Thursday, April 22, 2010

american sucker

I suspected I wouldn't like "American Sucker" by David Denby and it did give me a queasy sense of disgust. It's about his foray into the stock market in 2001 - the bubble and burst of tech stocks.

I think it's bad enough to have the stated goal of making a million dollars in a year in the stock market - that is as dumb as entering a casino with the same ambition. And then to write a book agonizing over every detail of the market going up or down - yuck. It's a major turn off. He's a great writer, the film critic for The New Yorker, and makes lots of highbrown allusions to Falstaff or Achilles or Aristotle. But it's still just gross to read his endless self justifications for putting his family's funds into fiber optics or biotech. It's because his wife is leaving him! It's because risk makes you alive! It's the American way! Etc.

The biggest irony is that he ends up selling a 7-room apt in Manhattan after losing to much in the stock market - this in 2001, such surely was the wisest decision he ever made.

I was interested in the hectic culture - he befriended star analysts and CEOs - including the ImClone guy who got Martha Stewart convicted of insider trading. And then he was shocked and saddened to learn they were hucksters and criminals. They were very charming anf threw great parties! Who would guess they shouldn't be believed as they peddled their "get rich quick" schemes?

Denby is horrified by the modest, self-sacrificing people who live on small means. He thinks they are depressing and pathetic and obsessed with money. It's not that "get rich quick" is a moral evil. He argues over and over that taking risks in capitalism and seizing opportunities is what made our country great. Right. It's just that "get rich quick" does not work. He spent over a year trying it and ended up out a million dollars. All those tacky people with budgets and canned food avoided that fate.

The book is a peek into the envious and greedy big city culture and it makes me very glad to be removed. One time in my life, I was dedicated to the dream of a being a NY journalist. A job at The New Yorker - who could imagine anything greater? But then I read this guy's gruesome narrative. He's so unhappy. I'm glad to be away from the high pressure flashy big city lifestyle.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

elegance of the hedgehog

"The Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery is a French novel - and it's very French. Much pondering of Art and the nature of Art and what does Art mean in the world. These profound musings are fascinating - even if not entirely convincing. I mean, having the main character declare an intent to commit suicide and then discovering the glory of the world is rather trite. "Veronika Decides to Die" is an example, not to mention every movie where a terminal diagnosis is given.

There's also a contempt for bougeois attitudes - but it's a kind of reverse snobbery. The Japanese are held up as paragons of style and taste - which is a ridiculous generalization. But perhaps it's intended as an example of an immature perspective, as one of the narrators is a 12-year-old. (Shades of Holden.)

But I loved the conclusion that life's best use is searching for the "always within never." Lovely. Death takes away the individual, but the love remains always. You lose your mother, but the idea of the mother is eternal.

"My Own Country" by Abraham Verghese is a memoir by the author of "Cutting for Stone." It's about his experience as an infectious disease doctor in rural Tennessee during the mid-'80s when AIDS began to reach the small coal community. Everyone's phobic of AIDS as a misunderstood diease and phobic of gays. He writes about five or six patients as they try to come to terms with the illness as well as the shame and secrecy. It's very moving and compassionate. One woman finds out her husband has AIDS and gave it to her and her first thought is - shoot him, shoot the kids, then shoot herself. There was no concept of dealing with AIDS.

I also read "Parents Magazine: Best Advice I Ever Got" which was pretty meh. One good tip - use coffee filters in the training potty for easy cleanup.

Also I read "How to Never Look Fat Again" by Charla Krupp. Some advice was pretty obvious (dark colors are slimming) and some was very helpful and specific, about the yoke of jeans, for example.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

you're not you

"You're Not You" by Michelle Wildgen is utterly enthralling. It's about a college student who becomes a caretaker to a wealthy woman with ALS and gets really drawn into the woman's proud and glamorous lifestyle. The young woman learns to cook and gets introduced to sophisticated things. The compelling thing is how she takes on living the life of the ill woman - she speaks for her, looks out for her interests, takes on her causes. Fantastic, thought-provoking book full of unexpected turns and indelible scenes, like tracing a body onto a former lover's mattress.

"The Opposite of Me" by Sarah Pekkanen is a funny, light read about a nerdy woman who has a gorgeous twin sister. It's kind of like Sophia Kinsella's books, complete with loving dotty parental figures. Very charming and sweet.

"In A Sunburned Country" by Bill Bryson is a hilarious travel book about Australia. It is so enjoyable and delightful. I love this book! It cracks me up. It's my favorite of his books and I've read them all. He has a line about looking for dinner in the middle of nowhere: "I have learned that the reason a man opens up a Chinese restaurant in a small town is not to dazzle the town with the subtleties of Hunan cooking..." LOL!

"The New Yorkers" by Cathleen Schine is about a street in NYC and the people and dogs who reside there. I really like this author's wit and droll take on relationships but I just wasn't really feeling this book. The characters weren't really standing out in my mind - I was maybe too distracted.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

cutting for stone

I finished "Cutting for Stone" by Verghese - such a good, satisfying book. It's one of those sweeping sagas about a family entangled in a country's political revolution and spans the globe. I loved the author's medical expertise and perspective - there's a birth scene in there I will never forget! I was a bit turned off by the trope of the main character being haunted for life by the mean girl he knew as a kid and dreaming of having her virginity was the point of his life. Kinda like Pip in "Great Expectations" - it's a good way to propel the story forward while keeping in touch with their childhood but I think it's unrealistic (and creepy).

I also read "If You Follow Me" by Malena Watrous was excruciatingly fantastic! I was laughing my head off and squirming at the cultural misunderstandings experienced by an American teaching English in Japan. I've read a million books about Americans in France or Italy but never Asia, so it was fresh territory. The author did teach English in Japan so I feel she really portrayed the awkward reality of dealing with a toothache in a foreign country or trying to discard an appliance. Can you imagine having neighbors analyze your garbage every day? Yikes!

"The Gift of an Ordinary Day" by Katrina Kenison is memoir about her years building a house and watching her oldest son go off to college. It's nothing remarkable or astonishing, but she has an ability to savor each mundane day and cherish the moments of life. She can get a bit flown with herself - there are many mothers with much worse struggles than my kid doesn't want to move - but I still liked her company. I can always use more reminders to embrace these ordinary days of raising my baby.

I also read "An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination" by Elizabeth McCracken - a memoir about motherhood and an American in France! My two interests combined. The author had a stillborn baby and then a healthy baby a year later. It's very moving and heartbreaking, of course. She has a precision about her emotions and how people responded to her - she's not maudlin at all. Her tale jumps around in chronology so you're anxious to find out what exactly happened. Anyway, it's very affecting and brave.

Currently reading "The New Yorkers" by Cathleen Schine (who I love) and then "The Elegance of the Hedgehog."