Posts Tagged ‘Business’

Best ‘New to Us” Books in 2014: Ruth F’s Picks

December 19, 2014

I am a children’s librarian in Holly Springs. Next year, I will celebrate my 40th birthday and will most likely be fitted for my first pair of bifocals. Here are five books, some written by my contemporaries and others about middle age, that I recommend for those of you still able to read small print in dim lighting.

Life After DeathLife After Death by Damien Echols
Author Damien Echols was born just a few months before me and he would have graduated high school the same year I did — had he been born into the same world of middle class privilege that I was. Instead, he spent the first 18 years of his life in and economically depressed Arkansas hamlet. As teenagers, when I was fretting over my SAT scores, he was fretting over the verdict of his capital murder trial.  When I went off to college, he went off to Death Row. Then, after spending his first 18 years of adulthood in prison, Echols and two others incarcerated in connection with the same crime were released when DNA evidence was tested and deemed exculpatory. Shortly after, he landed a deal to publish a memoir based on the journals he kept in prison. I challenge any member of Generation X to read Echols’ story without noticing similar parallels between his life and ours.

Good in a CrisisGood in a Crisis by Margaret Overton
Sometimes, the best books are the ones you most love to hate. When life handed baby boomer Margaret Overton lemons in mid-life, she tried to make lemonade by writing a memoir. But it came out a little tart. I cringed at every supposedly funny story in this memoir about the author’s Internet dating escapades. And yet, I compulsively turned page after page because it is so easy to identify with Overton. For every good choice I have made that she did not, I feel relief that her train wreck of a life can’t possibly be what’s in store for me. And for every stroke of bad luck she endured, I feel a humbling sense that it probably is.

Lean InLean In:  Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
Women like me, on the precipice of converting their households from DINK (double income, no kids) to what New York Times Columnist Pamela Druckerman famously called DITT (double income, toddler twins), will find this book fascinating. The rest of you might not be too interested in how author Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, wishes she had done more to secure reserved parking for expectant mothers at her company’s Silicon Valley headquarters. But you should read this book anyway. If you can overlook the usual gripes about late meetings and early carpools, there is a universal message about setting the terms of personal success and a refreshing new definition of what it means to be a feminist.

SisterlandSisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
This is a fiction story of twin sisters on the brink of 40. They share a psychic connection, but occupy separate sides of the Mommy divide. I’m not sure anybody will see themselves in either sister, but author Curtis Sittenfeld nailed the subtext and sanctimony between the childfree and the parents. The stay-at-home mother in the story, Kate, is affluent and secure. Mothering has given her lots of responsibility and purpose, but very little satisfaction. She is the very definition of a desperate housewife. Her childless sister, Violet, lives on the edge. By that I mean she is reckless, frivolous and completely unmoored. As the sisters decide whether to embrace the DNA that makes them the same or the choices that set them apart, their psychic prediction comes true in a way neither could have expected. Read another review.

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Who among us has not aspired to write the Great American Novel or regretted reaching middle age without having done so? Mark Zusak, that’s who. His 40th birthday is six months from now and his literary masterpiece is 10 years old. The Book Thief has earned a slew of awards, dominated best-seller lists, been canonized on high school required reading lists and been adapted for a movie. But a technicality prevents it from being called my generation’s Great American Novel: the author is Australian and the setting is Nazi Germany. It seems counter intuitive for a book about genocide in World War II Europe to also be about a post-racial American ideal. But Zusak makes it work. In this war story, humanity trumps race or creed. Young or old, Jew or Gentile, German or not, everybody faces a common enemy in the villainous narrator: Death.  Read another review.

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A Hologram For The King by Dave Eggers

May 27, 2014

hologrambookcover.phpAlan Clay has reached his mid-life crisis. He has had success in life but his last few ventures have all been failures. His current opportunity for Reliant Corp.,  an IT company, may be his best but last chance to hit it big.  His team is in Saudi Arabia trying to duplicate was has been done to create Dubai. King Abdullah is going to finance the creation of KAEC , which stands for King Abdullah Economic City: One Man’s Vision, One Nation’s Hope !!

Alan is glad to be divorced from his wife, Ruby and values his close relationship with his only child, Kit, who is away at college.   Alan has sold Fuller Brushes and he has helped in the design and sale of Schwinn bicycles…..both ventures eventually collapsing as the world markets continued to change. Now this may really be his last chance.

All is not going well as his team assembles in what will eventually be this magic city.  The King is not there and his main representative Karim al-Ahmad is also not present.  The team can’t even get a good Wi-Fi signal in order to set up their presentation.  Alan at 54 realizes this may be his last chance and he just doesn’t know how to get his presentation before the right people.  Promises are not easily kept in Saudi Arabia , he soon discovers.

Dave Egger’s book may even be better than his story of the survivors of Hurricane Katrina in his non-fiction book, Zeitoun!     The pace of the book keeps your attention on the story and you certainly feel like you are in the Middle East suffering along with Alan.

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The Price of Justice: A True Story of Greed and Corruption by Laurence Leamer

January 30, 2014

Are you concerned about the influence of big money and power in our society today? If so, you’ll want to read “The Price of Justice” by Laurence Leamer and get the true story of how one CEO used his money and power to corrupt the halls of justice in the Supreme Court of West Virginia. This is a non-fiction page turner that will make you burn with righteous indignation at the conniving, cut-throat methods he used.

Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, is the real life villain in this story. His massive coal company ran roughshod over the competition and the entire state of West Virginia, both the people and the environment. Dare to challenge him and you’ll be branded unpatriotic to West Virginia and very likely watch your life go down the tubes. If he wanted something he wouldn’t stop until he got it. One of his victims, Hugh Caperton, had his small company and life destroyed by Blankenship. Hugh decided to fight back, and with the help of two highly exceptional and motivated lawyers started a 14-year legal battle that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

This story formed the basis of John Grisham’s popular fiction book “The Appeal” and the real life version is every bit as compelling as fiction. So if you like legal thrillers, try the “Price of Justice” for a non-fiction change of pace that may be right up your alley.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Freakonomics by Stevin Levitt and Stephen Dubner

May 2, 2013

As Levitt sees it, economics is a science with excellent tools for gaining answers but a serious shortage of interesting questions.  This book asks interesting questions.  If you want to know which teachers are cheating, which criminals are actually getting rich, and how the KKK is like a group of real estate agents, then Freakonomics is exactly the book you want to read.  Even if those particular questions haven’t been burning up your brain pan, the book is still a fun and interesting read, full of counter-intuitive ways of looking at the world around us.

Levitt’s blatant disregard for stereotypical economic applications (say that three times fast) allows for math and science to be used to measure something far more interesting:  people.  While the questions asked in the book are interesting (say, what do sumo wrestlers and schoolteachers have in common?) it is the answers that are absolutely fascinating.  Often the answers challenge our preconceptions and force us to really look at the world around us in ways that might be a little uncomfortable, but are almost certainly valuable.  Dubner’s writing style is smooth enough that the reader doesn’t feel like their face is being pulled off while they go through some of the data sets in the book (have no fear, there aren’t that many).  He also brings enough humor to the writing to offset any potentially “heavy” effects of certain questions that Levitt asks.

For anyone who enjoys the little idiosyncrasies that life puts out there, this book is a rare gem.  Standing standard procedure on its head, Levitt and Dubner deliver a humorous take on a wide variety of subjects, from the fairly mundane to the truly extraordinary.    I had a very hard time putting this one down, even when I had finished it, and I cannot wait to read the sequel:  Superfreakonomics.  With a title like that, you just know the book is going to be good.  If we’re all a little lucky, it’ll have some funny Rick James references, too.

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The Idea Factory by John Gertner

November 9, 2012

In John Gertner’s wonderful The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation, he mentions a comment made by Bill Baker: “…all of human experience can be expressed in binary digital terms”.  As far back as the 1950’s, or so the story goes, there were several scientists, truly brilliant minds, who were working on what we call cell phones. They also worked on and invented many more gadgets that currently shape our world. This book is the story of how all of this happened. The tome is quite fascinating and written at a caffeine injected speed. Many stories or biographies could be written with this book as an original source of inspiration. Gertner tells us that these are the people who invented our present.

But this reader was left with the question: is all of this a good thing? To be sure, all of the technology that we currently live with has certainly made many things in our lives more convenient, but I am not convinced it has made them wholly better. I realize that I am not a young man anymore, and that it could very well be true that I am an old fuddy-duddy. However, it is strange to see groups of people sitting together not conversing but staring at their smartphones. Manners seem to have also disappeared with the ubiquity of these devices. Alas, I am beginning to obscure the lines between observation and judgment.

Read The Idea Factory if you have any nascent interest in science, technology, ingenuity, industry, and people with vision. I left this volume with a little bit of hope. I felt that if people can create and reconstruct reality just out of sheer will and imagination, then surely we can solve the seemingly overwhelming problems of our own time. Maybe people in the future will look back at what we do, the way we look at Bell Laboratories, and become inspired, not discouraged, maybe not.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.


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