Tuesday, March 30, 2010

This blog has moved

This blog is now located at http://balancethebooks.blogspot.com/.
You will be automatically redirected in 30 seconds, or you may click here.

For feed subscribers, please update your feed subscriptions to

Monday, March 29, 2010

'Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich,' and other strange-but-true book titles

Our friends from across the pond at Reuters have released their annual list of book titles that take the cake. The Mercury's ever plugged in Evan Brandt found these gems on the Web and passed them along. Some are funny, some just odd...

Crocheting beats the Reich for odd title prize

LONDON (Reuters) - Defying grim predictions that the economic downturn would clobber specialist books, the annual contest for oddest title has had a bumper year, with the 2009 winner being named on Friday as "Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes."

The book won 42 percent of the vote run by TheBookseller.com to emerge a comfortable winner.
The top six were as follows:
1. Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes
2. What Kind of Bean is this Chihuahua?
3. Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich
4. Afterthoughts of a Worm Hunter
5. Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots
6. The Changing World of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Horace Bent, The Bookseller magazine's diarist, said "Crocheting" was always the front runner.

"It defended its poll-topping position despite strong support for the spoon-carrying Third Reich, once again attempting to muscle in on someone else's territory."

Bent added: "I confess that when the credit crunch began to bite British publishing, I feared for the future of this most prestigious of literary awards.

"Surely oddly titled books would suffer in a climate that was prompting publishers to focus on more bankable works -- like frankly lamentable biographies of Z-list "celebrities' and those depressing white books with doleful children on the cover."

"I believe Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes is a worthy champion to stand alongside the likes of 'Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers' and 'Living with Crazy Buttocks' as winners of this distinguished award."

Philip Stone, The Bookseller's charts editor, said the magazine had received more than 4,500 votes, which had been a reflection of the oddest and therefore strongest shortlist in the 32-year history of the prize.

"I think what won it for Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes is that, very simply, the title is completely bonkers," he added.

"On the one hand you have the typically feminine, gentle and woolly world of needlework and on the other, the exciting but incredibly un-woolly world of hyperbolic geometry and negative curvature.

"In Crocheting ... the two worlds collide in a captivating and quite breathtaking way."

(Reporting by Stephen Addison; Editing by Paul Casciato)

Labels: , ,

Saturday, March 27, 2010

3 new biz books reviewed by the AP

I'm going to start routinely running the Associated Press' Personal Finance Bookshelf feature here because 1) my company pays for this service; 2) we've no space to run it print-side; 3) these are interesting brand spanking new business books you'll likely be interested to learn more about; and 4) I'm an opportunist: This is a good thing feature, ready made that I can use, and I'm going to run with it.

So, here's the most recent installment of the AP Finance Bookshelf, which gives short reviews of 3 new books on finance topics. Enjoy!

Bookshelf: Budgeting fixes, economic IDs

By The Associated Press

One lesson from the Great Recession is that simplicity is a good thing. That's true both in managing our personal budgets and keeping the financial system afloat. Too many people and banks got stuck with complex financial obligations that they didn't manage properly, or in some cases simply didn't understand.
A couple new personal finance titles offer tips and proposals to help.
If you're looking to make your paycheck stretch a bit further, you may want to pick up "Be CentsAble: How to Cut Your Household Budget in Half." We also look at a couple of more issue-oriented titles, "Jimmy Stewart is Dead: Ending the World's Ongoing Financial Plague with Limited-Purpose Banking," and "Identity Economics: How Our Identities Shape Our Work, Wages and Well-Being."

Here's a look at the new titles:
TITLE: Be CentsAble: How to Cut Your Household Budget in Half
AUTHORS: Chrissy Pate and Kristin McKee
PRICE: $14 (paperback)
SUMMARY: Stay-at-home moms tend to be among the smartest when it comes to handling money. In an era of rising household costs, they have to be.
Pate, a former high school teacher, and McKee, a former financial analyst, outline everyday savings strategies that go beyond coupon clipping.
The focus is on four basic areas: groceries and personal care products; cleaning products and utilities; miscellaneous "other stuff" that has to be bought for families and homes such as shoes, gifts and pet supplies; and entertainment and travel. Along the way, the authors highlight "CentsAble Tips" in boxes designed to look like coupons.
The advice may not be all new, but it makes sense. Examples: Make a grocery list and stick to it. Stockpile gifts when items are on sale. Replace paper towels with cloth towels. And lower your thermostat by 2 degrees. Savings no doubt will add up if you follow these tips.
QUOTE: "We look at our methods and planning as earning money rather than saving it. We find that having a dinner plan each week, for example, means we can spend more time visiting with friends, playing with our children, or simply relaxing. Having a plan that also saves money means we have room for more fun in our lives!"
PUBLISHER: Plume Books
— Dave Carpenter

TITLE: Jimmy Stewart is Dead: Ending the World's Ongoing Financial Plague with Limited-Purpose Banking
AUTHOR: Laurence J. Kotlikoff
PRICE: $27.95 (hardcover)
SUMMARY: This book opens with a dire declaration: The honest, trustworthy banker that Jimmy Stewart portrayed in "It's a Wonderful Life" is gone. Kotlikoff, a Boston University professor and former economist with the President's Council of Economic Advisers, uses the classic movie as a springboard to argue that banking should return to its simpler past. His prescription for financial reform is what he calls limited-purpose banking. He proposes transforming banks into financial intermediaries that would connect borrowers and lenders with savers and investors. They would never themselves own financial assets other than what they'd need to run their operations.
QUOTE: "The proposition that banking as usual is essential to our economy as opposed to extremely dangerous is predicated on a quaint view of banks that bears little resemblance to today's reality."
— Mark Jewell

TITLE: Identity Economics: How Our Identities Shape Our Work, Wages and Well-Being
AUTHORS: George A. Akerlof and Rachel E. Kranton
PRICE: $24.95 (hardcover)
SUMMARY: Akerlof, a Nobel Prize-winning economist from the University of California-Berkeley, and Kranton, a Duke University economist, explore the links between our identities and the everyday decisions we make about earning and spending money. Their goal is to add a more personal touch to economics. For example, market forces don't explain why the gap in smoking rates between men and women disappeared throughout the 20th century. Women began lighting up just as much as men because of changing gender norms, the authors argue. The book also shows how financial bonuses can run amok. In the banking industry, for example, financial incentives have motivated workers to do whatever it takes to ensure bonus pay, even if it might hurt the company and the economy. The authors' proposed fix: Get employees to identify with the company and its mission, so they advance its goals even without financial incentives.
QUOTE: "If employees think of themselves as firm insiders rather than outsiders, the pay differentials needed to induce high effort will be lower. The difficulties that arise when employees game incentive systems are also greatly reduced. Worker identification may therefore be a major factor, perhaps even the dominant factor, in the success or failure of organizations."
PUBLISHER: Princeton University Press
— Mark Jewell

Labels: , , ,

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Ten-Year Nap

In "The Ten-Year Nap" (Riverhead Books, 2008, $16, paperback, 383 pp.)Meg Wolitzer writes about four female friends in New York who left their careers for motherhood.

Each of the four has a somewhat different take on that decision.

Amy Lamb, an attorney who plans to return to her legal career after maternity leave to have her son, Mason, finds herself in a decade long haze of enjoying stay-at-home mom-hood immensely while turning a blind eye to the family's growing debt that results from her missing income. Amy is the daughter of a renowned feminist novelist - a pioneer in making the case for women to work outside of the home. Talk about conflicted!

Jill Hamlin, best friend since college of Amy, inherited a large sum from her parents' business and no longer needs to work. After 9/11 and the adoption of an infant girl from Russia, she and her husband move to the New Jersey suburbs. There, Jill frets over her daughter's cognitive growth and makes a conscious choice NOT to make friends.

Karen Yip, math genius, leaves her job as a statistical analyst to raise her twin boys. Despite her love of numbers, Karen doesn't return to work. But she still thinks about it and, in fact, occasionally interviews for positions. She is invariably hired, but always refuses. No matter: Her husband, also some kind of math genius, makes tons of money.

Roberta Sokolov, starving artist, puts her work on hold to raise her son and daughter. She daily does projects which she considers "craft" and not art with the kids. Her husband, whose dream it is to be a puppeteer, takes a day job doing "regular" work to support the family.

As the title suggests, a decade after making the choice to exit the career track, the four friends find themselves at a bit of a crossroads. The children no longer need constant supervision. The women are no longer content just to carouse over brunch at their favorite diner.

Told from the viewpoints of these women, Wolitzer's intelligently-written novel seems very true to me. The dialogues, the petty arguments, the small personal triumphs - all of these seem pretty accurate with regard to discussions I've had with friends and mothers.

I would say one of the main themes of the book is that women are empowered to do anything they want - stay home with the kids, work, don't work, go back to work after a time, finish school -it's all OK. And no one's perfect.

There were some witty bits, melancholy bits, some sexy bits and some, well - snoozy bits. I thought the novel -hefty at nearly 400 pages - lagged a bit at times and so I occasionally needed to take my own nap. But overall, quite satisfying and insightful.

Wolitzer's other books include "The Position" and "The Wife," a New York Times Notable Book.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Doppelganger getting you down? Here's your chance to compare notes with Lisa Scottoline

Fans of Lisa Scottoline, take note. The New York Times best-seller will be signing copies of her latest novel, "Think Twice" (St. Martin's Press) at Costco, 201 Allendale Road, King of Prussia, on Saturday, March 27, beginning at noon.

According to a press release announcing the book-signing, Scottoline's latest thriller poses the question: "Is evil born in us or is it bred?"
Below is a synopsis:

Bennie Rosato may look exactly like her twin, Alice Connolly, but there's an evil to Alice that makes them two very different women. That's what Bennie thinks until she finds herself buried alive by her own twin. With her sister disposed of, Alice takes over Bennie's live, impersonating her at work and sleeping with her boyerfriend with the hope of escaping her own messy reality.

However, Alice's plan wasn't perfect. She underestimated her twin and the determination she would have to stay alive long enough to exact revenge. She also underestimated Bennie's anger threshold and her own penchant for evil. Now Bennie must face the fact that she is more like her sister than she ever could have imagined as she becomes locked in a war she cannot win - a war with herself.

Sounds like a real page-turner!

Notably, Scottoline pens a weekly column, "Chick Wit," for the Philadelphia Inquirer. She earned her bachelor's and law degrees from Penn before embarking on a career as an attorney that ended in 1986 when she took leave to raise her daughter and began writing legal fiction part-time.

Below is a list of her books:

Everywhere That Mary Went (1993)
Final Appeal (1994)
Running From the Law (1996)
Legal Tender (1996)
Rough Justice (1998)
Mistaken Identity (1999)
Moment of Truth (2000)
The Vendetta Defense (2001)
Courting Trouble (2003)
Dead Ringer (2003)
Killer Smile (2004)
Devil's Corner (2005)
Dirty Blonde (2006)
Daddy's Girl (2007)
Lady Killer (2008)
Look Again (2009)
Why My Third Husband Will Be A Dog: The Amazing Adventures of an Ordinary Woman (2009) Think Twice (2010)

To learn more about Scottoline, click here to visit her Web site.

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cranberry Queen: Silly title, good book

I was really taken with Kathleen DeMarco's 2001 novel "Cranberry Queen" (Hyperion, $12.95, paperback, 254 pp.)

Maybe because it had an unforeseen twist and was refreshingly, engagingly witty. But mostly because I started it on a plane ride filled with what seemed to be an unusual number of babies and wanted to be absorbed in a good story.

This Book Sense 2001 pick was the first novel written by DeMarco, a Philly resident and Penn graduate - now a lecturer in the school's cinema studies program. Her full name is Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve, according to the Penn website. She has also written under the name Kathleen Van Cleve.

By the title and the first chapter, I expected the light diversion of chick lit. And there it was, perfectly entertaining, relating the story of thirtysomething Diana Moore and her hangups with her cheating boyfriend.

Wedged in the center seat between two dozing passengers, within sight of at least three babies who inexplicably NEVER CRIED DURING THE ENTIRE TRIP (??) I escaped the plane's drone and delved into Diana's seemingly carefree and self-absorbed life.

The Harvard grad with a successful career and Manhattan apartment is, even three years later, devastated by the boyfriend she thought was the love of her life who cheated on her with some random girl he met at a Knicks game one night. She now refers to him as "The Monster" to her close friends, who have long since exhausted their patience with the subject.

Her mourning of this lost and failed relationship is exacerbated by the fact that her brother has found love and is planning his nuptials. Diana laments her feelings on the situation to her mom and dad in Princeton - they speak on the phone daily - but is still having trouble getting past it.

At the novel's outset, Diana has to go to a wedding of a mutual friends, where her ex will be with his new girl.

Sounding quite Bridget Jones like, Diana thinks to herself:

"I will be the Perfect Single Guest. I will be the Katharine Hepburn (at 33, not 80) of the wedding. I am going alone. And I am not allowing myself one second of self-deprecation. Not one second" ... "I am anyone, anyone at all, but me, Diana Moore, brown of hair, nine of shoe, and wide of thigh."

And then something unexpected and tragic happens. I don't want to go into it, because the twist was a little shocking. I wouldn't want to ruin it for the next reader. I will say that the turn of events turns the story in a completely new direction, literally. And after a while, our resilient main character finds herself on a new adventure in New Jersey's Pine Barrens.

Her time in this rural and beautiful part of the Garden State is one of self-discovery, to say the least. She thinks of herself as two personas: The Smiling Idiot, who doesn't stand up for herself; and Foxhole Girl, her true fighting spirit. Somedays, the former smothers the latter. Strength vs. weakness; yin/yang. Inner demons we all battle with ... or at least I do.

"It is something, I think. It is me beginning ot take a step, me as a giantess, extending a leg over a miniature world of despair, reaching for whatever exists on the other side."

As a side note, Diana makes some new friends in NJ. One of them is a gorgeous but prickly woman who becomes a great friend. Diane herself is also described to be quite pretty, lithe, athletic. Despite the packaging, Ivy League degrees and enough material goods to get by, the two of them are rather grossly unlucky at love. I took this as some kind of lesson: You can possess everything you need and still be totally F'd up. Or, we all - even the beautiful among us - have work to do on ourselves, or something like that.

Anyhow, "Cranberry Queen" is a poignant, fresh surprising and sometimes hilarious read and I highly recommend it.

DeMarco has since published a second novel, "The Difference Between You and Me," Miramax Books. She is currently touring southeastern PA in support of her new young adult book, "Drizzle," under the name Katheen Van Cleve. Cute and interactive website complete with book signing dates in Philly and Lancaster may be found here.

Notably, according to the her web page for Penn's English department, Kathleen "Kathy" DeMarco has been the writing partner of John Leguizamo for many years, co-writing with him films such as "The Secret Life of Jesse Sanchez," (under option to Universal Films) and she has been the producer of numerous films, among them "Undefeated," "Pinero," "Joe the King" (which won the 1999 Sundance Film Festival Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award), "Big Shorty" (an animated TV series under option to Nickelodeon), "Sexabolix; a Love Story" (HBO Films)

Per the Penn site, DeMarco took her B.S. and B.A. (Creative Writing) from Penn in 1988--a dual degree from the Wharton School and the College of Arts & Sciences. She has been a consultant for NYU's Tisch School of the Arts M.F.A. dramatic writing program as well as for Tisch's undergraduate dramatic writing candidates.

She and Leguizamo are partners in Rebel Films, a NY-based production company.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Biz book-signing in Bethlehem March 25

Telford entrepreneur to hold book signing March 25

The Moravian Book Shop, 428 Main St, Bethlehem will host a book signing and presentation based on the 2008 book "Grow Your People, Grow Your Business" at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 25, by author and entrepreneur Karen L. Jett, CMA. Admission is free, and the event is open to the public.

Jett's presentation will cover the "secret" to growing a team of high performers. Jett will cover a four-step process to help staff work more independently, be able to create opportunities for sustained employee growth, and improve department productivity and quality.

With more than two decades of accounting and business leadership experience, Jett started her own business, Jett Excellence, in 2004 so that she could follow her passion for helping businesses and people to excel. She brings a unique business perspective to her clients by understanding the operation and financial challenges faced by leaders on a daily basis.

She has also developed an interactive ethics training system for small businesses, called “Questioning Ethics."

Jett holds associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in accounting from Montgomery County Community College and Temple University, and is a Certified Management Accountant. She was inducted into MCCC’s prestigious Alumni Hall of Fame in 2009. Jett has served as a past-president of the North Penn chapter of the Institute of Management Accountants and as a current board member of the National Speakers Association.

For more information about the book-signing, call the Moravian Book Shop at 610-866-5481. For additional information about Jett Excellence, visit http://www.jettexcellence.com/.

Labels: , , ,