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Archive for the ‘Nonfiction’ Category

Messages: Signs, Visits, and Premonitions from Loved Ones Lost on 9/11 by Bonnie McEneaney

In Nonfiction on August 1, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Title: Messages: Signs, Visits, and Premonitions from Loved Ones Lost on 9/11
Author: Bonnie McEneaney
Genre: Nonfiction
Rating: ***/****
ISBN:0061974072

I’ve just finished reading Bonnie’s book in one sitting, but I have to admit that I’m a skeptic & an atheist. However despite what may be viewed as a bias too deep to appreciate what was conveyed in this work, I must say that even though I am not convinced there is an afterlife I do believe these people have had some amazing experiences.

Each chapter deals with various people who died, how their family or friends have been sent messages. They’ve experienced a wide range of phenomena from finding coins or keepsakes, objects being moved unexpectedly, apparitions, voices, & overwhelming moments of tranquility.

What most intrigued me were the stories about their loved ones which showed how the world lost some amazing people that day, in particular ‘the man in the red bandanna’ named Welles who wanted to trade in his higher paying career to become a firefighter before dying.

Also, the details surrounding the premonitions these people had were eerie, they had dreams, personality changes tipping them into depression or melancholy, but overall everyone detailed as having them had a sense of foreboding. Some knew they were going to die & soon, which makes it all the more heartbreaking when you realize they were right.

What I took most from the book is that these families/friends have made peace in their own way with the murder of their loved ones. If finding a coin gives them a sense of connection, who am I to say it isn’t true? Do I have any proof otherwise? I hope they keep experiencing the connection for the rest of their lives.

But the book was not flawless. At times, it seemed that survivors were grasping at any examples to back up the idea of messages from beyond & worse, visits to psychics were not properly discussed & analyzed. In some cases, information was provided to psychics, which led me to believe that perhaps some of these psychics are taking advantage of the victims without them knowing it.

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Out of Sync by Lance Bass

In Nonfiction on May 24, 2010 at 1:21 am

Title: Out of Sync
Author: Lance Bass
Genre: Nonfiction/memoir
Rating: ***/****

It was a delight to read Lance Bass’s memoir, ‘Out of Sync’. The normally soft-spoken nice guy of Nsync let the truth out on a number of things. First & most important to longtime fans who fondly remember plastering their walls with Nsync posters, Lance reveals what caused the band to break up. He doesn’t pull any punches, but his dry wit does reveal his true feelings on the subject. We learn of the band drifting apart, mainly due to one member going solo. (I wonder who that could be.) Also, Lance talks about how he felt being closeted & how he became too co-dependent in his relationships with men.

What really struck me about the book concerning the band was how Lou Pearlman, their former manager (amongst other job titles), exploited them & refused to pay them what was due. It’s hard to believe that while I was listening to ‘Tearin’ Up My Heart’ & other hits, these guys were living on $35/day. Fortunately, they found a means to disassociate with Pearlman legally & enjoyed financial success with their second & third albums.

But Lance really opens up his heart & writes his painful story of becoming true to himself that really touched me. He hasn’t had very much success dating, has had his heart broken a few times, but he has hopes for the future. I think it was right of him to write about how his mother had difficulty with his sexuality due to their religion, but Lance assured her he still believed & that god had made him that way.

It was a short, quick read without any embellishments, just the plain truth written by a man who has become comfortable & happy in his own skin.

PS: I do hope Nsync makes another album one day.

Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength

In Nonfiction on May 21, 2010 at 3:09 am

Title: Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength
Author: Laurie A. Helgoe
Genre: Nonfiction/Introverts
Rating: ****/****

Now this is a book I’ve needed in my life for a long time.  What a world it would be if introverts would be allowed to be what they are rather than being forced into extroverted role play to satisfy the needs and social expectations of others. This book’s major strength is eliminating the myth that introverts are only a small fraction of the population, when really we are close to half! So, if we’re half, why do we usually think we’re all alone & why are we forced to conform when we need not?

Helgoe answers these questions providing enough material for the avid psychology reader or lay person to be satisfied, plus an extensive bibliography.  For anyone confused, Helgoe lays out the  basic truth of what we are, people who gain strength from within & expend it in social situations. Extroverts need the interaction with others, even groups to remain focused & energetic, so it becomes very difficult in a world culturally dominated by their kind to understand those who prefer smaller groups or even one-on-one, let alone privacy. (It reminds me of how whenever I’m reading in public, someone will want to bother me by asking me questions not even pertaining to the book. They think they’re helping me, because it must be lonely reading alone, but they misunderstand me completely. )

It’s a quick to read volume & I recommend it to the extroverted who desperately need to stop trying to change us & recognize they probably have some introversion as well. And of course, I recommend it to the introverts of the world who are made to feel inferior & on occasion, guilty for not living up to the standards set by others without consideration to their needs.

Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween

In Nonfiction on May 21, 2010 at 2:55 am


Title: Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween
Author: David J. Skal
Genre: Nonfiction/holidays
Rating: **/****

Being a fan of Halloween I had to pick up Skal’s volume about my beloved holiday.  Skal emphasizes in his subtitle that it’s a cultural history, not just a straight history because as you will learn after reading the book that documentation isn’t available to provide the necessary links between each tradition that’s formed (as of yet).  So, Skal makes up for the lack of information by focusing upon other aspects of the holiday such as how it was celebrated in various parts of the US, how immigrants shaped the holiday, & how it’s been commercialized to the point of losing its eerie legacy underneath all the plastic & officially licensed costumes.

I rather liked his efforts to the defend the holiday & to destroy the myths associated with the holiday such as the ever present fear of poisoned candy. Currently, the worst case of candy being poisoned was from a father who put cyanide into his own son’s candy & let him die to collect insurance money. Now that’s scary! Also, I enjoyed his analysis of Halloween films, but overall the book seemed choppy, not knowing where to go next or what to focus upon.

I recommend it for its basic study of the history of Halloween, but I do hope a more complete text will be written in the future.

Insecure At Last by Eve Ensler

In Nonfiction on April 24, 2010 at 10:33 am

Title: Insecure At Last
Author: Eve Ensler
Genre: Political Memoir
Rating: **/****

Even though I don’t feel like reviewing much these days, I knew I had to write about this book I just finished. It’s a political memoir by Eve Ensler, most famous for her play ‘The Vagina Monologues’. It deals with her travels to war torn countries visiting women who have been raped, had their families murdered, & for some, living under fundamentalist rule. Basically, all the women have unstable, insecure futures. They don’t know what will happen next to them, but a strong few are rising up to challenge the status-quo.

Throughout the book Ensler speaks of her own need for security & reveals her troubled childhood with an abusive father & submissive mother who always seemed to be there, but never offered aid. She speaks in a somewhat rushed tone about how Americans seek out security, how 9/11 disrupted that, & goes on a rant about how the wars in Afghanistan & Iraq were unnecessary. I’ll agree with her on many points, because cultural problems/conflicts can rarely be solved with arms (see Vietnam for example). I’ll also agree about how Americans as a whole search for security & have been blinded by the government into a singular way of thinking about how we can achieve it.

What I didn’t understand was her approach to how we can address the problems in the world. For example, she visits Afghanistan while it was under Taliban rule & mentions how women are treated poorly, even beaten, raped, & murdered. I wonder, in her mind, what would have been the proper approach to removing the Taliban if invading with a military was wrong.

Overall, I was touched by the personal stories she shared & how she allowed to feel for the women, rather than maintaining a more distant, icy approach to the crimes against them. But I would have liked to hear her solutions or proposals to what should have been the proper response to 9/11 & how we in the West can better serve the interests of the third world & the oppressed.

Virgin: The Untouched History by Hanne Blank

In Nonfiction on January 22, 2010 at 10:15 am
Virgin: The Untouched History by Hanne Blank

Virgin: The Untouched History by Hanne Blank

Title: Virgin: The Untouched History

Author: Hanne Blank

Genre: Nonfiction

Rating: ***/****

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After reading Valenti’s The Purity Myth, I decided to read a work she referenced a few times.  In this book, Hanne Blank basically lays out virginity throughout the ages mostly pertaining to the West.  Also, what she does which I think is a much-needed in today’s work of abstinence & purity pledges is give the readers an accurate portrayal for why virginity has been emphasized & prized.  Without a doubt, another aspect of the book that could help many people, especially young people, is to disspell many myths related to virginity.

Something that many people fail to understand is that authors like Valenti & Blank are not speaking against someone making a choice to stay a virgin, they are just speaking against it being an expectation for one gender.  In both Valenti’s & Blank’s books, they have laid out the bare truth that there is no precise definition of virginity, even in medical texts.  Plus, there is no exact science to knowing whether or not someone is a virgin, but as Blank points out often enough even for the most stubborn to understand, is that rarely is the virgin asked if she* is one or not.  Her answer is usually ignored in place of rigorous & bizarre tests that have evolved through the centuries. There is no test to prove who is a virgin, not one!

After reading this, many people could grow a little more alarmed when seeing abstinence/purity only education being directed towards females, especially when the US gov’t pays for it.  Even when these religious types try to parade their positions on virginity as female empowerment, I just want to use the cliche: This new feminism is just the same old patriarchy.  It isn’t empowerment when a woman is not trusted enough  to be educated about her own body.

*I say ‘she’ because we all know male virginity is not even prized amongst the religious who have a moral obligation to remain chaste before marriage.

Why Evolution is True by Jerry A. Coyne

In Nonfiction on January 21, 2010 at 6:30 pm
Why Evolution is True by Jerry A. Coyne

Why Evolution is True by Jerry A. Coyne

Title: Why Evolution is True

Author: Jerry A. Coyne

Genre: Nonfiction/Evolution/Anti-Intelligent Design

Rating: ****/****

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So, we’re in the twenty-first century now, but most polls indicate that less than half of the US believes that evolution is true.  The rest tend to believe that we were created by a being & that evolution is an outright lie.  No doubt motivated through lack of adequate science education, this growing ignorance is being promoted by religious fundamentalists usually in the form of intelligent design AKA creationism.  Though it was settled in Dover, PA in 2005 that intelligent design is merely a religious hypothesis & not a scientific theory, its supporters continue to delude the naive into thinking there is no evidence for the theory of evolution.

Coyne’s book presents all the arguments for evolution: fossil evidence, DNA, vestigal organs, geological column, etc. It’s all gathered from many fields & peer-reviewed, something which ID supporters have never been able to accomplish.  Even to the most reluctant reader, if they truly had an open mind in weighing the evidence, expands on the topic to include articles & information at the back of the book for reference.  There is no possible way that someone could come away from this book without having a basic understanding of the theory of evolution, what it is, how it works, its evidence, & what many scientists are researching today on the topic, etc.

Also, Coyne emphasizes that religious people need not be threatened by it in the least.  Plenty of major religions recognize evolution as solid scientific fact, but others are struggling to drive the wedge between science & religion even further.  Evolution isn’t a moral or religious doctrine & we aren’t controlled by our genes.  Something I rather liked a lot was how Coyne used examples of how people have misused evolution in the past & how certain specialists in many fields today are trying to find a biological reason for every human action, even violent ones.  Sure, we could have our tendency for behaviors encoded, but we are not bound to it & without control of our lives.

What people will be surprised at learning from this book:

1. They probably didn’t know what evolution was exactly.

2. They didn’t know what made it work.

3. They didn’t know so many fields of study provided evidence for the theory.

4. Humans have tails & hair in the womb. Eeek.

5. IT’S REAL!

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Check out Dr. Coyne’s blog:

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/

Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris

In Nonfiction, Religious Studies on January 21, 2010 at 12:06 pm
Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris

Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris

Title: Letter to a Christian Nation

Author: Sam Harris

Genre: Nonfiction/Atheism/Religion/Christianity

Rating: ****/****

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I read this last year, but was tempted to read it again after seeing it in my e-book folder yesterday.  I read it in one sitting, because Harris’s words ring so true to me as an atheist & because it’s rather short.  As such, it’s a book that I wish more Christians & religious people would read, with an open mind of course,  & evaluate its arguments.  Harris is basically making the case that religion is irrational & even in its mildest form helps to spread dissension & cause needless suffering to others.  Why is it that we accept that religion need be a part of our lives?  That we should tolerate it being forced upon society?

One argument that is often made is that society as a whole needs religion to keep us from destroying civilization itself.  As we can see in the US, the most religious states ‘red’ tend to be heavy in crime, but in the more secular blue states we see a drop in crime by comparison.  According to many Christians (et al.), atheists are supposed to be completely immoral, evil people, yet evidence shows that there is a correlation between high rates of secularism & a higher standard of living.

Though it is offensive to some people to even question the importance of religion, it is a stunning example of religion’s tyrannical hold on people, that most overlook.  All of our other beliefs e.g. environmental, political, etc. are questioned & we are expected to give reason for why we believe the way we do about them, but religion has an exemption.  Because faith has been made into a virtue & honestly, no evidence has been collected in religion’s favor, that we’ve neglected or been forced away from criticizing it or holding it to the same standards that other systems of beliefs endure.

PS: For a laugh, read the one star ‘reviews’ on Amazon.com

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http://www.samharris.org/

Bitchfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine

In Feminism, Nonfiction on January 14, 2010 at 5:11 pm
BITCHfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine by Lisa Jervis, Andi Zeisler, and Margaret Cho

BITCHfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine by Lisa Jervis, Andi Zeisler, and Margaret Cho

Title: Bitchfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine

Author: Lisa Jervis & Andi Zeisler

Genre: Nonfiction/Feminism/Magazine/Pop culture

Rating: ***/****

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The price of the book alone is worth the stunning introduction by comedienne Margaret Cho. She’ll give any woman enough reason to declare with sincerity that she is a bitch without the least bit shame & if she’s called it, she’ll know to carry it as a banner of pride. Of course, those who are unfamiliar with this magazine may not realize that ‘bitch’ is not used in a way that degrades women or encourages meanness & insensivity towards other people. It’s just declared the label that society gives women for standing up for themselves & demanding equal treatment. So, from one bitch to another, this book is for you.

It has topics ranging from the absence of positive African American women on tv to a feminist’s take on the use of ‘guys’ to include women. I do not necessarily agree or understand all of the ideas expressed in this collection, but it did cause me to think over what I see on the tv. We like to pretend that popular culture has no inherent value, but as spelled out in the pages of Bitch, we see that our culture’s ideals & perceptions of us are portrayed in pop culture for all to see. Why are commercials for domestic cleaning products almost always featuring women? And why are they so happy to be cleaning? I don’t mind cleaning or doing the laundry, but I’ve never been that cheerful about it.

What I love about this book & about Bitch magazine itself is that it tries (& doesn’t always succeed) to reach out to us on the fringes who are sitting
there, remote in hand, wondering what the hell has happened. Didn’t the feminist movement take place? So, why are females so ashamed to call themselves feminist anyway? Do they want equal treatment or not? Why does tv seem so vanilla when we’re in an era that supposedly celebrates diversity? There are plenty of questions left unanswered & reading this, you’ll be thinking of your own to add to it.

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http://www.bitchmagazine.org

Stephen Fry in America

In Nonfiction on January 14, 2010 at 5:02 pm

 

Stephen Fry in America: Fifty States and the Man Who Set Out to See Them All by Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry in America: Fifty States and the Man Who Set Out to See Them All by Stephen Fry

Title: Stephen Fry in America
Author: Stephen Fry
Genre: Nonfiction/American roadtrip
Rating: **/****

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In 2008, the quintissential Englishman, Stephen Fry, traveled across the entire United States to experience what each individual state had to offer. 
What I liked about this book is that Fry stayed away from popular sites e.g. Times Square, and instead chose to visit more colorful & interesting locales. To a non-American, it would probably seem like the states have their own flavor, but we do have a common ingredient that can be found across the entire nation & Fry usually was confronted with it when he read our state mottos, slogans, & even watched commercials all of which declare the unique attitude & culture of where he was at the moment.  To the next state, it seemed to be repeat itself & Fry took it all in stride, seeming to enjoy it rather than ridicule it for all its worth. (I know I would have done it, given the chance.) 

I’m only giving the book two stars as I thought each state’s section was too short & yes, Fry predicted that Americans would be disatisfied with their own state’s portrayal which I will confirm that for me (as an Okie) that I was a bit disappointed with what he included.  But maybe I’m just being cynical, after all he did show Okies as being charitable & enjoying the pastime of rodeo, which isn’t a bad depiction in the least. Fry could have easily made a book about how there is more bad than good in the US & it would have been easy to do. It was nice to read a book filled with the more positive elements of our society: hardwork, community, indigenous cultures, & the ability to drive a car on the beach (well, two of them).

Bonuses: All of that trivia & history! Also, the beautiful photography & Fry’s British wit & humoUr.

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http://www.stephenfry.com/features/fryinamerica