Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Golden Chariot

A griping tale of oppression for women in Arabic culture is found in Salwa Bakr’s The Golden Chariot.  The main character, Aziza, kills her step-father, after he decides on another woman, rather than stay with Aziza as his sexual partner after decades together.  Aziza’s step-father duped his wife (Aziza’s blind mother) of the relationship he began with her when she was under ten years old.  When her mother dies, she continues to live with him throughout her adult life, until the point in which he decides he has found a new woman.  Aziza takes a knife and plunges it into his heart while he is asleep.  She is found guilty of the crime and is sentenced to solitary confinement for fourteen hours each day while in prison.  She dreams of escaping this world and ascending directly into heaven in a golden chariot.   While in prison, she introduces numerous women imprisoned with her, whom she plans on taking with her.  Each of the women who have been incarcerated have similar stories as Aziza, some even more compelling.  Each chapter provides the background stories of two additional woman, ranging from sexual abuse, rape, drug-addiction, poverty, prostitution, and stolen opportunities.  In some way these women become Aziza’s kindred spirits.  Each of the women are escaping the “prison” that they inhabited before coming to this prison.  Bakr’s story captures the multiple injustices that have occurred to this society in transition.  Each of the women portrayed yearn for a life better for their children, and those who are removed from the horror that they have experienced.  Bakr’s rather short stories for each woman is detailed and shows the reader how difficult it is to be a woman in a male dominated culture.  In the end Aziza’s dream comes to a climax…  is it a real escape, or is it solely a dream  that will never be answered?  I was very moved by the book and would encourage this as a top read on the list. 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Inventing Paradise – The Greek Journey 1937-1947

Well it happens infrequently, but once in a while you read a book and you immediately question, “I wonder what class this was required reading in?”  Edmund Keeley’s Inventing Paradise – The Greek Journey 1937-1947 is a narrowly focused book on literature, specifically authors who lived in Greece during the pre-through-post World War II era.  Henry Miller, an American writer, is visiting Greece during the low period of the country and provides in-depth picturesque descriptions of the beautiful landscapes and simultaneously, the impending dangers facing the country as Germany inches closer to annihilating the citizenry as it stands at the time.  Miller also presents his various liaisons with Greek writers, such as, Lawrence Durrell (whom Miller had gone to visit), George Katsimbalis, and George Seferis (whom later received a Nobel laureate in literature).  Interspersed throughout the narrative were poems that helped capture the essence of the moments depicting a dark foreshadowing of what was to follow.  The authors would gather together to lament the Greek culture, art, freedom and what may face the society.  Certainly the major issues of politics were central to the conversations.  After the war Miller strayed away from his colleagues, while Greece was to enter a dark period of rebuilding.  The book broke into almost two parts for me, the friendship and comradery of the writers and then the actual historical events that occurred in Greece in the War era.  It almost felt disconnected and hard to stay immersed.  I will admit I am not the biggest history reader, so adding the writers experiences to the book made it hard to stay focused on what the author was doing, or maybe it was me.  Clearly this was a required reading for a Twentieth Century Greek culture course.  If that is your interest, grab the book.  While an ok read, I wouldn’t run out and order it.  For me, I’ll take a pass.  

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Folded Clock

A very unique approach to writing a book, using the “diary-entry” format.  The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits captures entries from diaries from twenty or so years before.  The entries are not in chronological order and serve to illustrate the jumbled and complicated nature of our lives.  Julavits was born in Maine and now serves as a faculty member at Columbia University and is the author of many books.  In this book, she celebrates the life of a woman who seeks to better understand relationships, from mother-hood to wife, from daughter, to friend, and neighbor to teacher.  The diary format feels like a set of short stories as very few entries directly connect to future entries, though we learn a great deal about her two marriages and why the first one didn’t work.  There are moments of raw humor, undeniable sadness, and utter brilliance in capturing how she learns about herself at a given moment in time.  I really loved how her entries capture the inner-conflict that one has, stuck in the turmoil we create for ourselves.  She splits her time from her growing up in Maine (and her return home for summer vacation later in life) and her days residing in New York City.  It makes complete sense why an author would want the NYC feel, but need the solitude and escape to the rural fortress of a place like Maine.  Her honesty and ability to show her weak side provide insight to others how often we make wrong decisions, say wrong things, but in the end don’t regret them.  I think my wife would love to hang with Heidi as she would appreciate her direct and honest nature.  This was a welcome change from the ‘normal’ writing style of an author.  Recently published, 2015, I’d highly recommend an entrance into the private mind of a very intelligent late-forty year old woman. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tokyo Ghoul

It takes all kinds of favorite books to make the list.   Time for a graphic novel called Tokyo Ghoul written and illustrated by Sui Ishida.  While the illustrations are pretty darn good, the story wasn’t what I’d call super interesting.  The lead character, Ken Kaneki, is excited to go on a date, only to find out that his date is a flesh-eating ghoul!  From this he turns into the first half-human, half-ghoul hybrid.  There are lots of ghoul vs. ghoul fights determining who will rule a particular area of the town.  The ghouls are able to disguise themselves in order to get to eat the flesh of humans.  I only read the first of many volumes, though in the part I read, it seemed like a repetitive story with lots of gore and doom.  I think it has a niched reading audience, adolescent boys?  I’d take a pass, though it’s a pretty popular read in some Asian cultures. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Brutal Art

Remember the mystery novels that were best presented by great novelists like Agatha Christie? Well, I found another one in Jesse Kellerman’s The Brutal Art.  In the recently published book, Kellerman uses many of the devises of the great Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, and current authors, Dan Brown and Jeffery Archer.  In the story, the main character Ethan Muller, the estranged son of a multi-millionaire, is a twenty-something art gallery promoter.  His father’s chief of staff, Tony Wexler, calls him one morning asking him to drop all that he is doing, as he has found a collection of art that was left in one of the rental apartments that his father owned, and he believes the art paintings/drawings will make Ethan rich.  Ethan finally agrees to go and realizes, there are masterpieces in his midst!  The mystery involves who the missing artist is (an older man who has lived a ‘hermit-type’ life) and why he left all the art pieces behind (he has disappeared).  Ethan shows the art in his gallery and the hoopla surrounding the new art hits the press, including the front page of the NY Times.  A few days later a retired NYPD investigator contacts Ethan wanting to know more about the art, as the one picture captured in the paper is of a young boy murdered forty years earlier that the retired cop was looking to solve.  Ethan, skeptical at first, rebuffs the retired police investigator, until he is beaten unconscious while inventorying the vast art pieces by the artist.  He reaches out to the dying investigator, meets his daughter (a NYC ADA) and gets involved in the solving the mystery, which includes, a bidding war on the rest of the collection, warning notes to stop selling the collection, and uncovering his own family’s dysfunction.  All in all, this is a gripping thriller that surprises and has real life emotion and intrigue.  I actually couldn’t put the book down.  Took me 28 hours (with interruptions) to complete.  If you like psychological thrillers, this is one to read.  And yes, an NYU reference in it as well.     

Sunday, October 23, 2016


I just finished listening to one of the longest books that has been referred to me since Proust’s work.  This time one of my favorite authors, Haruki Murakami, a Japanese author, pens the book, 1Q84.  Entering a world led by Murakami is an adventure that blurs reality and dream-state, so one has to be open to the ‘possibilities,’ otherwise it isn’t the book for you.  I tend to tremendously enjoy his works, and this one did not disappoint.  The book focuses on two characters, Aomame, the heroine, and Tengo, the male counterpart whom met each other at ten years of age while in elementary school but haven’t seen each other since that time.  An interaction occurred one day in class that would bind them forever, yet their lives were separate until the end of the book.  In fact, each chapter, for the most part, follows the life of them individually.  Aomame enters a ‘new world’ of 1Q84, leaving the year 1984, when she enters a deserted subway emergency escape route when stuck in highway traffic.  When she exits out she enters a subtler different world, or an alternate reality.  Tengo is a writer and is drawn into re-writing a high school student, Fuka-Eri’s, novel called Air Chrysalis, by a demanding editor who believes that the book could win national awards.  Tengo learns about Fuka-Eri’s upbringing in a commune, abandonment by her parents, and inability to communicate outwardly, yet agrees to re-write the book.  The book is lauded with praise, and national awards.  This is when the adventure begins.  At the same time, Aomame, is hired by one of her clients at the gym she is employed by The Dowager, a 70 year old millionaire, to kill the leader of a religious sect, Sakigake, because he has sexually abused young girls for years.   The genius of the book is the intersection of the two lives, Tengo and Aomame.  There are a number of other characters who join in as they try and find Aomame for Sakigake’s murder, in addition to Tengo, who eventually is found out by Sakigake’s body guards that he wrote Air ChrysalisThe book itself has imaginary powers that lead to the empowerment of “the little people” and the idea that the ‘chrysalis’ holds powers.    The Dowager through the aid of her body guard, Tamura, work to try and keep Aomame alive as she attempts to regain the memory of the young boy, Tengo, from twenty years earlier, to seek refuge.  With most translated books, one hopes that it really does capture the meaning of the original language.  I find most of Murakami’s work is understandable, yet in exceedingly specific detail.  While I have given a very high-level overview of the plot, believe me when I say, there is a lot of symbolism, character development, and yes, a good amount of sexual exploits, some sensually described, and some the very opposite and brutal rape.  He is not afraid to dig into taboo topics, and find the underbelly of our society.  If you can stick with the story, it does move fast and all things ‘fit nicely’ together in the end.  I appreciate the precision he places in his story.  The blurring of reality and the dream-state is real life, and none do it better than Murakami.  If you are afraid of long reads, this one is not for you.  

Friday, October 21, 2016

Milk and Honey

Just finished a moving book of poetry focused on human frailty and emotion.  There are few books that capture the spirit with simple but raw feeling in every word like Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur.  The book is segmented into four chapters: the hurting, the loving, the breaking, and the healing.  Kaur describes the brutality of rape/sexual assault, how physicality can inhumanize others, male dominance, recovery through love, and so many other human emotions.  Her prose is “short and simple.”  What makes the book even more relatable are the drawings that support the words.  Pain is all around us, and while it is a focal point of the book, she also addresses how the pain can be healed, through love and respect of oneself.  Here are a few of her healing thoughts:

                If you are not enough for yourself   --  you will never be enough for someone else

                Some people are so bitter  -- to them you must be kindest

                You  ---  are your own ---- soul mate

                I have what I have and I am happy --- I’ve lost what I’ve lost and I am still happy

                If the hurt comes – so will the happiness

                Accept yourself --- as you were designed

And my favorite:

                How you love yourself is  -- how you teach others to love you

Thank you Rupi for allowing us into your world.  It is a world that we should share often to all.  We are only as good of a people as we act towards others, and most importantly ourselves.  This is worth a read for all!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Lost Boys of Sudan

I’m in the reading zone these days.  Almost a book a day, luckily they are in the 200-220 page range, otherwise I wouldn’t get there.  Just finished the real life story of the how America brought over 3,800 Sudanese refugees to the United States beginning in 2000.  The book, The Lost Boys of Sudan, written by Mark Bixler, provides a historical context into the bloody wars during the Second Sudanese Civil War from 1983-2005 where over 2.5 million people were killed and left approx. 20,000 boys of two tribes (the Dinka and the Nuer) orphaned and moving out of Sudan to other countries in the region. The war was between the Christian and the Muslim sects fighting for control of the country.  The book mainly focused of the struggles of four young men, whom relocated to the Atlanta region.  The author, a newspaper columnist from Atlanta, chronicles their entry to the US, learning how to live in an apartment, getting monies to live, finding jobs, attempting to get an education, and the trials involved of working with non-profit organizations that allegedly are working on their behalf.  The stories illustrate how hard it is for foreigners to acclimate to a new country, how immigrants are constantly being taken advantage of, and that in the end, education does enhance one’s life-time dreams.  Some of the other challenges highlighted include, getting a driver’s license, working through the bureaucracy of receiving a social security card, and finding champions who will help battle through the hoops of US life.  Bixler also exposes each of the four young men’s story of survival through the most inhumane and devastatingly long wars in our world’s history.  Watching parents get tortured, peers being chased into rivers full of crocodiles ready to prey, and walking across deserts at the hottest temperatures possible with no food or water.  The book rips at one’s heart realizing that this level of human degradation occurs every day on this planet, and we as a society allow it to continue.  Religion, envy, greed, and power… they all seem to be motivators for stomping on others.  I remember watching the 60 Minutes segment a decade or so ago.  These young man are a testament to what the American Dream can be for those who have the mentorship and guidance to never give up the dream.  A compelling reminder for all that evil does lurk right around the corner and how lucky Americans are today to have the freedoms we have.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Simply Einstein

There are some books that I finish, but can’t say that I thoroughly enjoy.  Having never been a science geek, when I see books like this one, I have to gear myself up to muster the energy to get through it.  While it is not a boring topic, it is not one I can fully concentrate, hence why physics was not my best class.  You can ask my high school friends, John C. and Scott L.  We took it in senior year and had already achieved senioritis before the class began.  Hence, reading Simply Einstein by Richard Wolfson was difficult at best.  I give an RA much credit for having an academic book, probably a mandatory read in a college course, as their all-time favorite book.  Or was I duped?  It does happen every once in a while that a truly academic read would be given to me.  (I may go back and check on it, nonetheless, I did read it.)  The title says it all, the author’s goal is to have the reader believe that Einstein’s theory is easy and very applicable as a basis for all that follows, “the laws of physics are the same everywhere and every place, and light is always measured to be traveling at the same speed, regardless of how it is created or measured”.  Once you get this concept, Wolfson spends much of the next few chapters methodically sharing examples of how this is true. By doing so, he works to illustrate, “now that wasn’t so difficult to understand, was it?” … physics made easy.  Well… not so fast! What about Galileo’s theory?  Now you have a divergent approach, which Wolfson attempts to connect, albeit with a deep set of examples.  So who is right?  If in fact I was a more of a ‘How’ person rather than a, “just tell me a story” that ‘moves me’ then I may have been more interested.  This is definitely a book for a very niched population of people.  I am not in that crowd, so, it is a big pass on this one for me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

An Unquiet Mind

Imagine having clinical manic-depression and persevering to achieve a PhD in clinical psychology, getting tenure at one of the elite academic institutions in the country, and writing numerous journal articles and book chapters while conducting research and running a clinic all at the same time?  Enter the world of Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison whose struggles led her to suicide attempts, moments of exhalations, followed by deep depressions.  Dr. Jamison risked a great deal by telling her true life story, starting from her youth, through her success as a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital.  She was a pioneer in so many ways, now 70 years old, she not only broke a barrier for women entering the field, but also living with the illness by taking lithium, which can be a very dangerous drug to take.  In her story, Jamison shares the moments she first noticed the struggle, which is hereditary, (her father also suffered from the illness), and the struggles at work, in love, and in friendship.  Her divorce, lost loves, and finally finding her life partner were all explored.  This is a brave woman, who has role modeled how to overcome the odds, which were certainly stacked against her.  Jamison shared the highs and lows and opened her heart to the pains that caused her near death on a number of occasions.  What a brave woman.  For anyone who has experienced mental illness to someone close to them, this story opens up wounds, but knowing that there may be answer warms the heart.  Thanks for sharing your journey Dr. Jamison.  Worth a read.  Quick but powerful. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Everything I Never Told You

A really moving and sad story written by Celeste Ng called, Everything I Never Told You.  The first sentence sets the tone for the entire book, “Lydia is dead”…  Lydia, a sixteen year old girl is found dead in a lake not far from her house.  The rest of the book uncovers what happened along the way.  Lydia, a recluse daughter of James and Marilyn, has been taught to be shy and studious by her environment. She is a born from parents of two different cultures and races, Caucasian mother and Chinese father.  The book is set in 1977 in northern rural Ohio, where her father is a tenured history professor.  Lydia’s siblings, Nath, two years older, and Hannah, nine years younger, have all faced their fair share of stares and out-right racism, though it would not be referred to it in that day and age.  The series of events that led to her death will surprise the reader as the police deem her death a suicide.  Nath, a senior in high school, only four months from entering Harvard University as a first-year student; neighbor Jack, who grows up in a single parent household, and whose mother is a local doctor who works six days a week; and both her parents, who have had a difficult marriage, are all pivotal in the events that led to her death.  The story does an excellent job of capturing the challenges related to children born of mixed-race and heritage and how hard it is to be isolated at such a young age.  I will not ruin the ending of the story, but was surprised in what really happened.  Just goes to show, even in stories, like real life, listening intently to others can provide great clarity.  I sat down and read this book in three and a half hours as it was hard to put down.  I’d suggest this one for anyone with kids, and for those who don’t understand the complexity of multiple identities.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

I am Malala

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai is the life story of the young Pakistani teenager who fights for the freedom for other young girls to be educated.  A great education on how American reach constantly impacts the lives of those outside our country.  Malala’s book begins when she is shot in the head by a Taliban militant who wants to end her crusade to provide girls the freedom to gain an education.  The remainder of the book focuses on the years before the shooting, from her birth to the present day.  She presents the political strife from when the country was created as the first homeland for Muslims to the overthrown leaders (those killed and those who were exiled from the country), and to the takeover by the Taliban due to other forces at play in the Middle East.  Much of the politics raised, echo my previous read by Chomsky, noting the US on-again/off-again dealings with thugs who claimed to be leading the country in a way that benefitted the US.  Malala is a product of her father’s upbringing.  He was a staunch believer that girls should have the same opportunities to learn as boys.  He started a school for girls in the valley of Swat and faced the ramifications by the newly formed Taliban military faction.  Over the years the group became more and more corrupt and had a very conservative view of Muslim beliefs, such that they used terror and murder as a means to stop people who did not follow their message.  This eventually led to the shooting of Malala, who was beginning to rise as a country spokesperson in the region for education.  The last chapters of the book focus on Malala’s near death and eventual recovery from the shooting.  She has earned many awards and accolades as a young speaker and motivator for those who want to be educated.  She and her family had to be sent to England for safe haven from the Taliban.  This is a heart-warming story that captures the very essence of the cross roads our society faces today.   Malala stared evil in the eyes and is living a life worth emulating.  Her words are beyond her age, but her life experiences are not.  Every young person should read her life story and will be better able to understand why role models exist.  Have a cause, never give up, and fear nothing.  Her commitment to God, her family, and her cause are refreshing to see in this day and age of hatred, ignorance, and lack of sustained commitment.  A phenomenal story!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

How the World Works

Another politically charged book, this time Noam Chomsky’s How the World Works.  The book discusses Chomsky’s four separate articles/speeches that focus on the US and democracy.  The books focus on US policy decisions during and after WW II through the late 1990s.  Chomsky, a highly critical philosopher, political scientist, and faculty member from MIT, has studied American and world-wide political issues.  Each of the short readings all seem to follow the same message, be distrustful of those in leadership because most politicians work for big business.  His arguments, if grounded in the real data he presents, is not only compelling, but simply put, “we should be doing it!”  Chomsky discusses our alleged “commitment” to democracy and how the vast majority of American voices just don’t understand that they can change the direction of the country by being more vocal.  Chomsky outlines the funding that American leaders have given to corrupt partners in the following countries since WW II: El Salvador; Nicaragua; Panama; Vietnam; Iraq; Somalia; the former republic of Yugoslavia; Israel and Palestine; Japan; India; the Balkans; South Africa; Haiti; Cuba; Mexico; Brazil; Argentina; Chile; Columbia; Guatemala; Pakistan; and Timor (I’m sure I missed a few along the way).  Where hasn’t Chomsky studied?  He also discusses the following issues facing the US: how the Cold War worked for America; Iran/Contra escapade; the war on drugs (why are we so worried about marijuana (it’s making our jails explode); the media (which doesn’t really cover the issues we need them to do, and won’t allow him to share his thoughts); the global economy (GATT and NAFTA disasters for America); the CIA (and what it really focuses on); keeping the rich… rich; healthcare reform (and how we never have gotten to where Canada and most other countries are today); gun control; labor issues/unionization; and campaign finance reform.  Chomsky has a lot to say and he doesn’t seem to have many mainstream friends.  His criticism is jarring and consistent.  He doesn’t trust many in leadership roles and notes that the last President whom we could trust was prior to World War II.  For those studying the current state of the US, this is a must read.  It is a perspective that draws upon data and thoughtful reflection.  I haven’t read many political inquires previously, so I enjoyed it.  I’m surprised that 60 Minutes or other undercover news shows haven’t followed more on Chomsky’s work. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Long Walk to Freedom

A long but important book to have read, Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. Mandela’s autobiography on his life as well as his counterparts from the ANC (African National Congress), starts with his youth growing up in the district of Umtata, the capital of Transkei.  Mandela shares the realities of growing up in a village surrounded by poverty and little formal education.   Fortunately for him, he was chosen as one of the few young males to receive a formal education, but this meant leaving home and venturing out into Clarkbury  and then to Healdtown schools.  Mandela was early on a “trouble maker” of sorts, pushing the envelope for fairness and asking questions related to the black African plight.   Each of the chapters capture another aspect of his struggle, from receiving education (to include a law degree), working as an apprentice in a law firm, getting married twice, establishing a law firm dedicated to black Africans, and then his fight against apartheid.  Mandela’s capture after arriving in Johannesburg upon his studies, sets the stage for how he would lead in the future, advocating Ghandi’s approach of non-violent resistance, striking against the government was the response.  White Africans were outraged by this response and began their approach, arresting leaders in the ANC, whom were connected to the communist group within Africa.  Mandela was convicted for his leadership in the strike and was sentenced to five years in prison.  But during the next case against him, in the Rivonia Trial, he was charged for trying to sabotage the government.  He was found guilty, but did not get the death penalty, instead he went to jail at Robben Island with many of his ANC colleagues for 28 years.  The men on Robben Island were forced to do manual labor and many times they were sent to isolation, eating little, and being treated by force and intimidation.  As the years progressed, others continued the fight, especially pressure being placed on the South African government by outside countries to treat Black Africans as equals, giving a voice for voting and better living conditions.  Later, during his imprisonment, Mandela was given access to African government leaders, and when he was released, a highly political process, he began to work behind the scenes with South African president, de Klerk. The final chapter captures Mandela’s rise to being elected as President of South Africa, a feat no one could have ever dreamed of happening.  The book is the real-life voice of the great leader who overcame the most harrowing of challenges to change a country full of racism and hate.  A hero of our time that during these most challenging of times in the US proves that a plan of action that is consistent and on-going will prevail.  Mandela is a man for all ages and all should read this history, that unbelievably was only twenty years ago.