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Like quick sand, every chapter creates a mystery that pulls the listener deeper into the story.
Why is Owen Meany???s voice so high pitched and single noted? Who is the ???lady in red???? Who is Owen Meany???s illegitimate friend???s father? Why do the main characters keep practicing ???the shot???? What is Owen Meany???s recurring dream? Right foot, left foot, body, and brain; soon you are consumed by Irving's mysteries.
Joe Barrett???s spoken presentation is terrific because it enhances the written meaning of the story. James Atlas precedes the narration with an interview of John Irving, the author. The Atlas??? interview sets the table for what you are about to hear.
Irving writes a story about growing up in Anywhere, America where the pious are weak, the rich are intimidating and the children are indulged. It is an age like today with ministers preaching and not believing, parents teaching right and doing wrong, and children maturing physically and wasting mentally. Owen Meany is an exception, as this story tells the listener.
Owen Meany is modeled like the little man in The Tin Drum, a book about a dwarf like German citizen observing the beginning, progress, and ending of the WWII German tragedy. Owen Meany is a stunted American citizen living at the beginning of an evolving Vietnam American tragedy.
The subject of Vietnam is generally understood as an American disaster. It earned its American anti war rebellion. Irving???s story crystallizes the anxiety and frustration of that time. He offers an answer to what we can do when we become anxious and frustrated about things that seem beyond our control. It is not an easy path but redemption for atrocity begins with people of faith who see reality, have an inner morale compass, and act with a relentless commitment to stop senseless acts of war.
Edith Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence” exposes false notions of equality in America and reflects on the human frailty and strength of men and women. Wharton lived through the turn of the 19th into the 20th century in America. She lived an adult life of luxury in New York, and later in France.
Wharton writes about American society; i.e. she exposes New York’s “upstairs, downstairs” snobbery in the early 20th century. In telling the tale, Wharton sharply defines the battle of the sexes, duplicity of romance, and folly of youth. Though writing about a sliver of wealthy American’ society in the early 20th century, Wharton’s story rings as true about men and women today as it did when she won the Pulitzer Prize.
In the end, Wharton shows Archer, the novel's male protagonist, to be emotionally immature. Archer chooses to keep his innocent memory; i.e. his deluded vision of romance, commitment, and love. May and Olenska are shown to understand the difference between lust and romance; commitment, and love. Archer never does. Archer never gets over “The Age of Innocence”.
Kem Nunn’s book is a novel about derivatives of Chance; he suggests chance is an integral part of human’ nature. There is chance in genetics, in living, in parenting, in love, in health, in death. Nunn creates a story about the inadvertent nature of life. The main character of Nunn’s book—wait for it—is Dr. Chance.
Nunn’s characters seem formulaic in the beginning but, as the story unfolds, they become unique. Chance is born into wealth, with intelligent parents that can support him through the expense of a great education. Chance is a spoiled product of an abundant life. In his early career, he falls into an ethical dilemma that nearly destroys his reputation and drives his parents to despair. In mid-life, Chance repeats his mistakes with another ethical dilemma; another broken family.
Here we have a questionably ethical psychiatrist, a highly skilled and intelligent survivalist, a beautiful woman, and a bad cop. What could possibly go wrong? Chance is an entertaining story; expertly narrated by Adam Verner.
Husain Haqqani, in “Magnificent Delusions”, recounts the history of Pakistan and its troubled relationship with the United States and India. Haqqani explains how nations act with delusion and misunderstanding. Ethnic diversity within nations makes speaking with one voice impossible. Consequent delusions and misunderstandings between nations foment arms escalation and international conflict.
Diplomatic policy and action are a reflection of what leaders can do within the framework of their respective governments and cultures. Haqqani infers that delusion and misunderstanding correlate with cultural ignorance; an ignorance that is endemic in nation-to-nation communication.
Haqqani was imprisoned for his efforts to remove the veil of obfuscation between the United States and Pakistan. He was eventually released by the Pakistani court system and allowed to leave Pakistan. “Magnificent Delusions” is a sad tale of a hard road Pakistan travels. It is a frightening explanation of growing terrorist potential of a country riven by social, economic, and ethnic conflict.
An ambassador that understands the culture of a country he/she is sent to is the greatest protection from delusion and misunderstanding between host and sponsor countries. “Magnificent Delusions” is an excellent primer for aspiring ambassadors.
Though Robert Caro’s advancing years may make him seem like a ghost writer for Plutarch, he continues to turn out the best biographies being written in the 21st century. After reading “The Power Broker” (published in 1974 about Robert Moses and land planning in New York), one becomes witness to the power of Caro’s research and dramatic skill in reporting on post-20th-century American’ movers and shakers. His next project, after “The Power Broker” became Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States.
A left-wing liberal says Obama compromises too much while a right-wing conservative says Obama does not compromise at all; neither is correct. Extreme positions are rarely correct. The life and times of Lyndon Johnson are not unlike the life and times of Barrack Obama. The concern is that President Obama, though extremely persuasive, does not have the congressional’ experience that gave Lyndon Johnson the wisdom, and a “stick”, that could make Congress act.
Robert Caro’s book, “The Passage of Power”, is a lesson in history that offers insight to governing America today.
Temple Grandin was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2. With the help of her parents and teachers, Grandin overcame communication difficulties created by autism. After receiving masters and doctoral degrees in animal science, Grandin has worked as a consultant to large slaughter houses and zoos to improve the quality of life for soon-to-be slaughtered cattle and imprisoned wildlife.
As an educator, biologist, and writer, Grandin acknowledges the cycle of life but argues that humans do not have to be cruel when raising livestock, slaughtering animals, or confining animal’ species in restricted environments. Grandin proposes improvements in animal husbandry; particularly for animals grown to be slaughtered but also animals confined to zoos and nature preserves.
Grandin and Johnson’s fundamental insight is that humans need to observe their animals to understand what they like, what they fear, what causes panic and rage, and how humans can make them happy within the circumstances of their lives.
Aside from being a source for the legend of Robin Hood, “Ivanhoe” is a boring adventure with a smattering of muddled history, stilted romance, and legendary valor.
This is a story of twelfth century England, a time of great conflict between Christians, other-believers like Muslims and Jews, and non-believers (pagans that believe in many gods or no God). Layered into this religious conflict is Anglo/Saxon resentment of Norman control of England. “Ivanhoe” creates the legend of Robin Hood with an introduction of Norman-King Richard the Lionheart and his brother, Prince John, to characterize the era. This is during the time of the Crusades when Saladin is spreading Muslim beliefs through the world with conquests in Syria and the Middle East.
Sir Walter Scott may be a better writer than is shown in “Ivanhoe” but for adventure and romance, Alexander Dumas is a better practitioner of the art.
Art and fear seem odd conjunctive words for the title of a non-fiction book. The authors, David Bayles and Ted Orland, waste no time in explaining why the conjunction makes sense. Their definition of art revolves around humans that choose to take a risk to produce something unique that may mean much to the maker and nothing to anyone else. An artist is always alone.
Bayles and Orland argue that fear is an artist’s perennial companion. In contrast, a business entrepreneur is rewarded, or not, within a life time. The business entrepreneur has options after failure. The business entrepreneur starts another business or goes to work for others. The artist is alone in success and failure.
This is Conn Iggulden’s fourth book about the Mongol Empire. It is a story about a family of warriors, Genghis Khan and his heirs, who assemble the largest conquered land mass in history. The “Empire of Silver” covers 1229 through 1246/47, when the Mongol empire nears its peak of power and size. This fourth volume begins after Genghis has died and Ogodei, his son, is chosen to lead the empire.
Iggulden plays with historical truth (if there is truth in history) about Mongol ascension and intrigue but he excites the imagination with plausible explanations. The role of Tolui’s wife in the political future of the Mongol Empire seems fanciful but, after all, “Empire of Silver” is a novel; a decent entertainment with a little history about an extraordinary family.
Conn Iggulden offers some interesting insight to the 13th century. Aggression and brutality pay when used in war but are less reliable when used in peace.
Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, said, “You have to fight for your privacy or you lose it.” Mayer-Schőnberger and Cukier infer in their book, Big Data, that civilization’s privacy is already lost.
Facts are slippery things. When aggregated, facts can distort individual truth. Profiling can destroy individual opportunity by forecasting probabilistic evil.
The evil in business comes from white collar’ business criminals and hackers that capitalize on business data collection to victimize unwary customers. The economic consequence of business and white collar evil is to benefit the few at the expense of the many.
On balance, Mayer-Schőnberger and Cukier believe Big Data will improve lives. They believe profiling can be regulated. They believe Big Data correlation is a practical way of changing public and private policies because life is probabilistic and correlation beats destiny, or any other unproven causal explanation for life.
Invasion of privacy is a fact of life in the 21st century. Big Data has become a force of nature, a Pandora’s Box–opened; with consequences that cannot be foretold, only managed.
“The Goldfinch” reminds one of “An American Tragedy”, written by Theodore Dreiser in the 1920s. “The Goldfinch is a modern American’ tragedy. Donna Tartt explores the 21st century through the life of an orphaned boy named Theo Decker.
Theo, like Clyde Griffiths, is seduced by the glamour and thrill of big city life and unexplored opportunity. Tartt’s back story is similar to Dreiser’s but attuned to more modern-day beliefs like genetic inheritance, post traumatic stress disorder, and the drug culture.
Tartt gives many clues about which road Theo will take. Genetics, drugs, and PTSD, are among Theo’s roadblocks to a future. It is up to the reader or listener to surmise Theo’s choice; even asTartt completes her tale. This is a classic 21st century story of an American life, expertly narrated by David Pittu.
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