Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The First Phone Call from Heaven (Extra book)

As you can tell, this is not one of the RA Favorite books (yet – as it could be down the line), but for now it is an “extra read” recommended by others.  I have always enjoyed reading Mitch Albom books, a number of my favorites are actually his non-fiction stories (Tuesdays with Morrie and Have a Little Faith) – which are both RA Favorite books.  So I picked up The First Phone Call from Heaven and started to listen and hear about what happens when two worlds collide, this one and the life after.  The story occurs in a little town in Michigan (Coldwater) where apparently deceased relatives start calling a few of the local residents.  The phone calls are intended to let those on earth learn that life in the “here-after” is wonderful and should not be a source of fear.  When one of the first residents lets it be known at a local Sunday service, a few others note they too have received calls on Friday mornings each week.  As the word gets out, Coldwater turns into a new sanctuary for believers and non-believers to get closer to the higher being!  And the national media is not far behind once they gain wind of the story.  But not everyone is believing the calls are real, Sully Harding who lost his son in the war in Afghanistan doesn’t completely believe the messages his dead son provide in the short lived phone calls.  He decides to seek out whether this is really true or not.  The story climaxes with a rather far-fetched conclusion that brings Sully’s world full-circle to the real death of his son in the helicopter accident at an air strip.  I won’t give up the answer as to whether the calls are real or fake, as the story is really about faith and believing, more so than who really made the calls.  In the end I thought the story was a bit far-fetched and didn’t get the normal “emotional feeling” that is evoked from an Albom book.  Clearly not my favorite of his books.  Did like the fact it was a quick read, otherwise I might really rail on the book.  Not the kind of impact I hoped for, but engaging nonetheless.  Back-burner on your list of books to read for sure.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Natural History of Nonsense

It is now time for “extra” favorite reads.  This time I allowed an RA to provide me a second favorite book, mainly because he brought a copy and left it with me.  The book is called The Natural History of Nonsense by Bergen Evans.  This is an interesting book as it was written in the 1940s yet it is providing an overview on the history of all living beings on the earth, with some pretty strange “historical thoughts” in which the author provides research data to prove his point, yet disagrees with the literature at every turn.  Bergen presents data that demystifies “urban legends” ranging from: animals not being as smart as humans; why belly buttons are “innies vs. outies”; biblical contractions; why is it colder in parts of NYC than at the North Pole?; why do frogs come out from hiding before major storms?; why do the female birds sit on the eggs?; and questions about chimpanzees snakes.  After addressing many of the myths of animals, he moves on to the human race!  I had no idea that doctors were so short-sided “back in the day,” such as how one would get ill by using a bathtub! WOW!  The author than focuses on ethnic stereotypes, such as why African Americas are more physically agile than other ethnicities (though he uses pretty 20th century un-pc terms), same for when he presents information on Latinos and Asian-American people.  This is such a “period piece” that illustrates how far we have come as a society.  I’m not sure I got the humor of the book, though it certainly was helpful to be brought back in time.  The book clearly shows the limited view many people had in the 1940s and how computers and knowledge sharing has moved our society to more thoughtful and data driven in our thinking.  For sociologist students, it might be helpful to read how ignorant we were in our thinking.  The author shows the challenges in the “thought leaders” of the day.  Not sure I thought it was so “witty” but was an interesting read nonetheless.  Thanks Luka for a second suggestion.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Name of the Wind

Yes!  Just finished the last of the RA Favorite Books for this year, although there will be some new RAs in the spring semester, especially since we will be taking over Polytechnic University in January!  So look for some new reads in 2014 (will be interested if the type of favorite books is any different with engineering students, time will tell).  So the last read of this year is Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, a fantasy story set in the rural town of Newarre.  I always get a bit weary when I see that the book is actually a triology (known as the Kingkiller Chronicles), as I feel I am going to miss much of the “whole” story as I usually only read book 1.  What I learned as the book progressed was, hey I like this!  What a good story, albeit the concept has been used before, (can you say, Harry Potter!).   The story revolves around a young man, Kvothe who becomes a “nomad” of sorts when his parents are killed and on his search he desperately wants to attend the “wizard” University.  Kvothe spends three years on the streets learning how to survive.  In his prior life, he gained much knowledge about the mystery of “the wind” and other mystical things and makes it his daily task to raise enough monies to pay for the education.  The story has some level of repetition with his challenges with schoolmates and the headmasters.  His enemies in class are the “rich kids” who have more than enough monies to have fun in college and do the things he would not be able to do.  Of course any journey story is not complete with the falling in love with the young “damsel” in distress, and this story is similar with Denna.  Kvothe continues to be attracted to her and desiring to help her in any way he can.  There is something really engaging with Kvothe and the reader is automatically drawn to him as a younger version of “everyman” – the kid who has limited tools but you root for at every turn.  Like I noted, there are some on-going reoccurring issues that keep coming up, but aside from that annoyance, it is a fun read, except that there is a second and third book.  This is not a quick read at all, but the characters are easy to keep straight.  You will see this one on the big screen in a short period of time, for sure. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Amazing Adventure of Kavalier and Clay

Welcome to 1939 and the city of New York!  This is the date in which today’s RA favorite book is placed, called The Amazing Adventure of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon.   This is the tale of two cousins who are brought together by the early stages of World War II.  Josef (Joe) Kavalier is a refugee who escapes from Prague to live with his cousin Sammy Clay.  Joe is able to be transported to NYC by a coffin with the help of his mentor, the magician Kornblum.  Joe knows something is not right in Prague as the Germans begin to take over more and more locations in the adjacent countries and Joe leaves his parents and his kid brother Thomas behind.  Sammy is working at Empire Novelty, a place that creates comics and other adventure characters.  When Sammy realizes his cousin is a talented artist, he gets him a position in the office.  Together the two create a character titled “The Escapist” (an anti-fascist superhero!), bringing to life Joe’s concerns with what is happening in Europe. The character is an instant success.  The remainder of the book explores issues of sexual identity (Sammy’s), the sadness associated with losing a loved one (Joe’s brother gets killed in transport trying to escape from the Nazis) and dealing with covering up a pregnancy out of wedlock (Joe’s attraction – Rosa Saks), and the guilt that is caused by feeling you caused your brother’s death (Joe’s escape to the Army).  The relationship between the two cousins is at the core of the story as is Joe’s response to the take- over of his homeland.  Sammy’s desire to cover his sexual orientation with the marriage of Rosa to raise Joe’s son further illustrates the times.  There is a number of moving parts in the book and all make for an interesting read, albeit there is way too much detail at times – the story line with Joe serving in the Army does nothing to advance the story at all… I would say this is a strong read, though I wouldn’t say there was really anything “amazing” in the adventure. It is a good solid book, but certainly the title gives the reader some idea that there is amazing adventure… which I didn’t find.  The complexity of the times are captured and I really liked the setting of the “comic book” world as a backdrop  (I was a young avid comic book reader, though less in the past two decades – reading and collecting Spiderman – which I have a rich collection of about 200 early editions of the comics).   Again, good read, but not so amazing.  Have a little extra time, as this is not a short book.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Problem from Hell

I often wonder what it is that our government leaders know and don’t know as it relates to foreign affairs.  Todays’ read is a frightening inside view to the horrors of life in very tumultuous environments.  In the book A Problem from Hell, reporter Samantha Power examines the idea of how much did American governmental leaders know about the killing of countries’ own citizens around the world.  Power, who served as a reporter from the fields in the Balkans witnesses first-hand the killing of innocent people by the government which leads her to come back to the US and begin to review all 20th century mass murders in countries around the world that the US and other nations sat back and knowingly allowed to occur.  Through the research Power presents Raphael Lemkin, who escaped from Europe and attempted to tell the story of the atrocities occurring due to the Nazi occupation of his homeland.  Lemkin’s history of his efforts and coining of the phrase “genocide” – which was later added to the Webster’s dictionary because of Lemkin, lobbied American elected officials for decades to attempt to intervene in Europe and later bring to trial those who lead the innocent killings.  Unfortunately, history always repeats itself and Power has far too many stories to tell of the twentieth century genocide cases.  She provides in-depth data from primary sources on other individual genocides and the U.S. response in Cambodia, Iraq, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Kosovo.  Power does find some leaders who tried to tell the story, such as Romeo Dallaire (a Canadian UN peacekeeping military leader) , politician Senator Proxmire, and even President Reagan, who eventually passed a US response to genocide during his term, 50 years after Lemkin began his efforts.  The book is filled with horrific details, some with pictures of the dead (graphic pics…) and outstanding supporting documents to illustrate her case.   Her story is based on her first-hand experiences often wondering how this could happen again and again.  The question seems to repeat itself, how do we know when it is really happening and what should outsiders be expected to do from a moral standpoint.  If you don’t believe intervention from the outside is necessary, then be moved by the data.  A harrowing tale that needed to be told.  Having the morals to act when needed is critical in political leadership and Power has been able to tell the story the citizens did not know at the time.  Kudos for sharing this tale to the citizenry.  Hard, but necessary read.