Sunday, November 27, 2011

Free for All

Finally a Tisch student without offering a play as their favorite book! BUT a book about theatre, a pretty good one.  Free for All (Joe Papp, the Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told) by Kenneth Turan (with help from Papp himself).  For anyone who isn’t aware of Joe Papp, the icon of the theatre world in NYC during the late 1960s–1990, you are missing something.  The book was a collaboration between the author and the man it was to be written about, but timing was bad and Turan did not finish the book until well after Papp’s death to cancer in 1991.  The author interviewed roughly 150 people about Papp’s life.  Papp was born of immigrant Jewish parents and lived a very desolate life having little to eat and barely a roof over his head.  His rise to the theatre world came through his military career which had him produce shows for our military personnel abroad.  Joe learned many skills and was later hired to work behind the scenes at CBS Television.  A man who could not be stopped, he found his niche back in NYC when he decided to put on free theatre in the parks in NYC, Central Park to be exact!  This was the dawning of what we know now as Shakespeare in the Park, still going strong after all of these years.  The writing of the book is the words of each of the 150+ interviewees who share their perspective on their interactions on the plays/situations with Papp, in a linear fashion.  Papp was the person who pushed today’s messages (AIDS, runaway children, people of color, and feminism) through new playwrights, stories that may not be told otherwise.  Papp was awarded the “Public Theatre,” which was owned by the city of NY, to produce works that would give to the betterment of the community in no better place than in Greenwich Village.  I walk past the Public almost every day, as well as the homestead of Joe Papp on 9th street.  Papp was a grueling and driven man who could not be stopped.  He won numerous awards producing and directing works at the Public that later went on to Broadway, to include A Chorus Line, Pirates of Penzance, Hair, Runaways (with NYU faculty Liz Swados!), That Championship Season, and a Normal Heart.  His list of amazing acting talent included: Charles Durning, Kevin Kline, George C. Scott, Martin Sheen, Madeline Kahn, and Colleen Dewhurst.  The playwrights included: David Rabe, Sam Shepherd, James Rado, Larry Kramer, Jerome Kass, and Nicholas Dante.  He also worked with other “big light” Broadway folks such as Marvin Hamlisch, Bob Avian, and Michael Bennett.  Amazing how Papp never could be stopped and was such a force in what we experience as today’s theatre in NYC.  For those with a theatre background, this book is a great way to remember the days of the 70s through 90s!   

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Rich Dad, Poor Dad

Learn the secrets to financial literacy in Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad.  This is a story of how Kiyosaki learned from his two fathers, his biological father (an educated teacher) and his best friend’s father, whom he refers to as Dad (a self-made business man).  Kiyosaki values both approaches of the two Dads, but clearly it is his best friend’s Dad who teaches him the value of having financial knowledge, allowing your money to work for you.  I do think you may have seen the author if you ever couldn’t sleep at night and turned on the tv and watched one of those infomercials. Kiyosaki notes that people born into money traditionally have their parents to teach them how to have money work for you, rather than for the government.  He believes our society has it all wrong in our education system where we teach information but not how to build and acquire wealth. The book captures the story of how he learned from his friend’s Dad when he was given a job at age 9.  The story continues as do the corresponding points to learn things such as: the rich don’t work for money; mind your own business; the history of taxes and the power of corporations (READ this chapter, eye opening and true!); the rich invent money; work to learn; don’t work for money; overcoming obstacles; getting started; and the concluding story - College Education for $7,000.  Yes, the more we work and the higher our salary, the more money we need!  So very true.  I think this is a great book for anyone who does not understand how to increase one’s wealth.  It is much easier than we think, though you need to be creative and have a sense of entrepreneurial spirit. Kiyosaki has done it through real estate, but there are many other ways to do so.  I especially agree with his point on starting a corporation and having knowledge of the tax codes!  Once you understand them you can have them work to your advantage.  This is a great, easy read, written in easy to understand language.  It was even a best-selling book!  Lots of take-aways in this one.  Add to your book list, only $0.99 through e-bay!  

Friday, November 25, 2011

2 States

A relationship book with an uplifting ending!  Chetan Bhagat’s 2 States tells of Krish and Ananya, two Indian-born MBA students who meet while attending college.  Ananya is the apple of everyone’s eye, a beautiful looking woman, attending the male dominated institution.  Everyone is interested in dating her, but Krish gets the girl by offering to tutor her, which later gets him to bed down with her!  Krish and Ananya spend every waking moment for the remainder of the year together as they plan on life outside of the college.  Only one challenge, they are from two very different parts of India, a Punjabi boy from Delhi and a girl Tamil Brahmin from Chennai.  Ananya believes if they can convince their parents of the love they share, they will be accepted as a couple to be married with family blessings.  Ahh, that’s the point, in their world parents are the ones to determine who is acceptable to marry their offspring.  So now the drama begins… from the moment Ananya and Krish apply to jobs to the meeting of the parents.  Of course it is a disaster!  Neither parent will accept the other, especially when they meet for the first time the day of graduation.  Besides the warring parents, Krish is dealing with a past episode with his abusive father whom he won’t speak to because of a previous love he was denied.  Krish is convinced to move to Ananya’s homestead after receiving his offer from Citibank.  Krish spends six months trying to have the family warm up to him (tutoring her brother, teaching her father Powerpoint for an important presentation, and having her mom sing on stage for a work project!).  It finally works until Krish’s mom comes to visit and it all unravels.  Ananya decides that it isn’t going to work, the two families are like two states divided.  All seems lost until the abusive Dad steps up and decides to love the son he seemingly abandoned for all of these years.  Guess what happens at the end?  Yup, all is good in love and war… the ending is sappy and predictable.  It is one of those future “chick flick” movies in the making.  Nice to understand a bit of the Indian culture, but I have to say the Dad thing made little sense, especially for how abusive he was in the book, but otherwise a harmless safe read.  I’m sure it will be released in the movies in the near future!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Policy Paradox

Of those readers who want to learn about the market and the polis (the politics), what are the goals (or what they could/should be), and how we address the problems and then identify solutions, the Policy Paradox by Deborah Stone should be on your list.  Economists, Public Policy leaders, and individuals with political aspirations, this one is up your alley!  Stone is an academic with a strong list of mentors who write the books and have the data.  She focuses on the societal issues (abortion, affirmative action, hunger, unemployment, social security, tax laws, welfare, governmental agencies including NASA and Education Dept.) and the politicians and offers the “yin and the yang” – for each decision we make there is an unintended outcome.  She presents the presumed goals for the marketplace in a community: Equity, Efficiency, Security, and Liberty.  In each case she presents numerous societal issues and challenges.  The next phase of the book is the problems inherent with the goals that she established, which include: Symbols, Numbers, Causes, Interests, and Decisions.  But fear not as Stone then takes the leap to show us some potential solutions in these areas to include: Inducements, Rules, Facts, Rights, and Powers.  In each of the solutions there are ways in which they can and will be manipulated by others.  Stone is brilliant and does a wonderful job of presenting her points with great depth and explicit examples through multiple lenses.  Anyone who wants a great overview of the political challenges facing our economy, our public policies, and our philosophy on responding to the social issues facing our nation, this one is for you.  This is not a sit down in one sitting to get through this book… take your time with it and you will have a lot of late night drink conversation topics with your friends from Washington.     

Saturday, November 19, 2011


What does Bruce Springsteen, Nelly Furtado, Rod Stewart, Ani DiFranco, Ben Folds Five, The Velvelettes, and The Avalanches have to do with each other?  Well, Nick Hornby (an English writer) shares why these bands/singers influenced him over the ages in his book Songbook.  This book was suggested by an RA based on a class he took as a prerequisite for his music business program.  Hornby’s book presents thirty-one short essays, each one delves into a song that plays some integral role in his life.  For example, he wishes that he lost his virginity to the song “Samba Pa Ti,” an instrumental, rather than to Rod Stewart’s Smiler album.  Each essay shares a bit about the popularity of the time and how it influenced the record business.  His diverse review of songs and connections to his own life growing up demonstrates just how impactful music is in our society.  It is the universal language that cuts socio-economic barriers, language differences, and career tracks.  This is a must read for those music aficionados who just can’t get enough historical contexts and impacts on our society.  In many ways it was a blast to the past for me as Hornby is in the same age range as myself and many of the songs he referred to in the book were the same songs I listened to growing up.  Amazing how a song can bring you back to a moment.  I can still see Tammy Griswold standing in front of the TV screaming “Steve Perry” when MTV played “When the Lights Go Down in the City” or Melissa Osborne smiling every time the Police sang “Every Breath You Take” or John Church going crazy when the "Beat Goes On" by the Kings played.  For the songs I love, I hear it and I remember a context for it.  Great concept and certainly will make you create a listing of “those songs” for you after reading it.    

Friday, November 18, 2011

Why We Can’t Wait

There are few people whose life is something I look at and remain in awe.  For me, Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of those people.  I have his picture up in my office as a reminder of how to approach life.  He is the consummate role model.  So reading Why We Can’tWait was a reminder as to why I respect his choices and his thoughts on life so much.  The book had many of the stories of his life I had read previously, but each time I find something new and applicable to my own.  The book captures the aspects of segregation and the challenges the African-American (termed Negro by MLK) community faced in the heart of the south, specifically in Alabama.  He covers the years from 1963 and Rosa Park’s heroic statement not to go to the back of the bus through the peaceful restaurant counters, segregation of schooling, separate water fountains, and the manner in which Negros were hurt or killed for attempting to stand up for themselves.  MLK, a brilliant orator and writer, has a distinct ability to capture the emotions, the sorrows, and the challenges for his people, yet he is able to do so through peaceful protests.  The book details the involvement of the federal government and the two Presidents (Kennedy and Johnson) who eventually acted through legislation to respond to the local authorities who thought they were beyond reproach.  One of his letters from a Birmingham jail captures the moment perfectly…"Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say 'Wait,' but when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your brothers and sisters at whim…"  It is so hard for me to fathom that this was just 40 years ago.  What were our leaders thinking???  Thank you MLK for sharing the struggle, providing leadership, and persevering.  Without you I am unsure we would be where we are today, maybe not at the pinnacle, but certainly further than where we were.  The eight brief chapters give a synopsis to the movement with a thought provoking conclusion on “the days to come” – which leaves the reader contemplating, have we done enough?  Pick this up, we all deserve to know the story and think about our next steps.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Dirty Job

I really wasn’t a fan of the last book I read by Christopher Moore, and you know what… I still feel the same way.  I think I really am not that interested in “ridiculously sublime” books that make fun of things.  This is the case in A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore.  I know there is a whole cult following of Moore’s work, but I guess I am not one of them.  While there were some pretty funny lines, the story just didn’t really make that much sense.  OK, so you say, it wasn’t supposed to.  Making fun of someone who becomes a “death dealer” wasn’t all that funny to me. The book’s main character, Charlie Asher, is the owner and proprietor of a second-hand store in San Francisco, which his father left to him after his death. The story begins with death when his wife, Rachel, dies after giving birth to their daughter and first child, Sophie. Charlie learns after being in close proximity to a man on the street who gets run over, he has another “calling”… retrieving the souls of the dying, so as to protect them from the forces of the underworld.  He only gradually realizes the ramifications of this new business as various clues and complications begin to unfold. Ultimately, Charlie resolves to confront directly the forces of darkness. Through some absurd characters, like Minty Fresh, the ravens, and the cast of characters from his second-hand store, you have the makings of a ridiculous story which I think is trying to make fun of the difficult task of handling loved ones' death.  Charlie faces his mother’s death and the fact that his daughter Sophie is in some part responsible for some of the deaths when after she states “kitty” to a living person, they die shortly afterwards.  Moore takes on a tough topic and tries to make light of it.  For me, once again, it’s just not that funny.  I tend to get disinterested in the outlandish, especially when I say, what’s the point?  Sorry for those who love Moore, I’m just not in the club.  Take a pass and read tomorrow’s book! 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Angels in America

And the week begins with a play (instead of a book)... yes Tisch again!  Angels in America by Tony Kushner is a complex story, actually two individual plays occurring at different times (Millennium Approaches and Perestroika) but with the same characters and a continuation of the story.  And special note, Kushner also studied directing at Tisch, where one of the plays was work-shopped (amazing talent at NYU!).   The play is set in NYC during the Reagan years when the AIDS epidemic was occurring.  A couple of the main characters grapple with the disease but from varying places (a high powered, politically connected, closeted lawyer and a “WASP” lover of a gay Jewish man).  The intersections between this life, the after-life, and the future life all collide on the barren set.  Religion (Protestantism, Mormonism, Judaism, and Catholicism) intersects with the underground gay male culture being decimated by the AIDS epidemic and the political response of the Washingtonian leadership during the '80s.  A subplot of another character whose wife is addicted to pills and her belief that her husband is gay, which actually unfolds through the story, shows the challenge of a male's struggle with his sexuality.   Roy Cohn, the high powered attorney, goes from the heights of society and being connected to every politician to being disbarred for stealing monies from a client.  At the end he has some level of optimism as he is able to procure AZT, the miracle drug for AIDS, through his connections demonstrating, even facing a horrible death, he is still fighting.  Kushner’s work as a play was recently back on Broadway as a two evening event spanning 7 hours!  Kushner hits the mark for this issue during the height of our society’s awareness for the deadly disease.  Kushner’s offering of the depth of character development and intricate fascination with the angels/devils at a serious complication to the traditional “linear play.”  His criticism of the government’s response with outreach and response further captures the moment in time for future theatre-goers hundreds of years from now to better understand how divided our society is.  As a director, I have a really hard time thinking that this could be staged over a seven hour period.  As an audience member, not sure if I could sit for seven hours….let’s get back to some novels.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Nervous Conditions

Always enjoy reading about the culture and life of foreign lands, this story is no different.  In this autobiographical tale, Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga, the author tells the tale of her upbringing from a very poor African tribe in Zimbabwe.  As she states at the end of the story, growing up “was a long and painful process.  That process of expansion.. it was one whose events stretched over many years and would fill many volumes… the story of four women, whom she loved, and our men...”   The role of women in the African culture, like many in the world, is second to men.  Tsitsi’s story is no different.  It begins early in her life (13 years old) with the death of her older brother (Nhamo), whom she has come to despise based on his departure from the family to earn an education provided by her educated uncle, Babamukuru, who serves as a headmaster of the regional boarding school.  Babamukuru is the youngest of his family and the only one with an education and the means to support others in the family.  After her brother’s death, Tsitsi is selected for an education.  The story captures the struggles of being an African women in a white world always “not being worthy” of deserving the education.  She also struggles with her family’s lack of wealth and the anger her mother has for Tsitsi for leaving the farm and the rest of the family.  Tsitsi finds a friend in her cousin, Nyasha, who is educated in England, and returns to the boarding school with her cousin.  Eventually Tsitsi’s hard work earns her a chance to continue her education at the all-white Convent in England.  The separation from Nyasha and the rest of her uncle’s family leads Nyasha to destructive behavior brought upon by her unbearable uncle’s demands for excellence.  Themes of women’s strife and pressure by male dominated society persist throughout the story.  It is through Tsitsi’s “coming of age” that finally allows Nyasha the ability to receive the medical help she needs.  I have glossed over much of the depth of the women’s struggles that are contained in the book.  Two families, two worlds that keep colliding is one reoccurring theme throughout, as is the change of society’s acceptable behavior during the tumultuous 1970s.  A good perspective on the African culture.  A solid read for those interested in women’s movement and also difference in cultures.  A helpful book to build upon knowledge of community.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I Know This Much is True

In many ways this book has much of what the first book I read from this author contained, the human struggle… this time from a man’s perspective.  In I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb, the lead character, Dominick Birdsey, is faced with the struggles of upbringing in so many ways!  This is one of the books that throws “everything and the kitchen sink” into it, much like his She’s Come Undone.  Dominick is a twin, raised by his mother and a physically abusive step-father.  Dominick’s twin brother, Thomas, is schizophrenic and, we learn later, gay, yet never really out of the closet.  The story tells the life story of Dominick and his loves, Dessa (his true love) who he marries, divorces, and in the end is reunited, and his second lover, Joy.  Joy is a hot mess… she allows her other lover to watch as she and Dominick have sex (unbeknownst to Dominick) and later announces to Dominick she is pregnant with his baby.  We learn she couldn't have gotten pregnant by Dominick as he had a vasectomy a few years earlier after his wife and he lost their baby to SIDS.  Dominick’s growth and acceptance of his life happens through working with his brother’s counselor, Dr. Patel, who is the hospital psychiatrist for Thomas.  Thomas was institutionalized for trying to harm himself, cutting off his hand, and was diagnosed with being schizophrenic during his college years.  Lamb does tell a compelling story, one which one really feels for the protagonist, whom just doesn’t seem to get a fair deal.  Dominick is harsh and yearns for the love and affection that his twin received from their mother, but he never did.  As the story progresses with the death of his mother, his child, Thomas, and finally the crippling of his step-father, combined with his new learned knowledge of his own heritage, Dominick takes steps to heal and start to live, incorporating his brother’s attributes into his own life.  They say twins are always connected, alive or dead.  This book certainly supports that theory.  While much of the drama is hard to imagine in anyone’s life, I was drawn in as the story unfolded and understood the pain of Dominick.  His relationship with Dr. Patel and the process of healing was real and worked for me.  The closing pages and the choices to make connections to his former wife and taking in Joy’s baby after she succumbs to HIV are truly moving.  A long read, complicated but heartwarming as well.  A strong read should you want to shed a tear… otherwise, just head for the action dramas.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Go Down, Moses

It’s time for some short story reading!  Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner is a collection of seven short stories, and yes the famous one, "The Bear," is included.  The collection of stories was first printed in a magazine but later put together to be read as a cohesive, albeit “over the years” history within the McCaslin family.  The first story, set in the late 1850s, is called “Was” and sets the story for the main character that seemingly is the “through line” for the book, “Ike” McCaslin, who is born through the matrimony of his parents, Uncle Buck and Sophonsiba Beauchamp, at the time of the slave days of the Deep South.  Depicting  life on the plantation and the struggles with illegal distillery, the hidden monies on the land, gambling, hunting for Old Ben in “The Bear,” understanding family history/life and concluding with the white/black struggle during the intended execution of  Samuel Beauchamp, each story captures a time that was real and controversial.  Faulkner’s prose captures a number of high points through his stories, such as the plight of African Americans during this time of American history and the spiritual dimension of the wilderness (man vs. the wild).  While it is a hard set of readings to put together over such a large period of time, Faulkner’s characters, stories, and wisdom of real life, make them interesting, funny at times, sad at others, but with a depth of humanity that few can reach.  His “stream of consciousness” style of prose is not necessarily alluring to all.  He is a true American poet to be read to better understand the American story.  While I began my reading of the stories in reverse order (until I realized they “went together” somewhat), I had a better understanding for the humor, the sadness, and the vastness of our wilderness, which we seem to be losing each day.  I would not begin to say I am an expert on analyzing these series of stories, I did enjoy the depth at which the author wanted to get me as a reader.  Brilliant writer and should be lauded for his capturing of the human emotion and story worth telling of the times.  A classic read!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Narcissus and Goldmund

What an interesting story by Herman Hesse, Narcissus and GoldmundI am trying to understand the meaning of life through the lives of the two main characters, which the book is named.  Goldmund is the young man who wanders away from the monastery where priest in training, Narcissus (the brilliant teacher), has a loving mentorship over his pupil. Goldmund is drawn away from the cloistered school by a beautiful female gypsy who seduces him and Goldmund is off on a life of debauchery, one woman after another.  He has one love affair after another, usually with women who are “unattainable” by seducing them.  He does so with a trusted father figure, taking in her daughter, and then moving to the second daughter before being thrown out of the house.  He has an epiphany and is drawn to the world of art after seeing a statue of a Madonna.  He becomes the apprentice to a well-known sculptor and teacher who runs a business.  Goldmund works for him for many years learning the trade.  As the sculptor becomes too old to continue to lead the business, he turns to Goldmund to take over the business.  When Goldmund rejects him to continue his search in life, he is immediately thrown out again.  Finally, Goldmund, as does the rest of society, faces the Black Plague with death and destruction everywhere.  Goldmund survives the death of so many and is finally reunited with his old friend Narcissus where they discuss their choices and life.  Narcissus represents the analytical and scientific mind whereas Goldmund represents the artist and emotional man, one who has feelings and wants to experience joy.  The story captures ways of living and finding meaning in one’s life.  I find that the “all or nothing” models that are presented cut short the opportunities in our own lives and are less attractive to me.  The one way of living, while may have been a model at some point in human existence, fall short of what I sense in this world today.  A great story to have a good debate.  I still prefer Hesse’s Siddhartha to this one, though still a classic read.  As Dicken’s might say, the tale of two… you get the idea.  Foils are good allegories for us to learn.    

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Lost Symbol

Robert Langdon is back!  This time his travels bring him to Washington, DC.  In Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, Langdon is invited by Mason Peter Solomon to give a lecture on the mystery of the Masons at the Smithsonian Museum, only to find out he has been duped when he and other visitors to the museum find Solomon’s hand full of symbols in the main exhibit area.  What happens next is a dynamic story of intrigue and fast-paced action throughout leading to a conclusion that is unlike his others.  Langdon goes on his wild adventures with the CIA, Solomon’s sister, Katherine (a renowned scientist), and the mysterious Mal'akh, whom we learn is able to change his appearance throughout the story.  The CIA leader is a short Asian woman, Sato, who is attempting to save the US from a terrible secret that Mal’akh has and at the same time the Masons are also trying to hold onto.  Like the other stories of Brown, Langdon faces death, helps save the heroine, and solves the mystery.  Aren’t all noted historian professors able to do that?  Having lived in DC for a number of years, I loved how the story revolved around the city, the metro, the capital underground, and the streets in the city.  The secret society of the Masons, much like the secrets of the Catholic Church from his other books, is always up for scrutiny and intrigue from our society.  I could hardly put this one down and if you like a compelling story, lots of action, and the good-guy winning in the end, this is for you!  Mal’akh is the antithesis of the evil hated villian, but the twist at the end, if you pay attention, may not be so surprising!  I’ll keep that to myself.  I think it will be a good movie someday too.  Keep them coming Dan!  Add this to your list!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Essence of the Heart Sutra

Reflection and deep-thinking is a core component of finding sanity ad peace in one’s life.  In the Dalai Lama’s Essence of the Heart Sutra, one learns about the history of the Heart Sutra and also how applicable it can be for anyone from any religious faith tradition.  For anyone who is religious, what couldn’t one learn and apply to their daily lives that make them a better person?  All I know is it makes so much sense to live a life that is grounded in the beliefs, and more importantly the approach that is conveyed through Buddhism. Finding true fulfillment… and living a life that one should lead, what is more important than that?  The Dalai Lama encourages people to maintain their own faith tradition and how he has worked with the Pope, Protestant, and Jewish leaders and is convinced that this is an approach that is fitting to all religious sects.  In fact, Buddhism can learn from other faith traditions as well.   Another aspect of the book is the history of the four Buddhist subgroups which provides a good context as to why their interpretations are different from each group.  Learn about the Buddha, the wheel of dharma, and the four foundations of mindfulness.  Some of the foundations include: being present to your body, mind, feelings, and phenomena.  Remove the negative, prevent negative acts, enhance yourself through your actions, enhance positive qualities, and lay foundation for future wholesome acts.  The supernatural feats, the five faculties, five powers, eight noble paths, and seven branches of enlightenment all lead to the path of enlightenment.  Wisdom comes from an inner place of hearing the world and surrounding elements of nature.  I think the Dalai Lama gives great advice that each person would benefit from listening to, applying in life, and reflecting after putting into practice.  Very good read, but do it slowly to really absorb it all!  Add to the list for personal growth!