Book Lovers Blog

July 21, 2009

The Legacy of Frank McCourt

Filed under: About authors — Nora Quiason @ 3:01 am

“It was, of course, a miserable childhood. The happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood. People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests, bullying schoolmasters; the English and all the terrible things they did to us for 800 long years.” Thus starts Frank McCourt’s memoir of his childhood in his first book, Angela’s Ashes.

In 1996,  at the age of 66, Frank McCourt published his memoir, Angela’s Ashes, intending only to tell his story and getting listed in the Library of Congress.  The book became a bestseller and McCourt became an instant phenomenon, the book earning him, among other awards, the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for biography.   Frank McCourt died on July 19,2009.  He was 78.

Born in New York City of Irish immigrant parents, Frank McCourt grew up in Limerick, Ireland when his father, unable to find work,  returned the family to his native hometown.  McCourt chronicled a childhood of poverty, hunger, disease and squalor.  His father, an alcoholic, and frequently absent  eventually abandoned the family. McCourt, the oldest child, worked, begged and stole to support the family.  At nineteen, McCourt found his way back to New York City, served in the military and subsequently went to college on the GI bill.He saved enough money to bring his brothers back to the US.  He spent 30 years teaching English and  Creative Writing to students in the New York City Public Schools.  Angela’s Ashes was published after his retirement.  The book was later adapted into a movie.  McCourt went on to write T’is, a memoir of his early adult life, Teacher Man about his experiences as a teacher and Angela and the Baby Jesus, a children’s Christmas book.  He was famous for his wit and humor.  He was a musician and playwright.  He and his brother Malachy wrote a humorous Broadway show about their lives. He advocated for listening to teachers instead of politicians.

One of McCourt’s legacy is in creating a genre of the memoir as a poignant tragic-comedy and a celebration of life.  Even as he described a miserable childhood,  he wrote with humor and love, absent anger or bitterness.  Not that there was none in his life.  In interviews, McCourt talked about having to overcome the shame, anger and psychological burden of poverty before he could find the voice to tell the story.  While he encouraged his students to write about the story of their own lives with pride, it was not until his later years that he found the right voice to tell his story to his satisfaction (and to our good fortune.)

McCourt inspired not only his students but his readers as well.  We are fortunate that he was here.

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July 12, 2009

Free: The Future of a Radical Price: Chris Anderson Explores the Concept of Free

Free, A New Book by Chris Anderson

Free, A New Book by Chris Anderson

Free is the number one attention getting word in marketing.  This is the subject of Chris Anderson’s  new book: Free: The Future of a Radical Price which segues from his previous book: The Long Tail: The Revised and Updated Edition: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More.  It is an interesting read for a non-economist and internet observer such as myself and for newbies and veterans of e-commerce alike.

Anderson reviews the history of free and gives examples from the time of the Babylonians to the story of how Jello became the most popular dessert item when the owner could not sell it for a mere $35.00.  He looks at free and “freemium” as an increasingly popular mode of commerce given that in the digital age, the cost of getting a product to market is what costs and replication can be practically for nothing.  Electronics get cheaper after the first prototype goes to market.  Drugs become markedly cheaper when they go generic.

Companies can make a lot of money by giving away products for free because of what Anderson calls cross-subsidies: the shifting of money around as in person to person (e.g.  kids eat free when adults buy a meal), from now to the future (such as getting a free cell phone for a two year service contract) from product to product (as in loss leaders in retail stores) and from non-monetary markets and back out again.  Google, for instance, gives out free information and other products while maintaining multimillion dollar profits.  Radio and television have traditionally been free to consumers because of advertisers paying to reach the consumer.  Anderson also gives the example of Ryanair who sells plane seats from London to Barcelona for $20.00 though it costs them $70.00 to provide the service.  They recoup the expense by charging for luggage, food and drink, priority seating and other amenities. The internet is full of free information on just about any subject, in exchange for which the consumer provides demographics and becomes a potential buyer of affiliate products.

Anderson proposes that internet companies can be profitable when operating in a freemium culture where the burden is shouldered by five percent of consumers while the rest get a free ride.  By understanding this concept, business can actually thrive, noting the Google example.  Free is actually a misnomer since it is not really giving away something for nothing.  Rather, free is a concept of demonetization.  Philantropists and altruists give away for the return of feeling good and worthwhile for having done the right thing.  The web is replete with shareware from volunteer programmers who continue to give away their work for the challenge of discoveryand the joy of sharing.   .

Anderson is the editor-in chief of Wired Magazine.  His book is getting mixed reviews in the New Yorker Magazine’s Malcolm Gladwell who questions some of his premise and the New York Times, Virginia Postrel.  It is nonetheless and good read for anyone interested in internet economy.

In keeping with the concept ,Free: The Future of a Radical Price was released by Hyperion on July 7, 2009 for $26.99 and in digital form downloadable free at Scrbd.  This enabled me to read the book and write this article.  I guess if anyone buys the book from having read this, Chris Anderson would have proven his point.

May 26, 2009

Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child

Filed under: Mystery/ thriller — Nora Quiason @ 12:14 pm
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Gone tomorrow is the 13th book in the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child.  As with previous books, this roller coaster thriller will keep Jack Reacher fans reading well into the night.

Jack Reacher touches a chord in men and women mystery readers alike. Men readers might enjoy the action while women readers might love the embodiment of the powerful protector. You just know you are safe with Jack Reacher. Ex-military cop,  Reacher wanders the countryside, going nowhere in particular and hoping to know the country he once served.  He owns nothing and is never anywhere for very long.  He has a very precise internal clock and sense of timing.  He has a keen power of observation.  Trouble finds him and he is invariably drawn to right a wrong that no one else would. Reacher has no roots.  He has no obligations except to his own code of honor and unyielding need to champion the oppressed.  His enemies underestimate his chess player ability to anticipate their moves. (Although a couple of villainous women get the upper hand in this book.)  His muscular 6’5″ frame can be intimidating,as well it should be, because he is a one man killing machine and yet conceals a soft side for the underdog.  He does not shy away from violence.  Women lose their hearts to him yet know he is a drifter at heart and in the end choose to let him go.

Lee Child is a British writer who has mastered the American landcape and contemporary cowboy thriller genre.  He has indicated that there are to be twenty of these Jack Reacher thrillers. Tom Cruise has purchased the movie option to one of his books.

Gone Tomorrow opens with Reacher sitting in a New York city subway train observing his surroundings. It is 2:00 AM.   He observes a woman whose behavior fits the profile of a suicide bomber (something he learned from Israeli intelligence years ago.)  Reacher’s decision on a course of action propels him into a world of politics, terrorism, intrigue and mayhem.

To enjoy a Lee Child book or any thriller for that matter, you must suspend disbelief, enjoy the formula and go with the flow.  If you liked Dirty Harry, you will like Jack Reacher.  This book is written in the first person which does not work as well as other Reacher books written in the third person.  It contains the usual violence, obligatory sexual encounter, and conflict with law enforcement in all levels.  Sometimes, the formula feels tired, but you cannot help but love Jack Reacher.  Read into the night you will and when he rides into the sunset, you hope another Reacher book is on its way.

Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child released on May 19,2009, is available in hardcover (ISBN 0385340575,) audio CD, or amazon Kindle download.

May 21, 2009

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Filed under: Sports — Nora Quiason @ 11:59 pm

“Distance Runner”

Whether you are a regular marathon runner or a sometimes jogger, after you read this book, you will want to put on your running shoes and run in the park or on city streets and discover the joy of running.

A well conditioned athlete who has participated in and written about extreme sports for Men’s Health, journalist Christopher McDougall was side lined by painful feet. In search of an answer, he came upon a story of the Tarahumara, an ancient tribe of ultra runners, living in the Copper Canyon of Chihuahua, Mexico. He searched persistently and in the process gained not only a painless way of running but a new insight into the joy of running.

The Tarahumara people are known for their distance running ability. They have been known to outrun deer, cheetah and other fast animals and hunt game by simply tiring the animal to where it could simply run no more. They can run for days without stopping. A reclusive tribe, the Tarahumara people are visible only when they want to be. Living in the depths of Copper Canyon, they not only live away from civilization but also maintain homes that blend into the landscape, camouflaged from even the most experienced tracker. McDougall’s accounts of the lives of these gentle people are as appealing as the wonders of their running ability. The Tarahumara live with great joy and serenity in a cashless society where sharing and giving back is the way of life. They enjoy good health and long life. They do not prepare to run, they just do. They run because it gives them joy.

Traveling the perilous Copper Canyon and finally meeting the tribe, McDougall excites not only with his insights about running but also with his descriptions of the way of the tribe. He writes that humans are born to run as is seen in children who seem to be always running. In our evolution, we had to be lean and quick to run away from predators or to run for the hunt. The Tarahumara eat vegetables,fruits and occasional game keeping themselves lean. And the answer to McDougall’s hurting foot was that his shoes were actually causing the injury. Ancient man did not wear shoes. McDougall learned to run barefoot painlessly.

McDougall introduces us to Caballo Blanco whose real name could be Micah True. An enigmatic man, Caballo Blanco has his feet in two cultures, the ancient tribe and the western world. He lives in Copper Canyon and sometimes in the city. He sometimes facilitates a distance running race with the Tarahumara and select ultra runners. The big reward and thrill for the author was running a race with the Tarahumara and a handful of select ultra marathoners in a race the outside world did not witness.

Get the book from your local bookstore or from online stores like Amazon or Alibris. It is not only a good read. It will blow you away.

Born to Run:A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall, Hardcover, 304 pages ISBN: 978-0-307-26630-9 (0-307-26630-3) May 5,2009, Random House (more...)

May 1, 2009

What Your Money Means by Frank Hanna: A Book Review

Filed under: Business and Finance — Nora Quiason @ 6:39 pm

What does Frank Hanna have in common with Bill Gates and Warren Buffet? Besides their wealth, all three are well known for their business approach to philanthropy. Rather than giving in a haphazard way to whatever charity comes calling, all three men have used their wealth in a reverent but carefully planned way to improve the human condition. This is what Frank Hanna teaches others in his book, What Your Money Means: And How to Use It Well.

Frank Hanna challenges the reader to look at the meaning of money and wealth creation in different ways such as money as a vocation, money as a means for giving, and money as a means for generating virtue. He reminds us that wealth is good when used for good and that we feel better when we do not view wealth solely for personal gain but when we act as stewards of wealth loaned from God. He classifies wealth into fundamentals (funds for basic needs) and non-essentials (funds beyond basic needs.) Hanna’s spirituality and Christian beliefs come through in his use of scripture verses to illustrate his points.

In later chapters, Frank Hanna, outlines Ten Rules of Thumb for Gift Giving” as a way to determine the “worthiness of the recipient.” Here, his thinking seems to be in line with Gates and Buffet’s business approach to generating and perpetuating the gift giving process.

Hanna’s expertise on the subject comes from both a strong spiritual belief in leading one’s life with virtue and his experience as a successful investment banker. Active in the Catholic Church and passionate about education, Hanna is active in Catholic education. He is also CEO of Hanna Capital, LLC, an investment firm. He is one of three successful businessmen featured in The Call of the Entrepreneur, a documentary also available as an audio download. He was awarded the 2007 William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership and the David R. Jones Award for Philanthropic Leadership.

Get your copy of What Your Money Means: And How to Use It Well (Hardcover, September 2008, ISBN:0824525205) <a href=”What Your Money Means: And How to Use It Well“>online or from your local bookstore.

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