Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Tender Bar: A Memoir

I love journey of life stories, today’s no different.  J.R. Moehringer presents his real life memoir, The Tender Bar and I have no doubt it will be a classic (high schoolers are reading it already, on my son’s shelf!).  The story is the tale of J.R. growing up in a single parent household, mother left the father after he almost killed her.  J.R. and his mother went from Grandpa’s house to Arizona and back again.  J.R. eventually stayed in Arizona during his school days and came to Manhasset during the summer so he could be around males, particularly Uncle Charlie.  J.R. shares the lessons learned around Uncle Charlie’s friends from the bar where he was the bartender to the various other males who played some part in his upbringing (Bill and Bud are two men who ran a bookstore and hired him at age 14 so he could assist his mom in providing for meals and rent).  The two men at the bookstore taught J.R. the importance of reading – this is THE lesson every person needs to gain in their life.  Where are we without stories? And lessons learned?  Bill and Bud also allow J.R. to dream and dream BIG.  They convince him Yale is the place for J.R., where he does apply and gets a full ride to attend.  We read about the disparate worlds that exist at Yale, the kids who have been “groomed as Yale kids” and those who get to Yale despite their meager upbringing.  J.R. is challenged academically and almost quits for a number of reasons, but somehow manages to make it through.  He falls in love with a rich, older Yalie.  It becomes an on-again off-again relationship.  Each time J.R. losing emotionally.  J.R. keeps returning to Manhasset and the Publican bar, Uncle Charlie’s place of employment.  A place where Steve, Cager, Bob the Cop, Joey D., Smelly, Dalton and others all impart some part of wisdom and real life examples for him.  J.R. has a few encounters with The Voice, his Dad, who he immortalizes over the years.  His Dad was a radio guy and he randomly finds him at different points in his life, usually on the radio doing a show.  As J.R. graduates from Yale he works at a department store before he has a meeting with Sidney, his Yale love, who suggests he writes for the NY Times.  He applies for their training program and is hired.  He continues to be attached to Sidney, but she breaks his heart too many times before moving on.  J.R. is always drawn back to the Publican bar and plans on writing a book about it, THIS BOOK!, and gets support from the guys.  There are a number of turning points in his life: love, death, people who inspire him (Father Amtrak, his cousin McGraw, Jimbo, Michelle, and of course his mother), and September 11th.  The book actually comes to the close eleven years later when September 11th occurs and J.R. is brought back home to face the death of his cousin and the loss of over 50 lives from his hometown, Manhasset.   J.R. brings the story to conclusion with what he does for others, his last standoff with his father, and finally noting the role of the woman in his life, his mother.  Heartwarming read of someone whose disillusionment doesn’t seem to get the best of him, though I know his journey continues.  Nice to read a book on a journey of someone who was born the same year as me… maybe I should write the book that is within me?  I can see why this was a bestselling book.  Good read. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Art As Experience

Tough reading a philosophical view on Art!  Yes, a 1934 version.  This one by John Dewey, who I haven’t read since I read his work for my dissertation.  Never thought I would be reading Dewey as part of the RA Favorite Book Project, but alas, I have! Art As Experience presents Dewey’s collection of essays on aesthetics that he presented while at Harvard.  Dewey suggests “what is important” in the physical manifestations in what he calls “the expressive object” and later details the “process of experiencing art.”  The chapters include a discussion on the creative process, the experience the “art creator” has and how different it is than the “art experiencer”  (i.e. the person who is actually viewing art), the organization of energies, “the human contribution,” and finally how art has changed during our civilization.  It is a dense book, for sure.  For those interested in the study of art, this probably serves as one of the foundational books necessary for your studies; for those in philosophy, certainly can be helpful; for anyone looking for pleasure reading, this is not it.  Dewey shares his “hierarchy” of the art forms…. Guess which one?  Could it be music?  He does give an overview of how the human sensations are changed through the interaction of art.  When reading it is interesting to how applicable his theories are to the reader of today.  Just illustrates how smart Dewey was… love this guy!  Wish I was that smart!  Tough read on a gorgeous day in PA sitting by the pool.  Lucky the water in the pool was cool to keep me refreshed.  

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Conscious Business

I always enjoy reading business books, knowing that this must have been required reading for one of the Stern courses!  Conscious Business by Fred Kofman, a former MIT faculty member, provided an outstanding read on building values driven organizations.  Kofman’s book starts with introductions by some of the best educators in the field of organizations, Ken Wilbur and Peter Senge (one of my favorites!).  Kofman presents strategies and examples of how organizations need to be driven by a set of values that respects and honor others.  He weaves in great fables/stories that further illustrate his points.  Kofman also presents real life examples that include dialogues (and even fixes them to further demonstrate how to better the conversations). He also shares stories taken from Jim Collins' Good to Great, an all-time favorite!  Be conscious of your conversations and interactions with others is rule #1.  The three dimensions of business: the task, the relationship, and the personal.  He then explains the integral perspective of an organization: product (having), process (doing), and platform (being).  Once you understand the process of business, one can then move to create conscious attitudes, which include: unconditional responsibility, essential integrity, ontological humility, conscious behaviors, authentic communication, constructive negotiation, impeccable coordination, conscious responses, and emotional mastery.  Each chapter is one of the tenets listed above and the final chapter brings it all together by entering the market with helping hands.  One of my favorite stories to illustrate his point occurs when he is on an airplane with his children and they suddenly jump out of their seats during the flight.  Instead of yelling at them, he remembers, if we were to crash would I want my last memory to be yelling at my children.  This reminds me of the simplistic thought of how we should treat people as we never know when our last moment will occur.  He uses a great deal of Christian thinking and role models in his examples.  He also quotes Victor Frankl (if you haven’t read his book on being in a concentration camp detainee in Nazi Germany, Man’s Quest for Meaning – ADD IT).  Let me share one last great story that Kofman uses:  A big tough samurai once went to see a little monk.  “Monk”, he barked, in a voice accustomed to instant obedience, “teach me about heaven and hell!”  The monk looked up in the mighty warriors and replied with utter disdain, “Teach you about heaven and hell? I couldn’t teach you about anything.  You’re dumb.  You’re dirty.  You’re a disgrace, an embarrassment to the samurai class.  Get out of my sight.  I can’t stand you.” The samurai got furious.  He shook, red in the face, speechless with rage.  He pulled out his sword, and prepared to slay the monk.  Looking straight into the samurai’s eyes the monk said softly, “That’s hell.”  The samurai froze, realizing the compassion of the monk who had risked his life to show him hell! He put down his sword and fell to his knees, filled with gratitude.  The monk said softly, “and that’s heaven.”  Add this one to your list, especially those who work with groups!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Change of Heart

Finally finished listening to Jodi Picoult’s Change of Heart.  Can anyone really endure that much personal pain… the story begins with the death of June’s husband in a car accident that barely allows June and her daughter Elizabeth to escape.  June’s life seems back on track after she marries the policeman, Kurt, who told her the news of her husband’s tragic death. Some years later, while pregnant with the couple’s first child, June comes home to find police all around her home and both Kurt and Elizabeth are murdered, presumably by Shay Bourne, a handy man who was doing work in the house.  The trial for the murder concludes with Shay Bourne receiving the death penalty, the first in New Hampshire in over 65 years.  Now the story really begins!  Leave it to Jodi to throw her readers into a maelstrom of activity before chapter three occurs.  I am really glad that I listened to this story because of the “device” that the author uses is the voice of the main characters, June (a woman who has gone through more than one could ever hope!), Michael Wright (who served on the jury that convicted Shay Bourne AND becomes a priest – and later the spiritual advisor to the murderer), Maggie Bloom (a pip! She is the ACLU lawyer who decides she wants to save Shay Bourne), Lucius DuFrense (Shay’s next door cellmate in prison), and finally Claire Nealon (the second daughter of June who will later learn needs a heart).   There are few stories that are as intricate and connected as this one.  Everything you learn at some point in times comes back to serve a purpose.  During the trail, Michael is the hold-out in convicting Bourne but is eventually swayed to change his vote, which is a driving force in his initial guilt for helping Bourne.  Maggie begins her desire to help Bourne as it could serve as a catapult for her to receive the recognition she so desires.  Lucius, an AIDS patient in jail for killing his lover, takes a liking to Shay when he thinks he has some sort of powers after Shay “performs” some miracles in the cell.  Finally all comes together in the story when Shay sees on television that a young girl, Claire Nealon, who was born with a heart ailment, is in need of a heart.  Shay realizes he can give back to the family that has been ravaged by tragedy.  When June is contacted by Maggie and (now) Fr. Mike, she immediately refuses, but she knows that this may be the only hope for her second daughter to live.  There are so many levels of stories within stories and issues within the plot: death penalty, prisoner rights, mysticism/faith/miracles, ethics – do you take an eye for an eye?, forgiveness for your past loses, and the list goes on.  I think the author does a masterful job of weaving these together and then the shocker occurs… Shay may not have killed Elizabeth and Kurt intentionally, AHHHH… I will not divulge the secret twist in the blog as it is worth finding out.  Will Claire receive the heart?  Will the state of New Hampshire change the manner in which Shay will die to preserve the heart for Claire?  Will Maggie ever have a date?  I’d add to the list.  Was number #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list and probably deserved to be.   Listening to this one worked very well!  Enjoy. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must)

I am not an angry person, nor a person who needs to argue every issue to prove I am right, no matter how small or large… yet I just finished reading a book where the author is not only arrogant but redundant (over and over again!).  I also need to say I do not consider myself a liberal nor a conservative, for which many may say, ah he is wishy-washy on the issues, no I don’t think so.  I think poverty and lack of education needs to be resolved, war should be avoided unless imperative (I guess that is a “cop out” answer too), and something needs to be done about healthcare, self-interest groups, and of course equal rights across the board.  I found Ann Coulter’s book How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must) far beyond “throwing daggers” to make her points that she is “holier than thou.”  To be honest, I had heard of her, in fact I've seen her once or twice on one of those nightly political talk show discussions.  I thought, very attractive but boy is she overly opinionated.  It wasn’t until I read the book that I understood why people really disliked, or loved her.  The book is a series of her columns that have been published in other periodicals or on-line during the 1990s – 2004.  The funniest thing to me was, darn, she is an alum of my nephew Harry’s college, Cornell!  Boy must he be happy…. NOT!  I had often heard Harry scoff about Coulter’s indignations and other political “wrongness” – certainly she would be in another stratosphere if I had used the word “correctness.”  The main issues the book addresses include “why are we not screening Arabs when flying after 9/11,” “George Bush is our savior,” every Democrat is either a liar, drunk, killer, or Ku Klux member… you get the idea.  She even notes in one column that Osama Bid Laden had been killed through one of the operatives that occurred under the leadership of President Bush (2004).  She had a field day with proving her legal prowess on the hanging chad of the 2002 election in Florida.   Must I go on as she did?  More air time might actually interest some to read… oh I forgot, attack of Al Franken and the Hollywood stars… ok, I’ll stop now.  Is it really that important to try and prove you are always right and everyone else isn’t?  If you like that premise for a book, you will love this book.  I didn’t at all!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lone Survivor

The real life story of Marcus Luttrell is today’s “audiobook” – Lone Survivor-- as we road back and forth to PA this weekend.  The story begins with Luttrell’s decision to join the Navy and then to join the Navy SEALs.  Luttrell talks about the pain staking process of the weeks of “hell” that candidates for the SEALs must endure.  It is all about the mental, as many of the toughest and strongest could not endure the mind-numbing activities that the future SEALs must face.  The stories are excruciating, being shot in the face with freezing cold water carrying a boat over your head in sub degree weather or jogging for miles each day with boots and full gear on with little to no water, etc.  Why do they do it?  Luttrell gives a really heart-warming (if you can say that) tale of why and his love for this country and love of God.  After his successful entry into the SEALs, Luttrell is sent to more training and eventually is called into action, right where the story begins, on June 28, 2005, as Luttrell and SEAL Team 10 were assigned to a mission to kill or capture Ahmad Shah, a high-ranking Taliban leader responsible for killings in eastern Afghanistan and the Hindu-Kush mountains. Luttrell’s teams is asked to go out into the territory and are faced with some goat herders from the region and are confused as to what to do with them, kill them or let them go?  (We learn in the book the rather difficult role the armed forces in the region have when determining what to do.  If you kill someone, the locals will go to the media and say – those Americans are killing our innocent people, if they don’t the “innocent people” could end up being informants of the Taliban and will get the armed forces killed).  Luttrell and his team made up of Michael P. Murphy, Danny Dietz, and Matthew Axelson make the wrong decision and the herders contact the Taliban.  The next four days are described in detail through Luttrell and he alone remains alive while his three SEAL team members are killed.  It is a story of heroic proportions. Luttrell speaks freely of the role that God played in allowing him to survive in a “I can’t even believe this is possible” story.  The story was like watching multiple stories from the TV show “24” but better as this is true life.  I just found out that this will be made into a movie, which will probably be one of the few books I have ever read that I think could make a good movie.  This is a definite read book that tells the harrowing story of the guys who protect our country.  Whether you are pro or con military this book illustrates the craziness our armed forces face and should remind each of us we better have some strong support for our guys when they return!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Astonishing Splashes of Colour

Another modern novel, this one by Clare Morrall, is Astonishing Splashes of Colour.  Set in Britain, this is the story of a young woman who is confronted daily by the losses she has faced in her life, though some losses didn’t really happen (ah the twist in this one is pretty good, though I figured it out before it was exposed).  Katherine, who picked up the nickname “Kitty” after the family kitten died, is in a state of depression largely untreated and lives next door to her husband, James (the nicest guy in the book for sure!).  Kitty is the youngest child in her family, a family of six, though she never met her mother nor her oldest sister, as mom was killed in a car crash and sister Dinah disappeared with some hippies at age seventeen.  The four older brothers served as baby sitters for the young Kitty as her Dad constantly was consumed with his paintings, an artist by trade.  Her brothers all are now consumed with wife and kids, girlfriend, work, or some other distraction.  Each of the brothers want what is best for Kitty but realizes she needs professional help.  Early on in the story the reader learns how Kitty goes to school each day waiting for her son Henry, though Henry was never born.  Kitty lost her pregnancy pre-maturely.  Death and disappearance play a major role in Kitty’s inability to feel a sense of stability.  Kitty moved out of her father’s house in her late thirties and that’s where she meets James, the son of two doctors, who has his own issues (physical and emotionally).  The story follows Kitty’s strange adventures living in another world where she has premonitions and has a hard time of dealing with what is real and what is imagined.  The story comes to the major twist after Kitty’s grandparents are found died in their home (of natural causes) which leads the family to reunite for the funeral.  What a series of learnings… all leading to Kitty’s abduction of a child in a hospital and then stealing another child, a seven-year-old brat, who tries to pawn herself off as a bratty thirteen-year-old.  Kitty finally faces the lies that were created about her life in the final pages after the young seven-year-old burns down Kitty’s father’s house.  I wish the author had used a bit more on the whole “colour” piece which is only touched upon but makes so much sense in the area of depression.  The scenes with Kitty and her counselor are real and give the reader the belief that treatment can be a source of support when all else seems to be going out of control.  I really enjoyed the story and believe the author did an outstanding job of presenting characters that were real and believable.   While this story too jumped around (like yesterday’s) I thought that it was much more connected. Add this one to the collection.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Plays Well with Others

Sometimes when you are reading a book you say to yourself, “I get it, but I don’t love it”… so it goes with Plays Well with Others by Allan Gurganus.  The story is set in the early 1980s – mid 1990s during the height of the AIDS epidemic in NYC, also during the high end of the sexual revolution of sorts.  The story focuses on the protagonist, Hartley Mims Jr., a writer, and his two newly acquired friends, Robert and Angie, both of whom are in the art world too.  Mims has relocated from North Carolina and is looking to find a place that makes him comfortable, as are most of his gay friends, who have left Iowa, California, etc. to be freed in NYC.  The problem is, the freedom includes unprotected sex across genders and at all the places one can find it.  The book is really a series of short vignettes about the three characters' lives, mostly on Hartley, though the real through line is the demise of the beautiful Robert Christian Gustafson, the son of a preacher, and how Hartley has to bury him and so many other friends during this timeframe.  The short stories paint Hartley as a more reserved young man who has to keep the young Asian middle school boy who he tutors at bay (he has a major crush on Hartley and actually tries to make a sexual advance – which is actually pretty comical).  Gurganus weaves in personal tragedy, comedy, and self-reflection in illustrating how utterly difficult these times were.  Hard to imagine that was only 30 years ago…  The story is compelling for those who were not aware of the hate and bigotry infected gay men were treated with during that time (though I would say I’m sure those feelings exist to this day).  I guess I never warmed to the characters of Robert or Angie (wasn’t really sure what she was all about)…   I’m glad I read it, but would not say one of my favorite as the short vignettes and jumping from one time to another didn’t really flow for me.  I’m not completely linear, but I’d say format was ok. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Audacity of Hope

What a great book to finish listening to on NYU Graduation Day where Bill Clinton was the commencement speaker, Barak Obama’s The Audacity of Hope.  Obama’s book follows the rise of his interest in politics, running for various offices, and his thoughts on so many things.  There are a few personal reflections on his own family background and his falling in love with Michelle, his wife.  Honestly, how can anyone NOT agree with his stances on almost anything from family, to religion, to role of government, lobbyist, energy consumption, global warming, international borders and the challenge the borders present, health care, and how we all need to listen before acting.  I loved the friendly barb of Ann Coulter too.  The challenge between Democrats and Republicans was aptly described and with some insight as to how to move forward.  The inner workings of a Senator’s life on the Hill and personal struggle to maintain family balance provided a truthful perspective on why the personal life usually fails for our politicians.  The reader learns about the campaign trail, how our constitution was created and lives on today in the chambers in DC, how values should always play a role in our society, and the opportunities that stand before us.  The book was published in 2006, well before the Presidential campaign, and I can see how it served as a venue to clearly understand Obama the candidate.  Not having read it then, I probably should have done so.  It makes me happy to have a President who not only writes eloquently but stands for something, in fact, many of the things I believe in.  While I am not advocating a republican or democratic point of view on the blog, or in my professional life, I am advocating for education and learning… and yes reading is one of the MAIN ways to do so.  I challenge all of you (myself included) to read the work of our politicians.  Learn what they stand for by what they WRITE.  On a day like Graduation Day at NYU, I reflect on Obama the faculty member at University of Chicago’s law school and say, yes! We need more educators as politicians and less politicians as politicians.  Knowing what you believe in and then taking actions based on your beliefs is a sign of the mature person, a person of character.  If one wants to know how our President thinks, you should read this.  In fact, shouldn’t all Americans?  I think we owe it to ourselves to know what our leader believes in!  Add this to your list.  I wish I had a few years back!  

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Gunslinger

The Gunslinger by Stephen King is the first book of his Dark Towers series.  The story follows the life of the lead character, the Gunslinger (Roland), and his journey to find the “tower” and its meaning.  Roland is the last living descendant of the knightly order of Gunslingers.  The book is a sci-fi/western style story mixing genres and is placed in the “old West” mentality where shooting others and seeking revenge are paramount, as is finding the missing secret. During his early travails, he runs through a village in the outskirts of the desert and kills a village in pursuit of the “Man in Black” who evades him for the vast majority of the book.  The Gunslinger stops along the desert and meets a man who exchanges information about the Man in Black but provides little answers, only more questions.  Roland is also unsure of whom to trust and who may be the enemy, though he knows the Man in Black is the enemy of all enemies.  Later in his search he meets up with a boy, Jake, who serves as a younger brother/son for him.   The two continue the search and are always one step behind the Man in Black thinking they just might actually find him.  The search takes them on a ride through the mountain on a handcart being chased by some type of skeletal creatures where Jake is in fear for his life at every moment.  The first book of the Gunslinger concludes with a confrontation between the Man in Black and the Gunslinger.   Having only read the first book of the series (which I hear goes for seven books in total!), there are clearly questions unanswered.  Hard to respond completely to how good or not so good this book is as it really only scratches the surface of Roland’s journey, but one can’t deny King’s ability to tell a story, that’s for sure!  He is one of the great writers of the weird, the watch out around the corner, and finding multiple meanings within a story.  If anyone else has read the complete series, please post a comment on this one.  I’ll reserve final judgment until the day I read the final six books!  

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Great and Terrible Beauty

Time to venture back into the Victorian era of the late 1800s to England and the story of Gemma Doyle and her new life at a boarding school.  This is the first of a trilogy by Libba Bray called A Great and Terrible Beauty.  Gemma is sent to the boarding school after her mother dies suddenly from an apparent suicide, though her family tells others that she died of cholera.  Gemma is “haunted by visions” of spirits that come and go over the course of her young life, which she has yet to fully comprehend.  While at Spence Academy, Gemma is an outcast among her peers at the school when she arrives and is placed with the awkward stutterer, Ann Bradshaw.  Ann and Gemma are challenged by the “mean girls” of Spence Academy until Gemma catches one of the ring leaders, Felicity, in a compromising situation with a male gypsy.  Gemma uses the information in a way to control Felicity’s mean spirit and actions towards her and Ann.  As they become friends, Gemma is led into the caves that border the school grounds by one of her visions. There, she finds a diary written 25 years earlier by a 16-year-old girl named Mary Dowd who also attended Spence Academy and seemed to suffer from the same visions as Gemma.   As the story unfolds, Felicity and fellow “mean girl” Pippa join forces with Gemma and Ann and become intrigued by the history and stories Gemma shares with the others about her background and the hidden group called the Order.  The Order was a group that allegedly formed at Spence Academy many years ago and is confirmed by one of the teachers at the school.  In fact, the teacher brings the girls to the caves as part of class, the same caves that Gemma has had visions of in the past.  When the girls put the caves and the diary stories together they want more and more interaction in the caves and a visit to the realms, which Gemma has explained through her visions, and tells the girls of her secret powers, which at one point she uses to assist Ann in enhancing her singing and the other girls with their looks and brains.  Things get really interesting when Gemma’s mother appears, Pippa falls into the waters, and the spirits in the realms turn on the girls.  How will they escape this awful drama that they have gotten themselves into?  Which one of the four will suffer a tragic fate?  Will the spirit of Gemma’s mother be helpful in saving Pippa?  This fantasy Victorian story is a nice read but falls apart for me when I find out… it’s a trilogy!  I didn’t know before I started.  What happened to the days where stories had a beginning, middle, and ending in one book?  Oh well, well written and had some surprises along the way.  Not bad.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Evolution of Morality

Time to jump back into reading textbook hypothesis and thinking deeply on the human condition in The Evolution of Morality by Richard Joyce.  Pretty dense arguments by the author on how we as humans act when faced with something.  Is it nature, nurture, or a combination of something else?  Joyce presents data from other classic text books that I have spent some time reading like “The Selfish Gene” and works by Dennett.  Joyce takes us back to the cavemen and how we evolved as a culture on how we determine to act, either to help or turn our back.  Is moral decision making by the natural selection model and how our brain operates or has it evolved through our ancestors and serves as a method from some level of reciprocity between two beings.  Joyce often uses studies of animals in making his points.  The nice thing about the book is that he tends to give examples that are understandable and easy for us “simpletons” to “get.”   How did we as a culture of humans begin to help one another, what is morality?  Creating a moral code/language to communicate and finally the vindication and debunking of morality are a few of the chapters that serve as the basis for this book.  Be prepared to re-read a few of the passages before you had the “ah-ha” moment.  For morality and philosophy buffs, I’m sure it is on your top 100 books of the 21st century.  For those who see reading as an escape to another world, probably will need some serious high level of caffeine to keep going through the book.  The nice thing is it is relatively short in page numbers.  Probably a staple for most philosophy majors, but for me ok – I get it, but….  To think he is younger than me…why am I not that smart? 

Friday, May 13, 2011

One Bullet Away

This was an interesting read for me as my youngest son Alex has been toying with the idea of doing some form of the military during his time in college.  I am hopeful he will read One Bullet Away by Nathaniel Fick.  Fick’s story starts at Dartmouth College at the end of his junior year when he decides to take a stab at Officer Candidate School in Quantico, VA.  Fick presents a detailed description of the personal physical and mental challenges faced by people who are exploring this option in their life.  As a person who experienced military life in a very cursory way, in high school ROTC, I never understood why one would want to be disciplined in such a manner, nor be placed on the battlefield with people who become your best friends, only to realize how quickly it all could change.  Fick succeeded in entering the Marines after his graduation and serving as an officer in 1999 and enjoyed upward movement into the Marines’ First Recon Battalion as a Captain in the elite group.  After two years of service, 9/11 occurred and Fick was deployed to Iraq.  With the stories of the death of civilians, road carnage, developing strategy to win with no lost life and taking care of his men, the reader gains a true admiration and respect for the work our military provides for this country, which is a separate issue from should we actually be in another country to jeopardize the lives of our young men, and I mean young... 18, 29, 20…  SO much life in front of them, but…  Fick arrived in Iraq days after the Sept 11th attacks.  After a few years of service he was finally given the news of his return.  He tells of his decision to leave the Marines and why should any person contemplating the decision to enter give a moment to pause and reflect.  I did.  Well written, though I listened to this one on tape, and even better read… by Fick himself!  A great book for anyone who has a loved one thinking about the military as I think it is a pretty solid personal true reflection of “what life is like,” knowing all various branches of the military have nuanced differences.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Book of Daniel

I read a compelling novel by E.L. Doctorow called The Book of Daniel.  The story follows the life of Daniel Lewin, formerly known as Daniel Isaacson, son of Rochelle and Paul.  The story is based on the true life experience of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, alleged to be Communists living in America during the late 1940s-early 50s, who eventually were executed for espionage.  Doctorow presents a first person narrator, Daniel, from his youth with his sister Susan, experiencing the pain of having his parents arrested in their home, being separated and placed in a children’s home in the Bronx, to the trial and eventual death of his parents.  The book jumps from the present time, 1960s, back to early childhood and then to events during the trial.  Little attention is paid to the alleged “espionage activities” of the parents.  Daniel’s pain of trying to comfort his younger sister and create some type of normalcy when all else is falling apart around him, including the onset of the hippie era, makes for a well written story.  As a young child at the end of the “hippie” era, many of the moments described by Daniel brought back vague memories.  It was a tumultuous time with fear, anarchy, and true activism (where has that gone???).  Susan’s debilitating psyche, which ends in her own suicide, tears one apart knowing how the innocence of a youth is torn away.  The story ends with Daniel’s confrontation with the man who turned his mother and father over to the authorities.  Griping scene leaving the reader to decide their own interpretation of who really was guilty of espionage.  Doctorow’s work is impeccable and I think this is a dynamic book of its time.  Presenting a time which seems unbelievable, executing people with limited data, but illustrating how the fear of a country could create unheard of action.  Hmmm… maybe we are seeing similar actions today with illegal immigration and our perceived desire not to be a melting pot any longer?  Thumbs up for telling this story.  

Monday, May 9, 2011

Winter’s Tale

A few times over the course of reading/listening to your favorites I really drag on a book, this was one time!  It took about 8 weeks to finish listening to this one, which I am sure impacted my ability to focus, and more importantly enjoy this one – so that is the disclaimer.  Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin takes place near the turn of the millennium in New York City, but not necessarily completely like the one we know, though there are a good deal of references to places like Central Park, the West side, and even the defunct St. Vincent’s Hospital.  This fantasy type book brings to life burglar Peter Lake, the protagonist, who attempts to rob a mansion on the Upper West Side of the City and in doing so finds the love of his life, Beverly Penn, who eventually dies.  He is driven by her memory throughout the tale which has a backdrop of the never-ending cold and despair (blustering winds, dark nights, & snowy days) of winter.  Clearly the book is influenced by Shakespeare’s drama by the same name, where a lead character disappears for years with no known reason and then reappears transformed.  The reader does get a beautiful description of NYC, which hey, I love myself.  The story runs the whole gamut from early 1900s to 1999 so the changing industrialization of the city is presented and how the community interacts from the changes.  The style of writing is descriptive and beautiful, though quite long… I think the overall story may have been lost in some parts to me by the voice of the reader who I felt did no better than to tire me throughout.  You really need to pay attention to the various characters that came in and out of this tale.  I will say a lovely happy ending does occur.  The book is lauded with awards etc.; however, not entirely my type of reading, but can understand based on the style of writing why it has such high praise.  A pass for me, though others will disagree.  Just be prepared for a long read…  

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Games for Actors and Non-Actors

Text book at its best… ugh!  Having received an MFA in Theatre I wondered whether Games for Actors and Non-Actors by Augosto Boal would be a helpful read or not.  Hmmm… I will say the brief introduction to the various methods of acting contexts (Theatre of the Oppressed, Image Theatre, and the Forum Theatre) were blasts from the pasts for me but other than that, I have to say I was surprised by a number of things, mostly that this would be someone’s favorite book.  My wife actually asked me: do you think some RAs just look in their book bag before meeting with you to think of a favorite book?  It wasn’t until I finished the “Games” book that I now actually think it is possible.  Since I do feel beholden to give a brief summary for the books, so you may not want to take the time to read the entire book, I’ll ruin the surprise on this one….  I guess there is some level of value to the book in that the “games” suggested might be fun at a family gathering, or a RA training, or a dinner party.  Maybe the one that people place their butts next to each other and share “energy” or the “Murder at the Hotel Agato” game… isn’t that the mystery dinner game?  Sense memory of touch, smell, remembrance activities, the image and the object, the mirror sequence, and the list goes on and on.   Don’t get me wrong, this could be really helpful for an aspiring actor, or better yet, a director in attempting to move an actor from one place to another, but…. some of the exercises, or should I be more explicit, the variations on the exercises were pretty trite.  Helpful to acting students but for the general reader, take a major pass.  There are some funny pictures of actors performing some of the exercises, so pick up the book if you see it on a shelf (pg. 61 has the butt to butt exercise).  Take a pass on this one!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Dream Songs

Poetry is not really my “thing” when I think of picking up a book to read, but The Dream Songs by John Berryman was surprisingly a great venue for me to further my appreciation of such writing.   The book contains 385 poems whose format becomes familiar to the reader as the book progresses, with three stanzas in each with six lines per stanza.  At first the poetry reader, in this case me!, is very confused by the poetry.  Are the poems connected?  What is the running theme(s)?  Who is Henry?  Why so much pain? And then a deeper yearning to learn about Henry, aka Mr. Bones, as referred to by his anonymous friend.  Henry is an early middle aged white man, who decides to be in blackface (like in a minstrel show) and has struggles in love, religion, boredom with life, and vision in his dreams.  There are moments of laughter, his eating problem which leads to his gastro issues, and then to his deeper moments of dealing with loss and the struggle of man to understand what is life all about.  Henry questions suffering and morality of man and then introduces famous lines from children’s poetry, almost like how our own brain functions, as I look out my office window in Washington Square Park and let my mind wander to the “who,” the “what,” and the “how” of life.  Taken as single moments and thoughts tied together by this questioning man come together in an uncomforting way.  One particular poem captures the essence of the confusion:

All the world like a woolen lover
once did seem on Henry's side.
Then came a departure.
Thereafter nothing fell out as it might or ought.
I don't see how Henry, pried
open for all the world to see, survived

Berryman’s work is masterful, capturing wit, “true gut experiences,” and honesty on the challenge of emotion and feeling.  There is an emotional power contained in the poems that spoke to me as reader, but more to me as a man who thinks through this confusion of everyday life.  I wish I was this brilliant.  Take in small sections.  Moving in so many ways.  Add to your list!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Redeeming Love

Every once in a while you read a book that has a heartfelt meaning and is well intentioned but you know what… just not your cup of tea, as they say.  Well, that happened when reading Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.  The story is inspired by the book of Hosea from the Bible. The central theme of the book is to characterize the redeeming love of God towards sinners, in this case Sarah who is born through a tryst between the married Alex Stafford and her mother Mae.  Sarah meets her father during one of his “visits” to Mae and learns that she is born out of an illegitimate arrangement that has been going on for years.  Sarah is taken away by her mother’s maid, (all monies for Sarah’s upbringing has been given by Alex) but at some point that pipeline runs dry and Mae is forced to leave and take Sarah with her.  Eventually Mae dies after being on the street as a prostitute and leaves Sarah to her uncle, who for money sells young Sarah into the world of prostitution.  Fast forward to Sarah, now given the name Angel (you know this name has some double meaning – hit the reader over the head with this!) by her new “parents,” I mean owners of the house of ill repute.  Angel is beautiful and becomes the number one “money producer” for the ladies’ house.  Eventually a Christian man, Michael Hosea, sees Angel on the street and immediately falls in love and plans to take her out of the whorehouse.  He pays the fee to meet with her, but spends the time offering to marry her.  That doesn’t go very far at all… for the next six months Hosea returns and offers his undying love.  Finally, Michael takes her to his farm after he finds her beaten up after refusing to turn tricks and marries her!  The rest of the story shares the struggles of Michael and Angel (Mara, Irzah, or whatever her name becomes every time Michael falls more deeply in love with her).  Angel runs away as she doesn’t understand the feelings for Michael and the draw that the “devil” has in speaking to her that she does not deserve such a man.  Michael is so stricken by her and the will of God to help change her ways that he gives up all to try and win Angel over.  Even after his brother-in-law Paul (whose wife died years earlier) has sex with Angel, Michael still wants Angel as his wife.  The pull to the darker side by Angel and the pull to love her from the voice of God into Michael’s ear continues throughout the story.  You can only guess the ending… yes, ends happy!  There are a few more characters and struggles of Angel, but I think you get the idea.  Evil is thwarted by good through the hand of God!  You probably have seen this story on the Hallmark Channel if you are “lucky” enough to get it.  Very predictable story.  Not all bad, just not for me.  Take a pass. 

Monday, May 2, 2011


An absolutely beautiful real life story from author Manette Ansay called Limbo.  One gets a real appreciation for what one has after reading this book.  I was touched by her struggles and how she hit rock bottom and then something happened…  In the story, Manette traces back to her childhood memories, when life was easier and “forgettable.”  She does this after meeting the challenge of her life, the complete deterioration of her physical body for no known reason. The story actually begins at the moment when she is facing her unknown ailment.  The reader is then transported to how she began her journey of life. Manette grew up one of two children and was introduced to piano from a very young age.  She had a talent and her parents helped cultivate it by bringing her to the best possible piano teachers.  Manette put all of her energies into piano, even at the cost of making friends and being involved with others.  High school was a series of bullying and being made the brunt of jokes and humiliations.  Manette’s training allowed her to gain entrance to the Peabody School in Baltimore, Maryland.  As the story unfolds we learn of the ailments in her arms and shins.  The pain developed overtime to a point that she was unable to play piano anymore.  She went home and saw doctor after doctor.  There were lots of potential diagnosis but each doctor contradicted the other.  Over time Manette was so disabled that she eventually was relegated to using a wheelchair.  Her outlook on the future was bleak and she no longer felt a desire to live, even contemplating suicide.  Her former friends no longer felt they could be around her as she was no longer the person she had once been.  After finally waking up from a dream following some time utilizing the wheelchair, something changed in her.  Could she actually go back to college using the wheelchair? 
I awoke from the dream feeling as if something had eased.  So many of us can divide our lives into episodes; before and after….the abyss opens beneath our feet, and we leap it, not because we are particularly brave, but simply because we must….the things we have experienced go on to shape the things we will experience, a year from now, ten years from now, in ways we can’t possibly imagine.
Life began to change.  Once someone realizes that “I am where I am,” they find one of two paths.  Manette choose the harder path, to try and persevere.  There are so many lessons I learned in her story that serve as a catalyst for much of what I do in my life.  Life is not easy, life is not fair, life is what it is.  While she still today faces the debilitating physical pain, she has moved on to receive her PhD in Writing and has written numerous books.  Her father, she learned later in life, had a similar experience as a youth which derailed  his future career, but he moved forward, clearly an inspiration for Manette.  There are multiple messages in the story and I would highly encourage anyone who suffers emotional, physical, or other kind of pain to read this book.  It certainly can serve as a model for finding turning points and some role modeling to move even though you don’t want to do so.  An A+ story!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Everyday Grace

Looking for a source of structure or strength for those who are religiously minded?  Everyday Grace by Marianne Williamson provides a thoughtful and practical way to deepen your conviction to God. The book is a Christian perspective utilizing her earlier book “A Course in Miracles” and also the teachings of Manly P. Hall.  Everyday Grace is almost a “how to” enhance one's spiritual depth and connection to God.  She begins by suggesting we “take the wand” that she prescribes and miracles will happen.  The five movements of the wand and as she says, abracadabra just like magic, the miracles will occur.  The second half of the book provides a layout for how our day should occur, by keeping our minds free and creating structured time to connect with God.  She further suggests the rest of the day should include: we stay away from the news, approach the workplace differently, don’t rely on our current work as the answer to our life, avoid jealousy of others, think through decision making, use time wisely, stop arguing, create hope, stop feeling guilty, how to grieve, and finally how to be compassionate.  She concludes the book with the application of these tenets through attending rituals, keeping holy the Sabbath and building individual relationships.  A pretty packed book with simplistic ideas by overcoming the day to day challenges of busy lives.   Having read numerous “self-help” and motivational spiritual awakening books, this probably wasn’t my favorite.  Good ideas but presented in a way that didn’t speak to me as clearly as some of the others have in the past.  A great stocking stuffer (short read) for those needing a pick-me-upper.