Although my husband and I have yet to experience any life-changing illness or injury, such a thing is always in the realm of possibility, and, far bac...moreAlthough my husband and I have yet to experience any life-changing illness or injury, such a thing is always in the realm of possibility, and, far back in your mind, you always know it. You feel the urge to push the knowledge even further away, as if by merely thinking about it you may call the reality forth. And so we live our lives, unprotected should cruel chance strike a blow... and not nearly grateful enough when it doesn't. The large-spirited wisdom contained in this slim book -- much of it drawn from professionals in fields ranging from medicine and psychology to philosophy, spirituality, and law -- has helped to wake me up. I have been touched by the pure wealth and depth of the information offered, and by the writing style comparable to that of Alice Miller or Carolyn Myss in its rare grace. This is a beautiful and important book.(less)
This is Mary Karr's third memoir, and her writing has mellowed and become numinous, while she's kept her Texas talent for raucous storytelling. Her jo...moreThis is Mary Karr's third memoir, and her writing has mellowed and become numinous, while she's kept her Texas talent for raucous storytelling. Her journey from alcoholism to God kept me riveted and filled me with awe. (There's no need for spiritual sustenance quite so ravenous as that of the person who's hit bottom.) Simply put, this is one of the most purely beautiful books I've ever encountered.(less)
**spoiler alert** I'm intrigued by how many people give meager ratings to this book because they "hate Rabbit." I wonder if they're mostly people born...more**spoiler alert** I'm intrigued by how many people give meager ratings to this book because they "hate Rabbit." I wonder if they're mostly people born after, say, 1970, so they don't immediately see what Baby Boomers see at a glance: Rabbit is an eerily perfect analogy for the America of his time. Hermoine Lee wrote that Rabbit, Run "is the most metaphorical writing in American fiction, except for Melville's." And the metaphor is so perfect that, if you're personally acquainted with the original, you occasionally want to bang the book against your head.
Rabbit is about 10 years older than me -- the generation between me and my parents -- and, yes, I actually find him extremely unlikable. Let's face it, the guy's a walking id -- big strapping golden boy, glorying in the athleticism that came so easily to him and was anyway more generally admired than intellect -- he has a HUGE sense of entitlement with a correspondingly low sense of responsibility. The world is his $5.99 (in current dollar value) all-you-can-eat buffet. Or it's supposed to be, but has somehow stopped being, which is the source of Rabbit's pain and resentment. With few resources (and little desire) for analysis, he follows every impulse toward the easy gratifications he expects from life. He gets in the car and leaves his pregnant wife -- but turns around before the territory becomes too new. He seeks out the high school basketball coach, who loved him in the old days before losing his job in an unidentified "scandal," and puts Rabbit up for a bit in his seedy room over a boxing joint. The coach introduces Rabbit to a prostitute who falls in love with him and lets him move in. He stays with her until he hears his wife has had their baby, and then leaves her, also pregnant.
Through all this, yes, Rabbit does demonstrate a certain sincerity -- even when he's at his most self-serving. But I don't think this is Updike's way of trying to make him "lovable." Apparently, Updike considered this character his most fun of all to write, and I'm pretty sure that's because it was so interesting to show how a certain kind of buffoonery can do so much damage. In the sequels, Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest, each showing Rabbit a decade after the other, we get to see the logical outcome of Rabbit's (and America's) peculiar brand of irresponsibility.
If you hate Rabbit, then you know why so many Americans of his time pushed "hippie" things like feminism, civil rights, the EPA, alternative health practices, consumer protection, etc., etc., etc. They hated the guy, too.(less)
I gave this book five stars, not because it's a brilliant piece of literature, but because everyone should read it. This slim tome was just what I nee...moreI gave this book five stars, not because it's a brilliant piece of literature, but because everyone should read it. This slim tome was just what I needed in seeking behind-the-scenes info on stock trading.
Besides explaining halfway comprehensibly what derivatives bloody well ARE, Frank Partnoy shows exactly how junk bonds are designed (you take some bad-risk instrument and give it a cool-sounding name), given AAA ratings (you pay the ratings agencies), and sold (call your most unsavvy clients and talk meaningless jargon really, really fast). Most illuminating, though, is the insight he offers into the world view that pervades the industry: pure hostility toward you and me.
If that last statement sounds harsh or paranoid, consider the conversation Partnoy recounts with another trader in his early days with Morgan Stanley (once the industry's bastion of integrity). The guy described how he did exactly the above with a corporate client who "obviously didn't understand" that he had bought $85 million worth of an extremely high-risk bond, instead of the safe, government agency bond the agent had implied. When the bond became nearly worthless within a few weeks and the client called in a panic, the agent cooly told him he had simply "made a big foreign exchange bet, and you lost." As head of an insurance company, which isn't even allowed to invest in foreign exchange (something the agent undoubtedly knew), the client was dumbfounded.
The agent, who of course had made a huge commission on the deal, howled with laughter as he related this story to Partnoy. Then he introduced Partnoy to an expression traders commonly used when describing how they conned uninformed clients this way.
"Frank," he said, "I ripped his face off."
It would seem we are not, in fact, in good hands with Allstate -- or with pension funds, unions, municipalities, state or even national governments (can you say Greece?), and certainly not with the investment banks who "help" these entities to invest their funds judiciously. But, according to Partnoy, we can't point the finger solely at institutional sleaze. When the first edition of this book came out in 1997, Partnoy discovered that betting on public reaction was riskier than any derivative.
"Derivatives outsiders howled they were sick, sick, sick," he writes, "not about the excesses of the derivatives market -- but about not joining up sooner."
The fictitional Larsen E. Whipsnade said that you can't cheat an honest man. I don't put the blame for the 2008 financial meltdown on consumers, as so many mortage companies, pundits, and politicians rushed to do. But I don't absolve "Joe Sixpack," either. Wall Street is guilty of extreme fraud and thievery, and it's been going on for 30 years, but I seriously doubt it could have reached this level if not for the larceny that resides, cherished and safe, in every person's heart.
Bottom line lesson from this book: Do NOT expect good faith efforts of financial reform from decision-makers -- demand them. Then do your part: Stop expecting your conservative investments to yield too-good-to-be-true returns. (less)
Never schooled in finance myself, I am admittedly not someone whose opinion you want to rely on in this matter. Nonetheless, I am offering it, for one...moreNever schooled in finance myself, I am admittedly not someone whose opinion you want to rely on in this matter. Nonetheless, I am offering it, for one reason: Since its 2007 publication, many of the alarming economic predictions in this book have come to pass exactly as described.
I don't suggest that Ms. Brown is a prophet -- virtually everything in her book is drawn from other sources (and scrupulously cited) -- but simply that she has got her facts straight. This being the case, her book should be read by anyone who wants a modicum of understanding of our global financial situation. It should also, I think, be required reading for everyone in the Legislature.
In reading this book, I was amazed at how coherently the monetary system could be described to a lay person. I'd never have guessed, from all the boring, jargon-filled discourses of our venerable "financial experts," that this was an issue that could be addressed in common sense language. And before anyone thinks I'm just some lay person who is delighted to understand SOMETHING about global finance and hasn't analyzed the data: I have in fact heard and read many arguments against the salient points in this book. I've also posted questions to some of them online -- in particular, about tallies and local currencies, two alternatives Ms. Brown mentions. I've been fascinated to see that no one so far has even acknowledged my questions, even though both tallies and local currencies have long been used with great success in many places in the world up to the present time. Instead, people more informed than I continue to call for "a return to the Gold Standard," a system guaranteeing scarcity and inflation, as far as I can see. It seems that the human urge to ignore "the Emperor's clothes" continues even into this current historic economic crisis. We humans hate considering a new paradigm. And so we continue along the old routes, keeping the major players in their jobs and the current structures afloat, despite their catastrophic track record and the alarming future staring us in the face.
I think it's worth pointing out that this book is strongly supported by world-renown economist Bernard Lietaer, among other high-profile financial and economic experts. These are people who know what they're talking about, and they believe Ms. Brown does, too. Some people may scoff at Ms. Brown, but I can't see how her supporters can be easily dismissed.
The information in this book needs to be common knowledge to every citizen of every country in the world. If the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, so is the price of financial freedom. The economic crisis did not start in 2008. Its roots are deep and far-spreading -- it is the logical result of a centuries-long systemic shell game. We could cut the taproot if we only identified it correctly. Then, with the right steps, we could create a flourishing garden. I wonder if we will ever do so.(less)
Unlike many of the people who, to my great surprise, give this book low ratings, I had no feelings of disgust or outrage toward it at all. This may be...moreUnlike many of the people who, to my great surprise, give this book low ratings, I had no feelings of disgust or outrage toward it at all. This may be because I expected it to be neither a scientific work nor some sort of feminist Word Of God. I simply found the topic interesting, the quality of her work acceptable on all counts, and some of her experiences quite surprising (yet resonant).
The most valuable insights I gained from this book are what she herself expressed as the two biggest surprises she encountered:
1) Among other things, she had expected to finally see what the "privileged" position of males in our society was really like. For the main part, she experienced no great privileges.
2) As a part of the "inner circle" of boys-only, she expected to hear numerous open expressions of disrespect for women. To the contrary, she was struck by the deep devotion many of the men -- even sexist Joe Six-Packs -- felt toward the women in their lives.
These two insights were alone worth the price of the book, although there was much else that was eye-opening. The crappy way she was treated by the straight women she tried to date was amusing in a macabre sort of way. (And yes, that too resonated. Unlike some of the other reviewers here, I deeply regret to say that I AM acquainted with many women who fit these descriptions.) In addition, the moment-to-moment harassment of men to keep them in their "masculine" roles was news to me. Yet, once more, it rang completely true as I examined it.
When she ended the book by declaring, "I'm glad to be a woman," I thought perhaps I heard the a faint trumpeting of the end of the "Lifetime Television" era of victim-based feminism. THAT would work for me in a BIG way.(less)
I recently finished an outstandingly beautiful novel (THE MASTER PLANETS), and immediately went into one of those "I'll-Never-Find-Anything-As-Good-Ag...moreI recently finished an outstandingly beautiful novel (THE MASTER PLANETS), and immediately went into one of those "I'll-Never-Find-Anything-As-Good-Again" funks. Then I found this book, which is not only a brilliant piece of literature (it's by Roth, after all), but also deals with some fascinating issues similar to those in PLANETS--issues I wanted to read more about.
As just one example: I am not Jewish, but have noticed in certain writings something uniquely poignant in the Jewish love for America immediately after World War II. This was the country that had taken in many Jews' parents and grandparents in a way never before experienced, I believe. For the first time they were not outsiders, but simply immigrants in a land full of immigrants. And for the first time, every opportunity--in this nation of bounteous opportunities--was open to them. It is not surprising that the name "America" would become almost a hymn on the lips of many American Jews in this period, that they would develop an unparalleled love for their country. As all of America basked in a cornucopian economy and the righteous sense that our own good works had entitled us to it, American Jews were, perhaps, "Ultimate Americans." So it is also not surprising that, like everyone else, they also gave little thought to the idea that the richness of life here was too well fed by our military industrial complex and exploitation of Third World nations.
The protagonist, Seymour "Swede" Levov, certainly does not think about these things, and therein lies his downfall. As Amazon reviewer Ian Muldoon so aptly notes, the central question of the book is whether it is acceptable for Levov to to accept that he is one of the lucky ones and simply enjoy his place in time and history, or whether his good luck also carries an obligation. An inherently decent man, Levov does not look beyond his own life to wonder if it impinges on the lives of others. But his daughter cannot feel so sanguine. Merry has not had the good fortune of Seymour and his wife to be thought "perfect": She grew up with a terrible stutter, over which her beautiful parents agonized. Is this what gave her the ability (willingness? determination?) to see the fissures in the edifice they revere? In any event, she sees the fissures yawning, and her answer is to place sticks of dynamite in them. And later to withdraw so far from the world that she scarcely eats so as not to "destroy plant life," and will not even wash for fear of "harming the water." She has started by demolishing the world around her, and is now obliterating herself. Miraculously, the stutter that at one time "terrified" Levov is gone... as she herself soon will be.
AMERICAN PASTORAL is the story of a beautiful nation that, about 40 years ago, let some part of its best self slip away. As the "Ultimate American," Levov is the perfect symbol. As he thinks, so thought we.(less)
I'm sorry to slam something that has moved as many people as has this collection of monologues. I also hasten to note that I'm frequently out of step...moreI'm sorry to slam something that has moved as many people as has this collection of monologues. I also hasten to note that I'm frequently out of step with the tastes of general public, so feel free to take what I'm about to say with a grain of salt....
I do NOT, in ANY way, get the merits of this book/play! What are we going to read about next -- our anuses? The spaces between our toes? Our tongues? ("My tongue, when it curls -- warmly, trustingly, joyously -- against my hard palate... brings me home to myself....")
This piece of work strikes me as the HUGEST fit of public navel-gazing (except lower down, of course) in the past 30 years -- and when you think about some of the writing we've seen in that time, that's going some. On the other hand, maybe it's the naturally-arising response to the massive cuts in NEA funding in this country:
The 15-year surge of one-man and one-woman monologues in our non-profit theatres is purely due to the fact that there's virtually no money anymore for full stage productions. Costumes, sets, and ensemble casts have given way to a solitary actor standing on stage under a single spot, in black slacks and the obligatory "gem-toned" shirt, possibly using a prop or two as s/he describes some aspect of his/her life to the audience. Many times, this is good theatre -- I don't suggest it's not. My point is that this kind of low overhead allows both the actor and the venue to make a BIT of money out of their efforts, whereas a real play no longer can.
So here's the logical extension: You can't slash overhead more than by offering a monologue, but you CAN raise attendance by making the monologue all about vaginas! Please note this bit of dialogue from "Curb Your Enthusiasm":
[Actress who got the part:] Here's to "The Vagina Monologues"!
[Manager who got her the part:] Here's to the vagina!
Recognizing the deadly forces arrayed against our American dramatists today, I hate not to support them. But my support stops short of reading -- or attending "dramatic" productions of -- irrelevant tripe. Life is just too short. (less)