Friday, December 28, 2012

Books Read in 2012

David Foster Wallace
This is one of my favorite posts to write. Please tell me what you read in the past year. What would you especially recommend. I host a book-broadcast program, and reading is a assion, radio or not.

Buzz and Zach Bissinger "Father's Day"
Your commnents to this post are much appreicate. Read on!


*= recommended

My list of vavorties is at the very end:
For the Indescribable, Brilliant, Maddening, Funny, Class By Itself Fategory:

Infinite Jest  David Foster Wallace

This was my year for James Baldwin and David Foster Wallce. The latter a favorite of superb poet, teacher ad radio guest Kevin Griffith. He assigns Infinte Jest to his college classes. I hope those left standing get a A.

Slaughterhouse Five    Kurt Vonnegut
The Sense of an Ending     Julian Barnes
Saint Louis Armstrong Beach   Brenda Cooper

*Drama     John Lithgow
Secret of Eden   Chris Bohjalian
Phillip and Elizabeth  Gyles Brandreth
*10,000 Saints  Eleanor Henderson

The Confession   John Grisham
The Associate   John Grisham

Broken Irish   Edward J. Delaney
Spencer Tracy   James Curtis
*11/22/63   Stephen King

The Third Queen   Carolly Erickson

The Obamas   Jody Kantor
*Open City   Tejo Cole
The Song Before it is Sung  Justin Cartwright

Life Itself   Roger Ebert
The Central Park 5   Susan Burns
*Watergate   Thomas Mallon

Tom Jones   Henry Fielding

The Darlings  Cristina Alger
Elizabeth the Queen  Sally Bedell Smith
*The Pale King   David Foster Wallace

Wallis Simpson, "That Woman"
That Woman   Anne Sebba
*Hope or Tragedy   Shalom Auslander
A Room of One's Own   Virgina Woolf

Betrayal: Whitey Bulger and the FBI Agent Who Fought to Bring Him Down   Robert Fitzpatrick
Radio My Way   Ron Della Chiesa

*By Blood   Ellen Ullman
The Serial Killer Whisperer  Pete Early

Shockaholic   Carrie Fisher
*Among the Missing   Dan Chaon
Nicky and Alix   Virgina Randing
Enchantments  Kathryn Harrison
Car   Henry Crews
Outside Valentine   Liza Ward
The Hawk is Dying  Henry Crews

*Defending Jacob  William Landay
My Years with Mrs. Kennedy   Clint Hill

Mr. Broadway   Gerald Schoenfeld
The Titanic Mystery Jack Steel

A break. I had a few advnetures on air with All Sides Weekend/Books. First were interviews with Martin Duberman, John Schwartz Matthew Pearl and Dennis Lehane.

Then there was the day I mouthed off (imagine!) and said that Moby Dick was overrated claptrap. Boring. How much blubber can you stand? Well, didn't the phones start ringing. A caller ID-ed herself as a college professor and ripped me the proverbial new one. She made me promise to read :"the greatest book of all". I said okay. The God of Small Things. Snore.

*Look Homeward Angel  Thomas Woolfe
*The Lady of the Forests   Dan Guterson
*The Variations  John Donatich

Mike Wallace  Peter Rader
After Camelot   J. Randy Taborirelli
1000 Small Cuts   Simon Lelic

The Winter King: Henry VII Thomas Penn
*Bring Up the Bodies  Hilary Mantel

My Extraordinary Ordinary Life   Cissy Spacek

Top of the Rock   Warren Littlefield
*Dropped Names   Frank Langella
*Father's Day   Buzz Bissinger

The Red Book  Deborah Copagen Kogan
The Child Who   Simon Lelic
*The New Republic   Lionel Shriver

Victoria and Albert: A Magnificent Obsession   Helen Rappaport

*In One Person   John Irving
Sister Queens: Catherine of Aragon and Juana La Loca  Julia Fox  
*Dickens   Claire Tomalin
His Illegal Self   Peter Carey

*Calico Joe   John Grisham
*The Good Father   Noah Hawley
Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero   Chris Matthews
*Giovanni's Room   James Baldwin
The Muses are Heard   Truman Capote

At Last   Edward St. Aubryn
The Queen's Lover  P.D. Gray
My Cross to Bear   Geg Allman
A Gay and Melancholy Sound  Merle Miller
The Receptionist  Janet Groth

A Good Man  Mark Shriver
Butterfly and the Typewriter, bio of John Kennedy Toole   Corey McLaughlin
*The Red House   Mark Haddon
The Voice   Thomas Quasthoff

James Baldwin
Go Tell it on the Mountain   James Baldwin
Mary Ann in Autumn   Armistead Maupin

The Sandcastle Girls   Chris Bohjalian

*The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Mystery of the Resurrection   Thomas De Wesselow

The Pope's Assassin   Luois Rocha
*Home   Toni Morrison

*Bleak House   Charles Dickens
Jack 1939  Francine Matthews
Leaving Home   Anne Edwards
The Queen Mother   Lady Colin Campbell

*Mission to Paris  Allan Furst
The Facility   Simon Lelic
12 Patents: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital   Erich Mannheimer, M.D.
What Comes Next?   John Katzenbach

*For Whom the Bell Tolls  Ernest Hemingway
Prague Cemetery  Umberto Eco
*Sharp   David Fitzpatrick
Abdication   Juliet Nicholson
Presumed Guilty  Jose Baez

*Yellow Birds   Kevin Powers
Yellow Birds is my "best of " for 2012.

That's How I Roll   Andrew Vaachs
Death in Italy: Amanda Knox    John Folian

Junot Diaz
*This is How you Lose Her   Junot Diaz
Shooting Victoria   Paul Thomas Murphy

Joseph Anton   Salman Rushdie

Joseph Anton, Rushide's story of his years of hiding an exile. Didn't like it. It was self indulgent and selfish. His indignation grew wearying. His willingness to put wives and children in harm's way alarming.

"Live By Night   Dennis Lehane

Moby Dick   Herman Melville
The Technologists   Matthew Pearl
*Mortality   Christopher Hitchens
*Winter of the World   Ken Follett
The Dream of the Celts   Mario Vargas Llosa
*The Real Toscanini   Cesare Civetta
"When We Were the Kennedys   Monica Wood

*Telegraph Avenue   Michael Chabon
Inventing  Elsa Maxwell   Sam Staggs
*Elsewhere   Richard Russo

The Other   Thomas Tryon
The God of Small Things   Arundhati Roy
Jospeh Schwartz with his father, John, Oddly Normal
*Oddly Normal   John Schwartz 
*Howard Zinn, A Life on the Left  Martin Duberman
*The Marriage Plot   Jeffrey Eugenides

Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Biography of David Foster Wallace   D.T. Max
The Last Kind Words   Tom Piccirilli
The Prodigal Son   Colleen McCullough
The Patrick Melrose Novels  Edward St. Aubryn

Why I Left Godman Sachs   Greg Smith
The Digger's Game   George V. Higgins

*Infinite Jest   David Foster Wallace

Still with me? I hope so. From the above list, these were my favorites for 2012. I don't include Dickens, Melville, Hemingway or Wolfe since they don't need my help.

Bring up the Bodies--Hilary Mantel  written up everywhere, won every award. I'm not surprised. Elegant language telling a horrible story. The downfall of Anne Boleyn via Henry VIII's 'master secretary'  Thomas Cromwell.

Father's Day a memoir by sportswriter Buzz Bissinger, about his relationship with his mentally challenged son. You'll fall in love with Zack, and this sweet loving book, which  never makes such a relationship sound easy. 

The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Mystery of Resurrection by Thomas De Wesselow. 
As riveting as the best murder mystery, carbon dating be damned.,

Yellow Birds  Kevin Powers. Astonishingly, a first novel from a Vet. A solider promises to guard a younger buddy's life, and fails. Superb.

This is How You Lose Her  Junot Diaz a new collection of stories with authentic sounding street-Argo and its own brand of family values.

Oddly Normal   John Schwartz  This book begins with a suicide attempt by the author's young son. Therapy and healing reveal young Joseph is gay. My parents would have had two strokes a piece and dragged me to confession. John Schwartz and his wife, Jeanne Mixon love all of their children and the book glides lovingly-and amusingly! and very movingly!-to a happy ending. The last few pages are a book Joseph wrote about school. Read it. You'll never recover. And you don't want to.

When We Were the Kennedys  Monica Wood A large Isrish-Catholic family growing up in rural Maine in the 1950s and 60s. Everyone is at the mercy of the local paper mill.  You are THERE. Warm, funny and unsentimental.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Oddly Normal by John Schwartz

John Schwartz is a writer for the New York Times.
He's the author of a new book called Oddly Normal: One family's struggle to help their teenage son come to terms with his sexuality.

I think every parent should read this book. Lessons learned include keeping a marriage strong in the face of problems, and stopping at nothing-nothing-to help your kid.

Joe was thought to have OCD, ACD, and every other damned D. Some teachers were stumped and some were hostile. Some were kind. Joe was tested and IEP-ed and shamed and rescued by his parents and his own fortitude. A pink boa helped.

The book begins when young Joseph Schwartz attempts suicide at age 13. Being a gay kid at school, with a long devotion to pink boas and Barbie does not make him friends. The bullying became unbearable. Something had to change. Joseph had to grow into peace and acceptance, and this book is the story of the road leading him to a productive happy life. (Yes, the book has a happy ending.)

The Schwartz family has two older children, Elizabeth and Sam. Their mother Jeanne is the ferocious warrior of this book, the heroine of the story as all mothers deserve to be.

Read Oddly Normal. It's great for any parent for any reason...and their friends. Pages 243 to 268 eill change your life!

Yesterday I spoke with Joseph Schwartz from his office in Hew York:

JS:: I've had many man e mails from parents. Its a real testament to how difficult child rearing is. Parents say, my kid isn't gay but this is my kid. Any kid who is different , but especially the parents of gay kids have sen so much of this,  so much of the kid's self-directed bullying...

CP: Adolescence is terrible enough, never mind any added complications.

JS: Right! "Ain't I got enough problems?"  Remember that a kid at thirteen, what you really want is to be like everybody else, and then you come up with these differences, and especially this big one . It can create a very pervasive feeling of isolation.

CP:: Your book is called Oddly Normal. The book opens with something terrible, a suicide attempt by a 13 year old, but there is a happy ending to the book. I hope that's still true?

JS:  Absolutely. The story's not over. Every day is interesting. But things are so much better than they were.   We've come such a long way and that's really the point of the book.  Its about the 'getting better' part.

CP: You have two older children, Elizabeth and Sam.  You describe Sam as all-boy. He's a jock, he's tough, he's outgoing, What was the effect on them when this was going on with their kid brother.

JS:: They're great kids. They've got gay friends. It didn't matter to them that Joe turned out to be gay. The only reaction ...Sam's reaction was "Huh. OK."
Elizabeth's reaction was "So that's why he was always stealing my jewelry...!

CP: In the book we meet Joseph as a young boy, and you went everywhere trying to get some answers. If you asked twenty- five people you'd get twenty- five different answers. That's what was so compelling in the book. The journey of finding out what was going on with him. Were you getting a lot of help?

JS:  We were trying to get help. Everybody contributed something but much of what they contributed wasn't useful.

CP: You discuss the possibility of a link between autism and homosexuality. This hasn't been proved at all but its the first time I heard of a possible connection

JS: It's something that seemed interesting. I had a friend at work who suggested this might be the case -someone who's son is on the spectrum and who she thought might turn out to be gay ...but nobody's got any numbers.

One of the People I asked is Steve Silberman who is writing what I think is going to be a terrific book called 'Neurotribes' , where he talks about different brains , different experiences, what's going on on the on the spectrum. He's very interested in gay issues  as well.  He said that he too had heard tantalizing ideas but he hasn't seen any research that lays this out.

CP:You write that Joseph was interested in "girl things" from the time he was a toddler. Did you get any flack from your peers or other parents   Did anyone say put him in Little League for God's sake.....

JS:: Not really. No. Luckily for us that was never an issue. People didn't want to seem to tell us how to live our lives. Or how to raise our kids. One of the very nice things about having your third kid as opposed to your first kid that you're not even paying attention to what people are saying any more. You barely remember the kid's name. By the time it the third kid you have fewer worries..and that's when life hands you something interesting. Right?

We really thought we had this thing down.

CP: You and your wife have to be exceptional parents because you weer taking
Joseph into a gay social center for teens in New York, you were doing everything you could to make him feel comfortable in the world. ...

JS: It was essential that he know -he over arching feeling he expressed to us was he just felt alone. He felt he was going to die alone. He felt he was just going to be weird. We had to show him he wasn't weird. We sent him to theater camp. Look,  we told him, its no big deal to be gay here. Then we went tot he gay center in New York. They have these amazing youth programs. He got to see kids who have been through  a lot but who were warm, open, inviting . He saw that he's part of a range . There's not just one way to be gay. There's not just one type of gay. It can be a community.and an identity. Part of who he is. Bit by bit, Joseph relaxed..

CP: All of this must have been hard on your marriage

JS:: We felt it strengthened us. We know plenty of peoples who have had problems with their kids, and its driven them apart. We were looking at what felt like a hostile world, and we had to stick together. We had different roles. I was the good cop, Jeanne was more the bad cop. We were on the same force.

We had to deal with the schools. We had to deal with therapists. We needed to move and to help Joe. For us it was a kind bonding as opposed to the driving apart you see happening.

CP:: What has the journey of the book been with Joseph?

JS: Of course I would not have even proposed the book if Joe hadn't given me his approval. We talked about it.. I told him I think it would help people,  and he said yeah you should do that.  I replied I want you to really consider it. This will not be a totally happy book for you. I'm going to talk about the pills. I'm going to talk about the hospital. And Joe replied..I said, do it!

It was also the statement of a kid who like so may of his peers  is on facebook, and who talks about his life. Its the comment of a kid who father is a journalist , who has written about his kids in the past. His older brother and sister especially grew up with the occasional first person story talking about something they've done. Whether its Sam being on a losing football team, or his college work as a nude art model!

The point is that Joe had seen me talk about the family before. He's part of a movement of the kids at the center where they talk about what they've been through to help each other. He saw this as part of that tradition. He knew what the book was going to say. I showed him the manuscript. We talked abut his complaints and how to address them. He helped me revise the book to reflect his views  He partnered all the way through.

As I was turning the manuscript in he sends me n e mail -he says, I wrote this ridiculously adorable story  for a class assignment. It's a children's book called Leo, the Oddly Normal Boy. It's about a little boy who likes other boys and who gathers up some flowers and some chocolate and writes a poem and presents it all to another boy. And what happens after that.

Its a wonderful story. It made me cry....

CP: I must tell you that I passed that around the office here and everybody cried.

JS: That's now the last chapter of the book .

So how's Joe doing with the book? Joe helped write the book. Joe is the book. He's proud of that. At the same time its a little humbling for me to put in 800 words at the end of the book that do more than I was able to do with 60,000.

CP: Parents discover their kid is different in some way. They're angry, they're pissed off.  they're scared, what do you tell them?

JS:: I tell them the only piece of parenting advice I've ever heard that's worth the words , and that is what Dr. Spock told us in his child care book many,  many years ago. Trust yourself.  You know more than you think you do.


Tuesday, December 04, 2012

My daughter Kerry advocates for the rights of the disabled

My daughter Kerry is becoming interested in advocacy for the disabled.

She has specific ambitions and plans for her own life, and wants to be sure NO ONE is denied opportunities to excel. This is a speech she wrote, and will be delivering. Her Mother and I are very proud of Kerry.

 My name is Kerry Purdy and I am advocating for people with disabilities in military and first responder careers, and also trying to understand special needs schools and organizations for what really goes on behind their doors. Right now, I am wishing to speak up for students at certain “special needs” schools-especially those who cannot speak for themselves.
First of all, I am a graduate of a school that was opened to mix in children with autism spectrum disorders along with “typically developing peer model students.” The school is advertised as combining the students with “disabilities” in with the “non-disabled” peers, with fair and equal treatment for all. This, however, was not what I saw during my years there. Attention was drawn constantly to the “peers.” It was the peers this, the peers that. The PEERS got student council. The PEERS got honors classes. The PEERS got all the fun and excitement of varsity basketball and volleyball. We were looked down on, not taken seriously, and spoken to as if we were two year olds. This also sent the message to the peers that as long as you are society’s definition of “normal” you can have everything handed to you on a silver platter, and it’s alright to treat people with disabilities as if they were below you. When they found out I had my driver’s license, they almost blew a gasket. There was, however, nothing wrong with the “peers” driving themselves to school every morning. (I am very willing to bet, that if high schools were still allowed to teach driver’s ed, it would be offered to the PEERS and the PEERS only-let’s face it-we’re supposed to ride the COTA bus. They don’t want to see us behind the wheel.) I want to share with you all several incidents that have happened to me:
Upon coming out as a lesbian to one teacher, she took me aside and asked me, “Kerry…why do you feel like you want to be that way? Is it because girls are easier to talk to?” (If anything, I think guys are easier to talk to.) First of all, this was an absolutely shameful thing for a teacher to say to anyone, “disabled” or not, as I spent the first half of ten years wondering why I felt attracted to girls when I knew I was supposed to be attracted to boys, and the next half trying to battle these feelings and force myself to develop crushes on certain boys, which didn’t work of course. Truth? She more than likely didn’t even have a problem with the L word being said in her classroom. She had a problem with a “disabled” person knowing their own sexual orientation. What if a peer student had come out to a teacher as gay or lesbian? More than likely, they would have patted them on the shoulder and went “It’s okay hun, we support you, we’re glad you felt like you could tell us that.” But as far as society sees us, we’re supposed to be asexual, and when you look at it, it’s intimidating for a “disabled” person to be any orientation other than that.
Since I was fourteen, I have wanted to serve in the military or have a first responder career. The teachers tried everything that they could to try to talk me out of this, making me feel humiliated and degraded-which in the long run, has simply made me more determined. A number of other ASD students also wanted to pursue military or first responder careers, and the school tried everything they could to talk them out of it. Let’s face it, as far as society is concerned, we’re supposed to be bagging groceries for a living, not serving our country, fighting fires, or enforcing laws. What if one of the “peers” was talking about a military or first responder career? They’d be clapping them on the back and going “Good for you, son/girl, we’re proud of you for serving.” The teachers started to tease me about joining the Irish army (which I HIGHLY doubt would even consider taking me, seeing as most of my heritage is from ENGLAND). One teacher went as far as to email my mother and claim that I had told him that I only wanted to enlist because “my great-aunt Sarah O’Malley flew to America on a plane in 1692 and joined the Army.” When I asked him about this email, he proceeded to give me this blank stare, deny that there ever was an email like that, and succeeded in making me feel like I had NO CLUE what I was talking about.
After socially graduating, I enrolled in the new “vocational” building to help out while I pursued firefighting, assuming that it would consist of the grad students and maybe the high school seniors, and that we would take age-appropriate exams, be given preparation skills for our chosen careers, possibly internships at sports centers, hospitals, day cares, fire stations, etc. This ended up being the biggest mistake I have ever made, and nine months of my life that I cannot get back. I entered the cramped, smelly, filthy building to find out that they had moved all the nonverbal, low functioning and remediation students into it, and put the grad students in with them. There was not a “peer” student in the building-HELLO! Now that we think about it, do you really think they would put any of their precious peer model students in this situation? We were all expected to do rudimentary first-grade level work…literally, when we were supposed to be doing college level work. Did they help me work on preparing for firefighting? Did they work with any of the other students on any of their wanted careers? No. We were dragged to places like TJ Maxx to perform unpaid labor there. Why? Because on our knees stacking shelves is the only thing society wants to see us doing. When I tried to speak up, because ALL the other grad students were just sitting there taking it, they shouted at me to shut up and do my school work. It was a degrading, humiliating, situation, and it got to the point where I was ashamed to be seen in that building. I very strongly believe that they *wanted* us to feel degraded and humiliated, to show that “disabled” people have NO place in society.
I do not want to sound like I am intentionally attacking or lashing out at anyone, as that is certainly not my intention. I do, however, believe that society could be more educated to our needs. We could be given more chances in challenging careers, and given age-appropriate schoolwork at schools. We could certainly be more accepted in athletics other than Special Olympics. (I can kick a soccer ball, but I can’t fix a computer. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around, as far as society is concerned?) They can also be more open to the fact that many of us do have sexual feelings and different orientations. Guys, we can’t take this anymore. We *cannot* let society walk all over us like this anymore. We’ve GOT to make a stand-tell society we won’t take it anymore. We are human beings, and have human rights and feelings just like everyone else. I want nothing more than to be a firefighter or enlist in the Army, and society wants me-and you-on our knees at a fast food restaurant or grocery store. LET’S STAND UP! We’re not going to take it, and we WON’T. Through the years, I have gone from timid and mild-mannered to speaking my mind and willing to take a stand, and I hope to be an inspiration to others. I am hoping that one day, in the very near future, you will see me in my Army uniform, and feel encouraged and inspired that YOU can do it too. Thank you all very much for your time. LET’S STAND UP!