Monday, October 31, 2011

Among the Hidden

How strange to be listening to this book as the world announces that the 7th billion human now lives on the planet.  Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix tells the futuristic tale of a world that only allows parents to have two children, yet in this particular neighborhood there are at least 2 “third children,” or shadow children.  This is the first of a series. I can’t imagine the rest being as good as the first.  Luke Garner is raised on his parent’s farm, though both parents work outside the home.  Due to the governmental regulations Luke is not allowed to be seen by anyone, or else he would be turned over to the authorities.  At the age of 12, Luke has become even more isolated because the government built homes close to his and he can no longer risk going outside.  Luke is becoming tired of the hiding game and notices the next door neighbor may also have a hidden child.  After examining the movement in the neighbor’s house, he ventures over to investigate and what does he find… another third child!  Jennifer Talbot, from the “baron class” is in the home working on her computer to communicate with other thirds and living the kind of life Luke could only imagine.  While Luke is completely scared and afraid of life outside the home, Jennifer shares her experience where her father, a government agent himself, has acquired a fake ID so she can be taken to the city.  Luke and Jen create a close bond over a short period of time.  Jen is working with other thirds to meet face on with the government to publically challenge the law.  Jen tries to get Luke to go, but he can’t because of his fear.  What ensues next would ruin the end of this book if I told you, but it is worth the read.  Could the world get like this with overcrowding?  Food rationing, no pets in our society, no more fast food, no meat?  It is a very quick read, I listened to it and it was only 8 hours long!!  Great book for young adults, but I think us adults would get into it too.  Not sure how I feel about a part two, been burned before!  Read it. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Just finished one of the author’s other books a week or so ago.  Jorge Luis Borges is back, at least in this RA Favorite Book Reading List, he actually passed away  in 1986, living to be 87.  Ever read a book and think, I have read this somewhere.. and then find out, you did.  After just a few pages, I knew I was re-reading something I had recently read.  In the book Labyrinths, Borges includes a number of his short stories from Ficciones in the first part of the book; in fact, almost 100 pages worth of stories were included in this book.  Labyrinths contains short stories, essays and parables.  The Argentinian author continues to focus on similar themes on life in South America, reflecting on other author’s novels (Cervantes’ Don Quixote), plays (Shakespeare), philosophy (Hume, Kierkegaard), poems and books (Dante’s Inferno) and how this life has been already lived, “everything which can happen to a man, from the instant of his birth until his death, has been preordained to him” (he probably would like the Celestine Prophecy, huh?). His essay on the Argentine Writer and Tradition was one of my favorite, as my wife’s family is from Argentina and I appreciated a writer’s insight to life and influence on writers during his era.  He believes that Argentinian culture is Western culture and sets the stage for the rest of the region to follow the impact from this region of the world.  Interesting how much he focuses on religion, especially the Muslim religion. His parables reflect his thoughts on the authors who influence him and also Borges reflecting on himself.  His reflective essay on the Greek philosophers was enlightening in bringing common sense to the masses – I understand Aristotle better!  As I may have mentioned before, this is an English major’s joy to read Borges's work.  It is recent thinking on war, being human, thinking through our existence, and applying influences in our society.  All good.  The parables and essays really broken the book into a cohesive reading for me.  This is not linear or “beginning, middle, and ending” and the short stories vary greatly in what he is writing about.  This won’t be for everyone for sure.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Place of Yes

I can’t say I really knew a great deal about this author, other than her face seems to be all over TV these days.  The wife knew her because her fascination with Reality TV shows so…. after hearing about what a “Bit**” she is, hmmm that is my lead in to Bethenny Frankel’s “self-help” book, A Place of Yes.  Ok, I'll give her props for having a “NY Times Best Selling Book.”  It is time for me to seriously consider writing a book because, well… if Bethenny can do it, yes - I can do it.  This book is a re-write of so many other “self-help” books that it is somewhat frustrating.  She does a fine job of sharing her story, “I was so unable to move forward”… blah-blah-blah… but then “epiphany!” - was it the guys she took rings from or the guys that were best-friends with her current partner that allowed her to thrive?  Bethenny appears to have been born with some type of money (her biological father was a top rated horse trainer/jockey) and then faced money issues and so I guess she decided to get off her “stealing ways” and became self-sufficient.  More props in the sense that heck, this lady has some hutzpah to start a cookie company, a pashmina company, be on the Apprentice – Martha Stewart version, stop a Russian crime ring (I actually thought that was amazing work on her part), etc… but taking a book and placing in ten rules for getting “everything you want out of life”... if it’s the life she is living, I’ll pass.  Here is the short version of what you will need to do if you want that type of life: (pages 319-20 – heck a long book for so little wisdom!) 1.) Break the Chain; 2.) Find your truth; 3.) Act on it; 4.) Everything’s your business; 5.) All roads lead to Rome; 6.) Go for yours; 7.) Separate from the pack; 8.) Own it; 9.) Come together; 10.) Celebrate.  Clearly Bethenny has read lots of other books and taken parts from them and created her own list.  While the stories throughout are interesting, I have to say I find her to be pretty disingenuous.   A little overboard on her new husband, how many years will you be with this guy as you seriously have some “staying together power.”  Hard to follow someone’s advice who throws her mom under the bus, constantly takes advantage of guys, and disses former colleagues.  Hopefully the counselor she has helps her work through these issues so she can follow her own mantra.  Only a matter of time beforet her long “15 minutes” is up, right?  An ok read, but so overdone these days.  Think you’d find it from a more reputable source to be honest.  Skip!

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin is a fantasy journey book set in the archipelago of Earthsea.  The main character is a young wizard named Ged. It is the first of several stories that follows Ged’s adventures, just so you know!  Ged is born on an island off Earthsea living with his father.  The two don't seem to have a lot in common, so his aunt (the village witch) teaches him to use the hidden talent he has for magic.  Ged becomes known for saving the land from an evil group who plans on raiding the land and is brought to Ogion the Silent to become his apprentice and learn how to use his talents for the good of the land.  During his stay he lets a spell out, is confronted by Ogion and given an ultimatum, stay with Ogion and be trained or go to wizard school (I bet Harry Potter wishes he had that option!). He graduates from wizard school and further adventures follow. He fights dragons to defend one island, heads off to sea and nearly drowns, he finds two abandoned children on a solitary island, and finds a nemesis that he follows throughout the story for a final showdown, the shadow knows!  The shadow replicates Ged’s appearance and works in advance of his arrival to different lands to scare off the people before he actually arrives.  An old wizard school friend assists him in the final showdown with the shadow where Ged reveals himself to the shadow and what happens is the two become one!  Ged has embraced the “dark side and his own skills and beliefs”.  What a way to end… which leaves one wanting more!  Ahh this series within a book.  A nice read, pretty quick.  Fits into the Harry Potter mode, but this one was written in the late 1960s.  A classic.  Great for the kid crowd for sure.  

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Indian Uprising

This short story, "Indian Uprising" by Donald Barthelme, appeared first in the New Yorker in the late 1960s and is now contained in his book Sixty Stories.  Of the stories I read in the book, my favorite was "Views of My Father Weeping," but I know that wasn't the RA's choice for this book, it was "Indian Uprising."  The short story is centered on the alleged battle between a leader with his troops and the Comanches (referred to as “red men in waves”).  Barthelme provides “picture-painted” scenes - “the arrows came in clouds” and “clattered on soft yellow pavement” and “hedges laced with sparkling wire,” you get the picture, right?  The scenes jump from the battle between the two groups and the discussion between the main character’s girlfriend (Sylvia) and in the classroom with his teacher years earlier.  Clearly this complicated tale was chosen by a Philosophy major or English major wannabe (or maybe he is, I can’t remember).  It was hard to tell the timeframe of the story as it begins with arrows swirling while the leader’s group followed with helicopters and rockets where people were being killed, is it 1900s or 1960s?  The mixed use of time, past thoughts/interactions, and the present time made for confusing and complicated understanding of what was happening, though clearly it had to do with the leader’s capture and torment.  The leader was in fact captured and turned over to a “tribunal” of sorts with the Comanches in full force.  This is not a linear tale and the use of story flow would make even an educated person take a double take or two.  In doing a bit of internet research on Barthleme, I learned he falls into the postmodern field of writing.  Maybe it is just me but I think I’m probably not the best suited for this style of work or maybe I am intimated by the lack of initial sense the two or three stories have to do with itself, similar to what Barthelme is saying about war in general, eh?  Maybe he makes more sense than I think.  Not for those who aren’t ready for some serious deep reflection!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mysterious Skin

Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim is a book that is also a movie, which I learned after I tweeted that I read the book.  Oh yeah, want to follow me on twitter?  TeEllett, have fun.  I do tweet when I finish a RA Favorite Book.  This was a very difficult read as it deals with the issue of child abuse.  Two characters (Brian Lackey and Neil McCormick) are tied together through the abuse they received at the hands of their Little League baseball coach at the age of 7.  It wasn’t until a decade later that the two lives were brought together through the process of “working through the abuse” by one of the lead characters.  The book is written in chapter format from the perspective of the various characters; yet, with each chapter, the story is moving in a linear fashion.  The actual “architecture of the book” (the flow) is done exceedingly well.  Upon reflection, I actually have warmed up to the story much more.  While the topical area is far from yesterday’s read, I thought the author was able to demonstrate the power of the abuse – deeply hidden within the confines of someone’s soul so much that they can’t remember and move forward.  It is through years of trying to understand what happened that one afternoon where he woke up with a bloody nose in the crawl space under his porch that he begins to realize that he wasn’t abducted by UFOs.  Brian meets with a self-proclaimed UFO abduction specialist and is convinced that is what happened to him until he puts together events related to the day of the game.  Neil on the other hand is gay and has responded through the abuse as a young male willing to turn a trick to make some easy cash.  These two lives collide when Brian is introduced to Eric Preston, a young man who is infatuated with Neil, who left the Midwest town to make it in NYC.  Eric brings the two together at the conclusion of the book.  What happens is a scene that displays some compassion and confusion in dealing with abuse.  As I mentioned, it was a difficult initial start to the book.  Heim’s characters were on-point and getting to the emotional side was easy but not one to warm up initially.  Well written, liked but not sure I would add to my “best list”.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Franweiler

Children’s books can be exhilarating... the joy of the innocence and freedom to dream and escape to wherever you want to go. So goes today’s read, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Franweiler by E.L. Konigsburg.  The story is of strong-willed, 11 year-old Claudia Kincaid who decides to run away from home and commandeers her younger brother, the kid with money, to join her.  They escape from sleepy Greenwich, CT, and set a path to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. The story is set in 1967, so the amount of money they need is certainly different than today, as is the security measures that are in place at the Met.  Claudia and Jamie stay in the Met for a week, living on cheap foods in the streets of NYC and hanging out in the Met unbeknownst to the security officers in the building.  The journey turns when a new piece of art is delivered to the museum, an alleged statue of Michelangelo.  When Claudia finds out where the piece came from, her new purpose becomes finding out whether it is a true Michelangelo sculpture or not.  The final part of the journey is finding Mrs. Franweiler, the millionaire who sold the statue for $225, who may hold the key to the actual truth of its authenticity.  Claudia and Jamie spend the last of their journey’s money to find Mrs. F.  It is through this interaction that the whole story is actually captured.  The mixing of generations always makes for a great story, and this one is no different.  Mrs. Frankweiler captures the secrets of the kids in exchange for the knowledge of the statue.  What a great little tale.  Young kids will get it, as will “us” wiser, older folks.  You can guess the age range that won’t.  Every person needs an adventure.  Fun with heart!  

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Shape of Things

Do you remember Karen Owen’s thesis, the senior at Duke last year who chronicled her sexcapades for her final paper (it was all over the news how she rated her short-term beaus in terms of their sexual abilities, etc.)?  I think I found the book that was her inspiration… well, not really a book, this was a Tisch student, so guess what.. a play!  Neil Labute’s The Shape of Things has four characters, Evelyn (aka Karen Owens), Adam (the new boyfriend), Jenny (Adam’s first infatuation), and Phillip (Adam’s buddy).  Evelyn finds Adam while visiting a museum that he works at and tries to push him to respond to her decision to graffiti a male nude statue in the museum.  He doesn’t take the bait, BUT he does end up falling for her.  She gets him to change many of his habits (biting his fingernails), his appearance (losing weight, getting a nose job, etc.), the way he dresses (new glasses, new outfits), and who he hangs out with as friends.  Through this process Adam, a huge introvert, loses weight, starts to become a “looker,” and starts to have some confidence in himself.  She convinces him to have sex on video and drop both Jenny and Phillip as friends.  This all culminates at the end of the semester when Evelyn presents her “senior thesis art project” to all, including Adam, Jenny, and Phillip in the audience.  It all turns out to be a hoax.  Evelyn used Adam to be her “art project,” showing how weak and malleable people really are when convinced under the “guise” of love.  Wow.  I can only imagine how this play would be staged.  I can see how a Karen Owens could have read this and said, “hey, this could work on sexcapades as well.”  Amazing how human nature shows how we all could become manipulated by others.  Happens every day, huh?  Actually a pretty good read – psychological thriller of sorts.  Go see it on stage if it comes your way.  Hope they do leave it to your imagination for that scene on video…  

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Invisible Cities

The second time I have read a book by Italo Calvino, this time Invisible Cities.  The explorer Marco Polo and the emperor Kublai Khan engage in a dialogue that has Polo describe his adventures exploring 55 cities throughout the empire of Khan. The dialogue of the two characters is rich in culture, have beautiful landscapes, diverse people, and everyday happenings.  Polo describes a skyline that offers Khan an opportunity to “see his empire” through Polo’s journeys.  The themes that Polo shares include: cities and memory, cities and desire, cities and designs, cities and the dead, cities and the sky, trading cities, and hidden cities.  Khan is an elderly emperor and these images provide some semblance of power and ownership for the land he believes he rules.  An interesting piece is that the two characters don’t seem to entirely understand each other’s language, so there is a disconnect and level of interpretation necessary from both ends.  While much of the prose creates dynamic images of the land, it didn’t paint the level of detail and scenery that got me excited as a reader.  OK, I sense the scope but what is the point?  I know many poets would say the picture painting is the point, ok then why the interspersed questions and dialogue between the traveler and the emperor?  Sometimes pictures create a better image than words.  I think I want to visit and see for myself.  Saving grace, this is a pretty quick read and of course, it is a highly regarded and nominated for various awards.  I preferred Calvino’s other read, The Baron in the Trees, another story where two characters were incapable of understanding each other.  Take a pass and read Baron.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


This one has been on the list for quite some time but I would highly recommend to read it!  Neanderthal by John Darnton tells the story of two former lovers (Matt Mattison and Susan Arnot), who just happen to be rival scientists too, called by their former mentor, James Kellicut, who has seemingly “disappeared from a site” that he was doing research.  When called together, “old feelings” become active and the two are jettisoned to Tadjikistan by the US Government to help determine if the “skulls” that Kellicut sent are really active Neanderthal remains!  It appears that Russia and the US are both in the hunt to make this scientific finding, but who will get there first?  The reason for the rush is understanding the “remote viewing” aspect of the Neanderthals, who can feel your feelings as you have them and get into your mind.  There is a good amount of intrigue with captures, deaths, and rival Neanderthal groups (the good guys – peaceful, and the bad guys – the hunters).  Our two visiting scientist are caught between the two tribes and side with the peaceful tribe and try to assist in saving one of their colleagues from death.  This book reminded me in small part of the Indiana Jones stories - trying to escape the collapsing caves, trying to learn the secret language, and deal with the mad older scientist who seemingly has turned a deaf ear on the government.  All in all, it has the qualities of a thriller, though I don’t understand how they are planning to make this story into a movie, those Neanderthals are going to be ugly.  And those peaceful ones like to eat others, yes - cannibalism!   It kept me riveted throughout.  No really slow parts to it.  For those who like re-establishing the flame with an ex, answering a long ago tale of the unsolved, and a race to the end of this civilization, it’s all in here.  A good read!

Friday, October 21, 2011

He’s Just Not That Into You

OK this was an interesting “best read” from a RA, obviously it was a learning “help” book for this person.  He’s Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo serves the foundation for the movie which I can’t say I saw.  This “self-help” guide book is a series of 273 bite-sized mantras in how one should realize that you need to see and understand the signs of a potential significant other before determining if they in fact will be a life-time partner.  The authors share what is an appropriate response from a would-be partner and what shouldn’t be acceptable, do we really need a book for this?  Come on ladies?  In many respects I think this book really puts women down for not having the ability to determine how you should be treated.  For example, the authors say stay away from the following type of excuses: “he’s afraid to get hurt again,” “he just got out of a relationship,” “maybe we’re just different,” “he just says things he doesn’t mean,” "he’s been traveling a lot,” “he’s just not ready”... and so on and so on.  In the end, this series of one-liners and tid-bits women should not tolerate from their male counterpart are all common sense, or I guess what they are saying, it isn’t, hence this book!  So remember, bad guys don’t change, if a man is putting something off, he doesn’t want you, and the most important thing to remember is that “he’s just not that into you if he’s a selfish jerk, a bully, or a really big freak!”  Hmm all of this for only $10.00! Oh yeah, $13.95 in Canada.  Well the good thing is it is a “pocket-sized book” which means you could carry it in your pocket and no one will know (which is probably the way you will want it as if you need this book you probably should also be in counseling which is a better way to spend your limited resources!)  Skip it, call me if you want to know why you shouldn’t be dating this guy!  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dreams From My Father

Imagine getting a phone call that your father has died and you really didn’t know him… that is how this one begins, a book by our current President.  I learned a great deal about the President Barack Obama’s heritage in Dreams From My Father.  Race plays a huge role in this memoir of his early life through life after his father’s death, while at Harvard Law School.  Obama was separated from his father, a Kenyan, who decided to leave to further his education at Harvard himself.  Obama was born of a bi-racial relationship, his mother was a white woman from Kansas.  They separated when Barack was two years old and she re-married to an Indonesian student, hence his relocation with his parents to Jakarta.    He had challenges keeping up with English learning while away and eventually came back to the states, this time to live with his grandparents who had settled in Hawaii. Obama made his grandparents proud with his attendance at an elite college-prep type school.  Education played a large influence on Obama, knowing it was the key to future successes.  College life was a departure from the type of home life his grandparents provided to him.  He attended Occidental College in CA (I used to know the Director of Res Life there and he never gave me the impression it was a drug/alcohol dominated culture, hmm… good job for changing it Bart!)  That didn’t work out so well, so he transferred to the northern, big NYC college (guess which one?).  Life on his own in NY was an eye-opening experience and led him to realize his calling to help others and be in a leadership role, ah politics!  After NYC, he put his learning into action, working with churches in the Chicago area to do community organizing in an attempt to change the current crime rate and lack of family support.  The last part of the book is when Obama visits his father’s family.  An emotional visit for a man who had never met the family and land of his father yet is faced with the same issues of race experienced in his culture every day.  I really enjoyed the book and I believe it sets a great understanding for those who have never lived beyond their “one-dimensional culture."  If you live in that world, you really need to expand your world view.  While some may want to run back to “Kansas," it never will remain “Kansas” (as depicted by folks as 1 cultural view) – sorry Nick, I remember your favorite book that actually says it was two divided worlds (as will be the same for anywhere in this world now).  Obama’s story is one for the ages, role of community, family and embracing your heritage, no matter what it is.  We don’t choose our past, but knowing it helps us to know ourselves better.  Great read.  Learn something about who is running our country.  It really is important.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness

Back to reading “self-help” type books, or rather spiritual awakening that would help you control your thoughts, lessen your anger, and have a new approach to life.  In The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, the reader gets a firsthand view of the Buddhist approach to living.  Rinpoche shares his story into Buddhism through the influence of his father and how it has changed his life.  So how do we begin?  We must first get to a complete sense of “Emptiness,” where we can gain a sense of all possibilities.  How do we get there?  Rinpoche suggests that meditation is one way to get to emptiness.  He provides techniques in the book to do so.   Remember the “ah om umm” … well practice it so you can get your breathing correct.  We need to have form and emptiness, and vice versa.  It is not purely a philosophical approach to living, though it is rooted in a strong philosophy.  For instance, a thought or feeling can't be happy or sad unless compared to another thought, so keep it free standing!  Through the Buddhist approach, suffering can be extinguished where there is an understanding through direct experience.  An important concept is the essence of time; time is not something to be fixated on.  With meditation to be successful, don't try too hard, rather change the direction of your mind; clarity changes everything and allows one to see through the power of awareness.  We need to develop a more compassionate heart where we are connected to all other living things.  The more material countries, the more suffering.  Buddhist thought suggests we do need to use our senses well; in fact there is a sixth sense: consciousness!  Being aware!   We are challenged in this approach to create a more harmonious world.  Be enlightened and learn that all is made of love.  Our bodies are not the only part of us.  As you can see there is so much in this book (a ton not even mentioned).  So why not use the approach that the author suggests?  There is absolutely nothing wrong with a positive mental approach, having a sound mind/body/spirit.  When I read the book I think of how my own father uses the power of his mind to control pain proving how powerful the mind really is.  Buddhist believes that you need a good teacher; this is so true.  It is through the power of interdependence that one becomes a member of that family.  Through thinking like this, things that bothered you will no longer do so.  This allows you to learn who and what you are, to become more open and happy.   I love this part, “Jerks stay that way because of vulnerabilities and fear.”   His final thought resonated the most, “We choose to be the way we are." The path of Buddha has one step into a new realm, an unfamiliar path which will lead us to choose to be aware rather than ruled by your unhappiness and allow your afflictions to rule over you.  If one “rests their mind longer a greater sense of calmness and confidence will pervade your being." We learn that the technique is less important but when integrated in our approach we will gain compassion and see ourselves as happier.  A very good read and learning about how to improve the struggles of day to day minutiae.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Blue Moon Mountain

It’s about that time for a kid’s book right?  Yup it is… Blue Moon Mountain by Geraldine McCaughrean.  Now I know the reason they say “once in a blue moon.”  It is only once in a blue moon that the pathway is open to Blue Moon Mountain and that is what happened one night when the little girl, Joy, was able to leave her warm snuggly bed and escape to the mountain.  During her travels she met all of the animals that we have heard lots of bed night stories about (the three little pigs, the big bad wolf, the Giant from Jack in the Beanstalk, and many others).  Joy enjoyed meeting all of them but longed for her favorite, the unicorn.  She met the whale, Kraken, mermaids, and Cyclops, but still no unicorn.  She was not afraid.  But suddenly someone screamed, “The Moon it is setting, you must leave Joy!”  The animals tried desperately to determine who would bring her back to earth, but all were afraid they would get caught “on the other side.”  Finally, the Phoenix, who always comes back from the ashes, offered to take her on the other side as he would once again rise from the dead!  He made it just in time.  But back at Blue Moon Mountain the unicorn finally arrived and asked where was Joy?  He had missed her.  So like all good unicorns, he went to Joy’s but in the process was stuck left on Earth until the next blue moon came.  No worries, Joy would hide him and keep him safe.  I thought the illustrations were circa 1950s yet the book is 1994.  They didn’t work for me, too old school.  The story, cute – like the answer to what happens when the infrequent blue moon comes.  I guess it works ok for a bedtime story.  A journey of sorts and mystical.  Kids will like it for sure.    

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Another anthology of short stories, this one is Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges. This was a definite read for hard-core Lit majors.  A total of seventeen short stories which in no way are connected.  Some are a few pages and others up to about ten pages.  The entire collection is less than 150 pages long in total.  A number of the stories are his interpretation of other’s writings, capturing an earlier period of time in our world and thoughts on foreign cultures (like the Muslim world).  Borges does present some of the elements of the “human condition” and he suggests one book is contained in all books; there really isn’t anything that hasn’t been done before.  Everything is a repeat of what has already happened.  Borges’ use of language is outstanding and you need to read these over a period of time, i.e., it doesn’t sink in really quickly, at least it didn’t for me. Pretty philosophical and an acquired taste.  While I thought the language was strong, I wasn’t loving the subject matter, or maybe I wasn’t really getting it… what is it that is said, “it wasn’t speaking to me.”  And to think I was an English major… probably really should have been a “drama plays” major – right, Tisch students?  Sorry, bad form.  This was not a great Sunday morning read.  For those looking for a novel, or even short stories to pick up the book and enjoy, not for you.  If you want something to “chew on”… this probably has your name on it.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Pillowman

I love when I ask the Tisch acting students their favorite book as I never really know what I will get.  Even though I give months of advance warning I will ask the question, I still will get that actor who wants me to read a play instead of a book.  It’s a book, folks!  OK, ok, I always still push back but when I realize that it isn’t going to happen, I relent and say ok, what is it…  yes this was a Tisch student favorite – actors for perspective sake, read some books.  I have a whole list on the site with blog posts, you’ll get some great perspective.  And so it goes.  So today's read is The Pillowman by Irishman, Martin McDonagh.  The main character, Katurian, is in a police interrogation room blindfolded being questioned by two police detectives, Tupolski and Ariel.  Katurian, an author of over 400 short stories, is being held with his brother on the death of some people in the city.  It just happens that Katurian’s stories are very similar to the real life happenings of horrific deaths of young people in the city.  Coincidence?  Real?  His stories, which he has read to his younger brother for many years are now coming to life.  Why?  Did his brother, Michal, perform the gruesome acts?  When his brother confesses and implicates Katurian, Katurian wants nothing more than to give up his own life, but wants for his work to live on for generations.  When he confronts Michal on the indictment that he has made to the police about Katurian, Michal admits to it and to the fact that he was abused as a young boy.  Katurian kills his brother as he allegedly killed his parents, by suffocating them with a pillow.  The Pillowman story that Katurian wrote is the idea of a ghost figure who appears to children suggesting that life is horrible and only gets worse, so why not sacrifice your own life?  In the end, like his brother, Katurian is killed by the police detectives, although his stories will seemingly live on as the one detective hides them in the files rather than burns them as he was told to do.  This is a very dark story and opens one’s eye to the thinking that some have on the “glass half empty.”  Clearly there was abuse for Katurian and his brother, kids who never had joy and exposing it as a road to “salvation” for others.  Whenever I read a play I visualize it and get excited to want to direct… ah someday.  Now I want to see it on stage.  Good dark story.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Action Hero’s Handbook

Every time I pick up another book it reminds me of how diverse the interests are in the NYU RAs.  A fun, quick read today in The Action Hero’s Handbook by David and Joe Borgenicht.  Ever want to be like James Bond, Spiderman, Clark Kent?  Well here is your chance!  The authors present dozens of “real-life” action hero responses to “tight situations” that one may be in at some point in their life… really?  Well yeah, if you want to be a superhero!  The book is separated into five sections, so you can just choose the section you might want to learn about, or like me, read the entire book!  It breaks down as follows: good guy skills (how to spy proof your hotel room and how to take a bullet); love skills, I like this one (how to stop a wedding and how to pick up someone at a bar); paranormal skills (how to fend off a ghost and how to perform the Jedi mind trick); fighting skills (how to disarm a thug with a gun and how to take a hit with a chair); and finally escape skills (how to make a clean getaway and how to navigate through a ventilation shaft).  My favorite, because heck maybe someday I want to be a superhero, was How to Crash Through a Window.  As a wanna-be actor, always thought it would be cool to jump through the window and save that lady at the end of the day!  Each suggested technique was researched and an actual expert in the industry assisted in providing the point by point technique.  For some skills there were pictures and point by point explanations.  A fun read that probably reads best while sitting on the throne in the am.  Light hearted and would make a great stocking stuffer, for those who celebrate Christmas, but at $14.95, visit because I think you will be able to get a good conditioned book pretty cheaply.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Consider the Lobster

I think I really do enjoy reading short stories.  I finished Consider the Lobster by David Wallace Foster and said, "this is great!"  What an eclectic writer.  I’ll highlight a few of the stories so you get the idea.  In "Consider the Lobster," Wallace discusses the annual Maine Lobster Festival which brings locals out in droves.  The reader learns about the evolution of the lobster as a delicacy in the US, it wasn’t always so!  Amazing how once a market for something starts how costly that item can become.  The remainder of the essay focuses on the ethics of how a lobster is prepared.   When you really think about the options (boiling, sticking a cutting instrument in the lobster’s eye socket, or ripping appendages off), it isn’t very pretty, huh?  PETA has a field day on these treatments, I’m sure.  Wallace has the reader think twice about next year’s Maine Lobster Fest, or maybe not?  Other stories include his experience during 9/11 while at his hometown in Bloomington, Illinois and how small town folks felt the pang during the crashing of the towers.  Another story was “How Tracey Austin Broke My Heart” which chronicles the amazing rise to fame as a teenage phenom on the courts followed by her very strange series of debilitating injuries, all under the guise of “strange bad luck”.   And finally one of my favorites was "Big Red Son," Wallace’s trip to the AVN (Adult Video News) annual awards ceremony for the best pornographic movies.  Wallace captures the stereotypes of the industry, the underbelly (so to speak), and how an outsider experiences it.  Amazing how the industry is one of the largest in the world today.  Crazy amounts of money and a culture that is legitimized in so many ways by the purchasing power of the American people.  Wallace gives his own thoughts during his visit.  As you can tell, Wallace was talented and diverse in his scope of intellectual interests.  It is too bad he left this world so young.  I look forward to reading his epic, Infinite Jest in the coming months.  I’d pick this one up.  Interesting read! 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

House Rules

Well another book by Jodi Picoult, this one was House Rules.  The story is of yet another dysfunctional family; she certainly does find them, huh?  While it wasn’t “every social issue and the kitchen sink” compared to the last story, Picoult does continue her theme of bullying, this time with young 18 year-old senior in high school, Jacob Hunt.  Jacob has Asperger’s Syndrome and lives with his brother and mother (Dad left many years ago when the going got tough in the household).  Jacob is being tutored for social skills by a young college (UVM) student, Jess Ogilvy, who ends up dead in a culvert behind her apartment.  Jacob, who is a fan of the crime scene genre, is implicated in the crime after his mother sees fabric from his room wrapped around the body at the crime scene.  Who are the suspects?  Well, Jess’ boyfriend, the aggressive young man - Mark Maguire, and Jacob, after he implicates himself.  There are a number of fast forward and back, a love tryst between Jacob’s mom, Emma Hunt, and Jacob’s lawyer, and the twist in the story, that Jacob’s younger brother, Theo Hunt, may have actually caused the death.  The story evolves as Emma is convinced her son Jacob may have caused the death but will do whatever it takes to clear him from the charges.  It appears that Jacob believes he is actually covering up for his brother because he found evidence to believe his brother murdered her.  Theo is a “peeping Tom” and he would go over to her apartment and look at her nude while she was changing – REALLY?  Hummm, that’s where you lost me!  Theo leaves the drama to find his Dad, whom he hasn’t seen since a brief visit a number of years ago (he steals his mom’s credit card to purchase on-line tickets).  So you have an older brother with Asperger’s trying to cover a crime scene up to save his younger brother.  The mother relationship seemed identical to the mom/son relationship in the last Picoult book, and the mother falling in love with the lawyer was very similar to mom falling in love with cop in last book, heck even referenced the killing spree in Nineteen Minutes… you get the point.  I felt like same drama, different town, same characters, and same weird anti-climactic ending.  Don’t get me wrong, I wish I could be pumping out these books annually too.  If you read her last book, you read this one.  Though I do think this one read quicker.  Your call….not my favorite.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My Dear Beloved Son (or Daughter)

An interesting insight into the virtues and beliefs of the Muslim faith through the reading of the short book, My Dear Beloved Son (or Daughter) by Imam Abu Hamid Muhammad Al-Ghazali. The story is a series of stories and sharing of how to live one’s life from a father’s perspective to his son.  The father’s words of advice to his son have a number of themes but all come back to how to gain salvation in God’s eyes.  For instance, one quotation notes, “Verily, those who believe in Allah and perform righteous deeds, for them the highest Paradise is for their hospitality in which they will live forever.”  There is a good amount of noting what “the truth” is for the Muslim faith, “After the explanation of this truth, if you get the thought in your heart that I am saying that a slave [of God, i.e., a human being] will go to Paradise not on the basis of Allah’s Grace but on the basis of his/her own [good] deeds, then you should understand that you have not understood what I said.”  Another important theme from the father, “A person who thinks that he/she will go to the Paradise without (righteous) deeds is misguided and the person who thinks that he/she will go to the Paradise only through striving is merely busy with hard work,” is presented numerous times throughout the short book.  The father shares prayers that are to be presented to Allah always warning to stay away from the worldly status as it will take away from the promised land.  Another important theme is to show gratitude numerous times each day and do not sleep too much as you always need to be ready for Allah.  For example, “My son!  Do not let the rooster be more intelligent than you are.  It shouldn’t happen that he (i.e. the rooster) gets up at the last part of the night to make proclamations [for Tahajjud prayers and remembers his Lord] while you keep sleeping [in a deep sleep of heedlessness, carelessness, and ignorance].”  All of these words that the father notes are directly from the Prophet Muhammad and “all of your words and deeds should be in accordance with the commandments of Prophet Muhammad.”  Desires for worldly possessions are bad as one needs ot constantly be reaching for a higher spiritual enlightenment, which will only be taken away from a focus on this world’s things.  Also, if you have goods, one should distribute to the needs. We should have a fear of Allah.  Those who follow the Prophet Muhammad’s decrees will acquire a level of illumination so that “all evil qualities like miserliness, jealousy, enmity, expectations from the world [and its inhabitants], anger, rebellion, etc., have been eliminated from him and he should not be dependent on anyone for knowledge except for that knowledge which we [specifically] obtain from the Messenger of Allah (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).”  The main question to be answered is: What is our reliance on God? What is sincerity to God?  The father then ends with the eight principles of Admonition, noting one should be ready for Allah’s arrival.  Noting is important for our actions.  In many ways, so many similarities between the Christian faith and those outlined in the reading.  It was helpful to get this perspective, which I had, but not from a text perspective.  It is a short read and provides insight which is helpful for those who have friends who follow the Muslim faith.

Monday, October 10, 2011


A throw-back read to the days of cuckolding, meaning cheating on your spouse and trying to get away with it, desire for success, and doing whatever it is to succeed for money!  Bel-Ami was written by author Guy de Maupassant and was set in Paris in the late 1880s.  The protagonist, George Duroy, comes back from war service in Algeria and meets an acquaintance who encourages him to write about his experience in Algeria.  Once he has a taste of the life of a journalist, he determines that nothing will stop him!  And so goes the life of Duroy, using other people in an effort to get where he wants to be, the richest and most popular person in the city of Paris.  He gets much help along the way from the wife of Charles Forestier, the publisher of the local paper who gives him a chance to share his stories.  It is Madame Forestier, whom he falls in love and has an affair, who helps rewrite his initial work and introduces him to local politicians.  He meets other influential politicians and the wives of leaders in the business sector, one in particular whom he begins an illicit affair.  Duroy’s work at the local paper begins to take off and the husband of Madame Foresteir dies, which leads to a marriage between the two.  This allows Duroy to begin to “taste the good life,” wining and dining all over town!  Duroy and Forestier have a strange relationship where Foresteir wants to be in the elite crowd so she has Duroy change his name.  On the work front, he continues to move up the ladder.  Duroy continues his conquests of other men’s wives on the side.  Duroy gets involved in an investing opportunity that allows him to make money based on government investments in the war, which he learns through one of the women he is bedding down.  Duroy always wants more and believes that he can choose his woman and is invincible.  This becomes even more true when he turns on his wife, who is also in the “cuckolding business,” and turns her over to the police while she is bedding down with the most affluent man in the city.  Both are arrested and Duroy gets his wife’s big purse!  What a swine, huh?  Duroy is almost caught himself, but instead he always finds some way to get more and more prestige and money.  The story ends after Duroy gets his biggest prize, the daughter of the woman he initially had an affair.  Being rebuffed by her, he takes away her young daughter, who was the one who started the nickname of Duroy, Bel-Ami.  Who says losers can’t come in first?  Not Duroy!  What an interesting journey into the life of the French in the late 1800s where power, sex, money, and wanting it all no matter what the cost can be exists.  Who says that is 1880 and not 2011?  Hummm.  OK, not bad.  Not on my top ten, but very readable.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Good Earth

The Good Earth is a novel by Pearl Buck published in the 1930s, but found a huge uptick in readership after “you know who” placed it in her “Book Club”… did you say Oprah?  You are right for 500 points!  Oh, by the way, it won a Pulitzer way back in the day!  The novel is about the life of a Chinese family living on their land in a village before WWII.  The story follows the life of the lead character, Wang Lung, from his wedding day to the end of his life.  Lung and his family fall upon tough times for sure.  First is the decline of Wang Lung’s family through the use of opium and spending their fortunes.  Wang Lung starts to turn his situation around and marries a slave of a local land owner, O-Lan, works hard and earns enough money to buy their own farm.  Then all goes downhill as the drought hits the land.  There is no other means to make money.  Wang Lung is offered to sell his land, at a reduced rate, refuses but does sell every other possession.  He takes the family (his children and his father) to the city.  When in the city the family must do whatever they can do to stay alive, the children beg on the street and steal from others while Wang Lung learns to carry a rickshaw throughout the city. We see a dichotomy between Wang Lung and the city populous that are doing well living in a sophisticated world, while his family struggles living in the city. O-Lan teaches the children to steal while her husband desires to live an honorable life, trying desperately to go back to the land he owns.   All his life Wang Lung desires to be back on the land, making a living for his family, while we see O-Lan, willing to sacrifice her own daughter to stay alive. Eventually they do go back, but they use the money that O-Lan has stolen, unbeknownst to Wang Lung.   Each character is rooted by the traditions of their own upbringing and have a major influence on the way their two sons will grow up.  I liked the story, it was simple but had a message about commitment, desire, upbringing, family, passion, and doing whatever it took to survive, though each character used a different means.  The characters were real and one can really see how difficult the time was right before the war.  A solid read.    

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Winner

Imagine being a destitute unwed mother from rural Georgia with no money and a live-in boyfriend who is a drunk and regularly brings home another woman to have sex in your trailer?  How about you get a phone call that offers you a guaranteed winning lottery ticket?  That’s the way it goes for LuAnn Tyler in David Baldacci’s novel The Winner.  LuAnn isn’t sure how she will respond, but walking in on her boyfriend being killed by a drug runner (and having to defend herself in the process) gives LuAnn all of the inspiration she needs to make the call. Her life then changes!  Being sought for the murder of her boyfriend has LuAnn on the run, but not until she wins the lottery, picks up the winning ticket in NYC, and thanks to the “chameleon” (man of many disguises), Mr. Jackson, she escapes out of the US with earnings that would keep her free and clear.  She is fortunate that “Charlie” (the guy who was hired to kill her should she not have taken the lottery offer) actually befriends her and travels around the world with Luann and her daughter.  Fast forward ten years (Chapter 2) and then we find that LuAnn decides she wants to come back to the US and then the fireworks really begin!  As a millionaire, and then some, she, Charlie, and her daughter decide to settle in Virginia, home of her deceased mother.  But troubles then persist when a newspaper reporter determines the lottery may have been fixed based on the trend that at least every other lottery winner goes bankrupt, and the only one he can seem to find to be somewhat mysterious is LuAnn who left the country after the murder.  A really great thriller between the murder of LuAnn’s boyfriend, LuAnn’s return to the US, the lottery mystery, and the chameleon Mr. Jackson, who seems to have rigged ten lotteries in a row!  Life in Virginia gets interesting once LuAnn meets Matthew Riggs, a builder who is hired to do work at the new mansion that LuAnn has purchased.  This is a book that no doubt will become a movie as it is a great story, albeit the lottery piece seems a bit far-fetched but is pretty compelling mystery.  I really loved this one!  My first read of his.  Best-selling author.  Love it!  Pick it up!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Predictably Irrational

I love when I learn great concepts and ideas in a book!  Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely is a New York Times Bestseller.  Why?  I think because we learn so much about human behavior and how it is manipulated at times for the achievement of financial decision by corporate America but also in how it can determine how we respond to stimuli. First, I think Ariely is a genius.  His experiments as a social scientist help demonstrate how people react to certain things based on societal norms.  Each of the thirteen chapters in the book provide learning that should help me to better think through my buying decisions, my ability to motivate others, think through how I respond to the outside world, and finally understand why people act the way they do.  Many of his experiments to prove his points are done on a college campus, yes even one done at NYU!  So, would you take a $10 Amazon gift card for free or would you pay $7 for a $20 gift card? How does “free” motivate you to purchase things associated with buying a second item?  How did the black pearl market eventually get raised?  How come we put more weight into long lines outside restaurants or higher prices on items compared to no-wait restaurants or lower priced items at Wal-Mart?  Is it more painful to rip off bandages on a burn patient or should you slowly remove each bandage though it will take much longer?  How influential does arousal play in decision making (such as using a condom or having sex with a much older person)?  Would we be willing to pay our mother $400 for a gourmet Thanksgiving Dinner – how would she feel? But why is a $100 bottle of wine brought to that same dinner table not taken as an offense to mom?  Does it make sense for someone to focus exclusively on one career option early in their life instead of multiple (it does show you probably will make more money over the course of your life)?  Would you steal a Coca-Cola from your office refrigerator… how about money in the petty cash box for purchasing a can of Coke? What’s the difference?  Do we tend to fib/lie if we know we won’t get caught?  If I knew medicine to help with pain cost $2.50 per pill compared to $0.10, do I feel differently about how it makes me feel?  What great questions!  All of this, plus thoughts on the subprime mortgage crisis and reflections on the anecdotes from each of the studies that Ariely and colleagues conduct.  This is really a must read for anyone trying to understand the why?  I really enjoyed it and would highly recommend to all!  A fun and interesting read.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

My Lobotomy

While the book itself wasn’t the best written, I was certainly moved by Howard Dully’s memoir, My Lobotomy.  Dully endured the unbelievable process of an orbital lobotomy at the hands of the infamous Dr. Walter Freeman (he also performed the same procedure on Rose Kennedy).  Freeman is known to have driven around the US in his “lobotomobile” performing the procedure on others across the country.  In total he is believed to have performed 3,500! How was this allowed to happen?!  Dully is courageous in coming forward and sharing his life story, starting from the death of his mother at the age of 3 and then moving in with his father and step-mother, Lou, who is the person who contacted Dr. Freeman based on Howard’s behavior as a child.  Howard, 45+ years after the procedure, begins to use the internet to reconstruct what happened to him and is introduced to some investigative reporters who help him find the history that allude him for his adult life.  The chapters are broken into each part of his life (birth to current day) and chronicle the people and experiences he has had throughout his difficult life.  To think that a person could even survive the traumatic procedure is incredible!  Howard was a energetic kid who had a step-mother who could not control him, so she believed that the lobotomy would do so.  After she realized that a “kid was just a kid” and that she couldn’t control him even after this, he was sent to state homes, juvenile centers, family members, and half-way houses (all at different moments in time).  Howard was left to his own devices to survive.  He had challenging relationships, experimented with drugs, and even became physically abusive at one point in his life.  Dully shares the “therapeutic “ stages of learning his history when the records of Dr. Freeman were released (which he publishes in the book) so that he can better understand why Lou would have chosen this course of action for his life.  What a courageous man to place himself into the mainstream media to uncover a practice that was banned from the medical associations during the time of Freeman.  NPR, the journalists who assisted in the uncovering of Dully’s trauma, are to be lauded for their work and for giving Dully answers to “why."  Dully does confront his father and mends the fences in some ways in the conclusion of the book and we learn that his exposure of lobotomies does much to send a healing connection to others whose family members endured such a horrific procedure.  A quick read and important for those in the medical field who think that humans should be experimented on….