Sunday, January 30, 2011

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

Stone, Patton, and Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project offer the reader a “how to” handle for every discussion you could imagine, from colleagues, to partners, to loved ones in their book: Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most.  Another New York Times Bestseller!  Readers learn about sorting out a conversation before you have it, which can be helpful, I mean IS HELPFUL!  It reminds me very much of Stephen Covey’s Habits, “seeking to understand before being understood.”  We learn not to argue, don’t assume, and abandon blame!  They present the differences between conversations based on feelings versus identity.  The authors propose that our conversations should all be “learning conversations,” certainly disciples of other great teachers and author, one-time NYU faculty member Peter Drucker, the kingpin of learning conversations!  The key to learning conversations as designed by the authors: know your purpose, know when to let go, how to start the conversation, and think of the conversation being told by a third party (I liked this suggestion the best!).   This suggestion makes so much sense as we don’t know what information the other person is missing, and they don’t necessarily know our perspective on how we experienced what happened.  They also suggest that we speak with clarity and power, reframe, reframe, reframe, and always work to attempt to have the conversation move to a place of problem solving.  The authors gave some great examples.  Why not spend time learning how to have better conversations?  Makes complete sense to me as almost every argument I know comes after someone opens their mouth.  Review your week and if you had more than two disagreements this week (who hasn’t?), read this book.  A quick and great read, especially for you young communication majors!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

A National Bestseller today, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers.  I read one of Eggers other books, What is the What, which I enjoyed.  AHWSG, as the author refers to it, is a TRUE story told through the author’s words, his life.  A sad story of two parents dying within 5 months of each other and the aftermath where Eggers himself raises, with some help from his sister Beth, his younger 8 year old brother, Toph (short for Christopher).  Eggers tells the story with brilliant color and description, choosing exactly the parts of the life that illustrate the difficulty that he had raising his brother, after finishing college.  He paints a picture of the “other” American family that we don’t always read about or see in the front of our media dominated culture.  Eggers struggles to provide his brother with a ‘normal’ upbringing by joining Little League, participating in after school play dates, and at the same time trying to maintain his own healthy 24 year old libido by dating, etc.  The journey takes the two from Chicago, then to Berkeley, San Francisco, and at the end of the book we learn they are off to NYC.  It is the second book in a few days that refer to MTV’s the Real World, how weird is that.  Eggers actually was a finalist for the Real World: San Francisco.  Judd gets his part instead, see:, where he wanted to be the “tragic story guy.”  Oh well.  He did get to interview Judd and Puck because the MTV producer really liked him.  Eggers at the time attempted to make his magazine, MIGHT, which had a double meaning, I’ll leave that for you to get the meanings.  Pulling the hoax of Adam Rich’s death, which received some PR during the late 1990s, was one of the funnier things the group did.  The “memoir” of Eggers is truly a 1990s read for the twenty-somethings of the day.  The story was riveting and one certainly had their heart poured out for Eggers.  I would say the title gave me a sense of something bigger than what I experienced.  This is clearly the down and out American who wants to leave their mark on the world through laughter, excellent use of language, and using the media to their advantage.  MTV is clearly embedded in almost every 25-45 year old out there, and this is further proof.  Short, choppy story with flash backs and uncertainty of the next stop on the journey.  A good read, but not to the hype I had heard.  

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Thinking Body

I have read all types of books during this journey of trying to understand what a “favorite book really is” so one never knows what to expect.  Well, this one is really weird, sorry RA who gave this to me… The Thinking Body by Mabel Todd, published in 1937.  It seems pretty dated, since it is a book on… your body, specifically the bones, how they move and how to get the most out of them.  Todd’s work was lauded by dancers and health care professionals (great pictures of the skeleton, how bones should move, etc.).  I learned a good deal about how my breathing affects the mechanics of my skeleton and even some good posture tips.  I’m thinking whoever suggested this book, must be a dancer.  It is purely an anatomy book.  Weird, maybe a required reading for the “science-light” dancing program, I have no idea.  Is this a book I would recommend any of you reading?  NO.  Not even dancers.  While it is a seminal work, I think your $20 co-pay to your doctor could adequately inform you of your posture and the role your approach to keep your bones in good repair.  Skip this… I’ll need to see who actually said this and send them a note, REALLY?  What jazzed you about this work?  Getting close to only 100 books left – though 8 new RAs just hired, so thinking it may be 2-3 weeks to get under 100.  All good.  Reading a good one now.  I’ll get it posted this weekend.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Another post-apocalyptic tale, this one by Max Brooks, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War.  Reminded me a great deal of McCarthy’s The Road, at least some of the story line.  The novel is structured as interviews (Q and As) of first hand experiences of the war.  Brooks, the narrator plays the role of a member of the UN Postwar Commission.  Brooks interviews people who served in the war, lived through the war, and barely escaped death.  Each story gives a horrific view on the Zombies, the cannibalism, the role of religion, technology, artillery, economics, politics, and disease.   Some of the stories are actually pretty engaging, while others, to be honest, had me falling asleep.  I think the concept was good, though the execution was not consistent throughout the novel.  You really have to be a fan of thinking the world is going to end to like this type of book.  Brooks certainly has feelings about the various ideologies (isolationism, democracy, communism, etc.) and is played out as we span the globe and hear how each is affected by the World War Z.  Not totally consistent as some parts of the world had the zombies and others seemed unscathed except for the weather.  Highly political.  Maybe timing for this read, when one thought the world was great, a SNOW DAY! So thinking end of the world didn’t seem to fit!  OK read….

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Independence Day

A novel that follows the life of a middle-aged guy, Frank Bascombe, a divorced father working as a Realtor.  The book is Independence Day by Richard Ford.  I listened to this one on the ipod.  The realtor part of the story was pretty interesting for me as my Dad continues his 55th year as a realtor.  So I was really intrigued by his approach to the crazy families he dealt with especially the couple that he showed over 45 homes to over a month long period, and they still were unsure to purchase.  Would my Dad try Frank’s approach, blow them off after they find the home they want to move on (as a ploy to have them bid on it… but they lose the house!)?  Frank’s three day struggle (yes the novel occurs over a three day period) on his role as a father to two children (his oldest died years before), reviewing his current relationship with his ex-wife and also a new flame, and how he deals with clients (renters and potential purchasers of homes).  Frank seems to be going through his “midlife crisis.”  Frank takes his son, who has lots of emotional issues, away on the ultimate father/son trip to the Hall of Fame.  Unfortunately for Frank, his son decides to stand in front of a fastball in the advanced batting cage… you know how this goes, huh?  So what did I think about a guy who seems not to have a lot going for himself, especially when he reflects on the successes of his ex-wife and her new husband, the son who he lost and the second son who is lost, and a role that is unsteady and hard to close the deal?  The story happens over Independence Day, but… I think the story “Independence Day” actually reflects Frank’s decisions to be made which may lead to his Independence.  A strong character development by Ford though the ending was hohum… really that’s how it ended… seemed that something else should occur.. left hanging?  The real estate piece really drew me in.  If not a real estate person, you may take a pass on this Pulitzer Price winner!!  Wow.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

I had high expectations for this next book based on the title: Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman.  Was it going to be a novel on how a young teen got involved in drugs, unclear of how he would get sex or was it about the General Mills Company had a scandal while selling it’s highly popular Cocoa Puffs brand cereal?  Well, got none of that for sure.  Instead Klosterman presents a series of short chapters outlining 1990s media and culture issues, from Billy Joel (his angst with him) to how the Real World MTV changed how television presented itself (Klosterman really liked the Real World, even discussed how he had applied to be on the show).  His presentation on Saved By the Bell, the first non-animated Saturday morning series (which I can’t believe only had 4 seasons), created the first “fourth wall syndrome of sorts” on TV when Jessie and Kelly disappeared for half of the season and returned on graduation day and we never knew where they were.  His rants on music of Madonna and other 1990s musical talents (he was growing up then) attempted to make connections to what we accept and believe in as a society.  He presents the evil mass murderers like John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer and how they were created during the 90s and aligning them to music and other media outlets of the time.  This book didn’t seem to fit the title.  It really is a series of stand-alone chapters that could have been editorials in Rolling Stone or SPIN magazine, ahhh this author writes for them, maybe they actually come from it.  I felt like I was on an airplane and opened the US Airways monthly magazine and found a few fun “meaningless” stories about the 1990s music scene, TV scene, but not about Cocoa Puffs (which I really didn’t find big in the 1990s, for those who were alive then, did you?).  This is probably a book to place in your country home’s bathroom so guests can read should they have an extended stay in the throne.  Had a few laugh out loud moments, but not many.   I’d take a major pass on this one.

Monday, January 24, 2011

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

Another lesson learned book, quite informative and provocative, looking at the role of religion in our society.  Very different from Dennett’s read a few months ago, this time by faculty member, Christopher Hitchens (not a NYU faculty member!).  He writes a compelling book, not in the scientific perspective like Dennett, but more a “why in the world would anyone want religion to play a part in one’s life – it has and continues to poison our world," hence the name of the book: God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.  Hitchens holds no religion as a safe zone.  He shares examples of the “alleged exploits” of Muslims, Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Mormons, Hindu’s, the cult religions, Wiccas, etc.  He tends to how the “ultra conservative” crazed members of a particular religious group will act to hurt the general population - terrorists of 9/11, ulta-protestants who killed at abortion clinics, etc.  He makes the assertion that religion is “man-created” and hence we have created our own demise.  He attempts to prove how religion is bad for our health (Catholic hierarchy telling its flock not to use condoms) then how religion is child abuse (forcing young teen women to be victims of savage abuse through cutting genitalia, Jewish boys being circumcised by clergy biting it off and spitting the foreskin out from their mouths), and then he moves to show how the Bible/Koran are myths/stories created by man, and not very good stories at that.  He dispels miracles by Catholic saints that the Koran was borrowed from Jewish and Catholic myths.  Clearly many of the points Hitchens makes are true.  My take – sorry for editorial -- is that religion is flawed.  My view on religion, flawed once man tries to interpret and lead others.  Hitchens shows all that is wrong with organized religion. The book is compelling, though I feel it is flawed.  Religion does a great deal for individuals, and who am I to judge whether it “works” for someone or not?  Hitchens chooses to do just that.  A super intellectual who wants to demonstrate that his examples taken together proves the point, who needs religion.  Hmm… lots of people need it, and actually thrive because of it.  If nothing else, a really on target view from a non-believer.  Worth a read to reinforce or challenge your beliefs.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Last Lecture

Another book in which we learn about life and a few good lessons, this time by a dying man.  The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, a faculty member of Carnegie Mellon.  The concept of the Last Lecture, for those who don’t know, is a program that is offered on many college campuses by offering members of the faculty to come to a res hall, a dining hall, or even a classroom auditorium and choose a subject of their choice and give a one hour lecture and present as if it is their last.  Well, this is his last lecture as the 47 year old Pausch has been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer and wants to fulfill the request he received prior to the last diagnosis, to present his “last lecture.” If you haven’t seen some of the video, Oprah has a reprisal of the lecture…  The book is the background and shares many of the lessons from the actual speech.  We travel through the lessons learned and shared by his parents, coaches, teachers on his journey, and those he has learned from his students and three young children.  What a wonderful gift to provide a book of what you want to have your children value and learn, and written by your father.  What a beautiful gift that Randy Pausch gave to his kids.  The main messages are don’t take life so seriously, live every moment, teach others something, and love… and all of these lessons come through clearly and emotionally.  Sixty lessons shared and worth the read.  You may shed a tear or two as you go through the pain and despair most of us would feel, but from Pausch he isn’t only realistic, he is positive.  What a role model he has played for those with any terminal disease.  This is a short read, profound, yet simple.  Who says you need a long book to impact us… reminds me of Tuesday’s with Morrie but the focus is not Mitch Albom (the author of that book), but his children... and yes I understood the “head fake” Randy.  We all need to!  Your impact is still felt today, no doubt!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Art of Racing in the Rain

A really good book with a major flaw… The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein.  I really loved the concept of the book, having just joined the ranks of dog ownership, I thought having the “man’s best friend” being the narrator of the story was brilliant.  The story, during the short life span of a dog’s life, is about Denny Swift, a race car driver who experiences the death of his wife, Eve.  Eve is diagnosed with a brain tumor after the birth of their daughter.  Enzo, the dog, narrates all that he has learned during the tumultuous days of Denny’s marriage, birth of his daughter, the dying days of his wife, and then the downward spiral following Eve’s death.  Eve’s parents choose to sue Denny as he has always been more absent, trying to secure a spot in the racing circuit.  Things get ugly after Denny’s fifteen year old niece, Anika, accuses him of rape.  Denny goes through all of his money (Eve’s parents are loaded and drag out the process trying to take all his resources away).  Of course, Enzo knows that Anika's allegation is a lie, he was there and she actually tried to take advantage of him – a longer story, you should read.  I was all over this book until one part… near the end, when Enzo (the dog!) is called to the witness stand to prove Denny’s innocent through the use of a voice machine! UGH!  You really had a great book until you used this technique Mr. Stein.  There certainly could have been another way, even having Anika change her story…   The story was very engaging and again had some nice lessons to be learned.  Interesting two days in a row reading death journeys – read Last Lecture tomorrow.  I can see how this one was a New York Best Seller.  A relatively quick read, though I actually listened to it!  A nice stocking stuffer/gift for a friend or family member.  Read this one!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kafka on the Shore

Another "second time around" author from the list.  This time Japanese author Haruki Murakami. I actually felt this book was much better than the first book I read from him.  Kafka on the Shore tells multiple stories, a very unique and interesting writing style, to be honest, by having the odd chapters follow the life and times of a 15 year old runaway, Kafka Tamura, and the even chapters explore the life of Satoru Nakata.  Nakata was subjected to an end of WWII freakish “light striking from the sky” incident that had him lose many of his mental faculties, though he didn’t seem to lose his strength.  The tales interweave, with two very different people and moments in time, a connection as Tamura’s father is killed by Nakata.  Murakami blends in unusual characters with a return of Greek tragedy, aka Oedipus is back!  Tamura fantasizes about a prophecy that his father shares with him in his youth, you will sleep with your mother and sister and kill your father.  Though he is raised by his father, his mother and sister leave the home while he is 4, without reason.  Through his journey of fantasy/real life intersections, he finds “his mother” and a “sister” figure, or are they really them?  Murakami is also personally fascinated with youthful sex, read Norwegian Wood, which is much more explicit.  His character portrayal of Tamura reminds me of Holden Caulfield, running away from his reality and exploring sex and all other things a young teen often thinks about.  Murakami does an excellent job as author bringing the multiple intersections of human proclivities and fears together using the influence of music, gender roles, and societal good/evil all into this rather captivating story.  The depth and levels of human understanding and complexity are all within this tale.  I rate this fantasy (is it real?) book pretty highly.  Just added another one of his books on my audio player for the next few weeks.  We’ll see. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Another repeat author, and yes the second read was as good as the first.  This time an autobiography of Maya Angelou, in her 1969 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  Angelou provides a wonderful series of stories from her childhood, not at all “picket fences and happy times.”  Begins with the story of how her parents leave her and her brother, Bailey, and are ushered to Momma’s (their grandmother) home in Stamps, Arkansas.  The abandonment of the two children play a large role in their formation and development as young teenagers (fear, separation, and independence).  Living with their grandmother and their crippled uncle in rural area of Arkansas, running the family store form the two into who they are, as the times in which Mom and then Dad (separated) take turns in taking the children away, first to St. Louis and then with their father to California.  Maya and her brother face racism, abandonment, and coming of age as teenagers with sex and finding their identity.  While Angelou is in St. Louis at the age of 8 she faces the worst possible thing one would ever think of for their child, molestation by her mother’s second husband.  Maya’s experience of the trial and the aftermath underscores how strong a child must have been to go through such a horrific moment of life, thinking she was safe in her mother’s home.  Other moments/stories include the bonding with other African Americans over the Joe Louis fight, being frightened finding bodies hung in the trees by the Ku Klux Klan, and sharing moments in Church on Sundays.  Angelou provides a real insight into what racism felt like when her mom brought her to the Dentist and being refused to receive treatment because she was black!  The story ends with the story of her experimentation and desire for having sex, which leads to her pregnancy.  Angelou has a brilliant way of bringing the reader into her life and feeling what she must have been feeling during those moments in her life.  While it may have been therapeutic writing the book, sharing such intimate moments in one’s life is a gift to us from which to learn.  I am trying to better understand why the caged bird sings as I read and feel her challenges, hard for me to sing.  Although is there anything else left to do?  A very powerful read.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Always great to read an NYU Faculty member’s book.  Dalton Conley, who serves as the Senior Vice Provost and Dean for the Social Sciences, wrote the book Honky.  A view of the childhood experiences of a Caucasian boy and his sister growing up with his parents (artists) in one of the most diverse places in the world, NYC.  This view of the Lower East Side of NY in the late 1960’s illustrates the experiences of being 1 of 1 in an environment that was really hard to grow up in.  Kids can be (No they are!) cruel.  Conley begins with his abduction of a young Muslim child on the playground, hoping to have his own sister someday!  Hearing of the disadvantageous first hand of growing up non-white was another awakening moment for anyone who thinks that this society is tolerant and accepting of others.  Conley speaks of his own privilege in the classroom where non-whites were being physically abused and he was not for the same bad behavior.  We learn of his integration in the school systems, well sort of, did it happen?  The system of NYC schools, with having “an address” that gets you in to certain schools, and then “smarts” that get you into the upper high schools, speaks of the horrific systems we continue to cultivate in our society.  His mother used the system to enhance their housing and her children’s education.  So I’d say there certainly are some interesting contradictions that he himself experienced, wonder how his mother experienced the read of the book.  Surprising how such a weak student, who missed most of 6/7 grades for video games, got into the very best high school in NYC.  The chapters in the book capture much of the issues in the society at the time and how the roles of music, violence, race, culture, family, guns, and color of skin played in making or not making a community.  A short and powerful read.  Good qualitative study for those who want to learn how to write a book about your life.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Farming of Bones

Happy birthday to my sister!  This was an interesting book that wasn’t what I thought it would be, well not completely.  The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat was set in the 1930s in the Dominican Republic, yet our protagonist, Amabelle Desir, is an orphaned young woman who works as a servant for the local DR matron and her husband, who has an important role in the military.  We learn early on that Amabelle lost her parents who drowned in the river trying to cross.  The water motif plays a significant role throughout the story.  Amabelle escapes the area after a civil uprising occurs and all Haitians are to be killed by the military leadership.  She loses her lover and future husband, Sebastien, in a failed attempt to escape from the area.  Amabelle’s escape is an arduous process that leads her to successfully swim down a river, without being shot.  Eventually she and another servant from the area, Yves, do escape back home to Haiti.  After recovering she is drawn back to DR and attempts to find Sebastien and his sister.  This brings her back to a meeting with her past, her former employer and a very difficult conversation.  For me the circular story of the journey and re-visiting the journey has some strong appeal as a reader.  Amabelle was able to confront her past, but what she learned on the return wasn’t what she hoped to find.  Amabelle did get some level of peace in the final journey with the water which served as a deathbed for so many Haitians.  I’d say the book was ok, but missed some further development with the interweaving of the past relationship with Sebastien.  Another one of these books that you “have to be in the mood”… death and unhappiness, just not feeling it today, sorry.  Not in the top recommends, low level but strong sadness for Amabelle and all she had to endure.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Green Hills of Africa

I really do love Hemingway.  His stories are brilliantly written.  He paints the picture, develops the characters, and creates tension in his novels as few can do.   While he does all of this, I have to say the content of the story was not my favorite.  Green Hills of Africa is a true story of a safari journey in East Africa by Hemingway and his wife, Pauline Marie.   Early on Hemingway shares his disdain with one of the expats who works as a supporter of the safari, and learning of Hemingway the novelist, gets in a discussion about who is the best author of the day.  The second part of the book has Hemingway reminisce of former hunts, and the third part illustrates Hemingway’s failure to land a kudu in the pursuit.  In the final chapter we learn Hemingway finally succeeds and gets his kudu of 52 inches but upon return to the camp finds someone has landed one larger.  It’s all about the hunt…  Since I don’t like hunting, or fishing, the reading was not exciting, actually pretty boring, but again, he does it with great prose.  Interesting how an author can write about a hunting trip and sell it as a book, HEY wait a minute… Hemingway is the precursor to all of these reality shows, huh?  I bet he never thought that he would be the preamble to Jersey Shore?  How he must be turning in his grave! In the end Hemingway is embraced by the hunters, even those who really didn’t like him.  Must have been all the stories he told them?  Go pick up For Whom the Bell Tolls.  You’ll get a much better read.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

White Teeth

Certainly a 21st century writing style with today’s book, which actually took me quite some time to read, 5 days in all (off and on!).  Starting to get busy in the office, so not as much time to read.  White Teeth by Zadie Smith was a National Best Selling book and I can see why.  In fact if you are really interested in understanding more on the motivation and other tidbits on the book, listen to an interview with the author, pretty good stuff:

The story shares the lives of two men whose life crossed while in the war, an Englishman and a Bangladeshi man (who served in the war for England too!).  The book moves to the present time 1990s and then back to the war itself when the two men were saved by getting lost in the village while the rest of their troupe were killed.  While my early introduction may seem as a pretty serious introduction to this story, as was the introduction where one of the two men, Archie Jones, attempts to commit suicide in his car in the front of a butcher’s store until the butcher sends his son to go out and have the man move.  You get a flavor that this book has a very fine line of laugh out loud moments, for sure.  We learn the impact of religion, politics, and children who don’t do as their parents want them to believe in and do for a living (ahhh… I’m at that age where that is starting to kick in).  Smith’s humor and ability to show how the fundamentalist act in our culture are a stark departure to what many of the liberal minded people do today.  The four parts of the book capture the storyline of the men’s life journey, and that of their children, the twin boys and daughter.  The Jewish/Catholic/Jehovah Witness/Muslim faith clash and science and experimentation on mice – how do we use our scientific knowledge to move our learnings further and the role of the sexual experimentation (differently focused from the days of their parents!).  While there wasn’t a complete “through line,” Smith shows the challenge of being an immigrant, albeit for me as an “immigrant reader” as the story is based in Britain (some things I probably missed not being keenly aware of their culture).   Brothers clash in ideology and their pursuit of woman and living with different beliefs from their parents.  The title has an interesting play with subchapter titles and also the role of teeth for the characters.   Not your classic linear reading, but if in the mood should get a chuckle and an eye into how we as a culture clash with so much difference between us.  An above average, but slow read.  A long book!

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Cider House Rules

Ah yes, one more bonus book. This should be it for some time, unless I get compelled to purchase
the third part of the trilogy for the “Girl with the” books. Have been a fan of John Irving’s work for
some time so decided to read The Cider House Rules, I actually thought it was on the list and part way
through found it wasn’t, but had to keep on reading. Overall I enjoyed the depth of characters and
complications caused by pregnancies, at least for a number of characters in the book. The setting is an
orphanage (circa 1940s, wartime) for most of the book and follows the travails of Homer, an orphan,
and the doctor at the orphanage, Dr. Wilbur Larch. The relationship between the two is complicated
by the fact that the doctor hides his work (performing abortions for those who have unwanted
pregnancies) and he brings Homer into his assistance, training his in the field of obstetrics, as the boy
ends up staying his entire childhood at the orphanage. Finally, Homer leaves after his teenage years to
work at an orchard, after he befriends the couple (Candy and Wally), who come to see the doctor for
an unwanted pregnancy. While there Homer falls in love with Candy and they become sexually involved,
after Candy’s husband (Wally) is presumed dead during the war. Alas, Wally lives, albeit paralyzed (a
metaphor for lots of things in this book!) and comes home. Candy was pregnant (though people think
it was Wally’s...) and they have the child at the orphanage, baby named Angel. When Wally comes
home, he resumes his relationship with Candy and Homer is forced to leave… back to the orphanage!
He reluctantly takes over the work of the good Dr. Larch, where he allows woman to make the choice
of what to do with their pregnancy. That is the main plot of the book, a few other sub plots but
Homer/Wally/Candy and Dr. Larch are the main story and have a great deal of ethical decision making
moments. Irving’s intricacy of plot and interwoven relationships make him a stand-out author in my
opinion. Still, A Prayer for Owen Meany remains one of my favorite Irving books. Good read for sure!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games)

And one more bonus book! I had to finish off the trilogy of the Hunger Games with Mockingjay. Once again the dynamic duo are faced with all kinds of challenges, such as District 13 is alive and well but programmed in a completely different way, almost like communism in some respects. All people are forced to do their jobs that are programmed for them each day.  They wake up and go to the “roll call.”  Breakfast is just food to get you by, based on what role you perform and how many calories you need. Katniss agrees to become the Mockingjay, the symbol of the rebellion against the capitol. The leadership from District 13, President Coin, uses Katniss as a pawn in trying to get the rebels to fight against the Capitol, while Peeta is used as a pawn by the Capitol to try and stop the revolution, though he is brainwashed during the ordeal. Peeta is rescued but we learn his brainwashing has him revolt against Katniss as the evil one and he attempts to kill her. Katniss gets to assist in the final breakdown of the Capitol, but like all drama, she is no longer needed and the President is discovered to have used her sister, Prim, in a similar way. More drama... you can tell I’m not loving this end of the trilogy. Lots of characters die, the world seems to turn upside down and then finally settles, but at a huge cost, especially to Katniss. So what happens between Katniss and Peeta, Katniss and her long love from District 12, Gale. I was hoping for one outcome, and you know what, it happened, though way too much drawn out drama in this book for me. Stick to the intrigue and build it upon the story. The love relationships turn out to be as I had imagined it would, but the way it got there, hmmm not so much. I hear that this book is turning into a movie which I will watch, probably on Netflix, but not sure I’ll see the last book. Disappointing. The mockingjay piece was overplayed and a bit over the top. As you can see, I’d probably skip this chapter. Give me a call and I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Bonus Book: Catching Fire


From time to time I will add a “bonus” book, one I read as a “second favorite” from an RA or somehow connected to a read from the list.  Today’s “listen” comes from a great book I read last month, The Hunger Games.  This book, Catching Fire, is the second in the trilogy by Suzanne Collins.  Well, what do they say about the second time around?  Good, but not like the first one.  In many ways it is a repeat of the first book, another trip to the Hunger Games for Katniss and Peeta!! What?  Once the Capitol realizes that Katniss’ actions from her winning is engaging citizens to think of a revolution, they know they need to bring her back to have her killed.  How do they do such a thing?  Once a tribute wins, they have a life of luxury, right?  Not with the brainy President in charge.  Didn’t you know it was the 75th anniversary game, so it means we have a twist, as they did with the 25th and 50th.  So our faithful duo is back at it but this time with other winners from the other districts.  Twists abound as Gale continues to have his heart broken by Peeta’s public affection to Katniss and potential pregnancy?  Oh my!  I thought these characters were 15-16.  Haymitch is up to his old drunkness, or is he?  Ah, some real drama.  While the story reads well in the second half, a bit slow in the first half.  And how does it end?  Like a middle book of a trilogy, it doesn’t.  It gives a nice ending though, no more District 12 and there is another district too!  Worth a read, but again, read the first one first!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon

A very far departure from the vast majority of RAs I have interviewed as it relates to the book I have just finished, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel Dennett.  This is not a book one should pick up after a stressful day in the office looking for some light reading, nor if you want to throw a book into the car to bring to the beach, NO, don’t do it!  Breaking the Spell is a theoretical review of the history of religion, written from the context of an atheist.  Dennett makes the argument that the vast majority of our society is relying on a socially constructed phenomenon, known as religion, and we should rethink the merits of such, shall I say, heresy.  Dennett makes well documented points relating to the “right-wing” thinking of the extremists who are NOT, in his opinion, being held accountable by the moderates within the various religious constructs of our society.  He draws upon a large set of writing and research, including his own (a wee too much I’d say), to support his points.  As you can probably tell by my writing I have religious beliefs so this was a challenge to read, though he did make me pause about what it is I should be doing as a member of a religious community.  Having had a number of challenges in my life and been granted a "good life," I have some disagreement with Dennett.  As a life coach, I try not to preach my personal beliefs to others, I gently help them find their voice and motivation  Likewise, Dennett should not try and attempt to place ALL people committed to a religious persuasion in the same boat.  Isn't that exactly what he is trying to fight against?  This is a textbook for a philosophy class and gives the reader a perspective to think about.  Clearly one needs to be in the right state of mind to read it.  While I can’t say I was completely swayed, I found Dennett convincing and presented data worth reflection.  I applaud a student for being so reflective to make a book like this their favorite.  Thinking at this level is really what makes good people smarter and committed to something, which I applaud.     

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Bringing Down the House

Happy New Year’s Day!  As the New Year begins, I wish all of you peace, joy, and happiness in all that you do.  So if you are a betting person, this will be a good one for you… Bringing Down the House, by Ben Mezrich.  The story of how MIT students go underground and attempt to make a living at the casinos at the Black Jack tables.  This is a real story of one player who turns to a reporter to go undercover and tell his story.  Working at a University all of these years I have heard numerous stories at my own institution, and of the institutions of my colleagues, who tell stories of students who will do some exotic, erotic, and innovative things to help defray the cost of college.  In this case, it is less about paying for college for the protagonist “Kevin Lewis” (whose real name is Jeff Ma!), it becomes an obsession when his studies are what doesn’t give him the thrill that he wants in life.  Lewis is introduced to the MIT Blackjack Club run by a former Professor of Math at MIT.  Students are brought into the team and then, once trained, go to the real deal, Vegas and then Foxwoods when it is opened!  The team is finally caught as the new technologies at the casinos are introduced in the late 1990s.  Amazing how addictive gambling can be, especially when you can count cards.  An interesting method to how one can “beat” the only game at the casinos.  A fun and great look into how super-smart students can use that to another advantage they have in this life.  A bestseller and it is one to add at some point when your reading list gets low.