Monday, September 30, 2013

Winter Dreams

It is always fun to read a short novella, especially one written by one of America’s all-time best authors, F Scott Fitzgerald.  The story tells the tale of a man’s realization of the dreams that have passed him as chronicled in Winter Dreams, which can be found in one of Fitzgerald’s short story books.  The story is set in Blackbear, Minnesota during the winter thaw where a young adult, Dexter Green, who serves as one of the best caddies at the local golf course.  Green has spent his winter dreaming about the idea of being the best golfer in the region but reality brings him to the current moment in time, needing cash and being asked to work on the golf course, he quits abruptly. This interesting turn of events leads Dexter to go on to one of the elite “ivy” schools for college and he hits gold (almost literally) by purchasing laundry businesses.  Dexter falls in love with a woman of beauty (Judy) yet she seems unattainable because of her looks, but she has no financial means.  She hurts Dexter, though as the adage goes “we always love the ones who hurt us”… and she does.  She rebuffs his overtures, allows Dexter to get engaged, and then she claims her love (which leads to Dexter’s fiancĂ© to leave him).  Fast forward seven years as Dexter has built his monetary treasures even more to then learn of Judy’s current position in life… married to an abusive man who has many women on the side.  In addition, Judy has lost her beauty.  Through these learnings, Dexter realizes his dreams will not come true and begins to lament on “would could have been,” living out his own “winter dreams”…  What comes around, goes around.  Fitzgerald is adept at capturing the “male dreamer” of his time.  Much like Gatsby, Dexter is a playboy who never lives his dream, he just dreams.  Brilliant author who created the American novel.  Once again, couldn’t put down another one of those Fitzgerald books.  He is the pro’s pro.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Peter and the Starcatchers

A fun book to read that speaks to those that have a great imagination, enter Peter and the Starcatchers written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. It is noted as the “backstory” for Disney’s Peter Pan story.  The majority of the story occurs on the high seas with the English seaman vs. the pirates.  Peter, an orphan who grows up at St. Norbert's Home for Wayward Boys with his four friends, James, Thomas, Prentiss, and Tubby Ted.  The orphan boys get mixed up with the transportation of a secret treasure by the Monarchy of England from one port to another.  Fortunately, the pirates attacked the wrong boat, the first one that set the seas, the secret treasure was on the second boat with Peter and his pals.  After the evil pirate, Black Stache, attacked the first boat and found only a treasure chest of sand, he captured the second, with the special treasure.  During the voyage, Peter meets and befriends Molly, a young girl who is the daughter of a high-ranking British envoy.  During the battle on the seas between Black Stache and the boats carrying Peter and the treasure a major storm occurs which leads to the destruction of both ships.  The debris later ends on the island of Mollusk, as do the passengers of the two ships.  But the battle is far from over as the natives are not happy with the “invaders” and Black Stache wants the secret treasure.  Ah, what is the secret treasure… it is “starstuff” that allows those who touch it to fly and so much more.  Peter and Molly use the special “starstuff” to get out of many life threatening situations and of course use it to do battle against the evil pirates and the natives of Mollusk.  If the “starstuff” gets in the wrong hands, the world could be crippled forever!  The stakes are so high.  This is a high energy, fast-paced story with a ton of action.  It also has the burgeoning youthful “love story” of two teens who have the “hate/love” interactions early on and bond in a moment of life or death.  This “fairy tale” is a story for the ages.  One of the better stories I have read in a long time.  Throw in that it is now on Broadway – gotta go see this one!  What a great story that makes us remember when we were a little kid.  And the end, not everything ends with complete happiness, does it? Nice suggestion for my list!  This is a keeper.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Alienist

Mystery/thrillers are always great reads for me, add this one to the list.  The Alienist by Caleb Carr is set in the late 1890s in NYC!  Most of the action takes place in the Greenwich Village area ALL around NYU!  Love it.  Addresses I pass everyday where referred to throughout the book.  The story begins when a NY Times reporter is asked by his friend, a psychologist (referred to as an alienist at the time), to the scene of a horrific murder, the mutilation of a young boy who was believed to be a young prostitute.  The police chief was none other than future President, Theodore Roosevelt, when he actually served as the commissioner.  The two men (Schuyler Moore the reporter) and Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (the psychologist) are joined on their investigative team by a secretary in the police department (Sara Howard).  Their work becomes even more critical when more cases are discovered that used the same way of killing young victims.  Since using psychologist in investigations was seen as “taboo,” the undercover work of the team had to be supported by Roosevelt in private.  The using of psychological profiles to find their murderer was highly unorthodox and working around the corrupt police, whom did not support Roosevelt, made things even more difficult. The story is quite intricate and brings one back to a day and age where looking into the mind of a murder was a new direction in police work.  The author presents a fast-paced, yet long book, which reads quickly and hard to put down at times.  For those who love psychological thrillers, this one is for the ages!  The concluding chapter is what every murder mystery reader hopes for!  Add this to the list a terrific read, especially if you love the NYC backdrop (a bonus if you are familiar with it), as you will want to visit all of the addresses you see in the book, kind of like what happens when I watch Law and Order!   

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

When it comes to thinking about why and how the market can be played by smart financiers, no better book than the historical novel: Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Scottish journalist Charles Mackay.  The book was first published in 1841 and is broken into three subject sections:  "National Delusions," "Peculiar Follies," and "Philosophical Delusions."  The author chronicles the economic bubble and why illustrating the  South Sea Company bubble of 1711–1720, the Mississippi Company bubble of 1719–1720, and the Dutch tulip mania of the early seventeenth-century.  The reader gets an inside understanding of how speculators can change the market showing how tulips became the “new gold” of its time. While I am not a finance guy, I can see how this historical perspective can be helpful in understanding the trends and how our markets are affected by tried and true formulas.  While some of the stories are dated, certain concepts stay true yesterday, today, and I’d say tomorrow.  I can’t say this was the most engaging of reads for me, but again, finance isn’t my industry.  For those looking to understand concepts through stories of the past, go for it!  Give me a good novel anytime.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Pearl

I am always totally jazzed when I read a book that I really loved.  So was the case with John Steinbeck’s The Pearl, which he takes from a Mexican folklore tale.  How did I miss this book along my reading days?  And only getting on the list now?  A short novella of sorts that has a BIG message, focus on the relationships and what we have, not on what we don’t have.  In the end greed will bring you down and so it does in this story.  Kino (the protagonist) is a humble poor man living with his wife and son along the ocean.  One day his son, Coyotito, is stung by a sea scorpion and needs to be taken to the doctor to be cured.  He is and Kino promises that he will pay him back as soon as he can, since he just found a very valuable pearl from the ocean and plans on selling it.  The doctor offers to take it in exchange for the services offered, but Kino believes he can make so much more.  Kino and his family face robbers, business men who want to rip them off in a sale of the pearl and other calamities in holding on to the pearl, including the destruction of their home and Kino killing a man in self-defense for the pearl.  Finally in a last attempt to get to the city to receive a “fair rate” for the pearl, Coyotito is killed by an errant gun while Kino is trying to protect the pearl.  This short story is truly a metaphor for how we need to balance material goods with the personal relationships we each have the opportunity to make paramount.  The story flows well and should be read by every person who spends more time counting their 401 account than spending time with their kids, their best friends, etc.  Thank you Mr. Steinbeck for this great tale being memorialized on paper.  A must read!