Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Resolution Books

I'm not a big New Year's resolution person. I'm not sure if pledging to change your life completely always works. And why January 1? If I make any self-pledges, they tend to be in the fall. Everyone's back from vacation, and life goes back to normal, hence goals.

Then there's the whole my gym is going to be so crowded I want to scream. But that'll go away by February 1...which is when the dating books hit hard (though I'm already sick of the eHarmony commercials flooding my TV).

Anyway -- January 1 is still a biggie in the resolution business, so what I call "resolution" books have been rolling in. They're usually in the self help and diet category, though I've seen a lot more financial books since the recession kicked in.

I generally don't pay attention to the diet ones (like Fat Flush for Life: The Year-Round Super Detox Plan to Boost Your Metabolism and Keep the Weight Off Permanently- are you kidding me?) but two financial have been spared the donation pile.

First, Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Lessby Leah Ingram. I've known Leah for years and started reading her blog when she first started typing away. I'll give this one a full review when I finish reading it.

Second, One Year to an Organized Financial Life: From Your Bills to Your Bank Account, Your Home to Your Retirement, the Week-by-Week Guide to Achieving Financial Peace of Mindby Regina Leeds with Russell Wild. Leeds wrote One Year to an Organized Life: From Your Closets to Your Finances, the Week-by-Week Guide to Getting Completely Organized for Good, which was enormously successful. I haven't read it, though. The only "organizing" book I listen to is A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder - How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and on-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Placebecause it supports the idea that a bit of messiness makes life better.

This book looks like it could be a helpful, though, especially since it's organized per week per month for a year. It's not necessarily written for someone like me (I write about personal finance, so I'm past the basics), but as an experiment I'll be reading along per week per year. It's got a heavy dose of organizing mumbo jumbo and some odd advice (my first step toward financial health is supposed to be drinking more water?), but Leeds co-wrote the book with Wild, an MBA and certified financial planner, and some of the advice I've read already is sound. Stay tuned.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On deciding not to read a book

I got a galley of Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough in the mail yesterday. It's the book spawned by a controversial Atlantic piece about the same topic, where author Lori Gottlieb implores women to just marry some schlub already. I didn't like the article, and I didn't think I'd like to book. I gave it a try, though. After chapter one, I put it down. Here's why: The marketing blurb on the book says, "In the March 2008 issue of the Atlantic, Gottlieb argued that women need to stop waiting for 'Mr. Right' and start settling for 'Mr. Real.'" 

Ooo boy. Then, in the prologue, Gottlieb lists the "must have" qualities she wanted in a man when she was younger. It's over two pages long.  I made a list of my own, and it had one thing on it: "Not an addict."

If someone has a two-page list of demands, then I'll go out on a limb and say being single is their own fault. Maybe the book will speak to them. But it will not speak to me because it is not written for someone like me who will go out with just about anyone, is not marriage obsessed, and feels comfortable in her own single skin.

So. I'm not going to ruin my Christmas by reading the book solely for the sake of getting angry at the author Sorry, folks. To to the library it goes. If you're in Collingswood and want to read a copy, I'll have dropped it of by New Year's.

P.S. I don't know why the spacing is wonky on this post. Hopefully the type ship will right itself in the next one.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Review: Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man

Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man: A Memoirby Bill Clegg isn't coming out in June, and I hesitate to review it six months in advance of it's publication date. But the book is so damn good (I read it in two sittings) that I don't want to wait and let its impact fade.

Portrait of an Addict as a Young Manis about Clegg's crack addiction. Instead of being a point A to point B story of how he became a crack addict, the book jumps back and forth, from a bender back to events in his childhood that could have lead up to him looking for an escape, ending with him coming out of rehab (I don't think that's a spoiler since the book is already written) and an event in his childhood that could have triggered that first need to get high.

The story's told in chunks of paragraphs that make the narrative jumpy, but it works and helps the reader understand the jumpiness that was Clegg's life, through the weeks of no sleep with nothing but crack, sex and vodka, to his extreme paranoia, to taking hits of crack before important work events, to family and his boyfriend trying to pull him out of hotel rooms and into rehab.

It's an incredibly sad story, even with the positive outcome, because even though Clegg has left that world, you get the feeling that those he left behind are still there. It's a startling portrait of addiction, and how easy it is for anyone to become hooked.

The New York Observer did a piece about Clegg's disappearance from the literary scene, and fills in the gaps between the end of the book and today, where he is once again an agent and now author, and good to read along with this review.

This is going to be a big one, folks. It's not often I'm floored by a memoir, and I am by this one.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Review: Early Bird: A Memoir of Premature Retirement

A few weeks ago, my dad and I headed to sunny Florida. Goal: Visit his parents and sit in the warm Florida sun.

It poured for three days straight. The only sun we got was a thin beam or two  upon landing in Florida and flashes of light while taking off and back to Philadelphia.

After reading my facebook updates from the retirement community ("If you didn't hear the directions, grandmom will remind you. Fourteen times. Before the first exit" ; "Grandpop says some women are just yum. Others are yummy yummy" ; "I welcome all early bird specials"), umbrellatrix Katie Sweeney suggested that I read Early Bird: A Memoir of Premature Retirement by Rodney Rothman.

I'm no stranger to the retirement community lifestyle. I went to college in Tampa, and was incredibly homesick my freshman year. So my grandfather would drive cross state, pick me up, and drive me back to their retirement community in Sebastian, Florida. I'd lie at the pool, eat too much food, and read on their sunporch, usually borrowing books from the club house library, which is made up of community donations -- and let me tell you, those ladies like some racy stuff (on the rainy trip, I read Lipstick Jungle, which I borrowed from that library AFTER putting back a book about four office mates who seemed to boff each other daily).

I liked going because it felt like time froze. I didn't have to worry about classes or boy drama waiting for me back at college. I didn't have to figure out where I'd be sitting in the cafeteria, or about stick thin freshman prancing around the school (I was the youngest person -- everywhere!) or if I'd be stuck home on a Friday night. Everyone was stuck home here, and in bed by 9 p.m.

In Early Bird: A Memoir of Premature Retirement, Rothman moves into a retirement community in Boca Raton after losing his job. Boca is not Sebastian. He moves into a condominium tower. My grandparents live in a stand alone home in a gated community (he makes a great point that city retirees tend to go toward tall buildings while suburban retirees go to stand alone homes -- such is the case with both our experiences). My grandparens are also Christian, and Rothman chooses a mostly Jewish community. Some of the landscape has changed, too. Rothman wrote at the height of the real estate boom. I visited at the bottom, and a lot of houses in their community sat empty and for sale with no buyers.

But both communities seem the same -- the members up before 6 a.m., the cliquish pool group, the events people attend for free food, even bingo games. I played bingo once on a college visit. It was splendid, though my grandparents don't play unless I go. My grandfather prefers cards, and my grandmom baking.

Rothman is dead on in his descriptions of the retirement community life, but some of it feels forced. He does things "for the book," and while there's nothing wrong with that (might as well write a book if you lost your job and move into a retirement community when you're 28 years old), it made parts of the book feel forced, like when he shops for his future retirement home.

He comes to the same conclusion I do after every one of my four day trips to see my grandparents: Nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there just yet.

This week, I booked my annual trek to St. Pete Beach, and mentioned it on twitter. "Didn't you just come back from a Florida vacation?" someone asked. Nope. That was visiting grandparents, which involved trying to tune out Fox News, not eating every time my grandmom offered food, and fighting the urge to go to bed at 9 p.m. Vacation will involve sitting on a beach in a string bikini drinking margaritas WITHOUT worrying that I'm going to give an old man a heart attack, visiting dark Russian bars after hours, and reading racy books that I pick. Oh, and staying up past 9 p.m.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Notes on Julie & Julia

Last night, I watched Julie & Julia, the movie based on both Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously and My Life in France

I started this blog by reading Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously (you can read that first review here).

I understand now why the publication of Julie Powell's follow up book, Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession, was delayed until December. As I've also written here, I hated the book for a lot of reasons, and I couldn't watch the movie without remembering:

1. How much I hated Cleaving.
2. What Powell eventually did to her husband. I know that the happy ending didn't really happen, and that all the problems simmering in their marriage exploded thereafter.

I also watched You've Got Mailover the weekend, another Nora Ephron film. I don't know if it's the acting or what, but that was a much more clever film. Julie & Julia didn't have that same charm. I also agree with Joy Manning that Amy Adams was way too skinny for the role. Nora, Nora, Nora. If you wanted to make a movie about people eating (as she has said in interviews), make it look like they eat!

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Review: Yiddish Yoga: Ruthie's Adventures in Love, Loss, and the Lotus Position

A few notes:

1. I am not Jewish.
2. I do not do yoga.
3. I am not a senior citizen.

I tell you these things because my choice of Yiddish Yoga: Ruthie's Adventures in Love, Loss, and the Lotus Position might be a surprise (especially since, as I write this review, I'm listening to Christmas music and wearing a Virgin Mary medallion). But I still enjoyed this short, punchy, illustrated story about a woman who is all of those things.

When Ruthie Brodestein's husband passes away, her granddaughter buys her a year membership to yoga classes. The book follows Brodestein through her year of classes, and includes her revelations as her body stretches, and how doing yoga helps her work through her grief. It's funny, whimsical and a good read, even if it doesn't have my swapping out my running sneakers for a yoga matt.

My only disappointment was realizing that Ruthie is not a real person and that Yiddish Yoga is fiction. But to author Lisa Grunberger's defense, I didn't look before I started reading.

I grabbed this book off the shelf after starting and stopping two different books last night. I finished this one in an hour, and what a delightful hour it was. I got this book too late in the mail for it to be part of my holiday book gift guide, but maybe that's a good thing -- it allowed me to give it a full review.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Review: The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History

"I'm reading about Yugos," I told a friend this weekend.

"Yugos! I loved them! They must have made a ton of money," he said.

Hardly, as is shown in Jason Vuic's The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History, which will be published in March 2010. It's about how the Yugo rode into the U.S. on the power of a strong viral campaign and rock bottom price tag, and crashed because the cars were less than reliable, being produced by a company always on the edge of insolvency.

In telling the story of the Yugo, Vuic also writes about small cars in America, and how they form the bottom of the car food chain -- an important bottom (says this Honda Civic driver).

It's an interesting story, but not as told here. Vuic is a history professor and Yugoslav expert, but adeptness in teaching history hasn't translated into the strong narrative that this book would need to make it more interesting non-fiction read and less wikipedia entry about the little car that couldn't. He tells the story but doesn't show it. Even the lively bits, like Yugo girls prancing around the car when it was introduced to dealers, fall flat.

Unless I missed it in the notes, Vuic didn't interview the star of the story, Malcolm Bricklin, an apparent egomaniac who cooked up Yugo America and has a sting of failed companies and bankruptcies in his wake (and is still trying to push cars). He's doing media interviews and even had a documentary made about himself.

I can understand why Bricklin might not want to be attached to a book about Yugos, but even if he said no, that should have been made clear. His refusal to be interview would say a lot about his character and thoughts about the car post mortem.

Did I learn about Yugos and the car industry? Yes. But the book read more like a history text than the non-fiction narrative story I think the Yugo deserves.

To check out some Yugos re-purposed in interesting ways, click here -- it's a show referenced in the book, and hysterical.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Recommendation: The Secret Language of Money

This is a recommendation and not a review because I've been hired to review The Secret Language of Money: How to Make Smarter Financial Decisions and Live a Richer Life by David Krueger, M.D.

Briefly: It's about the emotions surrounding money, and tells you how to start looking as money as money and not something else. It's a simple statement, but a powerful one. How many people shop to make themselves feel better? And spend beyond their means? Bonus: the book is written in plain language with only a tint of "be empowered!" It's not a blueprint to get out of debt, or a replacement for a financial planner. It shows why so many of us don't view money as a means to acquire life essentials. It's a trickery issue than most people think.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Review: Lipstick Jungle by Candace Bushnell

Once a winter, I make a trek to Florida, either to sit on the beach in St. Pete or visit my grandparents in the Vero Beach area. Fortunately, this winter I'll be doing both.

Unfortunately, the trip to my grandparents' was last weekend where it promptly turned from 80 and sunny to pouring right after my plane landed, and it poured for two days. I mean raining-cats-and-dogs-keeping-you-awake-at-night pouring. It wasn't exactly what I'd hoped to be doing, a plan that originally and vaguely involved lying around the pool reminding old men what us young gals look like.

So I hunkered down and read like I had nothing else to do (which was true). I finished Wild Romance, and started another book. In between, I picked up Lipstick Jungle from the retirement community library, and read it cover to cover so I could return it before I came back to NJ.

The book is about three high-powered friends: a movie studio executive, a magazine editor and a fashion designer. Each faces a work and personal life crisis. The movie studio executive's wet rag of a husband threatens to leave; the magazine editor has an affair with a male model; and the fashion designer starts dating a billionaire and considers selling her business for a big payout.

While the book's mostly fluff, the character's intertwining tales did have something to say about women in the upper echelons of the working world, and reminded me of what my college advisor told me: That if I were a man, I'd be seen as assertive. But as a woman? People just called me a bitch, and I'd have to toughen up to get used to it.

The role reversal with the movie studio executive and stay at home dad raised some interesting points (how would it look different if he were the exec and she the stay at home mom?) As someone who runs her own business, I was intrigued at the perception of women in power and how we might be hard to date (I've had some men say this to me). If the alternate is to be docile and let a guy think he's right all the time -- a tactic my grandmother suggested to me this weekend -- I'd rather be alone. Reading this after Wild Romance lead to a "great think" on the flight home where I determined that being single at 29 with my own business is not really a bad thing. So I'm untraditional. I'm OK with that.

Even though only three years old, though, the book is stale. The worship of designer labels and money is misplaced, much as it is in theSex and the Citymovie, which was based on another Bushnell book (and I'm not just saying that because the Bushnell-inspired Carrie Bradshaw of the movie and show made everyone think freelance writers can write one column and afford a luxurious New York lifestyle. Right).

For two days in rainy Florida, it was something to do that inspired a few thoughts on my part. But high art? Not really.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Review: Wild Romance: A Victorian Story of Marriage, a Trial, and a Self-Made Woman

Chloe Schama did not set out to write about Theresa Yelverton. She tucked herself into the British Library to research "sensation novels," books from the Victorian era that, while popular then, have not stood the test of time. Schama discovered Theresa Yelverton in a footnote to one such story, about how the bigamy trial she brought against her husband served as inspiration for one such story.

Schama tells Theresa Yelverton's story in Wild Romance: A Victorian Story of a Marriage, a Trial, and a Self-Made Woman, a dense but fascinating look at women's rights in a society when a woman's value was strapped to her husband.

Her case sounds like a Victorian version of "he's just not that into you" -- Theresa meets William Yelverton on a steamer from France to England in 1852. The two stayed up all night talking, and started swapping letters, at first fervently. As time passes, Theresa writes more frantically than Yelverton. She's like the woman waiting by the phone for the guy to call.

Eventually, though, the two meet up again and are "married" in a way that was legal in Scotland at the time: They pledged to each other that they were married. Theresa worried this would not be enough, so they were married again in a church in Ireland with no witnesses.

Imagine Theresa's surprise when Yelverton marries another woman and begins having children with her. This could have ruined Theresa, so instead she accused him of bigamy, and media frenzy that was a little bit Chicago and a little bit John & Kate ensued at the trial.

This is all fascinating, of course, but the book gets really good when the trial is over and Theresa decides to travel the world and write about it for magazines and newspapers. How could I not love the woman? I'm jealous, in fact, that she saw a world partly industrialized, and wrote about her travels along the way.

It's an amazing story about a self sustaining woman who, in spite of great and public heartbreak, made something of her life. I'm sure the book's being published in March to coincide with Women's History Monthly, as it should be.

The only sad part? That some attitudes toward woman haven't changed. I'm a single, professional woman with what I'd like to think is a viable writing career. But the pressure to be attached to a man is still intense, from family, friends and I admit, a little bit from myself. I sometimes think something's wrong with me for not being married at 29, which is silly of course.

But I'll explore that further in the next review. I think this is the first time I've had two reviews stacked up -- I was in Florida for the last few days and read two books on the trip without a chance the blog. The next one is contemporary, but about the same things. Women, our issues never change, do they?

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Book Gift Guide for the Holidays

Hey ho, it's the holidays! As you know, a lot of publishers send me books in hopes that I'll write about them. So, instead of sending the November batch to the library donation bin (which is where a lot of books go even if I DO read them), I put together a small gift guide of many types of books. Deck the halls, people. Deck. The. Halls.

29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Lifeby Cami Walker.
This is the perfect gift for anyone who needs a feel good story. It starts bad, though -- Walker dives into a steep depression when she finds out she has MS. She digs out of it by giving one gift a day for 29 days. Now, for someone with Spock-like logic, it's a little spacey and new-agey, but I enjoyed the read. It made me give a few gifts myself.

PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God
Ever heard of PostSecret? It's this movement where you can anonymously send postcards with whatever you want on it. IT IS FASCINATING. What would you say if no one knew you were saying it? PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God is a collection of PostSecrets that have to do with -- you guessed it -- life, death and God. It's a great gift for anyone interesting in such things, like the relatively who isn't that into Christmas, or your friend who points out that Christmas is a pagan holiday. Great stuff. Just flipping through the book prompts a lot of though.

Ace of Cakes: Inside the World of Charm City Cakes by Duff Goldman and Willie Goldman.
Obviously, if you know someone who likes this Food Network show, it'll be a good gift. But here's why it's a great gift -- this isn't just a book of pretty pictures. Ace of Cakes includes in depth interviews, behind the scenes shots, and even fan mail from viewers. When you can sit down with a big glossy book and read it cover to cover without turning the page every two seconds, you've got a winner.

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
Yes, the book is as silly as the title suggests. This is the second book out of Philadelphia-based Quirk publishers that puts something strange in the text of Jane Austen. The first, Pride, Prejudice & Zombies was a runaway hit and also out in a new deluxe editionfor the holidays. Either one is a silly romp for English lit fans.

Dita: Stripteese by Dita Von Teese.
Holy moly. If you're got a burlesque fan in your midst, this is the book to get him or her. The package includes three flipbooks. Of a burlesque dancer. Enough said.

Bon Jovi: When We Were Beautiful
Also in the "people with pretty hair" category is this massive tome about Bon Jovi. Come on. You know you've screamed "Livin' on a Prayer" at one point in your life. It's like a rite of passage. The book was made in honor of the band's 25th anniversary and focuses mostly on 2008, though there are some beauties of early career shots (AND THAT HAIR).

Led Zeppelin: Shadows Taller Than Our Soulsby Charles R. Cross
This isn't just a book -- it's a Led Zeppelin experience for any super fan. It includes photos, of course, but also reproductions of ticket stubs, set lists, magazine covers, posters and backstage passes. There's also a CD including an interview with Jimmy Page, and a keepsake slipcase. Like I said -- perfect for superfans.

The Christmas Secretby Donna VanLiere.
I'm not a big fan of super sappy Christmastime. But some people are, and this blog is a blog for all book lovers. So if you have one such person in your life, The Christmas Secret would be a great choice. It's by the same author of The Christmas Shoes and The Christmas Hope. It's about a struggling single mother who saves someone's life. This costs her the job that kept her afloat, but leads to a series of events that change her life.

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