Category Archives: Non-Fiction

John by Cynthia Lennon

john

Hodder and Stoughton, Copyright 2005, 393 pages.

I’m a fan of Beatles songs, but not really knowledgeable about their personal life. So it’s not surprising that I did not know about Cynthia Lennon, John Lennon’s first wife.

This book is not really a biographical attempt on John Lennon’s life (as the cover and title might suggest). Rather, it is more of a memoir of Cynthia’s life with the famous Beatle.

Cynthia Lennon is quick to admit that the public has long viewed her as “that girl who got pregnant so John Lennon would marry her.” Yet, as she has revealed in this book, that is far from the truth. She has long kept her silence, enduring having to deny that she was Lennon’s wife at the height of Beatlemania (upon the instruction of their road manager), and having to deal with a painful divorce. And so, she says,

” The time has come when I feel ready to tell the truth about John and me, our years together and the years since his death. There is so much that I have never said, so many incidents I have never spoken of and so many feelings I have never expressed–great love on the one hand; pain, torment and humiliation on the other. Only I know what happened between us, why we stayed together, why we parted and the price I paid for having been John’s wife.”

Those looking for an objective and thorough life story of John Lennon will be disappointed. This book was written with a mission: for Cynthia Lennon to air her side of things.

Cynthia Lennon’s writing style is very personal, and it is evident that she loved (and still loves) and cared very deeply for John Lennon. From her narration, one can feel the pain of a woman whose love for a man is almost on the brink of martyrdom. Though her personality is very simple, steady, and un-eccentric (in her own words, she admits she lacks confidence , and she prefers, and endured to be the wallflower while John was in the limelight), it radiates through her writing. It seldom happens to me, as I am aware these kinds of memoir/biographies could be one sided, but I found myself sympathizing with her.

The hurt, pain and confusion that she felt when John started drifting away from her and their son Julian is very raw.

I finished reading this thick book overnight–very engrossing, and filled with tidbits such as how the Beatles’ song, “She Loves You” could be inspired by John’s very first chirstmas card to her, on which he wrote, ” I love you–yes, yes, yes”, and that “Hey, Jude” was written by Paul Mc Cartney for young Julian Lennon (Cynthia and John’s son), when his father left him and his mother for Yoko Ono (it was originally titled, “Hey, Jules” but for better musical compatibility decided “Jude” would be better). And a whole lot more Beatle trivia that are interesting to know.

As the wife scorned, it is obvious that Cynthia Lennon has written Yoko Ono out to be cold, strange, manipulative and cruel. Though there may be some truth to it, I would love to read Ms. Ono’s take on things for a better rounded view.

The book left me feeling quite sad, but at the same time glad to see an honest and refreshing view on her overall life with John Lennon:

“I never stopped loving John, but the cost of that love had been enormous. Someone asked me recently whether, if I’d known in the beginning what lay ahead, I would have gone through with it. I had to say no. Of course I could never regret having my wonderful son. But the truth is that if i’d known as a teenager what falling for John Lennon would lead to, I would have turned right round then and walked away.”

johncyn-dezo1

John and Cynthia Lennon. Happier times.

cynthia_julian_001_111906

Cynthia Lennon with son Julian.

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The Toyboy Diaries: A Memoir by Wendy Salisbury

0732286905.jpgHarper Collins Publishers. 293 pages.

“I like older men but I couldn’t eat a whole one. A younger man? That’s another story.”

So claims Wendy, an over 60 year old woman with a vigor for younger (much much younger) men.

This whole..er…sex memoir (?) is like a rated-R blog that panned out in book form. I honestly can’t say very much about it. Other than its  like watching/reading a marathon run of SATC+DESPERATE GRANDMA.

Ok for one, I do admire her brazen personality, she who doesn’t care what others may think. The last words of this book were, “Fuck you very much!” (quoting Eric Idle). But at times it seems very much like harassing and exploiting younger men.

But as she explains, its just nature’s way of redressing the balance. Throughout history, it’s always been an older man + much younger woman pairing. But with more empowered women nowadays, many of them take the lead and get in control.

If you are tempted to tell her ‘Shag someone from your generation!”, here’s her reply:

“Although they’re my generation, I feel totally disconnected from them. They’ve let themselves go which is really unappealing. I know loads of attractive, sexy, vibrant older women but the men…eeuw! They think they can pull you because they’ve got money and a pulse and that any single woman is desperate for a man at any cost. Personally, I’d rather eat pizza with (younger men) than caviar with any of them.”

the very happy. author.

FREAKONOMICS by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

freakonomics.gif284 pages. Penguin Books Ltd.

Full title: Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. This book was also published with a different cover (a more ‘formal’ one at that). The copy I got was this more commercialized one.

Very catchy back synopsis got me:

‘What do estate agents and the Ku Klux Klan have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their mothers? How can your name affect how well you do in life?’

The answer to all this is Freakonomics: it’s at the heart of everything we do and the things that affect us daily, from sex to crime, parenting to politics, fat to cheating, fear to traffic jams. And it’s all about using information about the world around us to get to the heart of what’s really happening under the surface of everyday life.

Reading through this book brought me back to uni days, listening to that wonderful professor who just about knows EVERYTHING in life.

It wasn’t, as I initially thought, an Alvin Toffler Future Shock type. It does not predict or forsee anything (except the probable top 20 names in 2015?) but it gives reasonable (though NOT only) explanation to the featured questions, apart from many others.

In Levitt’s view, economics is a science with excellent tools for gaining answers but a serious shortage of questions. His particular gift is the ability to ask such questions. For instance: if drug dealers make so much money, why do they still live with their mothers? Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What really caused crime rates to plunge during the past decade? Do real estate agents have their clients’ best interests at heart? Why do black parents give their children names that may hurt their career prospects? Do schoolteachers cheat to meet high-stakes testing standards? Is sumo wrestling corrupt?

–New York Times Magazine, August 2003

The answers to few of these, we already know with just a simple yes or no.

I found particularly interesting the controversial theory that the rise of abortion rate is linked to the decrease in crime rate. The simple (but probably un-thought of) theory goes like this: the women most likely to seen an abortion are poor, single, black, or teenage mothers–were the very women whose children, if born, have been shown most likely to become criminals. But since those children weren’t born, crime began to decrease during the years they would have entered their criminal prime. This was based on the marked decrease in crime rate in the US in the 1990’s–linked back to the legalization of abortion in many states in the 1970’s.

Most of the information in the book are based on statistics (there are over 20 pages of footnotes) and the last 1/4th pages of the book are articles about the book and author, and snippets from the Freakonomics blog.

There are a lot more controversial and unusual theories in this book and although I can’t say that reading this book will make you feel smarter, it definitely made me feel more well-informed.

freakonomics-cover.jpg

the other book cover release

the authors

For the Love of my Son by Margaret Davis

forthe.JPGHodder & Stoughton Ltd . 272 pages

I still have a lot of pending books to be read but the moment I picked this one from the bookshelf, I knew I had to get it.

You just HAVE to read this book. Margaret Davis narrates very painfully how her son, Steve Davis–a UK-born IT businessman based in Manila, married a Filipina prostitute, and four years later, was brutally murdered in his own bed.

Some factual details (like exchange rate, airport descriptions, etc) can be erroneous but they seem trivial compared to the issue at hand. Not only is it about cold blooded homicide and betrayal. Its also about the failure of the Philippine justice system, and the British Government as well.

A shocking, dissappointing and heart-breaking read. Read on:

***************************************************************************

 
Steven Davis in 2001
Steven Davis – fishing in 2001

For the love of my son

Margaret Davis’ son was murdered in the Philippines in 2003. She has written a book about her experience.

Margaret Davis, from Bingham, found out that her son had been killed when she received a phone call from her son’s business partner Martin.“He just said to me that Steven had had an accident. I asked him ‘how bad’ and he said he’s dead. And then the line went dead.

For the Love of My Son (book cover)
For the Love of My Son

“It was a couple of hours later that he actually phoned me back.”

When Martin called Margaret back and filled her in on the details – that Steven had been shot – she jumped into action and got on to a plane to the Philippines.

“I heard about his death on the Thursday and then by the Friday I was on a plane.”

For the first week Margaret spent time with Steven’s wife, Evelyn, and their two children but it wasn’t long before she started to get a bit suspicious.

“Steven’s wife was a little aloof with me and more interested in what I knew about what was happening, asking me about Steven’s business partner (and what he’d seen in relation to the shooting)… I just felt the reaction was a little strange.

Margaret and her family
Margaret and her family

“I knew this girl like a daughter. She knew me extremely well but she wasn’t treating me as if she knew me well.

“I had to give her the benefit of the doubt – we all react to grief in different ways.”

Things weren’t happening for several weeks. Then the police came up with some suspects for the murder having put surveillance on Steven’s house. One was Evelyn’s brother-in-law and one was her boyfriend.

Margaret went from a mourning mother to being, as Margaret describes herself ‘Jane Tennison from Prime Suspect’, fighting for justice for her son.

By writing a book about her experiences, For The Love Of My Son (now published by Hodder), Margaret has managed to put the story to rest.

French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano

french.jpg Vintage Books, 272 pages.

So what made me pick up this book? Im apparently not the world’s healthiest nut and I wanted to give healthy living a try. I knew from the start that this wasn’t a diet book/fad (I never ever tried reading those) so I had a good feeling it was worth my time.

The facts relayed in this book aren’t exactly supremely enlightening. We’ve heard all of them sometime in our lives—from our mothers. Common sense stuff…Eat more vegetables and fruits, drink plenty of water, eat more home cooked meals. It claims though, that most French women never really exercise. Guiliano aptly describes treadmills, elliptical trainers, stairmasters, and all other gym equipments as mercenary machines. (YESSS!!!).

She explains that most Americans go to the gym as a “sacrifice” for eating too much. So it’s better to eat a log of smaller portioned meals a day that eating 1-2 times a day with a heavier serving.

This book hopes to give the reader a healthier lifestyle by incorporating “high-end” dining—savouring in every morsel you take. Not exactly very practical for the average working woman—when sandwiches and salads are an easier reach than oysters and mushrooms.

Except for the annoying French phrases every now and then (too much French revolution in a health book), this is a good read with nice recipes to follow throughout the year.

 

The author, Mireille Guiliano

Don’t Pee On My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining by Judge Judy Sheindlin (with Josh Getlin)

Harper Paperbacks; Reprint edition (February 19, 1997), 256 pages

So just as I was about to condemn all books that have catchy titles, I come across this one. We all know that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and title. I learned that I also shouldn’t judge a book by its author’s TV show. A court session on TV? Just another reality tv show right? Ive seen only a few episodes of Judge Judy and I can’t help but think that the ‘cases’ were very trivial, and were just hyped by a super sharp tongued judge, and a super reactive audience. I was amazed by Judge Judy Sheindlin’s no hesitation, no holds barred approach to telling off those that have wrongfully crossed family laws.
The book offers the same approach. No beating around the bush, no lengthy introductions. She goes straight to the topic of the book: How American law is pretty much skewed and can be ‘criminal-friendly’ (and that is coming from a Judge).
If there is a simple term to describe Sheindlin, it is: Fed Up. She is fed up by a society that produces a more violent generation after another. And more fed up by laws that, because it was drafted to protect the people,  can be turned around and be moved in favor of the criminal. Such as investigations for a juvenile case not being carried out because of certain ‘juvenile criminal rights’–a lawyer refusing to have his client’s (defendant) fingerprints taken.
“Look at it this way: We fingerprint honest people at work for security reasons. Why all the reistance to identifying  people who break the law? “

She’s also noted that juvenile crimes from the 70’s until the present have progressed to a worse level. Back then, car vandalizing were one of the more serious crimes teens can commit. But now, children steal, rape and kill.
That is also one of the personal questions I myself have: Are crimes of all sorts becoming too rampant and common that we have actually become a very tolerant society? Are we becoming too open to changes of time that we view juvenile crimes as normal nowadays?
“Somehow. we have permitted irresponsible behavior to be socially acceptable and have set up an elaborate bureaucracy that encourages lack of individual repsonsibility, thereby ensuing the longevity of both.”

She believes that in America, the government takes care of its people too much (?)–(though this is, I think a very subjective point of view) hence the people do not help themselves and just solely rely on welfare:

“Part of the problem is that too many people have come to expect too much from the government. And the assorted social service systems, however well intentioned, are crumbling under the sheer numbers of people who look to government first, instead of relying on themselves and focusing on government as a last resort. By shifting the emphasis from individual responsibility to government responsibility, we have infantalized an entire populaiton.”

Undeniably, she has a point. But it seemed abit too elitist when she suggested that the government shouldn’t provide welfare for teenage mothers, because “that’s what the relatives/family are for”. If this is her ideal set-up then she should go to the Philippines where all illegitimate children are born and raised without any help from the government!
People will always find loopholes in policies. Like how, in the state of New York, there’s a preference over relatives/grandparents being eligible for adopting/being foster parents of an abandoned child. The relative will recieve full welfare for the child, as long as they can prove that the child really was abandoned by the parent. Naturally, this is what some famillies do: they declare child abandonment, welfare goes to the grandmother(or whoever relative), but the mother is also around, only becoming invisible when the social worker comes to check.
And as a chain reaction, that’s where the child learns how to decieve: at home, even in small ways. Telling the child to say that “Mom is not around” because the social worker is going to check in a few hours. She believes in teaching your child how to respect and be scared of the law is important in raising a law abiding citizen.
What she lacks in data and statistics in her book, she makes up for no-nonsense discussion on what goes on in the real world of family court justice.

Despite her almost too tyranical views on carrying harsher punishments for juvenile delinquents and abhoring the welfare system, this is I think the first time Ive ever felt positive about a book. (Not about the subject). This book is highly recommended for anyone who would like to understand how the law works and how further juvenile crimes can be prevented. More importantly, Im positive that this book may encourage responsibility and self-reliance.

“If you want to eat, you have to work.
If you have children, you’d better support them
If you break the law, you have to pay
If you tap the public purse, you’d better be accountable.”

When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time to Go Home by Erma Bombeck

HarperTorch; Reissue edition (November 15, 1992), 288 pages

I never seem to learn my lesson. A catchy title almost always guarantees a flop read. I only read books like these “on the side”, to cleanse an overly “serious-themed” riddled brain ( I just read Lord of the Flies). For the past 2 days Ive been deliberating wether or not I should post a review about this book. I thought it can be a sound warning to those who, like me, are drawn to cheesy and catchy titles. I skimmed through online reviews about this book and they were ALL positive. “Hilarious!” “I never stopped laughing from first to last page”. To give credit where its due, I did find a few pages funny, but reading past the first 3 chapters, I felt like I was reading a stand-up comedian’s script about travelling. There’s a Harper Audio edition of this, and I think that would have been more enjoying. There are just some things that are better heard and not read.
So this is about a typical American couple from Ohio who has “more kids than they have backseat windows”. Sick and tired of being the perpetual house and pet sitter when their neighbors go off on vacations, Bombeck decided that they should start travelling as well:

“From here on in, we are going to be one of those families who feast at the banquet table of life. We’re going to drink in the beauty of majestic mountains, nibble at historical shrines, and stuff ourselves on beaches drenched in solitutde. The Bombecks are going to hit the road!!! By all that is holy, I will never host the Semples again!”
The family’s eyes were frozen on my clenched fist raised above my head. I was clutching the pregnant gerbil.

Sorry but I just had to roll my eyes at that. How much more slapstick can you get? The next chapters are all pretty much of the same pattern: I hate to generalize but its American humor at one of its worst: exagerrated and self-deprecating. Since this book is supposed to be humorous, the author just HAD to find something “funny” in every place they go to, even pathetically describing Papuan New Guineans as “little people who go around talking earnestly to belt buckles”.

The worst attempt to be humorous:

“In September 1987, I was asked to introduce His Holiness Pope John Paul II, who was to preside over a papal Mass in Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona.
I was humbled by the honor and wanted desperately to do something special. I decided to welcome him in Polish, his native tongue.
The only Pole I knew was a seamstress who did alterations for me from time to time, so I said to her, ‘Tell me how to welcome the Pope in his own language.”
On the night before his arrival, I rehearsed the speech before a couple of priests in charge of the event. I took a deep breath before my big finish. ‘ Arizona vita otisa sven-tego yana pavwa druuuugeggo.”
One of the priests said to me, ‘Why would you want to tell the Pope his luggage is lost?’
I am not good with language.”

Sure its funny, but the UN-Funny part is..Don’t ask me how I did it, but that Polish phrase actually translated to “Arizona welcomes his holiness (saintly) Father John Paul II.”
A for effort in bending the truth for the sake of comedy.

There’s also a part when they went to Indonesia and watched a cultural/mythical play and while their guide was interpreting it, they fell asleep. I admire the honesty but I also found it to be a bit rude, in describing how scary the driving skills of cab drivers are in Jakarta, that she had to pray to the patron saint of all Indonesian passengers: Our Lady of Valium.

Good points of this book: how she described travelling in a tour group can be a pain and confining and the descriptions of the types of people who usually join tour groups.

I can’t help but feel that people who enjoy this book are the kind who travel to other places to remind them how good they have it ‘back home’.

Title: Trap
Cover:Bad
Humor: Worse
Rating: Never mind.