Tuesday, December 31, 2013

They Cage the Animals at Night (Extra book)

This is a true story written by the author, Jennings Michael Burch, chronicling his own growing up in a family of five boys in NYC in the book They Cage the Animals at Night.  Jennings’s story is set in the Bronx/Brooklyn and in Queens during the 1950s. The story captures his youth, age eight to eleven, being placed in foster homes, youth homes, and at times back with his family.  Jennings never met his father, a local drunk, and is moved from his home based on his mother’s erratic and deteriorating health condition.  Jennings only reprieve in his youth is when one of the nuns at a home gives Jennings a stuffed animal, named Doggie, who helps him throughout the story as his “comfort” animal.  Jennings’s mom suffers from some debilitating unknown illness and later in the book falls down the stairs and breaks her back and neck.  Jennings is routinely picked on at the homes, though he does find a few friends during the story.  He also is helped out by a bus driver, Sal, whom later becomes his surrogate father and helps the entire family.  Jennings is ridiculed for his name by some children, beaten up by a foster parent, treated harshly by a son of another foster family, and had numerous horrible incidents at the various homes, all of which were run by Catholic nuns, go figure!  Today these nuns would be placed in jail for the horrible treatment of these children.  How Jennings made it through is a miracle, running away from the homes, and living in the Bronx Zoo over a few weekends with no food or water.  While the book was not well edited, I found at least six grammatical/typographical errors; the story of the young boy has a few heartwarming moments, not to add that he shows himself as a survivor.  Kids who have a hard life may see Jennings as a hero and someone to aspire to become.  Luckily, I did not have this type of hard life, so less connective for me.  A quick read for kids aged 10-12, otherwise I’d pass.  I can’t remember who suggested this one, I don’t think it was an RA, but maybe a colleague… oh well.  Another read done.  Happy New Year.  I’ll pick up another book in 2014, I think!  Overall some very good books suggested by the RAs and my friends.    

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Music of Chance (Extra book)

A journey of life book, well sort of, not the most uplifting for sure… but it is a captivating short read.  The Music of Chance by Paul Auster tells the story of Fireman Jim Nashe who grows tired of his life after receiving some money from his father’s will.  Jim had been a fire fighter with the Boston fire department and living with his daughter – his wife had abruptly run out on him and the daughter, leaving Jim as a single parent.  This is where the reader enters the story, Jim delivering his daughter to his sister and Jim ready to explore the world, purchasing a Saab, and driving across the country.  After a year on the road, his luck is winding down until he meets Jack Pozzi, or so he thinks.  Jack is a “down on his luck” man who talks Jim into believing he is a world-class card player.  Jack, also an orphan of sorts, convinces Jim that if he has some money he is willing to bring Jim into his big jackpot day, playing cards against two gullible older gents who won the lottery a number of years ago and have the funds to lose.  Jim takes the offer and joins Jack at the two men’s mansion in rural New Jersey – an hour away from Atlantic City.  You probably can guess what happens….  Jim’s last $10,000, plus his $2,300 stash of cash and his Saab are all placed in the final bet of the game (throw in an extra $10k IOU), a thriller, that Jack thinks he wins, but to no avail, one of the older guys (whose names serve as a metaphor for the story) William Flower and William Stone, have the one extra card that takes the pot.  With no way to leave or pay the men back, Jim and Jack become working “slaves” for the two men under the watchful eye of caretaker Calvin Murks.  The men are forced to work at $10 an hour to pay back the $10k – which equals 6 weeks of work building a “stone” wall.  The men become friends and as the days get closer to leaving, Jack asks for a party to celebrate – the Flower and Stone men agreed to provide housing and whatever the men needed.  It wasn’t until they paid off the $10k that they learned that they were to be charged for the food portion of their time at the site.  This sends Jack into a craze and he decides to escape, which Jim assists.  Later that night Jack returns to the site near dead, beaten, and bruised.  Was it Murks? Who would have done this?  Jim begs Murks to bring his friend to the hospital, he does, but never learns of Jack’s fate.  Jim continues to work on the wall until completion.  On the eve of his departure Murks, who has gotten close to Jim offers to bring him out for drinks to celebrate.  Later in the evening, Murks allows Jim to drive in his old Saab, which turns into a fateful ending for Murks, Murks’ son-in-law, and Jim as he drives over the cliff at 80 mph…  well, not all journey stories end in happiness.  Some stories have some other types of escape.  Clearly for Jim, his end was long in coming.  A well written tale that pushes man to his limits, of course in this case the main character has created the limits for himself.  This is not what one would call an uplifting tale, but illustrates the limits a person can go to when pushed.  I learned this is also a movie.  The moral of the story is man creates his own problems and sometimes man goes to real extremes to get out of the problems created…. More of a depths of winter read.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Red Tent (Extra book)

This was a recommendation from a few friends (Deb and Emily) so I thought I should pick it up. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant is a story of a female named Dinah, chronicling her family and her life.  As I started to listen to it (yes, I listened and didn’t read this one), I noted that this is clearly a good “book club” type of read, probably leaning more to female groups rather than males.  Ah yes, a “chicklit” book set fifteen hundred years before Christ was born in the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, rooted in the biblical story of the house of Jacob.  The Red Tent is the place where the women congregated away from the male members of the family for purposes of menstruating, hence the color choice.  The book is told in the first person of the narrator, Dinah, the only daughter of a family with twelve boys, with four mothers of course – remember this was set in a time where men had multiple wives, in this case four.  There is much sadness throughout the life of Dinah that does produce a few real tears.  The author draws the readers in right from the outset with the historical setting and the history of how Dinah’s father (Jacob) chose his wife Leah, and the three sisters (Rachel – Dinah’s mother, and Zilpah and Bilhah).  The turning point in the family occurs when Dinah is of age to be betrothed to be married and meets the prince of Schechem, who immediately falls head over heels for Dinah.  When Dinah’s family feels she has been “defiled” by the prince, the men of Dinah’s family raise the dowry “ask,” which the prince’s family agrees.  Soon after the wedding, the brothers kill the prince, which sets off years of Dinah hiding her identity so as not to be killed.  Her hatred for her father and brothers grows deeply for killing her husband.  Dinah does get pregnant from the prince before his sudden death.  She escapes to Egypt and her son is given to the heiress of the country and Dinah serves as a “second mother,” rarely seeing her son.  The story takes an interesting twist of reconnecting to her past after serving as a renowned midwife (and kind of predicted this was going to happen) when we didn’t hear much about her “twin” Joseph.   Dinah’s struggles and hard life capture the plight of women in the culture at the time, and in some areas of the world continue today.  Who couldn’t be moved by this biblical story?  Good read, thanks Deb!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy

Back to an RA Favorite book as I finished meeting with the spring RAs going to London and Shanghai.  Enter Bill Clinton, who has had another book on the RA Favorite read list, this time:  Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy.  Who says RAs aren’t politically active and engaged?  Welcome to bi-partisan politics with a plan that suggests government should work smarter for the people, by the people.  I love the fact that Clinton is adept at adding all of his successes and how his policies would have brought a balanced budget by 2013, oh my, that is now!  Oh well?  There is always hope with Hillary!  Clinton reminds us all that government is actually needed to create programs and opportunities to enhance the “system” and that if overseen correctly by investing in people we can turn this whole thing around, even with 8 years of Bush rule.  Clinton takes a few “shots” at the Tea Party, especially for their “anti-government” views.  There are a number of reports with charts indicating how far the US has fallen in comparison to other countries, especially in the area of education, major economic slowdown (which he notes both parties are responsible), and medical support of our citizens.  I liked a number of Clinton’s suggested changes for future assistance for US politics: raising caps to Social Security, fight those loopholes in the tax code, and start working more across the aisle!  This was a refreshing read from a former President who had a decade of reflection to think through his various policies and decisions that he may have made differently.  He probably is setting the stage to assist Hillary on the issues that need more focus and oversight.  All you poly-sci students, a good read and will help citizens 100 years from now look at a point in time and how things could be improved for our citizens.  A good read for us to be more learned on the issues that we should be focused when it comes to voting in 2016!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Hangman’s Daughter (Extra book)

The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch was written in Germany and translated into English.  The book is set in the mid-1600s in Germany which tells the story of a series of children found murdered with marks on their bodies and the local midwife is blamed as the murderer because they believe she is a witch.  In the book, we learn about the life of the professional hangman (what he does, and how he makes a living), living life in a small town, and the “justice system” of the day, which seeks to punish the woman, though there is little evidence to hold her accountable for the murders.  The lead character is the hangman (Jacob Kuisi), who works to ensure the midwife gets a fair trial, though the aldermen just want to have someone to blame so that they can reduce the growing fear in the community.  There are a number of scenes where Jacob is attempting to make his case, scenes where Jacob is asked to force a confession from the innocent woman (even with her being brutalized to say she is guilty, she does not buckle under the severe pain).  It is a very cyclical story that is slow paced and rather boring at times.  While the early premise gets the reader excited for “the secret murderer,” it never really meets the intended goal of keeping the reader in suspense, it just becomes a “blah story”…  I was not a huge fan of this one, sorry!