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Posts Tagged ‘non-fiction’

Running title: The Battle For Room 314 – My Year Of Hope And Despair In A New York City High School.
There was a time, prior to working in the public library system, that I actually (and seriously) considered becoming a teacher. At the time I was working in the IT department at a community college and often had the misfortune of travelling home with rowdy school kids. Seriously, what are kids doing at school till 8PM? Let’s just say that some of the thoughts that passed through my head I will not mention for I may end up on some bloody watchlist of sorts or might be paid an unwelcome visit by law enforcement. Needless to say, a career in education evapourated rather quickly from mind (somewhat). Still there is always that thought, throughout the years, of “what if” that occasionally creeps back into my mind.
So after having seen and read the synopsis of Battle, in our stacks, I was intrigued and, like Kirsten Dunst in Interview With The Vampire, I wanted more. And so began my (short) reading odyssey of “what could have been”. The books open with a very unflattering encounter with “Chantay” that makes a big scene in the classroom in which she instructs Mr. Boland to “suck her dick” (yes, I wish was making this up) … all this to impress a gangbanger boyfriend. This pretty much sets the tone of what is in store for the readers. And it is quite the ride. Sad to say, it didn’t take much in reading to realize that I had very, very little to regret. Yes, we’ve all seen To Sir With Love and Stand and Deliver, where there is that “hero teacher” that rolls into town with the dream of giving educationally disadvantaged youth a fighting chance in the world. What Battle reveals is more dire than I have suspected but is (sad to say) not quite shocking since I see remnants of this bollocks strolling through the library doors when school lets out. Sort of like that movie, Class of 2000 with the cyborg teachers. Battle reads more like cry of urgency, a literary flare launched into the social atmosphere of city whose good intentions seemingly allow the lunatics to run the asylum. For some strange reason, there is this compelling need to give everyone access to education even when some clearly don’t want to be educated and become a hindrance to those that really want to better themselves. And it is quite the sad spectrum. The good: Byron (the Jamaican prodigy that has great potential, but it constantly a victim to misinformed choices that robs him of many great educational opportunities), Yvette (the smart kid with a tawdry sexual pass … something about BJs to older guys ..for a dollar) and Mariah (the sullen, red-hoodie-wearing, insightful, seemingly-bright, angst-ridden teen). The bad: Kameron Shields (the rule breaking, extravagant, gangbanger), and Sameer Gherbe (Moroccan kid that coaxed another kid into shooting a kid with pellet gun … as sign of love). The ugly: Valentia (the young sociopath in training that used a trip to Six Flags to either fake a miscarriage or commit abortion by roller coaster …yes, bloody ponderous), and the shoddy treatment of Ni-Cole, who resides in a homeless shelter, by other classmates who themselves are probably a paycheck away from the same fate. Yes, not for the intellectually faint of heart, and would most likely drive most into the loving embrace of homeschooling. Battle is in fact, a tribute to teachers who rise everyday with the hope of giving some disadvantaged child out there a fighting chance whilst dealing the bureaucratic and social bollocks … and it is quite a big buggering pile of bollocks. As if the author did not have enough on his plate, Mr. Boland writes about his mother who often made disparaging remarks about his choice and the teaching profession in general. Having worked for college admissions, he talks about the unfair (in a few pages) selection process that is enough to make any overworked and ultra-studious student take to the nearest water tower with a high-powered rifle. I guess that finally explains why I (upper 90 percentile in graduating class) got the waiting list treatment for MIT and some bloke that could toss a ball through a hoop with a 65 (!!!) average gets a scholarship to Georgetown University (he actually dropped out after a year). But it is not all downright depressing. Oh no. There is that part of one of the chapters that I call it The Ballad of Father Tenner. A moment in Boland’s past about this pious, alpha-male, General Patton wannabe that basically bullied male parochial school kids … until he got caught in a prostitute sting.
Battle is an indictment of a crappy educational system run by clueless bureaucracy, twenty-first century parenting created by years of shitty pseudo-psychology and the way we treat our educators (hint: not so great). In consideration of how New Yorkers love to tout their intellectual superiority, it is downright fraudulent as Battle reveals the classroom has become a literal gladiatorial arena of sorts, where troublemakers are furloughed into classrooms of unsuspecting students. Students who are in turn victimized by the trouble makers and the system, thus robbing them of a decent educational experience. Progress. And in this version of To Sir With Love, Lulu does not step forward to sing a charming song … but instead throws a used tampon in Sid Poitier’s face and tells him to … sod off. Quite the eye-opener. And to those that use the phrase “those who can’t do … teach”: Wanks and tossers, the lot of you.

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Running title: Operation Thunderbolt – Flight 139 And The Raid On Entebbe Airport, The Most Audacious Hostage Rescue Mission In History.

As a librarian I get to do cool things such as going to conferences or meeting with publishers as they hawk their new wares (namely books). Sure it is sort of what the pharmaceuticals do when they court doctors with their latest “life-saving” drugs and coax the docs into pushing their stuff unto unsuspecting vict …er, patients. The good thing about my situation is that, for the most, I don’t have to do that much “pushing” when it comes to books. It practically “pushes” itself and, most of all, reading books don’t leave people with side effects (aside from the occasional eyestrain) such as … DEATH. Seriously, I’ve noticed that a bunch of drugs list “death” as a side effect. Um … no, itchiness and a case of the shits is a side effect. Death is complete bollocks up. And I have detoured greatly. So back to the review … shall we?

Now it was during one of those conferences, that I had received an advanced reader’s copy or arcs (as they are affectionately known) of Operation Thunderbolt. Only a few months ago, I came across it on my shelf and came to the conclusion that I must be losing my mind since this was sitting my shelf for more than year without being read. Thunderbolt chronicles the famous hijacking of Flight 139 (an Israeli airline) and the military operation that was involved in its resolution. The Raid on Entebbe was an actual movie that was based on this story. In the 80s, the movie Delta Force, starring the immortal Chuck Norris, had a plot line that mirrored the Entebbe crisis. Ah, the 80s, such a great decade for the coolest action movies. Pure action without the PC bollocks. Awesome days. Up until Thunderbolt was written, we’ve only seen and heard the military point of view of the operation. Several decades later, Thunderbolt gives the reader a very immersive, 360 degree point of view that not only features the military point of view but also the gathered stories from those that lived through the ordeal. And though some of the players are mixture of the obscure to the well-known, they create a spectrum of bravery, nobility, and downright viciousness. An interesting character to note is Michel Cojot, a French Jew that found himself unwittingly plucked from being simple passenger to being the liaison between hostages and hijackers. Though it was later determined that it was the information provided by Cojot, to the Israeli forces, that was critical to the operation. There are some famous names such as Ehud Barak and Yoni Netanyahu (the ill-fated brother of prime minister Bibi Netanyahu) that were part of this operation. And as disgusting as the Baader-Meinhoff terrorist group was to the passengers, no one can overlook the vileness of Idi Amin as he toys and tries to manipulate the governments of the hostage countries all for his own selfish needs (but then again, this is not exactly shocking when you’re dealing with a narcissistic and psychopathic wanker). Yes, this bloke made my blood boil on a few occasions. And despite all of this, there were still those whose humanity did not take a back seat to the bollocks such as Henry Kyemba, the Ugandan minister of health, who kept hostage Dora Bloch in the hospital for an extended period for the sake of her health. Unfortunately, his good intentions cost Bloch her life. And yes, there were some interesting moments about people still finding the time to engage in a bit of the old in-out, in-out with the threat of death hanging over them. I guess I could see how that is possible. Talk about going out with a bang. Aye, I know … naughty, naughty. I could go on citing more and more examples of this book … and end up spoiling it for most of readers, so I shall refrain from such and not be a tosser about it.

Thunderbolt gives the reader a fascinating journey into one of the most spectacular hostage rescues ever attempted: sitting through every crucially planned step of the military operations from paper to execution whilst simultaneously dealing with the fears and apprehensions of the hostages and the vileness of the terrorists and Idi Amin (bloody tosser, that one). Needless to say it is quite an emotional roller coaster that is unlike anything Six Flags could ever come up with: anger – rage – sadness – rage – joy – anger – sadness (you get the idea). Especially when you read about how Amin left this world. Let’s just say he left in better fare than most of his victims … with the help of the Saudi government (some friends we have). And even though we all know the outcome, to read Thunderbolt from beginning to end is to relive this anew. Be prepared to have your emotions tested. I had mentioned the movie Delta Force earlier. Truth be told was that this operation by the Israelis served as a springboard for the creation of the Delta Force detachment in the Special Forces. I take my hat off to these folks and others like them that do the daring stuff. Yoni Netanyahu, may you truly rest in peace.

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loverifle_cvr

Running title: Love My Rifle More Than You – Young and Female In the US Army
Over the years I’ve read a lot non-fiction military books, mostly from the Special Operations community. Most, needless to say, have been written by men. So when I came across Love My Rifle, I was intrigued and curious. It was a great opportunity to read about a female perspective of not only serving in the military but also being on the frontlines. Also there is something about women with guns that appeal to me. Hey, don’t judge.
It didn’t take much in the first few chapters to indicate that Ms. Williams pulls no strings and tells it like it is. She is very frank about and needlessly unapologetic about everything from her childhood through her colourful years as a teen and onwards through her military career. Aye, needless to say she is no saint, but then who is … and I’ll leave it that. We get to travel through her eyes from basic training to her military occupational specialty (MOS) as an intelligence officer. Let’s just say that Goldie Hawn lied to us in Private Benjamin. Somewhat. Even more harrowing was her tours in Iraq where, on top of worrying about being overrun by jihadists, she encountered mind-numbing bureaucracy (where common sense takes a permanent vacation), inept and incompetent female superiors, and the occasional female soldier that plays up the slutty stereotype … which sort of makes hard for the other women. Oh, of course, there are the covert forms of sexual harassment. Bloody hell. Sadly, a sentiment that is echoed throughout the book is that as female in the military you are either regarded as a “slut or a bitch”. Some, sadly, cave in to the sexual pressuring – and others simply decide – damn if I do, damn if I don’t … and opt for the latter. The B word. Sadly, this bollocks, like in every aspect of society, is perpetrated by the rotten few and is not a reflection on those that truly, honourably serve. Despite all the progress being made and Anita Hill from the 90s, it still seems like we have a far way to go especially with the way brave and valiant women that put their lives on the line for this country are treated on the frontline. Needless to say, it is a sobering read that will cause you to shake your head in dismay, on occasions, and there are those moments such as Lauren, a Hispanic soldier that stands under five feet but totes a SAW machine gun (google it – it is very big).
A brutally honest chronicle of one female’s life in the military during wartime, Love My Rifle is a fascinating read and definitely recommended reading for any female serious about a military career. Thanks, Ms. Williams for your service. God bless you and your days on earth.

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headsinbedscover

Running Title: Heads In Beds – A reckless memoir of hotels, hustles, and so-called hospitality

A few weeks ago, I was looking up a book to fill a reserve for a patron, and interestingly enough came across Heads simply because it was carrying the identical call number (647.9409 T) and yes, after reading the running title, it intrigued the hell out of me. Aye, and there you are thinking I was kidding about working in a library. For some reason, the running title reminded me of Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica (which was reviewed earlier … somewhere below … feel free to take a look … go on, I promise you this posting will still be here … scout’s honour) and so I was drawn to it like a randy, starving, shipwrecked sailor into the loving arms of a voluptuous but deadly Siren (ah, but what a way to go). Needless to say I was not disappointed.

Now I’ve done my bit of travelling though not as often and as much as I really, really, should. And in most of my travels I’ve always been fortunate to find lodgings with relatives or mates (who were rightfully and gratefully compensated … yes, I believe in fairness and doing the right thing and all that cuddly bollocks). Hence I was spared the craziness of the hospitality in hotels, which in my limited imagination was mostly about crappy rooms, questionable room service and the possibility of being intruded upon by housekeeping whilst in the nude (possibly stemming from a night of too much pints … for there is no way on this green earth I would dare sleep in the nude on hotel beds … especially after having read this book).

Heads In Beds (I know there is a sick perverted joke in there somewhere) sort of ripped open my eyes to what goes on behind the (so-called) hospitality service scene which apparently have less to do with actually hospitality and more to do with the bottom line (there’s a shocker). For some reason, Expedia and other forms of discounted hotel bookings don’t rank very high in priority, since they figure you’re already getting a discounted room and you should just be oh-so-bloody-grateful. I say piss off. Quite a sad state of affairs. A memoir, an expose and in some cases the inside scoop for travelers who really want to get the most out of their traveling experience. Sort of beats going back home and lying to your co-workers about your experience (you know, getting mugged in Rome and still telling your mates with a straight face that that they HAVE got to go there and other such lying bollocks). Now if you’re one of those that like to drink while you read you might want to put that drink away for there are moments of hilarity and shocking revelations that will make you spill your drink. A taste you say … why not: apparently there are 101 uses for lemon-scented furniture spray, so be careful of that lemony scented taste you get from the glasses at the mini-bar (yeeeaaaaahh). Also, if you’re being a complete wanker or tosser to the hotel staff, be sure to secure your toothbrush and other dental hygiene utensils (hint: think of the term butt flossing/scrubbing). Did you spill your drink reading this review? My deepest apologies.

Now beyond the eye-popping revelations of hospitality-service hygiene, there are mini-stories that are touching, hilarious and even mind-boggling as you get to see the camaraderie that is shared amongst the frontliners of this industry. And on the other hand we get to see the devolution of manners, decency and humanity in the way people treat each other. Ah, where is an earth-ending alien invasion or apocalypse when you need one? I know, as a public “servant”, on a given day I encounter many gems that could fill several hardcovers (and maybe I just will … maybe). The sad truth is what I’ve encountered from segments of my delightful public is nothing but a tip of the iceberg what most folks endure in the hospitality-service industry (something I learned about having read Ehrenreich’s Nickle and Dime … is also posted somewhere below). Overworked, underpaid, verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse, and, depending on the wanks in management, the occasional mindscrew. Aye, there is also the ever so classy … sexual harassment. You know, the occasional codger that just happens to waddle out naked when female housekeeping shows up and other such twisted bollocks (usually some “pillar of the community”).
There are several characters that are delightful and intriguing and are truly unforgettable such as the Gray Wolf and Roy (a housekeeper with celebral palsy and a pistol tattoo). Though there may be a paragraph or two worth about Roy, I promise you that he will stay with you throughout the entire book causing you to snicker occasionally. Or maybe it’s because I’m easily amused. The schemes and hustles though seemingly shady, as you read deeper into the book, seem anything but as you “experience” what these hardworking folks put up with to accommodate the traveling public. And yes, though I don’t make CEO quid, I understand times are tough and I don’t mind tipping for services rendered. So whilst my Hotwire booking may render me low in priority on the hospitality totem pole, according to wanks in the management, I am sure the desk agents, bellmen and even housekeepers would appreciate my tips from the surplus saved from my discount booking. Like I said earlier, piss off.
Beautifully written and filled with colourful characters and gems, Tomsky takes you on an emotional roller-coaster, ripping open your eyes like McDowell in Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange to the world beyond the check-in desk and in a sense, possibly educating us for our future traveling adventures. Yes, decent manners and the willingness to part with a few quid can do wonders. Even if you’ve booked with Expedia. On the other hand, being a complete wanker and a bit stingy can find you in a room (that is just like every other room) with no view next to the noisy elevator. Especially if you’ve booked with Expedia.
Thanks for sharing a bit of your soul and the heads up, Mr. Tomsky (do you mind if I call you Mr. Tomsky?). Some of us are better for it. Even though we’ll still be using Hotwire … or Expedia.

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davebarrymature
Running title: I’ll Mature When I’m Dead – Dave Barry’s Amazing Tales of Adulthood

Dave Barry, smirking on the cover of the fore mentioned book, reminds me of that funny uncle most people have. You know the type, the one that you are always glad to see because you know that hanging with him will be nothing but pure good times filled with giddy laughter. I have such an uncle. He lives in Canada, possibly the most delightful and funniest bloke ANYONE could ever encounter. Also a great electronic whiz and is probably one of the many factors that influenced me to study electrical engineering during my undergrad years. Awesome chap, and I’m sure if you ever crossed paths with him, you’d feel the same. Alas, it seems that I have detoured a wee bit. So unto the book shall we?

After having read Insane City, I just had to get my paws on the next available Dave Barry book I could find in the stacks. There were many, and of course, this title won because of its quirky title and the cover featured a smirking Dave Barry (alas, I’m a wee bit strange that way). Needless to say, it did not disappoint. The book is a (hilarious) compilation of all things most of us will encounter as an adult (and a parent): dance recitals, colonoscopies, vasectomies (or as Dave so eloquently put it “they cut a freakin hole in your scrotum”), and dog ownership. And of course there are the oddities: visiting Miami (be sure to duck often), saving the newspaper industry, healthcare, the ultimate Jack Bauer script (please, tell me you know who this is … seriously), and deliciously bladder-pummeling parody of Twilight (Fangs of Endearment). By now, from the myriad of seemingly strange topics compiled, your interest should be peeked and your funny bone inside of you is frothing and screaming “GET IT, GET IT, GET IT”. If not, check yourself, you might be a stone or meat popsicle. Though most of his essays are not too far from the sobering truth, they are marinated in infectious and toxic humour which often comes out of nowhere and hits you with a wallop causing you to burst out in giddy laughter or making farting sounds with your mouth … all to the pure dismay of the unsuspecting public that is stuck with you in mass transit. I have probably destroyed many marriage or dating prospects along the way. Oh dear, oh dear … life goes on. There are many (and I do mean MANY) gems in this book. On fatherhood, Dave cautions most men that after childbirth they (men) will have the sex drive of a waffle iron … and there is the possibility that your wife might be sleeping with a Taser. He is however emphatic about women and their reluctance to “get back in the sack” after childbirth: “try passing a mature grapefruit through your urinary tract”. Aye, point well taken … and now every time I see a grapefruit in the supermarket I find myself in a limp. On attending his daughters’ dance recitals: given a choice of attending a recital or having his prostate examined by a scorpion … he would choose the latter (ouch).

Charming, witty, hilarious … and possibly the cure for many forms of depression, Mr. Barry’s writing though not too far from the sobering truth is a pure delight. To those of that are easily amused, this stuff is like super-enhanced heroin to a junkie. You get a constant stream of fixes, though Mr. Barry’s opiate is more likely to leave you with soaked undies rather than lying face down in dark alley in your own froth and vomit. A bit too dark … that one? Aye, I know … sometimes I tend to go there.

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nickeldimed

Running Title: Nickel and Dimed – On (Not) Getting By In America

More than ten years ago, a good friend of mine had suggested this book. Considering the utter bollocks that exists out there in the current social landscape, I had to free this one from the stacks and give it a look. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. A bit angry and pissed at the end, but not disappointed.
In Nickel And Dimed, the author ( an Ivy League PhD) does the “unthinkable”: not only does she try to pass herself off as your average, poor, working class stiff but she tries to find work and live on the (so-called) living wage that politicians so kindly make possible to … well … the working class. Let’s get this straight, she did not take the Bear Gryll’s approach to this: you know, living in fancy hotels whilst pretending to rough it. She stayed at real crappy dives simply because this all that a “living” wage could provide.
I love it when politicians get on their high horses and talk about how “some” people ( you know, the poor ones and lately, middle class) are just plain lazy and should just go out and get a job. I truly doubt that if you’ve spent your life making tons of money off of insider information and self-voted pay-raises, that are in any sound position to talk about or identify with the working class. Here’s a hint (for starters): those of us in the REAL world don’t get to vote for a pay raise on the whim. Would be nice if we could. I am detouring. Let’s get back on track shall we?
What was uncovered in this book was that … well … working class jobs are at the most hard, unrewarding and the living wage should be called a barely sustaining wage. Sort of like the way life sustaining machines keep a coma patient alive. With lodging and shelter that eats people’s earnings some are forced, in some cases, to live out of their cars where breakfast comes in form of a bag of chips (and we’re not talking about the party sized bags here) or if they’re lucky, the complimentary donut or bagel that served by some home cleaning agency prior to their daily bout of humiliation from the occasional wank that is too lazy to clean their own home but think those that are doing so are somewhat beneath and are treated as such. Oooh lousy hours, painful work, and crappy pay … it can’t get any worse. Or can it possibly? Apparently, it does: management. These are, most of the times, working class stiffs that just found themselves on a slightly higher rung and in order to “prove” themselves become snooty tossers and douchebags by offering great ditties such in order to be paid “one must work through (possibly life-ending) pain” or “putting up with some condescending asshole as you clean their toilets builds character”. Surprisingly, during the author’s interaction with many of her co-workers what surfaces is that, unlike the stance that is offered by many ivory tower politicians which seemed to be more of an occasion to remove copious amounts of halitosis, many people want to work and many people take pride in their work. Even when it’s flipping burgers or cleaning toilets. Yes, not everyone can go to or even survive college, but people deserve better. At the end of the book, Ms. Erhenreich writes a touching comment on the working poor: “The ‘working poor,’ as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor; a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.” Sad. But true. Great, yet unnerving, read and even though you might think this book was written recently, it was actually written more than TEN years ago. To possibly write a book like that now would probably show a much more uglier side of our society.

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