Sunday, September 8, 2013

August 2013 Books

Audiobook: Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander, MD.
Published: 2012
Rating: 4
Author web site

Audiobooks are a favorite way to pass the time in the car, especially this personal and fascinating NDE (Near Death Experience) memoir, read by the author himself.

There were a number of poignant parts in the book made more so by the increased huskiness and emotion in Dr. Alexander's normally calm and matter-of-fact voice.

There is much to think and ponder about his post NDE convictions; I have ordered the book from Amazon and plan to journal through and possibly write more on Josh's blog.

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
Published: 2000
Rating: 3.5

After much reading about WWII, I needed something different and boy, this fit the bill.

My daughter had read this chef's no-holds-barred memoir of rising within the cutthroat and competitive restaurant industry so when I found it at a local library book sale, into my bag it went.
Good to know "insider" tips:
  • Do not order seafood on Mondays - most likely 4-5 days old.
  • Same reason to beware of seafood dishes on Sunday brunch menus.  Also best cooks and supervising chefs do not usually work Sunday brunch. 
  • Never order mussels or anything with hollandaise sauce (i.e. eggs benedict).
  • Ordering the most popular dishes will most likely ensure the freshest ingredients.
  • Best nights to eat out: Tuesday and Thursday.
  • Do not eat in restaurants with dirty bathrooms which are much easier to clean than kitchens (gross!). 
To be a chef is a calling.  It is a tough life - the hours, the pressure, the back-breaking work.  Hats off to those who choose it. 

Audiobook: Escape From Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden
Published: 2012
Rating: 5

Shin Dong-Hyuk was breed and born to be a slave inside Camp 14, a hell-hole work camp for political prisoners and their families deep in the heart of North Korea, a nation subject to tyranny that is hard to fathom by one who has only known democracy and freedom.

Brutally led and brainwashed by the Kim dynasty, first by "The Great Leader", Kim Il Sung, then for seventeen years by his son, Kim Jong Il and now by Kim Jong Eun, the youngest grandson of Kim Il Sung who is promoted by North Korean press as "another leader sent from heaven," the difference between communist North Korea and a democratic, capitalistic South Korea could not be more clear.

In 2008, I had an opportunity to travel to the land of my parents and visited the demilitarized zone between the two countries.  It was sobering to think about my father's family on the other side of the heavily armed border and wonder if they had the basics: food, adequate shelter and medicine.

Shin's miraculous escape from Camp 14, his trek through North Korea and China, his fortuitous meeting with a journalist who walked him safely into the South Korean embassy in China, and the difficult acclimation to South Korea and eventually the United States is a story that everyone should read.

I've learned that South Korea's apathy towards reunification with the North is because the populous is "more interested in preserving peace and protecting living standards" and are well aware of the economic burden of unification.  Some studies show this could cost "more than two trillion dollars over thirty years, raise taxes for six decades and require that ten percent of the South's gross domestic product be spent in the North."

This does not sit well with a society that has gone from a backward, third-world country to the 4th largest economy in Asia via it's focus on education, money and success.  Harden's depiction of a "success-obsessed, status-conscious, and education-crazed culture" is spot on; it permeated my upbringing in a Chicago suburb, over 6,500 miles away.

The staggering rise of South Korea is not without human cost as "South Koreans work more, sleep less, and kill themselves at a higher rate".  In fact, the suicide rate is over twice that of the United States (2008), and higher than Japan, a country renowned for it's suicidal culture.

During my visit to Seoul, the city pulses with the hard-driving, ambitious energy of its occupants.  It was overwhelming to me, even though I've lived in Boston, London and New York City; no wonder Shin and many other North Korean defectors have such a hard adjustment.

My dad says that if China stopped providing aid to North Korea, the country would fall.  He also says that in the past, when the North provoked the South via random attacks, the US encouraged the South not to retaliate.  But if the North did so now, the new female President, Park, Geun-Hye, would take a hard line stand. He says she is a new "Iron Lady" in the mold of Margaret Thatcher.

I know my father's family wishes for reunification in their lifetime - we shall see.

And If I Perish: Frontline U.S. Army Nurses in World War II by Evelyn Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee
Published: 2003
Rating: 5

Excellent book on a group of fiercely committed and patriotic unsung heroes who risked their lives to save others.   Dedication in the front and epitaph says it all: "To all the women of the Greatest Generation" and from the Book of Esther 4:16, "I will go....and if I perish, I perish."

This book is the result of the two author's determination to bring to light previously unknown accounts of the nurses who served in WWII, often near the front line and in some cases, right in the line of fire, from the campaigns in North Africa, to Sicily, to Italy and then to Fortress Europe.   It is the same motivation which drove Elizabeth Norman to write of the previously untold accounts of US nurses held as Japanese POWs for over three years - another excellent book.

These women were gritty, courageous, hard-working and as tough as nails...they had to be to work the grueling hours demanded in hospitals set up near the front lines.  Their stories are truly inspiring and should be made into a movie.

Other books are on my wish list:

  • All This Hell: U.S. Nurses Imprisoned by Japanese by Monahan and Greenlee
  • Albanian Escape: The True Story of U.S. Army Nurses Behind Enemy Lines by Agnes Mangerich
  • The Secret Rescue: An Untold Story of American Nurses and Medics Behind Nazi Lines by Cate Lineberry

Franklin and Winston: and Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship by Jon Meacham
Published: 2003
Rating: 5

I listened to the audiobook and after finishing, bought the book so I could re-read the inspiring speech excerpts of both-larger-than-life statesman but in particular, Winston Churchill.   He had a way with words.

The book is also peppered with snippets from their prolific correspondence via letters, telegrams, notes and memos from September, 1939 - April, 1945.  In that time, the two men spent 113 days together - solidifying their "epic" friendship that "rallied the forces of light when darkness fell."

Highly recommend.

Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir by Beth Kephart
Published: 2013
Rating: 4

This is Kephart's 6th memoir and as a write and instructor of the genre, she imparts why she loves reading memoir, what she looks for, blurbs on her favorite memoirs and guidance on writing memoir.  Her passion radiates and is infectious.

Memoirs, journal writing and published journals have become an important genre for my own journal and blog writing.

Her views on memoir:

  • Writers of literary memoir "ope themselves to self-discovery and in the process, make themselves vulnerable - not just to the world but to themselves."
  • "Some of the best memoirs are....the contemplations of universal questions within a framed perspective."
  • She argues that such literary memoirs are works of art.
What she looks for in memoirs:
  • deliberation with structure
  • ambition with language
  • compassion in tone
  • magnanimous reach
  • a refusal to assume chronology alone teaches
Books to add to my wish list
  • Road Song by Natalie Kusz
  • Running In the Family by Michael Ondaatje
  • Duke of Deception by Geoffrey Wolff
  • Townie by Andre Dubus III
  • Heaven's Coast by Mark Doty
  • The Long Goodbye by Meghan O-Rourke
  • The Tender Land by Kathleen Finneran
  • Bereft: A Sister's Story by Kane Bernstein