Sunday, November 29, 2009

Four - In Cheap We Trust - Lauren Weber

"Cheapness doesn't require abstinence and austerity - simply a thoughtfulness and care about how we live and a skepticism toward the messages peddled by the retail industrial complex."
Lauren Weber set out to figure out what happened to thrift in America through exploring ways that thrift has been used and at times deployed like a weapon to judge, please and condemn those who were or weren't conforming to shifting standards. The word cheap originally derives from the Latin word "caupo" which means trader man. It then evolved to the noun "ceap" - which means a trade in Old English. Finally in Middle English the phrase "good chepe" meant a good bargain or good price.

Ms. Weber starts out by detailing the founding fathers vision of cheapness. Back then cheapness came in form of boycotts on taxation and focusing on the virtue of being frugal to not be tempted by worldly ways. Next she moves into the mid 1800s and how banks were initially created to serve the masses of poor and struggling Americans. "What use can a woman have for arithmetic?" is the next question that Ms. Weber addresses. In the late 1860s, farm wives were the bookkeepers for their families and knew how to stretch a little budget to keep the farms afloat. In the 1920s advertisements started to focus on women and home economics education became the focus.

Part of the "cheap" perception are different stereotypes. Ms. Weber explores the history behind the "cheap Jews" and "thrifty Chinese" stereotypes. The next focus was how the wartime atmosphere brought a focus of cheapness and frugality into everyday life. After both world wars there was a shift back to consumerism to help continuing to boost the economy. Bank credit cards were introduced and Americans love affair with credit started.

Ms. Weber describes some local modern efforts to live in frugal means - Compact - year long embargo on buying new stuff and Freegans - people who employ alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources. Finally the last topic is the psychology behind cheapness. Ms. Weber's father lived by a simple phrase - "It's all about what you hold on to and what you let go of".

In her conclusion of the book, Lauren Weber leaves her readers with two questions
- How do we live low-cost lives while also recognizing that how we spend and money an impact for beyond our wallets?
- How do we consume conscientiously without supporting poor labor conditions or the deterioration of the environment?

This book was interesting and full of great statistics. I'm not sure it provided much guidance on how to live a more frugal life in modern day society. I liked that she did include a short chapter on the current economic crisis - but didn't dive deep into the causes. This book was definitely tough for me to get through. I found my mind drifting in the middle of chapters.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Three - Dewey - Vicki Myron

How much of an impact can an animal have? How many lives can one cat touch? How is it possible for an abandoned kitten to transform a small library, save a classic American town, and eventually become famous around the world? You can't even begin to answer those questions until you hear the charming story of Dewey Readmore Books, the beloved library cat of Spencer, Iowa.

January 18, 1988 Vicki Myron walks into work at the Spencer Public Library and hears noises coming from the book drop. Inside she finds this tiny kitten shivering from the cold trying to stay warm. As she lifts out the kitten, she feels an immediate connection with him as she looks into his eyes. And that is how Dewey's story begins. Vicki and the staff warm Dewey up and feed him. Throughout that first day, Dewey makes friends with the patrons and staff and lifts everyone's spirits on a cold winter day.

Only being the library director for a few years, Vicki knows she needs to get approval from the library board before keeping the kitten at the library. She researches concerns from parents over allergies and finds out the library is perfectly structured to not allow dander to pile up.

Vicki explains with little stories in each chapter how Dewey impacted not only the library patrons, but her own life as well. Dewey became famous outside of Spencer and Iowa itself via many documentaries. Even a small documentary crew came over from Japan.

This book is very heartwarming and provides a great picture of small town life as well as the inside workings of a library. I never knew there was a library cat society until reading this book.

You can see pictures and read a "job description" for Dewey on the Spencer Public Library's website.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Two - The Grift - Debra Ginsberg

grift - n. a group of methods used for obtaining money falsely through the use of swindles, frauds, etc.

gift - n. a special ability or capacity.

Marina Marks has been on the grift as a psychic since she was a child via detail observation and face reading. In Florida, she is being "threatened" by other psychics and being pushed out of the area. Mrs. Golden, one of Marina's long time clients, comes one day for a reading and ends up giving Marina her ruby ring to help protect her son from danger.

Marina uses the ring as collateral to move across the country to California. She decides to be a psychic at a private party in order to gain some new clients. There she meets
  • Cooper - a gay man in a relationship with Max - a closet gay man who thinks he is heterosexual
  • Claire - a stylist who is having an affair with a married man - Eddie
  • Madeline - the hostess of the party who is trying to become pregnant with her husband Andrew
One day a man arrives at Marina's office - Gideon - Mrs. Golden's son. Marina & Gideon start dating and slowly time for her clients dwindles. One night after making love, Gideon notices the ruby ring around Marina's neck. He questions her motives of why she stole the ring from his mother. Marina tries to explain that Mrs. Golden gave the ring to her. From that moment on - without the ring - Marina suddenly has "the gift" and starts to actually see visions of the future.

A fire at Marina's office, a death, two sudden pregnancies, and a jealous husband of a client changes Marina's business as a psychic and life forever.

This book was a quick read, but still left something to be desired at the end. Some plot points were able to be figured out before they happened.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

One - Let the Great World Spin - Colum McCann

New York City. August 17, 1974. Downtown. World Trade Center. - A man walks across a wire strung between the newly constructed World Trade Center towers. The city stops to watch.

Let the Great World Spin explores the interworkings of how one event can impact many different people. From an Irish monk struggling with his vows to a group of mothers grieving for their sons they lost in Vietnam, to two hippie artists which cause an accident on the FDR, to prostitutes on the streets of the Bronx trying to just make a living.

Colum McCann weaves the many different characters together in ways you never expect as he moves throughout the book. Behind the scenes - the city is watching a man attempt an impossible feat.

I originally picked this book because I cataloged multiple stories (Alan Cheuse review and Tina Brown recommendation) done on NPR about this author and book. Plus the setting of New York City in the 1970's seemed fascinating to me. I was not disappointed. This book is the best fiction novel by an author I have never read before. Colum's way of linking the different characters together in one story line was amazing. At one point I didn't realize that the hippie characters were linked to the first story about the Irish monk until half way through that chapter and I had a lightbulb moment. From then on, I was curious how he was going to connect everyone together.

Here is a short news report from August 1974 of the man who walked across a wire between the towers of the World Trade Center:

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Start your engines...

...the next round of Cannonball Read has started officially today.

My first book is Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.

Look for a blog post about the book later this week.

I finally posted reviews for the past 5 books I read in the first round of Cannonball Read. Check them out on the finito list below.

Thirty Four - Divine Justice - David Baldacci

This book is the fourth in a series focusing on a group friends who call themselves the 'Camel Club'. Oliver Stone - aka John Carr - has just killed two important politicians. As he is escaping on a train, he ends up saving a young man - Danny - from being beat up and travels with him to Danny's rural home town of Divine, Virginia.

There Oliver hopes to "retire" in peace, but ends up caught up in a drug shipment business and being kidnapped and held in a maximum security facility. His Camel Club friends - Annabelle, Caleb & Reuben - come searching for him and end up running into Agent Knox who was sent by the CIA to bring Oliver in alive.

Baldacci, David. Divine Justice. Vision (2009). 560 pages. ISBN 0446544884.
Full of twists & turns, Baldacci closes up the Camel Club books well with this novel. The local town shines as much as the main characters themselves.

Thirty Three - Legal Legacy - Linda Fairstein

This book takes place in New York City (as do all of her books) specifically within the New York Public Library (NYPL). An archivist working at the NYPL is found dead inside a freezer with a conservation room after potentially being raped by someone 3 days earlier. A housekeeper to one of the big library donors is found dead in the archivist apartment.

Alexandra, Mike & Mercer team up to investigate the two deaths and potential rape, but instead they find themselves pulled into library politics and a disfunctional donor family. As they continue to piece the evidence together all avenues point to the brother of a book thief.

Fairstein, Linda. Legal Legacy. Doubleday (2009). 384 pages. ISBN 0385523998.
Full of great library references and explores the great structure of the NYPL. Quick read - along with a great story!

Thirty Two - Notes from a Small Island- Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson documents his trip around England before heading back to the United States with his family. He explores all different types of towns - famous to infamous - doing touristy stuff and things off the beaten path - literally.

Bryson, Bill. Notes from a Small Island. Harper (1997). 282 pages. ISBN 0380727501.
It was interesting to read this book and be transformed back to my own adventures in England. Bill Bryson has a way of describing his travels in a way that you are transported right to that spot next to him.

Thirty One - Turning Tables - Heather & Rose MacDowell

Jane loses her job at a marketing firm and ends up taking a waitress job at a trendy restaurant. She told her uncle that she knew how to wait tables, but really she's never been a waitress before. Fortunately, a fellow waiter takes her under his wing and trains her on everything she needs to know.

One night a young producer dines in Jane's area with his girlfriend. Despite getting their order wrong, something clicks and Jane and Daniel have a little moment. In the meantime, Jane hooks up with a line cook in the same restaurant until the Chef finds out about them.

Jane catches a ride home with Daniel one weekend and suddenly he is being sucked into a family gathering with ease and charm. One night a critic comes to the restaurant and ends up in Jane's section. Things do not go well and Jane ends up having to do extra prep and close work. After a long and frustrating day, Jane ends up at Daniel's apartment and the sparks fly.
In the end Jane quits the waitressing job and goes into business for herself.

MacDowell, Heather & Rose MacDowell. Turning Tables. Bantam Discovery (2009). 336 pages. ISBN 0440242339.
Cute, fun and easy to read = chick lit!

Thirty - The Other Queen - Philippa Gregory

This book follows the life of Mary, Queen of Scots from the Fall of 1568 through February 8, 1587. During this period she is imprisoned in England - not allowed to claim her throne in Scotland and possibly the English throne as well. Her guardians are George Talbot, the Earl of Screwsbury and Bess of Hardwick.

Mary continues to scheme with the Spanish and other loyal catholics to restore her back to her throne in Scotland. George states to Queen Elizabeth that he will not fall in love with Mary, but eventually does and ultimately betrays his Queen. Most of the intrigue in the plot involves the ever changing drama of English politics.

Gregory, Philippa. The Other Queen. Touchstone (2009). 464 pages. ISBN 1416549145.
This boo was written differently than Philippa's past books. Each chapter was told from a different character's point of view. Unfortunately, most of the book was inner thoughts and not much dialogue. I felt the last 5 years were rushed through and not given as much attention as the previous years.