Friday, September 19, 2014

Trump Tower in Soho in Foreclosure

Many factors are involved in this story, and one of them is that as the middle class declines there will be more poor people and fewer rich people (albeit richer), and so more buildings like this will go vacant because there are just no bodies to fill them. One interesting audiobook on this subject is THE E-MYTH ARCHITECT by Michael E. Gerber. To hear Trump's side of the game, listen to NEVER GIVE UP by Donald Trump, with Meredith McGiver, read by Steve Blane. It's about good deals and bad, fighting back from defeats and setbacks, and turning one's biggest challenges into success...with examples similar to this one. In our changing culture, with its shifting demographic base, it is also important to understand differing points of view in business, and for this listen to THE CULTURE MAP: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, by Erin Meyer, read by Karen Saltus. And if you are a woman, then OFF THE SIDELINES by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand tells how she gets things done in Washington, while inspiring women to take risks. It's read by the author.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

THE DOG by Joseph O'Neill

Few novels are “different,” meaning that they follow little traveled paths. One such novel is THE DOG by Joseph O’Neill. Of course it’s a literary novel. By that I mean the sentences are long and introspective, even analytical, as opposed to short and focused like a darts player trying to score points. This is a book asking you to think and observe, not merely to be driven around in a race car looking for a checkered flag. It’s an anti-Patterson novel, having no tight, ominous structure or 120 chapters containing one-word sentences. Riveting and page-turning? Hardly. But you are moved in odd ways and learn things you don’t already know, (or have already read 120 times.) Is this not a plus? It would be, if our culture made sense. What better way to tell a story set in Dubai, about a man who is “in the doghouse” with his girlfriend (and who goes to take a job in that ultimate wet dream of American culture) than to make it part angst over guilt, part revelatory confessional, and part observational travelogue? His internal examination, sometimes lost and plaintive, is also funny, ironic, didactic, and always aware of being on the outside of the hedonistic, simplistic decadence surrounding him (the Emeratis turning the American dream of a life of leisure and bling into a nightmare of the ultimate nirvana: ironic in its own way since more radical Islam believes that nirvana—life itself—begins only at death.) The outward story, in which a nameless protagonist cannot find the peace he seeks, (while examining his choices along the way), succeeds in ways a suspense or mystery novel with a neat Hollywood wrap-up cannot. So, while it’s not as exciting as pop formula novels, it’s also not as shallow, either. It's more like real life, in which we are all seeking things we hope will satisfy, even if we know they may only make us victims of our delusions in the end. I enjoyed The Dog for another reason, too. The setting is Dubai, which I also chose as setting for a novel that walks the line between suspense and literary. As read by actor Erik Davies, The Dog becomes an enlightened journey down a road less traveled, with a tour guide whose tone matches the material, while the material itself renders rewards to those patient and brave enough to listen to the truth told by a tortured everyman.

Friday, September 12, 2014

MEATONOMICS by David R. Simon

The cost of eating meat is more than substantial. If Americans gave up meat today, one sixth of the country would be returned to other agriculture or native use, an output of greenhouse gases greater than that produced by internal combustion engines would be curtailed, and untold billions would be saved in payouts that are given as subsidies by the government to keep meat cheap in visible price at (invisible) taxpayer expense. That Big Mac is more expensive than you think: it’s more like $11. So says David Robinson Simon in MEATONOMICS, detailing the $414 Billion which meat eating costs society each year. And then there’s the pollution which cow, pig, and chicken manure produces, and the depressing cruelty that the meat industry’s robber barons impose on animals to process them quicker (with hormones) in the Nazi war camp conditions of feed lots, tight stinking pens, and darkened grain barns that look like barracks for prisoners. (I recall seeing a report on a pig processor in North Carolina that wouldn’t let the press in to take photos, or even show them the kill floor without cameras. Aren’t pigs highly intelligent and sensitive creatures whose organs can often replace our own?) Simon relates the costs to the economy and the world due to meat consumption, as more land and water are used to produce grain for animal production than for human Americans…while grains are not meant to be eaten by cattle, and can make them sick. Used to be, he says, that thousands of small farmers raised cattle and other animals on open grass ranges, but in recent decades the trend has gone toward giant corporate farms who hustle cattle into fed lots ever earlier, while chickens never see the light of day. Narrated by the always engaging Christopher Lane, this audiobook is a must hear for anyone wanting to lift the curtain hiding butchers from investigative audit. The book ends with a solution sure to be fought by the massive meat lobby and Cargill: a tax on meat consumption to make the prices reflect what Americans are actually paying anyway. Fish farms are also a target. Not only are inferior fish escaping from farms (such as in Alaska) and breeding with wild species, but if something isn’t done soon, fish populations will collapse because fishermen are being paid to fish ever dwindling stocks…which they wouldn’t be doing if they weren’t being paid by subsidy checks taken directly from our wallets in taxes. 


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Headhunters on My Doorstep

Facing one’s inner demons sometimes requires a journey that is both mental and physical. For J. Maarten Troost, travel memoirist, the demon was drink and the journey one parallel with Jekyll/Hyde author Robert Louis Stevenson, whose travels took him away from western civilization into the vast Pacific of the soul. With a title like HEADHUNTERS ON MY DOORSTEP, one conjures, at first, the image of savages coming for a visit, but here the true savages are the illusions spun by Mad Men in their cagey offices, lit by artificial light, where from numerous bottles pour the elixir of intoxicating deceit. Stevenson was a tale spinner too, but of a quite different kind, and Troost’s quest was to discover why he chose Samoa to end his days instead of London or Australia or even New Zealand. Discovering that answer puts one in perspective of life itself, as the old romantic world of adventure slowly slips under the waves, just as the island atolls which are now being inundated due to global warming and overpopulation. What’s left of imagination, after all, in our world of 3D fantasies engineered by supercomputer, and supported by cartoon superheroes sporting junk food logos? Is there a Treasure Island left, or has it too succumbed to gaudy hotels, taxis, and all-you-can-eat buffets? Troost, who has lived in Kiribati, Fiji, and Vanuatu (among other places), attempts to answer Stevenson’s riddle of “here he lies where he longed to be” in the most personal way one can: by stepping in the writer’s shoes and exploring what is left of the lost horizon on the vast backwater of a Hollywood lot. Tour guide is the inimitable Simon Vance, reading a memoir that is both insightful and delightful in its mastery of language and fearless, unblinking honesty. Previous books by the author (whose provocative titles should not be taken literally) include the funny tomes The Sex Lives of Cannibals and Getting Stoned with Savages.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

DIARY OF A MAD DIVA by Joan Rivers

Joan Rivers dished on everything from dining to nursing homes to Tom Cruise. Does she like anything? Sure. Funerals were great, as was "reading in the obits that your former stuck-up classmates are dying in droves." Her fear (at least on the outside) was age and death. And boredom. The ideal party guest at Joan's house was someone who caused a scene or got into a cat fight. Happy people were boring. When you're getting old, with time running out, you want controversy, not colostomy bags, she would say. Don't show her pictures of your kids or she'll offer to show you pics of her polyps. Outrageous, if scatter-brained, I HATE EVERYONE... STARTING WITH ME is a blunt instrument of comedy, with hammer and knife suitable for cutting and crushing. One thing Joan was not is subtle. If you were depressed, Joan "hated" you. If you were angry, would you like a refill on that vodka zinger? Since humor is in the ear of the belistener, I can't tell you whether you'll love or hate this. By now you probably know into which category you fit. She has always been funny, and that's what great comedians do. They make you laugh at yourself...or in her own case, herself too. She will be missed. Be sure to listen to her new (and last) book too: DIARY OF A MAD DIVA, which she reads herself as well...it's the ONLY way to "read" the book of a comedian, because you just don't get comedic timing in print.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

IN A ROCKET MADE OF ICE by Gail Gutradt

IN A ROCKET MADE OF ICE by Gail Gutradt is non-fiction about the HIV children of Wat Opot, in rural Cambodia. It’s a community started by a former Vietnam medic that is discovered by the author, whose life was transformed by the encounter with stigmatized children who deserve to grow up in a place like this, without judgment, (and instead with love.) This is the kind of book the world needs to hear now, instead of war chronicles detailing battles (often, as in Africa, with children bearing the automatic weapons.) While nations wave their flags and rattle their sabers, it’s the children who can remind us that we are all universally innocent before we start playing our violent ego games. Narrator Lorna Raver (interviewed at this site) told me, “While the author protests that she is not primarily a writer or a journalist, I thought she did a lovely, obviously heartfelt, job telling the story of Wat Opot. My admiration goes out to Wayne Matthysse and Gail Gutradt!” And this from Wayne at the Wat Opot community: "Gail brought our everyday life into stories people want to read about.  Her honesty and openness about her experience here is impressive. Although Wat Opot today is not the same place she writes about, the disease still rears it's ugly head occasionally in one of our small children and we are reminded of those days."

Also check out THE MILL RIVER REDEMPTION by Darcie Chan, about a widow who starts over in a small town in Vermont with her young daughters. who later become estranged and move away. After their mother’s death, they are then brought back to the town to hunt for a hidden key to a safe deposit box left by their mother with their inheritance inside. (Kinda like various clues to hidden money that made news recently.) Amy Rubinate narrates, and told me this about the novel and the previous The Mill River Recluse: “I thought both books were beautifully written, with a kind of timeless grace. I like to imagine several generations all enjoying them together; they're books my mom and grandmother and I would have shared. Hope you love them as much as I do! This is the kind of series where you might want to read both books. The first book adds a lot of depth and history to the second one.”

Also new is Haruki Murakami’s COLORLESS TSUKURU TAZAKI, read by Bruce Locke. Murakami is Japan’s greatest writer, author of many bestsellers described as “enigmatic and astonishing.” And THE SLEEPWALKER’S GUIDE TO DANCING by Mira Jacob concerns an East Indian woman coming to live in New Mexico and Seattle in order to confront her family’s painful past. Not without humor, it is read with surprising deftness by the author, which is not always the case! And Preston & Child are back with THE LOST ISLAND (once interviewed for this site), a Gideon Crew novel about a page stolen from the mysterious illuminated manuscript “The Book of Kells” which leads a sick Crew to a Caribbean island that promises many answers to cryptic riddles. The novel is more quickly paced (at least chapter-wise) than some of the duo’s previous creations, perhaps taking cues from James Patterson? Reader this time is David W. Collins, a sound designer for games and TV commercials (much like Paul Heitsch.) Also noteworthy for any alpha males reading this, SNIPER’S HONOR by Stephen Hunter inserts his ace rifleman Swagger into a plan to blow a Russian advance a-la the “Dirty Dozen,” with lots of guns and grenades used in a terrorist plot to which Swagger can direct his skills. Nice tie between present day and WW2, if you’re into combat strategy and the technical aspects of ballistics.