Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bookviews - August 2012

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

As America heads over the fiscal cliff toward financial collapse, there’s a book that does a great job of explaining the federal budget and the politics that surrounds it. It does so in a manner that anyone without any understanding beyond the media reports can, indeed, understand. Red Ink: Inside the High-Stakes Politics of the Federal Budget by Paul Wessel ($22.00, Crown Business) arrives at just the right time prior to the national elections because two diametrically opposed views are held by the presidential candidates and others in their respective political parties. Among the surprises it contains is the fact that nearly two-thirds of the budget is on autopilot and goes out the door without an annual vote by Congress. In 2009, for the first time in the nation’s history, every dollar of revenues had been committed to the so-called “entitlement” programs before Congress even walked in the door! Suffice to say, the book is filled with very scary revelations about the conduct of our government as regards too much borrowing, too much spending, and too little restraint. One reads a book like this in order to take what steps one can to protect one’s assets.

As we head toward the elections in November, Stanley Weintraub, a historian and award-winning author of more than fifty books, has a new one, Final Victory: FDR’s Extraordinary World War II Presidential Campaign ($26.00, Da Capo Press) that, for those old enough to recall that era or young enough to be curious about it, will prove a fascinating visit to the past. I was about ten years old at the time and, like most of the young men fighting in Europe and Asia, had never known any other President that Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Elected initially in 1932, he had already served three terms when no other President had served more than two—based on a tradition set by George Washington. By 1941, he was a very sick man, suffering from a weakening heart in addition to having been crippled by polio prior to having first been elected. Would Americans turn to a younger Tom Dewey, a Republican, or stick with FDR who was visibly aged? Weintraub takes the reader through all the political machinations in both Parties, the campaign rigors, the selection of the relatively unknown Harry Truman as FDR’s running mate, and the election. His fourth term would last 83 days until felled by a cerebral hemorrhage, but he had ensured that the Democrat Party held onto the White House. The 22nd Amendment to the Constitution ensured that no President thereafter could hold the office for more than two terms.

Many are asking who will be Mitt Romney’s choice for the Vice Presidential candidate and many believe it will be Florida’s first-term Senator, Marco Rubio. He has authored an autobiography, An American Son, ($26.95, Portfolio, Penguin Sentinel) that covers his family’s roots in Cuba, the decision to flee Castro in the 1950s, and his political career and rise to become speaker in the Florida legislature and, from there to the U.S. Senate. At age 41, he has proven to be an articulate spokesman for conservative principles. The autobiography reads smoothly and, if Romney selects him, his Hispanic roots will no doubt be part of that decision given the growing U.S. population of Americans with Hispanic ancestry. There are no surprises here, but those with an interest in American politics will find it a useful introduction to him. The candidacy of Mitt Romney is arousing predictable interest in his religion. Mormons have served this nation in positions of public trust since the days of the Eisenhower administration. Joanna Brooks has written The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith ($14.00, Free Press, softcover) that tells her story of what it was like growing up in Church of the Latter-day Saints. She is a scholar of religion and American culture, and a senior correspondent for ReligiousDispatches.org. For the many people who know nothing about the Mormon faith, I would surely recommend her book for the introduction it provides. Among the strictures of the faith, she learned there would be no tea, no coffee, no cigarettes, no alcohol of any kind, and no caffeine. Like many who struggle with their faith, she tells of moving away from it during a controversial moment in the Church’s history, but also of returning so that her daughters could know the comfort of the faith in which she grew up. It is a heart-warming, honest story.

Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele have teamed to write books on the state of America over the years and they don’t like what they see. The Betrayal of the American Dream ($26.99, Public Affairs) examines how the middle class, the key to America’s economic success in many ways, has been systematically destroyed by what they identify as wealthy elites in combination with a government that does their bidding. This is an unrelentingly dour and depressing book, but it is also an unflinching look at the way outsourcing has eliminated many of the jobs that afforded the middle class a good life. I did not always find myself in agreement with their solutions, but I also could find little to argue with regarding the unfairness of policies that benefit the rich and large corporations while stripping wage earners of promised benefits and unfairly taxing them as a group. Coming at a time when Americans are suffering a new Great Depression, their book is particularly timely.

Events before and since 9/11 and occurring in the past decade in the Middle East have awakened Americans to the realization that they have been under attack by Islam since the 1980s with attacks as well on our embassies and on the USS Cole. Many plots have been thwarted since 9/11, but the fact that has not truly taken hold in the West is that Islam has been at war with all “unbelievers” for 1,400 years. The Koran not only requires war, but gives Muslims permission to kill anyone who dares to disagree with Islam or who says anything negative about its founder, Muhammed. To understand him and the malignant “religion” he created, I would recommend that you read Ali Sina’s Understanding Muhammad and Muslims (18.95, softcover). Sina, born in Iran, did not fall pray to the insidious way Islam captures the minds of those born into the faith and he has devoted his life to helping Muslims escape from Islam through his organization, http://www.faithfreedom.org/. It is a masterful, scholarly work that examines the life of Muhammad and reveals him in ways that demonstrate how he created a cult around himself. It was an ugly, violent, narcissistic life and one that now holds more than a billion people around the world in its grasp.

For a change of pace, let me state for the record that I do not believe in ghosts and never had. Two books have arrived for people who do. One is The Science of Ghosts: Searching for Spirits of the Dead by Joe Nickell ($18.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) who takes ghosts seriously and examines evidence for contact from eyewitness accounts to spirit photographs, and even forensic trace evidence. Filled with case studies, this book will interest other fans of ghostly affairs. Then there’s A Ghost Hunter’s Guide to the Most Haunted Places in America by Terrance Zepke ($9.95, Safari Publishing, softcover, $4.50 ebook). The author grew up in a part of South Carolina which is said to have lots of ghosts and “haints.” A journalist by training, she takes you on a tour of the Trans-Allegheny lunatic asylum in West Virginia, the Birdcage Theatre in Arizona, and the Colonial Park Cemetery in Georgia, among a dozen other places. There are popular theories about ghosts that include the view that they do not know they’re dead or that they have unfinished business.

For women interested in fashion and a healthy lifestyle, there’s Ballet Beautiful by Mary Helen Bowers ($20.00, Da Capo Press, softcover) and The Book of Styling: An Insider’s Guide to Creating Your Own Look by Somer Flaherty ($16.99, Zest Books, softcover). The author of the former book was a member of the New York City Ballet and is now a highly regarded fitness instructor. When Natalie Portman had to portray a ballet dancer in “Black Swan”, it was Bowers that helped her achieve the transformation. Her book is filled with photos and a world of good advice regarding a sustainable health regimen rather than fad diets or overworking one’s body. And once you have become slim and gorgeous (or not) there’s Flaherty’s book that brings together a decade of experience in the fashion industry as a stylist, journalism instructor, editor and writer. The book will be particularly useful for ‘tweens’, teens, and younger women, finding the right look or a variety of looks The book takes the reader through all of the popular styles and is filled with great advice.

Peace of Mind

The one thing that we most seek in life is peace of mind. As often as not, factors beyond our control interfere with that. The sales of various pharmaceuticals intended to provide an escape from anxiety is testimony to this quest.

Learning to Breath: My Yearlong Quest to Bring Calm to My Life ($15.00, Free Press, softcover) by Priscilla Warner tells the story of her lifelong panic disorder. More than 40 million Americans are estimated to have an anxiety disorder of some kind. By the usual standards, Ms. Warner should have been content. She was a college graduate, an accomplished art director, the coauthor of a New York Times bestseller, “The Faith Club”, happily married and the mother of two grown sons. When she read about Tibetan monks who had meditated so effectively they were able to change their brains, she wanted in. She went in quest of meditation’s secrets, trying all manner of ways to achieve a similar change. This book, part memoir, part a guide to rewiring one’s brain, makes for some very interesting reading. Dr. Gordon Livingston, MD, a psychiatrist, has authored The Thing You Think You Cannot Do: Thirty Truths about Fear and Courage ($19.99, Da Capo Press, softcover), a study of fear. He takes the reader from the primal impulse to escape death to the modern-day compulsion to avoid failure and humiliation. Such fears can become overwhelming and debilitating. Indeed, he catalogs a collection of human fears that include loss, intimacy, aging, inadequacy, discussing how people can choose to face them head-on. The author endured the loss of his own sons, one to suicide and another to leukemia, just thirteen months apart. When I think back on my own life, it has been remarkably free of fear, but it is never far from my thoughts. There is an antidote to fear. It is courage. It’s there inside of you and this book will help you tap into it.

Steven Hassan, an expert on cults, has written Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults and Beliefs ($9.95, Freedom of Mind Press, Newton, MA, softcover). He has helped thousands of people victimized by abusive relationships or who have joined cults that exercise mind-control. A former cult member in his youth, after breaking free he became a licensed mental health counselor and holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Cambridge College. If someone you know is trapped in a situation and you want to help, you should read this book and equip yourself to know how to extricate them. You can learn more by visiting www.freedomofmind.com.

Due off the press in September from Central Recovery Press, Nancy L. Johnson, a licensed psychotherapist and substance abuse treatment practitioner, has authored My Life as a Border Collie: Freedom from Codependency ($16.95) a fun book on a serious topic. She shares the life lessons she learned from her observations of the relationship exhibited by her border collie, Daisy. She noticed similar traits in herself that resembled codependency, “our tendencies to attend to others, to herd, to overreact.” The book includes new and specific information on the subject, but it is written with a light touch regarding out-of-balance relationships as she brings 35 years of her professional experience to bear on the subject. She sure has learned a lot from Daisy!

Unlike the heroes of earlier wars, those who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan did not return to victory parades and confetti. In Marguerite Guzman Bouvard’s book, The Invisible Wounds of War ($18.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) she tells the story of an estimated 4,300 veterans who return with crippling post-traumatic stress disorder. A resident school at Brandeis’ Women’s Studies Research Center, her book is a plea for Americans to recognize the plight of male and female soldiers as they pay a heavy psychological cost. These have been the two longest wars in which American military have engaged and the book focuses on the extreme duress of being in a combat zone with no clear frontlines with enemies who could be anyone among the civilian population. All this is compounded by multiple deployments. Lost limbs and other injuries bespeak the horrors of war, but the wounded mind needs repair as well.

Something Spectacular: The True Story of One Rockette’s Battle with Bulimia by Greta Gleissner ($ 16.00, Seal Press-an imprint of Perseus Books, softcover) is about a girl who dreamed of becoming a Rockette, the famed chorus line at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. They are all gorgeous, talented, and slim. Ms. Gleissner shares her personal chronicle about the devastating effects bulima exacted on her personal and professional life during her time as a Rockette. On the outside she was a happy-go-lucky dancer, but on the inside she was a food addict tortured by obsessive, self-destructive voices. Her bulimia began when she was a freshman in high school and slowly began to consume her entire life. By the time she joined the Rockettes, she was binging up to ten times a day, chasing a high that only comes from purging. It is a truly frightening story and a cautionary one. Cured at last, today she has a master’s in social work and a practice in New York City. Any bulimic should read this book and its encouraging story of overcoming this debilitating disorder.

In these difficult times, motivating oneself can be a problem, but Bob Prentice wants to give you a helping hand with his book iMotivate Me ($17.95, softcover) He has found fresh ways to address motivation and provides the tools for increasing it. This is not a new topic as books go, but I think the author has brought a variety of practical ideas and exercises so the reader can act on its recommendations.

Raising Children

There are those who see corporations as employing thousands and providing goods and services people want and those who, like socialists, see them as a threat to mankind, preferring to have government make all the decisions about your life for you. Joel Baken is among the latter and has written Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Your Children ($15.00, Free Press, softcover). Having previously penned “The Corporation”, this book expands on its themes, blaming “profit-seeking corporations” for using marketing to “manipulate” children’s emotions and inculcate “obsessive consumerism.” Of course, marketing does that to adults as well though some might point out that consumerism is what underwrites a thriving economy. This is, in general, a book filled with hysteria, but it occasionally makes a good point or two.

A far better approach to preparing your children to live in the real world is Mary Hunt’s Raising Financially Confident Kids ($12.99, Revell, softcover). She warns that our children are being groomed to become world-class consumers, and they are well on their way to becoming future debtors. The author agrees that they are being manipulated in much the same way adults are to buy things they may not need. Ms. Hunt is a personal finance expert who has developed a plan to “debt-proof” one’s children by teaching them how to handle money, neutralize the glamour of easy spending, and develop a set of values having to do with money, credit, and debt. Having raised two sons, she speaks from personal experience as well, suggesting that one start at age seven or eight. Since many parents are encountering debt problems, this book will prove useful for all age groups! I was raised in an era when parents did not discuss sex with their children, but that is not an option in the present era when children grow up with all manner of sexual language and images in everyday life. It starts when they are quite young and Deborah Roffman has penned Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kid’s ‘Go-To’ Person’ about Sex ($14.99, Da Capo Press, Lifelong Books, softcover). It is filled with excellent advice on topics such as teaching kids to view the sexually-saturated media critically, becoming approachable to ask questions regarding sex, and learning how to communicate with information, clarity about values, anticipatory guidance, and setting limits. The author has written extensively on this subject and really knows what she is talking about. The fact is that kids are going to be able to get their information about sex from a myriad of sources including, of course, popular culture. Today’s parent has the responsibility to be the primary source of advice and guidance for age-appropriate information.

Surviving Your Adolescents: How to Manage and Let Go of Your 13-18 Year Olds ($14.95, ParentMagic, Inc, softcover) by Thomas W. Phelan, PhD is one of those titles that tells you everything you need to know about the book. The author notes that these are the years in which things can go terribly wrong in the form of unwanted pregnancies, death in auto accidents, drug and alcohol problems. He discusses how parents can deal with being snubbed at the dinner table when they ask “How was your day?” When told “Nothing”, he reminds the reader that there is a strong connection between parent/teen relationships and adolescent safety. He offers a five-part job description to parents of teens to establish a comfortable coexistence. Coming Around: Parenting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Kids ($14.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) isn’t officially due off the press until October, but is included here because parents who encounter the issues involved will surely welcome news of this book. The author, Anne Dohrenwend, PhD, ABPP, is a psychiatrist who specializes in counseling LGBT kids and their families. It is filled with strategies for youngsters to cope with school, church, sports authority figures, and others, as well as friends and the child’s siblings. She reminds the reader that their children’s future does not depend on being trouble-free and, indeed, learning how to cope with what life has dealt them is what parent and child must learn. The book asserts that as many as 7.2 million Americans under the age of 20 are lesbian or gay and that most adult GLB’s knew they were that way by the age of nine.

Just published this month by New Horizon Press is a book that addresses the greatest tragedy in a parent’s life, When Your Child Dies: Tools for Mending Parent’s Broken Hearts by Avril Nagel and Randie Clark ($14.95, softcover). Death claims babies, infants, children and adolescents every year, as well as adult children. The authors, both of whom lost a child, provide readers with compassionate, pragmatic tools to handle the emotional, practical, and psychological challenges that confront parents so that they may learn how to regain and redefine their lives while holding close their child’s memory.

Deep Thinking

I receive a steady stream of books from Prometheus Books of Amherst, New York, and many are devoted to topics that address matters of the intellect and philosophy. Among the latest to arrive are the following.

The Marvelous Learning Animal: What Makes Human Nature Unique by Arthur W. Staats ($27.00) Instead of innate tendencies and inherited traits, this professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Hawaii has concluded that what sets us aside from all other primates is our ability to learn. Endowed with a brain that has one hundred billion neurons, humans are learning creatures, a process that begins at birth. The Language of Life: How Communication Drives Human Evolution by James Lull and Eduardo Neiva ($19.00, softcover) explores the totality of communication processes that create and sustain biological equilibrium and social stability. In this book that introduce a new discipline, evolutionary communication, to analyze how humans used communication to survive and to deal with sex, culture, morality, religion and technological change. A change of pace is provided by Joe Carlen’s The Einstein of Money: The Life and Timeless Financial Wisdom of Benjamin Graham ($25.00) a man who Warren Buffett has acknowledged many times as a primary influence on his approach to investing. During his life, Graham wrote six books on the topic and was known as the Dean of Wall Street. With access to his posthumously published memoirs, Carlin tells the colorful story of his business career and personal life. It makes for very lively reading.

Other publishers have books to offer that provide some interesting insights as well. Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back by Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy ($26.00, Free Press) made its debut in July. Together the authors offer an in-depth primer on the emerging field of resilience research, the study of how individuals, communities, organizations, economies and even the planet can better adapt to dramatically changing circumstance. The history of human civilization, about five thousand years, is testimony to how some societies demonstrated resilience while others disappeared. Most certainly the last century and this one has been one of rapid technological change and that, in turn, is affecting current events. Another book on this topic is Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by Dr. Steven M. Southwick, MD, and Dr. Dennis S. Charney, MD ($22.99, Cambridge University Press). The authors are professors of psychiatry and experts in posttraumatic stress and resilience. They offer some inspiration stories of ordinary people who have triumphed over adversity and identify the ten resilience factors that each one used to beat the odds and to flourish. Most people will face some sort of crisis in their lives, the loss of a loved one, a serious accident, divorce, and they can take a toll on our physical and emotional well-being. This book offers both science and solutions the reader can use to their benefit.

Lastly, there’s Models Behaving Badly: Why Confusing Illusion with Reality Can Lead to a Disaster on Wall Street and in Life ($16.00, Free Press, softcover) by Emanuel Derman. The author is the head of risk at Prisma Capital Partners and a professor at Columbia University where he directs their program in financial engineering. Starting as a theoretical physicist, he worked from 1985 to 2002 on Wall Street, running quantitative strategies research groups in fixed income, equities and risk management. He was appointed a managing director at Goldman Sachs & Company in 1997. The financial models he developed there have become widely used industry standards. The question he asks in this book is whether it is possible to create a representation of the world and what happens when they are wrong? It is his view that there is no reliable science of behavior, only limited and faulty analogies. Suffice to say, this is a provocative book at a time when such models are in wide use.

Novels, Novels, Novels

Summer is traditionally thought of as a time when people catch up on their reading while vacationing or just relaxing at the beach or around the home. For this reason, there are a few more novels in this month’s edition than usual.

For fun, there’s Norman Schreiber’s Out of Order ($14.95, Topquark Press, softcover) that had me laughing from the first page to the last. Schreiber, whom I have known for decades, takes us inside a Brooklyn condominium where the president of the coop board has been murdered and chopped up. It falls to Michael Levine, a psychotherapist, to be among the first to discover the body. Through Levine’s distinct New York perspective, we are introduced to a cast of condo characters, any one of whom you’d personally want to kill with your bare hands. By the time the second murder victim shows up, you cannot put the story down. It is hilarious. Every so often a comic novel comes along that provides relief from the other genres and Russell Potter’s Pyg: The Memoirs of Toby, the Learned Pig ($15.00, Penguin, softcover) is a tour de force. Written in the form of a rediscovered memoir “edited” by Potter, it tells the story of Toby who lived in the late 18th century. After winning a blue ribbon at a livestock fair, he is rescued from the butcher’s knife by Sam, his guardian and steadfast companion. Potter perfectly captures the style of literature from that period as he tells how Toby and Sam join a traveling circus and become a national sensation. In time Toby earns top university spots at Oxford and Edinburgh where he meets the era’s luminaries such as Samuel Johnson, Robert Burns and William Blake. It’s a lot of fun.

The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields ($27.95, Viking) tells the story in fictional form of Edith Wharton, the novelist of the Gilded Age, who at 45 fell in love with a handsome young journalist and had an affair with him. It put a tremendous strain on her relationship with her governess, Anna Bahlman, turned literary secretary, who was also her confessor and life-long friend. Others, too, were troubled and Ms. Fields has written a real page-turner for anyone who enjoys reading about matters of the heart, even if blinded by infatuation. Based on a thorough knowledge of Wharton’s life, her famous friends like Henry James, and her travels, the novel is enhanced further by the discovery of a cache of more than 100 letters from Edith to Anna. Another Viking novel just out this month is also well worth reading. It’s Maryanne O’Hara’s Cascade ($25.95) and it is an excellent debut. It is 1935 in Cascade, Massachusetts where Desdemona Hart Spaulding has had to trade in her art school training and dreams of moving to New York to pursue a career. Her ailing, bankrupt father dies. She is married to Asa Spaulding and stands to lose her father’s legacy, the Shakespeare Playhouse, as the Massachusetts Water Board decides to turn Cascade into a reservoir. Everything she has or wanted is being lost to her. In the midst of this, Jacob Solomon, a fellow artist arrives. I won’t give away the twists and turns of this story, but it is filled with nuance and insight, emotion and determination.

The deep bond between a mother and her child is explored in a novel of the same name, Mother & Child, by Carole Maso ($26.00, Counterpoint Press) that is a meditation on life and death that crosses invisible psychological and mystical realms of life. This will appeal to those who enjoy stories about ghosts and UFO, but it is devoted to the kind of reality a mother and child construct between them. For those who love ancient mythology, shape-shifting dragons, lots of action and a modern heroine, there’s Forged in Fire by J.A. Pitts, ($26.99, Tor/Forge), the third volume of an urban fantasy. Sarah Jane Beauhall is a blacksmith turned dragon slayer in a world secretly run by them. It’s about magic, danger, and all the elements that lovers of fantasy thrive upon.

I am convinced that every lawyer in America wants to write a novel and, given the profession they’re in, they often see the worst of life. As the narrator of Linda Rocker’s debut novel says, “If you’re looking for an interesting place to commit a murder, you can’t do better than West Palm Beach.” Punishment ($18.95, Wheatmark, softcover) is informed by the fact that the author is a retired judge and her knowledge of the justice system. It is the story of a high profile murder trial complicated by a bailiff’s murder, the bombing of the courthouse, and the victim’s father seeking revenge. Yes, it is a very lively story about a number of very dead victims. A novel that gave me pause is Show Time ($15.95, Lost Coast Press, softcover) because Phil Harvey hasn’t just come up with a thriller, but rather a grim story of pathological insanity on several levels. It is about a new reality show in which three women and four men risk death by starvation or freezing or by each other as contestants when they are left on an island in Lake Superior and the survivors are promised $400.000. Every that occurs is broadcast. Suffice to say this novel speaks to the worst instincts of those who created the show, those participating, and those watching. Everything about it is vile and I would recommend NOT reading it.

There has always been a market and audience for “naughty” books involving sex and the enormous success of “Fifty Shades of Grey”” is testimony to that. Tiffany Reisz makes her debut with The Siren ($14.95, Harlequin MIRA, softcover) It is an exploration of bondage, sadism and masochism, with Nora Sutherlin, a writer of erotica, at the center of a story. It is a fairly predictable story written to provide titillation. The author is described as a graduate with a B.A. in English who has “five piercings and one tattoo. She has only been arrested twice.” If you want to lower your IQ and feel thoroughly ashamed of yourself, this is the book for you.

Short stories can carry a punch and Cynthia Lang’s Sarah Carlisle’s River and Other Stories ($12,95, Mill City Press, softcover) demonstrates a real talent for them. The namesake of the title, Sarah, is featured in the lead story. She had lived a life of wealth until the War of 1812 ended the family fortune. Nine short stories provide many different characters whom we recognize in our own way, each altered by a life experience. It’s a great read for this summer and any time.

That’s it for August. Whew! The year is flying by, but I will be back in September to discuss some of the new books of the autumn when the publishing industry gets into high gear. Tell all your book-loving friends, family and co-workers about Bookviews.com and come back.

3 comments:

  1. It's a pleasure to read an early review by someone who appreciated the nuances of Cascade. Thank you !

    ReplyDelete
  2. President Obama is an American Citizen
    and~~
    Senator John McCain is a Patriot and Our Hero.

    u..a pathetic egotistical ignorant
    little speck of racist puke.............

    Semper Vigilo~
    merry,
    4wardTruth2me@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
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