I have gotten a little behind on updating with my book list. So far I have finished seven books which keeps me on track to reach my goal, at least technically. I didn't read much during Ramadan so it is a good thing I read ahead while I had the time. My main problem recently is that I have been having a lot of false starts. I started reading about George Washington in His Excellency and that just didn't stick. It was a little too dry for me at that moment in my life. Then I started reading Charlie Chaplin's autobiography which was quite good and I got about half way through but had to return it to the library before I left for Turkey. In Turkey I started both a book about Jackie Kennedy and Katharine Hepburn and both were a little too cheesy for me. So, now I am reading Angela's Ashes which should be done soon and a book about Hitler which is over 900 pages so that will take a little longer. So- that is my status and hopefully I do some good reading on the plane ride to Chicago tomorrow. After my recent laziness I am a bit concerned about getting to my goal, but hopefully this post will help me get back on track.
Book Four: Helen Keller: The Story of My Life
I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting too much from this book. Is that mean of me? Anyways, the book was pretty terrible. It was so cheesy and flowery and generally I scoffed as I read it. Most of the book is filled with passages like, "But afterward, when I was restored to my human heritage, Mildred and I grew into each other's hearts, so that we were content to go hand-in-hand wherever caprice led us..." or "Thus I came up out of Egypt and stood before Sinai, and a power divine touched my spirit and gave it sight, so that I beheld many wonders. And from the sacred mountain I heard a voice which said, "Knowledge is love and light and vision." Barf.
To her credit she wrote this book while she was quite young. I am beginning to get the impression that no one should write their own autobiography until they are at least 50. (Remember Obama's failure?) And if you happen to die before that age- if you were so wonderful, someone will find your personal journals and publish them anyways.
So- the book was a giant fail BUT after the part HK writes as the formal part of the book, there is a section of letters between her and her many friends. This part of the book is very impressive. For one, she was friends with amazing people likeMark Twain, Alexander Graham Bell, and Charlie Chaplin. Interestingly, her letters to random people who showed her kindness and to her heroes like Mark Twain held the same love and admiration. I was really impressed by that and the fact that she wrote thank you letters for the most simple of simple things. She definitely got lots of sweet gifts and special treatment because of her circumstances but she was so incredibly appreciative of it. Her humility in the face of the love she was shown is probably the best take away from this book and you can fully see that in her correspondences. And even at this young age she rarely sees things as impossible. It was quite inspiring in a way I didn't expect!
You can find a digital copy of the book here.
Book Six: Obsessive Genius; The Inner World of Marie Curie
This book was great for someone who knows nothing about science. It went a little into the science in her life but did a nice job of talking about it in an accessible way and making it more interesting by intertwining it with the more personal details of Marie Curie's life.
Since I read it quite some time ago, I can't review it all that well. However, I jotted down this quote from the book though. After her husband's unexpected death she wrote “I live only for your memory and to make you proud of me.” It was such a sweet sentiment. The two seemed to live only for their work on the outside but this piece from her journal shows a more tender side of her.
What they didn't realize at the time, or refused to admit was that it was their work that was killing them. The radioactive material they were exposed to every day was slowly destroying their bodies. Even today the clothes they wore are radioactive!
Marie Curie was the first woman to teach at the University of Paris and the first person, man or woman to win two nobel prizes but still the French Academy of Science refused to admit her. This was just one of many cases of discrimination she faced as a woman in her field. In fact the Nobel Prize for her discovery initially didn't even mention her name, let alone list her as one of the recipients. However, in time, despite the prejudice she rose to become known as one of the greatest scientist in her time.
“Throughout history, once an icon has been created, there is a societal compulsion to destroy it. Marie Curie’s downfall was to be as fierce as a Greek tragedy.” After her husband's death, Marie Curie eventually found another lover but he happened to be married. Once the press found out they attempted to destroy her and she was even asked to leave the country. No mind that her lover was infamous for his many affairs and did not suffer at all in the scientific community or in general society.
Eventually Marie Curie was able to recover from these attacks and continued to contribute greatly to science. The book paints a great portrait of the deep sadness that permeated her life and of the 'obsessive genius' that inspired her work.
Overall, this is a good and quick read- I recommend it.
Book Seven: Underboss: Sammy the Bull Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia
After reading about all these ultra successful women I needed something more street. A book about the mafia seemed in order. After seeing this cover I quickly knew this was the book I was looking for.
Sammy (Yup, we even kind of share the same name!) is the highest member of the mafia to ever defect. In his autobiography we learn that Sammy kills lots of people and is swallowed into the mafia at a young age. He himself describes moments of his life as seeming like they were straight out of the Godfather. (I have not seen any of these and now am excited to finally watch them.) I couldn't help but laugh out loud (lol for the youngins) at lots of parts in the book. They just seem so over the top and so removed from any type of life that I have known that it is hard for me to relate or understand. Reflecting on the book it is kind of chilling to think of how many people he killed and that he talks about it without any remorse or sense of understanding of the wrongness of his actions. He just always attributes it to the fact that this was the life that they all lived in and getting shot dead by your friend was just a part of that reality.
In the book he seems to think really highly of the mafia code. There are no problems with killing people left and right but since the family that he was in didn't deal with drugs, dealing with drugs was inconceivable to him. He was incredibly loyal to his Mafia family and the code until the end. Then a new type of gangster comes into the scene. The John Gotti type. Flash, money and no respect for the code. When they end up in prison together, Sammi realizes that the mafia of his childhood is gone. He is only loyal to that dream he once lived in and wants nothing to do with the mafia of today, the John Gotti mafia. So, naturally, he sells out Jon Gotti and all of the secrets of the mafia along with him. (In all fairness, John Gotti sold him out first.)
The end is kind of heart breaking. He loses his family (his wife supposedly has not "known" that he was part of the mafia) and has to go into hiding. That is where the book ends. Since then he has actually left the witness protection program and says he is not afraid to die and if a hit team comes after him, they better expect a good number of body bags back. Unfortunately, he didn't leave his life of crime forever, he started a huge ecstacy ring and now is back in prison. What an idiot? He is now dying of Grave's disease in an Arizona prison.