Archive for the 'True Tales – Telling It Like It Is' Category

Boardwalk Empire and Northside by Nelson Johnson

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

A Reader’s Review by Ann Dow

I am reading Boardwalk Empire, and the  book is a far cry from the HBO series.  It is a fascinating study of how Atlantic City came about.  Of course, this is of interest to me because I grew up there, but it should interest anyone who wants to know more about how places got to be what they are, especially resorts because most of them started out as tracts of sand until someone with foresight developed them and made them into what they are.  This would apply to Long Island, Florida, Newport, Bar Harbor and nearly any seaside enclave you might name.  Even the fact that some of those developers were shady characters is part of the common equation, and that’s what makes this book worth reading.  It’s not a soap opera like the TV show, but it does hold my attention and may indeed hold yours.

I also finished and enjoyed The Northside by the same author, Nelson Johnson (no relation to the legendary Nucky Johnson of Atlantic City fame) aka Nucky Thompson in the HBO series.  This one is about the African-American residents of the section of Atlantic City known as the Northside.  These people, many descendants of slaves, were the ones who comprised the main workforce of the industry that put AC on the tourist map.  They worked tirelessly for little reward and were treated little better than their ancestors, but they built their own society in their allotted part of town.  Many of them became professional people, and their children became doctors, lawyers, school teachers, and in several cases, celebrities.

The common denominator of these two books is that with the right raw materials, something good can be made from very little.  It takes determination and effort, but eventually the raw clay becomes a solid object that rises out of its surroundings and in time becomes the model for future sculptors to emulate.  In the case of Boardwalk Empire, this clay can deteriorate over time and unnurtured, can return to dust.  This happens when too much emphasis is placed on the place and not enough on the people who inhabit it.  Atlantic City is a classic example of such decline.  The Northside, which produced solid citizens, is still there even though many of those citizens have moved to other places which were not available to their forebears.  They continue to thrive and to make a difference and to influence their children to strive to do likewise.

No real talent for cooking?

Saturday, August 1st, 2009

This movie looks like a lot of fun to me and I’m not much of a cook.  Just ask my kids.

The film opens in local theaters on August 7th.   You can check out the book @ your library and have it read before opening night!

See Meryl Streep’s recent Telegraph interview to learn more.

In Defense of Food – Michael Pollan

Monday, July 13th, 2009

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. It sounds so simple; and yet….. I’ve been reading books over the last year or two that deal with eating slowly, eating locally, etc. so this book fit that theme. Michael Pollan’s manifesto is so easy to remember and should be easy to follow. He spends the first two thirds of the book explaining why most of us in the West are no longer eating ‘food’ and the negative impact this has on our health and culture. The final section of the book describes how to overcome this problem and this is where the difficulty lies. Pollan lists a set of sensible rules for each phase of his manifesto. Rule #1: Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. His example for this rule is Go-Gurt Portable Yogurt tubes but there many, many other examples that can be found in the aisles of any supermarket. His final rule: Cook, and if you can, plant a garden. Even this seemingly easy rule is hard to apply if your time and energy are in short supply. If home gardening is not practical, here in the Garden State it should be easy to eat locally grown food from a farmer’s market or CSA (community-supported agriculture) box. However, when you factor in the time and fuel to get this food it can be more of a negative than buying whatever is on hand at your local supermarket year-round. There are stumbling blocks for each of his rules that will require a change in attitude and lifestyle for most of us. I would recommend In Defense of Food to anyone interested in thinking about food in a different light. It is a challenge to all of us to mend our ways.

Platform for happiness?

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

 

Last night, while watching the The Holiday, I noticed something I had not noticed when viewing the film in the theater in 2006. Google plays a pivotal role in the film. Google is the platform for happiness. In the movie Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet play characters let down by the loves of their lives that connect online via Google.

 

They decide to swap residences for an extended vacation, a getaway from the daily grind. Who comes to the rescue? Google – the platform works with a message board network to connect the two characters. Connecting is what Google does best. The Google connection eventually spells happiness for the two female leads and most of the cast.  The music is also wonderful.

 

 

This example aligns itself with Jeff Jarvis’ insights in What Would Google Do.

Googlethink perceives the power of enterprise to be found in the ability of the venture to serve as a platform for users. The book is a worthwhile read for anyone who desires to move forward in the online realm.

Passages for reflection on this Sunday morning:

At Google we are God and data is our Bible.  p. 87

Where does free will fit into the religious studies?

You need to encourage employees to suggest new ideas.  p.111

This focus holds promise for the future of libraries.

Get out of the way.  p.116

Yes, however lonely libraries are not fun online or in person.

Books are holy.  p.137

I cannot imagine a librarian who would argue the point.

The network is becoming more efficient than the corporation.  p.151

 

Scalability and tech development fuel the engine.

Jeff Jarvis makes a good case for startups and established organizations to strive to be more Googly. Google currently sets the pervasive standard and the standard is high.

I hold strong in my conviction that is was easier to create Google before Google was created. New platforms spring up daily creating new ways to manage and market information.

I find it interesting to see how freely the author showers Google with anthropomorphic qualities. Consider the ten things Google has found to be true.

Google is made up of a vast number of very talented individuals who develop as a team. Libraries will grow by implementing forward thinking team strategies.

Public Enemies by Bryan Burrough

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

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 “They stayed in Chicago just long enough to visit a divorce attorney; as soon as Billie could end her marriage she and Dillinger planned to wed.  Afterward they drove south to St. Louis, where Dillinger wanted to visit a large auto show.  There they bought a new V- 8 Ford, checked into a downtown hotel, and spent an evening dancing in its roof garden.  Then they struck out west on Route 66, looking forward to a vacation in the Arizona sunshine.”
 
This passage could be pulled from any romance novel on the WDFPL library shelves.

Public Enemies is a book full of a large cast of characters from the infamous John Dillinger, and legendary Bonnie and Clyde Barrow, to “Machine Gun Kelly,” the most hen-pecked husband.   Raids, shootouts, hideaways and investigations fill the pages of Bryan Burrough’s work.  I like the author’s History Channel delivery of a complex fact-filled overview of the crime wave of the early 1930’s.  The volume includes enough detail to push readers back in time.  The descriptive passages on wild nature of the criminal minds and haphazard planning styles of many criminal characters develop in sharp contrast to the organized pursuit of J. Edgar Hoover’s G-men, or do they?
  
“None of the FBI agents and the St. Paul police who descended on the neighborhood had any idea who was doing the shooting.  One agent telephone Washington to say the suspects didn’t match the descriptions of anyone in the Barker Gang.  Not until two hours later, when agents finally stormed Apartment 303, did the FBI realize who it had found.  Inside, amid an arsenal of pistols and submachine guns and drawerfuls of men’s suits and ladies undergarments, they found three photos.  One showed a baby boy, the other a teenager.  The third was a Navy sailor with a crewcut and a familiar crooked grin.  It was Dillinger.  Fingerprints taken from a Listerine bottle confirmed it.  And from the drops of blood agents found in the hallway outside, they guessed he had been hit.”

Criminals of the 1930’s caused fear and needless death and destruction without the use of high end technology, though the automatic weapons substantially increases the criminal bravado in the minds of many of the main characters.  Public Enemies enlightens readers on the impact media had on events of the time.  “In its May 7 issue, Time portrayed it as a board game set in a Midwestern “Dillinger Land”; GAME STARTS HERE, read the notation about Crown Point.  The Time spread went out of its way to categorize Dillinger as an all-American anti-hero.”
 
Be forewarned, Public Enemies is 592 pages long, though the pages include very cool maps, great photos, a well-written epilogue, notes, selected bibliography and, my personal favorite, the acknowledgements.   In the acknowledgements,  readers will find the usual kudos to all those who made the work possible along with the list of libraries from New Jersey to  Wisconsin, from Texas to Illinois along with many historical associations across the country that collectively held the key to much of the historical content of the book.
  
I highly recommend the book and also will drop a few words in the comments section of this blog after I see the movie.  It is interesting to think about how this crime wave would play out with today’s infusion of tech tools at the fingertips of both sides.  I hope the disconnection from today’s technology does not affect popularity of the book or the movie.  The time frame and actions of the 1930’s may not create the same adrenaline rush as a scene from Transformers, The Revenge of the Fallen, on movie theaters touting large screens and digital sound systems.   On the upside, Public Enemies does star Johnny Depp and a large cast of very talented artists who are committed to bring documented history to life. 
 
If you get a chance to read the book or see the movie, stop in the library or post your opinion on the work.  If your only comment is something like “I don’t read much, but I love Johnny Depp.”  That’s just fine.

Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

Barbara Ehrenreich describes her brush with low-paying labor employment and making ends meet in this interesting view of challenges unearthed while working in the unskilled labor pool of the US during 2000-2001.

nickel

Employers in general are more than willing to promote “comparing prices” but they are not so eager to suggest workers do the same with wages.  The author makes good points regarding the lack of civil liberties evident in some workplaces.  I found her stint as a maid enlightening and her weeks at Walmart fascinating. 

“For the laws of economics to work, the “players” need to be well-informed about their options.  Information about who earns what and where has to travel by word of mouth, and for inexplicable cultural reason, this is a very slow and unreliable route.  Twin Cities job market analyst Kristine Jacobs pinpoints what she calls the “money taboo” as a major factor preventing workers from optimizing their earnings.  There’s a code of silence surrounding issues related to individuals’ earnings.  We confess everything else in our society-sex, crime, illness.  But no one wants to reveal what they earn or how they got it.  The money taboo is one thing that employers can always count on. “

The author draws from her familiarity with the biological sciences in this excerpt “there is ample evidence that animals-rats and monkeys for example-that are forced into a subordinate status within their social systems adapt their brain chemistry accordingly, becoming “depressed” in humanlike ways.  Their behavior is anxious and withdrawn; the level of serotonin declines in their brains.  And – what is especially relevant here-they avoid fighting even in self-defense.   Of course humans are much more complicated; even is extreme situations of subordination, we can draw on reserves of self-esteem with thoughts of family, friends, religion, or hopes for the future.  The author surmises, “The indignities imposed on so many low-wage workers- the drug tests, the constant surveillance, being “reamed out” by managers-are part of what keeps wages low.  If you are made to feel unworthy enough, you may come to think that what you’re paid is what you are actually worth.” 

Many in this country can be considered the “new rich” who rarely share common services and spaces with the poor and or middle class.  They withdraw from mixed neighborhoods into gated communities.  This is a main reason while public institutions such as libraries are falling short on funding.  They have always been underfunded and now that the rich are less likely to be regular library card carrying members, they do not support libraries as they have done in the past.  The poor and middle class are supported by library services and they are rarely voting or exuding political power in their own defense.

This country is unfortunately dependent on foreign oil and also on the underpaid labor of others. 

The author writes, “When someone works for less pay that she can live on-when for example she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently-then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health and her life.  The “working poor” as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society.  They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be card for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privatization so that inflation will be low and stock prices high.   To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor to everyone else.  As Gail, one of the author’s restaurant coworkers put it, “you give and you give.”

Let’s fast forward to the current economics of 2009 to assess an increase in the non-working poor.  When the author searched for work in the unskilled labor market of this country in 2000, there were an abundance of positions to choose from.  If the task was undertaken today, I believe her search would play a much larger role in the book.  This book review concludes with the question – what happens now to the self-esteem of the large number of non-working poor in today’s society?

I encourage readers to stick with the author’s words, even if they are not the stuff fairly tales are made of.

Act Like a Lady-Think Like a Man by Steve Harvey

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Steve Harvey provides a hip overview of what makes modern man tick.  I planned to recount some of the insightful tips in this review but now believe it will be more helpful to those interested in the topic to share the 160 Amazon reviews posted online. 

The author has a knack for grounding his reasoning in real world analogies.  I am particularly fond of the fishing examples and subsequent discussion. 

The majority of the book is specific to adult male/ female relating.  I find an exception in the following paragraph which rings true in a broader sense across the general population: “Start putting yourself first – get where you want to be, and make your man be all that he can be.  Remember this:  the number one cause of failure in this country is the fear of failure.  Fear paralyzes you from taking action.  Don’t be afraid to lose him, because if a man truly loves you, he’s not going anywhere.” 

I recommend the book highly especially to those seeking to move forward into a long lasting relationship with a member of the opposite sex.

Personal reflections from a WDFPL friend

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Date: Thursday, September 11, 2008, 11:10 AM

It is a clear, cool, fall-like day here in West Deptford, with just the sound of planes flying in and out of Philadelphia to disturb the silence. And yet that sound is a reassuring one, for it means that so far at least it is indeed a normal day. Just seven years ago, on a day much like this one, the world changed forever when planes crashed into buildings and fell from the sky, and we knew that nothing would ever be the same.

On September 11, 2001, we had not yet returned home from Maine, and we were having a leisurely cup of coffee in the kitchen of our rented summer cottage when my classical radio station interrupted a concert to announce that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. We nearly tripped over each other in our rush to reach the living room and turn on the TV. We were just in time to see the second crash,and then we knew that the first one had not been a tragic accident. We became glued to the television screen and saw the string of unbelievable incidents unfold throughout the morning.

By afternoon, we could no longer endure the sense of horror and sorrow and made our way to a public place where people were gathering to console one another. Although we felt relatively safe in our island retreat, everyone felt a loss, and a number of residents and vacation holdovers like ourselves were uncertain about their family and friends back home. One local woman was worried about her husband who was due to return from a business trip to the West Coast that evening.. It turned out that he was safe in Seattle, but she did not know that for over 24 hours, and he did not get home for nearly a week.

By late afternoon, an impromptu service had been arranged at a local church, and the turnout was truly impressive considering the scant notice given. It was an inspired decision to bring people together to share their anguish, their faith or just their fear. No one was yet sure who was responsible for the unconscionable acts that had been committed, but to know that the people assembled were united in grief was a positive thing.

Every American can recall where he or she was on September 11, 2001, and just about everyone has heroic stories to tell. Heroism was observed in many forms, including the simple acts of kindness that we bestowed upon one another. In the immediate aftermath of the event, much of the world mourned with us and shared our pain.

Seven years have passed, and the pain has dulled to a chronic ache, but we have learned to deal with the past that we cannot change and try to move on to a future that is uncertain but holds some promise. Life will never return to its pre-9/11 innocence, but we must face the reality that confronts us and at least try to recapture that spirit of common purpose and commitment that we demonstrated seven years ago.

Peace to all my family and friends
Ann

Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope by Jenna Bush

Friday, December 28th, 2007

Ana’s Story is a narrative nonfiction piece based on Jenna Bush’s work with UNICEF in Latin America.  The book delves into the life experience of one girl facing the hardship of being born with AIDS. 

When I began reading the book I had expected a detailed portrait of a life of sorrow.  Descriptive passages transport the reader to Ana’s world.  I was surprised at Ana’s optimism in the face of illness.  She is inspiring.  I have not read much on efforts to combat AIDS throughout South America however the narrative style opens the door to a new cultural experience and a personal look at the toll of the disease outside the U.S. borders.  Ana’s Story demonstrates how strength and resilience can be found in those who survive abuse, neglect, violence and disease. 

On a side note, it is amazing how heavy the book is for the page count. 

Plenty: one man, one women, and a raucous year of eating locally by alias Smith and J.B. MacKinnon

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

 Reviewed by Cheryl Rheiner
This is a month-by-month account of the 100-mile diet and its progression during the course of a year. The story is told in alternating voices by the authors and details their attempt to eat food that is grown and produced within 100 miles of
Vancouver, B.C. The year begins when they forage for a meal to feed a guest to their cabin in
British Columbia and decide to try to eat locally for a year. One of their first attempts to feed guests relying on 100-mile foods results in a meal that costs $128.87 and they realize how difficult and expensive the experiment might be. As the year passes they become creative, frustrated, bored but determined to see it through. They discuss reports, studies and research on the topic of eating locally and provide a list of readings and websites at the end. Each month’s chapter ends with a recipe. I think the idea of eating locally is a sound one but I wondered if I would be able to persevere with the foods that are available in our own 100-miles when the bounty of JerseyFresh is not available. If you are interested in the slow food movement this book is ‘food for thought.’ There is a website with additional information and a link to the 100-mile map at: 100milediet.org