Sunday, September 17, 2017

Nobody

Nobody
by Marc Lamont Hill

Marc Lamont Hill’s book Nobody captures the most recent tragedies from Ferguson to Flint, from Eric Garner to Trayvon Martin, and the long list continues.  Lamont Hill not only provides the historical context of each case, but he also looks deep into the decades of how these issues have recently been catapulted into our society today.  White aggression, decades of poverty, laws that harm the poor and those who have limited resources to education - these are just some of the concerns discussed.  His research is spot-on with a long section of notes that support all of his points.  This is an essential read for anyone who questions why America is divided racially.  It is not a geographical issue within the US, i.e., South or North, but it permeates all areas of our country.  It is a hard book to read because of the realities of our society.  Every time one thinks that the killings can’t be more atrocious, the next one happens.  Young black boys carrying skittles and an Arizona Ice Tea or a man who is choked by the police screaming “I can’t breathe”…what is this world coming to?  When we can’t see the individual, when we are blinded by skin color?  We need to move from dialogue to action.  If this book doesn’t move you, I’m not sure anything will!  Thanks for the recommendation.  A compelling call to action with in-depth reasons why…    

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Intelligent Investor

The Intelligent Investor
by Benjamin Graham

Surprising that an RA would have enjoyed a dated finance book – The Intelligent Investor, by Benjamin Graham – albeit a seminal read in the industry at that time (late 1970s).  (Note that the author died in the late 1970s and the book had a latest edition in 2015 with input from Warren Buffett, which was not the version suggested.)  The book provided historical perspectives from the early days of the Stock Market (late 1890s) through the 1970s.  I’m not sure if the suggestions I read would be applicable now that mergers and acquisitions have come so far (in addition to international trade and technology), but certainly information helpful to understanding how we got to where we are today.  One suggestion that few would follow today is investing in CDs from local banks, which paid double digit interest in the late 1970s (today closer to 0.1% or lower).   The book was lauded for its value on the topic of investing.  Chapters include: the investor vs. inflation; how to think about your portfolio; the investor and market fluctuations; the investor and their advisors; and a series of case studies using top industry mergers from the era.  For business students, a great historical view on how to invest, who to best include as advisors, and a way to diversify investments.  A yawn for anyone not inclined to invest.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Overachievers

The Overachievers
by Alexandra Robbins

A must read for anyone who has a high school student preparing for the college search process in The Overachievers, by Alexandra Robbins.  Robbins goes back to her alma mater, Walt Whitman High School, in the prestigious town of Bethesda, Maryland, to follow juniors, seniors and one alum who headed to Harvard for college.  Robbins chooses a cross section of students – the nerds, athletes, social-conscious, the tease, and the popular kids.  The chapters follow the timeline of the academic year over the course of sixteen months, introducing the various issues that students face in the college search process.  Of all the stories, I appreciate Robbins’ inclusion of “APFrank”, the student who had just graduated from Walt Whitman, was moving on to Harvard and had a younger brother attending the same high school.  Robbins discusses the role of hired consultants to assist with the college process, the pressures of getting accepted to the “Ivy” institutions, the challenges of SAT prep, the peer pressure involved in alcohol consumption, finding a date for the prom, balancing academics and extra-curricular activities, and so much more.   Robbins concludes the book with where each of the students got accepted and how they made their decisions – well, decisions were made for some students who didn’t get into Stanford, Yale and Princeton.  Robbins’ best contribution is her suggestions to high schools:
Delay schools start times (start later, let kids sleep more); drop class rank (stop the competition!); de-emphasize testing; provide less competitive alternatives; assign and enforce coordinated departmental project and test days; increase awareness of self-harming behaviors; limit AP classes (yes!); and reinstitute recess time (too many overachievers take classes during lunch)
Robbins also suggests that colleges should:
Boycott the rankings; scrap the SAT; eliminate early decision; prioritize mental health concerns: send a message of what is important (well-rounded students!).
She has advice for high school counselors:
Focus on the student, not on the schools
And what should parents do?
Limit young childrens’ activities; get a life; schedule family time; place character above performance
And finally, what should students do with the support of their parents:
Stop the guilt; adjust the superstar mentality; carve an individual path; ignore the peanut gallery and accept that name doesn’t reflect ability; pare down activities, take a year off after high school; try an unrewarding activity; reclaim summer; accept that admissions aren’t personal; take charge

As you can see, a great list.  Pick up the book and enjoy reading what it is we should be doing for our high school students.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Gloria

Gloria
by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

Every year, there is at least one Tisch student who shares with me a play as their favorite book.  Today’s read was Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ top-rated play Gloria.  The character, Gloria, is a fifteen-plus-year veteran at the mid-town Manhattan magazine publication office.  Many of the young staff leave this office to go on to outstanding careers in the field.  Gloria is viewed as an awkward peer who is always trying to connect with her colleagues.  The play begins the evening after Gloria hosts a party at her home that only one staffer attends.   In the office, all other staffers make fun of Dean, the sole member who attended.  He describes how uncomfortable he felt being there.  The first act focuses on everyone’s crass comments regarding Gloria and how strange she is as a person.  The act ends with Gloria walking into the office & shooting all of her colleagues!  The rest of the play discusses how the owners of the magazine and those who survived the killings tried to produce books, screenplays, and TV pilots about Gloria’s killing of her office mates.  There are some good soliloquies and character development, but the story for me is weak, reminding me of a BRAVO or WE Network movie.  Maybe seeing it on stage might change my opinion, but I doubt it.  The subject matter is overplayed in media outlets and the reader never really gets to know Gloria - she only comes in the End of Act 1 to shoot her peers.  It does have good reviews, so maybe I am being too harsh.  Not the best read to pick-up after a number of weeks under the weather.  Hope the next one will be better. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

In the Country

In the Country
by Mia Alvar

Yet another book focused on a non-American culture, which continues to reflect the composition of the RA staff at NYU.  This book, In the Country, by Mia Alvar, is a collection of short stories which discuss the social issues that arose around the time of government turmoil in the mid-1970s through late 1980s in the Philippines.  Each story reveals different aspects of the culture: political issues, poverty, hardships on women, and government intervention in people’s daily lives.  My favorite aspect of the stories is that, in each one, there is a pivotal “plot twist” that comes as a surprise to the reader.  One of my favorites was The Virgin of Monte Ramon.  In the story, a little boy is born with no feet and lives in his wheelchair, told by his mother that he inherited the deformity from his grandfather who was injured in the army and died a hero with the same physical condition.  For years, the boy and his mother received financial support from many men in town, who appeared to have a “relationship” with his mother.  One man in particular, Dr. Delacruz, visited frequently to provide food, clothes and other amenities.  The boy was picked on by classmates because of his condition and the fact his mother was a recipient of numerous “gifts” from mature men. This left him to be ridiculed as the son of a whore. The twist to the story is that Dr. Delacruz is actually the boy’s biological father….Alvar is a young author on the rise.  Her ability to capture the realities of her culture and the horrors that occurred during the dictatorship of the country illustrate the atrocities on so many levels.  This is a book worth picking up!

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
by Marie Kondo

Went home to clean the apartment and picked up one of the RA Favorite books: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up – The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.  This ‘self-help’ book provides the reader with the steps to getting your house in order, which, in turn, will get your life in order as well.  The author explains why people have such a hard time keeping the home organized, suggesting that a little-by-little approach NEVER works.  You need to go full-out to accomplish the task, and the author extends this process to cleaning all aspects of your life (your relationships, your career, your priorities, etc.).  Some helpful hints include: NO storage units; sort by category, not by location; make tidying a special event, not a daily chore; and discard all things you need to get rid of before organizing.  She suggests keeping family away from this process as they usually serve as enablers for a messy life!  Here is the order in which to organize:
1.)    Clothing!  With a sub-order as follows:
a.       Tops (shirts, sweaters)
b.       Bottoms (pants, etc.)
c.       Clothes to be hung
d.       Socks
e.       Underwear
f.        Bags
g.       Accessories
h.       Shoes
2.)    Loungewear
3.)    Books (unread books means you’ll never read it!)
4.)    Sorting papers (get rid of old checkbooks and throw away those old electrical appliance manuals)
5.)    Miscellaneous items

Designate a place for each one.  And once you have this all taken care of, then you will be doing the daily work/maintenance!  She then shares how the ‘magic’ of a new life will appear.  Sound easy?  We will see how well the work I did last night based on the book turns out.  Pretty common-sense ideas done in a fairly quick read, one hour tops!  Excellent reading opportunity when waiting at the DMV…

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Cereus Blooms at Night

Cereus Blooms at Night
by Shani Mootoo


Mystery, intrigue, rape, desperation, hidden secrets….. this book has it and is written in beautiful prose.  The book, Cereus Blooms at Night, by Shani Mootoo, begins with the end and the author brings us to the sordid past – it reminds me of the technique used in Fried Green Tomatoes. Mala Ramchandin, viewed as a crazy elderly woman, is brought to a nursing home by the local authorities after she is found innocent of a murder in her own home.  What we don’t know is what actually happened.  The story-teller, Tyler, is a recently hired nurse at the paradise Alms House.  He is given no real work projects, but, when Mala arrives, he has the opportunity to be her private nurse.  The rest of the book gives Mala’s history and how the dead body ended in her home.  Mala was raised by her abusive father (Chandin) after her mother (Sarah) ran off with her friend and lover (Lavina), who happened to be the woman her father loved.  When her mother escaped the home, she tried taking her two daughters, but they were stopped when her father returned home from work early that day.  Chandin was raised by Lavina’s parents, and grew up as her brother.  The story unfolds with great detail and in a chronological flow, piece by piece.  Mala’s love interest as a young girl is also revealed and the role he plays in all that has unfolded. The mystery is revealed as to whom the dead body is and how it got there.  Love, friendship, homosexuality, incest, rape and guilt are all entwined in the story.  It’s a relatively quick read and also shows that people are complicated as is jealousy.  Add in the annual bloom of the cereus plant and you have a “tight” story that fits very nicely together.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Starcrossed

Starcrossed
by Josephine Angelini

Creativity in using the past to tell a story is pretty impressive, especially a story using historical characters from Greek mythology.  You have entered the world of Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini and the story of Helen (yes, based on Helen of Troy). She is a seventeen-year-old high school senior who wants to be average but has the skills and smarts to be above average.  She lives with her father, after her mother died when she was an infant.  The story is set on the beautiful island of Nantucket, where my wife and I had our honeymoon.  Helen has some strange dreams and later has a sudden hallucination of two young girls trying to strangle a classmate.  She goes into action to try and save him, but, in reality, there are no girls there and, instead, Helen attacks her classmate, Lucas, who has just moved into town.  Helen isn’t having hallucinations, as she later learns.  She has entered the world of the ancient ‘reincarnated’ Greek Gods.  Her journey will include falling in love with Lucas, who is unable to share his emotions with her because he thinks he is in her family lineage, discovering who she really is, and that her mother isn’t really dead!  Throw in the arrival of the furies and the warring family factions, the dividing family in Greek times and you have a sinister fantasy novel.  Downsides to this: it’s a trilogy (ugh!), you need to know your Greek Gods, the slow pace of ensuring they get the Greek Gods all in, and it's a “like it if you know the background” story – if you don't, this may not fit the bill.  Still, it is a well-written and fun read.  It’s one of the “adult-book type” reads.  Good for a rainy day in the summer.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Lies of Locke Lamora


The Lies of Locke Lamora
by Scott Lynch

I’m rarely a fan of serial books, so you can probably tell I won’t give this a full 5-star rating.  Combine that with a lengthy storyline with two simultaneous narratives and you have a “ho-hum” from me.  So goes the fantasy tale The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.  Written in 2006, Lynch presents a “Robin Hood”-type story with robbers trying to do some good for themselves and their clan, but also a repeated story of disguise, escape, and violence.  The main story focuses on Locke and his associates’ fight with the ‘Grey King’ for leadership of the underground world while the secondary story provides context through detailing the history of the town Camorr and the gang called the “Gentleman Bastards”.  The author’s approach in writing this way kept me confused at times and losing interest at others.  I will say there were moments of action that really enlivened the plot, especially the closing sequence.  But then I realized there is a part two, three, etc.  If you like fantasy books, you may enjoy this one – unfortunately, I did not.  

Friday, July 28, 2017

Family Under the Bridge


The Family Under the Bridge
by Natalie Savage Carlson

The diversity of books on this year’s RA Favorite Book list continues to amaze me.  Finished Natalie Savage Carlson’s book Family Under the Bridge, a short children’s story describing a family that loses financial resources and is forced to live on the streets, under a bridge.  The family, comprised of a single mother, three children and a dog, is left to find a place to live within the city of Paris.  Luckily, they meet an old, humble “homeless man,” referred to as a ‘hobo’ in the book, who resembles Santa Claus.  Armand, the hobo, is immediately drawn to the three children and takes them through the city to address their hunger, lack of clothes, and homelessness.  The story takes place during the Christmas season, and in the end, Armand is able to deliver the family the best holiday present ever.  This is a heart-warming tale that illustrates to youth the importance of caring for those who have limited resources and how good fortune can strike when you open your heart.  Great for young children to read.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Me Before You

Me Before You
by Jojo Moyes


I finished one of the best reads of this year’s RA Favorite books in Jojo Moyes’ acclaimed book, Me Before You.  Down on her luck, Luisa Clark, a late-twenties waitress, loses her job when her cafĂ© closes. She needs to find a new job to assist her parents and sister with finances as her father is on the verge of losing his own job.  Luisa is sent to the job retraining agency, and they suggest she assists a paraplegic for a six-month contract.  Luisa interviews with a stoic older woman, whom Luisa thinks is the wife of the invalid.  She is excited by the pay, more than minimum wage, and is surprised when offered the job since she has no prior experience in the field.  Luisa’s family is overjoyed by the news but also concerned she will be taking care of an old man.  Luisa learns that her patient is Will Traynor, a thirty-five-year-old who was permanently crippled in an auto accident.  On her first visit she realizes why the pay was so high for the position – Will is a very angry man who, at the height of his life in business and as a lady’s man, would never be able to take care of himself again.  She initially plans on quitting after her first days but is convinced by her sister that the family needs her income.  Luisa continues, even when her boyfriend, a top-level athletic trainer and triathlete, suggests this job is more than she can handle.  Luisa is thrown a twist when she overhears a conversation between Will’s mother and sister that he is planning on an assisted suicide in Switzerland. This was after a six-month agreement with his parents to hold off on this decision.  The rest of the book turns into “a love story” as Luisa works to change Will’s mind. Without even knowing him, she tries to convince him to stay alive and engages Will’s parents in the effort.  In the process, Luisa realizes that she loves Will and leaves her boyfriend.  The journey with Will is rocky, but he comes to see Luisa as a blessing – but will he change his mind regarding the assisted suicide?  This book has it all: ethical/moral decisions, poor/rich connection, and a love story for the ages.  Beautifully written with great character development.  This is a tear jerker and I certainly shed a few.  Hope you get a chance to read this one.  

Monday, July 24, 2017

Gang Leader for a Day


Gang Leader for a Day
by Sudhir Venkatesh

As a first-year doctoral student studying in the sociology program at University of Chicago, Sudhir Venkatesh is asked to look into the issue of poverty among low income people living in the housing projects.  Sudhir takes his survey to the streets and meets a man, J.T., who helps him learn about the inner working of the street gangs and all that is wrong in the poverty stricken Chicago area.  The story is an amazing inside look into poverty, gangs, money, sex, drugs, and all things that keep low income citizens from getting the support they need.  It is unbelievable that the author was given so much information from both the people who lived in the housing projects and the local police who have a tendency to suppress these people.  The hierarchy of “who is in charge” is complicated and exists as much in the projects as one sees in other areas of society.  The insertion of Sudhir, an Indian American, into an African American community also adds another dimension to the issue of race.  If you ever thought about a career as a sociologist, this one is for you.  The author spent six years in the most incredible “behind the scenes” locations within the gang world and has the details to prove it!  I listened to this one on tape, which included an interview with the author sharing his experience a few years after the book was written.  The author is now a faculty member at Columbia University.  

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running


What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
by Haruki Murakami

A personal favorite author of mine is once again represented in an RA book pick, and I’m glad to say I haven’t read it - until today.  Haruki Murakami’s memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, is a really fun read.  The author describes how he improved as an author through his commitment to running starting at age 33.  Between the time he started running and the book’s publishing date, he had run 23 marathons and averaged over 30+ miles a week!  After the marathons, he started focusing on triathlons. In one of the book's chapters, he discusses how he overcame his inability to swim through a personal trainer.  Like all skills, Murakami suggests that it is practice and talent that gets one to be good. He first perfected his skills as an author, and now we learn he’s a great runner as well!  He provides helpful hints and even a training regime in the book.  He doesn’t suggest that everyone should become a runner but that it has to be something you are internally motivated to do.  He shares stories from races, how to get through that last mile, and his 2005 journey to run his first NYC Marathon.  While he is not a pro, he has talent and believes he has vastly improved through his daily ritual of running.  This is a “tell-all” book about his rise as an athlete and his realization that, today, he couldn’t live without running.  I always enjoy reading books from novelists who show a new side to themselves, and surely Murakami has done so in this short book.  This is a great read for anyone who wants to excel at something and knows that physical exertion can bring calm, good health and clarity of mind.  I admire him more and more just thinking about his commitment to push himself to a new level.  Good book!

Monday, July 17, 2017

On Love



On Love
by Alain de Botton

I really enjoyed today’s book by Alain de Botton, which I finished while sitting on a beach in upstate NY. The book is titled On Love in the US (and Essays in Love in the UK).  The brilliance of the book is the ease with which the reader moves through the storyline and how the character evolves over time.  The author writes in a way that speaks to the emotions of anyone who has ever been in love.  The story moves chronologically and captures the phases of love through introduction, getting to know one another (an awkward stage), falling in love, staying in love, and then the crazy way love ends.  A twenty-something man and woman meet on an air flight from Paris to London, by chance sitting next to each other.  After pleasantries and realizing how different they are, a pseudo-comfort emerges, and here begins a journey of love!  De Botton captures every phase of the process, naming each chapter: Romantic Fatalism, Idealization, Subtext of the Seduction, Authenticity, Mind and Body, False Notes, Speaking Love, What Do You See in Her?, Intimacy….you get the idea.  De Botton’s male character is an architect and falls for Chloe, a hard-working business woman, who has been in love many times before.  Each phase is tested by both characters, with one taking the lead in the relationship at one point and the other at another point until a sudden action changes it all (I’ll save the heartbreak for you as this is quite a good read and don’t want to spoil it).  I loved the stories and the intricacies of the relationship that is shared.  It really does speak to anyone who has have fallen in love, been dumped or is in love now.  You will understand all of the phases, the guidance that he provides, and have a chance to reflect on a central question: what do you really want in a relationship?  Great read.

Blackbird


Blackbird
by Larry Duplechan

I’m in the reading groove for RA Favorite books – four books in four days!  Just finished Blackbird by Larry Duplechan, the coming-of-age story of a seventeen-year-old African American boy growing up in the Los Angeles area and how he comes to terms with his sexual orientation.  This book, in many ways, falls into the “Jodi Picoult” type of book, capturing a wide range of issues in a single story.   Johnnie Ray Rousseau, an aspiring actor/singer, gets rejected from the lead of his senior year play because of his race, but this rejection sets him on a path to discover something else. He finds his first homosexual love encounter, which gives him the confidence to tell his parents that he is gay.  This is a quintessential 1980’s story, featuring dated beliefs surrounding homosexuality.  It was lauded at the time as a book that helped break barriers on young gay men’s identity issues.  This high school drama includes: religious zealots in the community, a teenage pregnancy, suicide, a father beating his son when he finds he is in bed with another male, dual personality disorder, and older male seduction of our lead character.  At times I felt it was pretty raw and attempted to be a gay version of the Holden Caulfield story.  It shows the stark contrast between the view of homosexuality in that decade compared to how it is seen today.  This might read well for younger teenagers from more remote locations of our states.  There were some pretty stereotypical “gay” references that the story could have done without.  It was ok, but it may have resonated better with a reader from that time period.

    

Citizen


Citizen
by Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine’s book, Citizen, was a relatively quick read (90 minutes) but did an excellent job describing the many challenges that Black Americans face.  The book mixes images, artwork, and experiences ranging from microaggresions to assault of Black people in the US.  From Serena Williams and the times she faced racial discrimination from tennis judges to the physical attack of one man trying to drive home, pulled over by the police because of the color of his skin.  Her seven-chapter book made me stop and pause, realizing how privileged I am because I’m a white male. I am not subjected to conscious and subconscious attacks because of the color of my skin.  The chapters are short but cut deep into the fabric of the problems our country faces.  Rankine’s words are direct and offer the reader an opportunity for self-reflection.  She discloses her own journey through a handful of experiences in which she was treated differently, from her job search to being the only black student in a classroom.  Chapter six is the hardest to read as she chronicles the stories of so many Black Americans (Treyvon Martin and James Craig Anderson) who have died at the hands of those more privileged, followed by stories of Hurricane Katrina victims.  A lot of perspective can be gained through exposure to the struggles that non-white people face.  I plan on using some chapters in the book for my class on campus community.  Well written using a “millennial format” – big font, less text on the page.  It will be hard for me to put away the perspectives of non-majority people having read this book.  Thanks to Claudia Rankine for sharing a perspective that needs to be told.  A must read.

Too Big to Fail


Too Big to Fail
by Andrew Ross Sorkin

Finished a long, LONG book on the financial crisis that plagued the states in 2008: the subprime mortgage fiasco.  Not surprisingly, the book, Too Big to Fail, by Andrew Ross Sorkin, was the favorite of an NYU Stern business school student.  The story chronicles how the US Government, led by Hank Paulson (Secretary of the Treasury) and Tim Geithner (President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York), helped the sale of the beleaguered Bear Sterns, watched Lehman Brothers & AIG both implode and observed JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs near the brink of collapse.  The watchful eye of the government was not well received by the American people as the rich got richer!  This behind-the-scenes exposĂ© was filled with information from text messages, emails, documents from the government, and personal stories from participant interviews.  An amazing story depicting the struggle of greedy men fighting to maintain their wealth and reputation….It’s a long one that gives great perspective on the inner workings of wealthiest of the wealthy.  If you are interested in the banking world, this one is great at tracking how things went bad.

Monday, July 10, 2017

American Pastoral


American Pastoral
by Philip Roth

Finished listening to another favorite book.  I have noticed a higher percentage of RA’s sharing new books (42% of those I am meeting compared to 36% last year).  Today I finished American Pastoral by Philip Roth. Roth uses his ‘alter ego’ from previous stories, Nathan Zuckerman, an author, as the narrator of the story.  Zuckerman begins his story by meeting a classmate (Jerry Luvov) at their 45th high school reunion.  Jerry shares the story of his brother, Seymour “Swede” Luvov, whose nickname comes from his great looks and athletic build.  Swede is a star athlete and inherited the family business, a baseball glove-making factory.  Jerry shares the tragic story of Swede’s life. 

Swede was married to a state beauty contest winner and Princeton graduate and had a daughter, Merry (short for Meredith).  The Swede and his wife had different religious affiliations (Swede, Jewish & Sylvia, Catholic), which may have played a part in Merry’s confused state.  Merry had a horrible stutter and later became an anti-Vietnam warrior.  At age 16 she made a bomb and blew up a local building, which killed one innocent person.  Merry ran away and, five years later, her father found her and discovered she was the culprit in the bombing.  Swede was supposed to live a perfect life – instead, his daughter blows up a building and his wife has an affair with their doctor, who apparently also helped Merry evade the law after the bombing.  The story is told after the Swede has died with Nathan reliving all the moments through Jerry.   A rather lively story, especially as told through the voice of a true NY Jewish man, which I loved!  Compelling story, great action, and the unveiling of a man who really deserved better than what he got from his wife and daughter, and who dies at 68 from prostate cancer.  Loved the twist at the end of the story of why and how the Swede’s father died.  It all comes together.  Exceedingly well written and holds the reader in interest throughout.  Great book!

Friday, July 7, 2017

A Little Life


A Little Life
by Hanya Yanagihara

Such a depressing and emotionally draining book.  Hard to say I could ever read something like this again.  I knew listening to it that the subject matter seemed very similar to another book I had read, People in the Tree, and, surprisingly, it was by the same author: Hanya Yanagihara.  The subject matter and storyline of this book, A Little Life, bothered me so much that it took me a long time to finish.  I was forced to seek advice from some Facebook friends on how to finish a book you really didn’t like.  The story is about four college friends but focuses mainly on the life of Jude, who walks with a severe limp.  His three male friends all struggle after college with their careers, but as the story continues, all become leaders in their fields of study: lawyer, artist, actor, and financial investor.  Jude is close to the friends but always holds back sharing his past and his life in general.  As the book progresses, the reader learns why.  Jude was orphaned as a child and grew up in a Christian home with religious men who sexually abused him.  Later, Jude escaped and was taken to another home, but he was again sexually abused.  He then ran away and became a prostitute but was soon captured by a mentally ill doctor who attempted to kill him by running him over.  In the end, he survives, receives an education and is reunited with his three best friends.  The rest of the story chronicles how Jude struggles to live a normal life – but that never happens. Instead, he turns to self-harm to avoid thinking about the pain of his past experiences.  His friend, Willem, now a world renowned actor, falls in love with Jude and they attempt to work through his self-harm.  Jude is also adopted as an adult by his law school mentor, the friend who stands by and watches the self-harm. But another tragedy strikes: Willem tragically dies in an accident after the two begin moving forward in their relationship.  There is one final tragedy in this story, but I’ll leave the last one for you to read, if you can get through this one.  This is probably one of the worst books I have ever read.  Yes, I am someone who enjoys “happily ever after” books, and I can generally deal with tragic endings, but this one is over the top.  I’m sure someone will get something out of this one, but I’d warn anyone considering this read that the author clearly has a proclivity towards pedophilia and sexually repressed older men.  I personally would not recommend this book: the length and content did me in.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Deep Secrets



Deep Secrets
by Niobe Way

I will admit, it’s hard reading an RA Favorite book that is clearly a text book for a psychology class, but so it goes…and how do I know it is a book for class? Well, it is written by a NYU faculty member!  Niobe Way’s Deep secrets: Boys’ friendships and the crisis of connection is the subject of this post.  Dr. Way’s findings surprised me – I didn’t think that 14 to 18-year-old adolescents were as interested in same sex friendships as she describes.  Dr. Way provides a review of all recent literature on young boys’ thinking about their gender and notes how her book is slightly different in its approach.  She studied male youth from New York City, which offers a rich diversity of ethnicity and socio-economic backgrounds.  She details the hidden issues that complicate the relationships that young boys so desire to have, or at least those the researcher believes are most relevant.  Much of what I read seemed almost like common sense.  She weaved in literature and direct quotes from young men she studied for all four years of their high school experience.  She focused on the developmental changes within the students from one year to another.  While many changed as they engaged in relationships with girls for the first time, the desire to have ‘solid’ best friends to rely on did not waiver.  I started to think back to my own friendships and what I experienced during high school, albeit it was different as I attended an all-boys military school (so I think we were a year or so behind developmentally)!  Even though I have two boys, I still didn’t find this to be a book for the top of my list.  I would only recommend this book should you decide to enter a doctoral program in adolescent psychology, and, in that case, maybe it will be one of the required readings.  In the end, always fun to see an NYU faculty member have their book added to the RA Fav list.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Green Giants


Green Giants
by E. Freya Williams

Companies that have changed their way of doing things are captured in E Freya Williams’ book, Green Giants: How smart companies turn sustainability into billion-dollar businesses.  Williams notes that the big nine companies who have crossed over into socially conscious organizations include: Chipotle, Unilever, Whole Foods Market, Natura, and Tesla with brand lines from IKEA, GE, and Toyota.   The book studies why the Green Giants are so important for social responsibility, and how other companies can learn from their example.  She suggests that there are six factors that comprise the making of a Green Giant company, which include: being an iconoclastic leader, disruptive innovator, having a higher purpose than simply making money; integrating sustainable practices into the core structures of the business, creating mainstream appeal, and creating transparency in all that they do.  Yes, Williams shows that if the company follows this formula, they too could be a billion-dollar business.  She even offers some 2015 new companies that may be on the list in the near future, such as Aflalo, Everlane, Zady, and Dig Inn.  Also watch out for Panera Bread, another company looking to follow these processes.  It certainly makes a consumer think about WHY we should be purchasing from companies that apply these principles as we only have one world.  Everyone should read a book that teaches us the impact of companies who invest in our environment.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Purple Hibiscus



Purple Hibiscus
by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie

I love this time of the year, it’s always a reading frenzy!  Nice summer days away with lots of free time to read numerous RA Fav Books.  Finished another book, Purple Hibiscus, by author Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie.  The book is set in Nigeria during the time of political unrest and difficult economic times within the country and focuses on the Achike family: Eugene (father), Chukwuka (mother), Kambili (daughter), Jaja (son).  The story is told through the eyes of Kambili, aged fifteen, whose family lives in much greater means than her neighbors.  Her father, a devote Catholic, almost zealot-like, is seen as the leader within the community and helps oversee the local newspaper, which is very outspoken against the political regime attempting to take power.  Eugene expects his family to reject all appearances of sin, pray multiple times a day, and to avoid ALL things that would have them turn against God, even to the point of beating his family (which he does often throughout the book).  Kambili and Jaja are the main focus of his anger, beating them in different ways to punish them for their evil ways.  Kamili and Jaja have a support mechanism in their aunt Ifeoma, who is a professor at the university.  She is able to pry the kids away at times, which leads to Kambili’s attraction to a local priest.  In many ways, the book captures the extreme ways in which religion can hurt a family.  Aunt Ifeoma helps Kambili to see that life should be much more moderate, but she herself is subjected to the brutality of the political unrest, losing her university teaching position because she refuses to teach the propaganda of the new regime who has taken power.  Kambili’s mother soon realizes that her father is only getting worse and decides to take matters into her own hands.  While I could give the ending away, that is never a fun thing to do on a blog.  So, I will say that lessons are learned every day in our lives and the sins of our thoughts and actions all have consequences, as they do for the Achike family.  Adichie is adept at bringing the reader to a faraway land, but in this era of social media and technology, we are reminded just how small this world really is!  One can always learn lessons and about other cultures from her books.

The Defining Decade


The Defining Decade
by Dr. Meg Jay
I really enjoy reading books by psychologists who share their perspectives on issues most pressing to our society based on client sessions. In Dr. Meg Jay’s book, The Defining Decade – Why your twenties matter and how to make the most of them now, the topic of concern is: what do we do with the ‘twenty-somethings’?  Having two sons that fit that description, I eagerly read through this one.  Jay breaks the book into three sections: Work, Love and the Brain & Body.  I often pass along a mantra to my own life-coaching clients: “take action often, and think a little less”.  Young millennials don’t want work to define them – they want to ‘enjoy’ life. Yet they also live in a world where everything is glamorized on social media, which suggests you have to do amazing things and everyone has to be watching.  Jay offers some sound wisdom through her weekly sessions with lost and unsatisfied millennials.  She suggests the newest craze is to use ‘weak ties’, which is defined as the friend of a friend of a friend whom you heard did something similar to what you want to do.  Begin to think about that which you are curious rather than letting it stay unknown.  And NO, your life doesn’t need to be glamorized on social media. Who cares what people think – it’s what you think of your life that matters and you should customize it to YOU, YOUR wants, YOUR goals and desires.  In the area of love, Jay suggests picking your future family (in-laws and spouse) based on true ‘likeability’ factors (remember, this may be a lifelong connection!).  Jay notes some of the downsides in “the cohabitation effect” and that partners may not really get a feel for life in a committed relationship through the pre-marital experiment.  And finally, she explains how you really need to like the person you are dating, not just the idea of being with someone because all of your friends are in relationships.  Her last section focuses on research gained from the brain.  All common sense and helpful.  I plan on giving this book to my sons as it is a helpful tool to reflect on the idea of “I am responsible for what and who I am”.     

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Book of Basketball


The Book of Basketball
by Bill Simmons

A really LONG historical perspective on professional basketball in the US written by Bill Simmons, The Book of Basketball.  Simmons describes how the NBA became a part of who he is after his father purchased season tickets for the Boston Celtics when he was six years old.  Not only was it a bonding experience for father and son, it became Simmons’ door to a world that allowed him to become the writer he is today.  Simmons chronicles lists of the top 100 players, best teams of all time, and the biggest mistakes teams made in the history of the game.  He also provides a litany of other fun lists, such as the best players turned horrible television announcers, the worst trades, “what if these things didn’t happen,” worst personal issues that occurred, and best all-time championship series.  Simmons goes into the statistics of players, sharing the ‘why’ behind all of his assertions.  He captures the high points in the NBA and the lowest points, the merger of the ABA and NBA, bad owners, and ideas to make the game better.   This is a MUST read for the basketball aficionado.  He goes into great detail on all his points and has strong opinions throughout.  Simmons loves the game and does a terrific job demonstrating his knowledge each and every step of the way.  This is NOT a quick read, but for those of my generation, you will remember most of the moments he shares.  The book keeps one’s attention from the first page.  I enjoyed it thoroughly.  For non-sports readers, I don’t think this will make your list. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Of Human Bondage


Of Human Bondage
by W. Somerset Maugham
Driving in my car to Providence, RI, Washington, DC and Philadelphia, PA provided a lot of time to listen to a fairly long audiobook, Of Human Bondage, by W. Somerset Maugham.  The story begins with the death of Helen Carey months after her husband’s death, leaving son Philip orphaned.  Philip, age nine, was moved to live with his aunt and uncle, Luisa and William, at their home.  William was a pastor and treated Philip as a student and eventually sent him to a boy’s boarding school.  The transition was difficult for Philip as he had a club foot, a physical deformity that haunted him throughout much of his life.  Philip was well educated, spending much of his time reading due to his physical handicap.  He was aloof and distant from his classmates, demonstrating a fierce independence that led him to leave the boarding school and his relative’s home for an adventure to Germany.  Much of Philip’s life consisted of exploring many potential careers while attempting to find a companion who would show him the affection he so desired.  Philip’s travels included Paris, London and other cities that he felt ‘called him to visit’.  Philip attempts a life as an artist, doctor, business, and midwife, all while he tries to find love.  Philip has bad luck with women – some of those who fall in love with him commit suicide when he doesn’t reciprocate the feeling, and one that he fell in love with, Mildred, uses him for his money.  This is truly a coming of age book that covers the story of a man who is searching for love and his dream career but finds himself settling for a career that is routine, marriage, and a comfortable life.  Maybe we should be satisfied with what is in front of us, rather than thinking it is always “around the corner”, somewhere else.  Somerset presents a complex character who we loathe but eventually learn to support. Perhaps there is a little bit of Philip in all of us.  Truly a classic.  Complete character development in a life that is worth living.  Kudos!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Mother Night



Mother Night
by Kurt Vonnegut

I have only enjoyed one of Kurt Vonnegut’s book, but I can now add a second, Mother Night, to the list.  Vonnegut’s far-fetched creativity makes for a very memorable book.  This is a pseudo memoir of Howard Campbell, Jr., a former American living in Germany during the Nazi occupation.  Campbell, born in the US, moves to Germany with his parents and remains in the country after his parents return home.  He works as a writer/playwright and later newscaster for Nazi radio, marries a German actress and is secretly approached by the US military to be a spy, sharing intelligence via his daily radio broadcasts. The story begins seventeen years after the war when he returns to the US, living in the West Village (right near NYU!).  Campbell had kept his life private through the help of the US intelligence agencies, but now word is out that the ‘Nazi sympathizer’ is living in New York City.  This wildly entertaining story tells of the quest to determine whether he is a spy or in fact a supporter of the Nazis and discusses his deceased wife, the leader of the White Supremacist group, the retired US military intelligence agent, and veterans from WWII who are out to kill Howard.  All converge to find Howard in a climax that involves him being tried as an anti-American spy.  Will he be found guilty?  Will the US secret intelligence save him?  Does he want to be saved?  Will Howard ever be able to understand his role in the Nazi downfall?  Only Vonnegut can capture this type of absurdity – yes, the absurdity of our lives.

A Corner of the Universe


A Corner of the Universe
by Ann M. Martin

When you think you know everything in your life, guess what: you may not.  So goes the story of Hattie Owen, who, at the age of twelve, learns she has an uncle, Adam, whom she never knew existed.  So begins the summer of 1960 in Ann M. Martin’s book, A Corner of the Universe.  Hattie’s family takes in boarders as their primary source of income while her father works as an artist. Hattie helps with small tasks around the house, engaging with her housemates each day, which adds to the intrigue in this novel.  Hattie overhears her mother speaking to her grandmother of some impending concern.  She suspects someone is very ill but is later told by her parents of Uncle Adam, a mentally challenged twenty-one-year-old who is returning home to live with her grandparents due to his school’s closure.  Hattie befriends him and the two become close, though his presence results in her being teased by classmates more so than before.  All of this occurs as the carnival comes to town where Hattie meets a new friend, Leila, the carnival owner’s niece. Adam’s behavior challenges Hattie’s grandparents, who try to contain his emotional swings.  Adam loves to wander through the neighborhood and eventually falls for Angel Valentine, one of the boarders in Hattie’s home.  Hattie’s birthday present, a free trip through the carnival with Leila, brings near tragedy when she sneaks Adam with her away from her grandparents’ house.  Adam joins the two girls on the rides, the food, and the shows, but trouble comes when the Ferris wheel breaks down.  Adam has a meltdown.  The two girls try to calm him down, but he attempts to leave the seat and almost falls to the ground as the police are called.  Hattie is later grounded for taking Adam out of the house.  The final event that changes the lives of all involved is when Adam brings flowers to Angel, the boarder.  He goes to her room, opens the door and finds her with her boyfriend in a very compromising position.  This enrages Adam, who runs away.  After a long search, Adam is found behind the house, having hung himself. 

Mental health issues are around all of us.  Hattie’s journey is one in which she befriends a family member she never knew, and it ends with her speaking at Adam’s funeral. She stood up against the intolerance shown towards Adam as a result of his mental illness, instead describing why he was such a good uncle, even though she hadn’t known him long.  This is a beautiful story with a message of love, acceptance and personal growth.  One never knows what can happen over a childhood summer vacation.  A great story for youth and anyone else who needs to see the power of love. 

The Book of Lost Things


The Book of Lost Things
by John Connolly
Finished a heart-warming story by John Connolly in his book The Book of Lost Things.  Twelve year-old David struggles with the death of his mother.  A few months later, his father finds a young woman, Rosa, who was an administrator at the hospital that David’s mother died.  David, a quiet and reserved young child, spends his time reading books and traveling deeply into his own mind.  David’s father ends up marrying Rosa and they all move in to her family mansion, providing a new space for David to deal with his demons.  David experiences much grief with the loss of his mother, a new step-mother, and then the arrival of a step-brother, Gregory.  His relationship with Rosa worsens and, after a verbal fight, he is forced to give up reading books and punished by being sent to his room, where a voice calls him to the backyard. There, he enters a hole in the garden wall leading to ‘another world’.  The journey leads David to believe he can find his mother but, the longer he is there, the more he wants to get back to his real life.  The journey includes meeting a woodsman, a eunuch, seven dwarfs, the ‘crooked man’, a huntress, and the need to find the King, whom he is told can give him the book of lost things to escape this underworld.  During his journey, David finds the strength within himself to fight back demons and other evil spirits that attempt to pull him down.  In the end, he learns that the ‘crooked man’ can only live if he has the soul of a child captured in his hour glass, and David needs to make the decision to give up his step-brother Georgie, or save himself to go back home.  David triumphs in the end and is returned home!  The author provides a brief overview of the rest of David’s life and how he becomes a writer.  The journey is thrilling and has twists and turns throughout.  A coming-of-age story that leaves the reader imagining how David will escape each and every challenge he faces – which he does!  A thoroughly entertaining piece that reminds one that books have a lot of lost things in them, including emotions that get developed through great writing.  Great story!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

When You Reach Me


When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead
Rebecca Stead is the author of When You Reach Me, a book that chronicles the life of Miranda Sinclair, a twelve-year-old girl, who lives in NYC with her mother. Miranda receives some cryptic anonymous notes asking her to track her future actions.  She is unsure what this will mean but does becomes more conscious of her actions. She also pays attention to what happens to her good friend, Sal, who mysteriously removes himself from regular contact with her after being beaten up by fellow classmate Marcus after school one day.  While on the home front, Miranda’s mom and her boyfriend, Richard, spend time prepping her to be a contestant on the TV game show The $20,000 Pyramid.  They believe the winning funds would help them escape their current financial challenges, living in an apartment complex that is falling apart.  Miranda meets and engages with a homeless man, whom she dubs the “laughing man,” who later plays a pivotal role when Sal runs away from Marcus.  The “laughing man” saves Sal’s life when he runs in the street to an oncoming truck but loses his own.  Miranda realizes there is more to this man’s presence and starts to reflect on the cryptic notes she received earlier.  With the help of the concept of time travel, Miranda eventually realizes that Marcus and the “laughing man” are one in the same!  There was a lot put into this story, and it seems pretty complicated for a book aimed at young teenagers.  I did enjoy the chapter titles, which were the same as the categories in the $20,000 Pyramid.  Otherwise, a lot of build up for a story that just wasn’t all that interesting.