FLASH BOYS by Michael Lewis

FLASH BOYSIf you have any money in the stock market, you need to read FLASH BOYS. Of course, I am biased because Michael Lewis (author of Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, The Blind Side, The Big Short, Boomerang, etc., etc.) could write the phone book and I would read it. His writing unrolls like a gorgeous set of waves, story after story—all true—and you cannot help but be mesmerized. This book, like his others on financial topics, is both mortifying and enlightening. And this one is also inspiring, because finally there are some good guys.

FLASH BOYS is about how Wall Street brokers, banks, and traders have been ripping investors off, which is not news, but it is actually worse than you thought. In the past few years, the invention of high-frequency trading has enabled brokers to receive information on trades micro-seconds in advance in order to take steps to alter stock prices. The fact that this is not illegal and in some ways was precipitated by a regulation attempting to close another loophole simply underlines how dysfunctional the financial system is. Through a suspenseful narrative, Lewis explains how this situation came to pass and what one man (ultimately, along with some colleagues) decided to do about it.

It is truly an amazing story, and it gives me hope in humanity. Margaret Mead continues to be right: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Brad Katsuyama is my new personal idol. I am grateful to Michael Lewis for telling his story. Bravo!

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GETTING THE LOVE YOU WANTWow. I know this book has been in print for 20 years, but I guess I wasn’t ready to read it until this weekend. And I’m glad I finally did. If you are wondering why you are attracted to particular people and what it means, this book provides some answers.

Harville Hendrix argues that we are drawn to people who manifest the positive and negative traits of our parents. Which is, of course, the good news and the bad news. While it can be challenging to deal with the negative traits, we NEED to in order to heal our childhood wounds. But alas, how? It takes a serious commitment. Although Hendrix focuses on success stories, I am sure there are plenty of people who would prefer not to invest the time and energy needed, and in some cases, they may conclude that, for other reasons, the relationship is irreparable and an equal partnership is not possible. This is not a process for the faint of heart or for people who feel “obligated.”

Although subtitled A Guide for Couples, the way this book explains how intimate partners can work through their conflicts and become stronger and more loving is absolutely relevant to single people, as well. It has given me new hope that more profound partnerships are possible, for me and all of my friends.

So much food for thought here. I am stuffed with ideas.

(PS—Many thanks to Margaret Lin for the recommendation!)

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STILL LIFE WITH BREAD CRUMBSIf you are on vacation or if you need a vacation, Anna Quindlen’s latest novel, STILL LIFE WITH BREAD CRUMBS is a perfect escape.  A modern-day fantasy about a formerly famous photographer who is down on her luck and meets a roofer who changes her life (OK, maybe I am oversimplifying a bit, but still—he does), it’s totally predictable but at the same time completely engrossing.  The characters are believable and, except for the mean ones, lovable.  Quindlen’s romance is not so much a comedy as a social critique of upper-class New Yorkers that peels back a few layers and—why not mix in another metaphor?—levels the playing field.  In short, if you are tired of workworkwork and the 24-hour news cycle, it’s a good way to spend an afternoon.  (PS—Thanks to my friend Sandy Gingras for the recommendation!)

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LITTLE FAILURE by Gary Shteyngart

LITTLE FAILUREOne advantage to living alone with two cats who don’t drive is that you can get more reading done.  Not just at the dinner table and in bed, but also at the mechanics’ since there is no one to help drop your car off.  I was thinking about this today while waiting two hours to get a flat repaired.

Fortunately I had Gary Shteyngart’s memoir to keep me company.  I’d picked it out of a lineup of several attractive options, and it grabbed me by the throat from page one.  There is something about his story—his self-deprecation, his vulnerability, and the challenges of growing up Russian in America during the Cold War—that makes this book engrossing.  The title is, of course, ironic: he is a best-selling novelist (most recently of Super Sad True Love Story).  But his father calls him “Little Failure.”  Not ironically.  And that is the heart of the narrative, but that is not all.

Little Failure is one of those books that—like a scary movie—makes you want to look away, but then you can’t help it: you want to see what happens next.

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THE DARK SIDE OF THE LIGHT CHASERSEvery time I read this book, which I do every few years, I think the same thing: Great book, terrible title.  The subtitle, “Reclaiming Your Power, Creativity, Brilliance, and Dreams,” is helpful, but by that point it’s too late.  My guess is that most people see the title and say, “Huh?” because it’s so abstract.  It’s also misleading, because in fact the book is about seeing the bright side of shadows.  A more accurate title would be: “How to Learn from the Things That Other People Do That Drive Us Crazy.”  OK, maybe that’s a bit long, but it’s more accurate.  Maybe I should just keep my day job and let it go.

Anyway, if you are trying to figure things out (Who am I?  Why am I…? Why don’t I…?  etc.), this book can be astonishingly insightful.  Ford explains that other people are our mirrors (PS, Shakti Gawain, author of Living in the Light, makes the same assertion) and that when someone acts in a way that bothers us, it’s a sign of something in ourselves that we are refusing to acknowledge.  For example, if an incompetent clerk drives you bananas, you have to figure out why his/her incompetence troubles you so much.  It doesn’t mean you are incompetent; more likely you are highly competent.  But perhaps you were criticized early in life for being incompetent and have spent your whole life trying not to appear incompetent, to the point where you dread making mistakes, often feel tied up in knots, and are unwilling to take risks or unable to generate creative ideas or make changes in your life which would require risk-taking.  Ford says that until you recognize this aspect of yourself (i.e., that you are hiding your fear of incompetence), you cannot be completely whole.  Once you unpack the situation and can say without flinching, “I am incompetent, I am incompetent, I am incompetent,” then you can heal that aspect of yourself.  There’s more to it, of course, but this is the basic premise.

Ford also points out how much energy it takes to hide something from ourselves and others.  Imagine having to carry a grapefruit around all day, she says, having to hide it from yourself and others.  That’s what we are doing with some of our emotions.  Better to take a look at it and deal with it.

Powerful stuff.

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DARING GREATLYI recently arrived at two important conclusions: first, that attempting to live a 100 percent rational life is pointless, and second, in a world where Sheldon can kiss Amy, anything is possible.

With those two thoughts in mind, I picked up Brené Brown’s DARING GREATLY and looked for clues about how to improve my life.  This book, subtitled How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Lie, Love, Parent, and Lead, explains the paradoxical views that we tend to have about vulnerability (e.g., “I want to experience your vulnerability but I don’t want to be vulnerable,” and “Vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me.”) and how we need to recognize the key role it plays in living what she calls a “Wholehearted” life.

Brown believes that we live in a culture of scarcity, where the messaging is that you can never have enough or be good enough.  Many people feel shame and try to hide it.  Some of us think we can opt out of feeling vulnerable by controlling things or keeping too busy to feel.  Others wear different forms of armor.  Some (perhaps many) numb themselves or become disengaged in other ways.

If you are a teacher or a parent, this book provides some tremendous insights into why children behave the way they do and how we can help.  For example, Brown’s explanation of the difference between “fitting in” and “belonging” might make you re-think how you treat students or family members.  It might also cause you to reflect on your own upbringing.

In short, there’s something here for everyone.

Posted in Change, Coaching, Creativity, For BUSINESS PEOPLE, For EDUCATORS, For PARENTS, Inspirational, Nonfiction, Self-help | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

JOSEPH ANTON by Salman Rushdie

JOSEPH ANTONAt one point while reading Salman Rushdie’s brilliant narrative about what happened after he published The Satanic Verses and the Ayatollah Khomeini sentenced him to death, I became stranded in a hotel when the city of New Orleans was put on lock-down because of freezing rain.  I could walk around, but nothing was open (except, mercifully, the restaurant in my hotel).  My situation was in no way like Rushdie’s: I had not written a book that angered an Iranian leader; no one was plotting to kill me; I did not have to try to convince political leaders to help me, not knowing if they ever would….  In fact, I had complete confidence that my situation would be resolved soon.  It was supposed to warm up by Thursday and I could then resume my business.

Nevertheless, being frozen in place gave me a tiny little taste of the lack of freedom that Rushdie endured for more than a decade.  And even though I read his whole memoir, I still don’t know how he did it.  I mean, the book explains what he did—and how the Special Branch (and others) protected him day and night, and how his friends went to enormous lengths to help him—but what he (and his family, friends, and colleagues) went through is almost unfathomable.

Joseph Anton (his cover name while in hiding) is more than 600 pages long, and it is perhaps inevitable that at times while reading it, you just want it to be over.  As did Rushdie.  But his story is remarkable and the immersion in it reveals the insights and experiences of a powerful writer.  In short, it is time well spent.

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ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell

ELEANOR AND PARKEven if you don’t teach teenagers, you’ve probably been a teenager at some point and also, probably, in love.  Possibly both at the same time.  My point is, while ELEANOR & PARK is a “young adult” book, it tells a story we can all relate to: two teens who are treated as outsiders by their peers and have some family problems gradually become friends and then can’t get enough of each other.  Come to think of it, this happens to us adult-adults, too.  Which explains why we remain optimistic in spite of the odds (OK, yes: by “we” I mean “I”).

The only thing I would add is that unlike Romeo & Juliet, this book has a perfect ending.  Seriously.  One of the most brilliant endings ever.  Nicely done, Ms. Rowell!

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DIRTY LOVE by Andre Dubus III

DIRTY LOVEOne of my college professors used to say that you don’t really read a short story until you re-read it.  I began thinking about this halfway through DIRTY LOVE, as soon as I realized that the stories—four novellas, actually—were interconnected.

I started to flip back to earlier stories to see how, exactly, the characters knew one another; although the connections are not heavily emphasized, they add another layer of meaning by inviting us to consider alternate perspectives of the action at hand.  For example, in “Listen Carefully as Our Options Have Changed,” we see Mark Welch’s situation through his own eyes, as a husband whose wife has cheated on him; in “Dirty Love,” the main character is a bus girl who recognizes him (presumably as a neighbor) and notes that she’s seen him in the restaurant once with his wife, then a couple of times drinking alone at the bar.  These deft touches from story to story add a fascinating dimension to the overall work, which is rich, realistic, and engrossing.

My only advice is this: if you don’t have time to read these stories twice, read them in one or two sittings so you can better remember the characters and appreciate their nuances.

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LIVING IN THE LIGHT by Shakti Gawain

LIVING IN THE LIGHTI realize that some people will look at the cover of this book and immediately dismiss it as too New Agey, but that would be a shame.  If you’re trying to figure out things in your life—and who isn’t?—then you could do worse than consider what Shakti Gawain has to say.

I first read LIVING IN THE LIGHT about 20 years ago, and I’ve re-read it several times since then; I turn to it when looking for answers, and it always reminds me, in a comforting way, that paying attention to your intuition and attending to the signs all around you can, in fact, provide the answers.  This sounds obvious, perhaps, but sometimes we forget to listen to ourselves, we forget to trust our instincts.  Sometimes our instincts seem crazy, but that’s the point: we need to look beyond the rational mind to see more deeply into what is needed.

Anyway, Gawain asserts that the people around us are mirrors, reflecting some aspects of ourselves that we need to be aware of.  She also suggests that we are composed of multiple selves (not that we all have multiple-personality disorder, but that we have different competing strengths and energies), and it can be helpful to monitor how those selves are interacting.  I think she’s right, for example, that if we disown parts of ourselves, we miss the energy that those parts could bring to our lives, and we need to figure out how to accept, say, our vulnerable sides so that we can be open enough to experience true intimacy and closeness.

She also has some interesting insights about what we can learn from our children.  But I don’t want to give everything away.  You should pick this up and take a closer look.

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