The Book of the Week is “The Unlikely Disciple” by Kevin Roose published in 2009. This is a personal account of a student’s going from one extreme to the other. Roose transferred from Brown University (a liberal Ivy-League college) to Liberty University (the Conservative Christian college with the ironic name, founded by the politically far-right winger, Jerry Falwell in 1971) for the 2007 spring semester.
At Liberty, he was obliged to obey a laundry list of rules called “The Liberty Way,” such as no alcohol, no sex and no expletives (not even off-campus), and a dress code, or face reprimands and fines. His intent from the start was to experience the school as an insider, then write about it. However, he had not been “saved” (had not accepted Christ as his savior) and undergone baptism; he had actually been raised as a Quaker. He sang in the church choir, and participated in Bible study and prayer meetings. Although he was living a lie, there was no shortage of spiritual advisers in the form of school administrators on campus to guide him. Roose took advantage of their counseling, struggling with various issues that were part and parcel of the school’s ideology. To name a few– he was required to learn about creationism, refrain from masturbation and oppose homosexuality.
In the very last week of his stay, he became a minor celebrity through a curious occurrence. Read the book to learn about this possible “sign from God.”
The Book of the Week is “Ogilvy on Advertising” by David Ogilvy published in 1985. The author was the co-founder of what has become a world-famous, worldwide advertising agency– a major feat, as he started his advertising career at 38(!) years old. Perhaps his business has endured because he had the right idea. He wrote that he did not care whether the viewer of an ad said “What a great ad!” Ogilvy’s major goal was to get the viewer to say, “I must go out and buy this product!” This way, he would make money for the client. This book recounts his experiences in the field and provides tips on how to advertise.
The Book of the Week is “Casting With A Fragile Thread” by Wendy Kann, published in 2007. This is the engaging memoir of a native white-skinned Rhodesian. She describes the familial and financial hardships she and her two sisters faced growing up with an absent mother and a risk-taking father, in a nation undergoing radical political change. In 1980, Rhodesia came to be ruled by Robert Mugabe, a dark-skinned dictator, who allowed the country to be ravaged by his previously oppressed countrymen. Read the book to learn how the author put her difficulties behind her.
The Book of the Week is “Asking for Trouble” by Donald Woods, published in 1981. This book’s author (miraculously) lived to tell of his experiences publishing an anti-apartheid newspaper in South Africa under apartheid in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
South Africa’s then-leader allowed Woods’ newspaper to remain in existence only to maintain the public relations charade, that the country allowed free speech on the subject of its treatment of certain of its citizens. Nevertheless, Woods lived under threat of death all the time, from his numerous enemies. His family was also in danger. He described one incident in which his children naively tried on T-shirts that had come in the mail from what appeared to be a politically friendly source. The shirts contained the acidic chemical ninhydrin, which burned their skin.
Read the book to learn what dire action Woods eventually had to take to save his own life.
The Book of the Week is “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain, published in 2000. This is the eloquent account of the author’s personal experiences as a worker in the restaurant business. He provides anecdotes on the people, their personalities, problems and the kinds of behind-the-scenes activities and events that restaurant patrons do not see.
Bourdain describes one of his first kitchen jobs he held when he was a brash youth, and how his older coworkers put him in his place. Other forms of entertainment that culinary workers enjoy include the initiation rite of sending the new kitchen help on a fool’s errand, and playing practical jokes on the restaurant manager. Bourdain tells of his employment woes and others’. He also reveals culinary dangers (dirty little secrets) about which diners may not want to know. This book is educational for anyone wishing to enter the restaurant business as well.
The Book of the Week is “Cavalcade of the 1920s and 1930s” edited by Cleveland Amory and Frederic Bradlee, published in 1960. This compilation of Vanity Fair magazine articles showcases two decades of literary luminaries; some of whom were discovered by Frank Crowninshield, the magazine’s editor. Currently, those names, such as P.G. Wodehouse, Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker, Amy Lowell, Robert C. Benchley and many others, are fading in the public’s memory. However, they were witty, humorous and entertaining for their era. A perusal of this book today indicates that certain aspects of American life never change. Wodehouse wrote of monies going to the government in an article on family involvement in completing tax returns (which during WWI, were due in March), “…I can only hope that they will not spend it on foolishness and nut sundaes and the movies– but apparently, they needed a few billion dollars, and you and I had to pay for it.”
The Book of the Week is “The Jack Bank, A Memoir of A South African Childhood” by Glen Retief, published in 2011. This autobiography focuses on the author’s realizing his gay identity in a specific generation– as a white South African male in the last years of apartheid. While coming of age, he struggled with not only apartheid, but with “authoritarianism, patriarchy and cycles of violence.”
The author explains that his family was English, rather than Afrikaner. The latter people were militant in nature. He illustrates this point by recounting his experiences at nine and ten years old, of playing war games with his Afrikaner friend, and looking up to his friend’s father, a police officer, as a role model.
At twelve, he was sent to boarding school. As a freshman, he was subjected to extremely brutal bullying. Later, as an upperclassman, he himself did the bullying. He would have undergone this pattern again– in “military basic training, and then the whites-only conscript force… to control forty million black South Africans;” however, Nelson Mandela’s political activities finally succeeded at the tail end of the 1980’s. Prior to that, Retief witnessed examples of the pattern again and again, at university and later in his black boyfriend’s violent, rundown neighborhood.
Read the book to learn more details of what growing up was like under South African apartheid, and what the author did to find his place in the world.
The Book of the Week is “Irrepressible, the Life and Times of Jessica Mitford” by Leslie Brody, published in 2010. This biography recounts the life of the chain-smoking, hard-drinking, charismatic rebel. Her motley English family included duke and duchess parents, two Nazi-sympathizing sisters, three other sisters, a brother, and she, who, born during WWI, was a Communist.
Jessica, nicknamed “Decca,” led an eventful life. In her late teens, she ran away with her lover to the United States. Later, she underwent an abortion, committed thievery from the wealthy social set with whom she rubbed shoulders, pleaded the Fifth Amendment on the stand at a McCarthy hearing, eventually gave birth to four children, raised money with her second husband for the Civil Rights movement, wrote several books including a very successful one on the American death industry, and grieved over deaths of various of her family members. She enjoyed herself to the fullest, regardless of what others thought of her actions, falling in and out of relationships with her family members through the years.
In a letter to her unconventional daughter, nicknamed “Dinky,” Decca provided her take on life:
“One is only really inwardly comfortable, so to speak, after one’s life has assumed some sort of shape… which would include goals set by onseself and a circle of life-time type friends… Even after one has, all may be knocked out of shape, so one has to start over again…”
The Book of the Week is “Leg the Spread” by Cari Lynn, published in 2004. The author interviewed several current and former commodities-futures traders, providing detailed descriptions of their days at the market in Chicago.
Some traders, employees of a broker-dealer, actually stood on the trading floor, yelling and waving paper from the time the market opened at 8am until mid-afternoon. Others traded online. They had good days and bad days.
One female who formerly made a large amount of money on the trading floor before becoming burnt out, had many bad days, both because the job itself was stressful, and because the vast majority of people around her– practically all men– were sexist. In many cases, the way for a female to get ahead besides having super luck, quick math skills and keen intuition about human behavior, was to sleep with one’s (male) boss.
Read the book to get a comprehensive, entertaining picture of the American commodities-futures market in the mid-single-digit 2000’s.
The Book of the Week is “Piaf” by Simone Bertaut, published in 1969. This is Bertaut’s biography of her sister, Edith Piaf. They shared the same father, and both grew up in Paris in the nineteen teens and twenties, with nary a formal education.
Edith spent her early childhood in a brothel whose occupants acted as her surrogate mothers, because her biological mother never cared much for her. However, her father was an artist and street performer, who took her with him as soon as she was old enough to sing so he could earn enough money to survive. Fortunately, she had incredible natural talent. Simone also accompanied her father on his rounds after Edith had left him, but she could only do some simple acrobatics. At fifteen years old, Edith took twelve year old Simone into her employ, and Edith embarked on her quest for fame and fortune as a singer.
The inseparable sisters endured many hardships before Edith achieved fame. Throughout her life, the strong-willed, bossy Edith fell in and out of love with numerous men, some of whom she made into singing stars. Read the book to learn about her antics with them, and other aspects of her edgy existence in the fast lane.