Monday, June 11, 2018

American Psycho


American Psycho 
by Bret Easton Ellis

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis was a really hard book for me to finish….  Written at the height of the ‘yuppie explosion’ in urban centers – in this case, New York City – the novel is written in the voice of the main character, Patrick Bateman, an investment banker during the late 1980s.  Bateman is in his late twenties, living the life: dinners on the town, drinks (and drugs) at the clubs, and explicit and care-free sex as the AIDS epidemic is in full swing.  Bateman is pre-occupied with his ‘hard body/tight abs’, eating at the best restaurants, wearing the latest and greatest designer suits, and having a Harvard pedigree.  Everything about him shouts “white-privileged, ignorant slut”. He doesn’t care about women – they are an instrument for him to abuse, and he does. You quickly realize that he’s a sociopath.  Bateman first kills a colleague, then taxi drivers, street people, and even a boy at the zoo, but he gets the most pleasure from bringing women to his home (usually in duos), seducing them, drugging them, forcing them to have sex with each other (and then with him) and then mutilating them.  Yes, Easton Ellis goes into MUCH detail on both the sex and the way in which Bateman mutilates his prey.  Bateman is a sick man: by day, a successful banker (though he never really works), and at night preoccupied with what was on the latest morning talk show, 1980s pop music releases, and the art of killing.  As the book progresses, Bateman gets more delusional and the sex and killing becomes more torturous (cannibalism, necrophilia, torture, with his pet rat involved!)  He eventually tries to turn himself into a college buddy, with a phone message explaining the killings, but he is rebuffed by the friend saying he has no courage to do such a thing.  And the book ends with where it all began, a bunch of investment bankers out for drinks planning the next social gathering with a sign over the bar stating: "This is not an exit." A social commentary on American consumerism, how people are objects, and if you have the means (money and smarts), anything can be ‘gotten away with’.  I found this to be a really disturbing book…it was hard to understand the worth in the story, but it did communicate that we’d better be careful of what our society is creating.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Reign of Error


Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools 
by Diane Ravitch

Two days, two books about the ills of modern American society.  Housing yesterday, and today? Education for our youth.  NYU’s own Diane Ravitch scribes the book: Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public. Ravitch presents a series of compelling arguments to fight the idea that we should move to privatizing our children’s school systems.  Her introduction offers a brief historical context of the public school system and how it appeared to get broken.  This is immediately followed by fifteen “claims” that support privatization and a counter “reality check” responding to each one.  Some of the issues she argues include: American public school test scores dropping while International test scores rise; our nation’s dropout crisis; declining graduation rates in college; the idea that test scores show a teacher’s effectiveness; merit pay for teachers improving achievement rates of students; abolishing tenure for teachers to help student success; the myth about Teach for America (which she debunks); the claim that Charter schools will revolutionize education; the idea that virtual schools for children will personalize the experience (and it’s cheaper); and finally parents seizing control of their school to make it better.  Well Ravitch has the data to prove that these claims are not accurate.  She has done her homework!  Like all good books that dispel myths, the author provides a series of recommendations to improve the system.  They are well thought out and make great sense, such as: provide good prenatal care for every pregnant woman; make high-quality early childhood education available to all children; have a well-balanced curriculum (arts and phys ed included); reduce class size; provide medical and social services to the poor; eliminate high-stakes standardized tests; ensure teachers/principals are trained; all public schools having school boards; devise strategies and goals to reduce racial segregation and poverty; and recognize that public education is a public responsibility, not a consumer good.  What a well-constructed series of arguments presented with REAL data.  I love reading books by smart and prepared NYU faculty.  This is a must read for any parent who wants their child to not be “left behind”.  Great read to learn more about the future needs of the next generation.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City


Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City 
by Matthew Desmond

Time to leave the novels and enter a sociological review on the nature of poverty and the fight to keep a home in urban Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond is a post-doctoral study conducted on eight families, illustrating their struggles to find affordable housing, keep affordable housing, and battle in the court system (when they don’t pay their rent).  This book really resonated with me as my father, when he was alive, used to bring me to a few of his court eviction processes for those renters who failed to pay rent numerous times.  Desmond moved into the College Mobile Home Park where he was introduced to a number of the families he followed.  He also spent time following two of the landlords, the people who ran the trailer park, and also a black couple who become wealthy renting to people who they had confidence would pay rent.  Poverty, drugs, family complications, weapons, job loss, and the governmental system of how to support people without means are all topics explored in this ‘documentary’ of sorts.  Desmond ends his book with a series of recommendations to help fix the broken system.  A thoughtful look into a serious issue facing every urban center across America.  The characters in the book are real and the struggles they face are real.  An important issue in our society today.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Abarat


Abarat
by Clive Barker

Abarat by Clive Barker is a young adult fantasy novel.  I was really engaged by the story… and then I realized it was another series book (which you know by now that I am not a fan of). So yes, I was left hanging.  I listened to the story on tape but then received the book and couldn’t stop looking through the pictures of the various characters that graced the story. The story features a teenager, Candy Quackenbush, who sat in her classroom while being berated by Miss Schwartz for a class project she had completed.  The project was to write ten interesting facts about Chickentown, the town in which they lived.  Candy, after being sent to the principal’s office, leaves to the edge of town and notices a lighthouse. She meets John Mischief, a man who looks human except for the antlers on his head, and they go to the lighthouse for the ‘key’ that will help the 25 islands of Arabat, a land far away.  Securing the key is the least of their issues as they now have to fight off Shape, a henchman for the evil sorcerer known as Christopher Carrion.  But before they are captured, they escape the lighthouse on the wild seas to the islands of Arabat.  When she gets to Arabat, the journey begins with introductions to many quirky characters and another encounter with Shape. As most series books end, this one was pretty anticlimactic, leaving the reader ready for Candy’s next escapade across Arabat, learning new lessons on the island with the hope of returning home someday.  What a great project report that will be for Candy!  Not my favorite young adult journey book…too many complicated characters, but the pictures help. I recommend avoiding listening on tape.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Roads

Roads
by Joseph Spece

It’s a special read when a student offers you a book of poems written by his cousin.  Roads by Joe Spece is a series of short poems that provide great imagery on the journeys of others. The exploration of the various “roads” of the human experience, from renowned authors/poets such as Bronte, Dickinson, Woolf, Faulkner, Melville to characters from Greek mythology, Spece writes in short stanzas to convey his impressions of the journeys.  I happened to find a Youtube video that explains his approach to poetry – take a look:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b33SXGQBA-4. And to think he writes these reflections in one ten-to-fifteen-minute sitting.  This much talent should not be given to one person….  Writing is an art and I have so much admiration for poets.  The book is only 80+ pages long but should be read with multiple breaks to truly enjoy the mastery of his work.  Thanks to Tom for sharing this special read.

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Absolutist


The Absolutist
by John Boyne

There is nothing like a well-written and compelling novel, and I have found another in The Absolutist by John Boyne.  The book is set in the time of World War I in Europe.  At age seventeen, Tristan Sandler decides to enter the war as an escape from his current situation, estranged from his family after being sent away for a ‘vile’ act (as defined for the time period): kissing his best friend, a male.  While in basic training, Tristan meets Will Bancroft, an eighteen-year-old, from another part of England and the son of a vicar.  While in training, the two young men develop a friendship that leads to something more – a physical connection and emotional connection.  The training leads to the battlefield where both men are challenged to survive and stay true to their values.  When Will captures a youthful German soldier in their area, things turn upside-down as his peer soldier kills him.  Will is enraged and felt the German youth should have become a prisoner of war.  Will decides to no longer fight in the war and looks to Tristan to support his claim to higher ranking officers.  The outcome pits the two friends against each other and leads to a surprising ending.  The book captures issues related to following your conscience, risk-taking, and the issue of homosexual relations during a time when men would be killed if they identified as gay.  The book follows the various points of struggle for Tristan from youth to being an eighty-year-old prize-winning author.  The author does an outstanding job of bringing the reader on a journey of life with a character who can never shake the decisions he makes in life.  Beautifully written and what a novel should be like.  Great read!     

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Homegoing


Homegoing
by Yaa Gyasi
A very intriguing story of two half-sisters from the Fante people in Africa in the book Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.  The book goes back and forth between the journeys of the two children (and subsequent next generations) of Maame. The book begins when a fire is started by the enslaved Asante mother, Maame, who uses this as an attempt to escape from her current entrapment by Cobbe, the father of her child.  During the fire, Maame, in a hurry to escape, leaves her daughter, Effia, behind. Effia, without her mother around, grows up under the eye of her step-mother, Baaba, who does what she can to rid her family of the young girl.  She finds the opportunity through James Collins, the governor of Cape Coast Castle, who is appointed by the British to run the slave trade.  Collins takes the young Effia as a second wife, even though he has a family back in England.  In the next chapter, Maame returns home.  She gets married to “the Big Man” of the village and they have a daughter, Esi. Later, during a raid of the village, she is captured and sold into slavery.  Each subsequent chapter follows members of the two daughter’s descendants. Esi’s family settles in America – many chapters focus on slavery there (civil war through 1960s) and all the race issues involved throughout.  The chapters following Effia are set in the Gold Coast, known now as Ghana.  Each chapter reads as a self-contained story with no need to read in any specific order.  There were some chapters I enjoyed much more than others.  Thumbs up for stories that capture the struggles of survival for the African population throughout our civilization.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Cosmos


Cosmos
by Carl Sagan

I remember seeing this book sitting on my dad’s table at home when I was a teenager.  A best-selling book at the time, Cosmos by Carl Sagan was the “go-to” book on astronomy, science, and all things “outerspace”.   The book has thirteen chapters which correlate with a TV series with the same number of editions.  The book shares very complex scientific thoughts on the development of earth, the universe and human beings in our civilization. Sagan, a Professor at Cornell University, is known in his time as the Father of Science.  The success of the book was a result of its combination of the latest scientific knowledge with amazing pictures from space.  The planets, earth’s beginnings, the stars (my favorite chapter), the development of science over the ages, telescopes and what they see, the development of travel (and its impact on what we know), and travel in space (and each voyage to that date) are a few of the various, major themes in the book.  A bit dated but great to read what was known at that moment in time.  Some major books stay best sellers, even today!