Saturday, December 8, 2018

New Micro (Extra Book)


New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction
edited by James Thomas & Robert Scotellaro

Thanks to Brandon for giving me a new book to read: New Micro – Exceptionally Short Fiction, edited by James Thomas and Robert Scotellaro.  The editors capture what they call, “the best of the best” of a relatively new genre of writing – stories that are short! The concept is that the stories bring you to a place of emotion, memory, or awakening in a “brief moment” compared to the traditional novel.  In this day and age of “get my attention fast” or lose it, the genre makes a great deal of sense.  All of the stories in the book are shorter than 300 words.  The ninety stories bring the reader to a point of recognition and then…the next story begins.  The stories in this book focus on relationships, the meaning of death, misunderstandings, missed opportunities, and silly anecdotes.  One thing I realized as I was reading (especially as a ‘speed reader’) is that one must really be “all-in” or you will need to go back and re-read the story.  While you may be able to zone out for a moment in a novel and still catch up, the micro story doesn't quite work that way!  Lesson learned: pay attention as it is really a quick moment to enjoy.  There are certainly some styles I enjoyed more than others, but love the concept, and a number of the stories were great.  It reminded me of attending the Moth events (https://themoth.org/).  Thanks again, Brandon!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Belong (Extra Book)


Belong
by Radha Agrawal

Happy Thanksgiving!  Finished a very reflective ‘self-help’ book called Belong by Radha Agrawal.  The book is broken into two parts: help for self and help to be connected in community.  This is a great New Years/holiday gift for someone special in your life.  The book can certainly help someone to think deeply about what it is they want to be in life.  Agrawal suggests that we start by writing it down, noting the high and low points in our lives. After that, we dig deep into identifying our values, interests, and abilities.  From there, we start with finding our healthy energy, get off social media, and begin to find those people who give us positive energy.  Such important aspects of being a better person.  Her formula for gaining energy includes: DOSE – Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, Endorphins.  Yes, changing attitude, having physical contact with others, getting exercise, dancing/laughing and sweating all make us healthy and happier.  The second part of her book focuses on how we build a community with others in the center of it.  Agrawal has created a business-building community through her Daybreaker initiative consisting of early-morning connections through dance, yoga, healthy eating and other high energy outlets (on a boat, in the park, on the streets, etc.)  Her model for community development is applicable to anyone interested in making connections with others.  A terrific book worth reading!  I plan on using it for a program at ACUHOI this summer.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Second Sex


The Second Sex
by Simone De Beauvior

During my travels to Australia and service on the faculty of GHTI, I was able to finish the last RA Favorite book for the 2018-19 RA staff.  The longest read for this year (and known as a ‘hallmark’ book for the beginning of the ‘second’ feminist movement), I finished Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir.  The book is a historical and sociological review of the experience of women throughout the ages and the stages of being a woman (child, youth, teenager, sexual initiation, getting married, being a mother, social life, maturity, and old age).  Published in 1964, De Beauvoir captures the European (mostly French) and American female experience of the day. Her introductory question is ‘what makes a woman’? as compared to man, woman is considered the devalued gender and she supports her claim with data and rich experiences taken from her research, novels surrounding the plight of women, and her own experiences. She shares how reproduction has hindered the view and strength of women and reaches back to the Goddesses succumbing to the Gods as the beginning of the plight of women. She provides historical perspectives to the role women play in family, in sex, in marriage, and in parenthood.  She shares perspectives and data on women joining the work force and experiencing “second-rate” pay, opportunity, and respect.  She uses works from D.H. Lawrence, Breton, Stendhal, Ibsen, Poe, Shakespeare and Goethe to illustrate her examples of women as the ‘other’.  She goes into depth on the social life of the rich married women and the other end of the spectrum, prostitutes.  She ends her book reviewing the independent woman, leading to the idea of women moving towards liberation, a goal she hopes is attained, where women and men will be completely equal.  It is one of the most detailed books on a dearth of issues surrounding the female experience.  This is a great book for any sociology students looking to do in-depth analysis as to where females sit in our society, from early civilization through the 1960s.  Important read!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Alamut


Alamut
by Vladmir Bartol

Sometimes I need to be much more careful about the author’s name before reading one of the RA’s favorite books as I read the wrong version!  The book Alamut by Vladimir Bartol tells the story of a warring nation, ideological religious differences, revenge, deception, and the death of innocent youth.  The story is set in the eleventh century in the area known today as Iran. Hassan-I Sabbah, one of the two warring factions, was banished years ago after losing to the members of the Seljuk empire.  He has not forgotten his loss and creates a plan to defend his current land holdings (and take on more).  He is currently located in an area of beautiful gardens, hidden from sight, and the castle of Alamut, which he is defending against the mighty empire.  Hassan uses trickery to convince his soldiers, three of whom the story describes in depth (Yusef, Suleiman, and Ibn Tahir), that he is the decedent of the great prophet and can provide them all the entrance into paradise.  He creates an elaborate plan to drug the three young soldiers and have them awaken in the gardens, surrounded by a youthful harem of beautiful girls, whom he has enslaved over the years.  After they return, believing they were in paradise, each of them believes Hassan is the prophet and work to overthrow the Seljuk leaders.  Two of the soldiers are so convinced they will return to paradise when they die that they kill themselves, and, through this action, convince the rest of the present army members that Hassan is the prophet, frightening the enemy and disrupting their movement towards Alamut.  The book, written half a century ago, serves as a precursor to what has happened in groups like the Talban and Al Queda: a belief that acting on behalf of a religious zealot, even if it means killing yourself (and others), will lead to becoming a prophet oneself.  This was a book I couldn’t put down as it really captures what we are experiencing in our society today, following people who do evil in the name of “God”….  There were a number of sub-plots which connected to the larger story, including the role women played in the society.  Well written, engaging, and fast-paced story.  Glad Fabio let me know I read the wrong version!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Turtles All the Way Down


Turtles All the Way Down
by John Green

I stayed up late to finish Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, a writer whose other books I have enjoyed reading.  I’d say I didn’t like this one as much…the message is good, but the story, ho-hum.  It is the tale of sixteen year-old Aza Holmes, whose father died suddenly a decade before, and now deals with anxiety and OCD with the fear of dying herself.  She doesn’t take her medications regularly, and so she suffers from severe anxiety when pressured into any given situation and has time to think.  She is smart, does well in school, and actively engages with her friends.  Her best friend, Daisy, becomes a bit of a detective when an old friend’s billionaire father, Russell Pickett, mysteriously disappears while being sought after for a slew of illegal business practices.  Aza had met Pickett’s son, Davis, when they both attended a summer camp for children who had lost a parent (Davis’ mother had died from an illness).  Aza and Daisy are motivated to become sleuths when they hear there is a $100,000 reward for information about Russell Pickett’s whereabouts.  Aza reacquaints herself with Davis who gives the two girls $100,000 to have them stop looking for his dad.  Meanwhile, Aza deals with the reality of her anxiety disorder throughout.  The weird twist to the story is that Davis’ dad left all of his billions to a pet tuatara, which he believes can help provide the key to infinite life.  The story is a bit over the top for me, but I do think the realistic aspects of what OCD can do is an important lesson to all.  In the end, Daisy and Aza do find the missing father, Davis and his younger brother make some choices that leave us with a sense of resignation, and Aza hopes to believe in something more than what her mind keeps telling her.  Again, not my favorite Green book.  I enjoyed Looking for Alaska much more.  Not exactly what I expected from the story, seemed a bit anti-climatic….

Friday, November 2, 2018

Mating in Captivity


Mating in Captivity
by Esther Perel

Getting to the end of the RA Favorite Books….  Finished reading Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity, a book written from a therapist’s stand point on what makes a monogamous relationship successful.  Perel shares a newer perspective on how to keep intimacy and sex with the same partner exciting for decades.  Written in 2007, Perel had over twenty years of experience and draws on many stories from clients. The failures of many sustained physical connections was a result of not understanding and owning our own histories and issues related to ourselves.  Why does sexual desire end despite the fact that we love the one we are married/partnered to?  How come sexual desire wanes as the years progress?  How does one unlock ‘erotic intelligence’? She goes in depth on how security can sap our vitality for the one we love and the need to know why we go back to our instinctual responses, unable to resist them.  At times, the book felt like I was reading the headlines you see on a magazine, such as Men’s Health or Vogue: “How to excite your partner by doing the unexpected” or “Unleashing the animal in you”….  It certainly can resonate with anyone committed to lifelong love and excitement with your partner, but, in the end, it also reads as a collection of case studies with the reader searching for the chapter that resonates with them.  Certainly a different type of read than I have been given before.  That’s why it is so fun to work at NYU!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest


One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
by Ken Kesey

Finished a classic read, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey, a book I have wanted to read for a long time (especially since I have never seen the movie).  The setting is a psychiatric, in-house hospital located in Oregon, which houses both ‘acutes’ and ‘chronics’. “Chief Bromden” is the narrator, who is a deaf and mute Native American patient.  The main focus of the book centers on Randle Patrick McMurphy, who is faking insanity after being arrested to avoid prison.  McMurphy causes all types of problems for the head of the hospital, Nurse Ratched, by encouraging the patients to think for themselves, which is very much against the daily routine that creates (or tries to create) calm and quiet among the men.  McMurphy galvanizes the others to push back against authority.  He organizes daily gambling tables, a deep-sea fishing trip, selects what to watch on TV, and dictates how loud the music should be played.  As time goes on, the Chief actually opens up to McMurphy and reveals that he can actually speak and hear!  For their bad behavior, both McMurphy and the Chief face electric shock therapy, but McMurphy continues his efforts to change the environment.  He plans a party one night that involves bringing in prostitutes for Billy Babbit, an emotionally distraught, virgin young man with a stutter, breaking into the medicine cabinet to hand out pills to patients, and lavishing them all with liquor. Nurse Ratched is furious to find the place in ruins and is shocked to see Billy asleep with a prostitute.  She threatens Billy by saying she may tell his parents, which causes him to commit suicide.  She later blames McMurphy for his death, prompting him to strangle her, but he is stopped by two orderlies.  While she is away recovering, patients start to be separated from one another. When she returns, she is unable to speak due to the injuries sustained in the attack by McMurphy.  When McMurphy returns to the ward, he is a changed man, having undergone a lobotomy and left in a vegetative state.  Bromden gives him ‘mercy’ by placing a pillow over his face until his life is extinguished.  The insanity of insanities…inside the ward of a psychiatric hospital, where one really doesn’t know the actions of those who are in charge, and where patients create a bizarre subculture.  A riveting story, which we listened to on our 10-hour round trip to a wedding in New Hampshire.  Was that how the psych hospitals ran in the 1960s?  I look forward to watching the movie someday.  Such meticulous detailing by the author.  Great character development, emotion, and display of how power and patience are exercised by different people in the ward.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Why Nations Fail


Why Nations Fail
by Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson

Finished an important and great read by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson titled Why Nations Fail.  After observing societies over a period of centuries, how do some of them succeed while others become steeped in poverty, illiteracy, and brutal warfare?  The authors approach the work in great detail – country by country, issue by issue, even using ancient maps to illustrate how the world was organized (by region) and how things have changed (or stayed the same).  Even when a country is rich in soil, natural resources, and human power, how does it fail?  The authors offer clear examples from historical rulers and other sources to explain how one country thrives and another fails.   Examples within the book for success/failure include: how Egypt brought down Mubarak; how institutions change through political conflict and shape the present; policies making countries poor; Stalin; the Glorious Revolution; and the age of Industrialization.   One of his points is: why aren’t countries more ‘inclusive’ in the development of their communities?  This is a very important read, especially given the state of the US government today.  As we all have heard over and over in our lifetimes, history repeats itself, so why aren’t we using past experiences to inform future success?  This reminded me of World History lessons.  I really enjoyed learning ‘why’ and thinking about what can I do as a citizen, through my vote, to ensure democracy is thriving in the US.  Great book with fifteen chapters that answer why nations fail today.  Read this one!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Number


The Number
by Jonny Steinberg

Finished another RA Favorite Book, this one written by a journalist in South Africa who wanted to learn more about the prison system and how one managed the challenge of being identified by only a number.  The book The Number by Jonny Steinberg shares the inside secrets of the 26’s, 27’s and 28’s (as they are known) within those incarcerated in South Africa.  Steinberg follows the life of Magadien Wentzel, who, at one time, had a promising future as a student, but was arrested and put in jail after the riots on his college campus.  At that moment, he needed to make a decision: how shall he respond to the inmates who want to know his allegiance?  The journalist spends 18 months (a year while he is in jail and the six months immediately following his release) with Magadien, learning what happens between the three notorious groups: the 28’s – the more aggressive group; the 27’s – the in-between “peace keepers”; and the 26’s, who work toward bettering themselves.  Steinberg also interviewed others with whom Magadien engaged: inmates, wardens, family members, some of his intimate partners (former lovers), and his daughters.  The story was written in the early 2000s post-Apartheid where the issue of blacks vs. whites remained.  The details of the sex-slaves while in jail, the abuse, aggression, fighting, drugs, and other issues raised clearly showed how the government was not interested in rehabilitation, but simply holding people they declared dangerous to others in prison forever.  This exposé gives valuable insight into the culture within a country which has been ravaged by racial issues.  Sad read.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Female Persuasion


The Female Persuasion
by Meg Wolitzer

Finished an interesting read called The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer.  After not being able to go to her dream school (Yale) because her druggie parents didn’t complete the FAFSA forms, Greer Kadetsky, the main character, has to settle for Ryland College. She attends on a full-ride scholarship while her high-school boyfriend, Cory, attends Princeton.  The book begins with Greer attending a guest lecture talk by Faith Frank, a renowned feminist. Greer, pretty meek and mild, feels a great attraction to the words and beliefs of Ms. Frank. Greer meets Ms. Frank in the bathroom after her speech and is given her personal business card, which initiates a long-lasting connection.  Greer’s biggest influencer on campus is Zee Eisenstat, a lesbian activist, who helps her after she is sexually assaulted by a rich male student (who receives a light punishment).  Greer ends up working for Ms. Frank and her ongoing educational campaign surrounding injustice to women.  The story takes lots of turns and twists, but, in the end, Greer has to come to terms with her value set when confronted by an ethical situation involving Ms. Frank. While her professional life skyrockets over her lifetime, her personal relationship with Cory ends after his own family tragedy (his mother kills his brother by accidentally running him over).  Cory gives up his consulting job to stay at home and care for his mother.   Greer’s story is one that examines the changing role of women in society today.  It touches on aspects of sexuality, women in the workplace, ethics, and juggling success and motherhood.  It also incorporates some tried and true notions of romantic love, being true to yourself and holding others to the level you expect of yourself.  Not what I expected.  Fun read. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Shoe Dog


Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
by Phil Knight

I often marvel at people who can write their own life journey as a “look-back” experience.  Did they keep a journal?  Did they go back and interview all of those around them?  Was it as they remember it?  All of these thoughts went through my head as I was reading Phil Knight’s book Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike. Knight chronicles his life from the time of college graduation (with his MBA) and his decisions as a former athlete (runner on the University of Oregon Ducks track team).  Knight, born and raised in a “WASP” home in the Portland area of Oregon, was a family man, dedicated to family and to a dream of creating a running shoe that would make Olympians win the gold. At the same time, he wanted to support the avid runner.  As time went on, he also dreamed of making sneakers all people would wear most of the time.  Knight’s story is motivating to any entrepreneur in that he shares the challenges: competition, going global, financial challenges, legal issues, family concerns, and how one can become infatuated with success at all costs, including losing connection to your children and wife.  As I reflected on the book, I wondered at his realization that his company was hurting the environment with toxins and a horrible carbon footprint, underpaid wages to non-union employees around the world, and taking advantage of female laborers…at what point could he sleep at night?  Of course he notes how the company ‘righted’ the wrong (in about 3 pages), but, at a 32.2 billion net worth, was the book cathartic?  Note he has given millions away to charities, including U of O with buildings named after his family, but does that make the other things go away? Didn’t anyone in the organization question taking advantage of cheap labor in Taiwan? Japan? Puerto Rico? China?  Sorry to seem so negative in my review – I did in fact enjoy reading the intricacies and tough decisions made by a middle class Stanford educated young man. But I also felt he didn’t do homage to those he may have stepped on or had forgotten along the way.  I know I lament often on the wrongs I may have done, hoping that today I will do better.  Also wish he offered a bit more depth on bad decisions that he made and things he thinks he would do differently.  Overall, worth a read.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Room


Room
by Emma Donoghue

Finished the frightening story of Jack’s and Ma’s captivity at the hands of Old Nick, a demented man who kidnapped Jack’s mother at age eighteen while she was attending college.  The book, Room, by Emma Donoghue, was inspired by another case similar to the one she tells.  The story is told from the perspective of the five-year-old youth who was born in the room. The boy is convinced by his mother to play ‘dead’ as she rolls him up in a carpet to be taken away by Old Nick, which he does.  The escape plan works. The youth escapes from the truck he was being carried in to be buried and a passer-by notices his fall from the truck and calls the police.  The last half of the book follows how Jack and Ma are brought to the hospital to begin the recovery process and his meeting his previously unknown grandparents.  The difficulties for re-integration are harder than one would imagine.  A tough read based on true stories, as hard to believe as it is.  When we lived in Syracuse, there was a very sick man holding a woman in captive underground in a similar way for years.  The question remains, how can people cause this much pain to others?  Well written, but the subject matter wasn’t a hit for me.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Tiny Beautiful Things

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar
by Cheryl Strayed

Really enjoyed reading Cheryl Strayed’s book on advice called Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar.  Strayed is asked to respond to real life people and the problems they face.  From addiction, lost love, mental health, money, and abuse, Strayed offers a refreshing and non-clinical approach through the lens of someone who has her own struggles. She is all too familiar with having an abusive father, a mother with addictions, living in poverty and learns to be self-driven from the age of thirteen. While some may be taken aback by her aggressive and ‘no-nonsense’ take-care-of-yourself attitude, she comes from a place of care, honesty and true love for self and others.  An author by training, Strayed was asked by a friend to respond in column format and the book is a collection of submissions collected over the years.  She is blunt, she is witty, and she is honest.  I really enjoyed the book and was reminded to be honest, be caring and to never stray away from who you say you are as a person.  Refreshing is the word I keep coming back to.  I highly recommend it…truly!  A good read.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

In the Time of the Butterflies


In the Time of the Butterflies
by Julia Alvarez

Finished another RA Favorite book, In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez.  The book is a historical fiction set in the Dominican Republic during the era of the dictatorship of Trujillo, a man who ruled with an iron fist, having those people who challenged him killed.  The story follows three Mirabal sisters whose life included education and challenging Trujilo’s rules.  It eventually led to their death in a “car accident”, which didn’t seem like an accident to most.  The book is a creative recreation in that the author used notes and stories from others but also used some poetic freedom.  I enjoyed the various characters’ views on each chapter of their lives, one chapter for each character.  A sad story of injustice in the DR.  Well written, moving story.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Uprising

Uprising
by Margaret Peterson Haddix

It still amazes me how many books I read that have a connection to NYU in some way. This time, a character in the story was an NYU second-year law student attempting to assist the main character.  It reminds me how lucky I am to be working at NYU, a place that impacts so many people!  The book, Uprising, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, describes the story of three young women all brought together by the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (located in a building I can see from my office window in Kimmel Center). The book chronicles the stories of the three main characters and how their lives lead to their employment at the factory.  All three are immigrants who face the struggles of working in sub-human conditions for menial wages under barbaric supervisors.  It is a retrospective story in that one of the small children whose father owned the factory begins trying to find a woman who lived through the fire. She happens to be one of the three woman whom we meet throughout the book.  The three fight against the factory by forming a union, which meets resistance.  The events leading to the fire, the inferno itself, and what happens to the three friends is detailed in the following chapters.  The story ends full circle noting that the sole survivor of the three women carries her two friends with her as a memory through her own children.  Amazing to imagine the cruel and inhumane ways people were treated in the US….  But have we really completely changed?  An important story to never forget.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon


Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon
by Patty Lovell

Always great to read a book that makes you smile, especially when it teaches you a lesson. This children’s book, Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell, does just that.  In this very short picturesque book, Molly Lou is taught by her grandmother to embrace who she is: a small, bucked-toothed girl with a voice that squeals.  It is when she moves away to a new town and starts school that the kids – one in particular – pick on her, but because she believes in herself, she is not afraid to run strong, use the teeth to her advantage, and sing proudly.  Through these three actions, she wins the praise of her new classmates in the face of the biggest of bullies, Ronald Durkin.  It ends with Molly Lou sending a letter to her grandmother thanking her for the reminders!  Wow…nice message in this day and age of so many haters.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Stiff


Stiff
by Mary Roach

I finished a very strange favorite book called Stiff by Mary Roach.  The book details the history of the human cadaver.  From the history of gravediggers exhuming bodies to make a living (selling them to science) to how the human body decays to how to embalm and everything in between, this book chronicles every aspect of the body after death.  Chapters are “self-contained” and focus on all things related to the body once someone dies.  Roach explores how cadavers are used as test subjects for car crashes, transplanted parts, practice bodies in the lab for medical students, new methods for embalming, cannibalism, and whether Jesus could have suffered on a cross based on the pictures on the cross.  She finally wraps up the book with her own thoughts on whether she will donate her body to medicine after her death.  I actually learned a great deal, but I’m not so sure I wanted to know all I found out.  It is a “niche read”, one that you’ll probably either love or find disturbing….  Parts of it were hard to read after lunch to be honest.  Just shows the great diversity of interests NYU students have in terms of reading materials. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

How to Walk Away


How to Walk Away
by Katherine Center

What happens when your boyfriend takes you on his airplane without a license, asks you to marry him, you get stuck in a storm, crash and then wake up in the hospital…paralyzed?  Welcome to Margaret Jacobsen’s nightmare.  Chip, her long-time boyfriend – the calm, cool, collected, WASPy, all-American guy – loses his cool, but manages to escape the plane crash unscathed.  He is unable to look at his “deformed” newly-asked fiance.  Katherine Center’s book How to Walk Away is a clear ‘chick-lit’ novel that is rather depressing, but it leaves the reader realizing there is a glimmer of hope, if you build it for yourself.  After a lengthy rehab, Maggie finds a way to realize that one creates their own lemonade out of lemons.  She endures despite never regaining her ability to walk, losing her fiance, falling in love with her physical therapist while in the hospital and then driving him away, watching her father leave her mother when it is learned that he is not the biological father of her sister, and many more hardships.  You can’t really have more drama!  Well, all things bad can turn bright…at least for those who work at it.  Cute book, somewhat predictable, but a pretty soft read.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Circe


Circe
by Madeline Miller

I haven’t ever been a fan of Greek mythology books, but this updated version was actually quite good.  In Madeline Miller’s book Circe, we are told the story of the ‘ugly’ daughter of the God of the sun, Helios, a mighty God among the leaders of the universe.  Circe is isolated from the rest of her family and is ultimately banished by her father to a remote island for eternity. There, she discovers that she has the powers of a witch, something that her father had long described her as, but she had never discovered her power.  On the island, she builds her repertoire of abilities.  Many of the greatest mythological figures make an appearance to grapple with her, including Daedalus, Medea, and Minotaur.  Circe falls in love with a sailor, Odysseus, who ventures onto the island and finds out she is pregnant with his child after his departure.  As their son, Telegonus, grows up, he desires to be reconnected with his father, the ruler of Ithaca.  But Telegonus soon learns that fate has bad things in store for him.  His visit brings about the death of his father, an escape with his half-brother, Telemachus, and his mother, Penelope.  Circe is constantly challenged to survive family bitterness & rivalry, and the Gods rule over all mortals.  The book is readable and enjoyable.  It is a story of love lost and holding on to the one thing you want in life.  Circe is brave, courageous, and beats all of the odds.  Classic read into today’s language.  Enjoyed this one!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

A Dog's Purpose


A Dog's Purpose
by W. Bruce Cameron

Every dog lover will shed a tear for W. Brice Cameron’s book A Dog’s Purpose, and every dog hater should read it to better understand the relationship between a pet and his/her owner.  The book is narrated through the dog, which is an interesting twist. It is broken into a three-phase story that begins with a dog being adopted by a family and given to a 9-year-old boy, Ethan, by his parents.  A deep and rich relationship develops, and the dog, Bailey, shares lessons learned as the mutual bond builds between the two.  Bailey helps save Ethan’s life when a fire is started by the evil next door neighbor, is by his side during his parents’ divorce, and then later in life when Ethan requires rehab from an injury and moves to the grandparents' farm. Bailey notices relationships and gains a keen sense of love, evil, obedience, and of rules.  The first part ends with Bailey’s death, being brought to the veterinarian to be put down.  Tears flow, but that’s not the end of the story.  Bailey is re-born, into another life, as Ellie, a canine rescue dog for the police.  He saves lives, learns new lessons with two very different owners.  He learns about love, gentleness, and how to smell and find victims in tragic situations.  He experiences death when searching for and finding lifeless bodies.  Again, the story ends at the vet with Ellie being put down.  More tears, but then the third part starts and Bailey/Ellie is a new dog, a lab.  This time his owners are not so nice. They eventually bring him to the outskirts of town to die, but with the lessons “Buddy” (his new name) has learned, he comes full circle.  His nose brings him to Ethan’s grandparent’s farm.  This time, Buddy has a new purpose…he finds Ethan, forty years later, as an older, lonely man and he helps Ethan to learn and love again.  I won’t ruin the ending, but yes, more tears.  I really enjoyed the book and it also made me appreciate my dog Roman so much more.  What lessons has he learned, and what is his purpose for me?  I’d add this to your list!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Bright Ideas


Bright Ideas
by Eric Coble

I never know what I will receive as a favorite book from our Tisch students, but, in this case, a play was the reading option of choice.  The play is called Bright Ideas by Eric Coble.  The story focuses on the life of Josh and Gen Bradley, parents of three-year-old Mac who will be entering daycare.  Mac’s parents are hyper-sensitive, thinking about every single thing needed for their son to be successful and prepared for the world after daycare.  Josh and Gen become neurotic after visiting one center, realizing it isn’t the best one in town.  The best in town, called Bright Ideas, has a 98% placement rate into Ivy League colleges! The couple takes the shocking step of poisoning a parent whose child goes to Bright Ideas to open a space for their son as he is next on the waiting list.  After getting Mac into Bright Ideas, the parents do whatever is necessary for their child to win the “Golden Pony” excellence award. They go so far that they almost kill Mac’s teacher by loosening the blades on her lawnmower! The book is a social commentary on the lengths parents will go to get their child to be a superstar at all costs.  Very dark humor with a gentle message: let kids be kids.  Interesting note, my MFA Directing faculty member was the Artistic Director for the show’s first production at the Cleveland Playhouse in 2002.  A total overboard on many levels of what is happening.  Fun to see staged, I’m sure.

Monday, September 10, 2018

A Course in Miracles


A Course in Miracles
by Helen Schucman

I will say this book is one of the more interesting books I have had as an RA Favorite book.  The book is called A Course in Miracles by Helen Schucman and is a thesis, practical course book, and a teaching manual for instructing young doctors on the importance of Christianity in saving and healing patients.  It is an actual teaching ‘device’ with a theoretical and practical explanation.  It is a very long book – 629 pages for the thesis alone.  The text goes into great depth on the concepts that are the foundation for the author’s beliefs on how to approach healing. The workbook piece contains over 365 lessons, one for each day (but suggested to do more than one lesson a day).  As the first page states, “this course can therefore be summed up very simply in this way:

                Nothing real can be threatened

                Nothing unreal exists

                                (Herein lies the peace of God)

Here are some of the thirty-one chapters contained in the book: The meaning of miracles; the illusions of the ego; healing and wholeness; the lessons of love; the journey back; the idols of sickness; God or ego; the Holy Spirit’s curriculum; the attainment of peace; the vision of holiness; the justice of good; the healing of the dream; the wakening; and the final vision.  I will say, it is one of the most in-depth and repetitive series of points I’ve seen in a book.  Being a Christian, many things resonated with me with respect to the teachings, but I would imagine this would be a very difficult read for a non-Christian. I wish there had been more context provided by the author as to the WHY?  I will reach out to the RA who said it was their very favorite book so I can gain more context about how and where this course could be used.  A very, very long read – been reading it over a long period of time, interspersing other books in between.  I wouldn’t recommend it unless you want an in-depth view of the process of thinking and applying the faith.  Otherwise, yeah, very helpful read on getting one’s life back to a religious and spiritual place.  

Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles


The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles
by Julie Andrews Edwards

And yet another young children’s book for this RA Favorite book called The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, written by Julie Andrews Edwards.  This book features a fantastic journey that incorporates the power of imagination, genetics, and how the littlest kid is usually the most successful in solving a problem.  The three Potter kids (Ben, Tom and Lindy) were excited for trick-or-treating on the upcoming Halloween.  Their parents – Dad, a University professor, and Mom, a homemaker – gave great freedom to their children, especially on Halloween, allowing the kids to visit the local ‘haunted house’. But was it truly haunted?  What they learned was that a local Professor, Dr. Savant (whom their Dad knew), lived there. He had just won a Nobel Prize for his work with genetics. Dr. Savant takes the three children under his wing and tells them about his desire to see the whangdoodle, an intelligent, ungulate-like character capable of changing color to suit its emotions, from whose hind legs grow a new and different set of bedroom slippers each year, of which there is only one left in the world.  When the Potters’ parents go away, Dr. Savant brings them to the far, far away land where the whangdoodle lives to look for him.  The adventure getting there and dealing with all of the obstacles (characters and travel difficulties) make for a fun and energetic story.  A cute read for a kid – loved how they intertwined science (genetics) in to the ending. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

So B. It


So B. It
by Sarah Weeks

Another tear-jerker in this book for young adults: So B. It by Sarah Weeks. Heidi knows nothing about her heritage, except that she was born to a woman who is called So B. It. So, yes, Heidi’s last name is “It”…or so she believes.  Her neighbor, Bernadette, found her as a newborn in her mother’s arms on the floor outside of her apartment thirteen years earlier.  Heidi’s mom has some form of mental disability that doesn’t allow her to function normally, and she can only speak twenty-three words.  Bernadette lives in an “attached apartment”, which allows her to come and help raise Heidi and assist her mother with all aspects of living.  Bernadette suffers from agoraphobia, the fear of going outside, and hasn’t been out in years, so she home-schools Heidi.  As Heidi gets older, she is the one who goes out to do the shopping, taking her mother along the way.  Heidi has a strong desire to learn about her history and about her mother’s life.  We learn that Heidi has a lucky streak and is able to predict things, allowing her to win money at the local slot machines (they live in Reno, Nevada).  One day, Heidi finds a mysterious camera in the apartment with film inside and she decides to have it developed. It turns out that they are pictures which look like her mother, maybe a grandmother, and a picture of a facility called Hilltop House in Liberty, NY.  Heidi and Bernadette call the place, a home for people with mental disabilities, and the man in charge will not speak to them.  Finally, after multiple attempts, Heidi decides she is going to take a bus there.  Bernadette is beside herself but relinquishes.  Heidi uses her special powers to win money on slot machines to get there.  What she finds out will be the answers to her heritage, and of course, will introduce more dramatic twists in the plot.  I liked how the author names each chapter after the 23 words that her mother speaks.  This book has the makings of one of the “afternoon specials” which aired when I was a kid.  Well written, good book for young kids who are inquisitive about how diverse and challenging others’ lives can be.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Another Brooklyn


Another Brooklyn
by Jacqueline Woodson

A truly touching story of friendship, family, religion and growing up in Jacqueline Woodson’s book Another Brooklyn. The main character, August, looks back twenty years to her childhood the day her father is buried.  She and her brother were raised by their father after the death of their mother, who never recovered from the death of her own brother in Vietnam.  Instead of being given to protective services when her father could have abandoned the children, as the character reflects, her father stayed and raised two good children despite the poverty and lack of educational opportunities in the poor areas in the 1980s.  August meets her ‘soulmates’ – three black teens – and explores the issues they faced: boyfriends, prejudice, and being ostracized in a community that was riddled with crime.  She also explores the impact of her father’s female friend who instills the Muslim religion into their life.  Woodson’s prose is beautiful and the art of reflection after the passing of a parent adds to the depth of relationships, sadness, and moments of joy that were experienced moving from Tennessee to Brooklyn and during a trip back home to learn more about her mother’s life.  Highly recommend this book.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Killing Pablo


Killing Pablo
by Mark Bowden

The ‘behind the scenes’ search for Pablo Escobar, the number one hunted man in Columbia, for his killings and numero uno kingpin in the illegal drug cartels in Columbia is the framework of Mark Bowden’s book Killing Pablo. Bowden uses personal interviews from police, intel, US CIA agents, newspaper and other media sources to provide an in-depth look into the man, his failings, and his ability to evade a country for years as the leader of the largest drug ring ever to be known in the world.  Escobar started as a ‘young thug’ and later was hailed as the calmest criminal to exist.  Dedicated to family and his inner-circle of comrades, he was quick to eliminate those people who stopped him from what he wanted most: money, luxuries and young women.  If he wanted something, he would buy it and the would order the people around him to do his dirty deeds.  An extraordinary story of how a country fell prey to one man’s yearning to be the leader or “el jefe”.  The elusive one’s checkered life story well documented.  Worth a read.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Fire to Fire


Fire to Fire
by Mark Doty

Finished a book of poetry called Fire to Fire written by Mark Doty.  The book contains selected poems from previously released publications. Some of his work is set only blocks away from NYU, some in Houston, and some in ancient times.  His style is simplistic with understandable descriptors (i.e., not flowery language).  It is like having the guy next door share thoughts on areas such as defining beauty, hanging at the corner diner (21st and 3rd avenue), the burning of a gorgeous home in Jersey City, a local theatre house, and love.  I especially enjoyed his poem on being aboard a plane about to make an emergency landing (appearing to crash) and what the moments were like for him and his partner.  Doty, a gay male, offers some perspective on how vulnerable one can feel searching for love in a society not always understanding of same-sex relationships.  His poems are short and I recommend you take your time as reading such prose is, not only impressive, but a lost art today.  There are few contemporary poets who can describe visiting a gym as eloquently as he can (funny because I was reading the poem At the Gym at the gym this morning!)  He captured it perfectly.  Not a hug fan of poetry as I still remember taking a poetry class my junior year and never finding the depth I was expected to in the poems, but this is a good read.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Crossroads of Should and Must


The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion
by Elle Luna

This one is a life coach’s dream book!  I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend for any person interested in living the life you want for yourself.  Author Elle Luna lives the book by challenging herself to find her passion, live her passion, and, in turn, writes her book: The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion. Luna describes how others influence our thinking and the importance of filtering out these external influences and discovering our own desires instead.  She begins with true life stories of others who did just the same thing – famous people like Einstein, Picasso, T.S. Eliot, etc.  She believes our “crossroads” are found where “should”, what others have us influenced to believe, and “must”, what’s in our hearts, meet. Choosing “must” is the greatest thing we can do with our lives.  The book covers the origins of “should”, “must”, and the return on living a “must” life.  She gives concrete examples of how to work towards living the “must” life by sharing how we challenge the barriers that one will face: money, worthiness, time, and other things that often hold us back.  The book is an artist’s dream: great colors, pictures, and inspiring thoughts/quotes throughout.  You can read this one in 90 minutes and every page will blow away long-held assumptions that are deeply embedded in one’s psyche.  I plan on using this as part of my speech for Torch Day this year.  Thanks JP for sharing the book.  I really loved this one!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Scarecrow and his Servant


The Scarecrow and his Servant
by Philip Pullman

Always fun to read a young-adult book with a message.  This one, The Scarecrow and the Servant by Philip Pullman, is a quick read.  Yes, this is the same author who wrote His Dark Material, trilogy of three books which were very popular.  This book is a bit on the lighter side. It details the story of a scarecrow who has been stolen from one farmer by another, is struck by lightning and is able to speak, walk and behave like a human!  He meets a young boy who he recruits as a servant.  The two go on a journey, eventually learning that they are being chased by the evil family of the original owner who made the scarecrow.  The scarecrow loses parts of himself on the journey, including his head (an onion), which the boy is forced to eat as he was so hungry that the scarecrow offered it.  His head is replaced with a coconut that they find on the journey.  Eventually they are caught by the police and tried for treason, but they counter-sue the evil family who has made the claims against the scarecrow.  In a strange twist, they win the court case with the help of a friendly raven, who helps to show that the scarecrow can be the rightful owner of the land that the original farmer left him, even though he was rebuilt as a scarecrow.  Evil never wins!  A nice cute story!