Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Big Little Lies


Big Little Lies
by Liane Moriarty

As vacation comes to an end, I finished another RA Favorite book: Big Little Lies by Liane Morairty.  Set in Australia, the book brings together the stories of a group of mothers whose children are entering kindergarten in a local public school.  Each of the three main characters are connecting through their children and their own journeys in life: neglect, refusal, and rape/domestic violence at the hands of men.  At the same time, a side story is presented through the children, one of whom is wrongly accused of bullying another child in the classroom.  In the end, the characters and stories all tie in when a tragedy occurs involving the death of one of the women's husbands.  In many ways, the book reminds me of a Jodi Piccoult book, where the story is okay but the message is the ‘main thing’ that makes it worth reading.  I have heard that the book turned into a movie/TV series, which was pretty popular.  Unsure how different the book is from the movie.  I did listen to this one on tape, so the dramatic effect was much akin to a movie.  It is a microcosm of much of what happens in our society today: ‘urban legend’ fiction becoming fact and the inevitable bonding over shared misery.  A bit of what was termed many years ago as the “chick flick” genre.  Real life at its best.  It does have some good “oh wow, I didn’t expect that” moments.  Probably a good beach read. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

I'm Still Here


I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
by Austin Channing Brown

Thanks to Tyler Miller for suggesting I read I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown. The book was suggested as an additional reading for my class on campus communities, which I think fits very nicely.  The author shares her real life experience as a black woman in a white world.  She begins by sharing how she is a ‘minority’, one of only a few black children in her school, and the experience of hearing the “n” word used by a classmate. She also details the tiring role of being an educator when a well-meaning white person shows both their privilege and their ignorance through words/actions.  What I appreciate in the book is the author’s honesty and transparency, not hiding the exhaustion resulting from her daily work as a racial justice educator.  Brown’s book differs from others by bringing in the Christian perspective, which speaks to me.  She packs a great deal of lessons in this very short 180+ page read.  For being such a young woman, Brown provides valuable life lessons, and I would add this as a must-read for all white people who really want to understand the daily challenges of living in the skin of a black person.  Ignorance doesn’t cut it, so read books like Brown’s or Renee Watson’s book (from the perspective of a high school student) or Ta-Nehisi Coates’ (a contemporary black author) who also shares his life experiences, raw and personal.  White America still needs to hear the lessons that MLK, James Baldwin, and Malcom X shared fifty years ago, many of which seem to have gone unheard.  It is more than time to be uncomfortable and hear first-hand how we are stuck as a society in the US, still bound in the chains that don’t let people of color be truly free from the verbal and non-verbal, conscious or unconscious, attacks that occur each and every day.  Important read for all.

  

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Healing of America


The Healing of America
by T. R. Reid

I often wonder how students select their favorite book, and this one is no different.  While the book is very educational and helpful in understanding the state of health care in our society today, I don’t think I would take it with me to a deserted island or give it to a best friend for a present.  Nonetheless, it provides perspective on how different countries approach health care.  The book, The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care by T. R. Reid, details the author’s journey to get his shoulder ‘fixed’ from an old injury sustained while in the military. During the process, he decides to find how other country’s health care would address his needs as a patient.  Reid actually visited physicians and had the same injury evaluated and was also able to get costs for the corrective work.  Needless to say, the US system was one of the worst!  (Note this was done prior to the health care reform bill passed during President Obama’s term in office).  As Reid argues, providing health care to all citizens is a moral and ethical issue, so why doesn’t the US do it just as the rest of the world?  Reid goes to France (rated #1 by the World Health Organization), Germany, Japan, UK, Canada and Asia to see physicians.  He provides in-depth data that helps to illustrate how far behind we really are in relation to other countries (with the exception of our research and facilities/equipment).  In the end, we should provide equal access to all.  Again, helpful read for all, but especially those studying global public health or related fields.  Will become dated in a few years as it was written in 2009.  

Friday, July 27, 2018

Parenting Out of Control


Parenting Out of Control
by Margaret K. Nelson

Thanks to Kristin Balicki for sharing this book as part of the preparation for Pre-College students at NYU.  She used the books to prepare staff who will interact with parents and their high school students coming to NYU this summer.  The book is called Parenting Out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Times by Margaret Nelson, a sociologist at Middlebury College specializing in parenting.  The book is the result of a study of 97 parents across socio-economic backgrounds and various regions of the United States to better understand how they “manage” the relationship between them and their children.  Her question focused on the motivation of parents who were adamant about knowing their child’s every move and would buy into any technology that secured that knowledge.  She then wondered if these were the same parents who were engaged in hyper vigilant practices – so controlling of their children and unwilling to launch them into adulthood. Nelson clearly did her homework given the hundreds of citations throughout the book.  My critique of the book is that it is rather redundant.  After she answers the questions early in chapter two, the rest of the book continues to answer the same question.  The final conclusion? Middle class parents who work in professions considered to be “white-collar” seem to be more hands off than lower socio-economic class parents who have more to worry about their children because they aren’t there to watch them.  OK.…  97 parents being interviewed made for a pretty generalizable study?  I’ll leave that for the reader to decide.  I was hoping for a bit more information on the parenting piece.  The info on the latest technology parents could use was quite robust.  In many ways, I felt like it was a book more about the technology and what was working/not working for parents.  Ho-hum…. Read the conclusion, probably all you need to read.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Art of Community

The Art of Community 
by Charles H. Vogl

When I did a call to Facebook friends for books on “community” for the class I am teaching in the fall, I didn’t expect to find such a great book in The Art of Community by Charles Vogl. He learned about community through the process of forming one as a PhD student at Yale.  Vogl draws upon the rich history of the various religious heritages to illustrate his seven principles of community. The book is easy to read and can help any community organizer, religious leader, or even a student affairs professional.  Vogl, who never felt he experienced true community before, learns how to do it, and then goes on to write about it.  So accessible and a real treat for anyone who needs to train RAs in the coming month for building community.  Thanks to Elizabeth Cox for sending the recommendation!  I’ll be using the book for class in the fall.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Sing, Unburied, Sing


Sing, Unburied, Sing
by Jesmyn Ward

And yes, the rain continues…so I finished yet another book, this one a gift from the President’s Office at NYU for assisting in the selection process for the Presidential Fellows initiative. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward is an award-winning book set in rural, “deep south” Mississippi.  This is a beautiful story that brought tears to my eyes.  Written in the voices of three characters, a grandson (JoJo), a mother (Leonie), and a man who died at a young age (Richie, who served in jail with JoJo’s grandfather decades ago), come together to explore their fears and what got them to today.  Family dynamics are a very complicated thing, but add race, hate, and the evils that become of them into the lives of one black family in the depths of Mississippi and it’s a whole different story.  Pop, JoJo’s grandfather, serves as his father when Jojo’s real father, Michael, a white man, is imprisoned.  Pop and Mam, his grandmother who suffers from terminal cancer, have raised him and his younger sister, Kayla, while his mother, Leonie, works (or does drugs, whichever she has the time or money to do).  It is usually the evils in the past that cloud the present, and, for this family it is the tragic death (murder) of their son (Leonie’s brother, Given) and the death of Pop’s friend from decades before that has this family where they are today.  Ward interweaves the spirits of the past into this haunting reality.   I highly recommend this book to all.  The truth of how our pasts never leave us is front and foremost in this book.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Piecing Me Together


Piecing Me Together
by Renee Watson

I have no idea how this book got on my desk, but I read it as the rain continued to come down during this vacation…oh well.  Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson is another young-adult book but could be read by anyone looking to better understand the power of prejudice and the significance of skin color in the world today.  Jade, a poor black teen growing up in Portland, Oregon, receives a scholarship to a predominantly white private high school and is forced to leave behind some of her best friends, who are also black.  Her mother reminds her that her education will help her escape the socio-economic challenges that her family faces.  Jade’s journey includes joining a young women’s empowerment program though her school, which ultimately leaves her with a scholarship to college.  Her assigned mentor, an alum of the school and a black woman with financial means, faces significant challenges as a result of her disparate life experience.  The book provides a terrific learning opportunity for readers on: difference within race; paying attention to the subtext of messages; and the complexities of race/socio-economic differences.  Watson hits the mark in this easy-to-read tale aimed at young adults, but it is a valuable read for all who care about changing the narrative of this generation.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Uprooted


Uprooted
by Naomi Novik

Enter the fantasy world known as the kingdom of Polnya, and the life of Agnieszka, a teenage girl whose world gets turned upside down when she is chosen at an annual ceremony at which a young teenager is chosen to live with ‘the Dragon’.  Naomi Novik’s Uprooted is a fun and engaging young-adult book whose purpose is to bring you into a world of wonder, surprise, friendship, and suspense.  We are first surprised that young Agnieszka is the Dragon’s choice as opposed to Kasia, the beautiful best friend of Agnieszka.  The Dragon is allowed to choose a teenage girl as a reward for serving as the protector of the land for the King.  While Agnieszka is initially an unexpected choice, we later learn why: she has secret powers she didn’t know she had – but the dragon did!  When the Dragon is called away to rescue the land from evil powers, Agnieszka is called home (to help Kasia) and realizes she has special powers that can help save townspeople.  During the escapade, she almost dies and is rescued by the Dragon, who is not happy with her for leaving the tower.  Later, her friend Kasia is captured and brought into the forest where she is permanently stuck into the wood.  Again, Agnieszka and the Dragon are needed to remove the evil spirits within her and attempt to extricate the evil spirits.  The last and major fight for Agnieszka, the Dragon, and Kasia involves the King’s son, Marek, who wants to find his mother who has been trapped in the evil woods for years.  The ensuing journey has a great deal of surprises for Agnieszka and the Kingdom of Polnya.  A fun read that keeps you interested through the end.  Friendship always seems to rue the day in this classic young-adult book.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness


The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
by Arundhati Roy

A rainy first day of my summer vacation, so I decided to finish reading The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy.  The book is set in India over a period of a few decades.  I can’t say I loved the book as the stories developed slowly with lots of new characters interspersed throughout. Additionally, the two main characters intersect eventually through the war and the ensuing destruction that occurred in India during the late 1980s to early 2000s.  While the stories were slow in terms of action and significant details, some of the characters and their lives piqued my interest.  There are two main characters: Aftab, the son of a Muslim couple, who was born with male and female body parts; and Tilo, a female architect who gets caught in the intelligence service of India and the leader’s heinous attacks on anyone in his way.  The reader learns first-hand the impact that living in the Middle East (Iraq, Iran, Syria) has on the common people.  One of the more interesting stories involves Aftab changing his name to Anjum and transitioning to female and a ‘hijra” (an intersex person in the Indian culture).  Anjum’s transition, life within the hijra community, becoming a mother, and attempting to find happiness in a world that is full of destruction is her challenge.  Tilo’s journey includes falling in love, escaping the violence and destruction around her, and arriving to a better understanding of her role in the life of others. Lots of people come into and leave her life throughout the story.  It was twenty years between books for Roy, and she clearly utilized a good amount of historical moments in time here, including battles that occurred throughout the Middle East.  An important story in better understanding the devastation that so many experienced – I just didn’t connect with the intermingling of the various stories.   

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Healing of America


The Healing of America
by James Morrison

I hate when I read the wrong book…same title, different author.  Though a bit dated and inaccurate in some of its predictions, The Healing of America by James L. Morrison is a good read. Written in 1997, the book focuses on welfare reform in the late 1990s.  Morrison provides great data trends (the wealthy are getting wealthier – that continues to be true), but not all of his predictions make it to the present.  His most compelling arguments come in the last chapter: how to reform the welfare system.  “The inner city is the land of the forgotten”, though in some cases the inner city is composed of the ultra-rich, such as in Manhattan, San Francisco, and other booming cities. The poor, on the other hand, are driven to the “other side of that line” to places perceived as more “invisible”.  We do need to continue to balance individual and community rights, create more self-directed communities, change laws that harbor prejudice towards people of color, and enter a mindset of fitness for all.  The book mixes data points, theory, and practical principles very well.  A great read for public policy, economic, and activists/civic leaders who want to make a change in our society to level the playing field.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

O Pioneers!


O Pioneers!
by Willa Cather

I just couldn’t put this book down.  I started last night and finished while on the elliptical this morning at the gym with a marathon session – longest time on an exercise machine in years!  The book, O Pioneers! by Willa Cather, tells the story of the protagonist, Alexandra Bergson, and the struggle of being raised in the western frontier part of the US during the early 1900s.  The Bergsons, an immigrant family from Sweden, lived on a large farm in Nebraska.  Before Alexandra’s father died when she was in her teens, he asked her to run the family, which included two elder brothers and a younger brother, Emil.  When the land turns into a dust-bowl because of the lack of rain, it appears that the family will go broke; but under her steady guidance, they purchase more land, and when the weather changes three years later, Alexandra has built a fortune.  She dedicates her life to her family and always stays solo while her two older brothers marry and have children. She devotes a great deal of time to educating her younger brother who goes away to college. He eventually comes back and falls in love with his childhood love, Maria, who is married to the always-jealous and angry Frank.  Meanwhile, Alexandra welcomes an old beau, Carl, back home, but her older brothers believes he has only returned to take her money.  Like most good novels, the unexpected happens and it appears all is lost.  I won’t divulge the ending – it is sad has yet has a closure that the reader can respect.  The early stages of seeing women as heroines in early twentieth century literature.  You won’t be disappointed with this easy-to-read book, I promise!

Monday, July 16, 2018

All-American Poem


All-American Poem
by Matthew Dickman

All-American Poem by Matthew Dickman provided a nice contrast compared to the traditional RA Favorite books.  This selection of poems is an escape from style I typically read (over my head intellectually and hard to grasp).  Dickman’s humor and dark side on his take of the American experience makes you smile, giggle, and say “uh-huh” often.  He hits the mark on falling in love, dancing, discussing various local customs across the US territories, and of course contemporary music.  From Oregon to Detroit, Elvis to Tom Petty, crossword puzzles to Coca-Cola, Thanksgiving to Christmas, Golden Gate Bridge to Chinatown (there is one in each large city in US), Wal-Mart to Mall of America, baseball to Kool Aid, this is truly an all-American view of our culture, our idiosyncrasies and what makes us who we are as US citizens.  There is a little bit of our culture that will touch your heart and your emotions.  Easy to consume this selected group of poems.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Souls of Black Folk


The Souls of Black Folk
by W.E.B. Du Bois

I always find myself reading strong, reflective books during plane rides.  On my flight back home from Chicago, I finished W.E.B. Du Bois’ book The Souls of Black Folk.  Du Bois, born in 1868, lived a long life: 95 years.  Harvard educated, Du Bois was a sociologist and historian who provided candid and honest commentary on the state of race-relations between whites and blacks in the United States.  The book is a collection of short, reflective essays that point to how the United States wasn’t (and still isn’t) united for all in education, prosperity, freedoms and equality.  The articles focus on moments within the development of the South after the Emancipation Proclamation and how the needle really never moved far from its historical roots.  Du Bois’ book title notes how black people must stay conscious of how they view themselves, but also how they are viewed as a race.  The fourteen chapters weave in traditional music and how it reflected on the community’s struggles as well as data points on education and the realities of prejudice and hate, and the poverty which black people have been forced to live in, even with ‘slavery’ no longer in existence.  This is an important read for 100 years ago, but also today since much of what is discussed rings true today.  When will we, as a society, address the inequities that black people face, the acts of hate targeted towards them, and seriously evaluate the laws that hold people of color down?  Well-written and would suggest our civil leaders in government, educators in our schools, and any other organizational leader read as a book club book with their staff.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Give and Take


Give and Take
by Adam Grant

Give and Take is a great book by Adam Grant, who is now a Wharton professor studying organizational behavior. He writes this book as a very young PhD who studied the difference between ‘givers’, ‘takers’ and ‘matchers’ within organizations.  While almost everyone would assume that ‘givers’ are traditionally seen as ‘doormats’ in the business world, Grant argues otherwise.  In this compelling best-selling book, which is so helpful to anyone who leads an organization, Grant provides data points AND real life stories to illustrate the importance of ‘givers’ in the world.  Givers are not only people who provide time and energy mentoring, but also do the extra things to ensure that the entire team wins, not just the individual, when we create ways to give back.  He has a robust resource website, www.giveandtake.com, that explains relevant concepts and illustrates how “reciprocity rings” can be helpful.  He concludes with some helpful hints on how to be a better ‘giver’:
·         Test your quotient of giving
·         Run a reciprocity ring
·         Help other people craft their jobs – or craft yours to incorporate more giving
·         Start a love machine
·         Embrace the five-minute favor
·         Practice powerless communication
·         Join a community of givers
·         Launch a personal generosity experiment
·         Help fund a project
·         Seek help more often
I plan on using this book in my RA talks summer when they return for the fall.  A great read for all as our society has really stopped putting others first.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Trainspotting


Trainspotting
by Irvine Welsh

Reading on a plane can be a fun thing, especially when it’s not bumpy!  During my flight to Denver for ACUHO-I, I finished Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, a Scottish author.  The book is a series of short stories which are set in Scotland in the late 1980s at the height of the AIDS epidemic.  The stories all revolve around a group of friends, mostly drug addicts (heroin being the drug of choice), some of whom have contracted HIV.  The challenge of the book is reading the dialogue in a Celtic (cockney) dialect, which is hard to read for those who prefer “hardcore” English (dialects are not fun to interpret).  The stories follow the various outcomes of those who share needles and have sex with each other during a time of rapid infection within this community.  Abuse, neglect, and lack of self-worth were all apparent throughout.  The characters were real and the reader was drawn in to want to help them.  A pretty raw book.  Its author captured the feelings of fear, self-hate, and invincibility that led the characters to continue to make the choices that ultimately led to death.  Brutally honest, highlighting a community that needed their story told.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Prep


Prep
by Curtis Sittenfeld

A beautiful day on the boat in Lake George reading the coming-of-age story of a young girl. Lee leaves home in Indiana to attend the highly competitive and expensive boarding high school named Ault, a fictional East coast, co-ed school.  The book, Prep, is written by Curtis Sittenfeld, who also attended a boarding school in the Northeast (and many believe that this is an auto-biography of her days in high school).  Lee comes from a lower middle class family who allowed her to attend after she was awarded a very generous scholarship.  The book is a reflection on her four years at Ault, mostly turbulent, but with a few high points.  Lee has a hard time fitting in with the ‘rich kids’ but does find a friend in Martha, the daughter of very wealthy parents. Lee goes into great detail regarding the relationships that she has with her peers, not all of them good ones.  Her inability to connect stems from her self-consciousness about her parents, who don’t have significant schooling, her lack of financial means, and not feeling as academically prepared as her peers.  From her first week in school, Lee is smitten with “Cross”, short for Crossman, a classmate who is also in the same grade.  They have one or two conversations during freshman year, but in senior year that all changes as Lee decides to enter a physically-charged, secretive relationship.  Although she faces many struggles, Lee is smarter than she thinks, receiving multiple college offers from top-tier schools (albeit not Ivy League, but top-rated nonetheless – sorry, not NYU).  The book highlights many of the issues that challenge high school students: self-esteem, bullying, suicidal ideations, eating issues, and ‘falling in love’.   The book shares a perspective on how race, class, and educational preparedness are issues that the elite boarding schools haven’t really addressed on their campuses and, I would echo, haven’t been addressed in our society as a whole.  The book may be best suited for a youthful teen. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Maus


Maus
by Art Spiegelman

Imaginative delivery combined with an important story makes one special book.  Maus by Art Spiegelman is one of these books.  Spiegelman tells the real-life story of his parents living through the German Nazi invasion of Europe in WWII.  The twist to this book is that Spiegelman is a cartoonist and the book is done in graphic art. The drawing is terrific and he illustrates the Jewish people as mice, the Nazis as cats, and the Polish people as pigs.  The book begins as Spieglman, a man in his twenties/thirties, is trying to learn about what happened to his family when they were in the midst of the annihilation of Jews.  The story moves between the present (Spiegelman meeting with his father) and the past (his father’s recollection of the takeover of Germany, and how he and his family attempted to avoid death).  I have read a number of books on the topic and would say Spiegelman’s is one of the very best.  A horrific experience that must never be forgotten.  My only suggestion is to make it into one book, not a series of books.  Book one ends after his parents are captured by the Nazis.  Art work is spectacular. 

Friday, June 29, 2018

Don’t Eat the Marshmallow….Yet!


Don't Eat the Marshmallow...Yet!
by Joachim de Posada & Ellen Singer

A quick and powerful read for those who have never really taken control of your fiscal or professional life.  Don’t Eat the Marshmallow….Yet! by Joachim de Posada provides a story to illustrate the point of his lessons.  Mr. Patient has a limousine driver (Arthur) who is unable to save money, has limited direction, and “eats all his marshmallows” without saving any.  He has no savings, no personal romantic relationships, no direction for ‘what’s next’, but through Mr. Patient (having patience), Arthur learns and persists to make his dreams come true.  These are the lessons that one needs to learn:

1.)    Don’t eat all your marshmallows yet (based on the experiment of Dr. Walter Mischel – check it out) 

2.)    Successful people don’t break their promises

3.)    A dollar a day doubled every day for thirty days equals more than $500 million

4.)    To get what you want from people, they must have a desire to help you and they must trust you

5.)    The best way to get people to do what you want them to do is to influence them

6.)    Successful people are willing to do what unsuccessful people are unwilling to do

7.)    Success doesn’t depend on your past or your present.  Success begins when you are willing to do things that unsuccessful people are not willing to do

The question is left to you… what are you willing to do?  Fun, quick read.  All young kids should read it.  Great tenets to apply to your life every day.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid


Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid 
by Douglas Hofstadter

Finished a LONG 777-page RA Favorite book.  This one was called Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, a Pulitzer Prize winning book by Douglas Hofstadter. It discusses philosophy, math, music, art, and all of the connections among them.  The iconic illustrations of Escher, with their symmetry of lines and thinking, strongly connects to Bach’s music and Godel’s mathematical formulas and theorems.  Hofstadler further punctuates the connections with end-of-chapter stories modeled on Lewis Carroll’s messages as told by the Tortoise and Achilles, who spar throughout, trying to simplify things for the “not so heady reader” (like myself).  The three themes explored include: mathematics, symmetry, and intelligence (with a significant discussion of Artificial Intelligence and what computers will and won’t be able to do).  This section probably needs some updating as it was written in 1979.  Through reflection and the rules of math, we have a new ‘meaning’ (which is still being created) from things that had no meaning initially.  And, of course, one needs to learn that it isn’t just about the symmetry of the three (math, art and music) – it’s also about how understanding emerges from what we know of the three.  There is also a portion focused on neurons (a pre-cursor to today’s focus on neuroscience). It always surprises me when a student LOVES a book like this so much that they would read it again and again, especially since the areas of science discussed have evolved so dramatically.  Can’t say I understood it all, can’t say I loved it, but yes, I can say I appreciated it, especially Escher’s work and the stories of Achilles and the tortoise.