Sunday, January 29, 2012

End Malaria

Thanks to one of my twitter followers, Ryan the RD, I was able to receive another Favorite Book.  End Malaria is a compilation of short reflections by all types of people on how to think, act, and develop a philosophy and action plan for life.  The book was created as a means to raise money for the pandemic caused by malaria in South Africa (all of the proceeds go to purchasing nets for the families in Africa).  This is a 2011 edited book, with brief bios from the various authors.  The four sections of the book include: Tap Your Strength; Create Freedom; Love and Be Kind; and Disrupt Normal.  One of the reflections was by a former NYU teacher (I took his course!), David Rock, who taught in the Life Coaching program.  He writes about the impact of neuroscience on behavior.  Did you know that positive comments and images have an impact on us, but that impact is not as big as the effect of negative statements and images on people?  Wow, it does matter.  Another notable contributor is Tom Peters, author of the Pursuit of Excellence. The book weaves in social media and its impact on our brand and our thinking.  I found it to be a very motivating quick read.  Each bio included their twitter account and website, how cool is that?  Some take-aways from the book include: “Anything worth doing will be filled with uncertainty,” "Courage is simply acting in a way that puts you at risk in a fearful or uncomfortable situation in which the outcome is uncertain,” "Do it yourself – Do it with Peers – Do it with Technology."  My particular favorite concept is one I thought I created, but clearly not… "who is on your 'Board of Directors' for you creating your plan for the future."  The book’s cost goes to charity, plus some really tangible things to DO to make change in your life, why wouldn’t you want to read this one?  Go get it for anyone who has ever dreamed big!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Measure of a Man

Just finished The Measure of a Man, written by Gene Getz.  This book was recommended by Nyerere Tryman Sr. of UGA’s res life program.  The book covers twenty Biblical guidelines drawn from the apostle Pauls’ letter to Timothy and Titus.  Getz captures the twenty guidelines in a way to help men be better husbands, friends, bosses, human beings, and of course Christian men.  The chapters of the book provide a historical perspective and a practical application (giving a how to road map for reflection and review of the particular topical area).  The book is used widely among pastors for Bible study groups and individuals who are looking to enhance their spiritual connection to God.   Getz calls it the maturity profile where he lists the 20 items, which include: Overall spiritual maturity; above reproach; the husband of one wife; prudent; respectable; hospitable; able to reach; not addicted to wine; not self-willed; not quick-tempered; not pugnacious; gentle; peaceable; free from the love of money; manages his own household well; loving what is good; just; devout and self-controlled.  The stories Getz shares in each chapter come from the blue-collar to the famous (Tom Landry, former coach of the Dallas Cowboys).  There is a test at the beginning and the end of the book that tracks your movement as a Christian.  This is a great book to reflect on how you live and how to begin the process of examination with change in mind.  Why not?  What’s wrong with honest assessment and feedback?  While couched in Christian format, this could be applied to anyone who really wants to be a better human being.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Help

Now that the 534 books are completed, what will I do?  Well, read more books, silly!  So I am now taking suggestions between now and when the new RAs start meeting with me in May.  But in the meantime, just finished another book.  This time, The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  This is one of those old feel good stories where good does come close to beating evil. It is the story of the black/white divide in Jackson, Mississippi, amongst the hired help (the black maids) and their bosses (the privileged, white homeowners).  Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan has just returned from college, desperately wanting to be a writer but the deep South mentality is such that women should worry about getting a husband, finding a bridge club, and hiring help who will do chores (including raising their kids).  Skeeter wants none of this and fights the system.  She was very influenced by her own mother’s hired help who raised her in her youth.  This influential experience makes her decide to write a memoir on the life of “the hired help” (ie, the maids).  The problem is no one wants to provide the real story, until she is able to convince her best friend’s help, Aibileen Clark, to be the first to join in.  All hell breaks loose when the book is published (even though Skeeter used fictitious locations and names, the community figures it out).  The relationships, the depth, and characterization of the times makes this book not only real, but a moving piece of how a group can gain voice, deal with extreme situations, and in the end somewhat rise above it.  Wait until you read about the “pie story,” a hilarious moment!  The relationship between Skeeter and Aibileen and Aibileen and the children she raises is heartwarming and very sad.  Certainly parenthood has changed since that time!  I would pick this one up.  I hear it is also a movie, but you know my take on movies…  stick with the book.  Add this one to the list!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Infinite Jest

Well, I’m done! Fin! Over.  I just finished the last RA Favorite Book.  The project has been going on for a long time, but it has been a blast. So what was the last book (well until the new RAs get hired!)?  It was a strange, long, and complicated read called Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, who died a few years ago when he took his own life.  Interesting to note, he was the roommate of a person I met through the Little League here in NYC.  He attended Amherst College and was a ranked tennis player during his adolescence, clearly an influence on this book.  Wallace suffered from depression but his brilliance in writing was not seemingly affected by this brilliant, yet hard to understand (for the lay reader) book.  I will warn you all this is not an easy story, which is placed in the future and focuses on high school tennis, Quebec (yes the city), and it’s separation from the homeland, an alcohol and drug recovery program, relationships amongst one of the lead character's bizarre family, the film ("Infinite Jest"), and  abuse.  While the story stumbles across these issues/story lines there are a ton of endnotes, 96 pages in my edition! The Incandenza family is the major family in the story, Hal, the young tennis prodigy, as the major protagonist.  His father commits suicide (though contradictory reasons why he placed his head in the microwave oven) after a thwarted career as a filmmaker and the founder of the Enfield Tennis Academy, where Hal attends, is located in Boston, MA.  The film he produces, "Infinite Jest," is so entertaining it appears to make people lifeless, hmmm… déjà vu? (I felt that way myself).  The most entertaining part of the multiple stories for me is the Enfield Tennis Academy and the relationships among the students, and adults, such as the sexual relationship between Hal’s mom and the other highly rated tennis prodigy, John Wayne (not the movie star!).  Other comedic moments occur at The Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House, where drug abuse runs rampant.  Wallace’s characters depict a reality that only a person deeply troubled and living the life could possible create.  Now I’m not saying he was a drug abuser, but he clearly ran across some of these folks on the tennis court and in some ways through his own struggles with anti-depressant medications.  They are raw and give a glimpse into the complexities of our own generation. This is not at all a linear story and if you are looking for a “wrapped bow” story (nice, complete ending) this is not your book. I found this very helpful “How to” read the book to share with you: Click Here. When asked what did you think?  I laughed a lot, I was confused a lot, I thumbed back to endnotes a lot, and I carried the very heavy book around with me a LONG time.  Was it worth it?  Well, I’m glad I can say I read it, but over time I’ll probably have limited remembrance of it, maybe an “oh yeah” read it but…  It is a real commitment to read this book so think it through carefully before picking it up!

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Stand

One of today’s current top writers is not seen often on this list of NYU RAs favorite books so reading a Stephen King best-seller was good to find, albeit a rather long and lengthy read.  The Stand, re-written edition as King felt he missed some things with the first edition, added about 500 more pages.  This is not to say the book was difficult to finish, as it wasn’t.  The story reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic The Road, though this one was written first and dealt with a flu that was released by the US military (by accident) and decimated most of the world.  The story focused on the US piece with the remaining .1% of the population who lived through the 3-5 day total death and destruction of our community.  Placed in the summer days of 1990, King brings to life a series of characters from various walks of life who end meeting to form a new community.  The story is magnificently written and characters lives, pre-flu and post epidemic, are brought together.  The journey of finding others and living without electricity, media, and other every-day necessities make it difficult to fathom.  Of course there are two ways to live in life, right… Good and Evil.  King presents these two types of existences (of course evil is out West and in Vegas!) and the characters in the “good community” attempt to engage the “bad” and what does that bring, the A bomb! While there are some pretty grotesque descriptions of what one finds when a body (or thousands of bodies) has decayed in the heat, this book is griping, well it ought to be it’s over 1000 pages long.  I will say it did go fast as the stories were engaging and interesting.  I was awaiting some pretty scary sections knowing it was a King classic, but this one was more on the grotesque at parts rather than being scared.  Add to your list, preferably if you have a week or two on the beach somewhere.  

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Night Circus

Enter the world of fantasy and magic with The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  London, circa turn of the century, is where most of the excitement for this book comes from.  The circus comes to life only after dawn with a set of characters who are involved in a game that they aren’t even aware of (or at least many of them).  Two magicians mentor their protégés to engage in a game – a battle to the finish, leading to one’s death, but along the way the two (not knowing they are in this game) fall in love!  The two magicians, Prospero the Enchanter and Mr. A.H, knew each other as Prospero was Mr. A.H’s student but they disagreed on the proper approach to magic, either it is an innate talent, represented by Prospero's daughter Celia, or whether as a skill that can be learned through a teacher, such as by Mr. A.H's orphan young boy Marco. The story includes subplots that include a local boy, Bailey, who falls in love with Poppet (the twin of Widet) and needs to decide should he leave his farm for the escape and intrigue of the circus; and also Tsukiko, the contortionist, who was in her own game of challenge as a student of Mr. A.H 83 years previous.  Morgenstern lays out a story that is engaging and a love story for the ages.  Who couldn’t fall for two people pulled apart by their on-looking mentors and aren’t aware of their feelings until years into knowing one another?   There is a lot happening in this relatively short book.  This is a bonus read that a former RA suggested be added to the list.  A recent publication (2011) so you may want to pick it up.  Let the circus begin!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Punished By Rewards

I love it when I learn so much about something I wish I knew long before and would have helped me in my role… especially as a parent.  Punished By Rewards by Alfie Kohn is a sociological view on how teachers should be teaching differently, with strong inference to how parents should be parenting differently.  Kohn studied (a course or so from) the renowned BF Skinner and also interviewed him (transcription of the conversation is at the end of the book for added learning).  Kohn doesn’t believe that we are like the rats that ring the bell when you feed them; we are humans so we act differently!  Kohn believes that there is a great deal wrong with “gold stars, incentive plans, A’s for all, praise for praise sake, and other bribes” – which is the subheading of his book.  Clearly this is a favorite book from a student staff member who is studying to be an education major, nonetheless I really enjoyed reading how I have wronged my kids over the years with promises and “candy bars” to change their behavior, as it doesn’t.  Kohn provides significant research to support his claims that we shouldn’t be treating our kids like pets!  Rewards do little long term to change behavior and actually will make those who were motivated regress into inaction after being shown the carrot.  His book is broken into three parts, Why we shouldn’t use rewards with kids or in the work place, illustrations of rewards in the work place (bonuses, incentive pay, etc.) and finally what should we be doing as a society rather than offering rewards.  Kohn even suggests, to some degree, do we really need grades?  In the end he relents and suggests yes, but with a caveat.  Let’s stop controlling our kids, let’s start listening to what motivates and gets them excited about education.  Go to where they are instead of trying to program them to respond to our ways of thinking.  And just read an interesting blog post on praise… hmm…  The book is a powerful read.  For anyone who is overseeing people or children, this is a book that has you think more than twice about your practice.  Good to get out of the power novel reading.  

Monday, January 9, 2012


You know you may not be immediately attracted to a book when it states, "you can read the book in a linear fashion or skip around in the following manner"… really?  So in a few short sentences, I did not like this book at all. Oops, it is Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar, a world renowned South American author.  So my RA Alum friend Milan asks, “tell me why?” … where should I begin.  The characters were not at all interesting, the plot boring, and the clearly 1960s “group sex club” mentality that occurred at “the Club” was more than I could get through, and yes, like all of the RA favorites, I did finish it, though I counted the pages throughout.   Horacio Oliveira is the main character who leaves Argentina for Paris and joins a group of others called the Serpent Club.  The group of friends spends time in “the club” drinking, partying, reading literature, and philosophizing while listening to jazz music in the background.  What a way to spend your nights, not so nice for the neighbor upstairs who goes crazy ranting and raving at them on a regular basis – sounds like NYC not liking some of the NYU clan.  Horatio is in love with “La Maga” whose real name is Lucia.  Horacio moves in to the house with her as her “sexmate” but Lucia isn’t the brightest “bulb in Club pack.”  Lucia’s son, often sick, actually dies (Horacio notices it after an illness he has) and this then destroys the “club” with Horacio leaving and finding solace, while drunk, with a homeless woman at the waterfront.  Horacio gets arrested and this leads to the second part of the book when Horacio travels back to his homeland in Argentina.   Horacio thinks he sees Lucia, but instead it is another woman, Talita.  All of his native friends think he has gone mad and is contemplating suicide, which after philosophizing and strange behavior the readers are left with did he or didn’t he?  I guess I wish I had more feeling for Horacio.  This is a strange book with characters who really didn’t appeal to me, I didn’t get sympathetic nor more interested in the philosophical Horacio, the well read, yet lazy thinker.  In many ways reminded me of Hemingway’s one book where they all went hunting.  There are so many levels of “stuff” within this book, but all convoluted and boring.  If you can make it through this one, congrats!  Maybe because I wouldn’t be interested in hanging in the club, I was so put-off by the whole tale.  I know Cortazar has a following, I’d stick to his short stories, which are much more interesting.  Skip it for sure!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Game of Thrones

Complexity and cacophony (an NYU word for sure) is throughout this one… A Game of Thrones by George Martin.  Yes, another recommendation from the former RA and alum Janie Chlebowski (but not her favorite!).  This is an epic-sized book with multiple stories (three storylines at once – though they converge at times) of the games played by the monarch and their families, their friends and their rivals.  Power is the goal and anyone who stands in the way of the power will be killed for the power.  Enter The House of Stark, the rulers of the North!, this for me was the most interesting of the various storylines, following King Robert Baratheon and his crazy family member’s plan to take the throne, but he makes his wisest move by appointing the honest and loyal Lord Eddard Stark (Ned).  Ned has a feeling that the King’s wife Queen Cersei is not as she portrays herself… and guess what?  She’s not.  Ned finds out that the King’s offspring are really illegitimate; the Queen has had some “extra-curricular” activity outside of the home.  When Ned is about to tell the King the truth, the King is in a hunting accident and faces death but asks Ned to “carry on” as his replacement until his son reaches the age to rule.  Ned will do as he is told, but after more power struggles, gets imprisoned by the Queen!  But as news spreads of the change, a civil war, the War of the Five Kings, breaks out over the entire region. Epic battles occur with much death, destruction, and secrets being revealed.  Dwarfs, princesses, and lords fight over rule and money.  If you have a handy family tree, you will do much better than I did listening to this one on tape.  Rewind, rewind, who was that again?  Confusion, right?   Who doesn't like a battle for the ages during the great days of kings and kingdoms?  Well… Gladys, my wife, is a huge fan of this type of epic story, for me, give me 1960-2000 realism.  While it is hugely popular today, I have little interest in the battles, the family ruling class, etc.  Long book with endless battles to the end.  I’ll pass!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite

Happy birthday, son Christian! I couldn’t stop reading this one, a great story (thanks Charlotte!), The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin.  This is a British book and I could not find it here at the New York Public Library or get through NYU’s vast array of “book connections” so I had to call upon the RA who selected this book to borrow.  It was worth it!  Add this one to your list for sure.  It is a story of a real life German actress and her story of sorrow, lost-love and heartbreak.  Throw in her struggles enduring World War I and the beginning of Hitler’s regime.  Lilly was thrust into St. Francis Xavier Home for the Orphaned Children after her single mom was killed by her father when he found her in bed with a younger lover.  The father, who was married to another woman when he impregnated Lilly’s mother, wanted her to have an abortion, she didn’t.  Lilly went to another family before the Orphanage, but it didn’t work out as she was too angry.  Lilly eventually settled into the Orphanage and fell in favor with the head nun Sister August whose story will come back to connect with her later in the book, as do all of the characters who interact with Lilly.  Lilly’s life is hard during the war, the Orphanage closes down and she is left to migrate through the streets and also within the lives of others like Otto (an older orphaned boy who was making a good life for himself), and Hanne another one of the orphaned children who befriends her.  Lilly experiences being raped by the husband of the woman she works for as a maid, and later is run over by a car driven by Eva, who also befriends her but attempts to tempt her as a lesbian lover.  Lilly’s life, in many ways, is a metaphor for the “ups and downs” of the German nation.  Whenever a glimmer of hope exists, it is eventually blown away!  Lilly falls in love with Eva’s brother Stefan, who disappears during the war and made for dead, or is he?  Lilly reunites with friend Hanne, who wants to become a performer on the stage or on screen.  Instead Lilly makes the stage as a lead actress.  This true life story captures the gutter to stage, poor and barren to rich over-the-top actress.  Yet, the mighty do fall.  Lilly’s story is jarring, engaging, sad, and motivating.  For those who have dreams, they can happen… but sometimes at what cost?  Imagine having to hide your heritage in the most feared time in the world, being Jewish during Hitler’s rise to power.  A lot in this book… I really enjoyed it!   

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Cold Comfort Farm

Happy New Year!  Finished with 192 books and beginning the New Year finishing another RA Favorite, this one, Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. A British comedy of an 18 year old orphan (Flora) who had limited time with her parents, (they died while away from their daughter, though they left her at boarding schools throughout) and needed to find her next home after their passing.  Flora writes letters to a number of relatives asking for their hospitality to move-in with them and takes up the best offer (one in which she will receive her own room), but on a FARM!, one that has a family secret.  Flora heads to Sussex after the invite from Cousin Judith Starkadder.  Upon her arrival she realizes that this cast of characters needs some “cleaning up!”  Flora and her favorite book, “The Higher Common Sense,” serves as a guide for her in putting some level of drive and focus to those at the farm.  She gets her cousin Elfine married, Seth in the movies, Amos (a brimstone evangelist) on the road, and Aunt Ada Doom on a trip to France.  She does this in a way that brings some chuckles and smirks.  I was surprised that this was a favorite book of Edward (RA from the UK).  I will admit I didn’t chuckle too much as it was a bit goofy and dated, 1932 publication.  The characters were a bit “over the top” especially if you have the book cover I have, frightening pics of each character with a very hillbilly type character while Flore is the prim and proper young lady.  I’d say it read more silly than funny.  Washing plates with a twig… maybe Hee Haw funny (remember that TV show)?  It wasn’t funny in the 1970s and isn’t funny today.  An acquired humor that I guess I never have gotten.  A big skip for me, sorry, just not that good.   I want belly laughs and not “ok I get it, but…” You get the point?