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Staff Picks: Books

Of Whispers and Promises

A young boy loves to frequent the Bronx Zoo but feels very sad when he sees the plight of animals living in empty cages and barren rooms. These feelings are especially intense when he visits the jaguar exhibit. Seeing these big, majestic cats living in unnatural, desolate surroundings makes him want to change both his and their futures. And he sets out to do just that.

 

A Boy and a Jaguar, is the inspiring autobiographical account of  Alan Rabinowitz, who through his love of animals, managed to overcome a personal obstacle that seemed overwhelming at first.

 

Alan is a stutterer. During his childhood years, he sometimes had his head and body shake so uncontrollably when attempting to speak, that his teachers placed him in a class for disturbed kids and pronounced to his parents that, “He is broken”.

 

However, there are two ways that Alan can verbally communicate without stuttering. One is to sing, and the other is to talk to animals. He starts off by telling his pet hamster, gerbil, turtle, chameleon and green garter snake about his dreams and they seem to listen to him. He also promises that if he ever finds his voice, he will also be their voice, and that no harm will come their way. He then goes to the Bronx Zoo great cat house and “fluently” whispers the same vow to the resident jaguar through the cage bars.

 

When he starts college, he is enrolled in an experimental program for stutterers which relieves him of his speech impediment, but not his continuing feelings of being somehow broken on the inside.

 

Pursuing his passionate interest in animals, Alan prepares for a career as a wildlife conservationist. He hikes the Smoky Mountains to study black bears, and then lands in Belize to study his favorite species, the jaguar, in it’s natural habitat.

 

Jaguars are severely threatened by human encroachment into their jungle environment. Alan decides to use his new found voice to help the big cats. He presents his case to save the jaguars from hunters directly  to Belize’s Prime Minister. And his fifteen minute presentation produces success! His wish that the world’s first jaguar preserve be established in the country, comes true.

 

I love the message that this book delivers about people and animals who can’t speak for themselves. Complimenting the story are Catia Chien’s colorful and evocative illustrations that deliver just the right amount of visual dynamism.

 

A little book with a big hearted message that should be thoroughly enjoyable for readers of all ages.

 

Since overcoming his stutter, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz has dedicated his life to wildlife conservation. He is also a spokesperson for the Stuttering Foundation of America.

For more information visit www.panthera.org and  www.stutteringhelp.org .


5 ingredients 15 minutes: 125 speedy recipes

 

Summer makes me think of wonderful things to eat, with all the fresh local produce available to us. There are so many summertime activities to participate in, though, particularly outdoors, that I don’t want to spend a lot of time inside cooking and preparing food.

That’s why a new title, 5 ingredients, 15 minutes; 125 speedy recipes caught my eye. The title uses recipes from sources like Good Housekeeping, Redbook, and Country Living. There are quick and delicious ideas for salads, sandwiches, pasta, desserts, and chicken (including already prepared rotisserie chickens.)

So- you can eat well, and spend less time in the kitchen this summer. (or anytime, for that matter!)


How Dark were the Dark Ages

This book has me confused. The point of the book is to argue against the commonly-held narrative that the theocratic Dark Ages were against science, intolerant of other religions, violent, and overly superstitious. So, in contrast, the author presents a biography of "The Scientist Pope," an intelligent man that becomes Pope in the late 900's. "To tell the story of his life," she says, "is to rewrite the history of the Middle Ages...The Church was not anti-science--just the reverse."

So far, so good. But, eventually, you find out that not only was he excommunicated twice, accused of treason, and fled for his life on at least one occasion, but that when Pope Sylvester finally became Pope, he didn't really do anything for science or for humanity. In fact, he engaged in huge campaigns to convert "pagans" and spread his version of Christianity to the world. In the meantime, we get to hear about family rivalries, betrayal, political assassinations, and all sorts of nonsense. In other words, I wasn't convinced (in fully disclosure, I did not read the whole thing, shame on me, I became uninterested).


Girl in the dark

For fellow biography lovers, here is an especially unique story. Girl in the dark : a memoir details the plight of a young woman, Anna Lyndsey, who develops an extremely rare condition where any exposure to natural or artificial light feels like a blowtorch to her skin. Thus, she must live in total darkness most of the time. She finds ways to cope and pass her time, inventing many word games to play in the dark. She often has to go to tremendous lengths to get normal life activities accomplished. The book makes you think – if you’re like me, you’ll be imagining all sorts of inventions that could help protect her from light. This is an inspiring story that leaves you appreciating some of the mundane things you complain about in everyday life.

 


Being Mortal

 “You don’t need to sacrifice your autonomy just because you need help in your life.”

This is one of the many pearls of wisdom I took from Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, a book I’ve been hearing about from others for several months now. Whether facing one’s own sickness, old age, and/or frailty, or caring for someone else’s, this volume poses important questions we might all ask. Gawande, a physician who cites examples from both his professional and personal experience, looks at the truths of human nature that can make the caregiving process—and possible end-of-life realities—less cause for fear and anxiety than it often is.   

More questions/concerns to ponder:
• What makes life worth living when we are old and frail and unable to care for ourselves? (p. 92)
• Human beings have a need for both privacy and community, for flexible daily rhythms and patterns, and for the possibility of forming caring relationships with those around them. (p. 131)

And finally:
• A few conclusions become clear when we understand this: that our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives. (p. 282)


Islamic Reformation

For people who respect all world religions, including Islam, this book will be hard to read. Indeed it was for me. It tells the tale of heartbreaking atrocities done in the name of religion, but then goes on to say, as a more generalized theoretical argument, that Islam itself has major problems, that the religion of Islam is violent, that it needs a Reformation like Christianity had. The author, raised in Somalia as a Muslim, has a brutal and oppressive childhood story. Running away to the Netherlands, she divorced her native religion and embraced Western culture and ideas. From there, Dutch Parliament, fellow at Harvard, bestselling author, 100 most influential people in the world according to Time. She has a voice. Here, she calls for a complete Reformation of Islam. And she means it: Stop taking the Koran so seriously, stop taking Muhammed so seriously, stop taking the afterlife so seriously, and forget about Sharia and Jihad. Those are her main suggestions.

If you read this book, I would also suggest comparing it with the thought of Reza Aslan, who has a much more nuanced and complex view regarding Islam, violence, and socio-political considerations. Islam, after all, has over a billion converts all over the world. Therefore, to make any sweeping generalizations about it is virtually impossible. The Islam of Pakistan or Saudi Arabia is not the Islam of India, or America, or Turkey.


Making Everyday Electronics Work

Making Everyday Electronics Work is a do-it-yourself introductory guide to fixing and maintaining all things electronic. The strength of the book isn't only in getting information on how to fix specific kinds of gadgets. In fact, the title obscures the book's great strength: providing an overview of how electricity works. Instead of a cookbook reference to fixing a handful of electrical systems, here's an explanation of how electrical systems work from generation to consumption. We get a welcome explanation of all of those power line components that take electricity from the power plant to your toaster. As advertised, however, there are entire sections on tools and tests for understanding wireless devices, electronics in your vehicle and much more. It's not a big book and it's not exhaustive, but Making Everyday Electronics Work answers lots of big questions and provides a great introduction to deeper exploration.


Rescue Cat Rescues Boy

 When Fraser Met Billy is an engaging true account written by Louise Booth, the mother of two kids; Fraser and Pippa.

 

When Fraser was just several months old, Louise was aware that her son was not completely normal. Her intuitions are confirmed when at 18 months, Fraser is diagnosed with autism. Besides this, he also has hypotonia, a rare muscular disorder that makes his joints loose.

 

At an early age, Fraser finds it difficult to communicate, often has tantrums, emotional meltdowns and easily withdraws into his own private world. Depending on the circumstances with which he is confronted, his behavior is unpredictable and volatile. Fraser begins speech and behavioral treatment, but his therapists soon come to the conclusion that Fraser will never attend a normal, mainstream school. This is devastating news to Louise and her husband Chris.

 

Prior to this crisis, the Booth family had always loved cats. In fact, they share their space with an aging cat named Toby, who is mostly preoccupied with sleeping and eating. Louise starts wondering if a much younger pet would prove to be a positive influence on Fraser; a “special” friend of sorts that her son could interact with and bond.

 

Shortly thereafter, the parents contact the Cat Protection League. A caregiver there senses that one of two identical cats, Billy or Bear, found together earlier in an abandoned house, might make a good fit for Fraser.

 

Prior to meeting the cats, Fraser studies their photos and keeps these by his bed. Unlike most adults, he is right away able to distinguish between the two. When Fraser and his parents meet the cats at the rescue, he instantly latches onto Billy. Upon arriving home, he declares that “Billy is going to be Fraser’s very best friend”, a statement that truly predicted their present and future relationship in more ways than one.

 

The two become inseparable and this rescue cat transforms Fraser’s life. As Louise puts it “Billy had the ability to enter Fraser’s own, private universe, a place that none of us could penetrate. It had made that universe a less lonely place for Fraser but not only that; it had encouraged him to venture out of it so that he was more and more part of our world”.

 

As time goes by, Fraser is able to enroll into a mainstream school and is currently doing remarkably well.

 

I found this book difficult to put down. I read it in two sittings and love its reaffirmation of the power of the animal/human bond; something that can never be overestimated.


Happy Loving Day

Today marks the 48th anniversary of legal protection for interracial families and their right to marry throughout the nation. The landmark case, Loving V. Virginia (1967) and the story behind it, has recently been transformed into an illustrated children's book called The Case for Loving: the fight for interracial marriage. Sound interesting? Check out the HBO-produced documentary about this significant legal case and its historical importance.


The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

I might be making a professional faux pas, but I’m going to tell you to judge this book by its cover.  Look at the light and airy design of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up—doesn’t it look so calm and beautiful?  I imagine calm and beautiful is what my house will be after I put Marie Kondo’s tidying tips into action.  Marie Kondo is a tidying guru in Japan, but her simple, yet inspiring book was just recently translated to English.  Her secret to keeping a house in order, with no clutter relapses, is to throw everything away--well, at least all the items in your home that don’t “spark joy.”  She has a strategy for attacking clutter in a particular order and then explains how to store possessions that are kept.  It’s a fast read and has inspired me to start sorting through my stuff.