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.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Girl, Interrupted

Girl, Interrupted
by Susanna Kaysen

A really poignant memoir by Susanna Kaysen in her book Girl, Interrupted.  The story of her life at age eighteen when she was institutionalized for attempting suicide by overdosing in April 1967. After meeting with a hospital psychiatrist, Kaysen is placed in a private mental hospital near Boston, Massachusetts.  She is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and is held there for the next 18 months.  During her stay, the author introduces the reader to fellow patients, nurses, doctors, and people who “pop” into her life.  She goes in depth into her own personal struggles and how one is treated in such a place.  One of the fellow patients, Daisy, kills herself and we witness first-hand the trauma and mayhem that erupts with the fellow patients.  The book opens the world into the inner thinking, confusions, and ways in which the outside (nurses/doctors) enter their world and respond – not always nicely.  During her journey, she questions the diagnosis and we see slow improvement with Susanna. She discusses prior relationships with teachers and other adults, rejection from family, and, finally, what happens when she leaves the hospital.  Near the end of the book, Susanna leaves and reconnects with other patients who have also created a life outside of McLean hospital.  The author does a good job of bringing the issue of mental health issues, at a time when it was very much taboo, into the mainstream.  Powerful read.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

We Were Eight Years in Power

We Were Eight Years in Power
by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Finished reading We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates, who is an affiliated faculty member and writer in residence at NYU.  This is my second read of a Coates book.  The book is a series of essays that were published each year (in the Atlantic magazine) during the presidential term of Barack Obama with an introduction written in 2017 reflecting upon it from today’s perspective.  There is a great deal to unpack in each chapter’s preface and subsequent reflection on the state of the Union (and President’s Obama’s role as president).  The book is rooted in telling the story of the fight of African Americans in the US to escape the burdens placed on the race from slavery.  He makes a strong argument throughout for reparations, not only as a result of slavery, but the centuries of policies, laws, and practices that kept black people from gaining any level of equal treatment in this country.  He provides historical examples from the 1600s through today.  So how could a black man become President of the United States?  And what happened as a result of his election?  (He is not surprised that a person who he believes epitomizes white supremacist rhetoric is now President.)  He explores the impact of Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, comedian Bill Cosby, and the Obamas on how we find our culture today.  He uses data from sociologists in discussions of: the growth of the prison system, which directly impacted black communities; poverty; housing markets; and urban sprawl.  I found the book deeply reflective on how I view race and made me more cognizant of how I carry a privilege that will not allow me to experience the pain and suffering of peer black people.  It is a book that will make whites uncomfortable, which means something…. His words have truth.  Great read and elicits a conversation with people who experience life differently because of the color of their skin.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
by Robert B. Cialdini

We enter the world of psychology and how to be a better salesperson (or, for those who don’t want to sell, how to ensure you aren’t being “sold” something you don’t want) in Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.  I will say, some of the research and examples set forth in the book are somewhat outdated (circa 1970/1980s) as it was first published in 1984.  The tenets, though, still hold true today.  It is a marketing-type book on how consumers are persuaded to purchase a particular product/service or way of thinking.  The author is a research-focused faculty member who studied human behavior/response to stimuli.  The author’s main concepts to learn include: reciprocation; commitment and consistency; social proof; liking; authority; and scarcity.  Each of the concepts are offered as ways to influence others using data and examples from US industries.  For example, he shares how the Hari Krishnas solicited by giving something away (a flower) before asking a person for something (is a person more likely to want to give you something AFTER you do something for them?  Data shows we are!)  Or getting a commitment from someone (he offers the example of being at the beach and asking your neighbor to watch your stuff while you go to the bathroom) is more likely to thwart a would-be thief than if you don’t ask someone for help.  Did you know that “laugh tracks” actually work (though must people can’t stand them)? If you are in an accident on the street in a busy city, you should make eye contact asking for help from one person rather than screaming for help (it makes a difference – WOW!).  And why are Tupperware parties (and those like it) so successful? It’s hard to say no to people you like. (No wonder why good sales people try to become our friend before selling us something!) Why do advertisers use “experts” that recommend a product? Because people in ‘authority’ tend to be more believable to those who are buying the product.  And finally, think about how ‘scarcity’ – only three of ‘this’ type of car left – tend to get people to purchase.  Cialdini has done his homework and gives a practical view on things we should think about before making that big purchase. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

House of Stairs

House of Stairs
by William Sleator

It was only a matter of time before I had the opportunity to read a “sci-fi” type book, and I found it in William Sleator’s House of Stairs.  Set in a dystopian post-world, five sixteen year-olds, all of whom come from orphanages, are found in a strange building that has no walls or ceilings, but only stairs in all directions.  At one portion of the stairs is a “feeding machine” that only feeds them under certain circumstances, ones that they need to figure out.  Two boys, Peter and Oliver, and three girls, Lola, Abigail and Blossom, are caricatures of what one would think of teenagers (athletic boy, reserved/cowardly boy, heavy-set spoiled girl, rebellious juvenile, and pretty, shy, worried girl).  They try all kinds of things to make the machine dispense food.  Lola figures out that, when they fight and alienate each other, food dispenses, but she tries to encourage all to avoid doing so as it will lead to their demise.  Three of the teenagers decide to not listen to Lola and eventually almost kill her and Peter in an effort to continue eating.  In the end, they are all stopped right before the two children are bludgeoned and wake up to a doctor – it turns out they were part of an experiment!  The book reminded me of Lord of the Flies in that the belief was that the strongest would survive. In this case, those who fought against the evil, Lola and Peter, were released by the research doctor to fend for themselves in the world, while the three others were kept for the next experiment.  Totally spooky and gave me a feel of Sartre’s No Exit.  It gets its message across!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Homeless Bird

Homeless Bird 
by Gloria Whelan

A quick read geared towards young adults, Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan is a simply beautiful story.  The main character, Koly, a thirteen year-old growing up in India, is the youngest of three children and the only female.  Her family is very poor and, as is custom, she is to be betrothed to a family that will take the small dowry her parents can assemble.  They finally find a match for her, but she is unable to see the future husband until the wedding day.  When she does, it is revealed that Hari, the young man, is too sick to be out of his room.  After the wedding, she learns that the family only offered him to receive money from a dowry to pay for a trip to the Gages River in an effort to cure him of his illness.  The treatment turns out to be ineffective.  After his death, Koly is treated very poorly by her new in-laws but finds a friend in Hari’s sister, Chandra. A few years later, Chandra is also married off.  Koly is taught to read and write by her father-in-law, a teacher, but her mother-in-law despises her and makes her work all day long.  A final blow to Koly is dealt when her father-in-law dies.  Koly is stuck working for the mother-in-law until she informs Koly that they will be moving away to her family’s home.  She is deceived during the trip and is left at the temple (where many old widowed women live on the streets).  She is befriended by Raji, a rickshaw boy, who leads her to a home for widowed women.  She gets a job working for an embroiderer.  Raji offers to marry her and live on a farm his uncle has left him.  What will Koly do?  Like the homeless bird, as written in a book of poems that her father-in-law had taught her about, Koly will finally find a nest in which she can be happy!  My synopsis really doesn’t do the story justice.  So worth reading!  It has Indian tradition, heartache and a happy ending!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate 

by Naomi Klein

Just finished listening to Naomi Klein’s very LONG but exceedingly important book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.  The book is a wake-up call for all world citizens to understand the devastation occurring as a result of climate change.  Klein states in great detail how market influencers, such as Exxon, Richard Branson (owner of Virgin Airlines), Warren Buffet, and most every millionaire, are only interested in filling their pockets with gold at the expense of our world’s survival.  We need to stand tall now and accept the fact that, if we go up two degrees in temperature, we are screwed!  We have very limited time to make changes that will effectively slow down the process of Earth becoming a heating pad that can’t be turned off.  Klein’s work goes from the beginning of climate change in Europe, most notably with Great Britain and the industrial revolution, and how every change to “make life more convenient” has amplified the shift in climate.  She is truthful and what she presents should frighten us all.  There is a good deal of redundancy in her chapters, but this information is so important that it needs to be repeated.  Clearly an impactful read – I’m sure a class assignment for an environmental studies student.  Always learning from RA Favorite Books….

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


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


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: 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.