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Culture Clash

Culture Clash

posted by:
March 26, 2014 - 8:00am

The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America“Give me your tired, your poor…” beckons the Statue of Liberty, its words a siren call to immigrants with an implied promise of the American Dream. The idea is that, in the United States, anyone can succeed through hard work regardless of the circumstances of their birth and background. But is the deck stacked? Amy Chua and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, analyze this notion in their new book, The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America.

 

Chua and Rubenfeld are not looking at what makes individuals succeed but rather the overall success of cultural groups defined by religion, ethnicity or country of origin. Chua is no stranger to evaluating success; her previous book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, examines the child-rearing customs of Asian immigrants, which are at great odds with western notions of parenting but often result in astoundingly high-achieving children. In The Triple Package, the authors review at least eight distinct and seemingly disparate groups that have attained great and disproportionate financial success. Successful groups studied include Mormons, Nigerians, Persians and Cubans. The three traits shared by all the groups are a collective belief in their own group superiority, a contradictory feeling of insecurity resulting in the need to prove oneself and a well-regulated impulse control. Group members influenced by this trait trifecta are well equipped to run – and win – in the rat race.

 

Chua’s Tiger Mother attracted critics appalled by Chua’s mothering techniques, and The Triple Package is drawing controversy for what some readers see as the espousal of alarmingly elitist social theory. Chua and Rubenfeld do acknowledge a darker side to the package that can feature anxiety, depression and bigotry. The Triple Package provides an alternative slant on achievement in America.

Lori

 
 

Belle of Baltimore

Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson BonaparteBaltimore’s Elizabeth “Betsy” Patterson Bonaparte was known as the most beautiful woman in the United States. Jerome Bonaparte, Napoleon Bonaparte’s younger brother, was more interested in women than war games. The pair fell madly in love, and in so doing, changed their destinies and affected international diplomacy. Carol Berkin shares the story of this remarkable woman in Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte.

 

Born in Baltimore in 1785, Betsy was the eldest child of William Patterson and Dorcas Spear Patterson. Betsy’s beauty was renowned and coupled with her intelligence, wit and independence, it made her one of the most sought-after women in America. She refused marriage proposals from wealthy, powerful men, writing to her father, "Nature never intended me for obscurity." Her 1803 marriage to Jerome ensured her place in the spotlight and in history. Her father’s opposition to this union paled in comparison to Napoleon’s livid reaction. When the couple traveled from Baltimore to France, Napoleon banned the then-pregnant Betsy from disembarking in any European port. Napoleon also gave Jerome an ultimatum: Stay married to Betsy and get nothing, or marry a woman of Napoleon’s choice and enjoy wealth and power. Jerome ended the marriage in 1805 and was made king of Westphalia.

 

England welcomed the sensational Betsy with open arms, and it was there that she gave birth to her son and only child. She spent the rest of her life traveling between Baltimore and England and grew to admire the refined English society and despise America’s obsession with commerce. Despite her disdain for her country’s moneymaking mania, she fought for and received a pension from Napoleon that she invested, ultimately amassing a great fortune. Using Betsy’s letters, Berkin goes behind the tabloid-esque story and creates a portrait of an independent woman struggling to find her place in a changing world.

 

The Maryland Historical Society’s exhibit "Woman of Two Worlds:" Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte and Her Quest for an Imperial Legacy” brings to life the two worlds that Betsy inhabited and showcases her jewels, silver, furniture, paintings and much more, including one of her scandalous gowns.

Maureen

 
 

Rooting for Tomorrow

Rooting for Tomorrow

posted by:
March 24, 2014 - 7:00am

Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael BeahIshmael Beah writes as though he is guided by a kaleidoscope of imagery. The old man's hair was not gray; it was the "color of stagnant clouds." Such is the pleasure of reading this Sierra Leone-born author, who recently published his first novel, Radiance of Tomorrow, about the aftermath of civil war in his home country. The book, part fable/part allegory, is really several individuals’ stories set in the village of Imperi. It is about the redemptive nature of those who have suffered heartbreak few can imagine and the human need to renew, rebuild and rejuvenate.

 

Imperi is a devastated, desolate place since the war. Villagers are now making their way back, past the rows of human skulls that line their path. They bring with them memories. They bring physical scars as well, like those borne by Sila and his two children, whose hands were cut off by a 16-year-old boy soldier now living among them. They crave a return to the old ways, like Bockarie and Benjamin, two teachers at the center of the story who find it difficult to inspire students when conditions are so poor. Fortunately, there are storytellers, like the elder Mama Kadie, whose evening tales swaddle those listening in the tentative celebration of tomorrow. As more villagers return, we learn of their pasts.  Insidious corruption from both within and outside of the government complicates matters.

 

Beah, a former child soldier who wrote about his experiences in A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, was influenced by the tradition of oral storytelling as a young boy. "I bring a lot of that oral tradition to my writing and I try to let it seep into the words." His evocative narrative, conveyed in the third person, borrows from his native Mende as well as other languages. It is lyrical prose that invites readers to slow down and drift into a world Beah knows all too well.

Cynthia

 
 

Reinvention of Rebecca

Reinvention of Rebecca

posted by:
March 21, 2014 - 7:00am

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna QuindlenPhotographer Rebecca Winter became a feminist icon, celebrated artist and a wealthy woman thanks to her “Kitchen Counter” collection of domestic photographs. In Still Life with Bread Crumbs (also the name of Rebecca’s most famous photograph), Anna Quindlen confronts the challenges involved with aging – financial decline, parental infirmities, career relevance and love.

 

Rebecca, now 60 years old and long-divorced, is dealing with dwindling finances, supporting her elderly parents and supplementing her grown son’s income. These obligations are coupled with a drastic reduction in income and force her to sublet her cherished Manhattan apartment and rent a small country cabin in a town where everyone soon knows her name. Almost immediately, she is faced with decidedly nonurban issues such as raccoons in the attic and a lack of power outlets. Local roofer Jim Bates offers assistance with her home and also secures her a paying gig photographing birds. When not sitting in a tree stand with Jim, Rebecca embraces the nature around her and slowly feels her creative spark returning.

 

Quindlen’s nonlinear narrative infuses Rebecca’s tale with a fresh pace as the depth of her story is uncovered layer by layer. Her past has shaped the woman she is today and the reader gets glimpses of key events that had a profound impact on her evolution. In moving to the country, she has physically distanced herself from friends and family and embarks on a soul-searching journey. While she may no longer be the same woman who snapped those famous photographs, she is still vibrant and willing to embrace second chances. Quindlen once again delivers with this beautifully written, insightful novel of one woman embarking on a new phase of life filled with professional rejuvenation and unexpected love.  

Maureen

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Family Ties

Family Ties

posted by:
March 19, 2014 - 7:00am

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHughA heavily and densely woven debut novel by author Laura McHugh, The Weight of Blood oozes mystery, secrets and pain like a long-festering wound. Told primarily from the perspective of Lila, a young mother burdened by her past, the story is paralleled by Lila’s now 17-year-old daughter Lucy’s story.  Lila disappeared when Lucy was just a baby, and she always wondered what really happened the day her mother was last seen holding a gun and heading toward a cave deep in the Ozark Mountains. When Lucy’s childhood friend, Sheri, disappears and is found dismembered a year later, old secrets and suspicions begin to surface as Lucy works to uncover the truth.

 

Lucy lives with her father who is often away for days at a time working out of town. Even when he returns home he is still only half there, the other half still consumed by the pain of losing his young wife so many years ago.  Lucy has an intimate support network of pseudo-family members, her mother’s once-best-friend and her daughter, a grandmotherly figure who lives nearby in the woods and her father’s brother Crete who is fiercely protective of Lucy, treating her like his own daughter.

 

In a small town, where heritage is held to the highest of standards and outsiders are always kept at arm’s length, there are no limits to what someone will do for the sake of family. The events that unravel through Lila’s and later into Lucy’s stories attest to the lengths one will go for family.

Courtney

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Wishing You Love, Peace and Soul!

Cover art for Soul Train by QuestloveCover art for The Hippest Trip in AmericaAmerica’s longest-running syndicated television show, Soul Train, receives deserved attention in two new titles focusing on the lasting legacy of this landmark production. The show debuted in 1971 and continued airing through 2006. Those 35 years were marked by groundbreaking moments, future stars, celebrity performances and thousands of Soul Train Lines.
 

In Soul Train: The Music, Dance and Style of a Generation, Questlove (drummer and frontman for The Roots, the in-house band for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon) celebrates the show he loved and offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse from conception to conclusion with features on the many artists whose careers skyrocketed following an appearance. Think Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, LL Cool J and Lenny Kravitz! He also highlights the changes the show made during its long run, including the departure of creator and host Don Cornelius in 1993. A forward from Gladys Knight, a preface from Nick Cannon and Questlove’s exclusive access to the show’s archives all combine to create a volume rich in history, music and culture.
 

Music critic and novelist Nelson George offers a history of the revolutionary show in The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture & Style. The show debuted in October of 1971, seven years after the Civil Rights Act, and was unlike any previous variety show. Don Cornelius, a former radio reporter, was inspired by the civil rights movement to create a venue to highlight the cultural preferences of young African-Americans. It turned out that the music from a wide range of genres, the innovative dance moves and the fantastic fashions had wide crossover appeal and staying power. Many of the performers, including dancers Jody Watley and Rosie Perez and singers Aretha Franklin and Barry White, share memories and add insight into this fabulous show that revolutionized entertainment and promised “a groove that will make you move real smooth.”

Maureen

 
 

Laugh Out Loud Short Stories

Laugh Out Loud Short Stories

posted by:
March 14, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for One More ThingActor B. J. Novak’s first collection of short stories, One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, shows that he is more than just another Hollywood star writing a book. Best known for his acting and writing roles on The Office, Novak brings the same sort of absurd humor to his collection of over 60 short stories. The stories range in length and subject — some only a few lines, others pages long — and while some stories are entirely new, others are retellings of stories readers know well.
 

One More Thing begins with “The Rematch,” a continuation of the fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare,” told from the Hare’s perspective in the years after the race that ruined his reputation. From retold fables to dating stories like “All You Have to Do” and “Missed Connection: Grocery Spill at 21st and 6th 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday,” the collection is varied, and sure to keep the reader laughing. In “All You Have to Do,” a man informs readers that in order to find love, all you have to do is wear a red T-shirt each day, then go to the Missed Connections website and find out who liked you that day. In the second “Missed Connection,” a woman is searching for a man in a red T-shirt after they met outside of Trader Joe’s and spent the night together.
 

As an actor, Novak uses his connections to get his famous friends to voice characters on the audiobook version. From his Office co-stars Jenna Fischer, Mindy Kaling and Rainn Wilson to Oscar-winner Emma Thompson to pop star Katy Perry, the wonderfully performed audiobook version adds to the hilarity of Novak’s off the wall stories. Fans of humor books filled with pop culture references and unique stories won’t want to miss Novak’s One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories.

Laura

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To Err Is Human

To Err Is Human

posted by:
March 13, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for Ancillary JusticeThe science fiction genre has been on the decline for quite some time, but with the rise of innovative, mind-bending authors like Ann Leckie that might be about to change. Leckie has set imaginations afire, garnered a constellation of outstanding reviews and received a recent nomination for a 2013 Nebula Award for her debut novel, Ancillary Justice.
 

Ancillary Justice is set in a far future in an interplanetary empire known as the Radch. The Radchii utilize humans, massive ships and space stations connected by a vast network of artificial intelligence and the Ancillaries. Ancillaries are formerly living humans that have been transformed into part of the collective mind of their ships or stations. No longer human but also not fully machine, they are the Borg with more humanity and better fashion sense. Breq, the book’s protagonist, used to be an Ancillary of the starship Justice of Toren. Something happened to the ship, and she is the last surviving piece with all of the ship’s memories and no individual identity of her own. Breq is on a quest for vengeance for the death of her favorite human officer. The story is told in both Breq’s present and flashbacks that tell of the events leading up to the loss of the Justice of Toren. These flashbacks allow the brilliance of the work to shine through.  
 

With a narrator that is a ship consisting of hundreds of parts, you often seem to get point of views from dozens of perspectives, but they are all from the same character. It is no accident that the Radchii have no sense of gender. Throughout the book, Breq refers to everyone as "she," and it is only through the conversations of others that we get any sense of gender identity. As Breq’s story unfolds and you see a multifaceted Artificial Intelligence developing a split personality and hiding secrets from itself, you develop a true appreciation for what Leckie has accomplished.
 

A world on the verge of unimagined changes in identity, technology and biological change, Ancillary Justice delivers a window into our future and how the definition of being human might be more malleable than we think.

Brian

 
 

A Purr-fect Parody

A Purr-fect Parody

posted by:
March 12, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for Downton TabbyWhether you are an avid fan of Downton Abbey or just someone who enjoys a bit of humor involving cats, you are sure to enjoy Chris Kelly’s Downton Tabby: A Parody. In this book, you will be introduced to the aristocratic upstairs cats, whose day consists of grooming, sleeping, being fed and, of course, loafing around on expensive furniture in an adorable manner.  There are also the downstairs cats — mostly named Emma — whose lots in life are to work in servitude to the upstairs cats. After all, this is England in the early 1900s. Their choices in life are really rather limited: serve, be served or be murdered by Jack the Ripper. Given those options, if one were not fortunate enough to be a proper kitty of breeding, a life of service is better than no life at all.
 

Following the general story line of the Downton Abbey television show, you will enjoy the trials and tribulations, the prides and the prejudices as well as the sense and the sensibilities of the felines of Downton Tabby. Learn how to keep a secret, the secret language of the tail, codes of conduct for both upstairs and downstairs cats and the art of arguing with someone who has deeply held beliefs.
 

Heavily illustrated, one of the gems of this book for cat lovers is the photos of cats dressed as characters from Downton Abbey reenacting scenes from the television show. A cheeky romp, this short book is an entertaining quick read. Who knows, you may even learn a bit about history, too!

Christina

 
 

Still Laughing After All These Years

Cover art for What's So Funny?Some may remember him from The Carol Burnett Show where he played such absurdly silly characters as Mr. Tudball, while others will recall him as the bumbling Ensign Parker in the TV show McHale’s Navy. Then there are those who have seen his Dorf series of videos. However you remember Tim Conway, his book What’s So Funny? My Hilarious Life will introduce you to aspects of the comic you may have never known.

 

Conway (born Thomas Conway in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio) loves to tell a funny story, and his book is full of them. Some of the stories involve his eccentric yet lovable family but most are about his life in show business. Being an only child, Conway had a kind of built in audience with his family. He used these early experiences at home, in the classroom, during his brief time in the Army and throughout his extended time at Bowling Green State University to hone his craft and become the comic legend that we know today.

 

Over the years, Conway has worked with many of the greats in comedy and is quick to give praise to those who helped him achieve success. Some of the celebrities he worked for or with include Ernie Anderson, Steve Allen, Ernest Borgnine and, of course, Carol Burnett. There are sides to Conway that are surprising (for example, being an avid horse racing fan) and some that you might expect (he and Harvey Korman really were great friends), but they all add up to an intriguing and funny memoir. Hopefully, Conway will be around to make us laugh for a long time to come.

 

Regina