so.  I’m not a fan of the preachy vegan way, but hey, we all should hear it at one time or another.  The sarcasm really took away from the book.  The author’s view that anyone fat is stupid because we eat gooey cattle that were left in trails of cockroaches because the FDA doesn’t care was just as bad as the cow industry’s lobbying for more funds to create another “Got Milk” poster with the white mustache above your lip.  Book had some good information, but the writers ruined it for me with their arrogant attitude that portrayed everyone but them having a brain.  I’m sure there are better books out there teaching you about veganism.  Take a pass, though this one was a Best Selling Book.  It certainly will make everyone go out and start swearing about whatever they want to teach others about.  

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Big Orange Splot

Time for a kid’s book… The Big Orange Splot.  Well… kind of trite, but hey this is for 4-6 year olds.  I won’t out who this RA was whose favorite book was about a can of paint dropping from the sky and falling on one house in a row of homes that look exactly the same.  What do you think happens?  Probably the same thing happens as it would in Suburbia USA when people don’t conform to “the rules”…. This book reminds me of the rigid rules of our summer home in Lake Wallenpaupack, PA.  So MANY rules.  Sorry for taking a step away from the book – ok finally everyone sees that having “differences,” ie color on their roof can show something unique about who I am.  The moral of the story is pretty right on, but not the best child’s book for that moral.  Instead read Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, far and away better than this slim read.  Sorry, throw the paint over all the houses, I’ll take the purple purse any day.  4-6 year olds, skip this one.  Didn’t feel connected to any character, let alone the ugly painted houses… (need a new art designer for this book too!)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lunch Poems

What a great month for reading!  Maybe we should rename October to Readtober, for at least me.  I have been steam rolling through the list (Luckily a number of the new books are short which certainly helps!).  This time poetry!  Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems is a collection of short poems written in a “casual style” that captures the 1950s hard working blue collar NYC attitude.  O’Hara is believed to have written these short snippets while eating his lunch in Times Square, the West Side, or the Bronx.  Yes, he has a reference to my alma mater, Fordham University’s well known seismic observatory, which every good alum well remembers from our tours of the campus (The oldest recordings in US history were recorded there.).  Always fun to read about someplace you’ve been and the images that it brings from the past.  O’Hara’s style seems to be so ordinary that he actually calls half of his works “Poem.”  I wish all authors were so creative.  45 minutes and you’ll be through this one.  New Yorkers may want to put this one in the middle of their list, others, probably not so much.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

No one belongs here more than you.

Over the past week (and some days coming up) short reads are on the front burner.  I have to say, I haven’t laughed so loud as I did reading the first few shorts, truly!  This poet is a “whack-job” in the truest sense of the word.  No one belongs here more than you. by Miranda July is a real treat for those who abhor the short story genre.  I will say that after the third story it became a replay of the first story.  Here’s her style…. “I walked into the house and found Julie... we had grown close together over the years.  The years have gone by fast for me when I think of how old I am now.  I look in the mirror and realize that I have wrinkles on my face.  My friend John always was complimented for his smile.  One time when I was walking with John from the pizza parlor on Madison Avenue I remember meeting these two people holding clipboards.  They were asking whether I had a minute of time for women’s rights.  I thought it would be funny to pretend I did not understand English so I spoke in my best German that I didn’t understand English.  Shocking when the person responded in German about how much money I’d be willing to give to support the movement.  So Julie then thought we should get close to each other and she started touching me in a sexual way…” you get the point???  She is completely stream of consciousness writer and then BAM let’s talk about sex, heavy on the same sex relationships, although she certainly showcased heterosexual sex as well.  This repetition of style got boring quickly after story number 4.  Miranda, I think your work has something there, but you need to shake it up a little bit.  Luckily this collection was short, or else I think I would have gotten pretty bored.  Again, there was some funny situations used as a back drop for the stories.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

All Quiet on the Western Front

Another period piece, funny to say that when I am referring to a book from the twentieth century… All Quiet on the Western Front.  If you ever thought about war, the physical and mental exhaustion of it, this book captures it like none other I have read.  What’s it like to lose a leg, be removed from home, and then come home.  The psychological fatigue that one must go through – bombs dropping, will I die tonight?  How do I go on?  Why does Johnny have more energy than I?  I am hungry, where will I find sustenance?  My youngest son, Alex, has recently presented to his mom and I of his interest to join the military as part of his college experience.  If you knew my history, attended a catholic/military high school and my dislike for the ROTC program, you’d see that's what you may wish for those you love to stay away from, (tends to attract them) and frustrates a loving parent.  What motivates someone to want to join the military?  The storyteller/narrator, Paul, is jeered to join the military by his teacher (funny the teacher doesn’t join up, huh?) and he gets to the front line and “live war.”  It isn’t a pretty picture, for sure.  Paul battles, returns home to a ravaged home, and then back to the front.  Throughout the process he loses his comrades and is forced to face a different life near the end of the story, a life after war.  Since his whole existence was centered on the battles when it ends he squarely faces his new truth “what is left to live for”…  facing the death and destruction he lived through, and helped cause (killing another man and watching him die slowly), what else could one feel?  What is the threshold for war to be justified?  I guess I am a pacifist, or follow my role model, MLK, who said there is another way.  We should seek to always find that other way.  War mongers, this book is not for you.  Others, a sad reality that we see too often.  While the story may be dated, the theme remains true today.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Book of Questions

An interesting, albeit, short read, The Book of Questions by Dr. Gregory Stock.  Shouldn’t everyone read this one?  Well, it’s not really a read, it’s really a game one plays when you are about 19 years old with a group of new found friends at college (well at least I think that is when I was first introduced to this book, though it had different questions for sure).  What would you do for a $1,000,000?  Would you be willing to die of cancer if you knew you could save 10,000 people?  From how much sex, to how much money, to who do you love more?  These questions are supposed to give you insight into the people you are reviewing these questions, I guess.  200+ questions that can get you from NYC to somewhere south of Atlanta in a 18 hour car ride.  Best bet, save this one for a long car ride.  Reading it from front to back will take you twenty-two minutes and you won’t be able to see the reaction your answers give to others.  Fun in a party situation, not so much to read to yourself.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Freshman Who Hated Socrates

I think I may have a new favorite book: The Freshman Who Hated Socrates, A College President Reflects on Life in the Liberal Arts.  This book hit a special place in my heart as it was about the journey of life at a particular time in one’s life… the importance of selection and being in college.  The author, Tom Gerety, former President at Trinity College and Amherst College, and NOW AT NYU as a Faculty in the Law School (damn, this is a great school students – he’s here!), prepares a beautifully crafted series of stories about the importance of the liberal arts college through moments in his life that are worthy of sharing and making the kind of impact that changes lives.  His concluding story about the loss of his newborn sibling and slamming the windows shut capture issues that all could benefit when receiving an unfair series of unexpected outcomes in one’s life.  I could hardly do it justice to give the 15 second review here, so you need to read it (pg. 247-8).  This book works for parents – hearing from a former college president the challenges of college selection, college life from day one, and what happens as you wrap up your college experience.  A recently published book (2007), he captures the world events of WW II to Vietnam War to 9/11 and how students have responded through the ages.  His section on the college community is a special read for those of us who work in student affairs reminding us why students should live in residence halls, the realities of alcohol use, and why dialogue is critical to the student growth process.  My son, Alex (11th grade), will certainly be getting his copy before he finishes his junior year.  The read makes me jealous of how much I missed in reading Socrates and the Greeks, Shakespeare and Tolstoy, and the other great writers since the beginning of time.  Clearly a leader who knew students and understood how the liberal arts college plays a pivotal role in our society.  Get this book for your college-ready high school relatives and for those graduating soon from college, they will love it!  Reflection is the key to really changing and developing as citizens.  Thanks Dr. Gerety, I hope our paths cross soon at NYU.  

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pale Fire

Loving the concept, but maybe the work is either beyond me or just not all that interesting….  Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, written in 1962, is lauded among one of the all-time great works, a far cry from his Lolita.  I think the structure is brilliant, a fictional poet writing a 999 line, four cantos poem that also contains a forward and a very long commentary on the fictional work.  It could be compared to a documentary of a fictional character with an intro into this fictional character’s life and then an explanation of what the documentary is about.  The level of “dissection” of the 999 poem and the meaning associated with the lines and context of the characters in the poem was quiet intriguing, though an overkill with some passages.  The four cantos reflect four stages of the protagonist’s life and his eventual search for meaning after dealing with the death of his daughter, Hazel.  Suicide seems to be a preoccupation with the other and one is unsure if in fact his daughter committed suicide or not.  The title of the work is taken from Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, one of his lesser known works.  If you really want to stretch your mind and place yourself in a “story” within a story this one may be for you.  I actually was rolling along through the forward and first two cantos and felt the last two and the commentary was draining and “over the top” with messages and meanings that didn’t draw me in as a reader.  I think the style, a precursor to the metafiction genre, gets this book higher ratings than the average reader is looking, hence it’s critical acclaim.  I got lost as the cantos droned on.  Give me Lolita anytime!

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

OK... it’s a “chick-lit” book.  The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells tells the story of a stage producer, Siddalee Walker, as she is on the verge of marriage.  An interview of her childhood memories and life growing up with her “crazy” mother gets published and stirs up major family issues for mom.  But wait, there is the Ya-Ya sisterhood, moms friends who helped her through life are back at it again.  But once Siddalee gets her hands on her mom’s memory book, and now we hear (as the late great Paul Harvey said)... the rest of the story.  Shouldn’t we all have friends like the Ya-Yas? Go out there and find them, because the ups and downs of ViVi may have you shed a tear or two, if you have that level of emotional connection to these type of books.  Eat, Pray, Love, you got nothing on the Ya-Ya sisters.  In fact, maybe she should have had the Ya-Yas stop by and make that chick-lit book a bit more interesting.  I guess I’d say Nicholas Sparks or Jodi Piccoult’s work is an inch better.  Take a pass on the Ya-Yas…

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Arthur Ashe: A Biography

The portrait of a great person is inspiring to read.  This book fits into that category, a biography (mixing it up a bit) of Arthur Ashe by Richard Steins.  Arthur was a soft spoken man who carried a huge passion for whatever he decided to participate.  His early years were spent growing up in Richmond, Virginia. His mother died when Arthur was 7, she was only 27.  His father became the pivotal figure in his life as he took a position at the Parks Dept., which introduced him to the world of tennis, a sport he would thrive playing.  Dealing with race factors (an African American playing, what most considered a “white sport”) was one of the many obstacles he overcame.  He attended UCLA for college on a full-ride athletic scholarship and later came to glory as the winner of the US Open and first black athlete to win Wimbledon.  In between college and winning the trophies at the respective events, Arthur served in the Army (at West Point).  He played, and then led the US Davis Cup team to victory.  He endured physical ailments, 2 major heart attacks before he was forty years old, a disease that runs in his family.  During his second surgery, his blood was tainted with blood contaminated with the AIDS virus.  He was able to keep that illness secret until he was faced with the challenge when a former athlete colleague called him on the phone to confirm the report before going to press.  With all of his grace and class, Arthur, with his wife at his side, held a press conference.  It still maddens me how much the media presses the individual privacy of athletes and entertainers to reveal their most intimate personal stories.  Ashe, while an outstanding tennis professional, should be most revered for his work with civil rights and commitment to health issues in the US.  He established a few foundations and was an ardent speaker for helping those who did not have the means to help themselves.  What a role model and courageous young man and he left this world way before he should have gone.  This book was a nice, brief overview of his short life.  

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Ugly American

A good read today, The Ugly American by authors William Lederer and Eugene Burdick, written at a time (during the Cold War) where anti-American sentiment ran very high and the concern for the ever growing influence of communism in the Southeast Asian continent were running at odds against each other in the fictional country of Sarkhan.  An imminent invasion by the Soviets, while simultaneously an attempt to industrialize Sarkhan by the Americans, is the backdrop for this interesting battle to determine which is right for their people.  Gilbert MacWhite, the newly appointed American ambassador to Sarkhan is faced with how to handle this delicate situation.  Contrast the diplomatic approach with Homer Atkins, a clever, hard-working engineer with no patience for diplomats, and other “fools” who are working to industrialize the nation.  These two divergent approaches to solve other countries' problems (are they really problems or American’s view that other countries should be like us?) has caused major battles around the world for the US and our foreign policy.  This book’s message could be seen over and over again today with much of the continued foreign policy in “who knows best.”  A story with a message in a “fictional locale."

Monday, October 11, 2010

And Still I Rise

Starting to feel better.  Students are slowly coming back from their fall break (a much needed break!).  A nice read today, poetry!  Interestingly enough someone’s favorite book is a book of poems.  What a nice reflective read on Maya Angelou’s And Still I Rise.  When I think about poetry, I think if I were the poet, which ones do I choose?  After reading this book, “they fit.”  The author does a wonderful job of lifting the reader up and thanking the almighty (if you are of that persuasion) for all that we have: the brilliant sun, the water, flowers, and our own lives.  She pays homage to black men and women who have cultivated an American culture and also describes how it is to get old.  The journey of her life provided in rhyming couplets at times, and others just painting pictures on where I’ve been and how I got there.  You know, poetry isn’t that bad.  I know why she was asked to speak at the Inauguration of the President.   I had such a bad experience taking an English course at Fordham U back in the day – the Symbolist Movement… that I think the bad vibes have stayed with me.  When I think of poetry I usually get pretty nervous… not this read!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World

One person can help change the world… so says the man who left Microsoft to change the world, in a book called: Leaving Microsoft to Change the World.  Reminded me a great deal of Paul Farmer’s work in starting a non-profit when he clearly didn’t need to do so.  Lucky for us, people like John Wood use a “rich man's" trip to the Himalayas to realize “hey, can’t I do something to stop illiteracy in the world?”  The book chronicles the true life story of Wood and how he comes to leave a lucrative life of personal driver’s, million dollar apartments, jet-setting around the world, and working 16 hour days for a life worth living.  Hurray for Wood and Farmer.  The new role models for the twenty-first century.  Wood's story gives us hope that many of the Sternies of the world will find their rainbow of yachts, tennis matches in their back yard, and all the money you could imagine may actually not be fulfilling.  And to think, all the profits of this 2006 book go to his non-profit, Room to Read (from the website… “Room to Read is opening its 10,000th library this year and they impact the lives of 5 million children in the developing world.").  Nice read, though Farmer is a bit more interesting since they seemed to face a few challenges.  Wood makes it seem if you have passion and energy, you can do this too.  I gotta believe there were a few more challenges along the way.  Also should have finished up with a better “thank you Dad” after dissing him a bit in the early parts of the book on how awkward their relationship was.  For all his Dad did in cultivating his dream, he should have given him a larger thanks, in my humble opinion.  Dads always seem to get the short end of the thanks from their kids…. Not on the top of my list, probably second of third tier book.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Color of Water

Life can throw us a curve ball, if we allow it.  In The Color of Water by James McBride, Rachel Deborah Shilsky aka Ruth McBride Jordan, mother of 12 children, born a white, Jewish young woman, faces life on the move during her early years and then grows up in Suffolk, Virginia, working for her abusive father as a store clerk while attending school.  Rachel, who changes her identity when she leaves home, is exiled from others because she is Jewish in “WASP” country.  Her only refuge is to fall in love with a young black man from the area.  She gets pregnant, is sent away to her mother’s family in NYC, has an abortion and begins to be born as a young woman.  When she returns back to meet with her “first love” Peter, it is learned he has impregnated another young girl, this time a black girl, and Rachel is devastated.  Though she has the pull to stay and help her crippled mother and her younger sister, she cannot bear to stay around the physically abusive father, a town griped in racial strife, and not having a life of her own.  Rachel “dies” in her family’s eyes when she marries a black man in NYC.  Ruth, as she is now called, marries a staunchly religious, albeit, Christian man who helps her to find peace in Christ.  The most interesting piece to this beautiful true life story, is that each chapter is written from two perspectives and finally intertwine at the book’s conclusion.  James, the protagonist, is writing the even chapters, while reading a letter from his mother in the odd chapters about her life, something he did not learn about until he was well into his twenties.  James McBride is a former journalist (this story in fact is a great example of his work trying to find the story and replay his mother’s other life prior to her marriage to his father).  Additionally, he has written music for famous singers like Anita Baker and Grover Washington, Jr.  His family story is amazing – how a poor family (with a white mother and black father, who dies when James is 8) struggles to succeed day to day, yet through the encouragement of a mother who is committed to education, has all 12 children graduate college (and then some!).  What a wonderful heroine for all women to aspire in Ruth McBride who never seemed to fear the color divide in a time that the Ku Klux Klan rules the area in the late 1930s.  Two days, two great heroines!  Read the book.  Great read.  And oh yeah, James McBride…Distinguished writer in residence… NYU!  Wow, isn’t that cool!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Jane Eyre

Being sick has its benefits; well only one, reading a good book or 3!  What makes a good book anyway?  Sometimes a classic that sets the foundations to be copied, sometimes a true life experience, and sometimes overcoming challenges and making this world a better place.  This weekend I read all three types of books.  But for this entry I’ll focus on the classic, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  The book is broken into five parts – Jane growing up with her rotten to the core aunt (can you say a precursor to Cinderella?).  Her aunt sees Jane as competition to her children and eventually needs to go away to a boarding school to get away from the abusive situation.  Jane goes to the Lowood School (where she again finds pretty horrid social conditions and actually physical conditions as well as her friend Helen dies of consumption due to the lack of heat in the facility). In the next phase of her life she goes to Thornfiled to become a governess (after a few years of moving to the teaching rank at Lowood).  I believe Jane Eyre’s next three sections serve as the true beginnings of the “romantic novel” of today  (you see it time and again, “The Sound of Music,” almost all of the Disney romance cartoons, and certainly the cheap $5.99 trashy romance novels on the market.).  Jane is employed at the home of Mr. Rochester (who is on the road often) and ready to marry a rich woman when he realizes his love for Jane, proposes, and then all heck breaks lose.  I won’t go into the detail as it is a series of “no way this is going to work out.”   I bet you guess what happens in the end?  You’ll need to read this one.  So much better than the other classics, I just couldn’t get into like Pride and Prejudice, etc.  This one is really a precursor to the love stories of Nicholas Sparks.  Nice ending, Charlotte!  Read it if you haven’t had to for AP English.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Touching the Void

I’ve read a few of these real life, over the top books before, so Touching the Void was more of the same, though with this one it was 2 climbers and not a group.  Additionally, this one didn’t end in tragedy like Into Thin Air.  I guess as someone who is afraid of heights, I just don’t get it.  Climbers I speak to speak of the “high” one gets hanging from a cliff looking at the beauty of the scenery.  Not having that beauty in the book, it’s even harder to get through.  While the story is griping, never understand the “why”…  This story related the experience of two climbers (Simon and Joe) who experience a near death at the 6,344-metre (20,813 foot) Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985.  Two climbers who get separated through a “cutting of the chord” on their descent of the mountain.  One climber falls down into a huge crevice in the mountain, breaks a leg, but escapes the next day and heads down the mountain, three days without water or food – (it is a truly amazing reflection of how the human spirit can survive!).  There is the obstacle of “losing his mind” as he nears the campsite, but he manages to make it.  The other climber descends feeling his comrade died on the mountain, unsure of what he will share with his family and friends.  The story gives both men’s perspectives, one thinking he is dying, attempting to come down the mountain, while the other on his way down (and later at the campsite with another climber), feeling his loss of his friend from the mountain.  In the end a joyous reunion occurs, shouldn’t all stories end this way, especially for people who create the tragedy.  Sorry, not a great deal of sadness for me.  (Sorry climbers, not trying to have you tee off on me…)  

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Contender

I read a nice story today, The Contender by Robert Lipsyte.  The message, pretty simple, find a goal worth fighting for and you can contend against anyone, including yourself.  Great message.  The character development was the weak piece.  The author cut corners in the development of the relationship between Alfred and his friends.  It was almost like watching an abridged movie or an After School Special, remember those days, you “Tom’s generation folks” – certainly not something they show today.  This was a very weak read, probably too quick.  Wanted more in the change that took part in Alfred, much more.  So here’s the abridged version of an abridged story… Alfred (protagonist), a young black man, grows up in tough neighborhood  in NYC – quits school, in a bad crowd, finds an escape (the local boxing club), the trainer befriends him, challenges him to box, he does, wins a few matches, challenged more by bad crowd, fights last fight where he “sees the light”and finds a passion in his life (he is a high school dropout with limited future), befriends the bad crowd kid.  That’s it folks…  Again, great message but cuts the reader short in lots of ways.  The message is worth the read!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Tisch students (our acting school) always want to provide a favorite play as their favorite book.  Last year I was somewhat open to it.  This year, not so much…  so I finished a “last year” favorite tonight, Gypsy, yes the Broadway musical.  While plays are, for the most part, pretty quick reads, it is much more difficult with a musical (you miss all of the extra pieces needed to get the whole experience, i.e. Ethel Merman singing “Everything is Coming Up Roses”… just not the same reading it).  I’m sorry but I just don’t think a play is a favorite book.  Actors, broaden your horizon and READ BOOKS.  It helps with character development, et al.  Reading books as much as I have over the past two years has been the single best thing I have done for my spare time in adding perspective about life – the good, the bad, and all in between.  I would not add this “book” to your list.  Seeing the play?  I missed seeing it with Bernadette Peters when it was on Broadway in 2003, oh well.  I forgot to talk about the story… go catch it next time on the stage, the music is better than the story… vaudeville, burlesque - which is better?  Neither are "in" now.  Back to some book reading…..

Monday, October 4, 2010

When I Was Puerto Rican

Another journey of life story, this time following the journey of Esmeralda (Negi) Santiago as a young child through her early teenage years.  When I Was Puerto Rican is a heartwarming tale that starts when Negi lives with her mother and father (when he decides to come home).  The reader learns first-hand the brutal conditions that an ever-growing family faces, 11 children by the end of the book, that Negi is asked to assist as her mom desperately tries to improve the family situation.  Negi’s mom finally takes her and a few of the children to New York City in hopes of changing their misfortunes by living the American Dream, hard work and education.  This true life story is an inspiration and demonstrates what America can be for those who have a dream, a desire to improve, and conviction to make it happen.  Esmeralda does that, and more.  She attends a NYC Performing Arts High School, hmmm which one could that be?  And we learn at the end of the book, graduates from Harvard.  One thing she does note when visiting her teacher years later, she in fact is the only one in her family who went on to college.  This harsh reality makes me wonder why?  How did Esmeralda earn a degree and the rest of the family not do so?  How can one teacher inspire one child to greatness and other children not find a teacher to assist them through the difficult process of growing up.   Santiago’s work is a great read for young readers who have aspirations of changing the world, one person at a time.  What is she doing today?  Check out her site:  She’s going to speak at Instituto Cervantes: 211 East 49th Street, NYC on November 10th.  May be worth a trip….  Add it to the list.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


From financial planning books, to kid classics, to sci-fi!  Today’s read was Michael Crichton’s Spherea sci-fi/psychological thriller.  Norman Johnson and a team of experts are called to assist in examining an “alien spacecraft”  that lies at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.  Much to the scientists' surprise, not until they are actually down there do they realize, wow this isn’t alien… it’s an American-created craft that was created 50 years from now!  During the trials of this thriller the crew meets a mysterious spherical object that confronts them and leads to the last standing to face their own fears.  Since you have some of the smartest scientists and of course psychologists, they get to communicate with the sphere, well kind of since it actually starts to control those who entered it.  In the end, psychology beats out science and Norman and his two colleagues give up “the power” they receive from entering the sphere.  Sci-fi is not my favorite type of book, but you know what, I am enjoying it more and more.  Crichton, best known for his work with Jurassic Park, creates a believable thriller with characters who are interesting and who face the scientific challenge that means create.  Well done. I would add to the list.  Starting to change my mind on these sci-fi books.  Good read! 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Lorax

Just finished meeting the last of the new 174 RAs yesterday.  What a great group.  In all, 65 new books to read (I had 120 left, oh well!).  The students are helping to review and edit the new list of books.  Hope to have that up on the site by mid-week.  In the interim, I have already started to focus on some of the books.  Today, while in Strand Bookstore - great place folks!, I actually saw one of the books and stood there and read it.  The Lorax by Dr. Seuss is a classic.  A great, short animated story of a young boy who meets up with the Once-ler.  The Once-ler then tells how the Lorax tried to warn Mr. Once-ler to stop ruining their environment (well his environment includes Truffula trees) by cutting trees down and dumping  "Gluppity Glup" and "Shloppity Shlop" into the ponds all to make clothes like Thneeds.  In the end, the boy can see how damaged our environment is and is given the gift of potential redemption (stemming from the Once-ler’s guilt), the last seed that could be planted from the Truffula tree.  Pretty dynamic book for us to learn the message of how sensitive we should be about our environment.  We only have one.  Great read with young kids and adults alike!  Thanks for sharing RAs – a new one to the list this year!

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Millionaire Next Door

I love having management students at NYU, they love the most interesting, and financially helpful, books.  I learned how poor I am compared to the “frugal Sally” or “hand me down Fred” from The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy.  I’ll admit it here to you all… I am a UAW and not a PAW (I think the acronym sounds better, huh?).  Well, a UAW is an “under accumulator of wealth” compared to the few, the proud, the smart PAW (prodigious accumulator of wealth).  So in the scheme of life, I would think it can be just as much fun being a UAW, until the time when you can’t work full-time, right?  Good question.  Hope you all can think upon it.  The research study of Profs Stanley and Danko (U of Albany!, right down the street from my parent’s home) is well done.  They interviewed numerous millionaires to find out “how they spend” and the findings are somewhat surprising.  It certainly will make the person who buys new cars every three years realize what a waste, in terms of long term money accumulation, it can be for an individual.  In their research I was actually surprised by how many parents depart “EOC” (Economic Outpatient Care) to their kids.  Where’s my money every month?  I hope my kids aren’t thinking I will be dropping $15k every month on them.  I was actually hoping it would be the other way around.  The thesis on how immigrants struggle in the first generation, BUT build an ethic of savings, is so true.  My in-laws are great examples of it.  Think about two Argentineans coming over on a boat, not knowing English, and in the end owning in full their home in Bergen County, NJ, not a small feat.  

In the end, I may never have the accumulation of wealth that many seek, but I hope by the way I lead my life, I will be wealthy with the amount of friends and dedicated family members I have. There is another set of goals in life, right?  Quick read.  For parents, some seriously good things to teach our kids, “learn to pay your own way!”