Monday, February 28, 2011

The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa

I was pretty jazzed to read this book, as the author is deaf and my sister has been teaching the deaf for years (I love chatting with her about the books I read and with the added plus the context would be of interest to her made me stoked!).   The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa by Josh Swiller chronicles his true life story as a Peace Corps member serving in Zambia in the 1990s as the first PC member to be placed in the region.  Being deaf, being alone and in a relatively unsafe area, not knowing what you are doing… spells disaster.  Well, I have to say, Josh did fairly well.  He challenged the status quo and the way the PC asks people to work.  I would say that his experience and how the PC works really made them look… silly.  The protocol, the lack of training that members receive, and finally the rules that the PC has seems counter to what they are attempting to create at sites that need creativity, thinking outside the box, and support provided to the volunteers placed in remote areas.  The book is less about his relationship with the PC and more about leaving the comforts of home and being placed in a country ravaged by AIDS, malnutrition, lack of worldly perspective, and corruption of community by the leaders of the area.  Swiller meets Jere, a doctor from another tribe assigned to the area where Swiller is stationed and serves as a role model in helping to navigate the pitfalls of the “un-PC” Swiller who wants to make change but not play the game.  Swiller is an interesting character who weaves his personal story of deafness with the experiences throughout his time in Africa. He shares pre-Peace Corps days at Yale and Gallaudet (at the same time I was in DC!).  The story is compelling for anyone interested in the Peace Corps, helping other nations with poverty and other national difficulties.  Trying to do the right thing is never easy, but Swiller’s convictions to helping others brings a smile to the face!  A good read, though not the prototypical “change the world story” where good wins over evil.  A good book to add to the list.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Happy Birthday Dad!  Wish I could have visited upstate for the party.  Busy days for sure.  A mildly interesting book today, Sugar by Bernice McFadden.  If you like books where “everything comes together in the end,” this book is for you, though the story itself is somewhat like a movie from the Lifetime Channel, not my favorite movies.  The book begins in 1940 with the tragic death of Jude, a 15 year old African American who was brutally murdered and sexually assaulted.  Fast forward to the main story, 15 years later where Sugar, the main character of the story, enters the small town of Bigelow, Arkansas in 1955. Sugar’s sordid past as a prostitute has her arriving to her new home (left to her by her mother), living next door to Pearl Taylor, a woman 20 years her senior.  Pearl, a devoted Christian, is the mother of the deceased Jude and she befriends Sugar whom reminds her of her own Jude.  The reader learns of Sugar’s side business that keeps her well off by charging the various “johns” – every man in the town, except Pearl’s husband John – a fee for sex.  As Pearl and Sugar get closer, Sugar shares her sordid past and actually helps Pearl move beyond the grief of Jude’s passing.  Pearl learns how to satisfy her man from Sugar, hmmm ok??, a bit strange, but heck this is 1955 all older woman are getting less self-conscious about sex, right?  Pearl gets Sugar to attend church and potentially change her ways… and then Pearl’s son comes home, and guess what?  He falls in love with Sugar, who seemingly vows to change her ways until her pimp visits and almost kills her.  We almost have a full circle story… and yes finally we do.  Guess who ends up being Sugar’s father?  OK, I won’t give it away.  Maybe I should so you don’t have to finish this Lifetime story.  Luckily the story is fast paced.  As you can tell, not for me.  Very "soap opera"ish.  Surprised by the accolades this book seemingly has received.  Take a pass.  While there are some pieces that fit nicely, this book is way too perfectly fit.  Sugar is a complicated and unsatisfied person looking for something she doesn’t feel she deserves.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Take the Risk

Take the Risk  is a really nice compact read by Dr. Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon at the Johns Hopkins University Medical Center.  Carson uses the concept of “risk” in all its forms to illustrate why we should do it… often!  Carson’s life, as he describes it, underscores how important risk taking is.  Carson grew up in a single family household after his mother left his father, who was living a double life with two families in two cities.  Carson and his brother escape poverty and racism in Detroit and show how faith, education, and hard work can get you out of the “cellar.”   Carson shares the story of how he and a group of surgeons saved many lives that other doctors said couldn't be done.  He begins the book with the story of the conjoined Iranian twins Laleh and Ladan Bijani, who died during an operation to separate them that every doctor said it couldn’t be done, but Carson took the risk to attempt to separate them.  In this example it didn't turn out as he hoped unlike when he made medical history by being the first surgeon in the world to successfully separate twins (the Binder twins) conjoined at the back of the head (craniopagus twins).  

Carson has a deep faith and strongly suggests his patients and he pray deeply before the day of surgery so that God, as he describes it, is there to be intervening at every point in time.  His stories of his life is an inspiration for anyone wanting to meet their goal knowing hard work and no excuses along the way is the only way to make it happen.  For me, inspirational to see a doctor who mixes medicine and faith.  A really nice quick read.  Remember the benefit of acting, versus not doing anything… he is a guy who acts!  He is not a fan of the evolution guys, Dennett, etc.  

Friday, February 25, 2011

Makes me Wanna Holler

A truly insightful and helpful read, only a few days after reading a qualitative study on Puerto Ricans growing up in the Bronx, now reading about the life of African Americans in Portsmouth, Virginia.  The book, Makes me Wanna Holler by Nathan McCall, provides a harrowing story of life in the 1970s as an African-American teenager trying to cope with life in a segregated city.  We learn of his challenges attending the vast majority white school, where he didn’t last, and then being asked to assimilate into an all-black school where fitting in was paramount.  McCall’s story was another learning lesson for me as it was a huge departure from my growing up in upstate NY.

The role of fitting in, yes self-esteem (the number one issue facing young and old alike – in my opinion), doesn’t seem to ever go away.  It started with how one dressed to fit in, then how one walked, danced, and acted like the rest.  This lifestyle of “fitting in” led to rape, drugs, robbery, and yes, going to jail, three years in all.  While this story does have “learnings” and change of the author/main character, a stark departure from “Random Family” and the Puerto Rican community in the Bronx.  McCall has a metamorphosis while in jail and directly after being released through reflection (either through the Bible, seeing his friends hitting rock bottom, or having children), though he continued to make mistakes along the way.  Clearly McCall is showing himself as completely human.  The last reflection summarizes it all when he has his estranged son move in with him (after a separation of 16 years) coupled with the re-engaging with a daughter he didn’t know he had (18 years old) and delivering her first baby (similar to McCall’s own story) where he sheds his biggest concern for the African American community that this cycle just doesn’t stop, and “makes him want to holler!”

Jail was not easy, nor was working through the guttural anger that keeps biting McCall throughout his life until he seemingly finds the important role of counseling (talking through issues) in his life.  Like McCall, I have turned to reading (RA favorites) and McCalll shares some really nice well known passages from scripture and poets like Kipling…

If you can dream 
And not make dreams your master, 
If you can think and not make thoughts your aim. 
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster 
And treat those two imposters the same…

Brilliance…     McCall has an interesting journey after jail and working as a journalist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution before moving to The Washington Post in 1989. Neat to see he is now in the role of teacher, good for you!, at Emory University.  Great perspective for those who never experienced racism and hate as McCall had.  Read it, though some difficult and painful sections.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Gates of Fire

This fictional tale recounting the history of the Battle of Thermopylae is the backdrop for Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire.  We listened to this book while driving back and forth to DC taking my son Alex to visit G’Town, CUA (my alma mater), and Loyola MD.  A hard one to listen to I think…. You have a lot going on in Thermopylae (which was the only way into Greece for the enemy) where the Greeks, with only five to seven thousand troops, are to take on the Persian army of over two million!!  But the Greeks have a few hundred Spartan soldiers to lead the way.  Getting through the narrow mountain way into Greece would prove challenging where the enemy would need to ensure they didn't fall off the cliff and into the sea which allowed the Greeks and their allies to ward off the enemy.  A pretty detailed description is provided regarding the training and battles of the disciplined Spartan warriors.  King Xerxes, the Persian leader, shows his commitment to the passionate leader Xeones when he is wounded in battle.  The author is not afraid to share the 20th century expletives of the B.C. war heroes in action. The book exemplifies the Battle of Thermopylae as an example of the power of a patriotic, home grown, army of democratically freemen defending their native land. It also illustrates the advantages of training, equipment, and good use of terrain as ways of “beating the odds” as the Greeks used their courage against huge odds in the seemingly one-sided battle.
For me it was a “take me back" to West Civ. Intro class in college.  Some of the names started running in my old brain.  I did well in the class, but not my thing completely.  A rather quick listen, though again, maybe the book would be more engaging.  Fights and army stories don’t seem to do well driving in a car.  I’d take a pass on this one.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Dog-Eared Bookworm

Just started a new RA favorite, more on that later as I have a wonderful announcement to make!  This idea of blogging the favorites books has inspired one of the very best RAs EVER (from my days at Syracuse University).  Emily Donahue!  Emily has just started as a 5th grade teacher and she is now reading their favorite books, check it out!  You go Em!  Follow her and post your comments on Em’s site as well.  Fun days all.  Let’s see if her 5th graders are reading the books that NYU RAs read?  Hmmm... what will that say?  I bet they haven’t read: God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything or Atlas Shrugged.  But they have read The Hunger Games and Emily loved it.  Read folks, it opens the perspectives within you that dwell deep beneath the surface!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Good Omens

A collaboration of two authors, one I have read before and will read again, Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett write a witty (high-brow wit) fantasy book called Good Omens.  I will be reading one of Gaiman’s other book (Anansi Boys soon) and read Marvel 1602.  Well, Satan decides to have a child and he will be born on earth!  Guess who is working together on earth, the good angel and the bad angel (Good and Evil {Aziraphale & Crowley} – how does that happen?) Complacency and they actually like each other, plus they think living on Earth is better than the two other options.  When they are looking for the antichrist they are surprised on whom it is supposed to be, ahhh… ever hear of baby switching at birth?  A technique used often on soap operas, is actually used here.  Aziraphale & Crowley think it is Warlock who is the antichrist, but no, it is Adam Young, growing up in a perfectly nice English home.  Adam doesn’t know at 11 years old the powers he has to potentially begin the Apocalypse.  Enter the four horsemen, plus the two angels looking for the antichrist.  Following the prophecies of Agnes Nutter (burned at the stake in the 17th century) though her prophecies live on in book form in the hands of her great-great-great-great (you get the idea) lost descendant,  Anathema Device.  Anathema and her new friend, Newton Pulsifer, whose great-great-great-great (you get the idea) actually burned Agnes, also join the hunt for Adam. Will they stop the Armageddon?  All I know is that the ending has the “friends” Crowley and Aziraphale at lunch at the Ritz. There are side-plots and secondary stories as well, and a very nice dog! Funny tale, but overall not for me.  This book has a major cult following.  I guess I’m just not a funny guy!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ethan Frome

An early twentieth century psychological thriller of sorts... Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, written in 1911.  It was one of those stories that you just didn’t know what to think about the husband falling in love with his wife’s cousin (Mattie) who was working at the house to assist the sickly wife, Zenobia.  The setting was in a fictitious New England town, Starkfield.  It starts in current day where we are introduced to Frome, and then back in time to learn why Frome is lame.  Over the course we learn of the love triangle that develops as Frome and his Mattie get closer and closer.  Frome lies to his wife about venturing on an out of town trip so he can be with Mattie.  During the time together, Mattie breaks the wedding present dish (signaling the end of the marriage), the cat just happens to knock over.  After Zenobia returns she learns of the broken gift and tries to understand why.  Zenobia pushes Frome to gain resources to pay Mattie when she is told by her doctor she can no longer keep the house.  Frome tries to borrow money but is rebuffed.  Realizing that they will have to let Mattie go, Frome and Mattie concoct a plan to commit suicide together by riding a sleigh downhill into trees.  Frome’s guilt about his wife gets to him at the last minute and he avoids a direct hit, while Mattie is paralyzed.  The last chapter fast forwards to where we started with Zenobia now taking care of Mattie and Frome in his own pain losing the chance to be with Mattie and having his wife now care for her. Watch what you wish for huh?  The pains of Frome and his inability to escape his own farm, the cemetery of his family is literally his ball and chain.  How I often think how the things are family wants for us can become our own demise.  Frome could never escape and ends up watching the one he loves being cared for by the one he was incapable of taking care of.  Good depth of story.  A quick read.  

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Good bye Hawthorne, welcome to the 21st century.  Chuck Palahnuik’s book, Survivor, a different type of surreal from Fight Club fame, is told in the first person narrative by the character, Tender Branson, flying on a suicide mission on a 747 to Australia and taping the story of his twisted life into the cockpit recorder.  I love how Palahnuik writes the book in reverse order of page numbers, book starts on page 298 and ends at 1.  Nice. Which is a devise hitting us over the head… blastoff or crash at zero.  The reader is left thinking, did Tender die, or is he reunited with his one and only love, the sister of a guy he thinks he murdered.  Quite an involved life Tender lives.  We learn he was born into a religious cult family (Creedish Church), one of 12 kids.  The cult kills all of its members, well almost.  A few hundred escape, including Tender, but then they mysteriously start dying until only one is left… hmmm... Tender?  Yes, and no.  His older brother (Adam), his twin but older by three minutes, reappears to try and save Tender from killing himself.  We learn that Adam actually was the person who turned the cult in to the sheriff after he was forced to watch his wife give birth to their child and then be left for dead, as was their son.  This is a very dark story, lots of suicide or killing by members of the cult (we never really know) and Tender’s own thoughts as the last living Creedich member left to kill himself by hijacking the plane and letting it crash or escape to his new found love, Fertility, the sister of the man he talked into killing himself.  Certainly Palahnuik pushes the envelope on making light of the religious cults and also the joys of living.  Throw in some sex and you have a pretty complicated backwards story.  Gotta give it to Palahnuik to leave his reader guessing.  A pretty light read on the surface, unless you drill down to the deeper meanings that one is left.  A pretty decent read.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Promise

The ying and the yang of reading favorite books, from atheist point of views to deeply religious.  Today I finished the book The Promise by Fr. Jonathan Morris…  I bet you know which way this one went?  I actually am more in the camp of Fr. Morris, so this was a book that put faith in the unknown and accepting of why bad things happen to good people.  Morris serves as a FOX News Channel correspondent and pastor at Old St. Patrick’s Church in the Little Italy area in good ole NYC, so if you want to learn more about him, I guess all you have to do is visit the parish.   Fr. Morris provides an overview on why bad things happen (renouncing how the atheist respond that a God wouldn’t do that), then gives an overview on the emotional vs. spiritual healing.  He intersperses his viewpoint with stories about people who have overcome great pains, and those who haven’t (a pretty balanced view), all connected to readings in the Bible to support his points.  The last part of the book provides a blueprint of sorts on how to free oneself from the pain of the past/present.  The book’s reflective practice is good for anyone, not just Christians, though clearly it is rooted in Christian doctrine.  I always like a “take away plan” so his “model to map out your prayer plan” is a good practice tool for those who want to use it.  Reading this and God is Not Great in a book club together would be a fun exercise.  The book is a very quick read with strong reminders from all of the Bible readings I have heard over my life.  For those who are looking for a Christian perspective on the evils of the world, a pretty good read.  This one is clearly in one camp, so if it doesn’t interest you, probably a skip.  

Saturday, February 12, 2011

When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management

For those who want to learn about the financial turmoil of the late 1990s with the advent of the hedge funds, you need to read When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management by Roger Lowenstein.  The book follows the life of a team of PhDs and other “brains” who are gathered together under the leadership of John Meriwether, who was a successful trader through his early days at Salomon Brothers.  The story gives those non-wall street junkies, like myself, a good schooling on who the players were in the 1990s, a number of whom no longer exist – Lehman Brothers, and a number of the banking corporations due in part to much of what Meriwether and his partners tried to do.  The company (Long Term Capital Management) experienced unprecedented growth during its early years, only to crumble and be salvaged by the Federal Government.  The cast of characters, and their utter greed, is exposed throughout the book.  Negotiating to save Meriwether’s company included a hostile takeover by Warren Buffett, George Soros, and even Bill Gates.  Jon Corzine, former chief executive of Goldman Sachs, was also involved in trying to resolve the issues of bankruptcy by Meriwether’s group.  The reader will learn a great deal about the economic climate of the time, the hedge fund model, and how the market collapsed in the late 1990s do in part to the hedge fund model.  For those who don’t have the understanding of the market, a good overview.  For those who don’t have a great knowledge of what happened in the 1990s and are WSJ junkies, a great behind the scenes inner workings of a complicated scheme gone bad and you’ll love it.  A quick read with some technical terms helpful for anyone who ever manages money.  A good read!  

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Blithdale Romance

A really difficult book to finish. I listened to this one on my ipod.  Maybe because I have finished all of the older books on the list, it was pretty excruciating finishing The Blithdale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Besides having little attachment to any of the story's characters, the story itself is truly a bore.  I would say that this was the worst book I have read/listened to since I started this process.  Coverdale, the narrator for the majority of the book, leaves the city on a trek to Blithdale Farm, a utopian community, presumably led by Zenobia, the Veiled Lady.  Upon his arrival he engages with others in the community.  He witnesses Hollinsworth, the other male lead in the book, and the frail Priscilla, who we learn later is a half-sister to Zenobia. Coverdale gets ill while at the farm and is helped to recovery by the three.  He later becomes disenchanted with Hollinsworth based on ideological differences.  It then appears that Zenobia and Hollingsworth become an item.  Major shift in story – Zenobia becomes the narrator, ok… and the reader is confused if her story of the veiled lady is truth or fiction.  No worry, back  to Coverdale as narrator. Hawthorne, a man ahead of his time, has the characters discussing woman’s rights, which leads to Coverdale’s disagreement on the issue, and hastily leaves the farm.    Later in the book Coverdale comes in contact with the “Veiled Lady” through a show and learns that the veiled lady is not Zenobia, but Priscilla.  He actually learns the story of the two being half-sisters through a newly introduced character, Fauntleroy.  Confused, don’t be.   The madness ends after Zenobia drowns herself in the river after she confronts Hollingsworth for being in love with Priscilla.  Her funeral brings all of the characters together.  Coverdale is left reflecting on his life and noting his love for Priscilla.  Is that it?  I’ll leave you to fill in the rest.  Hawthorne’s over use of language, very wordy dialogue and description put me to sleep and lost as to what was really happening, was there anything much happening?  My hope, I never want to visit that utopian society with that group of uninteresting dreamers.  Pass on this one, you aren’t missing anything at all.  I know you die hard English Lit majors will disagree heartily.  As a part time reader, this was one waste of time!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Village

The saying is, it takes a village… well David Mamet borrows that title.  The Village in his first novel written in 1994 to describe the people who reside in a sleepy Northeastern town.  There is a dark foreboding element throughout the brief 230 pages of text.  The story is very episodic, giving brief glimpses into a few different characters at a given moment in time.  There really isn’t a main character and in fact the story is really painting a picture of the village rather than truly developing characters or a story line.  The reader enters the life of a hardware store, a local diner, the gas station attendant, a state trooper, and a few hunters.  There are a few deaths that occur through “teenage play” on a rock quarry, being attacked by a bear, and an abusive marriage.  Mamet paints a clear picture in the low-mid class society of the village and the mundane life that occurs. One gets a clear feeling on this particular type of village within our midst, no glamour, economic struggle, and the grit that is felt in anywhere USA that our media does not portray.  Having driven through many of the small towns of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Connecticut, I have no doubt that this place exists and to be honest, I would never want to stop by and meet these people, who seem satisfied with this life, or maybe, they know no other life out there.  For those interested in a very different life in the US, this may be for you.  For me, I want to stay away from this village….    

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle

Missing cat, over boiled spaghetti, wife who disappears, skinning a man alive… hmm… you have The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki-Murakami. This is the third book I have read by Murakami.  While there are some issues related to the translation of his work into English, let’s face it, he has a very unique style.   For many, the seemingly disconnected independent stories, which are all tied together by the lead character, make for a very confusing story.  The reader is uncertain about which parts are dreams or which parts are where the lead character is lost in his thoughts (is it real or is it Memorex?  I mean, let your mind create your own stories).  This is not a linear story, though I do think the book has some major themes which are repeated often and leave the reader with some level of “learning” or at least a message on the meaning of his life.  In the book, the main character, Toru Okada, an unemployed married passive man, is led on a series of unexplained experiences, some real, some dreamt, some hoped for, leaving the reader creating his/her own context for the meaning of the book.  This makes your read different than mine and leaves lots of room for exploration and venturing into quite a story.  One of the most impactful parts of the work for me occurs when Lieutenant Mamiya and his partners in the map planning business are confronted by members of the Russian military.  The Lieutenant shares his story with Toru when he is delivering a gift left by the dead palm reader who leaves Toru a present.  The present, in many respects, is for Toru to hear the horror of Mamiya who is tortured, much like Toru (but in a physical way, not in an emotional/spiritual way), when he witnesses the brutal “skinning” of his colleague and then is held captive by the Russian military.  He eventually is let go years later but when he attempts to kill his captive he is unsuccessful and then he receives a curse to be lonely the rest of his life.  Through each of the characters Toru meets there are lessons to learn.  His wife, who leaves him for another man, reunites through another body to share her horrific story of sexual abuse of her sister by her brother which leads to the sister’s suicide.  Toru, who in many respects is characterized as the twentieth century “Everyman,” is forced to endure sexual exploits that he can’t remove himself, or his subconscious, from.  Water and the lack of it is a metaphor throughout for lacking heart, thoughts, and obviously a marriage without love.  So many levels, so many connections throughout Murakami’s work.  There is no way that a brief blog on the book could do any justice to the book.  Try figuring out the significance of “wind up bird” for some fun!  Murakami clearly has unresolved sexual issues as it is a common theme throughout all of the works I have read, though actually works well in The Wind-Up Bird.  There is a complexity of characters that enriches the story.  These are real life people looking for something, though not sure how to unravel their history.  We need some psychiatrist/psychologists in your reading group for this one, Einstein would love it!  A very long read, so plan on some reflective moments between sittings.  I listened to this one… the different voices of the characters made for some fun.  Timing is key for reading this one, winters make sense as there are some really dark themes in this one.  Put it on the list sometime.  

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Today’s read was a piece that chronicles life in the south as a black family in the depression era of Mississippi, though some may say some of the same discriminations happen today. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor tells the story of a black family who struggles with racism through the strong handed rich white land owners who attempt to put pressure on the family not to change the balance of power in the community. The story is told through the eyes of a nine year old girl, Cassie, one of the 4 children of a three generation household who were fortunate to have a farm land of their own. Cassie and her brothers experience direct racism by being intentionally sprayed regularly by the school bus as it passes them on their way to school. The kids faced embarrassment of being muddied daily.  But the biggest issue facing them is the “Berry burnings” where a local white store owner is believed to have killed a local black man for allegedly making a pass at a white woman. Knowing that this is a huge exaggeration, Cassie’s father (David) decides he will try and encourage other black families to boycott the store owner and go to the next city to purchase goods. The pressure on David is intense but he continues his fight, which leads his loan to be called by the bank for full payment and Mary (Cassie’s mom) loses her job as a teacher when she refuses to teach from the “white man’s history book."  Things hit the fan when Cassie’s friend, T.J., gets aligned with some white children and they force him to steal a gun from the case of another store owner.  During the scuffle the owner is killed, though not by T.J.’s actions, but by the two white children.  When the store owner is found and the two white children turn on T.J., David and the children try and come to the rescue.  What David does saves his own family, though one thinks for how long will that last?  Obviously a true story that does make me feel glad to not have lived in that era or location of the country.  I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for anyone who may be black, but also for anyone who wanted to support equal treatment of others.  More suited for young children, probably a pass for me though the lesson is important to keep in our mind.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Wonder of the World

I usually don’t really enjoy the reading of a play, but I thought Wonder of the World by David Lindsay-Abaire was quite funny and engaging.  The story revolves around the seven year “end” of the marriage between Kip and Cass.  A funny side note, when it opened in Washington, DC the star was Deb Gottesman (who was an actress in my thesis play way back in the day at Catholic U.).  Hope you are well Deb (she is an excellent actress who I really can envision in the lead role of Cass).  On Broadway, Sarah Jessica Parker played the role.  Back to the story…  the play opens when Cass is packing to leave her husband Kip (who surprises her with bringing lunch home).  Too late Kip…  Cass abruptly leaves and gets on a bus to… Niagara Falls.  She decides to live out her “bucket-list” of things to do.  First by finding a “side-kick,” Lois, a stranger on the bus, who happens to be an alcoholic whose husband left her.  The two have an adventurous time at the Falls and even find other friends, who happen to be PIs hired by Kip to find his wife.  Cass falls in love, or should I say, has an affair with the captain of the Lady of the Mist, the boat that goes under the falls.  All hell breaks loose when Kip comes to get his wife back.  One of the more funny moments is when we learn why Cass leaves Kip… should I reveal it?  Well it has to do with weird sexual fantasies with Barbie doll heads, weird stuff!  I can see how this play would do well on the stage. It reads fast and since it has so few characters, it isn’t a bad read as a play.  There are some really funny lines in the play.  I did enjoy this a great deal!  Nice job my Tisch friends!  Who says you need to read a book, huh?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

On the Road

When I think of books representing their time, On the Road by Jack Kerouac would certainly be up at the top.  While it is hailed in the Top 100 all-time book lists, I would say, hmmm… really?  Don’t get me wrong, much of his prose and matter of fact story telling reminds me of my favorite author, Hemingway, I just don’t find the actual story itself all that interesting.  Give me Gatsby, or Hemingway himself in his autobiographical tales.  I just am not that connected to the characters, though the journeys of going across the country give a feel for what 1940/50s America must have been like, a glimpse into city life.  NYC to San Fran/LA and back, and back again, don’t forget Denver, Texas, Chicago, and even Pittsburgh (GO STEELERS!).  The reader lives the life of hitchhiked trips, little money, love/sex, friendship, drugs, music, and the culture found in different locations in the US.  Sal (who really is Jack K) and his buddy Dean Moriarty (the son of a wino!) travel across the country and learn that life is the road.  We are introduced to Dean’s friends, Carlo and Remi, they get jobs together, share mistresses, and love for adventure, music, and a good drink!  Some things never change in the culture of US hey?  Sal’s story begins and ends thinking of his friend Dean, either how he has built him up in his own mind, or the role he plays for Sal to keep moving in life.  The depth of friendship, the role of the “mystical West” as it clearly was in the time, and how non-majority groups have been exploited are certainly themes found within this book.  It served as a influencer on many other authors of its time.  I guess that time period does little for me at this moment in my life, so not a top 100 for me, but can see why it was and why people would want to know more about the “wanderer” looking for something.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Join Me

It is amazing what weird things people do…. take for example Danny Wallace from the United Kingdom.  The book, Join Me, is a step by step overview of Wallace’s journey of creating a “collective of people” called Join Me.  This happened after he returned from the funeral of his great uncle – Gallus – and Wallace learns of Gallus' attempt to create a collective of his own 50 years previously.  Fast forward to 2002, the internet age and a desire to bring a group of people together for the purpose of…. hmmm that’s the point, there was no reason except to have people join up.  Amazing how many people seek connection to others and Join Me allows people to do just that.  Guess what … the group is still growing and going global.  Danny decides to do this collective work, yet he hides it from his girlfriend as she would think he was a “nut job”… take a look at his mug and you will see he is!  So Danny requires people to send in a passport picture and answer a questionnaire to become “Joinees.”  People do!  When he receives more and more press, he is pressed to answer the question, Join What?  Wallace, on a whim, tells people to do good on Fridays for older men.  Why men?  Hey they have a shorter life span.  Wallace’s book brings the reader from the first Joinee through number 1,000.  A love story is never complete without a challenge and then forgiveness.  We have both here!  Shocking what becomes a book these days!  An ok read, riveting idea though huh?  Not the best written but the chronology is interesting to see.  A good way for entrepreneurs to learn how to get people to buy something they don’t know what they are getting.  Not a top read for sure, I’m not joining!