This Month's Articles
The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America.
By Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld
Reviewed by Fred Beauford
Let the Generalizations Begin
What is authors Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld-- one a Chinese American, the other, a Jewish American, both Yale Law School professors and married to each, with two daughters-- big idea, or, as is the case, big ideas?
They insist in Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America, using a great deal of academy studies and anecdotal evidence to backup this claim, that certain groups rise in this country because they process The Triple Package of an ingrained Superiority Complex; Insecurity because of the belief that the WASP majority looks down on them, and don’t consider them real Americans, which gives them a “chip on their shoulders;” and Impulse Control, where strict self-discipline prevail.
It goes without saying that group solidarity is the glue that holds all of this together.
The religious and racial groups they cite include Chinese, Jews, Mormons, Nigerians, Cubans, Iranians, Indians and Lebanese. What all of these groups have in common is that most of the people in these groups are recent immigrants to this country, starting with the lifting of restrictions that favored certain kinds of Northern Europeans that ended in the 60s (thank Senator Edward Kennedy for help making that happen) with the exception of the Mormons and the Jews, both German and Eastern European.
Many Chinese Americans, which strangely, they didn’t note, have also been in this country for many decades, and were the essential key to the building of the western part of the cross-country railroad system in the 1860s.
This is also not the first book that has traveled down this road. For example, Thomas Sowell, the black conservative Stanford University Economist made similar points in a more concise way in his 1981 book, Ethnic America: A History.
Although Chua and Rubenfeld offer interesting profiles of these “rising” groups, in the end, it is their insights into the Chinese and Jewish personalities that dwarf anything they write about the other groups, and it is why this ....Read More
By A.X. Ahmad
Read by: Sam Daster
Reviewed by Michael Carey
Raised in India, A.X. Ahmad is a versatile writer that has up until now been recognized for his short stories and essays. The Caretaker is the first of a planned trilogy featuring the Sikh ex-Indian military captain, Ranjit Singh. Ranjit was court-martialed for a mission turned massacre. After prison, he flees persecution to America where he worked a short time in a soul-killing job at his uncle-in-law’s convenience store in Boston.
When he could stand it no longer Ranjit decides to make his own way as a laborer in Martha’s Vineyard. He finds some work for an African-American Senator whose wife, Anna, takes a liking to him and manages to convince her husband to employ Ranjit as their caretaker through the winter. Ranjit’s life is looking up until the heat goes out in his shack.
With nowhere to go, Ranjit does what he must to keep his wife and daughter warm and safe. He moves into the Senator’s house, claiming to his wife that the politician said it was okay. With a string of break-ins occurring throughout the island, it seemed only a matter of time before they are discovered.
But when the intruders come, there is something strange about them and what they are after. Ranjit and his family escape but not without leaving evidence. His wife, tired of the lies, takes ....Read More
The Author Speaks:
Produced and edited by Alexis Beauford
Michelina Vinter is the author of Colette and is a practicing acupuncturist and herbalist residing in the San Francisco Bay area with her two children, her husband, and a sweet shadow, her son’s Havanese. She discusses her new Novel titled Colette
Carol and John Steinbeck:
Portrait of a Marriage
By Susan Shillinglaw
Reviewed by M. J. Moore
John Steinbeck is one of the few American writers whose name is iconic.
Decade after decade, specific books of his have been deployed by thousands of teachers across the land; and thanks to multiple generations discovering in classrooms the power of The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, Tortilla Flat, or East of Eden (with the occasional maverick instructor assigning Cannery Row or Travels with Charley), the legacy of Steinbeck is robust.
Yet, as biographer Susan Shillinglaw reminds us in her insightful, important, and necessary new work, there was a time when the man who wrote The Grapes of Wrath was a mere struggling writer; an acknowledged talent, yes, but always on the edge of failure with an uncertain future
Thus we have Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage. And in this new book, Shillinglaw makes a powerful case for the idea that Steinbeck’s first wife had everything to do with his ability to persevere, to create a body of work that drew notice to his burgeoning talent, and to carry on despite all the pressures (fiscal, psychological, and otherwise) that plague serious writers attempting to emerge.
Shillinglaw’s tightly focused narrative is a corrective to the tendency of too many biographies to try to be so comprehensive that they become sprawling cradle-to-grave narratives, with crucial episodes reduced to summaries. Instead, we have here a superb example of a significant portion of a great writer’s life being looked at intently, with far more detail and interpretation than one usually finds in standard biographies.
This focus invites readers to apprehend the agonies of growth as well as the periodic bursts of optimistic joy and fulfillment that informed a 12-year epoch forming the first phase of Steinbeck’s long and varied career. Carol Henning Steinbeck was more than a buoy in young Steinbeck’s life. She was his anchor.
Cynics might say that women like her were mere appendages to their men, little more than glorified typists. But that’s not fair. In her own way, Carol Henning Steinbeck was ....Read More
Roy Wilkins: The Quiet Revolutionary And The NAACP
By Yvonne Ryan
University Press of Kentucky | 285 pages
Reviewed by Robert Fleming
Of all of the key figures in the 1960s civil rights campaigns, Roy Ottoway Wilkins, the leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was not as popular as some of the warriors in the fight for equality. His low-key persona, coupled with his natural ability to work behind the scenes with elected officials in Washington, kept him out of the national spotlight, while more strident, militant voices hogged the attention of the media.
Yvonne Ryan, the managing editor of The Economist’s annual World In publication, details the life and career of Wilkins, the cool and calm elder statesman, who served forty-four years with NAACP as an essential part of the team which achieved significant legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and the Voting Rights Act of 1964.
This is the first biography of the rational, pragmatic, and tireless Wilkins (1901-1981) and one wonders why it has taken so long to document his man’s achievements.
A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Wilkins was born on August 30, 1901 to a proud black family; his grandfather, Asberry Wilkins, was a slave who won his freedom when he was fourteen years old.
Roy’s father, William, was the second eldest of five children. Tragedy struck Roy’s mother, Mayfield, who died of tuberculosis, but she wrote a letter to her sister, Elizabeth, before her death, asking for permission to move her young son to St. Paul, Minnesota.
His early years were spent in a modest home of his aunt in a low income, integrated community there.
His college life was marred with a brutal act of white prejudice. On June 15, 1920, three young black men, driving in Duluth, Minnesota, were accused of raping a white woman. Police evidence gathered in the case stated the trio was....Read More
Stealing Buddha’s Dinner—a memoir
By Bich Minh Nguyen
Perfume Dreams—Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora
Reviewed by Jane M. McCabe
In my reading life one thing often leads to another. So it was that while visiting an older sister in Montana last October we went to the video store and she insisted on checking out Clint Eastwood’s Grand Torino. In it he plays a lonely, old curmudgeon of a widower, who is gently befriended by the Vietnamese family who lives next door. Grand Torino is the make of car sitting in his garage in pristine condition. The movie is set somewhere in Michigan.
It made such an impression on me that recently, when out of a book to read (a condition that produces anxiety in me) I was scanning the shelves of my local library and found Stealing Buddha’s Dinner, written by a Vietnamese woman, a refugee, who grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Thinking of Grand Torino, I checked it out.
I couldn’t be more pleased with my choice, for Stealing Buddha’s Dinner is a charming and funny memoir by a truly gifted writer. What is rich about this memoir is its reflection on middle-class America in the early 1980’s, particularly what we ate then.
She is enamored by all the junk food this nation produced and its zippy packaging—the Twinkies, ice cream drumsticks, chicken nuggets, Pringles, Purple Cow ice cream, and such.
The book takes its title from Bich Minh and her sister stealing fruit from their grandmother’s altar to the Buddha. Ms. Nguyen paints an endearing portrait of her family—her father who had been an accountant in Viet Nam finds work at the North American Feather Company stuffing pillows—it’s a step down from the work he had in Viet Nam but allows him to partially support his family. He is a charming man who soon enough romances and marries a Mexican American lady named Rosa, thus adding another cultural influence to the mix.
When I returned Stealing Buddha’s Dinner to the library I checked out another memoir by a Vietnamese American writer, Perfume Dreams by Andrew Lam.
Both families fled South Viet Nam in the wake of the oncoming ....Read More
MARIO PUZO'S NONFICTION GEMS
An Essay by M. J. Moore
If there's one out-of-print book that I'd like to make reappear on shelves everywhere, it would be Mario Puzo's sole collection: The Godfather Papers and Other Confessions.
It was issued in March 1972, as a tie-in with the theatrical release of Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of The Godfather. The novel had already sold millions of copies before the film premiered and then sold more than any other book in the world (except the Bible) throughout the 1970s and well into the 1980s
No serious writer ever beat fate with the panache of Mario Puzo. But no writer paid a more serious price for his commercial success.
Thanks to The Dark Arena in 1955 and The Fortunate Pilgrim in 1965, Puzo earned the high praise of literary critics. Sales, however, were dismal. Broke, in debt, nearly 50, with five children and some health problems, he vowed to write a bestseller.
When The Godfather appeared in 1969, his mythic tale enthralled the world (and continues to do so). But from that moment on, he was dead meat to the literati. Even now, his first two novels are scandalously ignored.
A new edition of this collection (mostly nonfiction) would be a gift to readers.
The Godfather Papers and Other Confessions offers abundant personal essays ("Choosing a Dream," his meditation on his Italian-American pedigree, is superb) and a number of long-form articles that were originally published in The New York Times Magazine; plus some insightful, deeply felt book reviews highlighting....Read More
Considering the Source: Which Contributes Most to the Well-being of Society—Science or Art?.
An Essay by Steven Paul Leiva
The old curmudgeon in me often wonders, "Why do we keep asking the opinion of the man in the street? If he knew anything he wouldn't be in the damn street!"
Recently I came across some information in a public survey that confirmed my old curmudgeon's jaundiced view of the man in the street. It was a 2009 Pew Research Center for The People & The Press survey of the public’s attitude towards science, although it was a question that encompassed artists that caught my attention.
The public was asked whether certain professions contribute "a lot" to society's well-being. Seventy percent of the public thought scientists did, which was close to their opinion on members of the military (84 percent), teachers (77 percent) and medical doctors (69 percent), whereas only 31 percent of the public thought artists did, just above lawyers (23 percent) and business executives (21 percent).
Although I was pleased to see scientists listed among those that a majority of people think contribute a lot to the well-being of society, I am skeptical whether they truly know what they are talking about. And I was dismayed to see that only 31 percent of the public believe that artists contribute to the well-being of society despite the public’s lives being made at least slightly better and at least slightly more tolerable every day, because of the work of artists.
Let's take scientists first. Although if I had I been asked, I would have enthusiastically stated that I believed scientists contribute a lot to the well-being of society, I have to wonder how most of the respondents interpreted the question. Were they thinking of scientists who do pure research, who go off on quests for knowledge simply for the sake of that knowledge, whether it is the quantum structure of the universe, the family tree of Homo sapiens, the roots of consciousness, or the origin of life?
Or were they thinking of those scientists—and the technologists and engineers who follow them—looking to apply their science to something nicely practical and potentially profitable, from medical techniques and drugs, to new sources of clean energy to ever more powerful computers, ever more versatile cell phones, and ever more realistically violent ....Read More