Book Review: Atlas of the Human Heart by Ariel Gore

Atlas of the human heartBored with life in 1980s Palo Alto, California, a teenage Ariel Gore (founder of the alternative parenting magazine Hip Mama) decides to run away. Carrying only a change of clothes, a little money, an I Ching guide book and a one-way ticket to Hong Kong, Gore departs on an adventure that doesn’t quite end up the way she imagines.

She chronicles her travels through Asia and Europe in the candid memoir Atlas of the Human Heart.

Gore’s parents, two laid-back hippies left over from the 1960s, believe their daughter has been accepted as a foreign exchange student at the Beijing Language Institute. In reality, neither Gore nor her parents truly knew what lay ahead.

Atlas doesn’t tell a tale of fancy hotels, sightseeing or exotic food. Gore lives by the seat of her pants, not always knowing if she’ll have a place to stay or a meal to eat. She is unflinchingly honest in the re-telling of her experiences with smuggling, panhandling, squatting and drug use. She seems to do these things not out of rebellion, but out of passiveness and not knowing quite how to handle situations. It’s maddening for the reader at times, but I kept reminding myself that Gore was just a kid, and screwing up is a part of growing up.

During her travels, she meets a cast of characters. Vincent is an acupuncturist who left his African homeland to study Chinese medicine. Nikki is a fellow American Gore meets in Amsterdam and with whom she later travels to London where they live as squatters in a rundown home. And then there is her boyfriend Lance, with whom she shares a bed – and later, a child.

Gore’s memoir ends just as her adult life is beginning. She’s on the verge of turning twenty and has just given birth to her daughter, Maia, in Italy. She returns to the United States after several years of adventure and wonders what awaits her back home. Just as she’s about to make her way back to the States, she reads the I Ching to find her fortune. It states:

Return (The Turning Point). It furthers one to have somewhere to go. After a time of decay comes the turning point. The powerful light that has been banished returns. The idea of return is based on the course of nature. The movement is cyclic and the course completes itself.

Atlas of the Human Heart is the anti-Eat, Pray, Love. Gore is no privileged yuppie, traveling on a hefty book advance and contemplating her navel. She is honest in her teen-age confusion, restlessness and angst (and includes some pretty pretentious teenage poetry). Yet, she never comes across as a whiny brat. Things are what they are. The memoir flows like a novel. It’s a descriptive page turner that constantly made me wonder what would happen next.

Gore’s evocative and lyrical writing style, I felt I was right in the thick of things. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a member of the “staycation” club, Atlas of the Human Heart is a worthy literary journey.

Book Marks

gay_pride_rainbow_flag_maple_bookmark-r18f599f9edfb41689ae64dbf1248ea1f_zzesj_512JK Rowling announces a Harry Potter stage play will debut in 2016.

In 2018 small press publisher And Other Stories will only release books written by women.

Dan Savage is so on-point about Bristol Palin’s announcement that once again, she’s pregnant with no wedding ring on her finger (hmm, so much for preaching abstinence), and if it was one of the Obama girls, she would be completely slut-shamed. Hell, Malia and Sasha get slut-shamed for wearing short skirts.

For all writers, especially the one writing this blog, this is how to develop a writing routine.

And finally, artists and writers celebrate the SCOTUS ruling on same sex marriage (or as I like to call it, marriage).

Guest Book Review: A Winsome Murder by James DeVita-Guest Review by Jen Locke

A winsome murderYes, it’s time for another guest review! This time by my wonderful friend Jen Locke (yes, another Jen). Learn more about Ms. Locke below.

A troubled young woman is found murdered in her hometown. It’s a small town in southern rural Wisconsin named Winsome Bay. She’s spent much of her time recently living in Chicago, so part of the mystery is how she ended up back in Winsome Bay.

When a murder with similar characteristics occurs in Chicago, big city cops James Mangan and Frank Cusumano (affectionately known as “Coose”) join Winsome Bay’s Police Chief Wesley Faber in analyzing the murderer’s origin and story.

The story is told through a 3rd person narrator, who moves seamlessly from scene to scene, following different characters at different times. But after a few dozen pages in, the individual stories take on their own feel and they don’t need to be separated by chapters. As a matter of fact, the absence of chapters seems to help propel the story faster and faster and faster until it seems to be running away and keeping up seems the only thing to do. It makes putting down the book harder and harder as the pages fly by.

Being a Wisconsinite, I felt a little offended that the characterization of many of the Wisconsin characters was a bit too “country-bumpkinish.” And the officers from Chicago felt a little stereotypical. In fact, many of the minor characters seemed more nuanced than the main ones. The potential exists for the Chicago and Winsome Bay police to move forward into new adventures, though, and through this to develop into very interesting and multifaceted characters.

The most unique thing about the book is a quirkiness of Mangan’s. He experiences sudden random literary outbursts in his head. He’s self-educated and the descriptions of his house include books on every horizontal surface and books piled on other piles of books. He’s been through these works so often the snips from Shakespeare and Melville (and others) arise spontaneously and relate to the crime to help nudge his thoughts in the right direction. The way the case begins and ends for Mangan with a quote from Titus Andronicus nicely bookends the story and draws parallels to enrich the reader’s experience. DeVita’s experience acting and directing in the American Players Theatre, a Shakespeare troupe located in Spring Green, Wisconsin (a town much like Winsome Bay itself) likely contributes much to this insertion of literary quotations, and definitely helps with writing accurately about the setting.

I wanted to love this book, but I only liked it a lot. And that’s okay. Maybe DeVita’s next book will explore the officers’ characters more deeply and give us another suspenseful murder-mystery to solve alongside them.

Meet Jen Locke: Jen works at a library and is trying to keep up with the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge and her book group while indulging her own interests as much as possible. In her spare time she likes to swim, enjoy the outdoors, play with her pets, and geek out with the newest tech gadgets she can get her hands on. She and Bookish Jen met when they both attended Milwaukee’s Alverno College.

Book Review: Most Good, Least Harm-A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life

Most good_If there is any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow human being, let me do it now, and not deter or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.” — William Penn

For the past few days, like a lot of people, I have felt a deep and profound grief over the senseless deaths of nine beautiful people who were committing the innocent act of attending bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Men and women were shot dead due to the racism and hatred of one person, a person who was welcomed into Mother Emanuel with loving grace and kindness. I have so much anger at the shooter, and so much admiration for the victims’ families and friends for the forgiveness they are showing towards him. I truly don’t know if I could do the same.

So I sit here, thinking of what a messed up world we live in. Detestable hate crimes like what happened in Charleston seems to be never-ending and I just want to throw things or curl up into a little ball of sadness, anger and cynicism. But that wouldn’t be very productive, now would it?

And so I decided to read Zoe Weil’s book Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life.” I’m well aware that reading a book and writing a review will not change what happened in Charleston or heal race relations, but at this point, I think we can all use some positive vibes and some inspiration on how we can put some good out into a very broken society.

Zoe Weil is the co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education. She also leads workshops on doing what she calls Most Good (MOGO). I can’t think of a more perfect person to motivate us to examine our values and let these values guide us in the decisions we make and the actions we take to better our world.

Most Good, Least Harm is divided into three parts-Looking Inward, Choosing Outward, and Getting Started.

In Looking Inward, Weil behooves us to take a good look at ourselves and discover our values-what do we hold dear in our hearts, minds, and souls. In this part, she gives us seven keys to MOGO.

Live Your Epitaph
Pursue Joy Through Service
Make Connections and Self-Reflect
Model Your Message and Work for Change
Find and Create Community
Take Responsibility
Strive for Balance

Once we figure out our values we learn how to get our values into the world by choosing outward. This is our values in tangible action and can include everything from the products and food we buy to the work we do. Weil also calls us to action through activism and volunteering and using the tools of democracy to the better of society. These could include writing to your senator or congressperson on issues that are important to you. This could include donating your money, time or skills to local charitable organizations. Weil provides a list of 10 principles for a MOGO life, which include things like transforming education and investing our money wisely. And to make this part of the book for palpable for the reader, Weil offers several stories of individuals who took MOGO to heart and are now make positive changes. A great by-product of living a MOGO life? Doing good feels good!

Finally, we come to the last part-Getting Started. We figured out our values. We’ve coming up with ways to put these values in action. Now what? To jump start implementing MOGO Weil gives us a questionnaire and action plan. She also gives us some food for thought with facts and statistics on various important issues. And finally, Weil gives us resources to help us further our commitment to MOGO lives. These resources include various websites, books and organizations.

Most Good, Least Harm is slim volume but it packs a wallop, the type of book you can refer to again and again on how to know your values and then how to put them in action. Some people might complain that Weil focuses a bit too much on what she values and how she’s implementing her values to be more MOGO, but I believe she’s just using her personal story as an example of MOGO, not a guide we have to follow or else.

Ultimately, once you read Most Good, Least Harm you feel a bit less lost and helpless and a lot more empowered. In our mixed-up, messed up world it’s time to MOGO!

Book Marks

cropped-reading_is_coolAre you a badass woman? Well, even you’re not, you’ve got to read these books!

Befuddled and battle-weary from on-line critics? Four authors show how to handle them with aplomb!

Here is an independent alternative to buying books through Amazon, Bookindy.com.

Are you a bit potty-mouthed? Here are some old-fashioned swear words to round out your naughty word vocabulary.

Ann Coulter names racist fucknugget as one of her “intellectual” influences? Ann Coulter influenced by a racist? Gee, shocking.

 

Book Review: The Alternative Hero by Tim Thornton

Alt hero_I’m currently working on two book reviews, but I thought I’d dust off this old review I wrote for an on-line publication that no longer exists. Enjoy!

In Tim Thornton’s The Alternative Hero, protagonist and 30-something Clive Beresford has yet to get his life together. He works a rather mundane job, lives in a shoddy London flat and spends his nights at the pub. He’s broke, about to lose his boring job and stuck in arrested development, obsessed with his rock and roll youth.

As a teenager in the late 1980s, Clive became a fan of the Thieving Magpies, a British band that hit the big time and then fell apart when lead singer Lance Webster broke down at the Aylesbury Festival. Since then, Clive has wondered what caused Lance’s freak-out and why he left music all together.

You see, the Thieving Magpies were more than just a band to Clive; they were a way of life. Clive spent his youth collecting every Thieving Magpie record, following them from concert to concert and writing his own music fanzine. So when Clive spies Lance coming out of a martinizer near his flat and later finds out where he lives, he figures this is the chance to ask Lance why he lost it so many years ago. And by doing so, perhaps he could get an interview and resurrect his flailing music journalism career.

Not surprisingly, Clive’s first attempt at befriending Lance doesn’t go so well. In a drunken stupor, Clive writes an overly emotional letter to the former Magpie frontman, slips it under his door and gains stalker status from two of Lance’s former roadies who eventually pay him a threatening visit.

But later, much to Clive’s surprise he does meet Lance and strikes up a friendship with the singer. However, he does this under the guise that he’s not too familiar with the Thieving Magpies and their career. This makes Lance think Clive is coming at him from an angle of friendship, not fandom, and slowly Lance begins to reveal what lead up to that fateful day at Aylesbury. Clive soon learns that his rock and roll hero is all too human, with the same flaws that so many of us possess.

The Alternative Hero is written in the first person, which truly allows you to get into Clive’s head. Often expressing himself in a stream-of-consciousness style, Clive is at turns pathetic, touching, neurotic and funny. To anyone whoever obsessed over a band, Clive’s devotion will cut a little too close to the bone. Ah yes, how many teenage days and nights did I devour copies of Star Hits and Rolling Stone? How many times did I watch MTV (when it still showed videos and not crappy reality TV shows) or listen to “Rock Over London” on the radio just to see or hear my favorite bands? Far too many to count I must say.

However, most of us grow up, and those musical memories are just that, memories.

Still, I found myself liking both Clive and Lance, and wishing them the best in the end. Plus, it was fun to revisit those hazy rock and roll days with Thornton name-dropping actual bands like Nirvana, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, The Stone Roses and Jesus Jones among the pages. Each chapter opens with recommended listening. These albums include the Pixies’ Doolittle, the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Automatic, Jane’s Addiction’s Ritual de lo Habitual and The Cure’s Disintegration. I thought this was a clever touch.

Most likely, this book will bring comparisons to Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. However, The Alternative Hero stands on its own as a very honest depiction of music fandom, one I highly recommend.

Book Review: The Ponzi Princess by Mark Morewitz

Ponzi PrincessMention Ponzi scheme and immediately you think of Bernie Madoff who in 2008 was arrested for swindling many people out of countless sums of money through an elaborate Ponzi scheme. Madoff later pled guilty and is now serving a sentence of 150 years in prison.

But have you ever heard of Laurie Schneider, who was also at the helm of a huge Ponzi scheme that cheated innocent people out of millions of dollars? Perhaps not, but Mark Morewitz has certainly heard of Laurie Schneider, and even worse, he worked for her. And he tells how he (and his family) got caught up in Schneider’s web of deceit in his riveting book, The Ponzi Princess.

Mark Morewitz was just a nice, relatable guy living with his then-husband Nate in their Brooklyn home when he had a chance meeting with Laurie Schneider. Morewitz was immediately taken in by Schneider’s friendliness and eccentric personality. Schneider portrayed herself as an entrepreneur with several successful business making lots of money.

Morewitz soon got sucked into Schneider’s world and became an investor. When Schneider offered him a job, Morewitz jumped at the chance. He had worked as a social worker in the world of non-profit and thought it might be more feasible to get into the world of business. Morewitz wasn’t exactly greedy or highly materialistic. He just wanted to make more money to help fix up his run-down house, provide for his family and have a few extras. I bet a lot of us can relate to those goals.

From these investments, Morewitz started to earn lots more money, which was a big change from the pittance he earned in the world of non-profit. Morewitz grew more and more seduced by Schneider’s so-called business acumen, multi-entrepreneurial achievements, and by her world of seemingly glamorous, glittering excess, which was completely foreign to a nice Jewish boy originally from Virginia.

Not wanting to be the only person to benefit from his financial gain, he convinced his family and friends to invest with Schneider, which turned out to be over forty people. Morewitz’s family and friends thought they were earning wealth beyond their wildest dreams.

But this wealth turned out to be more of a nightmare, and Morewitz and his family and friend’ s soon found out their financial gain was built on a web of lies and deceit. In 2009, Schneider confessed to Morewitz of all of her fake deals, her very own Ponzi scheme. She was later arrested in 2010.

But the story for Morewitz’ story doesn’t end with Schneider’s confession and arrest. His story became even more tragic as he realized what had been done to him, his family and friends and other innocent investors. At times, Morewitz even thought of committing suicide. He was at turns angry, depressed and at a complete loss at what had transpired in the space of several years of being caught up in “Laurie Land.”

Furthermore, Morewitz can’t believe how the justice system, which should have been on the side of the victims, often treated them as if they somehow “deserved it.” How could they be so stupid, so greedy? Morewitz tried to convince them that he truly thought Schneider was running a legitimate business because he saw the documents, goods, tax filings and contracts, not to mention there were also various meetings with accountants, investors and other business types involved.

Beyond being blamed for being a victim, Morewitz was also angry at Schneider’s trial was delayed due to her being the mother of young children. Never interested in having children before, Schneider decides it’s a good time to have babies. Morewitz is sickened that Schneider would use innocent children to make herself look more sympathetic.

Morewitz, deeply grieving, decides not to commit suicide (thank goodness), and somehow finds the strength to hold his own against Schneider, her disgusting Ponzi scheme and a very lengthy trial. He is more cynical and jaded, but wiser and stronger. Thusly, he is able to tell his tale in The Ponzi Princess.

I have to admit, while reading The Ponzi Princess, I had a hard time figuring out why Morewitz found Schneider to be so compelling. From Morewitz’s descriptions of Schneider, I found her to be vulgar, low-class and bigoted. She is way too noisy about Morewitz’s sex life as gay man, offers way too many details on her own sex life and proves to be racist, homophobic and completely classless (as are many of her friends and associates).

Then again, at times, Schneider shows she can be quite generous and caring, being there for Morewitz when his father died or helping his beloved mother find a home in a better neighborhood.

But these moments are few and far between in Laurie Land.
The Ponzi Princess is not a perfect book. I did find a few spelling and grammar errors, but nothing that couldn’t be cleaned up with some good editing. I must give Morewitz a great deal of credit for getting through such a painful process and being able to write it all down. And oy, what a mensch. Morewitz is making sure some of the proceeds from the sales of his book go to his family and friends who were victims of Schneider’s Ponzi scheme.

When we think of betrayal and heartbreak, we think of them only in terms of romantic love. But The Ponzi Princess proves you can also be gutted by betrayal and have your heart break in countless pieces in the world of business. The Ponzi Princess is a difficult read, but very hard to put down.