Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Review: Arm Candy by Jill Kargman

As predicted, I read Arm Candy by Jill Kargman before I left for vacation. I finished it less than 24 hours after I cracked it open. It's that kind of book - a piece of chocolate that melts quickly in your mouth. I read right through dinner and nature calling to get to the last page last night.

Arm Candy is about Eden Clyde, a model and muse, and how she moved from the sticks to the muse of a (fictional) American art icon. I thought this was going to be a modern day Sister Carrie, the way Clyde used men to swing her way higher and higher up the social and financial chain. But that's only the start of the book. The rest is Clyde dealing with hitting the 40 mark and realizing her social climbing might not have been so smart.

It's not a serious book. It's not a life changing book. It's even a little annoying with the talk of how skinny Eden continues to be (blarg). But it's a fun book, and one I recommend for your beach bag (it'll be published in May). It would have been the perfect vacation book if I hadn't read it so quickly. DAMN IT!

That's alright. I'm sure there are more like it out there. I haven't bought anything new to take on the plane, but I do plan to stop in my favorite independent book store once I land tomorrow and see what they suggest I read.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Vacation Reading

The most stressful part about packing for vacation - at least for me - is picking what books to take. This, right now, is what I'm bringing with me to a week in Florida (though I suspect I'll finish Arm Candy before I go. It's too fluffy juicy to put away for long). Why stressful? Because if I pick bad books, I'll be stuck with nothing to read. I know, I know, they do have bookstores in Florida, but it's so much easier to pick something out of my bag, which is probably why I pack more than I'll ever read in one stint.

I read the first few pages of each of these books to vet them for vacation reading - nothing to heavy or depressing, and NO SELF HELP.

How do you pick what books to take on trips?

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Review: The New Frugality by Chris Farrell

"Eighty percent of small businesses fail in their first five years, so hitting that milestone in what amounts to your own small business is pretty awesome."

So said a friend when I told him that I was celebrating my five-year anniversary of being a full time freelance writer.

It was a nice compliment, and soothing. Freelancing is a precarious job. I scrap for every piece of work, and the pay doesn't always match the effort. I don't get any job-sponsored benefits, and I think I've only had two raises in those five years. Add on top of this that 2009 was not be kind to me. The Great Recession dropped my income by at about 25% in a year where I worked more hours than I ever had just to keep that 25% number from increasing.

So money was a big weight on my shoulders last year, and the start of this year, too, as I wait for several media companies to make good on late payments (and this isn't just the small guys - I'm waiting for a mega international publisher to pay me on a job I submitted in AUGUST).

I've gotten smarter about money in the last five years. I didn't have a choice - I have to be since I don't get a regular paycheck. Since January 2008, I've been writing about personal finance because I wanted to know more about it. I treaded water the first four years of writing and wanted the fifth year to be dedicated to setting up my retirement and investment plans.

Well, that was washed away by the Great Recession, and I was back to keeping my head above water. But in that time, I read and wrote as much as I could about what I WOULD do when work started coming in again.

Which leads me to The New Frugality by Chris Farrell.

I listen podcasts of to Marketplace Money every Sunday while marathon training. Farrell is economics editor for the show, and this book is an excellent round up of the kind of financial information I'd been looking for. It's not so much about how to save money anywhere you can, but how to plan for your financial future.

Apparently it worked. My mom works in financial planning, and last night I told her exactly what I wanted to do. She agreed 100%, and not just because she's my mom.

If 2009 taught me anything, it's about how to live on less. Even when things turn around (and I'm convinced they will), I will continue to live on less. I want to sock away as much as I can.

But I'm going to live my life, too. I'm going on vacation next week, which I know I need to recharge after a bad year. It's not an extravagant one, but somewhere easy to get to, and somewhere in its off season so it's cheaper.

Tricky this money thing.

A few notes:

1. Farrell says in the latter half of the book that he started caring more about his money when he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He then says nice things about having gotten cancer. After spending a few hours with Jen Singer, who is in remission, I was appalled by what he said. If you feel the same way about folks who say cancer is a gift, this might not be the book for you.

2. Farrell writes at length about being frugal when it comes to college. So very true. I'm glad that my parents forced me to go to the cheaper school. I don't have to deal with an obscene student loans like a lot of friends do now. If you have high school aged kids, pay special attention to this section. It'll help you cut through the emotion of wanting to give your kid whatever he or she wants when it comes to college, and to make smart financial decisions.

3. Farrell writes at length (again) about the choice to buy a home. This is a topic I think about a lot since I bought a house in 2007. There are so many factors that go into whether it's right or wrong to buy. Some people might say this was a mistake. But my mortgage (plus taxes plus insurance) are about the same per month as what I was paying in rent. And I do love owning my own space. No creepy landlords!

One of my 2010 goals is to pitch segments to Marketplace Money (they said to go ahead, which is encouraging!). This book helps. I already got onto Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! It's not too farfetched!

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Wait, Wait...

If you read this blog, you're probably a little geeky like me. You'll love this, then: I'm a contestant on this Saturday's edition of NPR's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!

You'll find the details here. They recorded the segment last night. It's the most nervous I've ever been about anything - more so than giving the commencement speech at my college graduation, more so than being on live TV. Yes, really.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Have you ever...

...been so disappointed with the book you're reading that you left it behind? I did. So if you picked up a well worn paperback at the 15th and 16th & Locust PATCO station last night, you're welcome. Maybe it'll be up your alley.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Review: Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

I don't know what I could say about Last Night in Twisted River that hasn't already been said -- John Irving is one of those writers who, I think, writes literary fiction but literary fiction that is read by a mass audience.

Last Night in Twisted Riveris about three men of the same family - a cook for a logging settlement, his son, and then the son's son. When the book starts, the cook is a young man, the son only 12 years old, and the narrative moves on from there, but not in a traditional point A to point B story line. It's like the characters are little blurs moving down that A to B line, jumping back and forth in the story, but only slightly. It's an effective story telling method, and even though this book took me a very long time to read (in comparison to how fast I usually read), I enjoyed it thoroughly.

I almost put it aside, though, given its graphic nature and how often death invades the story. My grandmother died recently and then, less then a week later, a friend suddenly and far too young. John Irving, I thought, was too much. But I found myself drawn more into the story instead, like reading the book, even though far from cheerful, pulled me away from the sadness around me. Hard to explain.

Thanks to my dad and stepmom getting me Last Night in Twisted River: A Novel for Christmas. I really wanted to read it, and I'm glad I did, and at this time in my life.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Textbook Time

While in college, I worked at the college bookstore. It was great for me -- discount! -- but I saw the pain of textbook buying a thousand times over, every single semester.

When I taught at Rutgers-Camden, I tried to pick a book that was cheap, and my second text was online.

Not all professors are that way, though. So if you're looking to find cheap books, here are a few options. Remember to look for the current edition and PREVIOUS edition of the book online. Sometimes changes from edition to edition are slight, and the previous edition is fine.

1. Half.com. This is my go-to site when buying books. I've also sold my old textbooks through the site and made enough cash to keep my dog in fancy kibble.

2. Amazon.com. Amazon's set up a textbook page for you crazy college kids (full disclosure: I am part of the Amazon Associates programs, so if you click on that link and buy something, I get a couple of quarters in commission).

3. Your bookstore. Colleges do buy back books at the end of the semester and re-sell them. These can run out quickly, though.

4. Online. My "textbook" for one of my Shakespeare classes were copies of the texts printed from the web. How can I do that? Because no one owns the copyright of Shakespeare. The same is true for a lot of older texts, so they're online for free. I have a Shakespeare iPhone App, too - again, free.

5. Cheap versions. If you're taking an English class, you can get about 1000 different versions of the works of Keats or Wordsworth. Dover's books are great, and they do the best to keep their costs down. They used to be Dover Dollar Editions, but the prices have gone up. Still, they're cheaper than buying a $15 paperback.

Of course, your teacher might want a specific edition by a specific publisher, but most professors know the costs of textbooks and are OK if you save money where you can -- at least in the humanities.

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Review: The 10 Laws of Career Reinvention

I judged this book by its cover. Given how many "change your life!" books I'm sent around New Year's, can you blame me? I expected The 10 Laws of Career Reinvention by Pamela Mitchell to be one of those career books that use a lot of exclamation points and promise that no matter what you want to do, it's possible if you reach! for! the! stars!

Instead, a found a sharp, smart, eye-opening book about what to do if you want to change your career. Mitchell is founder of the Reinvention Institute, and shows that she knows her stuff. Not only does she give sound and practical advice, but she uses real life examples to showcases those 10 laws of reinvention.

I felt like someone hit me on the head when I read The 10 Laws of Career Reinvention. It made me realize why I've felt so listless and lethargic lately.

I'm tired of being a freelance writer.

It sounds like a great job, doesn't it? I interview fascination people and write about a host of topics, all from the comfort of my own home. It has been a great full time career for the last four years, but there's a huge chunk of me that's exhausted from the constant assignment chasing, contract negotiating, and late checks. The recession took more of a toll on me than I realized. My income dropped 25% this year, even though I worked my tail off. Plus, as my income shrank, costs have only gone up: food, travel, healthcare, taxes, everything. Freelancers haven't gotten a raise since the 1970s. Could you imagine earning today what your counterpart earned 40 years ago? I've almost left freelancing before, but was always brought back in. Why? I realized it wasn't always me, but people telling me not to "give up." Were these other folks freelancers? No. But they openly admitted that they envied my lifestyle, usually shrugging off what I said were the downsides. Well, I'm not in this for them. I'm in this for me.

I didn't do all the exercises in the back of the book, but when I was half way through, I realized what I'd like to do next with me life, and have taken the first steps to reach that goal. I haven't felt so energized with work as when I took those steps to the new me. I'm not going to share what that is, but I'll take all your good luck wishes :-) I can tell you this, though -- it's all about writing, like my current job, and has a lot of the same elements of freelance journalism that I enjoy. But it's a different kind of writing.

If you're feeling the same way about your job, or have been laid off, this book might be worth a read (she does pay a lot of attention to those who have been victims of the recession -- it's a very "now" book). I'm glad I did, and if you read this blog, you know I don't say that often about these kinds of books.

Want to get an idea of what the book's about before buying? Check out www.reinvention-institute.com.

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