Category: AM – Autobiography or Memoir


A Million Miles In A Thousand Years by Donald Miller

July 24th, 2019 — 8:30pm

A Million Miles In A Thousand Years by Donald Miller

The author and two friends are trying to write a screenplay for a movie. They are trying to figure out what makes a good story, but the author realizes he is struggling to figure out what makes a good life.

This book might be summarized by a subtitle the author gives the book and that is “what I learned while editing my life.” He is constantly reflecting back on his life and the meaningful interactions that he has had with people. He obviously is a man of faith and he frequently comes back to his concerns about what God will think of him and his life. He chooses many heroes and role models, some of which come from his favorite books or movies. He talks about his admiration for Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychologist who in 1942 was deported to a Nazi concentration camp, but spent time whispering into the ears of fellow prisoners, trying to prevent suicide by telling them that despite their suffering “life has meaning.” The recurrent theme of this book is that despite sadness and suffering, there can be meaningful fulfillment and that life is a journey. The author shares many of his experiences in interesting people that he has met on life’s journey as he believes that sharing life’s trials and tribulations is what one should try to do. He raises the idea that suffering and sharing the hardships of life can be a worthwhile goal and make life more meaningful.

A symbolic but real life experience that the author shares is really the essence of this book and that is a grueling cross country bicycle trip that he participated in with many of his close friends where they traveled ocean to ocean in three weeks. He believes that sharing such adventures with people you care about is a most worthwhile endeavor. Perhaps that is why he is sharing this book with his readers.

 

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir

Howard Stern Comes Again by Howard Stern

June 11th, 2019 — 11:26am

Howard Stern Comes Again by Howard Stern

If you are a Howard Stern fan, undoubtedly you have put this book on your reading list. While I never subscribed to his special Sirius radio channel, I do remember him from his earlier am Radio days and his periodic TV appearances and also I have seen him on “America’s Got Talent” TV series. He is well-known for his out spoken sexually explicit speech (including of course the title of this latest book) and his confrontation of his radio guests.

In this book, he has chosen to include transcripts of some of his interviews with various celebrity guests over the years. This includes interviews with Madonna, Jerry Seinfeld, Stephen Colbert, Paul McCartney, Conan O’Brien, Joan Rivers, Larry David, Michael J Fox, Steve Martin, Chris Rock, John Stewart, David Letterman, and many others. There also are several interviews with Donald Trump before he became a political figure.

However, the essence of this book is that he has provided a preface to each interview where he attempts to discuss his and his guests state of mind at the time of the interview, (which could have been many years ago or perhaps quite recently). A constant theme in his discussion is how he himself has changed over the years because of his own psychotherapy. He acknowledges his self-centered personality, insensitivity to his guests and how his therapy has allowed him to be much more empathic to other people. He uses his own insight into himself to encourage his guest to reveal their deep-seated feelings, and at times regrets, in their relationship with others. Of course, most of the people being interviewed and discussed are very well known celebrities. Particularly, poignant is when he discusses how some of his guest reacted to the death of some other well-known celebrities, especially those who died by suicide.

Toward the end of the book he appears to regress and revert to the old classic Stern as he presents an interview with his mother where he is obsessed about his own conception and how and when his father may have stopped using a condom.

I am sure this book will be quite successful and Stern’s fans will suck it up.

 

 

 

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

April 16th, 2019 — 9:54pm

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Any title that exclaims “absolutely true” raises the possibility that it may not be a 100% true and that the author may have taken some poetic license. However, this 2007 novel is clearly purported to be based on the childhood and young adult experiences of the author, Sherman Alexie who is an indigenous American who grew up on the reservation (or “rez” as the main character might say) of the Spokane Indian tribe. The story depicts his early family, school life, interaction with his teachers and friends, especially one key character, his best friend, Rowdy.

Poverty, alcoholism and despair on the “rez” are clearly shown. Then there is the pivotal event in our hero’s life which is his decision to transfer to a school in a white community 22 miles away from where he lives and his need at times to hitch a ride back and forth to school if his often-drunk dad cannot drive him.

We are shown how the main character interacts with the teachers, and other students at his new school, some of whom beat and bully him. We are also shown his accomplishments in varsity sports at high school in a very well-told fast-moving book.

The book is meant for young adults although apparently there has been some resistance in some places because of the realistic depiction of alcoholism, bullying, violence, profanity, sexuality, racism and other realistic situations. This did not prevent the book and the author from receiving numerous prestigious awards for this book, including the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. It not only depicted issues specifically to this character and his life, but examined the universal themes of lasting friendship, aspirations, and even how the awareness of death and experiencing loss of a loved one impacts us all.

This  is a relatively short book and there is an added-on section, which contains the author’s perspective from his adult point of view many years after he wrote the original manuscript. There is also an unusual component of the book which is involved with cartoons. The main character in the book was shown to express his feelings and view of contemporary life by drawing various cartoons. In preparation for this book, the author asked graphic and cartoon artist, Ellen Forney to create cartoons throughout the book. We are not sure why he did not use his childhood drawings. Perhaps, this was a fictional component of the story. It was also difficult to clearly view the cartoons on the iPad on which I read the book. However, this did not detract from a thoroughly enjoyable literary experience which I would recommend to all readers.

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, T - Recommended for Teenagers

On Gold Mountain by Lisa See

February 10th, 2019 — 4:23pm

On Gold Mountain: A Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family by Lisa See.

If you do not know it, “Gold Mountain” is California and the story begins as the author’s great-great-grandfather Fong See arrives on the West Coast of the United States where he works making herbal remedies for other Chinese men working to build the railroad.. The book traces his intermarriage to Ticie and how he becomes involved in Chinese antiques and furniture. The arc of the story includes three generations, many of whom stayed in the family business, mostly in the Los Angeles area. We followed the progenitor and other family members as they often visit China and give money to family back home, and bring old Chinese antiques and furniture back to the United States. We come to appreciate the outrageous discrimination against the Chinese including American laws that directly targeted this group. We also learn about Chinese customs including the practice where men often had multiple wives which might include concubines and prostitutes.

This is an important book about the history and roots of Chinese-Americans. It serves a purpose of also being a family record of the ancestors of the author as well as many Americans who have roots in the immigration from China. I feel educated and more enlightened having read this book. I can understand why the author, who has written many best-selling novels, would have chosen to share her family history in this book.

Having said all of the above, I found the book quite tedious to read. The author should have provided a clear usable family tree diagram to follow the different characters and the various relationships.( There was a small family tree at the beginning of the book , which was very difficult to read on the I-Pad,) To the non-Chinese reader, the names were unfamiliar and frequently sounded the same. In addition, sometimes it appears that the author used two different names for the same character.

The author’s previous success as a novelist, I am sure led many people to explore this book. In my case, I only stayed with it because it was a selection of my book club. In the end, I am enlightened about Americans with Chinese heritage, but this is not a book that I would recommend for enjoyable reading.

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Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, HI - History, P - Political

The Defense Never Rests by F. Lee Bailey

January 5th, 2019 — 11:17pm

The Defense Never Rests by F. Lee Bailey

My family and I were renting a house for the holiday season and I picked this book from a large bookcase in the rental home. It was published in 1971. The author was one of the most well-known and successful defense attorneys in the history of the United States. He has defended the accused in the famous “Torso Murder Case,” the people involved in the “Great Mail Robbery” as well as Sam Sheppard, Albert DeSalvo (also known as the Boston Strangler), Dr. Carl Coppolino and many years after this book was published he defended O.J. Simpson.

This book is written in the first person and clearly conveys the Bailey’s passion for his work. He not only believed in giving his clients the benefit of every possible legal defense but he also clearly was very passionate about the law and the judicial system. A good part of this book includes the exact wording taken from court records of examinations and cross-examinations from many of his high-profile cases. It is quite fascinating since he also provided the behind-the-scenes discussions with clients and other people involved, that shed light on the cases being litigated and the personalities involved.

Two recurring themes throughout this book deal with subjects that most of us don’t have much insight about. The first is the polygraph or lie detector. Bailey was a strong advocate of this instrument in allowing many of his clients to establish that they were telling the truth even though this test is not allowed in most courts. Another interesting subject which Bailey utilized was hypnosis. At times he brought in experts in this field to explore a client’s motivation and to demonstrate various aspects of the veracity of them.

I do acknowledge that at times I could not follow Baileys’ logic or trend of thought as he delved into the law and was preoccupied with his passion for establishing the grounds for his client’s innocence or the right to an appeal.

I am sure that this book has inspired many young people to enter the legal profession and has been a factor in young lawyers choosing to specialize and become a criminal defense attorney. Even if this is not a factor for you, this book will be a very interesting read.

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Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir

Becoming by Michelle Obama

December 7th, 2018 — 12:36am

 

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama’s story should be of great interest to many people because it is a great example of the American dream of a family who worked so hard that their children could have an opportunity for a good education and success in life. It is a story of how a Black-American was able to overcome the prejudices that still exist in this country. In addition this is a first hand account of an intelligent, ambitious woman who not only achieved success in life but also has worked incessantly to give others a fair chance to make the most of their lives. And of course, it is about a woman who married a man who became president of the United States, which gave her the opportunity to become first lady of this country. In this position, she was able to give hope and opportunity to many others. It is also the inside view of the fascinating life in the White House for eight years during Barack Obama’s presidency.

If you were looking for Michelle Obama’s deep-rooted feelings about Donald Trump, you won’t get too much of an inside story. She was angered by Trump’s supporting the false idea that her husband was not born in the United States and she believed that this endangered her family. She reiterated the fact that he is a misogynist and was appalled of the way he has treated women in the past.

It is not surprising that this Princeton University and Harvard law school graduate can write quite well. Although she credits many people for helping her with this book, I am sure she would be just as clear and interesting in any personal conversation as she was in this very readable and worthwhile book.

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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

And then All Hell Broke Loose by Richard Engel

March 17th, 2018 — 5:59pm

And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East by Richard Engel

I have always enjoyed Richard Engel’s television reports from the Middle East. He comes across as a brave, dedicated, knowledgeable reporter. More recently, I have seen him on NBC with a helmet and flak jacket reporting riots and in the middle of dangerous situations. Therefore, it was quite interesting to read about his determination as a young man to be a reporter and why he chose to specialize in the Middle East. He certainly was ambitious, but he was willing to put in hard work and to climb a ladder going from a freelancer to NBC’s go-to person in the Mid East. His adventures included a situation where he was captured and held prisoner. The book had the makings of a interesting movie or documentary.

The history of this area of the world has always seemed quite complicated to me. As part of this book, Engel makes an effort to trace the history of this part of the world back to ancient times. He makes a professional attempt to describe the history dating back to Mohammed and even earlier. He explains the differences between various groups and sects, such as Shiites and Sunnis and goes into great detail about the various leaders (mostly not elected) who were strong in the various countries and describes how they have impacted the history of this region. He tells how each one came to power as well as why they were able to stay in power or were toppled by opponents, sometimes with or without the help of the United States or other outside countries. I wish I could say that I am greatly enlightened by these descriptions and that I now have a coherent understanding of the history and the various power of factions in the Mid East but unfortunately, that would not be true. While Engel is clearly a knowledgeable scholar of the history and of the intricacies, they still blend together in my mind although I have not given up on trying to master an understanding of them.

While I am sure Engel would disagree, I did feel that he was somewhat unsympathetic to Israel. He noted at one point when he and his young first wife lived in Jerusalem, most of the Americans that he met there “were deeply involved in their temple groups.” He went on to say that he was “never able to break into their close-knit communities.” Also, in describing the Israeli ministers at all level, he noted, “I never saw such a well-oiled public relations machine.” When describing life under the Oslo Agreement, for the Palestinians living in the West Bank, he emphasized how blatantly unfair it was to the Palestinians, “it was a strange system which Palestinians had different rights depending where they lived.” He made the statement that “Many Israelis then and now, scarcely saw the Palestinians as human.” During the confrontation between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians throwing rocks at them, he noted that the Israelis shot rubber bullets, which he then added, “could cause fatal hematomas” as if the rocks thrown at the soldiers were not dangerous. Furthermore, in his description of the Israeli-Lebanon conflict, I thought he was negative towards Israel. I have never doubted Engel’s attempts at being an objective reporter, but as noted, I did think he was unfairly unsympathetic to Israel.

Despite my feelings about his one-sided view of Israel and my own difficulty in grasping a substantial piece of the history lessons he tried to give, I found this book a very a interesting and worthwhile read from a familiar television reporter for whom I have great admiration.

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, HI - History, P - Political

10% Happier:How I Tamed the Voices In My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, And Found Self-Help That Actually Works- A True Story by Dan Harris

January 16th, 2018 — 11:36pm

10% Happier: How I Tamed The Voice In My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, And Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story by Dan Harris.

I never had a desire to meditate or develop mindfulness. This may be because in my work as a psychiatrist, I am always exploring the past to understand the present. I also seem to be attuned to capturing the present moment for future reflections rather than be intensely into the present. Frequently, I am moved to take photographs to hold on to a special moment. However, that does not mean that I am not curious to understand why many people whom I respect are into some form of achieving mindfulness. I was not quite moved to go to a retreat or read some esoteric books about Buddhism, meditation, or the like. However, when someone recommended this New York Times bestselling book by Dan Harris, a TV news reporter and anchorman, I thought I would give it a try.

This is a down to earth, humorous at times but a genuine journey by a guy who is bothered by the voices in his head (no real hallucinations), racing thoughts (no apparent manic problem) which he felt made him anxious  a good deal of the time. He had tried what appeared to be a reasonable run at psychotherapy, which may have helped somewhat, but his curiosity about exploring mindfulness persisted.

Mr. Harris met some serious practitioners of various forms of mindfulness and meditation, which he describes in a very readable style. He tried very hard (and I believe he succeeded) in explaining his journey and his personal experience. He gives a blow by blow (or should I say breath by breath account) as he learned to look inward to his breathing and his inner thoughts. He carefully describes the various steps, which he has tried as he learned to meditate and tells how it has been meaningful to him. In a humorous and at times self-deprecating manner, he seems to be quite sincere as he shows and discusses his various attempts and experiences. It appears to have worked for him. Not only has it worked for him, but also I believe he has written a very readable and successful book.

 

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, MHP - Mental Health/Psychiatry

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

October 2nd, 2017 — 11:29pm

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

“History is written by the victor” is a quote by Machiavelli. In this case, it is a loser who tells what happened. Actually, this book is more than an accounting of what happened in the 2016 presidential election in which Hillary Clinton had 2.9 million more votes than did Donald Trump but lost the Electoral College and thus lost the presidential race. This book provides an insight into the persona, personal development and most important, the hopes and aspirations that Hillary Clinton has for this country. She also shares her shock, surprise, disappointment and, devastation that she experienced in losing this election.

Hillary does deliver what the title of the book promises. She explains the story or should we say the non-story of her, “emails. ” and essentially states that FBI Director Comey’s suggestion that she was being investigated for criminal activity concerning her emails which in fact was a very minor situation and that he did not mention that Trump’s campaign was being investigated for the serious activity of colluding with the Russians was quite harmful to her. The suggestion that she was participating in criminal activity that really had no basis but nevertheless gained the news initiative and allowed her opposition to use it against her essentially changed the outcome which all the polls were projecting as a win for her. Clinton also discussed the role of the Soviet Union in cyber attacks on the United States election which are now being developed in the current news stories.

Although she is fairly confident that she would have won the election if it had not been for the timing of Comey’s ill-stated unfair public statements, she also makes an effort to examine how her opponent had tapped into a segment of the U.S. population that was hurting and believed that they were not understood. It’s quite apparent that Hillary Clinton was unambivalent as to her opinion of the character of her opponent. She felt that Trump was a narcissist and a liar. A couple of years ago, I read an interesting book titled The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. It tells how ex-presidents of the United States get together from time to time to share experiences and engage in discussions and activities which are usually quite cordial and constructive. I could not help but wonder how Hillary might interact with Trump should she be accompanying her husband, former President Bill Clinton, to such a gathering in the future.

I have a photo of Hillary with my then 10-year-old granddaughter which was taken during the 2016 campaign which I titled, “Two future presidents”. Clinton does share her sadness that she has disappointed so many women, young and old, who were expecting her to break through the glass ceiling. In fact, her planned victory speech was going to be in a room with lighting that would give the illusion of a shattered glass ceiling. Hillary shares with the readers how painful it has been to disappoint so many people who pinned their hopes on her for changes and opportunities that would have been related to her accomplishment in being the first woman president of the United States. However, she does appear to be coming around to recognizing that she has set the stage for another woman to accomplish this feat which she hopes will happen in her lifetime. She plans to continue to be active in many ways and I am sure that she will continue to make a difference.

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, P - Political

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