Archive for 2018


Waking Lions by Ayelet-Gundar-Gosher

October 15th, 2018 — 1:12pm

 Waking Lions  by Ayelet-Gundar-Gosher

 The setting is modern day Israel. A neurosurgeon in the early evening at the end of his shift at the hospital, takes his SUV out on an open road to release some of the tension built-up during the day. After speeding on what he thought was a deserted road, he hears a thud. Upon getting out of the car, he realizes that he has killed black Eritrean man. He uncharacteristically decides to leave the scene of the accident and vows to tell no one what happened. His wife, who is a homicide detective, is assigned the case.

Certainly, this has the makings of a great story, which it is. However, the author is intent on also making it a study of many aspects of human behavior including marital relationships, honesty, fidelity, blackmail, prejudice, discrimination, drugs, conscience and a lot more, perhaps too much. I can see that the author deserves the accolades that she has received for the book, as she has developed many wonderful skillful metaphors worked into the narrative. For me, however, these many deviations or sidetracks directed me away from my interest in the characters and the plot. I found myself reading faster and faster and flicking my finger more quickly on my iPad as I was not inclined to reflect as much as the author wanted me to do. This may have been my shortcoming as the book was very well received and recommended to me from people that I highly respect.

Comment » | FG - Fiction General, FM - Fiction Mystery

Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle

October 5th, 2018 — 8:01pm

Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle

Although this book bemoans the loss of conversation because of modern technology, I don’t believe I have recently read a book that stimulated more conversation with people who are important to me than this one did. Early in the book, there is a reference to a cute two-minute video which had 51 million hits the last time I looked. It is titled “I Forgot My Phone” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OINa46HeWg8). The response to this simple message reveals to me the awareness that people now have concerning their increasing dependency on their phones.

It is stating the obvious that people are on their phones much of the time, at the dinner table, while working, in school, walking in the street, riding in the car-frequently while driving, before going to sleep, just after waking up, as well as in many more places and situations. The author hammers home the point which should be obvious, but perhaps it is not, that texts, emails, emojis, etc. are taking the place of real conversations between people. Replying to a text or email while you are with people is not a real conversation with the person who is in your presence or with your phone partner. In person conversations facilitate real relationships and creativity.

The impact of this book, which is based on a good deal of personal research by the author as well as studying other peoples’ research and observations, is not simply a loss of the art of or advantages of meaningful conversation. Ms. Turkle makes a very strong argument and a scary one, as she gives numerous examples proving the point, that the more we communicate with our phones as compared to being in person, the more we lose the ability to have empathy and to be empathic with other people. The ability to relate to others and to understand their feelings is the essence of what makes us human. Ms. Turkle is making a very compelling case that modern technology is making us lose our humanity.

This point is made in the book numerous times. While it is even somewhat repetitious, there is great value to see it in so many different contexts. For example, there is a parent who takes a small child to the park and is looking at his or her phone rather than looking and talking to the child. The author gives the all familiar example of a family who is at home or in the car with children involved in games or texting as the parents are likewise preoccupied with their phones rather than the family relating to each other. When there should be an in person creative business meeting, instead the meeting is held by Skype during which the participants are multitasking in their own locations. There is a school lunch table where friends instead of talking and understanding each other, are looking at their latest texts. There are obviously numerous other examples that could be made and are made in this book.

While the results of the invasion of our phones and all that goes with it is scary and discouraging, there is hope. The author talks about families, businesses and schools that are addressing these issues with no phone zones, no phones at meals or in the car and other creative ways of bringing people together and encouraging conversation. However, it is also clear that we are far from solving this problem. In fact, the author shows us with many examples that we are regressing “Siri” to robots who we want to take care of us. Do we believe that artificial intelligent machines can understand and respond to us? Where are we going with this issue? What should we do about the effects of modern technology on our humanity and the impact on our children. Read this book and keep talking about this subject.

Comment » | Social

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

September 11th, 2018 — 11:52pm

 

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

In the nine years that I have been writing my blog (BookRap.net), more than 10% of the 164 books I have reviewed have had “Holocaust” as a keyword listed in the search section. This does not include the many books on the subject I have read before that time which include three that stand out in my mind; Diary of Anne Frank, Sophie’s Choice, and Schindler’s List. I was a small child safely living in the United States when World War II ended. While many of my older relatives escaped Europe before the war and none were concentration camp survivors, I felt a deep link with my unknown Jewish relatives and their friends and neighbors who were victims of this terrible atrocity. This connection was reinforced early in my career when I was a director of a mental health clinic in Brooklyn and we saw many survivors and children of survivors.

Early in this book, while I was feeling my usual attachment to this terrible piece of history, I found myself asking, “Why am I going through these events once again?” I thought there was nothing really new here. However, as the book progressed, I did notice that it turned to a specific piece of history which I don’t recall as often relived in books and film on the subject; that is the one German concentration camp which was exclusively for women and that was Ravensbruck. It gave a depiction of the horrendous Nazi experiments that took place on these women with cruel and destructive surgery to their legs in order to test the effects of a new antibiotic. The story related how these women were made to participate in slave labor and then were selected to be murdered when they became ill or too weak to work or just to meet a quota for a certain number of murders to be done. After their death, their bodies would be put in an oven for cremation.

While this book is a novel by Martha Hall Kelly, the author did spend several years researching the background of the lives of some of the characters upon which the book was based. She also did appear to earn the right to write this book in the first person, as she appeared to know quite well the characters who were featured in it as she allowed them to tell their story. She went back and forth with each character mostly during the war years, but there were a few chapters 10 to 15 years during the post-war period.

I believe there was a special sensitivity that the author showed from a woman’s point of view. The deep mother-daughter relationship was explored in various very difficult circumstances as well as the bond that existed between two sisters in the most terrifying and unimaginable situations. Of course, there also was the connection between other women who were living together through this tragic time.

While this book perhaps becomes another book with a keyword “Holocaust” on my blog, I also know it will be an excellent contemporary novel that will be available and hopefully one with great appeal to today’s generation of readers, so this piece of history will never be forgotten.

Comment » | FH - Fiction Historical

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

September 3rd, 2018 — 2:35pm

The Hate U Give

By Angie Thomas

The main theme of this book is well known to every black parent and child who has participated in “The Talk.” A black teenage boy and girl who were like buddies since they were young kids are riding at night in a car. A white policeman pulls them over. The teenage boy who was driving was asked to get out of the car. He wants to know why is he being pulled over and is irritated. Skip a few beats, and the next thing we know there are several gunshots. The boy is dead and the girl is left to tell the story – the whole story.

Although this is a novel, we know every nuance of this painful tale could be true. The details of this girl’s life and the life of her parents, siblings, relatives, friends and the life and death of her childhood friend all feel genuine and real as they jump from the pages of this book or as they light up on your iPad.

Our heroine, on the surface seemed to lead two lives. One is at the private school she attended with her white friends, which her parents hoped would give her the best chance in life. The other was her time with her friends and family in the “hood” where she was comfortable and could speak her mind and talk in her true language. Did I mention that Starr (that was her name) actually was bilingual and much of the book was written in a language that was not my native tongue, but for some reason every word and nuance was crystal clear.

The author found a way to take us on journey into the lives, hearts and emotions of this 16-year-old black girl and also her parents, siblings, uncle, cousins and friends. We came away with insight into how a destructive riot can envelop a community.

However, there is a glimmer of optimism among the painful hate and destruction in this book and that is in the character of a bewildered white young man  who is Starr’s boyfriend. He stands by and closely follow the bright light that is his inspired girlfriend. His journey appears to be one of insight and understanding into the pain and hate that rumbles through the streets. Perhaps this is the author’s metaphor for hope that will eventually emerge in the future.

Comment » | FG - Fiction General

The Last Innocents by Michael Leahy

August 24th, 2018 — 5:44pm

The Last Innocents – The Collision of the Turbulent Sixties and the Los Angeles Dodgers by Michael Leahy

After recently reading Roger Kahn’s book titled, “The Era 1947 – 1957”, I was ready for another baseball experience. This book seems to pick up where the previous one left off, as the author follows the Dodgers’ move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and deals mostly with the decade of the 1960s. It is interesting to me that I also enjoyed this book immensely, even though I had stopped closely following baseball during this period since not only were the Dodgers no longer in Brooklyn, but I personally was totally absorbed in college, medical school and psychiatric training.

Perhaps the appeal of the book is that it is “inside baseball”. The author describes the trials and tribulations of the personalities involved, but he also recounts the details of important games and even the individual at bats. He not only reports the various key baseball moments as they happened, but he subsequently has chatted with many of the key players 40 or 50 years later about various at bats or important plays in the field. Even if I were not following baseball closely during this decade, I was very familiar with certain heroes of the time and of prior years such as Sandy Koufax, who was one of my heroes as he started off and had a great career with the Brooklyn Dodgers before moving to Los Angeles.

The personalities of many players emerged in this book along with the indelible impression which they left on the game. For example, the author gets into the head of Maury Wills, the Dodgers’ shortstop and fantastic base runner, as he traces his life and career in wonderful detail. As a psychiatrist, I could not help but enjoy learning about the personal life and baseball career of Wes Parker, who played first base for the Dodgers for eight years. The author told about Parker’s family history coming from a rich family, his relationship with his parents, his insecurity despite his wonderful baseball career and the meaning that being a success in baseball had for him. He weaved Parker’s history in and out of various chapters. He probably could have presented the full story of this man’s life at a psychiatric meeting and received great acclaim.

The book not only told great baseball stories and let the reader relive key baseball moments mostly about the Dodgers, but it also brought memorable news events that were occurring in our country during this time period. This included the assassination of President John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the civil rights movement and the impact of the Vietnam War. I could not put this book down and it was a great reading experience.

Comment » | S- Sports

The Era 1947-1957 by Roger Kahn

August 11th, 2018 — 9:49pm

The Era 1947-1957

When the Yankees, the Giants and the Dodgers Ruled the World By Roger Kahn.

If you were living in New York and old enough to be a baseball fan during the time period 1947-1957, which this book covers, you will especially enjoy this book. Kahn who is a prolific sportswriter, best known for his classic Boys of Summer (1972) which was about the Brooklyn Dodgers, has been writing books for over 60 years.  Can you imagine being a kid in a city where there are three major league baseball teams and frequently at least one and sometimes two will play in the World Series? When you are living through it, you take it for granted. But when you can look back on it, you realize what a unique experience it had been. Kahn, not only had the writing skills to take us back to that special era, but he has knowledge of the behind-the-scenes events, interactions and personalities of the people who starred in this era.

Before I go further, I must acknowledge that there was only one team that really mattered to me, and that was the Brooklyn Dodgers. My favorite players were Pee Wee Reese, the Dodgers’ shortstop and Jackie Robinson. It was only years later as I grew up, did I fully appreciate the significance of Branch Rickey bringing Robinson to Brooklyn as the first black major league baseball player. But all the behind-the-scenes details are here and a lot more about the personalities and the events of the golden era of baseball.

To me the book was very personal as I imagined that it will be to the older readers who were drawn to this book. One of the most traumatic moments of my life, certainly of my youth, occurred on October 3, 1951, when Bobby Thompson of the New York Giants hit a homerun off  a pitch thrown by Ralph Branca in the 9th inning of the decisive third game of a three-game playoff for the pennant that defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers and put the Giants in the World Series against the New York Yankees.It was known then and now as “The Shot Heard Round The world.” I remember exactly where I was and all the details of that “at bat.”

It happened that my best friend’s father got two tickets to the subsequent 1951 World Series that would now take place between the Giants and the Yankees (a famed Subway Series) and I was invited to go to the game with my friend. We took a subway to Coogan’s Bluff where the Yankees played the Giants. I distinctly remember when a Yankee by the named Gil McDougal hit a grand slam homerun and neither my friend nor I were moved since we were shameless Dodger fans.

This is the type of book that will ignite memories in anyone who lived through this era. It will bring alive many events and personalities such as Willie Mays and his famous outfield “catch”. Other persons that come to mind are “Joltin’” Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Leo Durocher, Charlie Dressen, Casey Stengal, Yogi Berra, Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, Phil Rizzuto, Mickey Mantle, Allie Reynolds, Joe Black, Roy Campanella, Walter O’Malley and many others.

This book was written in 1993 with an after foreword provided by the author in 2001, but it is a timeless book. It provides an account of the personalities and events of our national pastime “when the Yankees, the Giants and the Dodgers ruled the world”.

1 comment » | S- Sports

Educated by Tara Westover

August 7th, 2018 — 11:59pm

Educated by Tara Westover

One of the good things about being a member of a book club is that you get to read books that you might not have chosen on your own. This book is in that category for me. It is a nonfiction story which is the first hand account of a woman who grew up in a rural area in Idaho, where her family was fundamentalist strict Mormon. In fact, her father believed that the end of the world is coming and that he and his family should be constantly preparing for this cataclysmic event. He had them preserve and store food, buried gas tanks in the ground and built underground bunkers. The family did not send their kids to school and did not provide any organized home schooling. The account of their lives is written by one of the daughters of the seven children who was taught to read and write by her mother. She kept a diary upon which most of the book was based. It is a paradox how women were treated as inferior and subservient to men, although the author’s mother was a midwife and her father was a laborer who spent most of his time preparing for the end of the world.

However, the most fascinating part of the story is how the young girl who was the author of this book  was horrendously treated by one of her brothers with no support from her parents, was especially put down by her father and had no schooling through high school. However, she was able to take an entrance exam and be accepted to Brigham Young University and ultimately obtained a PHD and became recognized as one of the outstanding scholars at Cambridge University in England.

There is also a  subplot here,  how her father may have had a mental illness and how the author struggled with her  ambivalent feelings about her siblings and parents. She had psychotherapy which occurred when she miraculously became a college student. I wish that she could have elaborated a little bit more about her insight into this component of her life. Nevertheless, this is a unique story that I found to be a fascinating read.

 

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir

Home Fire by Kamila Schamsie

July 23rd, 2018 — 11:27pm

Home Fire

by Kamila Schamsie

This is a well-written novel by an experienced author, although I did find it somewhat drawn out.   The story depicts a British-Muslim family of Pakistani origin living in England who have to deal with the situation when one son (who has a female twin sister) decides to explore his long-deceased father’s roots and become a Jihadist. Not only does this disrupt his family but it also impacts on the British Home Secretary whose son has fallen in love with the would be Jihadist’s twin sister. The story provides insight into some of the contemporary political, social and religious turmoil that exists in the world today. It also examines how such struggles impact on family dynamics. The author has a style, which allows the reader to identify with each of the characters and feel their pain

Comment » | FG - Fiction General

A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles

May 15th, 2018 — 1:01pm

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

This is an interesting, although somewhat drawn out novel about an era that I have not thought much about. Through the eyes of its main character, Count Rostov, we go through a handful of decades starting in 1922 as the Russian Revolution takes place. Our protagonist is basically sentenced to house arrest in the luxurious Metropol  Hotel in the heart of Moscow. He must change his living quarters to a small room from the prestigious suite he would frequently inhabit before the revolution. He becomes the head waiter in this hotel where he was previously a very honored patron.

Count Rostov befriends a nine-year-old girl who is also living in a hotel and who runs around exploring all the nooks and crannies of this fascinating building and even comes across a pass key for all the rooms. Ultimately, decades later he meets the grown daughter of this young girl. The story is a complicated one, but allows the reader to get a perspective of how life in Russia evolved and impacted many people in different ways. It is also a story about how a mature educated man might be able to live his life if his boundaries were suddenly limited to one building mostly with the same people, although occasionally encountering others who were passing through and even has an opportunity for some romance.

 

 

1 comment » | FG - Fiction General

The Ghost of The Innocent Man by Benjamin Rachlin

March 20th, 2018 — 5:46pm

Ghost Of The Innocent Man: A True Story Of Trial And Redemption by Benjamin Rachlin.

Somewhat by coincidence, this non-fiction book continues the theme of An American Marriage, which was the previous book which I recently read and reviewed in this blog. That book was a fictionalized account of a man who was wrongly in prison for a crime that he did not commit and how that impacted himself and his young wife.

This book is a true story of the ultimate development of a remarkable Innocence Inquiry Project in North Carolina. It also follows the story of Willie Grimes, a young innocent man who was accused and convicted of raping a 65-year-old woman and spent 20 years in prison. The author of this book was not an attorney but rather was a writer who undertook this writing project when he was 26 years old. He traced the birth of the Innocence Project, which started at the University of North Carolina and Duke University Law School and then coalesced over a few years into a state sanctioned Innocence Commission that provided an official process for examining the case of convicted prisoners who may have completely exhausted their appeals process and could still have a pathway to having their cases reexamined.

The author told the story of young attorneys who became involved in this project while also working with smart idealistic law students, as they became the last resort for prisoners who may have been totally innocent. The author’s study did interview the various founders and pioneers of this project and told in great detail the trials and tribulations of getting it off the ground. The very interesting story of the birth of this project was interspersed with the equally remarkable story of Mr. Grimes’ voyage through the judicial system and his experience in numerous prisons in North Carolina over the years. The author related in exquisite detail Mr. Grimes’ interactions with various cellmates, prison guards, doctors, as well as his visits to Jehovah Witness people who became very important to him. In fact, my biggest criticism of this book was the repetitive recounting of every interaction that poor Mr. Grimes had in prison. The author literally seemed to reveal “every detail” and report from Mr. Grimes’ case manager in prison, every unremarkable note by nurses, psychologists, guards, every comment, and minor infarction while in prison as well as many repetitive thoughts that Mr. Grimes may have had.

The author also provided the details of seemingly every letter or communication between the client and his various lawyers and between various people in the Innocence Project that were trying to help him and develop their program. Yes, this approach conveyed the tedious life that Mr. Grimes had in prison and the tremendous attention to detail of those who were trying to help him had to go through, I got that point! However, I felt that this was way overdone and made the reader spend much more time than needed in order to get it.

It was quite fascinating to come to understand some of the complications of doing hair analysis analysis, and even potential DNA analysis although Mr. Grimes’ trial predated the sophisticated DNA techniques that are used today. The reader also learned about the importance of saving evidence from the crime scene and how this may or may not always be done. However once again, these points in my opinion were way too much repetitive.

There was one question that was always on my mind and never answered in the book. Early on when Mr. Grimes was arrested, he claimed he was innocent and offered to take a lie detector test. This request was never followed up by the police or by his own attorney. I understand that such tests are not foolproof, but could not such a test, if it had supported his claim, have helped him in his appeal?

There came a time during his incarceration where Mr. Grimes could have found a pathway to change his life sentence by being paroled, if he took a special course for sexual offenders but as part of that process, it would have required him to apologize and ask for forgiveness for his “crime.” He refused to do this as he always contended his innocence. In the end, after more than 20 years in prison, as the reader suspected throughout the book, the Innocence Project was successful in allowing Mr. Grimes to be judged to be innocent and gain his freedom.

However, the book does leave us with the awareness that such innocence projects do not readily exist throughout the country and there are only a few * like this one, which leaves the reader with the awareness how there is a serious defect in our criminal justice system that needs to be addressed.

  • There is a  large well known DNA project and there are smaller projects throughout the country  such as the one in Alabama which was written about in a book titled Just Mercy  which was also  reviewed in this blog  :

 

 

Comment » | HI - History, P - Political

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