Electric Review

Culture & Criticism From the Far Distant Realms

Transgressions & Internal Bleeding

TRANSGRESSIONS. Edited by Ed McBain. Forge Books.

TransgressionsIn Transgressions, a collection of ten novellas written by some of today’s most acclaimed suspense novelists (and edited by noted mystery writer Ed McBain, who also contributes one selection), the genre of noir and suspense is flipped on its head and modernized, blended with the immediacy of compelling social commentary.

From the onset, readers will find a great deal of deep and penetrating material here: From the existential anarchist detective Archibald Lawless of Walter Mosley’s Archibald Lawless, Anarchist at Large: Walking the Line, to the malicious teenage girls of Joyce Carol Oates’ The Corn Maiden – it’s the world of the outsider examined in the aftermath of 9/11.

The point here is to allow each of us to decide for ourselves whether or not what they said is true: Is irony really dead? Is America really in the hollow and desperate state that the media tells us it is in?

However, Transgressions is by no means a collection of stories about the events of 9/11; yet still, the wake of that tragedy is imbued in each of these stories in tones both subtle and overt.

In The Things They Left Behind by Stephen King – unquestionably the most evident 9/11 novella – a man begins inexplicably finding the possessions of former acquaintances who died in the attacks on the Twin Towers. An accessible blend of magical realism and psychological closure, The Things They Left Behind reads with King’s trademark character development, the natural progression of the story line exploring the loss of our enigmatic safety and that cocky self assurance Americans once held so confidently.

Noted mystery author Donald E. Westlake’s novella, Walking Around Money, prefers to suggest the more subtle, psychological effects of 9/11. A vague uneasiness is felt by one of the characters whenever he is in New York City, in large, open crowds, or in telephone booths. And while its cause is never explicitly stated, this piece subtlety speaks volumes as to 9/11’s vast psychological reach.

In The Corn Maiden, it is the disregard for human life that is examined in Joyce Carol Oates’ inimitable stunningly horrifying fashion. Here, a neglected, disillusioned and vengeful adolescent girl abducts another young girl for a sacrificial rite, and it triggers a disastrous spiral of scapegoating and sorrow. It is as though The Corn Maiden’s story unfolds within a parallel world, a world complete with all the horrors and injustices of our own, a place where 9/11 is merely a lie told to the abducted girl to frighten her into submission.

These references only provide a brief glimpse into the perspectives which Transgressions explores. The stories presented here are well-written and especially varied in their conventions and stylistic touches, offering the reader everything from comic mystery to horrifying suspense to somber contemplation – each of these stories entertaining, thought-provoking and individually engaging.

As a whole, however, the pieces comprising Transgressions come together to speak to the vastly more important role literature plays in tragic and desperate times: for its books like these that help us heal, helping us to understand the things that are occurring in our world.

Order from amazon.com.

by Jacob Aiello

© Jacob Aiello. All rights reserved.


Jacob Aiello is a writer and co-editor of Soft Show and the Portland Fiction Project, whose stories have previously been published in Portland Review, Wordstock, and forthcoming from Stealing Time Magazine. Born in Mount Shasta, California, he now lives in Portland, Oregon, and is hard at work amassing a collection of short fiction consisting of far too many pronouns. Reach him via The Electric Review.

T Is For Trespass

WOMEN: AMERICA’S HOSTILE CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE FAIRER SEX. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Regan Books.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s book, Hating Women: America’s Hostile Campaign Against the Fairer Sex, analyzes the ever-increasing degradation of women through American mass media – a book which subliminally (and almost simultaneously) recalls the archaic classifications of women as philanderer, villain, whore and servant.

Rabbi Boteach argues that forty years after the civil rights and women’s movement, this society has repressed its latent anti-Semitism, racism and misogyny as a solved problem. Yet, in reality, our apathy has only increased, blinding us into a replay of medieval prejudice and patriarchy.

Boteach’s dissection of our cultural misogyny and the growing trend of female objectification traverses from the rise of pop music princesses Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson ( teenagers who rely more on the size of their chest than the depth of their voice), to the astounding popularity of the degrading Girls Gone Wild videos, to the crass cultural stereotype of women seen in the new wave of reality television shows like The Bachelor, Are You Hot?, Who Wants to Marry A Millionaire? and Extreme Makeover.

Despite Boteach’s religious background, Hating Women for the most part avoids preachy moralizing and Puritanism. His orthodox Judaic stance can be apparent at times, but the rabbi synthesizes his religious beliefs with sharp wit, clever observations and biting prose.

But perhaps most importantly, Boteach describes the limited avenues of success contemporary society offers the modern woman. Instead of encouraging women to embrace their femininity, Boteach argues the feminist movement has taught women to behave like men. Rather than be the catalyst for productivity with a conscience, modern woman has become all aggression and manipulation, as bad as men in both their professional and personal lives. It is a troubling issue to be sure, and in addressing this dichotomy, Boteach charges women with reclaiming their independence by embracing what is theirs as opposed to just mimicking the flaws of men.

Hating Women is a welcome inclusion in what will hopefully be America’s re-recognition of our latent misogyny. Yet, it should be noted that for every Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, there is a woman, a film, an artist struggling to succeed in our culture on their own terms.

Order from amazon.com or go to harpercollins.com.

by Jacob Aiello

© Jacob Aiello. All rights reserved.


Jacob Aiello is a writer and co-editor of Soft Show and the Portland Fiction Project, whose stories have previously been published in Portland Review, Wordstock, and forthcoming from Stealing Time Magazine. Born in Mount Shasta, California, he now lives in Portland, Oregon, and is hard at work amassing a collection of short fiction consisting of far too many pronouns. Reach him via The Electric Review.

CITIZEN VINCE. Jess Walter. Regan Books.

Jess Walter, in his new novel Citizen Vince, introduces Vince Camden, a supposedly reformed credit card thief transplanted into a small Spokane, Washington town on the cusp of the 1980 presidential election. After turning state’s evidence and testifying against the Mafia, Camden has been ‘relocated’ – selling stolen credit cards by dusk and managing a donut shop (“Donut Make You Hungry“) by dawn.

And then one day the inevitable happens and the past finally catches up with him. Through his harrowing journey to rectify the debt he owes the Mafia (with the police right-around-the-corner on his tail), Vince simultaneously ponders perhaps the most existential question of all: Who to vote for?

As you gather from the story line, it’s difficult to classify this novel: Part noir Mafia thriller, part political commentary, part classic morality tale with existential twist. However, throughout each of these possible classifications, the true binding thread remains Walter’s protagonist – Vince Camden.

Strangely familiar and yet utterly unique, Camden is a rogue Bogie for the pre-Reagan administration. Here, we find a man contemplating death and politics while shilling out weed and stolen credit cards to prostitutes. And it is this inimitable dichotomy of depravity (together with this almost childlike longing for political honesty) that draws the reader so close to him.

However, the true joy of Citizen Vince is in Walter’s command of dialogue — this blind infusion of energy merges the nostalgic biting tongue of Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Rick Blaine with the oddly endearing naïveté of Vince Camden to create a language of its own. But this is not to imply that narration is lacking. To the contrary, the pop and crackle of the dialogue is made possible by the somber near melancholy hue of the prose that surrounds it.

In one passage, Vince is contemplating the dead he has known, the futile hope of criminals and prostitutes and ghosts:

You’re going to miss my open house. Then, before he can say anything: It’s okay.

She clears the dishes, smiles, and says, in a voice rich with delusions, the voice of real estate hookers and criminal bakers: Well, you’ll just have to come to the next one (86).

As we move through the novel, we find that certain plot revelations are subtle – sometimes a bit too subtle; to the unmindful reader, some wonderful material can be wholly overlooked. Yet still, the wonder of Citizen Vince is in Walter’s seamless synthesis of politics and underworld culture. Funny, endearing and darkly optimistic, not since Jim Jarmusch’s film “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai have we seen these subjects so artfully blended.

But above all else, Citizen Vince is a tale of authenticity and honesty, a book about how the political candidates we choose mirror our own posturing and morality (or lack thereof). In Walter’s world, the cop is as corrupt as the criminal, but none can hold a candle to the strut of the candidate.

In the end, Citizen Vince is a novel to read and enjoy, this grand demonstration of witty dialogue and Mafioso pantomime. Still, when the final sentence is read, the charm of the novel will only be complimented by its gravitas. It seems odd now, but in the world of Citizen Vince, on the eve of the 1980 presidential election, salvation was actually possible.

Order from amazon.com or go to harpercollins.com.

by Jacob Aiello

© Jacob Aiello. All rights reserved.


Jacob Aiello is a writer and co-editor of Soft Show and the Portland Fiction Project, whose stories have previously been published in Portland Review, Wordstock, and forthcoming from Stealing Time Magazine. Born in Mount Shasta, California, he now lives in Portland, Oregon, and is hard at work amassing a collection of short fiction consisting of far too many pronouns. Reach him via The Electric Review.

A VIEW FROM THE EYE OF THE STORM: Terror and Reason In the Middle East. Hiram Harari. Regan Books.

In A View From the Eye of the Storm: Terror and Reason In the Middle East, Hiram Harari examines the recent and continuing conflict between Islamic fanaticism and anti-Semitism throughout the world. Although a theoretical physicist by profession, Harari tackles the subject under the guise of “proverbial taxi driver” – implying his arguments are not that of a scientist but of someone who has lived in the Middle East, witnessed its events and formed very definitive opinions about its status. Thus, this book is a well-formed expression of those opinions.

Harari’s study began as a not-for-publication lecture he gave for an international advisory board discussing the problem of terrorism and the Middle Eastern crisis – including its causes and effects and his own theoretical solution. The text was eventually disseminated and circulated without permission all over the world, provoking Harari to revisit his arguments and expound on them in a fully developed manuscript.

Whatever your personal position on the political spectrum, A View From the Eye of the Storm is nonetheless a sobering look at the state of the world, or Globania, as Harari pseudo-affectionately calls it. At once wryly comedic and disturbingly daring, Harari writes in an informally casual style that dramatically counters the gravity of his subject (as prefaced in his introduction):

I apologize to the victims of terror for occasionally using humor in this book. The subject is not funny at all, but part of what has kept the Jews alive for centuries is the ability to laugh and smile in difficult times. I see no reason to allow the terrorists to spoil this tradition.”

In this book, Harari shifts back and forth between cautious optimism and despairing woe, his prose a mixed with deftly-placed analogies and dark parables of suffering, obstacles overcome and lessons to be learned. The Middle East is undoubtedly the “eye of the storm” now, just as Germany and Poland were sixty-five years ago, and Harari adroitly compares the growing anti-Semitism today with the rise of the Nazi party and the remaining world’s refusal to take that threat seriously.

To be sure, A View From the Eye of the Storm is a controversial book, and those seeking comfort, escapism and reassurance would do well to keep their distance. Yet they would also do well to remember that an informed populace is the best defense against tyranny. In View, Harari reminds us that now, more than ever,  only the open-mindedness of the populace will open the door to world peace.

As Harari himself suggests through his “proverbial taxi driver” role, the impulse to agree or disagree with these sometimes blunt perspectives is entirely arbitrary. But what is truly important — and the thing which makes this book a top-priority read — is the uncensored, unpropagandized and unspun opinions of one man who has lived through all the tragedies and events we in America know only through the subjective filter of our own mass media.

Accordingly, we would all do well to read it and broaden our views. To utilize Harari’s beloved analogies: The precipitation of our storm is religious fundamentalism and fanatic nationalism. Education is our umbrella.

Order from amazon.com or go to harpercollins.com.

by Jacob Aiello

© Jacob Aiello. All rights reserved.


Jacob Aiello is a writer and co-editor of Soft Show and the Portland Fiction Project, whose stories have previously been published in Portland Review, Wordstock, and forthcoming from Stealing Time Magazine. Born in Mount Shasta, California, he now lives in Portland, Oregon, and is hard at work amassing a collection of short fiction consisting of far too many pronouns. Reach him via The Electric Review.

JUICED. WILD TIMES, RAMPANT ‘ROIDS, SMASH HITS, AND HOW BASEBALL GOT BIG. Jose Canseco. Regan Books.

Jose Canseco is taking a hell-of-a lot of flak for writing this book, as baseball insiders and myriad writers take pot-shots at him for his admissions about steroid use that often reveal the hidden stories of the behind the scenes world of big-money athletics.

Canseco, who played major league baseball into the new millennium, was one of the purest hitters to ever come upon the modern era of the game. He had that rare combination of power and speed and was blessed with tremendous athletic instinct, all of which helped to lead the Oakland A’s to a World’s Championship in 1989.

However, Juiced isn’t merely about the ball yard. To the contrary, it’s a tell-all “biography” in which Canseco is ballsy enough to admit that he used steroids (or juice) to enhance his prowess on the diamond (indifferent to the very real long-term effects that juice could have on his health). According to this book, Canseco was known as “The Chemist” – a true connoisseur of these drugs, he became adroit at mixing steroid cocktails, searching for just the right combo that might add yet another layer of ripples to his already impressive frame:

“Remember back when Mark McGwire and I were called the ‘Bash Brothers’ during our time together on those memorable Oakland A’s teams from the late 1980s to early 1990s? I didn’t always like that tag, but people were right that McGwire and I spent a lot of time together. Of course we didn’t talk much. What we did, more times than I can count, was go into a bathroom stall together to shoot up steroids. That’s right, after batting practice, or right before the game, Mark and I would duck into a stall in the men’s room, load our syringes, and inject ourselves. I always injected myself, because I had practiced enough to know just what I was doing, but often would inject Mark as well.”

(Pages 7 & 8)

Pretty startling stuff, indeed — these the confessions of a baseball star reading so much like our horrific perceptions of junkies huddled in urban stairwells, shooting up, hungry for that next fix.

But these aren’t junkies. No; instead, they’re among the wealthiest entertainers in the world, these men who are idolized by so many youngsters throughout the world:

“People want to be entertained at the ballpark. They want baseball to be fun and exciting. Home runs are fun and exciting. They are easy for even the most casual fan to appreciate. Steroid-enhanced athletes hit more home runs. So yes, I have personally reshaped the game of baseball through my example and teaching.”

(Page 9)

Baseball insiders are saying that Canseco’s book is bullshit and that his motives for lying are numerous: (1) He’s bitter that he didn’t get a chance to crack the 500 career homer list and this is his way of getting back at the game; (2) He’s a washed up fallen star looking for any tie to the game — and the steroid scandal is it; (3) He’s resentful that others who he played with (and among) have received the accolades he thinks he deserves and his steroid book is a way to take them all down a notch.

Still, I don’t buy that Canseco made all this up. Nope. It reeks of honesty to me. Plus, it’s hard to refute the fact that players in this modern-day era of baseball have gotten too big and too strong – seemingly capable of superhuman feats.Looking at the modern game objectively, it just seems plausible that at least some of this raw physical ability is coming from chemicals and artificial means – and not just extra hours in the weight room.

In retrospect, I think the real reason so many are angry at Canseco is that he’s betrayed the code of the locker room. Baseball is literally built around the “clubhouse” — it’s an old boy’s club and Canseco has told the world the secrets of the scene. He’s embarrassed a lot of folks, and he’s taken some of the luster off our perception of these people. Yet, that does not make him a liar. It might make him unlikeable to some, but we all must remember that he’s not the first person to raise these questions. He is, however, the first to step out this far and then not back down from the fetid stench of controversy.

Readers will quickly note that Juiced is not a literary masterpiece in the realm of Hemingway or Genet. It is, however, a well-written sports tell-all, with some startlingly human admissions about lost opportunity and failure:

“I had a terrible time adjusting to jail. I had a cell to myself, but it was only eight feet long by five feet wide…I’m not using the term nervous breakdown lightly. I’ve gone through bad periods before, but I have never experienced anything like that, and I hope I never will again. It all became too much for me. It felt like something inside me was being crushed…”

(Pages 253 & 254)

In the end, I think we hold baseball players and other athletes in too high esteem. They’re just people, and it is unhealthy for their lives to consume/command our own. We need to separate ourselves from their world and simply see them for what they are. Obviously, we all know that rock-n-rollers have routinely used drugs and have drank to excess, yet we don’t dismiss or devalue their art just because of their taste for drink. Moreover, if Poe was actually under the influence of opium while he was writing “The Raven” does it make the poem any less magnificent? The answer to this question is an emphatic no.

Instead, we should take a lesson from Canseco’s book, and distance ourselves from the hero worship of athletes. We need to simply admit that these people are very gifted physical specimens who entertain us on the ball field. The story basically ends there.

It’s high time for some stark realism now:

The fact is that baseball players are mere human beings, and as mortals, they are going to fall victim to traps like steroids and drugs and alcohol – the same as you and I could. In the end, it’s up to each of us to live out our lives, and then pay for any consequences that might be owed.

Recommended to all libraries at the public sector and college level as a general reference text that will appeal to fans of the game and to students of sociology studying the effects of steroid use on modern culture.

Order from amazon.com or go to harpercollins.com.

by John Aiello

GENERATION EXTRA LARGE. Rescuing Our Children from the Epidemic of Obesity. Lisa Tartamella. Elaine Herscher. Chris Woolston. Perseus/Basic Books.

“Supersize portions, the drift away from the family meal, the over-abundance of calorie-packed foods, the ubiquitous ads for the latest sugary and fatty snacks – with so many forces working against kids, we all have to do more than count calories …”

(Page 76)

Obesity kills and childhood obesity destroys children in both mind and body. That’s the theme of Generation Extra Large (written by nutritionist Lisa Tartamella and Elaine Herscher and Chris Woolston, editors for the on-line consumer medical journal Consumer Health Interactive).

Generation chronicles the nightmare of childhood obesity in America, showing us in no uncertain terms that children are growing old before their time. From girls afflicted with hormonal imbalances (resulting in growths of thick facial hair), to adolescent boys so corpulent their genitals are hidden, today’s kids are suffering from a litany of orthopedic problems (in addition to diabetes and heart disease).

And it’s all being caused by over-eating.

As Herscher (a former investigative reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle), Woolston and Tartamella note, America has the fattest children in the world; however, the United States is no longer alone in this regard. From tiny Maori villages in New Zealand, from Ghana to Brazil to China, children have gone from bantam weights to heavy weights in less than a generation. Sadly, obesity is now a global epidemic.

But who is to blame? Have so many children from so many diverse cultures all lost their collective willpower at the same time? The authors note that blaming the victim remains a popular pastime. For instance, William Steiger, a member of George W. Bush’s administration, has stated that “personal responsibility” is the key to solving the worldwide obesity epidemic. However, Michael Lowe, a professor of psychology at Drexel University and an expert in weight loss, calls the personal responsibility argument “bullshit.” Instead, Lowe states that the Bush Administration is simply parroting the industry line intent on focusing attention away from corporate predators who have created a worldwide toxic environment.

But such demands for personal responsibility are music to the ears of school districts that have sold out the health and welfare of children in the name of local economics; the authors write:

“For years, soda companies have been signing exclusive, largely secret contracts with school districts to install vending machines on school property in exchange for cash.”

(Page 78)

As this passage makes clear, many school districts across the country now regularly enter into “partnerships” with corporate giants such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonalds, and Taco Bell, allowing mountains of chips, oceans of soda pop and gigantic “happy meals” into school cafeterias in return for a fat corporate payoff. For example, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has documented the business practices of Coca Cola and Pepsi who negotiate the exclusive right to sell their product in schools by agreeing to return a portion of its profits to underfunded districts for needed textbooks, sports and band programs. The result: Coke and Pepsi get brand loyalty and we get fat children running on empty.

The authors of Generation Extra Large do not expect that this global epidemic will be cured overnight, although they provide a wealth of practical advice meant to get children off the couch, meant to promote healthy food alternatives and physical exercise. Nevertheless, a true change in the present corporate culture of irresponsible greed won’t happen until parents organize themselves and create a national movement.

As Texas Agricultural Commissioner Susan Combs said: “Give me a million mad moms…” Combs’ comments, along with this text, serve as a wake up call to save your children.

Order from amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

Nonfiction

POLITICAL EDGE. Edited by Chris Carlsson. City Lights Foundation.

“The Goddess of Political Lying flies with a huge Looking-glass in her hands to dazzle the Crowd, and make them see, according as she turns it, their Ruin in their Interest and their Interest in their Ruin.”

– Jonathan Swift (quoted in the Chapter, Engagement and Enragement, by Michael “Med-o” Wilson)

This text is comprised of intensely personal and inventive vignettes by volunteer workers who mobilized a thirty-day campaign on behalf of Matt Gonzales in his failed attempt to win the Mayor’s office in San Francisco during the last election. Even though Gonzales was defeated, his campaign exposed the effects Willie Brown’s use of political cronyism (disguised as land use politics) had on the city.

It is no secret that the economic and social structure of the Bay Area is fueled by corporate and government subsidies. To paraphrase Thomas Carlyle, in San Francisco, the hell most feared is the hell of not making money. Accordingly, “Da Mayor” made no secret of the fact that “[i]f you don’t make $50,000 a year in San Francisco, then you shouldn’t live here.”

Further, as Quintin Mercke’s essay, McFrisco makes clear, the dot.com frenzy was effectively fueled in da Mayor’s City Hall: “[T]he transformation during Mayor Brown’s administration of what was once the Department of City Planning into a Department of Development Facilitation stunned even the most jaded observers.” But even more ominous was the inaccessible bureaucratic gobblespeak of the land use planning mavens and developers: “Deploying this language are the translators and native speakers, the real players and dealmakers who are found every Thursday in City Hall’s room 400 for the weekly meetings of the Planning Commission. Within that room social engineering is allowed by law and is driven by language that reinforces and strengthens our society’s historical divisions of race, class and gender.”

Matt Gonzales was the true antithesis of Brown — a former public interest lawyer, punk rocker, and member of the Green Party whose original supporters apparently consisted of a ragtag group of neighborhood and anti-war activists, artists, squatters, as well as a former Barnard College alumnus and North Beach dominatrix (Marlena Sonn). Yet, as this book documents, these disenfranchised and often desperately urban poor were able to organize a grass roots mobilization (“130 parties in 30 days”) which posed a genuine threat to San Francisco’s entrenched real estate developers and vested corporate interests .

Gonzales’ opponent in the election was Gavin Newsom, a confidant of the Gettys and no stranger at all to the wheeling-and-dealing of City Hall, and there is little shortage of venom in Michelle Tea’s description of the young mayor:

“Gavin Newsom. A name born to be shunted out from the mouth in a tone I’d recently heard described as ‘WASP-y lockjaw.’ You know the accent. Think James Spader in any movie he did during the the 1980s. Gavin with his famously bad hairdo, rising like an Exxon oil-slick tsunami above his bony brow.”

But Tea’s venom is not reserved exclusively for Newsom:

He pulled up to the curb before the Bell Market parking lot, and behold- it is Gavin Newsom. It is him in the flesh, in the hair. He stands with his wife, Kimberly Newsom, who I was once sort of hot for, watching her cool in the background in footage from the dog-mauling trial, but when I learned she was married to Gavin I lost respect for her. And to be honest, she seemed slightly less hot in person, but again, this could have been due to the proximity to her husband.”

(Note: Kimberly Newsom, after a short stint as an Assistant District Attorney, is now reported to have exited the Mayoral bed and joined the current crop of television hyenas posing as legal analysts for one or another of America’s diversionary show trials.)

Although the dramatization of the Gonzales campaign and the collective hangover resulting from his loss make interesting and enjoyable reading, Quintin Mecke bluntly describes the social failure in exclusively utilizing political campaigns and electoral politics as the preferred method of change:

What became of all that energy, excitement and talk of a movement after the campaign ended ? It was quickly deflated as the chosen progressive vessel, Matt Gonzales, bowed out of public life only months after proclaiming that he, or rather he-representing-us, would act as loyal opposition to the Newsom administration when needed. And with that simple decision, the Left was presented with a self-reflective scathing critique of why communities need to invest in themselves and not in politicians.”

After reading this captivating account of the sordid face of San Francisco politics, we should perhaps heed the words of William Cowper Brann (the long dead fiery editor of The Iconoclast), who once remarked that most of the martyrs, saints and heroes whose memories we so revere are one-third fraud and two-thirds fake.

Order from amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

EMILY POST’S ETIQUETTE. In the 17th Edition. Peggy Post. Harper Resource.

Originally published over 80 years ago (1922), this classic on the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of society has been retooled and updated to reflect changes in the mores and landscape of the new millennium.

Here, Peggy Post (a respected journalist and consultant on matters of etiquette) continues the impeccable tradition of Post musings on decorum and proper behavior. The book contains detailed direction on how to deal with myriad social situations, including direction on correspondence, wedding planning, hosting parties, and entertaining house guests. Readers are also provided salient advice on cocktail party table manners – for who among us has not had occasion to shudder and question ourselves when confronted with such an awkward situation:

Juggling Acts

How on earth do you juggle your drink and your plate and shake hands at the same time? Only with great difficulty, so try to find a place to set one of the items down.

Standing close to a table could solve the problem. Just make sure the table isn’t set or decorated in such a way that even the temporary addition of a wineglass spoils the effect or your dish could be confused with whatever is being served. Another option: Some people are poised enough to joke about their dilemma, asking someone to hold their glass while they extend their hand. The important thing is to make the effort to greet another person in a pleasant way.

What to do with toothpicks after you’ve eaten an hors d’oeuvre? There’s usually a small receptacle on or near the food platter for used ones. If not, hold any items (including drink stirrers) in your napkin until you find a wastebasket. Don’t place used items on the buffet table unless a waste receptacle is available.

(At page 475)

Peggy Post has done an outstanding job in revitalizing this book, making it relevant to today’s reader. In addition to the standard material on the rules of politeness, she has added material on subjects such as road rage, cell phones and on-line dating – themes that serve to modernize this material for the changes that have taken place in our world.

The underlying concept of Post’s original manuscript in 1922 was to remind folks that we owe a responsibility to each other in terms of how we behave in public. And even though society has embarked on a techno-driven age, the fact that we owe a debt to each other remains constant. A tour through Emily Post’s Etiquette in its 17th edition will remind you of this in truly elegant style.

Order from amazon.com or go to harpercollins.com.

THE ANTI INFLAMMATION ZONE. Dr. Barry Sears. Regan Books.

Dr. Barry Sears (author of The Zone and known throughout the world for his analysis of how hormonal balance is impacted by different foods) wrote this unique text that addresses how silent inflammation occurring undetected within the body can lead to an increased incidence of cardiovascular disease and malignancies.

The phenomenon of silent inflammation is not well understood in the medical community, and Sears’ text intends to clarify and illuminate the differing theories on the subject:

“You may be asking yourself, What on earth is silent inflammation? Even more perplexing, How can inflammation be silent? Silent inflammation is simply inflammation that falls below the threshold of perceived pain. That’s what makes it so dangerous. You don’t take any steps to stop it as it smolders for years, if not decades, eventually erupting into what we call chronic disease…If you have high levels of silent inflammation in your body, even if you are not actively sick, it means that you simply can’t be well.”

(Pages 3 & 4)

Sears (whose book The Zone spoke out against the dangers of high-carb maverick diets) addresses the idea of inflammation in detail here, looking at how obesity increases the occurrence of this condition — which then increases an individual’s susceptibility of falling victim to heart attack, dementia, diabetes or cancer:

“Obesity is one of the biggest generators of silent inflammation. Since nearly two-thirds of Americans are now overweight, this means that the epidemic of silent inflammation is also out of control. By the same token, our diabetes epidemic has also grown by 33 percent in the last decade. It should come as no surprise that all three epidemics have worsened in recent years. All three are intricately connected with a condition known as insulin resistance.”

(Page 235)

According to Sears (and taking off where The Zone left off ), inflammation is directly related to hormone balance; moreover, Sears contends that hormone balance can be achieved and maintained in accordance with proper nutrition. In addition to explaining these theories, Anti-Inflammation includes sample meal plans and sample exercise programs that allow its readers to help take control of their own bodies and well-being.

Even though this subject is quite complex, Dr. Sears has done a laudable job speaking to a mass audience — the material well-organized and presented in a logical and meaningful manner, the writing well-detailed and easily accessible. The idea here was to create a book that would be of long-term use to the reader, and that goal has been achieved nicely.

The incidence of silent inflammation is an acutely important one, and it has the potential to alter the lives of millions of people. Individuals throughout the world need to become aware of this potential, in turn taking steps on their own to mitigate the risk; this book offers a natural starting point. Beyond the lucid health information, you will also note several recipes and meal plans that are easy to prepare, flavorful, and nutritious.

As Anti-Inflammation shows, the state of your health cannot be left up to your doctor alone. Instead, each of us must begin to take an active role in how we combat the risk of debilitating disease. Read this book. It holds answers to several pressing questions.

Recommended to the general reader for its relevant consumer health value. Further recommended to all libraries in the public sector as a general reference text: as more research is done on this topic, it is likely that Dr. Sears’ book will come to be hailed as a ground-breaking achievement.

Order from amazon.com or go to harpercollins.com.

by John Aiello

THE LIVES OF AGNES SMEDLEY. Ruth Price. Oxford.

Like fellow revolutionary John Reed, Agnes Smedley grew up in the American West and was ultimately laid to rest far from her native land in a cemetery for revolutionary martyrs. Agnes Smedley is known now, if at all, for her fiery feminist novel, Daughter of Earth, and for her firsthand accounts of the Chinese Revolution (Chinese Destinies, China’s Red Army Marches and Battle Hymn of China).

However, as author Ruth Price notes, the same Western hardpan independence that made Smedley a heroine to the generation of post-Sixties American feminists came at both a heavy personal (and political) price. Smedley drove herself into an early marriage, which produced only sadness (as well as two abortions).

But Smedley, fueled by the ideas and oratory of Upton Sinclair, Emma Goldman and Eugene Debs and the IWW Free Speech Fights, had bigger fish to fry. She would write her husband: “I do not want to be married; marriage is too terrible and I should never have endured it … I want my name back also.”

(Page 54)

Alone again, Smedley would first reinvent herself in Greenwich Village as a cub reporter for the Socialist New York Calland then as an office manager for Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control Review – proving herself a defiant, uncompromising and self-taught agitator who did not consider herself bound by any form of journalistic ethics.

Smedley’s first person reporting of the march of the Red Army is equaled only by John Reed’s account of the Bolshevik Revolution:

“By summer’s end, Agnes wrote that she had observed rickshaw coolies fall dead in their shafts. she had seen poverty, disease, starvation, and physical and spiritual exhaustion to a depth she had previously thought unimaginable; she had learned of hundreds who were weekly being arrested, imprisoned, shot and beheaded, their skulls paraded on poles in the streets under the KMT’s reign of anti-Communist terror.”

(Page 192)

Smedley returned to the United States after twenty years, finding a Cold War America that had little patience with idealistic radicals. Smedley’s books were soon targeted for a “cleansing campaign” by Senator Joseph McCarthy, and she also was investigated by General Douglas McArthur, who considered her a dangerous Soviet operative. In addition, she was accused of being a spy in the finest tradition of Hearst tabloid journalism.

Smedley died in 1950 before the full force of HUAC and McCarthyism rose against her – lonely and troubled, but forever unrepentant. Accordingly, Smedley’s last will says it all. Cursing “American Fascism,” she instructs that her “ashes … lie with the Chinese revolutionary dead…”

Order at amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

THE RISE AND FALL OF JIM CROW. Richard Wormser. St Martin’s/Griffin.

This book by Richard Wormser comprises the companion text to the Peabody Award winning PBS series, chronicling the complex phenomenon of “Jim Crow” in an enthralling compendium of pictures.

Like the PBS series, this compilation of still photos speak the language of a thousand ghosts, telling the story of “free” blacks who work in the cotton fields under the gaze of a white overseer on horseback. In one particular stunning picture that depicts the aftermath of a lynching, we see a member of the mob cut off the victim’s toes to take home as a souvenir.

In this land, Jim Crow was alive and well for over a hundred years.

In 1898, the Democratic Party of North Carolina launched an openly racist campaign using posters depicting black vampires symbolizing “Negro Rule” as a threat to white women. America’s rise into the Twentieth Century ushered in the worst of times for blacks, prompting “a malicious negrophobia- a pathological fear and hatred of blacks” which was not confined to the South. For instance, Edward Drinker Cope, a noted professor of zoology, claimed that black mental growth was permanently arrested at age fourteen. And whites openly sang the ditty:

“Coon, coon, coon, I wish my color would fade.

Coon, coon, coon, I’d like a different shade.”

Sadly, Jim Crow also widened a gap between those middle class blacks who felt that disenfranchisement was appropriate for “poor” blacks, but not for “educated, economically successful and morally upright blacks.” As an example, Booker T. Washington made it a point to socialize with rich philanthropists willing to fund black education, thus acquiring the political power to determine which black schools would be able to survive.

Yet, black colleges and churches would somehow survive – and even thrive – in the midst of Jim Crow, while men like W.E.B. DuBois were not cut from the “conciliatory mold of Booker T. Washinton.” Rather, DuBois, like Frederick Douglas before him, fired the first salvo against Jim Crow in The Souls of Black Folk and Bishop Henry Turner thundered that he preferred “hell to the United States,” proclaiming the United States Supreme Court “an organized mob against the Negro.”

As Wormser notes, change would come slowly through many unknown activists, like Ned Cobb, an Alabama tenant farmer, who organized for the rights of black sharecroppers and farmers in the 1930’s. Cobb served thirteen years in prison for participating in a shoot-out involving a fellow union member. In fact, Cobb was offered a lighter sentence if he would supply the names of other union members, but he refused.

In the times of Jim Crow, personal belief was built on a road of unending sacrifice.

Order at amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

ISRAEL ON THE APPOMATOX: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War. Melvin Patrick Ely. Alfred A. Knopf.

Virginia aristocrat, Richard Randolph, a nephew of Thomas Jefferson, died in 1796, and his Will served as an indictment of the institution of slavery, granting freedom and 400 acres of land to his slaves. This piece of land would later become known as “Israel Hill,” as it was intended to be the promised land to Richard Randolph’s black Israelites upon being freed from bondage.

Ely, a professor of history and black studies at the College of William and Mary, came upon an old textbook with an obscure reference to a social experiment before the Civil War and was determined to learn whether this experiment had succeeded or failed. However, he was aparently not prepared for what his investigation revealed about freedom, bondage and the inherent relationship between the two:

“[S]lavery and white supremacy corrupted everyone they touched: they made hypocrites of the nation’s founders and their children, helped seduce masters like Richard’s uncle into vice and parasitism, fed base impulses to tyrannize and torture other human beings, and put manly independence forever beyond the reach of the blameless black victims and their indolent masters alike.”

(Page 32)

Ely’s research challenges present day assumptions about the institution of slavery. Unlike Jefferson, who disapproved of slavery but kept slaves, Richard Randolph was consumed with guilt. In his Will, written in his own hand, Randolph “humbly” begged forgiveness for “usurping the rights of our fellow creatures, equally entitled with ourselves to the enjoyment of Liberty and happiness.”

Although Randolph’s wife, Judyth, apparently shared her husband’s views and proceeded to emancipate one slave, Syphax Brown, as soon as her husband’s Will was proved, a decade would pass before Judith completed the emancipation her husband had envisioned. Judyth Randolph’s personal and philosophical struggles to honor her husband’s wishes graphically illustrate the intense economic pressures created by the institution – pressures that even had impact on “enlightened” whites.

Ely’s research nonetheless refutes the stereotype accepted by black and whites today, a stereotype that said that black slaves, even freed black slaves, remained psychologically dependent on white society.

Reflects Ely at the end of this excellent historical text:

“I thought I knew a great deal about cruelty to slaves before I began this project. Then I discovered descriptions of Hillary Richardson’s beating a slave repeatedly and mercilessly from eye to thigh and yanking out the man’s teeth while compelling another slave to restrain the victim. I had read various accounts of masters and slave traders breaking up black families. But to encounter such breakups repeatedly in primary sources drove the point home more wretchedly than ever, especially since I myself by then was the father of young children. As my friend and former colleague, Christopher Brown, once remarked, there are times when a historian, reading the evidence of what some human beings have done to others, feels the need to leave the archives reading room and go outside and breathe some fresh air.”

(Page 442)

Order at amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

THE ROSEDALE DIET. Ron Rosedale, M.D. (with Carol Colman). Harper Collins.

Written by Doctor Ron Rosedale, an expert on nutritional and metabolic medicine from Denver, Colorado, Diet marks a true revolution in the way the medical community might approach the treatment of obesity and over-eating.

This book is the culmination of more than two decades of research by Rosedale, during which time he explored the reasons why some people can only seem to gain weight and not lose it. We’ve all heard the statements: “I always seem to be hungry!” “I don’t know what it is, but an hour after dinner I just wanna eat again – it’s crazy. I just seem to get fatter!”

“Americans may be getting fatter, but it’s not for their lack of trying to slim down. Many of my patients have desperately tried to lose weight on their own, bouncing from one weight loss diet to the next. Many have joined gyms and have tried to become more physically active, but they have not been able to make a dent in either their obesity or their diabetes. In fact, most have gone from bad to worse …”

(From page 34)

But why is it happening?

Finally, we might have a real answer to the mystery — and it’s not just because you have no will power and can’t control yourself. Instead, Rosedale’s research has uncovered a link between the hormone leptin and the reasons why we tend to gorge ourselves all day long. According to Rosedale’s research, the body’s intake of food is controlled by leptin, which basically tells the brain when to consume food. However, some folks produce an excess of leptin and eat much more than they need to – accumulating fat instead of burning it away.

But Diet, just released by Harper Collins Publishers, provides a way around this vicious circle: By combining a diet high in healthy fats with moderate exercise, the amount of leptin can slowly be taken back to its normal range, thus allowing the body to lose weight naturally.

Folks should take particular note of this book because of Rosedale’s perspective, as he advocates a safe and conscientious way of losing those pounds. Ultimately, this diet is not about starving or denying yourself, but instead, it’s about understanding exactly how the human body works and then giving it the kinds of food it needs to replenish itself.

Aside from the fountain of information that reports on the physiological reasons behind over-eating, Rosedale presents some really wonderful recipes to help get you used to the changes in your diet (working to create low-carb selections that offer healthy alternatives rather than bland substitutes).

In the end, most people will not diet if they feel they’re suffering, or if they think they can’t have anything that tastes good. Life is simply too hard these days, and most of us derive joy from what we eat. Consequently, there has to be some happy medium for a diet to succeed.

And that’s what Rosedale promotes: a diet stressing safety and tasty dishes. It’s a book most of us can’t afford not to read.

Order at amazon.com. Or go to harpercollins.com.

by John Aiello

INTERNAL BLEEDING (The Truth Behind America’s Terrifying Epidemic Of Medical Mistakes). Robert M. Wachter and Kaveh G. Shojania. Rugged Land.

Internal Bleeding, co-written by a pair of Professors of Medicine at The University Of California, San Francisco (UCSF) is the ultimate testament to patient safety — an informative and impeccably researched book that focuses itself on the question of why errors occur in hospitals, further examining just what doctors (working in concert with their patients) can do to mitigate these mistakes.

Patients receiving the wrong medicine. Doctors operating on the wrong person or leaving instruments buried inside of body cavities. Doctors ignoring tell-tale symptoms and delaying treatment to perilous results. Fatal drug interactions. The list seems endless.

According to their research, Wachter and Shojania estimate that a shocking 100,000 people die each year because of blunders doctors and nurses make in the course of treatment (“the equivalent of a jumbo jet crashing every day!”). This figure, based on a series of Harvard Medical Science studies, calls into question just how safe we are when we step into the hospital and turn over the “keys” to our bodies to our health care providers:

“Mr. Adam’s autopsy showed he had suffered a massive pulmonary embolism – a big gooey blood clot had formed in his legs, broken off, and found its way to his lungs, in an instant knocking out half of his breathing capacity. Looking back, Bob realized his patient’s ‘presentation’ (the symptoms he reported and his findings on exam) was textbook – heavy perspiration, shortness of breath despite clear lungs, the time interval between major hip surgery and the onset of respiratory problems – all of it fit. The only problem was that it was a textbook the second-year med student hadn’t yet read, and Bob was too naive, scared, insecure, proud, and anxious to fit it in to ask a real doctor to help out when it might have done some good.”

(Page 187)

This is scary stuff. I know Wachter and Shojania didn’t write this book to intimidate or frighten us; instead, they authored this work as a means to begin educating the medical community and its patients to the reality that grave problems exist in the way hospitals function. This notwithstanding, the ideas presented here are quite worrisome, because they demonstrate that there is a very real chance that human error by a doctor could kill you before your affliction ever does.

Initially, upon reading this material, there is a tendency towards denial (This can’t be! Not with all the advances in medical science and technology. It just can’t be!). But advances in technology don’t guarantee safety. In point of fact, they contradict it: because hospitals are moving faster and faster, and because doctors are more and more stressed trying to fulfill multiple commitments, the chance of error rises dramatically. The concept of medical treatment may be better than it was fifty years ago, but it isn’t necessarily safer: unfortunately, fancy x-ray machines and computer programs cannot insure a physician’s (or nurse’s) full attention to detail.

So where do we go from here? As the authors so aptly note, patients can be the first wall of defense and must take an active hand in protecting themselves:

“First, introduce yourself …. And don’t be cowed by the hospital’s intimidating, class-oriented dress code. Just because you’re in an ugly, backless hospital nightgown and the person addressing you is in a suit and tie or crisp white lab coat, your well-being is still the focus of his or her attention. Ask questions politely and persist until they’re answered.”

(Page 365)

More than any other book we’ve seen this year in the arena of medical science, Internal Bleeding is truly written with an eye towards protecting people from needless harm — a real and honest statement on behalf of the hospital ‘consumer.’ The fact that Wachter and Shojania stepped out to tell painful truths about the clubhouse that one enters upon earning the distinction of M.D. could not have been easy (how many doctors or hospital administrators want to admit that these things occur and occur regularly?). Yet, both the authors (who remain active on the UCSF Patient Safety Committee) proceed forth nobly, writing in a sharp and evocative style, intent on educating us, intent on the prevention of needless and foolish deaths.

If you are at all concerned about your role in the health care systems of America, you should find a copy of this book: reading it could actually save your life some day.

Recommended to all college and public sector libraries as a general reference text on consumer health issues.

Order from amazon.com.
For further reading on the subject, see webmm.ahrq.gov.

Author Interview: Robert Wachter On Internal Bleeding

Let’s begin by you telling me how you became interested in medicine.

Well, the answer should be that I like science and want to help people (laughs). In my case, I didn’t like science that much. But I truly wanted to help people and solve interesting problems. I was Political Science major in college and enjoyed those classes more than Science and Chemistry. And it seemed to me that there was a role in medicine for somebody like me who wanted to solve interesting problems with a human dimension. I had a real interest in organization and how medical systems could work more efficiently. And the way the world has evolved, it has played into my strengths.

OK, so then how did you become interested in the topics of patient and hospital safety?

It’s been a little bit of an evolution over the course of my academic career, the combination of a lot of interests coming together. When I first became interested in improving health care systems it was by-way of ethics and resource allocation – how to better deal with patient interests without bankrupting the system. From that, in the mid 1990s, I became interested in the investigation of hospital care. I’ve really been lucky. This was a new specialty – how to make the system work better for patients. As the Chief of Medical Service at a big academic hospital, I saw that the old approach of dealing with the problem of errors in hospitals – suing and shaming providers – was not the best model to follow. Obviously, there was an opportunity to make a real difference in the field, and I was able to meld several different disciplines, things like engineering and tort law, synthesizing different ideas, making a case for change.

How was this book born?

My colleague Kaveh G. Shojania and I had this idea to use case studies to help people understand the issue of medical mistakes. In the history of medicine it’s always been the practice to use case studies to teach. The drama of a case opens people’s eyes to the true nature of the problem. There was never a time in American medical literature that I’m aware of when the case presented was about medical error instead of diagnosis and treatment. So you see, Kaveh and I had a very controversial idea and consequently we had a hard time placing it for publication. The first case we published was in the Annals of Internal Medicine in June 2002. The article was titled “The Wrong Patient,” and it detailed a story where 17 different errors occurred on one patient. It was a train wreck in slow motion. The publication of that article was followed by a feature in the New York Times. And from that, Rugged Land became interested in the material and we began to explore writing the book. The true challenge came in making an academic subject engaging enough for the general audience to want to read.

What has the reception been like among other doctors and colleagues? Do they fear this project could foster an increase in medical malpractice lawsuits?

Five to ten years ago it would have been quite difficult to expose the dark under belly of medicine. Today, however, the response has been surprisingly positive – very gratifying. Now the medical community has gotten past the idea that we don’t have a problem, accepting the notion that hospitals are indeed more dangerous than they should be. I think the minimal backlash we’ve felt relates to this: doctors are concerned that they’re not going to get credit for all the hard work and good things they do….Our book basically says that there needs to be a sharing of information and an openness. But with that comes a concern that we could be sued because of that openness – and this naturally stifles the discussion. It’s a real issue. It’s a tricky issue that has made it harder for physicians to talk about error.

The statistic in the book that says that nearly 100,000 deaths occur annually as a result of hospital error is astounding. Just how reliable are these figures?

The figure is as a good as we have – it’s drawn from two studies, and that fact in itself speaks to how little research has been done in this area. The primary research was drawn from the Harvard Medical Study. I personally think the numbers are probably pretty close. Yet, whether or not the stats are right is not important: this is nevertheless a big nasty problem that we need to do something about. The system is basically fundamentally unsafe, and that needs to change.

Do you think your work and research will ultimately play a role in reducing these numbers?

I hope the book is saving lives. I’ve actually had an opportunity to speak to many groups, and the feedback we’ve now gotten is that people understand this problem in a richer, deeper way. And that is helping to point them toward a solution. People seem to like the fact that it’s a fairly optimistic book which looks toward fixing the situation.

What’s your advice for the patient upon entering the hospital? What steps can be taken on the patient’s part to reduce the chances that a fatal error might occur?

Patients should ask questions and remain vigilant at all times. Make sure nurses are addressing you by your full name when you’re in the hospital, when they’re taking you to procedures. Bring your medicines so they know what you’re taking. However, the bigger issue patients need to understand is the way in which doctors and nurses communicate and the problems that relationship poses. It’s about being an informed consumer. It takes people asking questions to drive the system to be safe. But the other piece of it is, in 2004, should a patient come into a modern hospital and have to worry that we’re going to cut off the wrong leg? And the answer to that is ‘no,’ they shouldn’t have to worry about that stuff on top of being sick.

From your experience as a doctor, what single thing poses the most serious threat to the patient? What thing holds the greatest margin for error in the typical patient’s hospital stay?

I would say it’s communication problems. Information in hospitals needs to move flawlessly across the system, whether it’s from doctor to nurse or from nurse’s station to x-ray. And we don’t a system in place that can do this flawlessly. And this is actually the root cause for you being given the wrong medicine, being taken to the wrong procedure, having the wrong part cut off. It’s a complex system. Time pressured. Fragmented. And it just can’t be fixed by a smart doctor who is careful. It can only fixed by revising the system and creating a different culture with regard to the way that hospitals do things.

by John Aiello

ATKINS DIABETES REVOLUTION. Based On The Medical Practice of Robert C. Atkins, M.D. With Mary C. Vernon, M.D. and Jacqueline A. Eberstein, R.N. William Morrow.

Along with hypertension and high cholesterol, diabetes is a serious condition that compromises organs, resulting in an increase in the risk for heart attack, stroke and cancer. However, as noted in the first chapter of Atkins, this is one phenomenon we can actually stop:

“…[T]here is one, all-too-common killer disease over which we have a great deal of say. Most people do have a choice when it comes to Type 2 diabetes. Astonishing as it sounds, this epidemic disease is almost entirely preventable. Of course, no one consciously chooses to get diabetes. Various factors – some in our control and some not – combine to create the unfortunate scenario. But if we all took proper care of our bodies and kept vigilant rein on the factors that are within our control, there would be no diabetes epidemic…”

(Chapter One at page 3)

Are you interested in avoiding an early death by-way of diabetes? Atkins provides the insight, telling us in clear and unadorned prose just how we can protect ourselves. After moving through a well-defined lay explanation of the origins/causes of diabetes, the book begins to explore how both healthy individuals and at-risk patients can stave off this often deadly affliction. The key, according to the late Dr. Atkins (who authored several diet books) and many other endocrinologists, is in early detection of diabetes; the idea is not to delay, but instead to eradicate, the on-set of disease.

Still, before this can be done, a person must under-go testing to determine what their blood sugar levels are. Careful monitoring of blood-pressure, heart function and lipid levels should be evaluated in conjunction with glucose levels. Once readings of each of these is obtained, individuals should concentrate on lifestyle changes that promote exercise and proper dietary focus.

There are many note-worthy elements in Atkins (including detailed case studies and advice on fitness regimens), but the real gold here is in the meal plans and recipes that have been provided: in addition to giving the reader a few suggestions on what to eat, they force us to think about the things we are putting into our mouths and consuming.

Remember, diet and obesity are huge factors that promote diabetes: all too often our busy lifestyles force us to sit and eat a donut at our desks. And nothing could be worse. But these recipes help to remind us that if we are to reach a healthy retirement age, we must pay attention to how we’re living today.

Recommended to the general reader as a consumer health title chock full of new and pertinent data. A must-have for diabetes’ patients or individuals at high-risk for developing the disease. Further recommended to all public-sector libraries as a strong general health selection.

Order at amazon.com or go to harpercollins.com.

Notable from Harper

THE E MYTH. Michael E. Gerber. Harper Business. Innovative remarks focused on the practice of medicine and how doctors can make the profession more efficient and more profitable. Rather than just work on trying to accrue the most patients and the most cash, Gerber speaks about a radical mental over-haul that is necessary if doctors are to better manage their offices.

Recommended to all physicians in private practice.

SECOND ACTS. Stephen M. Pollan and Mark Levine. Quill. This book’s about inspiring courage within the self, with the key being not only dealing with change as it occurs, but actually promoting it. Second Act is about giving yourself a second chance at life — be it through a career change, a change in residence, or a second marriage. Change takes guts. But looking beyond this, we each have to learn to be gutsy. Pollan and Levine offer us some direction in this regard.

Appropriate title for all libraries – both academic and public. Would be useful to psychologists as well, since Second Acts would have merit to individuals in therapy.

THE GIRL’S GUIDE TO STARTING YOUR OWN BUSINESS. Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio. Harper Collins. Girl’s Guide is a manual written specifically for women entering the business world — not as subordinates, but as managers. For years, women played second fiddle to the male-dominated corporate world of America. But the times have indeed changed. The last two decades have finally seen women in decision-making roles, and this book offers insight into how a woman who is considering launching a business should do it. Written by a couple of ladies who’ve been there and conquered the obstacles.

Highly recommended as a teaching text in women’s studies courses — blending social relevance with sharp business savvy.

WINNING WITH THE DOW’S LOSERS. Charles B. Carlson. Harper Business. Wall Street is a very complicated world that exists unto itself. To make money there, it takes some true understanding of stock market trends. Here, Carlson tells us how to invest in “underdog” stocks — revealing some of his secrets for buying at stripped low prices and then turning the portfolio over for a profit.

Appropriate for the public sector libraries as a general reference title.

WINTER WORLD. Bernd Heinrich. Ecco. Heinrich has been compared by some critics to nature poet Gary Snyder, and it’s a wonderfully apt comparison, for this biologist brings a deep mind – obviously, Heinrich understands the exactness of nature on its most fundamental, primal and holy level. In Winter World, Heinrich observes animals in their natural habitats, reflecting and recording what he sees: the prose is at all times sharp and evocative, with the author’s understated illustrations bringing each passage humming into life.

Recommended to field biology instructors as a change-of-pace class text — useful at both high school and university level. 

Order at amazon.com or go to harpercollins.com.

SHOOTERS. Myths and Realties of America’s Gun Culture. Abigail A. Kohn. Oxford University Press.

In 1997, while a graduate student at the University of California, Abigail A. Kohn began an anthropological study of the American gun culture in the San Francisco Bay Area. Even in the heart of ultra-liberal America, Kohn discovered that active and enthusiastic “shooters” not only exist, but thrive. And as her project continued, Kohn herself began frequenting shooting ranges, taking self-defense courses and practicing cowboy action shooting.

As Shooters demonstrates, Kohn appears to have enjoyed herself. Most importantly here, Kohn documents a shooting culture which extends well beyond the conventional media clichés depicted in Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine.” In contrast to Moore’s perspective, Kohn identifies vocal pro-gun groups among blacks (the Tenth Cavalry), feminists (the Second Amendment Sisters) and gays (the Pink Pistols), showing us that this American “shooters” culture extends far beyond the ideas of militias and vigilantism – concepts that so many misinformed people now view as synonymous with the word gun.

Instead, Kohn is one in a growing number of academics who speak objectively and, perhaps somewhat sympathetically, about individuals who refuse to accept the current trend to politicize victimization (as one pro-gun lesbian and feminist/activist explained to the author): “I want the twenty year solution of improving the world. But I need the twelve second solution that will keep me around to do it …”

Shooters constitutes a true break-through: readers will discover an even-handed analysis that examines the gun amid these American landscapes.

Recommended to the general reader interested in the evolution of this important topic. Also recommended as an under-graduate teaching text for anthropology and sociology students. Would be useful to libraries at both the college and public level as a general reference text.

Order from amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

MORTIFICATION. Robin Robertson. Fourth Estate.

This book is impressive because it pulls the drape and mask away from the private lives of writers, revealing each of us at our most humbling and human. Instead of focusing on the sweet breath of the muse and the motivations which drive some folks to write, Mortification investigates the public shame(s) of some of our most celebrated authors – an attempt to humanize the names and identities that have been so meticulously hidden in the shape of ink and paper and plot.

Robertson, a noted poet and editor (his “Slow Air” is a wonderfully insightful collection of verse), has compiled a book that is worth-while because it documents cold concepts of fear and self-loathing and self-condemnation, these things that propel us during those private holy moments when we kneel down to stare into these blank paper faces:

What I will never forget about the evening is staring at the fuzzy screen about halfway through the program and noticing a figure in black walking out, right up the middle aisle of the auditorium and out the door, reducing the audience by one twenty-third … passing silent judgment on the whole affair and, for that matter, the very purpose of poetry.”

Page 222 (Billy Collins)

And here, the author seems haunted by the fetid deepness of his own honesty:

“I tried to make the distinction between love and sex, and found the audience agreeing me vigorously. Everyone knows, after all, that the best sex arises out of emotional connection. Even so, for a long time afterward I felt embarrassed by the whole thing … I came out of it feeling that I had exposed myself as pompous and puritanical.”

Pages 191 & 192 (Louis de Bernieres)

I like this book because it strips away the hype of the book world and talks about real people in real terms; sometimes the stories can be humorous, and at other times, the lines are riddled with a musty and disturbing pain. It is a fun read, yes, but it is also acutely educational, for it forces its reader to unwrap his hidden secrets and admit each fetid failure — acatharsis in its purest, most primal sense.

Darkness. Fear. Mortification. Re-admissions of failure. We cower at times. Writers at their desks in the pitted light of dawn. Mortified. The silence pleads our case.

Order from amazon.com.

THE SOPRANOS (ON THE COUCH). Maurice Yacowar. Continuum.

The Sopranos” (along with “The Practice,” “Sex And The City,” “OZ” and “NYPD Blue”) literally saved television — opening up new doors as plots and characters broke from formula. And “The Sopranos” (5th season about to begin) is the leader of them all, capturing the attention of the country the way “Mash” and “Seinfeld” and “Gunsmoke” did decades before.

In Sopranos, Yacowar (a professor of film at The University of Calgary) offers us a chance to examine the phenomenon of this ground breaking HBO series, cutting to the heart of the material, appeasing our insatiable curiosity – no need – to get into Tony and Carmela’s fragile psyches; Yacowar writes:

“Tony seems trapped, smarter than his colleagues but below respectable society”

(Page 172)

And later:

“Tony is clearly the central figure of the drama, its major issue is how he is regarded. ‘So,’ the show continually tests us, ‘What do you think of our Tony?’ Our response betrays our moral strength. Tony reads us by how we read him.”

(Page 230)

Yacowar’s perspective and perceptions are very sharp, and he does an excellent job at examining each of the episodes and analyzing how they build into one another. The book is best at dissecting the hidden themes and humor of the show and commenting on how The Sopranos culture is but an extension of our own personal little worlds: in the end, the reason why we identify with Tony is because each of together to make up little pieces of this hellish renegade. Tony Soprano’s appeal (played masterfully by James Gandolfini) lives in the fact that he’s the bad-boy we all want to be (but don’t have the guts to become).

Readers will find Yacowar’s prose captivating, as he analyzes characters and events with the keen eye of a man who knows film and how the great ones are made. With season five under way, this is a book hard-core fans shouldn’t be without: Even though it might seem hard to believe, having Sopranos available as a reference guide will make the show even more of a joy to see and savor.

Order from amazon.com or see continuumbooks.com.

Shorts

MY LIFE AS A QUANT. Reflections on Physics and Finance. Emanuel Derman. John Wiley. This autobiography by theoretical physicist Emanuel Derman provides keen insight into the behind-the-scenes world of Wall Street. The idea of stocks and bonds and how money moves is foreigen stuff to most of us – this tenous and sophisticated world built on intricate mathamatical formulas and ever-changing strategies. In addition to standard practices, companies all across today’s business landscape are using quanataitive financial profilers (“quants” for short) to develop business models, manage product risk and track volatility. Enter Emanuel Derman. He’s one of the most respected “quants” on the “Street” and has authored an array of financial models that are used by comapnies throughout the world. In the complex big money environment of Wall Street, it takes an acute understanding of just what is required to achieve your goal; writes Derman: “It takes only a good idea and a few good people to develop a model, but it takes many more people to turn that model into a usable tool.” There’s a reason why so many companies have sought out Derman’s counsel, and this book shares the vision and business savvy of one of the masters of the market. Will prove a gripping read even for those who don’t have a bundle of cash riding on stocks.

Recommended to libraries on both the college and public sector level as a general reference text. Investors will find the subject matter particularly interesting.

Order at amazon.com.

by John Aiello

THE EL-EVENTH HOUR. Lily G. Stephen. Blooming Rose Press. The El-eventh Hour (the second installment in a trilogy) written by Mount Shasta, California writer Lily Stephen marks a step away from the mainstream, stepping off alone in a unique direction. Ultimately, this novel is an extension of the fantasy genre, a book that modernizes Tolkien’s vein and incorporates the idea of mythology with the pure imagination of fiction, this pure leapful discourse of spirit riding wild veils of time: “First Sappho, the shimmering goddess, and then Branicor, her handsome counterpart with the dance of humor in his eyes…dissolved into swirls, ribbons and spirals of myriad hues…” Here, every passage and every paragraph reads like the beginning line of an epic new poem. We are captivated. We are awash in the stark thirsty moonlit beauty of language. Spellbound, looking into the hallway, looks for the Door that will reveal thee.

Order at amazon.com.

VOLKSWAGEN MILITARY VEHICLES OF THE THIRD REICH. Blaine Taylor. Da Capo. Most folks are familiar with Volkswagen as an economical alternative to gas guzzler “American Boats” — a little compact bug-shaped mobile born of 1960’s ingenuity. However, nothing could be further from reality. In actuality, VW was the brainchild of Adolph Hitler born during the period of the Third Reich. Hitler in fact used the VW during the second World War in his efforts to take over Europe and the world, employing a hyped-up Jeep-version of the famous “Beetle.” Yet, Hitlers’s vehicle was designed for real “off road” battle, this jeep now truly amphibious, rugged and built indestructible, a distant cousin to the Hummer that has become the poster child of the American war effort in Iraq. Taylor’s book proves exhaustive in nature, recapitulating the history of the Volkswagen during the Third Reich, recording the unique traits that would come to evolve into the modern-day version of the economy car so many have fallen in love with. Finally, the countless never-before-seen photographs serve to demonstrate just how advanced the German mechanical technology of the era really was.

Recommended to libraries on the college level and in the public sector for its long term reference value recollecting one of the most important periods in world history.

Order at amazon.com.

BEATON IN THE SIXTIES: The Cecil Beaton Diaries as He Wrote Them, 1965-1969. With an Introduction by Hugo Vickers. Alfred A. Knopf.

Name dropping among the rich and famous is a tradition, and occasionally, it becomes a rarefied art. Oscar Wilde had the knack of it, as did photographer, artist, writer, designer and unrepentant snob, Cecil Beaton.

Beaton was living in London when this portion of his diaries begin. Even though Beaton had a cold on January 30, 1965 (the day of Winston Churchill’s funeral), it doesn’t stop him from shedding “lotions of tears” as he recalls the last time he saw Churchill and “Clemmie.”

Beaton was at the height of his creative powers in the Sixties, and London was one of the epicenters of café society. Yet somehow, Beaton leaves the impression that he really didn’t get the Sixties. For instance, Beaton recalls that the film classic Easy Rider left him “very much bewildered”.

Instead, Beaton is on more familiar territory reminiscing about earlier times with Garbo, “Coco” and Kate. Although many of Beaton’s entries appear dated after the passage of forty years and the entry into a new millennium, a few of his diary passages remain quite moving. Note this description of his secretary’s funeral:

“Maud’s funeral was pathetic. St Mary’s Cadogan Street cold, dark and almost empty. Maud’s coffin under a black velvet pall that had been used at so many hundreds of funerals that it had become shabby, poor and covered with stains. The flowers, too, were very meagre. Her sister had come over from Portugal and Francis Rose, wearing my old clothes, was introduced to her by Beryl Ashcroft. ‘Ah,” said the sister. ‘These are the names I’ve heard so much about.’ “

Recommended to libraries on the college level and in the public sector for its interesting slant on one of the most studied decades of the modern era.

Order at amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

Travel

Spotlight On Frommer’s and Moon Handbooks

With Summer 2005 only a month away, the new travel season is about to kick off in full force. Accordingly, it’s time to address some of the best and most affordable guides out there for the detail-conscious traveler. We have chosen to feature these selections for their readability, ease of use and in depth investigation – adventurers planning trips into these regions will not regret having any of these books in their carry bag.

FROMMER’S LONDON 2005. Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince. Frommer’s. London’s on everybody’s number-one list as a get-away destination, and this selection by Frommer’s (priced at only $16.99) is the perfect travel companion. Here, Porter and Prince have covered all their bases in a tight and tidy manual that will offer comfort and direction to both the novice and the veteran visitor who might be heading to the UK. Coverage includes expert advice on hotels and restaurants throughout London, with sections on the West End, Westminster/Victoria, Knightsbridge, South Kensington, and the South Bank (among others). Readers will also find a full compilation of maps making for easier commuting, as well as a survey of the best in art and architecture that England has to offer.

MOON HANDBOOKS: ALBERTA. Andrew Hempstead. Avalon Travel. Moon Handbooks are known throughout the world as masters of detail, and this travel study of Alberta is no exception. Hempstead has done a fine job is filling these pages with everything the newcomer to Alberta will need to know. But the difference in this book is that it ventures from the beaten track and brings the reader a wealth of new information about this vast territory. What you get here (among some well-placed suggestions on food and lodging) is a manual that offers advice for the energetic traveler: Advice on hiking. Details on areas that hold an abundance of wildlife. Where to rock climb. Golf. Ride horses. If you’re going to Alberta to interact with the area and not just sight-see, this book will prove a Godsend.

FROMMER’S PARIS 2005. Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince. Frommer’s. Again Porter and Prince bring a new twist to this overview of this favorite vacation spot. France is still known as the centerpiece of Europe, and many folks, both young and old, travel there every year from around the world. This manual covers all those “need-to-know” roads, plus some new tidbits (such as segments specifically oriented toward the Gay/Lesbian, senior citizen and student traveler). In addition, there is a great deal of worthy information on the best restaurants in Paris, and these mini reviews are full of valuable information on location, neighborhood and price. A fold-out map is included.

MOON METRO LAS VEGAS. Avalon Travel. A hot-spot for gambling, concerts and night-life, Vegas has grown in popularity over the last decade, and the place draws throngs of vacationers during the warm summer months. This handy pocket guide from Moon is full of everything the traveler will need to know to make the trip there as trouble-free as possible. Among the standard information on food and lodging, this book stands out for the overview it provides on night fun (which is why a lot of younger travelers venture here). The segments on bars, clubs and lounges is detailed and informative, as are the hotel summaries. Also notable for the short articles that speak to the different “strips” that Vegas is so famous for.

FROMMER’S COSTA RICA 2005. Eliot Greenspan. Frommer’s. Here, Greenspan (a poet and journalist) has written a comprehensive guide on traveling to Costa Rica. Thirty years ago, this was a place that didn’t hold too much allure for the international traveler. But times have indeed changed, and like Vegas, Costa Rica is now a magnet for the young and old alike. Sound information on where to eat and stay is augmented by exact price projections, so travelers on strict budgets can avoid harsh surprises. Readers will also find a lot of information on recreation specific to this region (such as water sports and wild-life scenes), and this data helps to re-create the best of Costa Rican life.

MOON’S BUENOS AIRES. Wayne Bernhardson. Avalon Travel. This guide, in its first edition, remains true to the Moon tradition and offers much insightful analysis into the grand jewel of Argentina. Bernhardson has done a comprehensive job in summarizing this destination for the traveler, including chapters on food, lodging, entertainment, shopping and the myriad sports/recreation activities unique to this area. Extras include the specific discussion of venues dedicated to jazz, tango and cafe life. Also a very useful Spanish phrasebook provides assistance for those not completely fluent in the language.

Obviously, you can’t go wrong buying any of these handbooks. Travelers will find them to be relatively inexpensive references with true long-term value.

Of Related Interest

FROMMER’S RETIREMENT PLACES RATED. Sixth Edition. David Savageau. Frommer’s. This handy reference from Frommer’s (an imprint of John Wiley and Sons) is chock full of information on the 200 best places in America to retire. Given the changing landscape of the country, including concerns over health care and Social Security, seniors are now confronted with many different challenges that simply did not exist 25 years agoThus, Retirement Places ranks the best locations for retirees to live. Cities are ranked in terms of economy, cost of living, climate, ambiance and safety (drawing a complete picture of the prime spots that hold the most promise for elderly folks looking for peace and an affordable standard of living). Savageau, considered an expert on the subject, is often a featured speaker at the U.S. Department of State’s seminars on retirement.

Order any of these selections from amazon.com.

Lonely Planet Travel

Travelers around the globe know the words “Lonely Planet” – the phrase is synonymous with “every last detail.” In actuality, Lonely Planet is a publisher of travel guides that address the details of far away places, providing direction on where the best lodging, meals and attractions are — a way to take some of the risk out of being on the road.

Founded in 1971 (the name is loosely based on a Joe Cocker lyric), Lonely Planet has arguably become the largest independent publisher of travel guides in the world. And as Summer 2004 devours the galaxy, people everywhere are once again moving about in search of seeing something new. As always, Lonely Planet is a trusty companion in the seat beside the window.

Some of the best currently available from Lonely Planet include:

BANGKOK. Rebecca Turner. This slim travel guide is anything but small – within its pages are a complete picture of this popular get-away destination. Well-ordered and expertly detailed, it begins with an over-view of the history and culture, and then explores the sights about town. Recommendations are made on shopping, food, lodging and entertainment, with an especially strong section on not-so-typical activities like traditional massage, meditation and Thai cooking. Logical maps fold out from the cover to allow for easy and quick reference.

AUSTRALIA. Multiple authors. Australia is quite an attractive place to many Americans, and one of the most visited vacation spots in all the world. Accordingly, this is a definitive guide — with a wonderful section on the history of Australia by Eddie Butler-Bowdon that reads like a mini-feature in the Sunday New York Times, quickly introducing the traveler to where he is going and what he’s going to see. Also a fine section on vaccinations and health issues; read this thoroughly before embarking on the trip. This is a very well-organized manual that addresses all the major territories. The new edition features up-graded maps and expanded directories offering valuable direction.

CHINA. Multiple authors. This guide is the epitome of why Lonely Planet is so good at what they do — a ton of information is packed into these pages in a practical and logical way. People traveling through foreign countries need to find out things fast – and that’s just what the authors and editors of these guides give us: the detailed information that we need in order to move about safely and comfortably. Travel to China has changed a great deal over the decades, and this book is now in its 8th edition. Best features: Over 200 maps in both Chinese script and English, as the authors have taken great steps to address the different dialects that travelers will find in China. Also wonderfully lucid information on where to go to find the best food in the region.

AFRICA ON A SHOESTRING. Multiple authors. This guide is sub-titled “big trips on small budgets” and the folks at Lonely Planet weren’t kidding. Going to Africa is definitely a big and complicated undertaking, and the 10th edition of this guide is chock full of the things you need to know in order to have a rewarding trip. Africa offers valuable tips on pre-planning your journey so you don’t have to make last minute decisions that can cost you time and big dollars. Numerous tips on where to find good and inexpensive food and reliable lodging. Also a GREAT section on exploring the music of the continent. Travelers should pay careful attention to the section on health, as Africa poses many challenges in this regard, and anyone contemplating a trip there should be well-informed. Also check out EAST AFRICA for many of these same reasons.

The Lonely Planet catalog is recommended to libraries at the college and public levels for its lasting reference value.

Order from amazon.com or go to lonelyplanet.com.

by John Aiello

Religion

Warner Faith has some of the best titles available anywhere in the religion/inspirational genre. The following selections mark some of the imprint’s most interesting new selections, and they will appeal to readers of any denomination – books that promote a sense of responsibility and strong personal values.

TO A CHILD LOVE IS SPELLED TIME. Mac Anderson and Lance Wubbels. Warner Faith. To A Child offers sound advice: forget yourself and your many preoccupations for a moment, and think of your child. Today, we are so busy and immersed in our own personal problems that we often forget to give our kids the time they need. This little book by Anderson and Wubbels serves to remind us that we can help our children avoid many unnecessary problems (teen pregnancy, alcohol abuse, drug addiction, teen suicide) by giving them the attention they crave and deserve: “Teach your child that a positive attitude is a powerful force that will move him in the right direction even when life’s winds are pushing him backwards. Remind him that though we cannot change the winds, we can grow strong when we refuse to give up…” (from Page 105).

Recommended to the general reader and to all public sector libraries for their inspiration or child care sections.

THE RACE (Life’s Greatest Lesson). Dee Groberg. Warner Faith. This book uses a race to create a metaphor for tenacity and perseverance. The story is about a boy who is trying not to fail himself and his family — a boy lost among the shadows within, unsure of where he’ll find the strength he needs to continue. A simple story, yes, but in its simplicity is an endearing metaphor for the ages:

“And hope refills my weakened will

As I recall that scene;

For just the thought of that short race

Rejuvenates my being.

A children’s race – young boys, young men –

How I remember well.

Excitement, sure! But also fear;

It wasn’t hard to tell…”

The story is told in lines – a moving and symbolic poem, with perfect illustrations that call each of the scenes to life. By the last page, you will have found pieces of yourself floating among the characters of this little book.

Recommended to the general reader and to libraries at the high school and public sector level.

WHEN THE FAIRY DUST SETTLES. Janet Parshall. Sarah Parshall Perry. Warner Faith. Fairy Dust is about relinquishing illusion and dreams and accepting who you are and the direction which your life has taken. What’s different about this story is that it’s told from the perspective of a mother and a daughter – two women connected by blood, yet separated by the fragmented time of generations, now reuniting to look at themselves:

“What I realized after reading your letter was that it’s not that my plans are insignificant, it’s just that they don’t stem from omniscience or omnipotence. In other words, the Lord delights in giving us what we ask of Him, but only if it’s part of His plan for our lives…”

(Page 82)

And what child hasn’t envisioned writing a letter like this?

“Dear Mama…Your letter comes at a time when I’m overwhelmed with my own anxieties and interpretations of what exactly parenthood means. You see, it took me awhile to get here – to the point of being pregnant with my first child, I mean. And the journey was riddled with questions that I still don’t have answers to…”

(Page 110)

Parshall and Parshall-Perry have come up with an important book that discusses topics paramount to all women: sex, appearance, marriage, the expectation to be perfect – and they discuss each subject with candor and insight. Ultimately, Fairy Dust will prove meaningful to mothers and daughters of all ages everywhere.

Recommended to both college and public sector libraries for the Women’s Studies section.

Order from amazon.com.

Fiction

Guest Review

LOVE AND BIOLOGY AT THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE. Jennie Shortridge.  NAL Trade.

For the upcoming summer reading season, a perfect choice comes in the form of Jennie Shortridge’s third novel, Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe.  Here, Shortridge creates a warm-hearted story, reminding the reader that it’s never too late to rediscover yourself.

Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe centers on Mira Serafino, a woman who appears to have the ‘perfect life,’ including a fabulous beach home in Pacifica, Oregon; a large, loving Italian family; a fantastic husband (Parker); a steady job; and a daughter, Thea, who may not be mainstream (but is at least still speaking to her).

As a biology teacher, Mira is most content when she is able to break things down into logical concepts.  However, when she finds out that her husband is seeing someone else, the pieces from which Mira has formed her perfect life, her marriage, the relationship with her daughter, and everything she thought she knew about her husband no longer fit together; at this point, she dissolves.

When Mira can now no longer make sense of her existence, her solution is to grab a few belongings, throw her cell phone out the car window, and drive away (ending up in Seattle, where she finds herself working in the unique neighborhood of The Republic of Fremont in the eccentric Coffee Shop at the Center of the Universe).

From the very first chapter, Shortridge defines Mira’s character by artfully illustrating her fundamental desire to be loved.  And as a part of this desire to be accepted, Mira feels that she must be perfect.

In one passage, a scene depicts Mira as a young girl trying to impress her mother and gain her attention; yet, instead of accomplishing her mission, she only ends up bleeding (and with a scar). Still, when the reader learns that Mira’s mother died a few years later, Mira’s desire to be loved makes complete sense: By being perfect, by being ‘saint Mira,’ she cannot ever let anyone down, hiding her real desires in order to please everyone but herself.

Yet, it’s only after Mira runs away from her perfect home and into a life as a barista in Seattle that she’s able to see her real self — this woman who does things for herself and allows herself make mistakes.

Throughout Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe, Shortridge weaves the past with the present, allowing the reader to experience Mira through the odd moments of her life:  not just as a mom or a wife, but also as a girl and a young adult. And by choosing past events that inform the present, Shortridge is able to subtly portray just who Mira is.

In addition, Thea’s point of view is also prevalent throughout the novel, a deft turn that presents an outsider’s perspective of Mira. And Mira, as seen through the eyes of her daughter, is a hypocrite full of imperfection. By using these alternate points of views, Shortridge serves to highlight the complex bond between mother and daughter and the individual struggles both women face in having to accept the other.

In Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe, Jennie Shortridge has created a heartfelt book full of discovery, masterfully weaving together layers of detail, bringing the Pacific Northwestto brilliant life.  And through this inspired use of setting, we are allowed to lose ourselves in the best parts of Seattle, losing ourselves in the crazy characters that populate the coffee shop (losing ourselves in Mira’s journey of self-realization).

Ultimately, it’s these methods that make Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe such an enjoyable read:  Even though Shortridge might not be exploring new territory with this novel, she is nonetheless able to present the story in a refreshing and original way that compels the audience’s attention and involvement.

Order from amazon.com.

by Rebecca Thomas

© Rebecca Thomas. All rights reserved.


Rebecca Thomas is a freelance writer from Southern California. Reach her through The Electric Review.

EVERY SECRET THING. Laura Lippman. William Morrow.

Every Secret Thing takes its title from the epigraph that begins the novel: “… For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14). With these lines it seems as though author Laura Lippman is not so subtly hinting at the secrets that nearly every character in this tightly crafted murder mystery holds deep within.

Rest assured, there are no beautiful people in this edgy tale. Instead, these are mostly plain folk, and some are down-right ugly: hairy men who resemble werewolves, dieters bulging from skirts too tight, pock marked faces – souls lacking in refinement. Real people. Even the characters that are described as good-looking have a certain broken quality that renders them sadly unattractive. These are the characters that populate this taut tale of emotionally abandoned children and the adults who either, consciously or unconsciously, have exacted a toll on their young lives.

Our main characters are Alice Manning and Ronnie Fuller. They have spent the last seven years locked up in separate juvenile facilities for a crime they both deny committing – each blaming the other for the death of little Olivia Barnes. Now, eighteen years old, they have come home again; and Cynthia Barnes, the mother of the murdered baby and the daughter of prominent Judge Poole, is determined that the girls will never hurt anyone again (especially her three year old child Rosalind).

As the story moves forward, we meet Sharon Kerpelman -the angst-ridden public defender who had not been able to save Alice Manning from jail time, something that buried her under the huge weight of guilt (“No one had ever wanted Alice’s approval as much as Sharon Kerpelman did. The slightest suggestion that Alice’s life was less than it might be was wounding to this woman…”).

After Alice’s conviction, Kerpelman made it a point to steadfastly keep in touch with Alice, going so far as to pick her up and drive her home the day of her release.Yet, freedom is without peace: Shortly after the girls’ arrival back in town, a toddler goes missing. The missing three year old child closely resembles Cynthia Barnes’ daughter Rosalind, and both Alice and Ronnie happened to be in close proximity to the scene at the time of the kidnapping. Now both girls are suspects because of their past, and every nuance of their present life is now being closely scrutinize:

“The afternoon sun created a powerful glare on the parking lot at Westview, so Ronnie did not notice the man and woman walking purposefully toward the bagel shop until they were inside. But once she could see them, she knew they were officials of some sort, on business. Health department? Not on a Saturday and not with guns on their belts…”

More than anything, this novel gives us a look at the reality of misjudgments. It’s almost as though Lippman purposefully made her characters unattractive and unlikable in order to remind us about not judging people based on that which is superficial, reminding us that prejudice and preconceived notions cloud the truth.

Every Secret Thing becomes increasingly more intense and absorbing as the pages turn, with vivid imagery and stark dialogue that transports the reader into the middle of Baltimore’s seedy streets. Lippman’s fifteen years of experience as a veteran reporter for the Baltimore Sun has rendered authentic newspaper jargon and knowledge of police procedure, along with the uncanny ability to scheme mysterious crimes. But more than this, it’s the ability to keep you guessing until the last pages -a product of pure talent. And award winning author Laura Lippman brings that in spades.

Order from amazon.com.

by Sheri Roque

© Sheri Roque. All rights reserved.


Sheri Roque is a nurse from Southern California who is presently at work on her first novel.

Motivational/Self-Help

TAMING AMERICA. Dick Stieglitz. PublishAmerica.

At first glance, this book is somewhat of an odd duck, as the question remains: “Just what the hell could a Nuclear Engineer know about enlightenment.”

OK, so that’s a fair enough question. And as my readers know, I am all about the audience moving through books with a discerning eye. However, anybody who gives Taming America a chance will be pleasantly surprised, as Stieglitz comes to us a man with deep insight and the ability to transfer his thoughts to the page in a universal, probing tone.

In sum, Taming is about human nature and the human experience. Here, Stieglitz confronts the phenomenon of change and speaks to it in carefully honed terms, as he sets out to show his audience that there is no perfect existence ‘just around the corner.’

Instead, success and survival come in knowing that every day is bound to be steeped in a new challenge which will require us to bend with the wind, requiring us to know just when to yield and just when to move full steam ahead. The lesson, the axiom, is that change is indeed inevitable and that it cannot be avoided. As we learn from Taming, those who enjoy a bountiful life are able to pound forward with determination, using the critical mind to resolve problems as they develop.

Stieglitz, who worked for years at the Rensselear Polytechnic Institute, wrote Taming as a series of essays that might provide direction for his young grandson. However, once the pieces were done, Stieglitz’s daughter encouraged him to publish the book as a means to share his unique perceptions with a bigger slice of the world.

Simply, Dick Stieglitz is an intelligent man who seems to intrinsically understand people at their inner core, understanding our frailties and secret denials, understanding what makes us tick.

In the end, there is much more to Taming America than first meets the eye, as you come to learn valuable things about yourself by stepping back and observing the mirror from a distance.

In a world that moves so fast, you owe it to yourself to take a few extra moments and investigate your own soul. Dick Stieglitz wrote Taming America to help show us the way.

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

Book Excerpt: COACHING YOUR KIDS TO BE LEADERS. PAT WILLIAMS. Warner Books.

As this selection demonstrates, Pat Williams (Senior VP of the Orlando Magic) is not your typical NBA Basketball executive. Instead of the big-ego-dominated personalities we’re used to see among the major sports, Williams strikes us as a humble man interested in the youth of the country and ways that this youth-culture should be developed to reach its maximum potential.

This excerpt, from his recently released Coaching Your Kids To Be Leaders, is a major effort, and should be recommended reading for all high school faculty (and especially for athletic coaches) who hold the responsibility of molding our kids in their hands.

Urgently Needed: Young Leaders

I was a young leader, but I didn’t know it. When I was in high school, sports was my passion. I played quarterback on the football team-a leadership position. I played point guard on the basketball team-a leadership position. I played catcher on the baseball team-a leadership position. But during those years that I was busy being a leader at my high school, I never thought about what it meant to be a leader. What’s more, no adult ever mentored, taught, or coached me in the practice and principles of leadership.

After high school, I went to college at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. At the start of my junior year, I was tossed headfirst into an experience that galvanized me as a leader. It occurred in November 1960, and it had to do with a basketball game.

In those days, freshmen were not eligible for the varsity basketball team, so every November there would be a big game in which the freshman team would play the varsity team. The game, held in the Coliseum in Winston-Salem, was open to the public.

Five days before the game, Jerry Steele, the president of the Monogram Club, our lettermen’s organization, came to me and said, “Williams, we’ve got to put this game on and you’re in charge.”

“In charge of what?” “In charge of everything,” he said. And he meant that literally. Even though the game was just five days away, nobody had done one thing to make it happen.

I opened my mouth to argue-then I shut it. Jerry Steele was a sixfoot eight-inch, 240-pound basketball player, all of which added up to a very persuasive personality. So I agreed to be volunteered.

I spent the next five days putting together a basketball show for the whole community. I worked on various promotions and got the publicity information to the local radio and TV stations and the newspapers. I planned a half-time show and brought in a band from a local high school. I auditioned a singer for the national anthem. I located a color guard for the start of the game. I brought in cheerleaders. I printed and sold the tickets. In short, I was doing the same things I would later do as an NBA executive. It was on-the-job leadership training.

The job was far too big for one guy, so I learned very quickly the importance of delegating. I grabbed volunteers (not all of them willing!) wherever I could find them. I buttonholed and recruited; I wheeled and dealed; I became a leader! How did it come off? I remember that game as if it was yesterday. Everything happened right on schedule, and everybody had a great time. When it was over, I was walking two inches off the ground. I was so pleased with myself that my grin barely fit on my face. It was one of the most satisfying and energizing experiences of my life. I received accolades from the athletics director, the students, the players, the coach, and people in the community.

That night, as I went to bed, I realized something I had never known before: I was a leader!

The Seven Keys to Unlocking Leadership Potential

Looking back, I see that this one event opened the door for every other leadership role I’ve held during these past forty-odd years. Everything I’ve done as a leader, as a promoter, as a general manager, as a sports executive, had its genesis in that one event. Jerry Steele tossed me that responsibility as if it was a live grenade. He thought he was giving me a job nobody else would want, nobody else would take. But I passed the test. Little did Jerry realize that he had a big hand in launching my career as a leader.

In the years since then, I have become fascinated with the subject of leadership. Some of the most effective and influential leaders in the world of sports and the world of business, including baseball executive and promoter Bill Veeck, Philadelphia Phillies owner Bob Carpenter, and Orlando Magic owner Rich DeVos, have instructed and mentored me. Other leaders who have had a big influence on my life include businessman and minor-league baseball owner R. E. Littlejohn; former major league catcher and Miami Marlins manager Andy Seminick (I caught for the minor-league Marlins in 1962-63); my college baseball coach, Jack Stallings; my high school football coach, Bob DeGroat; and my high school baseball coach (who was also a former Phillies farmhand), Peanuts Riley.

These leaders and mentors not only modeled leadership in my life, but they also set a high bar for me to live up to. I wanted them to be proud of me and pleased with my work. They motivated me to be a leader.

Finally, I distilled everything I had learned about leadership in a book called The Paradox of Power, which was published in the fall of 2002 by Warner Books. This book had quite an impact, and I received literally hundreds of letters from readers who were excited about the concepts and principles in that book.

After the book had been out for a few months, I received a call from my publisher at Warner, Rolf Zettersten. “Pat,” he said, “I’ve just come from an editorial meeting, and we have an idea for a book we’d like you to write.”

Well, that was something new in my experience! Usually, I came up with book ideas and tried to find a publisher who would agree to publish them. Here was my publisher coming to me with a book idea! “This book would be a natural follow-up to The Paradox of Power,” Rolf continued. “Pat, what’s the number one desire of every parent for his or her children? What’s the number one desire of every teacher, coach, pastor, and youth worker concerning the young people they are guiding and mentoring?”

Well, I am the father of nineteen children (four by birth, fourteen by international adoption, and one by remarriage), and the first answer that came to mind was that they stay out of trouble! But I knew that Rolf was getting at something much deeper than that.

“I know,” I said. “Our number one desire is that they become leaders.” “Precisely,” Rolf said. “We thought that with all the young people you have raised in your home, and with all the study you have put into the issue of leadership, you would be uniquely qualified to write a book on how to develop leadership skills in young people.”

I thought, Wow! Does this idea hit me where I live or what? Developing young leaders has been one of my top goals, not only as a parent nineteen times over, but as a sports manager, a speaker, and a volunteer in my church. What’s more, in my travels across the country, I have sensed a hunger throughout our society for fresh insights into the challenge of training and motivating young people to be leaders.

My next question was: Where would these fresh insights come from? The answer came to me in a flash: from leaders themselves. I realized that to write this book, I needed to chase down hundreds of leaders and distill the best of those stories into this book. I was convinced that the essential principles of training and motivating young leaders would emerge from those hundreds of interviews-and I was right.

I spent twelve months sending out letters and making phone calls, gathering stories, insights, and ideas from leaders around the country. I sent out more than a thousand questionnaires to leaders in every walk of life-business, sports, government, the military, education, religion, and on and on. A friend of mine, author-journalist Larry Guest, calls me “the Prince of Overkill,” and I am-I can’t help myself. Once I started collecting ideas and stories from the first wave of respondents, I got so excited about what I was reading that I had to send out more and more questionnaires. When the smoke had cleared, I had mailed more than nine thousand questionnaires.

Before I was finished, I had received stories and insights from more than eight hundred leaders, from Florida’s Governor Jeb Bush to Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern to San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to leadership guru John Maxwell. While answers to my questionnaires were still pouring in, I saw patterns and trends emerging. Many of these leaders had youthful experiences and influences in common.

Many talked about the same components of authentic leadership. Though their stories were different, the principles for inspiring, instructing, and motivating young leaders were the same. So I got together with my writing partner, Jim Denney, and we hammered out the structure for this book-a structure that was based entirely on the results of this research, not on any preconceived notions. In short, this book was written in the trenches. It comes straight from the real-life experiences of real leaders. So you can be sure that these insights are true and these principles work. If you apply these insights and principles to your relationships with young leaders, you will see results in young lives….

Copyright © 2005 by Pat Williams

An Interview With Pat Williams

Tell me about yourself, Pat, and specifically, how you began your career in the NBA.

Well, I grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, and my dad was a coach and teacher in high school. I grew up in an athletic family, and I just loved baseball. I played baseball and other sports in school, and eventually went to Wake Forest on a baseball scholarship. After I graduated college, I signed with the Phillies and played two years in their minor league system. From there, I went to work in their administration office. Finally, in 1968, I left baseball and went to work for the Philadelphia 76ers – the great Jack Ramsey actually hired me on to work for the Sixers. This began my 37 year career in the NBA [Williams has worked with the Bulls, Hawks, Sixers and Magic]. After being with several NBA clubs, I arrived in Orlando 19 years ago to help launch the Magic as an expansion team.

How did your NBA and business experience help you in the course of writing this book?

Actually, what I did not realize is that I had been studying leadership while I was leading. I finally reached a point in my life where I was able to look back and reflect and I realized I have been leading all my life. So when Warner Booksapproached me with the idea to do a book on leadership skills, I was forced to look at the topic in relation to my own life. You know, John, when you’re in your 60s you start to think about passing the things you’ve learned in your life to others, to younger generations. But I feel the real key to my book was when I reached out to other leaders and received their input on the subject. This is what really gives the book a unique flavor, I mean it has such a wide-range of personalities featured – from people like Tommy Franks to people like Joe Torre. It really gives the reader many different points of view.

Looking at the current face of the NBA, and considering the horrific brawl which occurred between the Pacers and Pistons last November, do you think these kids coming into the league now are capable of being leaders?

I do believe they can be leaders, but we must teach them. Are leaders born or made? That was the key question in my book. And of the people I interviewed, 85% said they are made – which I found encouraging. The folks I spoke to think leaders can be developed. And I think we can develop leaders from the young players we have in the league. But we have to teach them — that’s the bottom line here.

I understand you have 19 children, and 14 are adopted. What has motivated you personally to pursue such a big family?

Well, there was no master plan. Actually, my wife was on a crusade to adopt children that didn’t look exactly like us. So, finally, in 1983, we adopted two little girls from South Korea. And it moved me. And then we decided to do it again and adopt more children. Over a ten year period we adopted 14 kids from 4 different countries. We did it without counting the cost. When we were adopting our children we never looked at things like the $80,000 per-year grocery bill we’d have. We just did it, never counting the cost…

What was your mission in writing this book? What did you hope to accomplish?

Well, the real issue is whether or not we know how to teach our kids to lead. That’s the real purpose behind this book: to motivate our teachers and pastors and grandmothers to help develop a new generation of leaders. Looking back, had I written this book 20 years ago, I would have been a better father. I would have had a better approach to parenting and would have been a better trainer of young people.

Looking at today’s youth – what’s lacking? How can they begin to improve themselves as individuals?

Well, first off — I think today’s youth have never had more opportunity and have never been sharper. They have so many resources with which to work. But as parents we have to get them excited about wanting to lead. The youth of today is just too laid back. They lack the motivation to work. The key to the equation is to get your kids excited about some area of life. There’s simply too much lethargy with kids today. The have no goals, no real ambitions. As parents we have to get our kids to figure out what they’re going to do with their lives and then help them do it. We have to expose them to different ideas and get them excited and fuel their interests. Leadership skills will develop from there.

Interview by John Aiello

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This entry was posted on June 1, 2005 by in 2005, June 2005, Rat On Fiction & Nonfiction and tagged , , , , , .
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