Book Reviews 2017
January 14, 20202017The premise of the book is almost unreal. Matthew Desmond weaves a narrative about people who were evicted from their homes and the ensuing poverty in the rust belt city of Milwaukee. I was disappointed when I first started this book because it was just a bunch of stories of different people. There was a landlady and her husband who collected rent from folks; there was a trailer park that saw aspects from both the renter and the tenants; stories that followed particular people around the city among others. I thought “This can’t be real.” But I was wrong. Matthew Desmond explains that he lived in the trailer park and had a tape recorder playing almost all the time. He transcribed hours of recordings that then become this book. An incredible feat. But what is heartbreaking is the sad reality of the content. Many of the people Desmond followed were either on welfare or some other government program targeted at the poorest citizens. In many instances, the patron renting the trailer or apartment spends most of their paycheck on rent alone, leaving sometimes $50-$100 leftover for necessities. One unexpected expense could derail a person for months and most certainly end in eviction. The book is filled with stories like this, often times worse. Having children complicates issues quite a bit. But ultimately, the narrative is about real people experiencing issues that, for the majority of readers, are non-existent. What this book provided for me was a look into a dark corner of how many, many Americans live. Scraping by each month to just survive is difficult; picking up and moving your entire life because you’ve been kicked out of your home is even more dire. This isn’t without controversy however. While I sympathize and agree that we probably need to do more (more on this later), the poor are poor for a reason. I thought it was interesting that throughout the book you get a glimpse of what kind of purchases people who were living paycheck to paycheck made. Cigarettes, drugs, beer among other conveniences are prominent. It makes me wonder if their plight is somewhat self-induced. Which complicates simply throwing money at the situation. On both sides we can be concerned about this epidemic but not want to be unwise in how to target the core issue. I think Matthew Desmond has a really interesting solution to such a problem. The last chapter of the book looks at some of the ways we can address this large issue. His main theme is that creating a stable home helps families, period. Obviously this has so much merit to it, I believe. Home owning, as the founding fathers understood, creates a sense of duty and responsibility. Even more still, having a place to call home is one of the ways America has reached a level of prominence. Desmond suggests the government creates a program that caps low income families from paying only 30% of the monthly income towards rent. This is an interesting idea from Desmond who has spent years studying this issue. We will have to continue to watch this issue and be concerned for the poor and destitute. This book is a great start for that objective. [...]
January 14, 20202017The last of the Harry Potter books does not disappoint. As I was reading through this book, it brought me a sense of nostalgia as I remembered when it first came out. The big question in regards to the last Harry Potter book was not how the plot would end (Harry wins obviously) but who would die in the process. As I processed this anecdote, I was shocked to remember how many deaths there are (in comparison to the series as a whole) in this book in particular. But there is often a high price to pay for war, something that you understand more so in this book than any previous to it. I liked this book for several different reasons. 1) This is the first book to truly cast off the formula from the last six. For example, it has pretty much been: Pre-Hogwarts conflict, Hogwarts, Hogwarts conflict, etc. etc. Azkaban saw Harry blow up Aunt Marge (pre-Hogwarts conflict); Phoenix saw the arrival of Umbridge (Hogwarts conflict); and all the books detail the daily life of a wizard student. This book throws off all of that as Harry, Ron, and Hermione set off to defeat Voldemort on their own, with clues left by Dumbledore. 2) One of the most difficult parts of book writing, I think, must be taking into consideration the meta-narrative while at the same time, having an engaging plot within that meta-narrative. What I mean is that ultimately this book, and the entire series, is about Harry Potter and Voldemort, good v. evil. However, J.K. Rowling excels at creating stories around that narrative. In this book, the title gives away the inside narrative: Harry’s search for the Deathly Hallows is the mini-narrative inside the meta-narrative. Then the grand crescendo of this book is not about Harry and Voldemort (even though it is in the meta-narrative), it is about collecting the Hallows. This is not only brilliant but engaging and quite clever. 3) The symbolism in this book is the most powerful of all the series. I find it interesting that C.S. Lewis was so highly praised for “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” because of the Christian symbolism, but this book does not get the same attention. The overtly Christian symbolism is so obvious I think it achieves the same ends as Lewis. Lastly, I think I like this book because it ties up all the loose ends. I love this series because of the world Rowling creates and how magnificent it is and how many questions you have about it and Harry. By the end, all the questions that the series posed are sufficiently answered. For the epilogue, some people loved it, some people hated it. I was in probably the middle camp of indifference. I wish there were more stories to explain! But the canon is closed and I will revisit them again, probably next year. [...]
January 14, 20202017I love jazz. I will admit that unashamedly. I do not like the reputation that jazz has. Typically when any young person aspires to be a jazz musician, the conversation will most likely evolve into a warning about the dangers of drugs. The jazz of today is a far cry from the bop era where it spawned from. Today, jazz is a sophisticated art form that is performed in concert halls and fine dining establishments. It wasn’t always like that, however. It was in the 1960’s that jazz became intertwined with the indelible reputation of drugs. Martin Torgoff looks at this relationship between jazz, the beat generation, and how it helped the drug culture of the 1960s and beyond. What transpires is a plethora of anecdotes from all kinds of jazz musicians. Billy Holiday, Lester “Prez” Young, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and others. These pieces could be books all on their own. The unique strain that runs through all of them is tragedy. They are all minorities in a racist America trying to explore new forms of expression through music. Black musicians like Holiday suffered from poor management and, frankly, abuse from every level. She would trade drugs for gigs, pressured to have sex back stage by her manager, raped, beaten, and stoned. Others, like Parker and Davis, helped fuel the drug craze of the 1960s. Louis Armstrong smoked weed perhaps every day of his life after his career picked up. Jazz musicians, seeing the influence that Armstrong made in the music community, sought to emulate his example. What happened was a careening dive into harder substances. By the time Charlie Parker came onto the scene, drugs were synonymous with jazz. Torgoff, in perhaps the most poignant section of the book, explains that for many black musicians, drugs were a way to deal with an ungrateful nation. Many young black men went off to war to fight for this country and came back to a culture that despised them and saw them as second class citizens. The coping mechanism in the all-black bars and bistros where jazz was played was drugs. Torgoff explores the beat generation and their commitment to drugs as well. None of this was as interesting as learning about jazz musicians to me, however. This is a sometimes graphic book that delves into some of the lesser known connections of drug culture, and a good, if very sad, read. [...]

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

C. S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity”: A Biography

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2017)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2017)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2017)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It

Bop Apocalypse: Jazz, Race, the Beats, and Drugs

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (Bobiverse #1)

Star Trek the Next Generation: Headlong Flight 

After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam (2017)

Silence

Star Trek: Prey: Hell’s Heart 

Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1)

Jonathan Edwards

Columbus Day (Expeditionary Force Book #1)

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity

Inside Delta Force: The Story of America’s Elite Counterterrorist Unit

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (2017)

SpecOps (Expeditionary Force Book #2)

A Confederacy of Dunces (2017)

Waking Gods (Themis Files #2)

Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian

Star Wars: Thrawn: Thrawn

Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy: Heir to the Empire

Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy: Dark Forces Rising

Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy: The Last Command

Jezebel: The Untold Story Of The Bible’s Harlot Queen

Agnostic: A Spirited Manifesto

The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad

Star Wars: Aftermath

Star Trek: Prey: The Jackal’s Trick

12 Way Your Phone Is Changing You

Star Trek: Hearts and Minds

Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East

Steve Jobs

Wine. All the Time.: The Casual Guide to Confident Drinking

Huế 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Outliers: The Story of Success

iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us

Leonardo and the Last Supper

Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling

Ranger Games: A Story of Soldiers, Family and an Inexplicable Crime

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made

The Maltese Falcon

The Interdependency: The Collapsing Empire

The Fold

Paradox Bound

Escape from Reason: A Penetrating Analysis of Trends in Modern Thought

14

Leonardo Da Vinci

An Exorcist Tells His Story

The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

Einstein: His Life and Universe

Artemis

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