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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Picture perfect love on the dance floor

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails …”  1 Corinthians 13:4-7

I was humbled and grateful to witness a extraordinary amount of love this Memorial Day weekend, and it happened on the dance floor of all places.

My cousin married his soulmate in a beautiful, intimate ceremony surrounded by close family and friends. The bride looked absolutely stunning in her long-trained wedding dress, and the groom looked dashingly handsome in his suit topped with a pink rose on his lapel. The ceremony was immediately followed by cocktail hour and reception. However, the evening got underway when the guests got on the dance floor and shook their hips from old Italian tunes to the 80s greatest hits. Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson definitely rocked the house!

The dance floor wasn’t necessarily as big as the smiles on the faces of guests who danced on it, but it didn’t matter. To me, it was a picture perfect dance floor because everyone was having a wonderful time smiling, screaming, and sweating. The love that the newlyweds had for one another throughout the night clearly infected the entire room as generations of couples celebrated with them on the dance floor.

But love can continue to be expressive even when one’s soulmate has entered eternal life. My uncle/godfather honored his love for his late wife by giving his new daughter-in-law a symbolic wedding present: a bracelet that was once belonged to her. It was a deeply touching sentiment that brought everyone to tears. It was at that very moment that I had an epiphany.

We live in a world where certain people are still trying to tell us what to do and what love and marriage should represent. There are all these hypocrisies and arguments that can make your head spin. Or in my case, topple over!  No matter how diversified love can be, love is beautifully universal no matter who you are: gay or straight, short or tall, black or white, etc. We can’t be the judge and jury. Society is constantly changing, and just like the new technologies and gadgets that has people stirring for possession, we should all embrace love in all forms.

If you still don’t understand me, I’d suggest the next time you’re at a wedding or a restaurant or club, take a look at the people on the dance floor. Step inside. It is a limited space, but it can fill you up unlimited expectations, happiness, and peace! Enjoy the moment.

And if you can feel it, then I raise my glass to you and say “Salute!”

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Posted by on May 29, 2012 in Personal

 

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Nosey Rosie’s Top 10 summer reading list for 2012

This coming Monday is Memorial Day, a day to honor the fallen soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom and our country. It also marks the unofficial start of the summer season. With the hot, humid weather on the horizon, you can bet your bottom dollar you will need something to cool you down while you’re reading a good book.

Summer is usually a really good time to catch up on some reading. You get to kick back and relax, whether you’re at the beach or in your backyard. There are a lot of great books published right now that are dying to be read. Whether you’re looking for a biography or a mystery, a romance or a historical fiction, a chick-lit or a lit-classic, I have a book for you. You may or may not agree with them, but check out my top 10 books to read this summer in no particular order.

1. “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The mysterious Jay Gatsby embodies the American notion that it is possible to redefine oneself and persuade the world to accept that definition. Gatsby’s youthful neighbor, Nick Carraway, fascinated with the display of enormous wealth in which Gatsby revels, finds himself swept up in the lavish lifestyle of Long Island society during the Jazz Age. Considered Fitzgerald’s best work, The Great Gatsby is a mystical, timeless story of integrity and cruelty, vision and despair. The timeless story of Jay Gatsby and his love for Daisy Buchanan is widely acknowledged to be the closest thing to the Great American Novel ever written.

2. “Elizabeth, The Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch” by Sally Bedell Smith

In this magisterial new biography, New York Times bestselling author Sally Bedell Smith brings to life one of the world’s most fascinating and enigmatic women: Queen Elizabeth II. From the moment of her ascension to the throne in 1952 at the age of twenty-five, Queen Elizabeth II has been the object of unparalleled scrutiny. But through the fog of glamour and gossip, how well do we really know the world’s most famous monarch? Drawing on numerous interviews and never-before-revealed documents, acclaimed biographer Sally Bedell Smith pulls back the curtain to show in intimate detail the public and private lives of Queen Elizabeth II, who has led her country and Commonwealth through the wars and upheavals of the last sixty years with unparalleled composure, intelligence, and grace.

3. “The Tiger’s Wife” by Tea Obreht

In a Balkan country mending from war, Natalia, a young doctor, is compelled to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. Searching for clues, she turns to his worn copy of The Jungle Book and the stories he told her of his encounters over the years with “the deathless man.” But most extraordinary of all is the story her grandfather never told her—the legend of the tiger’s wife.

4. “11/22/63” by Stephen King

In this brilliantly conceived tour de force, Stephen King—who has absorbed the social, political, and popular culture of his generation more imaginatively and thoroughly than any other writer—takes readers on an incredible journey into the past and the possibility of altering it. It begins with Jake Epping, a thirty-five-year-old English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching GED classes. He asks his students to write about an event that changed their lives, and one essay blows him away—a gruesome, harrowing story about the night more than fifty years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a sledgehammer. Reading the essay is a watershed moment for Jake, his life—like Harry’s, like America’s in 1963—turning on a dime. Not much later his friend Al, who owns the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to the past, a particular day in 1958. And Al enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson, in a different world of Ike and JFK and Elvis, of big American cars and sock hops and cigarette smoke everywhere. From the dank little city of Derry, Maine (where there’s Dunning business to conduct), to the warmhearted small town of Jodie, Texas, where Jake falls dangerously in love, every turn is leading eventually, of course, to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and to Dallas, where the past becomes heart-stoppingly suspenseful, and where history might not be history anymore. Time-travel has never been so believable. Or so terrifying.

5. “Come Home” by Lisa Scottoline

In Lisa Scottoline’s new novel, Come Home, she ratchets up the suspense with the riveting story of a mother who sacrifices her future for a child from her past. Jill Farrow is a typical suburban mom who has finally gotten her and her daughter’s lives back on track after a divorce. She is about to remarry, her job as a pediatrician fulfills her—-though it is stressful—-and her daughter, Megan, is a happily over-scheduled thirteen-year-old juggling homework and the swim team. But Jill’s life is turned upside down when her ex-stepdaughter, Abby, shows up on her doorstep late one night and delivers shocking news: Jill’s ex-husband is dead. Abby insists that he was murdered and pleads with Jill to help find his killer. Jill reluctantly agrees to make a few inquiries and discovers that things don’t add up. As she digs deeper, her actions threaten to rip apart her new family, destroy their hard-earned happiness, and even endanger her own life. Yet Jill can’t turn her back on a child she loves and once called her own.

6. “The Family Corleone” by Ed Falco

New York, 1933. The city and the nation are in the depths of the Great Depression. The crime families of New York have prospered in this time, but with the coming end of Prohibition, a battle is looming that will determine which organizations will rise and which will face a violent end.
For Vito Corleone, nothing is more important that his family’s future. While his youngest children, Michael, Fredo, and Connie, are in school, unaware of their father’s true occupation, and his adopted son Tom Hagen is a college student, he worries most about Sonny, his eldest child. Vito pushes Sonny to be a businessman, but Sonny-17 years-old, impatient and reckless-wants something else: To follow in his father’s footsteps and become a part of the real family business.
An exhilarating and profound novel of tradition and violence, of loyalty and betrayal, The Family Corleone will appeal to the legions of fans who can never get enough of The Godfather, as well as introduce it to a whole new generation.

7. “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein

Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn’t simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life’s ordeals. 

On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally; the unexpected loss of Eve, Denny’s wife; the three-year battle over their daughter, Zoë, whose maternal grandparents pulled every string to gain custody. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoë at his side. Having learned what it takes to be a compassionate and successful person, the wise canine can barely wait until his next lifetime, when he is sure he will return as a man. A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life . . . as only a dog could tell it.

8. “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett

Be prepared to meet three unforgettable women.

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken. Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

9. “Dark Lover” by J.R. Ward

In the shadows of the night in Caldwell, New York, there’s a deadly turf war going on between vampires and their slayers. There exists a secret band of brothers like no other-six vampire warriors, defenders of their race. Yet none of them relishes killing more than Wrath, the leader of The Black Dagger Brotherhood. The only purebred vampire left on earth, Wrath has a score to settle with the slayers who murdered his parents centuries ago. But, when one of his most trusted fighters is killed-leaving his half-breed daughter unaware of his existence or her fate-Wrath must usher her into the world of the undead-a world of sensuality beyond her wildest dreams.

10. “My Enemy’s Cradle” by Sara Young

Cyrla’s neighbors have begun to whisper. Her cousin, Anneke, is pregnant and has passed the rigorous exams for admission to the Lebensborn, a maternity home for girls carrying German babies. But Anneke’s soldier has disappeared, and Lebensborn babies are only ever released to their father’s custody—or taken away. A note is left under the mat. Someone knows that Cyrla, sent from Poland years before for safekeeping with her Dutch relatives, is Jewish. The Nazis are imposing more and more restrictions; she won’t be safe there for long. And then in the space of an afternoon, life falls apart. Cyrla must choose between certain discovery in her cousin’s home and taking Anneke’s place in the Lebensborn—Cyrla and Anneke are nearly identical. If she takes refuge in the enemy’s lair, can Cyrla fool the doctors, nurses, guards, and other mothers-to-be? Can she escape before they discover she is not who she claims?

If there are any books that you think are worth reading this summer, please let me know. I’d love to hear your thoughts! Reviews for these books will be posted on this blog so stay tuned. I hope everyone has a wonderful Memorial Day weekend and happy reading!! 🙂

***All the italicized overviews are courtesy of B&N.com.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2012 in Book Reviews

 

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Renaissance man with ‘a frozen soul’

Written by me, this article was originally published in the Memorial Day issue of the Lititz Record Express. For more information, visit http://lititzrecord.com/2012/05/renaissance-man-with-a-frozen-soul-lititz-vietnam-vet-authors-new-book/

Picture it.

Mekong River, South Vietnam, 1970.

A Vietnamese woman travels along the muddy water in a sampan, a flat-bottomed Chinese wooden boat, carrying baskets of fresh fruits to sell to the locals. A vessel carrying members of the Mobile Riverine Force treks in the opposite direction to Cambodia and Laos. It’s after 6 p.m., and the crew is ordered to enforce instantaneous action on anything that comes in its sight. With the sampan gliding in close proximity, one crew member, in particular, is hesitant about blowing off the boat and tries to go against the lieutenant’s orders, but fails.

“The lieutenant said, ‘We have strict orders to shoot everything that moves on this river.’ He threatened me with disobeying direct order while in a warzone, which is a very, very serious offense,” said former Navy sailor and Vietnam Veteran Jason Goodman, of Lititz. “I took a machine gun and with one burst, the boat disappeared. It was gone, and he was fixated on this. This (lieutenant) always walked around with a Bible, which I didn’t understand the dichotomy or the hypocrisy of it. I think he just wanted to see what would happen and yet he would have the blood on his hands so he could order me to do it for him.”

Sitting in his burgundy-walled kitchen adorned with his paintings, Goodman’s raspy voice grows low and his dark brown eyes intense with recollection. The nightmare of that fateful incident from the Vietnam War is still frozen within him to this day.

“I had no intention at taking a shot at this person in the sampan. None whatsoever,” he recalls. “I still wake up with the bed sheets completely wet from sweat. I’ve actually had my wife up and change the bed sheet, even the pillowcase because I’d be right back in Vietnam, and it would always be the same couple of episodes I went through.”

Four decades later, Goodman, 62, has chronicled this tragic first-hand episode and more in his new book called “A Puzzled Existence: A 60-Year Autobiographical Portrait by the Artist,” now available on Aaron’s Books.

So far, the 458-page autobiography has garnered positive reviews on Amazon.com. The book is based on the “idea of a puzzle” with each chapter detailing brutally honest accounts of Goodman’s sojourn life from his turbulent upbringing in the coal-mining town of Kingston, Pa., to his time in Vietnam to his post-war endeavors.

“It’s got humor, but it does have thorns in it. I didn’t hold back on anything,” said Goodman, now a professional artist and an owner of Alchemy Studio LLC in Lititz. “I just kept it to certain areas and stories that were impactful in my life at the time…I’m not just patting myself on the back all the time and telling you all that every page is about me. I didn’t want to write anything like that. I wanted to write a book that was a good read.”

The writing process became a little grueling in more ways than one and suffered a few setbacks. Diagnosed with a nerve disorder called neuropathy, Goodman has suffered neurological deterioration of the feeling in his arms and hands. Two years ago, doctors at Penn State Hershey Medical Center performed four surgeries on his neck and arm. He still has numbness on three of his left fingers, making it difficult to hold a paintbrush or a pen. He also has trouble walking.

“It’s like my left leg doesn’t tell my brain where it is at times (because) I trip over things that don’t exist and the same thing is starting with these fingers,” said Goodman, who is left-handed. “I don’t know how much pressure I’m putting on something. I’m always dropping things.”

Nonetheless, Goodman was determined to complete the project with the help of his wife of 23 years, Teresa. He began writing in black and white composition books. One book contained 100 pages, and Goodman spent many late nights sitting outside his kitchen porch filling up ten of them. He used journal entries from his extensive travels, old letters from his late mother, and old calendars to help him with the research.

Afterwards, he typed his handwritten work on a manual typewriter before ultimately typing it on the computer at his publisher’s request. Certain parts of the book were difficult to write, according to Goodman. Looking back, his pain began well before the Vietnam War commenced.

Childhood

His story begins at the age of six. As the third youngest of four sons, Goodman described his family as like the Cartwrights from the classic show “Bonanza” because everyone in town knew them. His mother, whom he called “Mary T.” was highly educated who reportedly was the first female student to graduate from M.I.T. and helped design the folding wings to the Hellcat aircraft, while his father was a “coal-cracker” or a coal miner.

According to his book, growing up, his father would physically abuse him more than his brothers. When Goodman was 2, he recalled crawling to a rut in the driveway when he said his father ran over him with his car. Luckily, he didn’t get squashed, but he suffered damage to his lower back.

“The worst part was that I took after my mother because I would question him. I would ask him why. He didn’t like to be questioned. If he told you to do something, he would expect you to go without asking him any questions,” recalls Goodman of his father. “I would think of easier ways to accomplish a task and basically he would say, ‘I’m telling you to do it this way.’ He was very, very abusive to me.”

The night before he left for Vietnam, Goodman had left a bar and took his 1956 Ford Thunderbird for one final spin. After spinning the car in circles several times, the passenger side of the car struck a lamppost. In a letter to his mother from Vietnam, Goodman instructed her to sell the car. She sold the car for $500.

War protester turned soldier

By 1968, the Vietnam War had been ongoing for 13 years. Initially, like many Americans at the time, Goodman wasn’t supportive of the war. In fact, he was supposed to be a leading spokesperson in a protest in downtown Wilkes-Barre, but he had developed a change of heart thanks to the attitude of his peers.

“I am walking around, we’re having this meeting and everybody’s talking about what they’re going to wear because they knew that all the television stations were going to be there,” he said. “I didn’t say anything, but I’m thinking to myself, ‘This is absurd. This is totally ridiculous. They don’t get the point here. We’re demonstrating against a war that we really shouldn’t be involved in and a lot of men — good soldiers — are losing their lives every day, and these people are worried about what they are going to wear? Just because the TV cameras are going to be there.’”

The next day Goodman enlisted in the U.S. Navy, much to the anger of his peers.

“I was like a pariah or had leprosy. Because then I wasn’t a friend of theirs anymore,” he said. “I was now part of the military machine. Then I said to them, ‘Who has ever been or seen that place and comes back to talk about it?’”

A day after graduating from Luzerne County Community College with an associate’s degree in commercial art and advertising, Goodman was called to active duty. He was first stationed on a destroyer in Norfolk, Va. before being transferred to Philadelphia.

Vietnam

“Having to go through Vietnam was difficult. I told my wife ‘you cannot type that particular part. I have to type it,’” said Goodman about the writing process. “I went to (Veterans Affair hospital for psychological help) every month for 10 years because prior to that, I would never tell you I was in Vietnam.”

Goodman describes his time in Vietnam as a “total disillusionment.” Many of the soldiers were getting stoned on drugs like marijuana and questioning their significance in the war.

“It was a ridiculous war because it was operated in Washington. They were calling the shots for a war that was 18,000 miles away,” he said. “They weren’t listening to their commanders in the field. It was just absurd. A lot of men were asking themselves, ‘What are we doing here?’”

Goodman said during the Tet Offensive, which was a military campaign launched by the People’s Army of Vietnam against the Republic of Vietnam or South Vietnam and the United States, the Viet Cong put all their forces on the line.

“A day or two after the Americans got their wits about them, we started kicking their butts. The Viet Congs lost a lot of men and materials and these North Vietnamese generals, in the years afterward, were on their knees,” he said. “(General William) Westmoreland was asking (former U.S. President Richard) Nixon for 50,000 more troops, and he said that we could finish the war, and he was absolutely right.”

A member of the Riverine force, Goodman and his fellow troops were responsible for transporting ammunition to the firebases in Cambodia and Laos. The Mekong River served as a coastal highway for the Vietnamese, but it was also a dangerous spot for the American patrols aboard the LST because the Vietnamese helped load supplies to the vessel.

“The (vessels) were built to be destroyed and ours was a piece of junk. That’s why we worked. We were understaffed too. We put in long hours,” he said. “The freshwater machine would break all the time. Do you know what it’s like to take saltwater showers? My God, the laundry machine would break all the time. Everything would break all the time. The boat should have been taken out of its misery.”

One fateful day, Goodman was injured when an explosion occurred, throwing him off and landing him flat on his back. He suffered several broken vertebrae and ruptured discs.

Seventeen surgeries later, Goodman continues to undergo treatments for his injuries sustained in Vietnam. Even though he’s won several medals and has received letters of gratitude for his service from Nixon and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the memories of his combat experience are still vividly cemented in his mind.

“You have to have a frozen soul to be a really good soldier. Every episode that took place in Vietnam had a hand in my soul freezing a little bit more. I was losing my integrity as a human being,” he said. “It was early in the war when the officer ordered me to shoot that sampan, and I didn’t want to. I objected it. I was fighting with him. A few days later, I would have pulled the trigger. I wouldn’t have given it a second thought.”

One day Goodman was given some “liberty” or free time, and he decided to meet up with a rabbi, a Catholic priest, and a Protestant minister, all whom were military personnel, to try to make sense of the killing of innocent Vietnamese people, but it only re-emphasized his frozen soul.

“I asked them, ‘How in the hell am I supposed to justify this? I mean in the commandments it says thou shall not kill. That’s causing a real problem in my mind. It’s a paradoxical situation,” he said. “First, they beat around the bush and they told me that the Vietnamese were gooks so they don’t count. It was okay to kill them because they weren’t Christians.”

Post-War trauma

In July 1970, Goodman left Vietnam and arrived in San Francisco to begin treatment for his shattered body at the Oakland Naval Hospital. The minute he stepped off the bus he received a disgraceful homecoming when a woman spat on him and called him a “baby burner.”

“This woman spitting on me was just San Francisco crude and crass. It was a typical San Francisco attitude toward a person in uniform at the time,” he said. “Any sailor or soldier was fair game.”

His time at the Oakland Naval Hospital was “depressing” because he was surrounded by other soldiers who had lost their limbs during combat. He would eat three meals a day with them. Goodman would notice the look of sadness on their loved ones’ faces whenever they came to visit them.

“You see the young wives, and you could tell by the look on their face, they wanted to get out of this now. They didn’t want a paraplegic for a husband,” he said.

In 1984, Goodman was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a severe anxiety syndrome common among war veterans. According to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs’ National Center for PTSD, 30 percent of Vietnam Veterans suffer from the disorder.

Dealing with PTSD can be struggle for many war veterans and for Goodman, certain aspects in his everyday life remind him of Vietnam like watching old war movies, seeing a fireworks display, or witnessing a mother spanking and yelling at her child in a store.

“I feel myself going cold,” he said. “There are times when I can scare myself and can be a very dangerous person just by my thoughts. I’m not alone in thinking in that respect. I think a lot of Vietnam Veterans are like that. I know a lot of Vietnam Veterans that are like that.”

Love of art

Goodman has worked in stints as a barker at a carnival, a nude model, and an undertaker at an Australian mortuary, but it was his love of art that has lasted the longest time. A professional artist for 40 years, Goodman claims to have a love-hate relationship with the creative field.

“It was his mother that got him going. It showed him as the talent in the family,” said Goodman’s third wife Teresa. “It’s a lot of hours put into it too — 40 to 50 hours.”

In fact, Goodman kept a journal of his drawings during his time in the Navy. He would try to hide it in his sea bag or a military bag, along with other military uniforms and clothing attires.

“I drew pictures of different types of things. I drew people. I drew things that I would see from our boat — real quick drawings of a village like the huts and houses,” he said.

Unfortunately, the journal was stolen by presumably one of the officers.

Goodman studied for three years under the late portrait painter Niccolo Cortiglia. A post-impressionist artist, he uses vivid colors and distinctive brush strokes in all of his works.

“I sketch on all kinds of things — on napkins or paper bags,” he said. “I’ll shoot my own composition with my own camera and then work off my own photographs. The way I look at my artwork is I take reality and just bump it, move it a little bit. I just knock it out of the kilter. My attitude is like super-realism.”

Discipline and hard work in any profession can be rewarding whether in an art studio or in service. His paintings have been featured in numerous collections around the world, including South Korea, Australia, and in Europe.

In sharp contrast from 40 years ago, Goodman has received numerous kind gestures from people for his time in Vietnam. He said he still has trouble dealing with it, but it’s meaningful.

“Today I have a lot of people that shake my hand and thank me for my service,” he said.

That’s a picture that could be worth a thousand words.

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2012 in Published articles

 

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Book Review: The Godfather — an Italian-American classic

I’ll be honest with you.

I have seen “The Godfather” movie more than a dozen times. As a young Sicilian-American, it was probably my birthright to see this excellent movie classic. But I had never read the book … (hanging my head in shame). It’s true … I had never read and finished the book until a couple days ago and let me know tell you, I don’t know why I waited this long.

The book “The Godfather” was written in 1969 by the late Italian-American author Mario Puzo. It centers around the fictitious Sicilian crime family, the Corleones headed by Don Vito Corleone. Don Vito has four children: Sonny, Michael, Fredo, and Connie. He also “adopts” an Irish-American named Tom Hagen, who eventually becomes his consigliere. Set in the 1940s, the book details the mob war between the Corleones and the other four families in New York. It also tells the back story of Don Vito Corleone’s childhood to his emigration to America, and his entrance and success in the Mafia world with the help of his friends like Peter Clemenza and Sal Tessio.

Though Don Vito Corleone is the patriarch, the book’s central character is Michael, the youngest son, who slowly moves his way up to become the head of the family. English-speaking readers are introduced to several Italian terms like caporegime (high-ranking member), consigliere (counselor), and omerta (law of silence).

The book was made into a movie with the same name in 1972, garnering an Oscar-winning performance by Marlon Brando. Francis Ford Coppola (who scripted the movie with Puzo) won two Oscars for best director and adapted screenplay with Puzo. The movie also won best picture that year. Part 2 and Part 3 of the “The Godfather” trilogy were made in 1974 and 1990, respectively. “The Godfather Part 2” also won Oscars for best supporting actor (Robert De Niro), best director (Coppola), and best adapted screenplay (Coppola and Puzo).

Coppola is a genius in storytelling in films just like Puzo is a genius in storytelling in prose. Puzo’s style of writing is so rich and detailed. He carries the readers in every scene through violence, romance, and drama. He paints a vividly, elaborate picture of the Corleone family and of the Sicilian mob, and he writes it with such conviction and passion, making the Corleones look powerful with good intentions. One minute the reader can be celebrating with the family singing the “Tarantella” and eating spaghetti and meatballs, and the next he or she could be exposed to the murders to top all murders.

Through Puzo’s prose, the reader is immersed into the true nature of the Italian culture. The culture is certainly not about the mob. It’s about family. It’s about faith. It’s about loyalty.

So in conclusion, if I could steal that famous notable line, I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse: don’t wait, read this book! You won’t be sorry. It’s an oldie but a goodie and truly one of the best pieces of literature of all time.

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2012 in Book Reviews

 

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Emilia-Romagna on my mind

This weekend, I was going through one of my bookshelves, and I came across a book that led me travel back in time. The book is called “Viaggio in Emilia-Romagna” by the late Luigi Ghirri.

This 127-page photobook features the beauty, the landscape, the architecture, and the people in one of the richest and most colorfully historic regions of Italy: Emilia-Romagna.

Before I talk about the book, here’s a little geography lesson. The region is located in northern Italy between the Po River in the north and Apennine Mountains in the south. It has a population about 4.4 million people. The capital of Emilia-Romagna is Bologna, which is the  7th largest city in Italy and home to the oldest university in the world, University of Bologna (according to Wikipedia). In fact, the expensive carmaker Ferrari is manufactured in this region.

This book is very special to me because it was a graduation present from one of my father’s cousins and his wife, who live in the region. As I sifted through the colorful pages, I was enthralled by Ghirri’s magical, photographic ability to capture the essence of the region. In each photograph, Ghirri, a native of Scandiano near Reggio Emilia, reveals the true identity of Emilia-Romagna with its breathtaking views of the farmland, the ancient buildings, churches and statues from cities like Modena, Parma, Bologna, Ferrara, and Ravenna. In fact, the region’s president wrote in the book:

This trip, through wonderful pictures and measured words, is intended to bring pleasure to a wide variety of readers in the hopes that, from page to page, everyone may find food for cultural enrichment.

My parents and I visited the Emilia-Romagna region six years ago, and I remember falling instantly in love with my new surroundings. In a way, the earthy landscape reminded me of home. We have relatives in Bologna and Ravenna, and so we were fortunate to have them show us around. On a car ride to a restaurant, I remember one of my relatives pointing out to me the house that Italian radio inventor Guglielmo Marconi lived. I had a fantastic time, and I will treasure those memories and book forever.

However, the fond memories don’t quell the sadness and worry that I have in light of the 6.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked the region. According to the news reports, the earthquake happened early Sunday morning near Bologna and Ferrara. As of this time, at least 5 people are dead and many are wounded and missing. The pictures on television of the rubble are heartbreaking. A sharp contrast from the ones in the book. Centuries-old churches, castles and other buildings are either gone or heavily cracked. Half of a clock building is still standing. One man said he came outside in his underwear to figure out what happened.

I’ve reached out to a cousin of mine in Bologna, but so far I’ve heard no response. I pray that she and her family are OK. I pray for the families who have lost loved ones in the quake, for the wounded to regain their strength, and for the region to return back, with time, to the majestic beauty it’s commonly known for.

Like how it’s illustrated in the book. 

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2012 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: Nifty, nifty! Here’s looking at Fifty!

First things first, I’m not a mom or a wife … yet. 😉

But whenever I pick up a good book to read, my life is temporarily on hold. I happily escape reality and enter into a sort of literary coma as the words on the pages come to life in my imagination. I’m in my own fantasy land, and I’m in heaven. There are several books (usually suspense and thrillers) that put me in this state, and three of which I finally finished reading this weekend: the Fifty Shades trilogy by E.L. James.

Described by the media as “mommy porn,” this New York Times bestselling trilogy is not your typical romance story. It is erotic … very erotic! I’ll admit that it’s a sex book because it does contain a lot of sex! In “Fifty Shades of Grey”, the first book in the trilogy, we are introduced to the two main characters in the series: an innocent, newly college graduate named Anastasia “Ana” Steele and a young, hunky, billionaire CEO named Christian Grey. The book begins when Ana interviews Christian for her college newspaper on her best friend Kate’s behalf. Immediately, the two develop a chemistry, which leads to an abnormal sex life. Christian tries to make Ana sign a contract allowing him to have complete control over her life. While getting to know him, she realizes that his sexual pleasures involve bondage, sadism, and domination/submission. She also learns about Christian’s childhood abuse, which has left him a poorly, damaged individual. Christian’s messed up past plays a significant part in their relationship.

The second book in the trilogy, “Fifty Shades Darker”, continues to chronicle Ana and Christian’s physical and intensely emotional relationship. While building on their relationship, Ana, now working for a Seattle publishing house, tries to come to terms with Christian’s need for control, while Christian tries to come to terms with dealing with his demons and Ana’s need for something much more. The final book “Fifty Shades Freed” is, in my opinion, the most suspenseful of the trilogy. Their love for one another is tested by several interloping circumstances. The book also has some flashback scenes, which I think could be handled differently.

The trilogy is not well-written. I wouldn’t even characterize it as a great American love story. At certain points, the author’s prose is not very fluid and repeats several words. “Mercurial” and “oh my” vividly come to mind.  However, the author’s incredible description of the sex scenes pulls you into the story. It’s definitely a hook for readers. I can understand how some people can be frustrated that there’s more sex in the story than plot. I’ve heard some people say that they’ve skipped over the sex scenes just so they can read the plot. As you learn more about Ana and Christian, their consensual bond enriches their relationship, and it ultimately becomes a beautiful thing. It’s a crazy little thing called love. James writes the books from Ana’s perspective and as a reader, you live vicariously through Ana in each chapter. In a way, you become jealous or want to become like her: meeting the man of your dreams at a young age, who is dashingly handsome, rich, and powerful. Ladies, wouldn’t you all want to meet and fall in love with a Christian Grey?

My favorite parts of the trilogy are the emails between Ana and Christian. They’re funny, raw, and honest. They can drive you nuts at times, but they keep you coming back for more.

So if you’re a mom, a wife, or a young woman still searching for the man of her dreams (ahem!), I would recommend this trilogy as what a dear friend of mine calls it “a good junk read.”

Step away from reality for a bit, suspend your disbelief, you’ll be amazed where your imagination will take you.

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2012 in Book Reviews

 

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