Month: April 2022

Book 20 of 52: The Bond King by Mary Childs

I have a friend who likes to say that money is fake. Some sums are so big that they don’t feel tethered to reality. Can you envision what a million dollars looks like? A billion? A trillion? Money is fake!

I kept muttering “money is fake!” while listening to The Bond King by Mary Childs, which is about Bill Gross, founder of investing giant PIMCO. Childs starts with him leaving the firm and the shock it sent through the financial world. She then meticulously shows how he gained his fortunate and his Bond King title, and then how he lost the firm he created, to the point that I’m not sure why it wasn’t obvious to everyone that there was much strife in the house of PIMCO before he left.

Childs has had a long career in financial journalism and is now a co-host and correspondent on the NPR podcast Planet Money, which I listen to often, and is how I learned about her book. I had heard about Gross back when I was a living through and reporting on the Great Recession, but my focus was on personal finance and how people like myself could get through it, […]

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Book 19 of 52: Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia

After reading Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer last year, and the sequel P.S. Be Eleven for book 7 of 52 this year, of course I was going to read Gone Crazy in Alabama, the third book in the trilogy about sisters Delphine, Vonetta and Fern and their adventures in Brooklyn, Oakland and Alabama in the late 1960s.

In this book, they spend the summer in Alabama with their grandmother, Big Ma, who previously lived with them in Brooklyn after their mother left and moved to Oakland (hence the previous Oakland trip). After their father re-married, she moved back to Alabama to live with her mother, Ma Charles. They in turn live across the creek from Miss Trotter, Ma Charles’ half sister, and the two are trapped in a bitter feud. Why? The book goes into all that of course – along with the usual “city girls in the country” doing things like collecting eggs and watching their cousin milk a cow, and the fights between the sisters. I’m one of four kids, and a lot of that continuous squawking, where you can go from playing cards to fighting in a flash, rings so very true.

It’s great, of course. I […]

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Book 18 of 52: How to be a Wallflower by Eloisa James

Romance novels always involve some kind of conflict. Without it, why would we read the 300 or so pages about how the two leads get together?

There’s usually some sort of external force the characters unite to fighting against. And while there’s some of that in Eloisa James’ How to be a Wallflower, it’s not heavy. Instead, James focuses on the relationship between the leads: Cleopatra Lewis, who inherited and now runs her father’s “commode” business (as in, yes, toilets); and Jacob Astor Addison, an American looking to poach London’s best costumer designers for the chain of theaters he owns in the U.S.

The conflict? Themselves. Cleopatra’s mother had engaged in a series of short affairs with actors (often married actors) and left her daughter to clean up the mess, and it’s skewed her views of sex, marriage and love. Cleopatra also knows that if she marries, her business becomes property of her husband, which may sound ridiculous, but remember that in the U.S. married women couldn’t get credit cards in their own names until 1974.

Jacob had intentions of proposing to a family friend when he returned to the U.S. because the pairing made logical sense – until he met Cleopatra. […]

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Book 17 of 52: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is one of those books I knew about, but hadn’t gotten around to reading yet. It received so much coverage (well deserved!) and won so many awards (also deserved!) and figured I’d get around to it eventually, which I did when I recently found a copy in a Little Free Library near my house.

Of course, it’s as good as everyone said, the story of Desiree and Stella Vignes, identical twin sisters growing up in Mallard, Louisiana, a community where light skin is valued, in the 1950s and 1960s. When they’re sixteen and their mother pulls them out of school to work, they run away to New Orleans instead. Their stories split when they do, because Stella leaves to start a new life passing as a while woman.

I’m obviously not qualified to write about the racial issues of the book (and I know “issues” itself is not a strong enough word). Instead, I’ll point you to this Vox Q&A with Alisha Gaines, author of Black for a Day: White Fantasies of Race and Ethnicity. Also, I appreciated an interview Bennett did with The Los Angeles Times about where the idea for the book, […]

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Book 16 of 52: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris

I have generalized anxiety disorder and, on and off, dance with depression. I have done a lot of work to be able to not just function but live a full and rewarding life, including but not limited to therapy, medication, and running for hours at a time.

However, in early 2020, COVID broke over those dams. I write about science and medicine, and I had panic attacks while interviewing doctors. That early March, I screamed at my dad to not get on a plane to Texas, and for my mom give up her tickets for the Philadelphia Flower Show – and then catastrophized when they did those things anyway. My friend said that I was a Casandra: shouting about the terror to come with no one believing me, until it was already here.

In a gasp to find some relief, I tried meditation, first through the Calm app, and then Dan Harris book, 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress without Losing My Edge, and Found Self Help that Actually Works (quite a subtitle). I would sit at my dining room table in the morning while the dishwasher hummed in the background, and do whatever guided meditation was […]

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