Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Shocking Case of Malpractice

Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality CaseSybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case by Debbie Nathan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This really is an extraordinary story, as the title says.  I have never read the book, "Sybil," nor seen the movie, but I was vaguely aware of it and its subject matter.  The author writes very well and has done an exceptional job of digging up and presenting the actual facts of the matter.  The only reason I cannot give it five stars is the author uses too much "must have thought," "would have" acted in a certain manner and other speculative devices.  Also, she tends to hype her story a little more than she would need to.  Just the facts, ma'am, let the facts speak for themselves.  The facts alone present a startling indictment of certain members of the psychiatric establishment, and unnecessary editorializing distracts from the story.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What Is Romney Thinking? (Or is He?)

I haven't posted any political diatribes in about four years; but it's that time again. All the pundits are talking about the latest Romney "gaffe" in which he told $50,000 a plate donors his dismissive view of nearly half of Americans.  I don't think it was a "gaffe," I think it was Romney being honest about what he believes.  The fact is what he believes is not only wrong, it's stupid.  The 47% of the American people who are dyed-in-the-wool Obama supporters are not all moochers.  I'm not.  I support Obama and I pay income taxes -- lots of them.  The best discussion I've seen about Romney's comments are by John Cassidy in The New Yorker.  They're worth your while to read.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Beyond the Beautiful ForeversBeyond the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a very well-written book. Although non-fiction, it reads like a story. The author tells about the lives over several years of some of the people in one of the slums around the airport in Mumbai, India. Real names are used and the stories are not pretty. The book pretty much demolishes the romantic notion that poor people help each other and live a good life without money. The people she describes live a miserable life and they know it. Several characters commit suicide by drinking rat poison. The book is so detailed with conversations and thoughts that I have some questions about whether liberties were taken for the sake of the story. The author claims not. Time will tell. If it is a work of fiction, it is still extremely well done.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Richard Ford: Wildlife

WildlifeWildlife by Richard Ford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a great example of the kind of writing I like to read. Nothing fancy, just a straightforward story told in simple prose. It's about three days in the life of a 16-year-old in Bozeman, Montana. His life seems to fall apart when his father goes off to fight a forest fire and his mother has an affair with a wealthy man in town. Ford doesn't insult his readers' intelligence by spelling out for them how as characters are feeling. The reader figures it out by the characters' speech and actions. I need to read some more of Ford's books.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Book Report: You Must Read; This Book

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an extraordinary book -- unlike any I have ever read. The narrator is Death and the story is about a family in a suburb of Munich in World War II. This is not a book I would pick up to read on that description. I read it because our reading group is doing it and I'm glad I did. Somehow, despite the subject matter and the narrator, the book is compelling. One feels oneself a better person after having read it. This is one of the few books that I rate higher than five stars, when the maximum is five.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

JACK Report: Free Concert Sunday on Governor's Island

I have been fairly quiet lately about one of my passions, the JACK Quartet; not because they haven't been active but because I've been doing most of my publicizing on Facebook.  But for those few readers I have left who are not Facebook friends, you should know that JACK is playing twice on Saturday (rain date, Sunday,) at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Governor's Island in New York City and you can listen for free.  Here is one of the pieces they will be playing. 

And here is an interview with Ari describing the show. Here is another article describing the show. The Wife and I will be there,so come say "Hi," if you make it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Book Report: I Am Not A Fan of Mormons

No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph SmithNo Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith by Fawn M. Brodie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who was the first Mormon to run for president?  No, not Willard "Mitt" Romney, but the founder of Romney's church, Joseph Smith.  I wanted to read this book precisely because I am curious about the origins of Mormonism, considering that the Republican candidate for president this year comes from an illustrious Mormon family and was a bishop in the church, the head of the Boston "stake" (what would be a diocese in Catholic terminology.)

This is an objective book, as objective as a book can be whose subject is a fraud, a liar, a convicted swindler and a child molester.  Smith started out his career by swindling land owners into paying him to locate buried treasure.  He was tried and convicted for that.  Even if you believe his preposterous story about finding golden tablets, which he could never show anyone, which contained stories pretty much plagiarized wholesale from other accounts extant in his day of the lost tribes of Israel being the ancestors of the Indians, the proven lies he repeatedly told as head of the Mormon church makes any straight-forward account of his life seem like it's picking on him.

Some of the more egregious lies were the ones he told about his sexual practices.  It is well documented that he repeatedly seduced women by convincing them that God had commanded them to "marry" him and that it included girls as young as 14 and 15.  These "marriages" were not conducted as one might think a religious prophet who believed he was commanded by God to engage in polygamy would conduct them.  These were not marriages conducted in the open "in front of God and these witnesses" with women who then became part of his household. They were done in secret, some with women who were already married and who continued to live with their "earthly" husbands, and he repeatedly denied that he was doing it to his wife and the bulk of his church members.

Although Mormons claim to be Christians, Smith didn't teach the familiar Jesus who urged his followers to renounce earthly possessions and to turn the other cheek when oppressed.  Smith had his own militia, with himself as the "Brigadier General" and they were ordered to turn the earth red with the blood of those who persecuted them.  At Nauvoo, IL, the scene of the death of Smith at the hands of an outraged mob, he controlled all of the land.  He bought it at low prices and sold it at inflated prices to followers coming to the town.  Smith ran for President of the United States and told some of his followers that God had told him he would be "King of the World."

So, what does all this have to do with Willard "Mitt" Romney?  He comes from a background and religious tradition where deception is part of the heritage.  Look at the way he is running for president and then read this book. It's all part of who Romney is.

Yes, I believe in freedom of religion.  I don't have a problem with electing a man president of the United States who believes in myths which I cannot accept.  I don't have a problem with electing a man president who believes in or even practices polygamy.  Polygamy has at least as much support in the Bible as monogamy.  But, I do have a problem with electing a man as president whose religion is based on fraud, lying and sexual predation.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Book Report: The Truth and Nothing But The Truth

Yours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee, Journalism's Legendary EditorYours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee, Journalism's Legendary Editor by Jeff Himmelman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jeff Himmelman has raised a mini-storm in Washington and New York among the journalistic elites who can't believe he betrayed the two great icons of modern journalism, Ben Bradlee and Bob Woodward by writing the truth. No one has claimed that Himmelman fudged the facts, only that he should have protected Bradlee (and Bradlee's wife, Sally Quinn) and Woodward by not including things that might make them look bad.

None of what Himmelman wrote is actually that negative about the great gods of journalism.  There was an instance he found where Woodward lied about his sources in his Watergate stories and a letter that Bradlee wrote but never sent in which he questioned the motives of his wife, Ms. Quinn.  Neither "betrayal" was any great shock to anyone who has followed the careers of Bradley, Quinn and Woodward.  I lost any confidence that Woodward could be relied upon as a "truth teller," in the book, "Veil" about William Casey's time at the CIA in which he quotes Casey on his death bed.  There were guards at the door to Casey's hospital room 24/7 who denied that Woodward was ever in the room.  It didn't pass my "smell" test that the hospital staff, the guards and the Casey family would allow Woodward into the room.  There are many other instances of Woodward reporting, particularly his account of the Supreme Court in "The Brethren" that have not passed my "smell test."

Himmelman's book is not a chronologically organized book of biography of Ben Bradlee, but more of a character study.  Many of the facts about Bradlee were already known, since Bradlee had already written an autobiography (which I have not read.)  Himmelman shows a charismatic man whom many people (and I count Himmelman among them) adored.  But he was not exactly a genius, he didn't have the attention span for that.  His gift seems to have been to find good reporters, give them a chance to produce and then support them to the hilt.

I got this book in a Good Reads giveaway.  It is not a "great" book, but it is a very good book, one that entertained and informed me.  I recommend it for people who are interested in journalism and politics.  I don't think I would want Jeff Himmelman for a friend though.

Monday, July 02, 2012

JACK Report: A Smash in Bali

In April, I linked to a JACK fund raising event in connection with a trip to Bali to play with traditional local musicians and dancers.  I am happy to report that the trip was successful beyond what they had hoped for.  The Jarkata Post has a review here in which they say the audience was "stunned" by JACK's performance.  I am told the quartet played to a crowd of 3,000, their biggest crowd to date.  There is a DVD and CD being made of the performance.  I'll let you know when and where they're available.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Hey, It Was Free

Pushups in the Prayer RoomPushups in the Prayer Room by Norm Schriever
My rating:  Don't bother

I got this book for free after a Good Reads give-away program (although I didn't win, the author contacted me later and offered me a free book if I would promise to review it.) So, never look a gift horse in the mouth is what I've learned from my father. I've read the book and now I have to keep my end of the bargain.

It would not be good form to trash a free book. So, I will be as kind as I can. Norm Schreiver seems like a fun guy to have a beer or two with. I would stop at two because, according to the book, he can get pretty wasted after more. He has some stories that he could tell about the year he took traveling to various parts of the world. Most of the trip is with a friend and for most of the trip, Schriever and his friend stay in one sleazy hotel after another, get wasted in one sleazy bar after another, try to find a basketball court to shoot some hoops and try to pick up women. Those are the kinds of stories that really go over a little better in a bar than in a book. In a bar, you can kind of tune in and out of the conversation, depending on how loud the music is and what's on the television monitors. As a book, you're pretty much stuck with reading every word, and in this one, an editor would probably have eliminated some of the words. (Depending on the toughness of the editor, maybe some of the chapters.)

The book is not all about partying though. About three-fourths of the way through, Schreiber has an epiphany of sorts when he sees on a train platform a boy in raggedy clothes, whom he assumes is an orphan, eating out of trash containers. The boy touches him to the point that he gives him all of his cash (the $31 he has on him) and some clothes. He also decides that there is a higher purpose to life, mainly saving the world with his writing. So, he finishes the trip, goes back to California, goes into business of some sort involving real estate and law (I would not be at all surprised if he is a lawyer, as they seem to be particularly susceptible to the need to express themselves in writing) makes a lot of money, and then, 10 years later moves to Costa Rica where he writes this book. He has now apparently moved on to Nicaragua where he is working on a sequel.

The book is not a religious book despite the title. According to the preface, the title comes from a time when Schriever was in Thailand and was in a hotel room so small he couldn't do his daily pushups so he went to some kind of meditation/prayer room down the hall and did them. It's a catchy title, and I would have liked to see a little more exposition about the incident, but it is not included in the chapter on Schriever's stay in Thailand, which is a bit odd, I thought.

The book shows the blessing and perils of self-publishing.  The world would never have seen the book if the author had been forced to find a traditional publisher.  You can count that as a blessing or a curse, depending on your personal inclinations.  I got the book for free.  It wasn't a bargain.  If you're going to read it, make sure you don't have to pay for it.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Infinite Book

Infinite JestInfinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It took me six months, but I finally did it. All 1,079 pages, including 388 footnotes, some of which ran 10 to 15 pages and contained footnotes within the footnotes. Despite, following along (more or less) with a readers' guide, I can't say that I began to understand the book. Some of the writing is very clear, with good descriptions and laced with humor. There were many things I found infuriating about the book -- the constant use of initials for names of people, places and things; the use of obscure words after obscure words, which even a heavy reader with years of education could not decipher. The book struck me as being by and for English majors.

Why did I bother? First, I have never started a book I didn't finish. Second, Wallace is from this area and I kind of know some of his immediate family members. Third, it is praised by those in the know as one of the great works of literature of the Twentieth Century and Wallace is considered one of the century's greatest authors. No doubt, Wallace is an extremely smart person, but he is not smart enough to be able to write his thoughts in such a way that a reasonably educated person can understand them. What I would really like to do is read the book again in the Kindle version so that I could get immediate definitions of unknown words by simply pressing on the word. But not yet. First I'm going to cleanse my palate with some Proust.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Good Read For A Lawyer

Anatomy of a MurderAnatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a classic of the lawyer/mystery genre; one of the earliest. Traver is the pen name of John D. Voelker, who practiced in the Upper Peninsula for Michigan for many years and eventually was appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court. He knows how to spin a good yarn, but the book is a little dated in its references to women, particularly. Lawyers love this book but for the nonlawyer, it may get a little pedantic, particularly in his lengthy exposition on the jury instructions given in the murder case.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Help JACK Have A Ball in Bali

You haven't heard much about the JACK Quartet recently on my blog.  (That's because I've been bothering my Facebook friends.)  Here is information about an exciting new project that JACK is doing in Bali,Indonesia, and your chance to give them a boost.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Book Report: No Longer A God, But What A Man

Life ItselfLife Itself by Roger Ebert

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Roger Ebert is a hero of mine, particularly the way he has coped and talked about the disfigurement of his face by cancer. In many ways, he comes across as an ordinary man; he writes without pretension. Too many film critics think it is their job to convince their readers of their own erudition. Ebert's beginnings as a newspaper reporter -- sports even -- show themselves in the simplicity and directness of his style. But there is nothing simple about his thinking. I particularly like his reflections about the belief in God and his religious upbreaking. He describes it in a way that makes sense.

An Esquire article several years ago, which published in full page color a portrait of how Ebert looks now with his jaw gone, so impressed me that I changed my Facebook profile to describe my religion as "Ebertite." I don't think Ebert would like that. He is very much aware of his own un-godlike characteristics and describes them in humble detail. He describes his religion as "secular humanist." I think I'm going to change my Facebook profile to describe my religion as "secular humanist." That's the least I can do for someone whom I previously thought was a god.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Book Report: Another Chink Filled In The Gap of My Reading Education

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another unexplainable gap in my education was never having read anything actually by Du Bois, although I had read plenty about him. Finally, I got around to reading this book and I was blown away. Although written more than 100 years ago, Du Bois's analysis of the race problem is spot on. Here are the opening sentences:

"Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: masked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter around it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, 'How does it feel to be a problem?' they say, 'I know an excellent colored man in my town;' or, 'I fought at Mechanicsville;' or, 'Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil?' At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, 'How does it feel to be a problem' I answer seldom a word."

It is unexcusable that it took me more than 50 years to get to this book. The loss in my understanding for so long is a pity.  I never knew what I was missing.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Book Report: Good Advice For All Children

Please Look After MomPlease Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This little book of fiction is by an acclaimed Korean author, but it is the first of her books to be translated into English. It tells the story of a poor uneducated woman in a little village who sacrifices herself for her family and, unknown to her family, to others. She is unappreciated until she disappears on a visit to Seoul. I liked the book because of the insight it gives into Korean life and culture and the plot is interesting. It is confusing at points because the point of view is constantly changing among the different family members, without identifying who is speaking other than context. Also, everything is in the second person, even when the person is speaking in the first person. I don't know if that is a translation error, or if that is how it was intended to be written. Our daughter-in-law gave this book to us, but when I asked her how true to Korean life it actually is, she confessed that she hasn't read it. All I can say is it seems to be an accurate depiction.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Book Report: A Book For All Tastes

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed AmericaThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you think you don't like nonfiction, then you haven't read "The Devil in the White City." It's hard to imagine that a book about the World's Fair in Chicago, known as the Columbian Exposition in 1893 could be a page-turner, but this one is.

The book weaves together the story of the Exposition with that of a serial killer who killed hundreds of young women during the time of the Fair. All of it is based on original sources. Larson looked at the actual paper on which the assassin of Chicago's mayor at the time wrote a note expressing his delusions, and saw how hard were the indentations on the paper from his pencil. He uses trial transcripts, as well as other primary sources for his material.

In all fairness, Larson does some imaginative recreation of dialogue, but he does it so skillfully and seamlessly that it works. This is a book that everyone will enjoy. You got your history, you got your mystery, you got your romance, you got your heartbreak. It's even got pictures. Above all, the author knows how to tell a good tale. What more could any reader want?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Book Report: John Jeremiah Sullivan Is Not David Foster Wallace Despite Having Three Names

PulpheadPulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is no doubt that Sullivan is a good writer, but he suffered from extravagant praise, in my opinion. I had to have this book of essays for Christmas after The New Yorker compared his writing to that of David Foster Wallace. He is no David Foster Wallace. Not even close.

"Upon This Rock," the author's account of attending a three-day Christian rock music festival is the strongest piece, reminiscent of Wallace's famous account of attending the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, but not matching it. Sullivan's essays about searching out old blues singers and visiting Bob Marley's mentor, Bunny Wailer, just become plain tedious if you're not a blues or reggae devotee. This is a little-above average book, but not nearly masterpiece quality.

View all my reviews