Friday, April 2, 2010

Of Books and Readers and Writers

I often wonder if there is any connecting thread among and between all the books I get through, since my ragbag of a monkey mind is constantly in action in all directions, and any insight you, dear blogistas and blogistos, can shed would be welcome, heh.

Anyway, the current crop is a wild mixture, I think, ranging from How to Get Things Really Flat by Andrew Martin, which is a man's guide to housework, and one of the funniest and best approaches to this everlasting problem I've ever read.

He is a Yorkshireman, of course (!) and points out what a Southern, i.e. southern UK, friend of his said about northerners, that they are totally arrogant because, since they come from the source of the industrial revolution, it's in their DNA. To which I plead guilty, since everybody knows that nobody knows how to do things better than a Yorkshireperson...speaking as one meself.

Anyway, he came from a working class household, in the city of York, mother died young, and his father and he with some help ran the household, his father being an unusual northern man in that he tackled cooking and housework in a soldierly spirit, not seeing it as beneath him, very refreshing. His son went from there, on the grounds that it wasn't about doing women's work, but about being independently able to take care of your own life wherever you lived.

Worth reading and you have to put it down now and then to just laugh and wipe your eyes, just warning you here.

Then there's the other end of the spectrum, the Bag Lady Papers by Alexandra Penney, a lady who lost her entire savings and all via Bernie Madoff, whom she refers to throughout as MF. Not bitter, noooooo. Anyway, it's an interesting insight into one of the people who put every penny of their assets into one person's hands and wondered why it all went wrong.

The book came from a blog she was invited to write, for lovely $$$, after the crash, via contacts, some of whom also jetted her around to various island paradises to recover from her sudden descent into what she thinks is poverty. Oh well. But admittedly, this is all relative.

She was genuinely frightened and panicked and angry since she had earned all the money she had. She fails to note, or realize, that she was pretty much born into circles that would bring her in contact in a credible way with people who could put opportunity in her path. But this is rather typical of people who are born on third base and think they hit a triple, so we won't hold that blind spot against her, since she really did work hard.

But it's hard to sympathize with her since the one person she does not get angry with is herself, for being so foolish as to put ALL her money into one place. Heck, even a squirrel knows better than that. And this is a story you hear over and over about people who lost a great deal via Madoff's supposedly surefire secure asset building.

They seem to have an all or nothing mentality, a very high risk approach given that they were so unsure about investing that they needed an adviser. And she fails throughout to note this, which would have served her very well in future ventures.

It's a good read though, even if you do grind your teeth here and there when she discovers you can have a nice party without Baccarat and Limoges and high thread count tablecloths, etc. And then goes to the other extreme and has paper cups and plates and soda, and oh dear, will she ever learn.

Those of us who frequent dumpsters and thrift stores and Freecycle know that you can have elegance along with thrift, but this is not about us...

She reminds me of a friend close to me in age who, years ago, lost her entire pension, she said, in a financial adviser's putting it in tech stocks right before they plummeted. She had simply handed it over to him, and watch it fail, oh dear. Since she had been forced into early retirement by a merger, she was in a state over finances, and told me repeatedly she had no income at all coming in. Single woman, mortgage holder, very scared.

Since she was old enough to take early Social Security, and I had just got through that process, I suggested she follow up on that, and since she was paralyzed by fear, I looked up all the documents, and directions to the SS office and generally helped her get that option going. I spent a lot of time reassuring and helping and thinking I was being useful. She did sign up, and then said, now I have to find another adviser for my other savings.

Oh. She had not mentioned this, and I suggested she simply take it on herself, now she had time to learn about finance and make prudent investments on her own, maybe using index funds (my fave). Whereupon she said, oh, it's far too much money for me to handle alone. And told me the total. The interest alone was more than my own net I decided she didn't need to waste any more of my time. Yet she was genuinely frightened even though it would have taken the second coming to really put her under a bridge with shopping bags! so it's all relative.

The best part of the Bag Lady Papers is the graphic design. Wonderful crumpled brown paper made into a posh bag and dress, and background for chapters.

And the book on Chinese watercolor techniques by Lian Quan Zhen, is a beautiful read and look and it doesn't matter if you're an artist or not, it's wonderful to see and just feast on the images. Great classic techniques, reminders of the basics, just a wonderful, encouraging and humble book by a master of the genre.

Then there's E.F.Benson, the author of the Lucia books, which are some of the funniest comedies of manners there ever were. Made into a wonderful tv series, too, Miss Mapp and Lucia, which I have on tape and watch on my little old tv with the tape playing option. Perfect characterization by Geraldine McEwan, Prunella Scales, Nigel Hawthorne (hi, Trish!) and other great character actors. Just pitch perfect. And you either get it or you wonder what it's all about!

Latest rereads are a collection of short stories by Benson, who also wrote a lot of ghost stories which I don't plan to dip into, as well as other short material, and Dodo, about a society type lady, inadvertently funny. Quirky books but worth at least taking a look.

And there's Wilson's The Victorians, which I will sort of skate through, not reading every bit, but settling like a heedless moth here and there on the best bits...

So that's it for the Field and Fen Bookshelf today.


  1. I enjoyed this post very much. Your critique of the Bag Lady is great. I read it with a broad Yorkshire accent chortling to myself. Great blog. Thanks.
    Happy Easter and all that.

  2. My goodness, your description of Andrew Martin's DNA certainly explains a cyberacquaintance of mine, to a T. Hmm, doesn't make me like him, but I see where he's coming from!

    And Benson's Mapp and Lucia - isn't that one just so funny! The piano duets slayed us. We saw the drama and have the book too. I laugh just thinking about them.

    Am I caught up yet.....


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