Thankful Thursday XXII – Freakonomics And Thinkers

I just finished reading a book with the provocative title When to Rob a Bank. It was written by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, the pair who became famous with the book Freakonomics. This Thankful Thursday, I’m thankful for the Freakonomics pair… and by extension, any books that make people actually think about things and why they are they way they are.

Freakonomics was a 2005 book which became a surprise smash hit, with over four million copies selling in quick time. It looked at a range of social issues and problems, and in some cases turned them on their heads. For instance, it looked at the problem of cheating on school tests and focused on how to catch teachers who helped their kids cheat (which in itself is quite a concept) in order to make their own performance seem better. Among the things they looked for was rooms where children suddenly jumped ahead in their marks one year then reverted back to previous low grades after moving to another class. Most controversially, they put forth the idea that the biggest reason for a sharp drop in violent crime rates in the ’90s wasn’t cities hiring more police, getting them involved more in community events nor tougher jail sentences for criminals but the Roe vs Wade decision in the ’70s which made abortion legal and comparatively easy to access. They hypothesize that many abortions, if not performed, would have led to babies being born to women who already knew they wouldn’t be good parents… drug addicts, ones who hate kids, ones living risky lifestyles etc. In turn these kids wouldn’t be given good supervision or role models and would be likelier to turn to crime at a young age.

Whether you agree with their assumptions or not, they were thought-provoking and interesting, and a great way to start a lively debate at a dull dinner party. When to Rob a Bank is similar but was essentially a compilation of short blogs and articles the pair had written, resulting in a book with far more stories but less in-depth looks at the topics. They tackle things like are doctors over-stating the risks of being overweight, if gun bans actually work, why the U.S. keeps making pennies that cost more than a cent to produce, how the Endangered Species act might work against the interests of the rare animals it’s supposed to protect, and improving your odds in poker. Apparently both writers are avid poker players and they devote an entire chapter to posts on improving your game by logic and math. I think, I must admit I, being a person who plays cards very rarely, got a bit bored with those stories and skipped over many of them. Now, I will say that I didn’t agree with all their assertions or premises, but I did find myself questioning conventional wisdom and at times, my own beliefs. Which is never a bad thing. Questioning those will lead to one of two likely outcomes – finding you were probably wrong, and thus being a bit wiser , or reinforcing one’s existing beliefs. Seems like either is a desirable occurrence and something encouraged by the best teachers, clergymen and even politicians. Beware those who claim to have all the answers and not to question them is my philosophy.

Levitt and Dubner are similar in their writing to another author I like and respect, Malcolm Gladwell. They take problems and dull studies and find ways to make them interesting and relevant to the masses. They also seemed to create a new niche in the publishing industry, books about intellectual topics geared to ordinary people. People who make us think and keep our interest in doing so. I’m thankful for them!

By the way, their book title, When to Rob a Bank? They say “never”. The risk of a person being caught is great and the “haul” most get far smaller than most people imagine.

The More Things Change…

Things have changed a lot in my lifetime, so imagine how much things have changed in the last hundred years. Turns out, for all the computers, internet, rap music, women’s lib and online porn of our time, the answer just might be “not as much as you’d expect.” Or at least that was my takeaway from my most recent read, Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers and Swells. It was a book I picked up at a dollar store recently, a compilation of articles from Vanity Fair magazine in the early-20th Century.

Vanity Fair at the time seemed to be one of several eclectic magazines which published serious articles, short stories, poetry and I believe photography, though that aspect was missing from the paperback. The book presents a selection of all of the above that were published between 1914 – 1936. As such it gives an interesting time capsule look back from the time of my grandparents. It features some big names, before they were big names – the first published works by Dorothy Parker, essays from Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock. Cocteau can be found in the pages within as well as DH Lawrence, pondering “Do Women Change?”. Of course the current events dictate a fair bit of the content – Leacock ponders somberly on the human cost of World War I (to them, just “the Great War”) ; several stories chronicle the stock market crash of 1929 and subsequent depression.

Now, I will say that humorous senses were a little different back then. Some of the articles clearly meant to be laugh-enducing satires like Pooh-creator AA Milne’s “Autobiography” left me bored and a bit weary rather than rolling on the floor guffawing. Likewise Dorothy Parker’s series of poems (“Actresses – A Hate Song”, “Our Office – A Hate Song”) and her short story about why she chose to remain single left me thinking she was a great * cranky self-centered person who might possibly rhyme with ‘witch’ * rather than a tremendous wit. But for all that, the one thing which stood out to me was how seemingly current some of the topics were a hundred years later.

In our age of the War on Drugs, British poet Arthur Symons ruminated on the effects of hash and opium on one’s senses. Several stories looked at how to get around prohibition when alcohol was taboo. Those who figure that “Women’s Lib” started with the Pill and burning bras in the ’60s might be surprised to read the Anne O’Hagan story from 1915 entitled “New York Women Who Earn $50 000 A Year”, a description of the many women she knew making that amount or more annually (in excess of half a million dollars in our money) stressing how women don’t have to rely upon men for their keep. And of course, there’s fashion. Sure, women in 1920 didn’t dress precisely like today’s gal-on-the-go, but the changing fashions and in particular the length of skirts was an issue as far back as 1923 – the writer liked the short skirts (which one might guess would be quite modest by today’s standards) – “what the feller in the streets wants is legs” he comments, but he noted how the industry seemed to change the in vogue style from year to year forcing ladies to buy more clothes. Sound familiar?

Likewise, the Wall Street crash led several of their writers to question the wisdom of the “system”, noting among other things bankers always make themselves rich even when their firms bankrupt the masses and how those playing the stock market who get rich point to their acumen and intelligence while those who went broke blame “bad luck.” Not unlike columns we would have read only a dozen years back. Another man tells the story of being an Afghan fitting into American society, something he accomplished but with a stumbling block or two along the way.

Of course a few things are different. There are articles about the wonder of the new form of entertainment known as “moving pictures” and a long essay on that new kids fad, Jazz music, “the only distinct and original idiom (Americans) have”. Even there though, one imagines a twenty-something kid from the city today might write a similar piece about Rap.

I didn’t find the book to be all that entertaining, yet I did read through it though with interest. It presented a good look at life a century back and left me thinking “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” In today’s climate, I can’t make up my mind as to whether that is comforting or terrifying.

The Beatles From An In-house Observer

I love music and love reading, so no surprise that I love well-written books about the music that I like. I just finished one such volume – The Beatles From A To Zed , by Peter Asher (and yes, he makes a point of it being “zed” since they’re British!). It seems it was written as a companion or erstwhile script to a satellite radio show he has, thus it reads rather conversationally but it’s fully enjoyable as a standalone book.

Asher, as many fans of the Fab Four know, was a musician that knew the Beatles when they were just starting out. His sister dated Paul McCartney for several years and in fact, Paul even boarded at Asher’s house for awhile while young. McCartney wrote “A World Without Love” which John Lennon didn’t like so he offered it to Asher, who recorded it as part of the duo Peter and Gordon. He kept in touch with Paul and the others, joined Apple Records as a talent scout and producer and eventually moved to the States to spearhead James Taylor and then Linda Ronstadt’s careers. So he has a lot of interesting stories to tell about the Beatles and the music world of the ’60s and ’70s in general, and relates some of them in the book, including quite an in-depth look at how “A World Without Love” came together and how in awe of Paul’s writing abilities he was as he seemingly came up with a bridge and fixed the chorus spontaneously when he knew his friend wanted to record it.

Anyway, the book is set out, as you might guess, in 26 chapters, one for each letter. For each he looks at songs which start with the letter in question, or other things related to the Beatles (for example, a section on “oboes” for the letter “O”); in most cases picking a Beatles one as well as one from each of the four post-Fab Four. Of course, some letters are more challenging than others… for “U” for example, he substitutes the word “You”, and for “X” he looks at “ex-Beatles” like Pete Best. Along the way he talks about everything from hearing “Hey Jude” for the first time to impressing friends by playing “Help” to them before it was officially released to watching TV evangelists on late-night stations in the U.S., and how that actually inspired a #1 hit. He points out he’s not an expert in either the Beatles nor music, so most of his choices are personal recollections or opinions – which songs he likes the best and why – although, as a musician, he does give some pretty detailed explanations on some things musicians will love. How the pairs of strings are tuned differently on a Rickenabacher 12-string guitar; the rapid-fire time signature changes in “Here Comes the Sun” for instance. But more of the content is his memories of hanging out with Paul (and the others to some extent) and his own reactions to hearing some of the great music for the first time.

It’s a light read but a thoroughly enjoyable one. It left me with an added appreciation for all four of the Liverpool lads and a yearning to go listen to some of their records all over again.

I give it 3.5 Yellow Submarines out of five.

Meg Shone But Real Star Was On Sidelines

Some are surprised by the fact but some guys like movies that are fun and romantic more than ones which feature a lot of things blowin’ up. I’m one of those guys, so I don’t mind when my sweetie wants to snuggle up for the evening and put on a classic Romcom movie. Now there were some goofily fun ones made in the ’50s and her beloved Jane Austen wrote works which had the romance if not the comedy part of the equation, some of which have been made into perfectly acceptable period movies. But for me, you can’t do any better in that genre of film than the trio of late-20th Century smashes from Nora Ephron : “When Harry Met Sally”, “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail.” All three had complicated romances, and all three had Meg Ryan as the female lead. Not a bad formula at all.

So I quite enjoyed reading the book I’ll Have What She’s Having, loosely a biography of writer and director Ephron, but more specifically an in depth look at those three movies and how they came about. The Erin Carlson book looks at Nora’s upbringing and her turbulent marriage to Watergate reporter (made heroic in the book and movie All the President’s Men) Carl Bernstein, which itself resulted in the movie Heartburn, and ends by filling us in a little on Ephron’s life after the three movies mentioned as well as those of the main stars. Still the bulk of the book is on the works Carlson says “saved the romantic comedy.”

Whether or not it did that, Nora certainly raised the bar for the type of film and made Ms. Ryan into America’s sweetheart. Whether coincidentally or not, Ryan probably looks the best in the book, generally as nice to be around and as bright as her movie characters. Tom Hanks also comes out looking good, a little reluctant to do so many romance movies but good to everyone on set and a great actor. Billy Crystal and Rob Reiner are seen in fine light… really the only featured person (besides the ever-philandering Bernstein) who isn’t shown to be a joy to be near was Ephron herself. Ephron is depicted as prickly, short-tempered and rather close-minded. However, that might be what made her a great movie-maker. She was also obsessively attentive to detail and had a great sense of dialog and movie pacing. Reading the book, one comes to expect none of the three movies would have amounted to much had it not been for Nora’s vision for them and insistence on certain actors being cast and scenes being shot.

Fans of the three movies will be interested in a lot of the trivia that resulted in them being like they were. An entire storyline cut out of You’ve Got Mail to keep it to under two and a half hours. The iconic “baby fish mouth” in When Harry Met Sally being adlibbed by Bruno Kirby. And of course, the punchline the book got its name from, the classic diner scene in When Harry Met Sally in which prim Sally fakes an orgasm at the table… to Harry’s mortification. Turns out that was Meg’s idea, and Rob Reiner (the director) thought it was brilliant… until he began to sweat when his own mom was brought on set!

However, even if these films aren’t your cup of tea and you prefer ones with a lot of explosions and perhaps heroes in capes, if you’re a fan of Hollywood and films in general, it could be interesting. Carlson details much of the film-making process, and how a so-so script is edited, tweaked and rewritten, sets are searched for and meticulously created, lighting sculpted, the processes of finding the right actor for the roles and much more that would be as applicable to a Marvel adaptation or teen gross-out flick as it would a mature romcom.

A fun and interesting read. I’ll give it 3.5 AOL mailboxes out of five.

Imogen Developed Good Book For Poor Photographers…

Poor as in “not rich”, although a poor as in “not good” photographer might benefit as well!

I’ve been reading a rather lengthy book of late, so we’ve not had any book reviews here for a bit. But in the last couple of weeks, I did squeeze in an interesting, albeit specialized book, Photo Hacks, by Mark Wilkinson and Imogen Dyer. The book would be of interest to people interested in photography; if that’s not you, there’s little point in even trying to remember the name.

Dyer is a young British gal who years ago started a YouTube channel, originally it would seem to basically document her life, like so many… so very many… others who figure their lives are enthralling to people far and wide. But over time, the attractive woman who did some modeling, did more and more of her videos about her modeling. Generally they were with photographer Wilkinson. In time the channel and website that followed became a photography hub, dealing far more with photo shoots and techniques than what teas Imogen liked or her shampoos of choice. A couple of other cute and personable models, Emma and Caitlyn, got involved and Weekly Imogen came to have thousands of subscribers and make something of a star out of photographer Mark. And deliver a steady dose of the best,worst “dad jokes” you’ve ever heard.

So when they decided to venture into publishing, their paperback Photo Hacks caught my eye. It’s much more a “how to” than a gallery-style coffee table book and the thing which makes it really stand out to me is that it is all about tips for making your photography better on a budget. Anyone with a bit of knowledge and a lot of cash … a lot … can get great photo equipment like macro lenses that will focus down to an inch (for instance, a Canon 85mm f1.4L lens would be nice gift for your dearest photographer… at $1599 in most large NYC shops), or rent you great professionally lit studios. Getting similar results with little money is a challenge, and the pair rise to that challenge in the book. It gives you page after page of idea for adding to your photo repetoire spending very little money. Some are obvious – use bed sheets for backdrops, use windows for a nice side lighting for portraits – others are far from. A cut-up cardboard box and aluminum foil to make a pro-quality lightbox? Paper plates to diffuse lights? An old Pringles chip tube for close-up shots? Genius. It also gives you some basic tips on finding good, free locales for photo shoots, how to prepare so one can work quickly and a range of other things useful for a learning photographer. While most of the tips are for those using SLRs, many could be adapted for use with any old digital camera or even your camera phone.

Once again, this is a book which would only interest you if you are at least a somewhat serious photographer. But if that’s you, and especially if that’s you and you’re without the bank account of an Annie Leibovitz, this book is highly recommended, and quite entertaining. I got my copy fairly cheaply online, but as it is British, you’ll probably need to find it that way if you’re here in the land where people selling things on their front lawn are having “yard sales” not “ boot fairs”.

Scrublands Full Of A Lot More Than Just Snakes & ‘Roos

We’ve heard of “whodunnits”, but the most recent book I read is more like a “whydunnit”? Or so it would seem a couple of chapters in, but by the time we finish we’re not quite sure if it was a “whodunnit” mystery, a “why” one, a romance or a rural slice-of-life drama. Murder! Intrigue! Romance! Rural sociology! In the end, Scrublands turns out to be all of the above, making it quite a page-turner.

The 2019 novel was the fiction debut by Aussie journalist Chris Hammer, who seems to have learned how to tell a story well in his line of work. Like “lead with the hook.” He does that in Scrublands, where the most “action” happens in the prologue before chapter one begins. A small town priest gets ready for his Sunday mass and then, seemingly out of the blue, turns into a mass murderer, shooting people in front of his church for no apparent reason.

A year passes and a city newspaper sends middle-aged reporter Martin to look around the town and see how it’s coping. When he gets to Riverside, a small town that served as a stop on the highway and not a whole lot else, he finds it’s business as usual… as usual as business is going to be in a town of fewer than 1000 with few viable businesses surrounded by drought-stricken farms. But as he begins talking to the locals, he finds the more interesting story is trying to piece together the “why?”. Why did the relatively popular young priest turn murderous, why did some of his townsfolk get shot while others were spared? And of course, the “whats”. What did his rampage have to do with a couple of other murders nearby, if anything? What were members of a violent bike gang doing spending so much time riding through town? And most of all, what were townsfolk trying to cover up?

The answers to that fill the 300+ page book as Martin deals with the police, Australian feds cuiously interested in the goings-on and a number of local oddballs of questionable character. And, maybe, just maybe falls in love along the way.

It is a complex read at times, in that there are a lot of story arcs intersecting. Most of them eventually tie together satisfactorily and the whole story moves along at a brisk, entertaining pace.

An enjoyable book that resonates very well oceans away from ‘Down Under’… and seems to be begging for movie treatment!

Big Dog In A Small Truck Take On The Huge Land

Recently I read and reviewed Our Towns, a contemporary book documenting a couple’s travels across the U.S. with their stops in a variety of cities and towns. I compared it to a modern Travels with Charley, which made me decide to read that John Steinbeck non-fiction classic. Actually I should say re-read, as I discovered that gem probably close to three decades back when I was going through a period of trying to read classic “literature” and found it a short hop from Steinbeck’s novels to his travelogue.

For those unfamiliar with it, Travels with Charley is an account of a trip around the perimeter (more or less) of the Lower 48 that the celebrated writer took some 60 years ago now. He drove the miles in a pickup with a camper back, with his big poodle, Charley along for companionship. It was eminently interesting and well-written and mixed a yearning look back from the aging writer with glimpses of a marvelous future. Now, it’s more a look back and a measure of how we’ve changed. And how we’ve not.

Some things are indeed changed, and for the better I’d say since 1960. Our idea of “men” has evolved, more in some areas than others, but 1960 Steinbeck was still of the generation that settled differences with fisticuffs, more often than not in a bar, and hunted because there was stuff to kill. He lamented only seeing two fights along the way and packed along a rifle and shotgun, more just to fit in than to utilize them. He seemed to lament that he was tired and didn’t feel like shooting coyotes he saw in the desert, all the while worrying about Charley while in New England, fearing his dog would be shot as soon as it exited his truck by over-zealous gunmen who’d think it a deer. He shares stories of old logs being full of lead and cows being shot by wonderful “outdoorsmen” who assumed them deer. Doubtless we still have deer hunters and hunting season, but it’s encouraging to me that we have somewhat more respect for wildlife – and dogs and livestock – than we did in that day and age.

Another thing John lamented was the disappearing regional dialect and accent. He said upon reaching Montana “here for the first time, I heard a definite regional accent, unaffected by TV-ese.” He feared that the telly would soon wipe out every regional variation in dialect and accent and we’d all be talking like Walter Cronkite or Lucille Ball before long. My sweetie works in Customer Service for a company that operates in about a quarter of the country; she can assure you that just hasn’t happened. Sometimes it’s difficult to know that Cajuns of the backwoods of Louisiana are even speaking English, and there’s no mistaking the Bostonians who drive their cars by turning on the “khakis” or the traditional Bronx cadence from just over a hundred miles away from there. Native Mississippians sound little like native Minnesotans although they’re bound together by one great river. Myself, I’ve been asked where I was from many times when in Atlanta (usually in a friendly but inquisitive manner) and in Texas had one woman suggest “You’re not from here – is that a Chicago accent?” I told her no but not far off… I was from another Great Lakes city. We southern Ontarians don’t think we have accents, but we sound different to those in the Lone Star State, even if we watch Friends and Masked Singer shows together. Steinbeck misread the future on that.

Another difference is not in the story, but the reaction. Steinbeck was amazed at the mobile home parks springing up everywhere, and was in awe of them. It was a new phenomenon which made eminent sense to him. “They are wonderfully-built homes, aluminum skins, double-walled, insulated…” and convenient, he figured. “If a plant or factory closes down, you’re not trapped with property you can’t sell…he rents a trucking service and moves on” to the next city with the next batch of jobs waiting. Now, I daresay Steinbeck wasn’t wrong in the convenience or affordability of them, but for better or worse, very few these days share his sunny take on them and the parks they are located in. Ugly it is, but true as well that a good chunk of the country automatically look at the residents not as smart, adaptable people but uneducated, dirty dolts. Why else do we all understand what someone means when they say “trailer trash.”

Some things never change though, one of the big examples in the U.S. being the Texas spirit. Steinbeck says “Texas is a state of mind. Texas is a mindset” and in fact, “a nation” even. He notes the huge state varies from flat farm fields covered in snow in winter in the Panhandle to sandy Gulf beaches and citrus orchards along the Rio Grande… nothing in common but for the energy and bravado of the residents. Not to get him wrong, he says he likes Texas, married a Texan and was treated with fantastic hospitality when in the Lone Star State. He points out at home, Texans tend to be friendly and welcoming, but as soon as they pass by Texarkana or El Paso they feel self-conscious and ill at ease and turn into the loud, boorish Texans of Hollywood stereotypes. Sentiments that seem about as apt today, as I write this from Fixer Upper-land, as they were to him back then.

Sadly some of the worst things Steinbeck documented are still among the truest. He lamented the bland highways, saying one could drive from New York to L.A. without seeing a thing, and that the cities they line are coming to all look the same, with the same chain stores and takeout restaurants. If he thought that then, imagine if he could see it now that McDonald’s have served “billions and billions” and Walmart isn’t just a small town five and dime in the hills of Arkansas!

Perhaps the most glaring example of “the more things change, the more they stay the same” though probably makes the book hit many book clubs and reading lists this year again, that being discrimination and racial unrest. He speaks of growing up in a town where there’d only been one Black family, and they were well-liked, hard-working people no one had any grudge against; spoke of being reluctant to even visit the “South” due to their attitudes and hearing time and time again speeches against desegregation and jokes about thinking Charley , his darkish dog, was a “N”word, time and time again before he even left Texas, let alone hit Mississippi and Alabama. He watched in horror as crowds gathered along the street to yell insults at one tiny Black girl being led into a “White” school in New Orleans by federal marshals. Certainly the circumstances have changed and progress has been made, but it’s discouraging so much of the national debate and daily news still revolves around racial problems in the land.

One universal Steinbeck uncovered unintentionally in his wanderings seems the same for any long distance voyager, be they astronauts, merchant marines, Ewan McGregor riding his motorbike across continents or even Dorothy in Oz: the trip that begins a happy adventure becomes a drudgery, a mere race to the finish line in its last miles. Visiting is great, it would seem, but really there is no place like home.

Younger : Redmond Vs Star

My latest reading for the year was an interesting novel – Younger by Pamela Redmond (2019 edition). It’s interesting for two reasons. First, the story itself is intriguing and captivating. Second, and perhaps more interestingly, because it was the foundation of the cult-hit TV show of the same name. Actually, it’s rather interesting for a third reason too… the copy I had was extensively “updated” from the original 2005 version which won Redmond fame and a TV contract, with the characters brought into the here and now with plenty of modern-day references like I-phones and Grindrr apps. (By the way, dear readers no, I don’t have any plans to do the same to my book, Grace, Fully Living to leap Grace ahead two decades.)

The basic premise of the story, both on printed page and on the TV screen, is that a recently-divorced 40-something woman decides to go back to work after spending the past couple of decades at home, being a homemaker and mother to a girl who’s now college-aged and overseas. She finds it difficult to resurrect her once-promising career in publishing, and senses that bosses think her too old and inexperienced to be useful. Enter her best friend, Maggie, an avant garde lesbian artist, who goads and helps her into trying to look, dress and act younger… 26 in fact. With the new attitude, wardrobe and fuzzy resume, she gets back into her old field and finds new romantic interests. Of course, she lives in a constant low-level sense of fear with so much riding on her being assumed to be a perky young Millennial rather than a middle-aged mother.

The show on TV Land is now in its sixth season, with plenty of twists and turns in both her work life and love life. The book however, is narrower in range, covering just the first year she attempts to pull off the “younger” life. It’s one of a number of differences between the two. This part made it all the more interesting to me, as seeing the finished on-screen product, it was cool to see what the writers kept and what they altered from the original template.

*SPOILER ALERTS FOLLOW*

As I said, many things are the same… the basic facts of the heroine, her attempt to pull off being almost 20 years younger, her young love interest in Josh, her picky and prickly boss at the publishing house she goes to work at, her daughter’s mercurial nature and eventual return from charity work overseas, and Maggie. For all the similarities, there are differences aplenty.

Even the names have been changed. Our protagonist we all know as “Liza” on TV is Alice in the book. Her work friend played by Hillary Duff on the show is known as Kelsey there; Lindsay in the book. Other names are altered, although one which isn’t  Charles. The handsome boss on TV is… Mrs. Whitney in the book? Actually, his character doesn’t exist in the novel, with the boss being an aging feminist writer whose only interest in Liza/Alice is her ability to come up with modern covers and prologues for their catalog. Happily for Josh, no rival for the heart of our heroine appears on the pages. Meanwhile, Maggie is obsessed with becoming a mother in the book rather than finding a hot new lover, as the TV version is. Last but not least, her book stint at the publisher is abbreviated rather than years-long and elevated. She does however, find something creative and useful to do after the job in the book. You’ll need to read it to find out what that might be.

In short, the TV show centers largely around the dilemma of Liza needing to choose between the two loves – the age-appropriate (for 26 year old Liza) and fun Josh, or the age-appropriate (for by now close to 50 year-old mom Liza) successful and polite Charles. And, how far Liza and Kelsey can take their own division of the company with its “Millennial” titles.

The book, on the other hand, revolves around the conflict within Alice as to whether or not to follow her heart about Josh, whom she feels deep down too young and too likely to be disappointed in her down the road and the themes of motherhood played up by the ironic contrast between her and Maggie. She has spent much of her life being a mother and suburban housewife and wants to cut loose a bit; Maggie’s spent her life being wild and living the downtown life, now she yearns for something more domesticated white bread and apple pie.

Which version works better?

Both are quite entertaining and at least enthralling enough to keep one turning the pages or turning on the TV week after week. As Redmond says in the epilogue, “when you sell your book to TV or movies, you sell the rights for them to do whatever they want to your characters and stories.” She adds she loves the show and thinks Darren Star has “stayed true to the characters and spirit of the book while making some great additions.” That he has, and necessarily so. If true to her original book, Younger might have made an interesting movie but would never have the legs to run a show with episodes running for years.

All in all, a good enough book which will be all the better for fans of the show.

Introducing Grace, Fully Living

It’s Christmas Eve and thirty-something Grace Tyler just can’t find what she’s looking for… on the store shelves this close to closing time, or in the men in her life. And while it seems like all those close to her have people in their lives to hang stockings with and successes to celebrate tonight, she’s planning to spend her Noel alone. After all, isn’t “alone” just an anagram for “A Noel”? At least it gives her plenty to time to look back over the year. And what a year it has been… misadventures on the ski slopes, the suave, talented yet creepy and threatening photographer, the art gallery parties and the male stripper the gallery’s owner tried to fix her up with. Trips home to see her school BFF’s new business venture , admire her Dad’s growing internet savvyness and try to un-hear her mother’s unwavering criticisms. All that and the driver who couldn’t get over himself, the boss called “Horrors”, the apple of her mother’s eye, namely her day-trading brother Roger and who can forget that unwanted surprise in her toilet one day? Certainly not Grace! And of course, there was Doug… enigmatic Doug, the mysterious northerner she never quite could get out of her mind…nor into her arms. If only her life was more like her “Friends” Monica and Chandler!

In the tradition of Bridget Jones Diary and The Holiday, it’s the story of finding love and finding yourself in the modern world. Join us as we tag along with Grace as she maneuvers her way into a new millennium, and a new life.

Life for the modern single lady isn’t always graceful… but with our heroine, it is Grace…fully living!

I’m pleased to announce my first novel, Grace, Fully Living is finally available! Currently it’s available as an e-book in all popular formats so you can enjoy it on your phone, Kindle, Apple device, Kobo, Sony Reader or even your PC!

Grace, Fully Living as the prologue above suggests, is a lively modern-day rom-com following the adventures of Grace, a single Gen X lady finding her way in a new life and new millennium. I try to bring a sense of fun and hope to a story many of us will find relatable while bringing back memories of our not-too-distant past. Merging the attention to detail and pop culture of Douglas Coupland’s novels with the great romance and lovable heroines of Nora Ephron’s screenplays, Grace will make you laugh and believe in love again. And maybe bang your head on the wall once or twice as well!

Grace, Fully Living is available for download now at many popular retailers including Barnes and Noble, or through the publisher Smashwords.

I hope you enjoy meeting Grace as much as I did bringing her story to you.

No Freaks, No Economics, Just Good Reading

So an update on my year’s reading… not long ago I finished reading the famous (some might say “infamous”) Freakonomics, a 2005 non-fiction work by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Actually, I should say “re-reading” as I read it many years ago when it was on the Current Releases shelf at a library many miles and years away from here now. It was a pleasant reunion for me.

The first thing you should know about Freakonomics is that despite the title, it has very little to do with economics as we know it. In fact, that has been one of the criticisms of the book by the more scholarly types. Noted economist Ariel Rubinstein for instance says “economists like Levitt have swaggered off into other fields” and the book’s “connections to economics, none.” The second thing you should know about it is that this fact makes it eminently readable! The third thing you need to know about the book with the orange-inside-an-apple cover is that it was wildly popular and influential. According to Publisher’s Weekly it was the 9th best-seller of 2005 and #12 again in ’06. It’s sold over 4 million paper copies to date, which if books were rewarded like records, would surely make it multi-platinum.

The fourth thing you need to know is that if you’re interested and haven’t picked up a copy before, skip the next couple of paragraphs which have spoilers!

Levitt, the economist by trade, and Dubner and newspaper journalist combined to put out a book of interesting anecdotes and studies which make us challenge some of our preconceived notions and ways of looking at things. Not unlike Malcolm Gladwell and his books, which I’ve mentioned are big favorites of mine. They show evidence that sumo wrestlers, despite the Japanese emphasis on honor and integrity, frequently “throw” matches to help out friends within the sport, and that teachers will cheat as readily as their students if the kids test scores can influence their own job appraisals. A fast-moving and wide-ranging book, it touches on subjects as disparate as the downfall of the Ku Klux Klan and if Black people name their kids differently than other parts of society, as well as if so what effect that has,  to the structural organization of a drug-dealing street gang. Among the surprising findings there were that at least one large gang they studied had a college-educated, peace-loving, overpaid boss, a board of directors and a ton of poorly-educated, subsistence-wage street operatives who flummuxed the bosses by going rogue and shooting people.

The most controversial , and thus memorable, finding of theirs was that Roe Vs Wade – i.e., easy access to abortion – had more impact on reducing murder and violent crime rates than the effects of putting more police on the streets, longer jail sentences for criminals and a booming economy combined. Their suggestion is that with abortion legal, the majority of women who took advantage of it were likely to be single, poor, young and quite probably dealing with substance abuse issues which would have made them unfit parents and created unsuitable households for kids, who in turn would have a greater probability of turning into criminals when they hit their teen years. Not something popular among a good swath of the public, but an item worthy of revisiting in these times when numerous states are doing their best to outlaw abortion once more – and an interesting example of how the apparently differing objectives of hard-core right wing law and order types may actually align with those of the opposite, left-wing liberal segment of the land.

I loved the book, and highly recommend it to anyone wanting to be surprised, or to simply open their minds to new ways of looking at things.

Part two of the story though, is that I then watched the documentary movie of the same name. I found the DVD Freakonomics in a dollar store discount bin. There was probably a reason it was there. The big problem with Freakonomics, the movie, is that if you’ve read the book, it’s going to be… well, boring. And if you haven’t read the book, a movie with a fruit on the cover and a tie-in to economics isn’t likely to catch your attention.

The movie highlights some of the book’s sections, with the authors on screen a fair bit of the time. Both Levitt and Dubner are intelligent and seem nice enough, but neither has that special something that make them rivoting personalities on screen. And the little doodle cartoons and interviews they use to illustrate their points seldom do much to elevate the film. They scan quickly over a lot of material from the book, while spending too much time on the Sumo issue and adding only one new “chapter”, a look at trying to bribe kids to do better in school, which also drags and leaves the question unanswered anyway!

In short – Freakonomics book good, movie not so good and neither has much to do with economics. Which is fine with me, since about all I can really remember from university economics 101 is supply and demand. Which would tell us that with demand for cable TV dropping and supply of competitive options (Roku, streaming services, Netflix etc) increasing, prices should drop. Have you checked your cable bill lately?

So I suggest to Mr. Rubinstein, no the book has nothing to do with economics. But maybe economists should read it anyway, since it guides one to look at the world differently!