To Have And Have Not

Author: Ernest Hemingway
Year: 1937
Pages: 262
Rating:86/100 -- fun and interesting
Amazon: To Have And Have Not

Borrowed heavily from Wikipedia entry... To Have and Have Not is a 1937 novel by Ernest Hemingway about Harry Morgan, a fishing boat captain who runs contraband between Cuba and Florida. The novel depicts Harry as an essentially good man who is forced into blackmarket activity by economic forces beyond his control. Initially, his fishing charter Johnson tricks Harry by not paying back the money he owes him, and then escapes the country by airplane before Harry can realize what is going on. Harry then takes a critical decision to attempt smuggling Chinese immigrants into Florida in order to feed his family. (He then finds himself forced to kill the person in charge of getting the immigrants to Florida, because the man "Obviously was far too easily persuaded to pay him more for the transport") The Great Depression features prominently in the novel, forcing depravity and starvation on the residents of Key West, referred to as "Conchs." The novel consists of two earlier short stories ("One Trip Across" and "The Tradesman's Return") that make up the opening chapters and a novella (that makes up two-thirds of the book) written later. The style is distinctly modernistic with the narrative being told from multiple viewpoints at different times by different characters. It begins in first person (Harry's viewpoint), moves to third person omniscient, then back to first person (Al's viewpoint), then back to first person (Harry's again), then back to third person omniscient where it stays for the rest of the novel. As a result, names of characters are frequently written under the chapter headings to indicate who is narrating that section of the novel.

Litty's Take
This is one of Hemingway's less popular books but it seemed interesting enough when I picked it up at the Penn Station book store. Overall, I liked it. Hemingway writes in a way that makese his story seem modern day even though he wrote it almost 75 years ago. Harry Morgan is a likeable character who has his faults. Hemingway is also way before his time by shifting scenes, narrators and character. I'm starting to think Hemingway is my favorite writer. I easily identify with his characters and I'm regularly in awe of the wisdom in his writing. I'm not sure if my next move should be to read more of his lesser known books or to reread For Whom The Bell Tolls, Old Man and the Sea, and The Sun Also Rises.


The White Tiger

Author: Aravind Adiga
Year: 2008
Pages: 276
Rating:92/100 -- fun and interesting
Amazon: The White Tiger

The White Tiger is the first novel by Indian author Aravind Adiga. The book won the 2008 Man Booker Prize. The novel delves into the the rise of India and includes strong commentary on India's culture, politics, economy and tradition.

The story's protagonist, narrator, and white tiger, is Balram Halwai. He is from the Indian countryside, also know as "the darkness", where he grew up in extreme poverty. But much like in Slumdog Millionaire, Balram learns everything he needs to know in this supposedly knowledge baron enviornment. Balram's ambition seems to set him apart, and he turns himself into an "entrepreneur" to work his way up the harsh ladder of opportunity within India.

The novel takes the form of a series of letters written late at night by Balram to Wen Jiabao, the Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China. In the letters, Balram describes his rise from lowly origins to his current position as an entrepreneur in Bangalore, as well as his views on the social injustice and human stupidity in his country. He wants to share the real truth with the Premier instead of the sugar-coated propaganda that is commonly referenced. This structure allows Adiga to share the hidden underbelly of India with the reader in a fashion that is often overlooked or ignored by the upper class and Western world.

Litty's Take
I especially enjoyed the book since my trip to India provided a great frame of reference for the story. In India, I was amazed by the impeccable service that I received. I warmed too it so quickly that I completely overlooked the struggle of these people. The White Tiger was a perfect "reality check" to give a voice to those who are overlooked and ignored so easily.

To make it in India is certainly possible. But in order to see the "light", one must first find the darkness within himself to get there. It's a huge contradiction. Like all developed nations, India has become so frighteningly complex. Now, I am left wondering about the true India. Is it the amazing country that I witnessed or is it the corrupt and evil place in Slumdog? Is it the happy and glorious heaven of a Bollywood film? Or is it the absurd, complex and corrupt nation that Adiga swears upon?

I loved this book. The story is great. The writing is clear, poignant and gets right down to it. The reader doesn't have to wonder about the author's intentions, or try and figure out the meaning of vague analogies. After I finished this book I felt like I knew something about India that I didn't know before and that nobody else has been willing to share. That's cool.


IV: A Decade Of Curious People And Dangerous Ideas

Author: Chuck Klosterman
Year: 2006
Pages: 416
Rating:88/100 -- some stories are home runs but others are meegs.
Amazon: IV

IV is a collection of essays by the author Chuck Klosterman. Klosterman writes about movies, music and pop culture and occasionally sports for such hip publications such as Esquire, SPIN, ESPN, The Guardian and The Washington Post. He writes a brief half-hearted intro to set the stage for each article and includes a few footnootes in each story.

A bunch of the articles/essays are centered on analyzing rock music. KISS, Led Zeppelin, U2, Morrissey, and Wilco are all article topics and pop up often within his writing. Real World characters, Survivors and random athletes are also props in Klosterman's writing. He writes with enough self-awareness to pull of his B-list name dropping. Heck, if I also know who that person is I guess they are relevant and I guess it works!

The first section of the book is a collection of profiles of celebrities including great interviews with Val Kilmer and Brittney Spears. The second section is more about trend spotting and pop culture phenomen. The last story is Klosterman first published take at fiction. He should stick with journalism.


I most enjoyed his article breaking down Barry Bonds relationship with the media and the fans and his psychoanalysis of the Olympics. In both articles, Klosterman was spot on in recognizing something that was obvious but that I haven't heard articulated before. It's great to read something that just clicks in your head and this happened often. Go figure, both articles are about Sports and in fact Klosterman has writtena bunch for ESPN.

IV is my first time reading Chuck Klosterman. I knew that he was a pop culture guy and always had Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs on my reading list. I was at my sister's apartment and saw this on the shelf so picked it up and read the first few stories. I liked it enough to borrow it from her and finished it off in about a week.

Klosterman is kind of like a more intelligent and insightful Sports Guy (and they are in fact buddies and have worked together on ESPN Page 2). He bows down to pop culture and laces it throughout every articles and thesis. But Klosterman gets to a deeper level where he simplifies the things about pop culture that previously had never made sense.

Here are a few paragraphs that I thought were gems.

"It strikes me that every wrongheaded sentiment in society ultimately derives from the culture of inherent, unconditional rightness. As I grow older, I find myself less prone to have an opinion about anything, and to distrust just about everyone who does. Whenever I meet someone whop openly identifies themselves as a Republican or a Democrat, my immediate thought is always, Well, this person might be interesting, but they'll never say anything about politics that's remotely usefull to me. I refuse to discuss abortion with anyone who is pro-life or pro-choice; I refuse to discuss affirmative action with an unemployed white guy or any unemployed black guy. All the world's stupidest people are either zealots or atheists. If you want to truly deduce how intelligent someone is, just ask this person how they feel about any issue that doesn't have an answer; the more certainty they express, the less sense they have."

"…I have slowly come to realize that most people think this way all the time. They don't merely want to hold their values; they want their values to win…If you feel betrayed by culture, it's not because you're right and the universe is fucked; it's only because you're not like most other people. But this should make you happy, because - in all likelihood - you hate those other people, anyway. You are being betrayed by a culture that has no relationship to who you are or how you live."

Labels: ,


Good Guys & Bad Guys

Author: Joe Nocera
Year: 2008
Pages: 280
Rating:87/100 -- some stories are home runs but others are meegs.
Amazon: Good Guys & Bad Guys

In Good Guys & Bad Guys, business columnist Joe Nocera features his most interesting articles and profiles on America's business leaders spanning the last quarter century. Nocera's articles details the accomplishments and significance of his characters but what sets his writing apart is his ability to also delve into their motivations, character, morality and personalities.

I found some of the articles and characters more interesting and fascinating than others. The multiple articles chronicling T. Boone Pickens were especially interesting and both started and ended the collection of stories. Nocera had a history, and fondness, for Pickens and has been around long enough to see his arc from young upstart to his current positions as a sort of old man energy sage. Like most young people, I know Pickens from watching him on CNBC and I'm well aware of his outrageous donation to Oklahoma State athletics. But learning and realizing Pickens accomplishments and experiences over decades makes you realize he is on television for his incredible knowledge and that he is not just some talking head.

Some of the other interesting stories include profiles of Steve Jobs, Michael Milken, Warren Buffet, Henry Blodget, executives at Enron and Phillip Morris, and Jim Dunne the head of Sandler O'Neil a firm that was decimated on 9/11.

As it turns out, most of the people featured don't fall neatly into a "good guy" or "bad guy" category. Perhaps maybe they are both. Nocera hints at that in the book's subtitle BEHIND THE SCENES WITH THE SAINTS AND SCOUNDRELS OF AMERICAN BUSINESS (AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN). The commonalities seem to be blind determination and motivation to achieve. Most of the time they are too busy doing what they are doing to realize how public sentiment judges them. Sometimes, they line between good and bad is blurred and it's often quite subjective and a consequence of circumstance. I find myself admiring even the supposed bad guys for their unwavering confidence and determination to succeed.

Until reading Good Guys & Bad Guys, I was not familiar with Nocera or his work. Business writers have always seemed ironic to me. They are bright and knowledgeable enough to understand and explain complex business concepts and they are certainly immersed within Wall Street, corporate business and finance but they choose to write about it and instead of doing it. I know this is a simplistic view and that this point can be made for any industry. But somehow it sticks out in finance where the journalist is looked down upon by the egomaniacs that rule business.

I enjoy reading about business because it is both fascinating and inspiring. When an accomplish writer like Nocera is able to suck all the juice out of a story it usually makes it a thrilling read.


The World According To Garp

Author: John Irving
Year: 1976
Pages: 609
Amazon: The World Acccording To Garp

In The World According To Garp, nothing is normal but somehow that makes Garp both normal and likeable. Garp is the only son of Jenny Fields and for most of his life (and a large part of the story) is overshadowed by his strong-willed asexual mother turned feminist icon.

The novel traces Garp's life from birth, through childhood and adolescence into fatherhood and eventually to its tragic end. Garp's passions are in wrestling, sex, writing and later on in his family and children. In all of these activities he is energized by that passion and achieves both great success and even greater failure because of it.

As the novel deepens Garp becomes more human. His fear of the under toad doesn't seem neurotic or overanxious but just articulates the complexity of life that everyone feels.

Another interesting aspect of Garp is the novellas that are contained within the story. These are short stories within the story written by Garp (the character) that may or may not provide insight into Garp's character.

Litty’s Take

This is my second time reading The World According To Garp. At first I was a bit let down. In my mind Garp was a hero but this time I realized his faults and in some ways lost respect for him. But as the novel continues it becomes clear that Garp is living in his world. Sometimes he struggles, and sometimes he even fails but Garp always tries to live life to the fullest.

John Irving thrives in his imaginative and peculiar world and uses adultery, animals, transsexuals, and death to help enlighten the reader's on many of his themes. It makes the reader uncomfortable but it also allows the reader to overcome the discomfort and view the world in a different way.

I've found myself in a bunch of situations lately where I've thought about "The World According to Littyhoops". Seems like a sign that it's a story that has me hooked!


Death In The Afternoon

Author: Ernest Hemingway
Year: 1932
Pages: 275
Amazon: Death In The Afternooon

Death in The Afternoon is Ernest Hemingway's treatise (great word) on bullfighting. Hemingway writing about any subject is a treat unto itself, but he dissects bullfighting with both a passion and elegance that makes the tradition real to the reader. He goes into painstaking detail to explain every aspect of bullfighting - from the matadors to picadors, to structure of a good bull to killing style of each of the leading bullfighters of the generation. Hemingway does this so well that he transcends the actual sport to delve into issues such as spirituality, courage, fear and death.

Bullfighting appears to be quite a gruesome activity. Hemingway doesn't deny this and only offers that the reader gives the sport a fair shake. His ability to be objective (through the narration of an inquisitive "old lady") yet passionate makes you realize how unbelievable of a writer he is. Although never a bullfighter himself, it is apparent that he has fully engulfed himself in understanding the sport and his understanding of bullfighting is as authentic as anything that you can read. His story also passes the test of time as the novel is as fresh today as it was when it was written over a half of a century ago.

Finally, on any page there is a chance that you'll read a profound snippet of brilliance by Hemingway. As I was reading the epilogue he writes within a paragraph "Any man's life, told truly, is a novel…." I stopped and read that line over a few times. I liked it.

Litty’s Take

I love that Hemingway is a writer who is also a doer. His experiences include war, traveling, hunting in Africa and as a journalist so his stories are based on his actual experiences. It seems like the current generation of writers are slanted towards academics and their stories come from the unique way they passively view society. That's not as interesting or genuine as those who have experienced something exceptional and then can write about it in an even more powerful manner.

At times the amount of detail is extraordinary. It is more than I'll ever need to know about bullfighting but I believe there is value in learning about every aspect. The one analogy I applied is that if I wrote a book about the nuances of baseball. Of course I would outline the rules and strategy but then I would get into minutia of things like holding runners on at first base and it would go something like this.

"When there is a runner on first base the first baseman can either hold him on and stand in front of the bag or play at normal depth which gives him a better opportunity to field his position. By holding a runner on it will give the pitcher an opportunity to pick-off the runner and limits the runner's lead off of the base. The runner will usually take a lead of 3-5 strides depending on the threat of stealing a base. If a pitcher attempts a pick off, the first baseman will catch the ball and try to apply a tag on the runner before he returns to the safety of the base. This is unlikely to occur as only the most deceptive pitchers have good enough moves to trick the runner. The great Mattingly will tag every base runner no matter if he is already on the base. Other first baseman will simply return the ball to the pitcher. Therefore the first baseman's main role is to prevent the runner from getting to aggressive of a lead. After the pitcher throws home the first baseman will come off the bag into a defensive position by taking five to six steps to the middle of the field. The first baseman must also be ready for bunt attempts, double play balls, and pick off attempts by the catcher…"

Now imagine that with the articulation and elegance of Hemingway and you can begin to understand to what degree he breaks down bullfighting.

I'm not sure if you need to read this book unless you have a keen interest in bullfighting, Spanish culture or a love for Hemingway's writing. But if you do choose to give it a crack I'm sure you will enjoy it.


The Blind Side

Author: Michael Lewis
Year: 2006
Pages: 336
Amazon: The Blind Side

The description on the back cover of The Blind Side does a great job teasing the book so I'll use it this one time.

"When we first meet him, Michaell Oher is one of thirteen children by a mother addicted to crack; he does not know his real name, his father, his birthday, or how to read or write. He takes up football, and school, after a rich, white, Evangelical family plucks him from the streets. Then two great forces alter Oher: the family's love and the evolution of professional football itself into a game where the quarterback must be protected at any cost. Our protagonist becomes the priceless package of size, speed, and agility necessary to guard the quarterback's greatest vulnerability - his blind side"

Lewis has amazing access to Oher (through a pre-existing friendship with the family that adopts him) and is able to really get to the heart of his story. Lewis, the author of Liar's Poker and Moneyball, is at his best when he tackles a complicated trend, industry or activity and breaks it down into laymen's terms. In The Blind Side he details the evolution of the Offensive Linemen from underappreciated hogs in a system to valuable superstars. In doing that he gets to dissect how Lawrence Taylor changed the game, the origin of Bill Walsh's West Coast Offense and the business of high school football recruiting. The book does a great job on both the micro (Oher's story) and macro level and works from both a football and cultural anthropology angle.

Litty’s Take

I enjoy reading Michael Lewis and have read most of his books. He gives you the inside scoop on whatever he is writing about and allows you to feel like he's letting you in on industry secrets.

My overwhelming feeling throughout the story was that Michael Oher has had tremendous opportunities afforded to him just because he's a big boy. Oher did work incredible hard to succeed and it's hard to call him "lucky" because his background was just about as shitty of a hand as one could get dealt. But shouldn't there be better ways to identify kids from inner cities or in the system who show tremendous talent or potential (not just in sports either) and get them on a more positive track?

I was impressed how Oher was able to operate in a proper Christian white world and how they were able to adapt to him. I just wish it would happen more often in our society. I definitely drew some comparisons between Oher and Ishmael Beah in A Long Way Gone and while both boys have overcome extreme trauma and seemingly impossible circumstances it still a bit depressing how many other boys there are that are just like them but don't get anywhere near the opportunities to succeed that they did.

As for the NFL stuff, I'm always interested to learn more about football strategy and history. It's the one sport that I never played growing up. So unlike baseball or basketball where I feel like I know just about every strategy and situation, I usually watch football with a bit less deeper of an understanding of what's going on. For instance, I have no idea which teams use a 3-4 and which teams use a 4-3 and why a coach would favor one over the other (Lewis explains it).

Definitely a fun and interesting book worth reading.


A Long Way Gone

Author: Ishmael Beah
Year: 2007
Pages: 229
Amazon: A Long Way Gone

A Long Way Gone is a true story but it is unbelievable to me. In Ishmael Beah own memoir he recounts his childhood as a soldier in war torn Sierra Leone in the 90's. Beah tells his own horrific tale in a calm and detached manner with gut wrenching detail.

The book begins when Ishmael is a careless, hip-hop loving (rapper's delight!) 12 year-old who leaves his village with his brother and a few friends to enter a talent show in a neighboring village. It will be the last time he sees his family. Beah's village is attacked and destroyed by the Rebel Army. This begins years of wandering the countryside, trying to survive in a small pack with other homeless refugee boys and staying away from danger in its many forms.

Finally, Beah is picked up by the government army (which is strikingly similar to the Rebels) and turned into a soldier. He learns to kill, pillage and maim all the while hopped up on drugs without any understanding or reason. He goes into painstaking detail to detail some of his mind-blowing experiences as a boy soldier. Any reader will constantly ask himself if this could really all be true. A boy this young actually doing the crazy shit that he describes.

Beah somehow rehabilitates with loads of courage, an amazing will to survive and a heavy dose of luck. He seems to realize that while he has come such an incredible long way in his life there are so many more children soldiers who didn't. The reader must admire Beah perseverance and success. The truth though is that the doom and dread that he describes throughout the book is really too much to fathom.

Litty’s Take

This book did what most good books do. It got me thinking. The stats say that there are over 300,000 children soldiers in over fifty world conflicts that are living similar nightmares as Ishmael Beah. I can't accept that. If I did, I might drop everything I'm doing with my life and try to find a solution because I can't imagine that happening in a world that I live in. Or I might just believe that the world is an evil place. Both of those options are so awesomely unappealing that I will probably pretend like this book was a novel and file the story in the deep recesses of my brain rather than try to make sense of it all. Depressing. Yup.

I'm not sure how society can break down to such a degree and I'm not sure why anybody would want it to. Ishmael Beah doesn't get into that. He tells it how it was. To him, the why didn't matter. He talks about himself like he was a pawn who was at the fate of the whims of luck and his own destiny. Although Ishmael has accepted that what happened to him was not his fault he does not try to disavow his actions. He also does not try and take credit for all the amazing success he has had in his life. I guess he realizes the story he is telling is much bigger than himself.

I would recommend this book. It will make you feel uncomfortable and that's because it is just that way. It also will make you appreciate what you have a whole lot more. Maybe it will even spur you on to do something.


The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Author: Michael Chabon
Year: 2007
Pages: 414
Amazon: The Yiddish Policemen's Union

The Yiddish Policemen's Union is an imaginative and entertaining mystery novel written by one of the best storytellers of our current generation, Michael Chabon (Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay).

Bound only by the endless confines of Chabon's mind, the author rewrites history to create the setting for the novel. In 1948 the newly formed Jewish State of Israel collapsed through pressure and aggression from neighboring countries. Jewish refugees and their descendents settled "temporarily" in an Alaskan safe haven known as the Federal District of Sitka. But after 60 years, the District is set to revert back to Alaskan control and with an unknown future it's certainly a "strange times to be a Jew".

Amidst the chaos of the upcoming Reversion, decorated yet down on his life Detective Meyer Landsman finds himself in the middle of a murder case. Landsman must come to grips with his own demons and penchant for liquid breakfasts if he has any chance to succeed in unraveling not only the murder, but a larger conspiracy that involves his wife, his sister and even the future of the jewish people!

Litty’s Take

I really enjoyed this novel because of the setting, the characters and Chabon's ability to maintain suspense.

The concept of the Jewish people not having a homeland is not all that far-fetched. Chabon's version of history is a plausible (if not scary) concept, and gets the reader thinking outside of the novel to evaluate the security and future of Israel. Chabon also goes into great detail to explain the Sitka District and how it has evolved and how it might just as easily dissolve. Like all societies there are both unifying themes and culture idiosyncrasies that make it believable.

Landsman is a successful detective who has deteriorated into a lonely drunk. His ex-wife who left him is actually his boss. His partner is a half-Indian Jew that seems to be viewed as an outcast by all. Finally, the characters that Landsman encounters throughout his adventure is an amusing mix of crooks, rabbis, con-men, and shady characters.

It's always an added benefit when a great writer who is masterful at creating characters, develops meaningful themes and brings a story to life also uses suspense to move the plot forward. Not only was I enjoying Chabon's excellent writing but I kept on reading to find out what was going to happen next.

Definitely worth a read if you want something entertaining yet still thought-provoking. Probably a step below Cavalier and Clay but still a very good work.


Breakfast Of Champions

Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Year: 1973
Pages: 302
Amazon: Breakfast of Champions

Dwayne Hoover is a successful car salesman who unbeknownst to his friends is quickly going insane. His favorite author is the obscure science fiction writer Kilgore Trout. Trout may or may not be insane. Throughout Breakfest of Champions there is a build up to the climatic meeting of Trout and Kilgore in Midland City for an arts convention.

In the last third of the story Vonnegut enters himself within the plot. This is great fun as it makes no practical sense but somehow enhances the clarity of the story.

An interesting touch is that Vonnegut includes his own line drawings throughout the story. These simple drawings depict things such as an anus, a vagina, chickens, syringes, flags, electric chair, etc.

The book was originally called Goodbye Blue Monday. Vonnegut changed the book to the "registered trademark of General Mills, Inc. for use on a breakfasts cereal box. The use of the identical expression as the title for this book is not intended to indicate an association with or sponsorship by General Mills, nor is it intended to disparage their fine products."

Litty’s Take

Kurt Vonnegut recently passed away and I was fortunate enough to read some amazing obituaries and stories about the great author. I even wrote a blog post about how much I admired Vonnegut and his writing.

I hadn't read a Vonnegut book in years and was excited to warp back into his wacky world. For some reason I never got around to Breakfast Of Champions (recognized as one of Vonnegut's top three with Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle) so thought it would be a perfect choice.

I enjoyed this book as much as I have always enjoyed Vonnegut. Through his writing he makes the world seem chaotic and perfect all at the same time. Vonnegut allows you to see the world in a different way, his way, and it feels like you can laugh at all the things in your own world that usually make you worry and fret.

I'm not sure that everybody will understand and appreciate Vonnegut dark satiric wit as much as myself. I do recommend you give it a chance though because if you do like it you are in for a real treat.


You Shall Know Our Velocity

Author: Dave Eggers
Year: 2002
Pages: 353
Amazon: You Shall Know Our Velocity

You Shall Know Our Velocity is the first novel from Dave Eggers. Most people know him as the writer of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, his amazing and touching life story.

Y.S.K.O.V. is about Will (narrator) and his best friend Hand. Will has thirty eight grand that he wants to get off his hands and believes a one week trip around the world with Hand would be the perfect antidote to solve all his problems. Those problems are Will trying to overcome the death of his other best friend and to recover from an ass-beating he received a few weeks prior. Will's badly bruised and scabbed body and face probably symbolize his emotional and mental anguish.

The plot of the story takes effect as the narrator swiftly and roughly recounts their travels. Will and Hand go from Africa to Asia, to Eastern Europe without much direction. Along the way they hope to give away thousands of dollars but they aren't exactly sure the best way to disperse of it. Will and Hand aren't exactly sure about much.

My favorite part of the novel is when Hand shares a conversation he had with a traveler he met in Africa. The story is about a tribe in South America that believes they can learn to fly. The story also sheds light on the title of this novel. It's one of those insignificant passages within a book that makes reading feel great.

Litty’s Take

I think Y.S.K.O.V. is a tale of friendship. Or it might be about life and death. Or it might be about one's journey through life and search for meaning. I'm not really sure and I don't think the main characters of this book are either.

Eggers is at his best when he articulates the raw emotion and thoughts of himself and his characters. His magic is in making sense of the things that go through your head that don't really make sense. He has an innate sense of the stuff that people are too afraid, or pre-occupied or maybe even oblivious to face themselves. He was brilliant at this in AHWSG and he shows the talent at times in this story as well.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel. Eggers writing style is unique and meaningful. I wanted more from the characters and more from Eggers. I think he gave the right amount though and I've already bought my next Eggers book, What is the What.


Faith Of My Fathers

Author: John McCain
Year: 1999
Pages: 348
Amazon: Faith of my Fathers

Faith of my Fathers is a family memoir by John McCain. He fondly recounts, through his own memories as well as stories passed down to him, the honorable lives of both his father and grandfather. The story then morphs into McCain's experiences in the Navy and his five years as a Prisoner Of War in Vietnam.

Both McCain's father and grandfather were celebrated four-star admirals in the Navy. John McCain grew up in this military atmosphere and followed their path to Annapolis and the Navy. In his youth, he was stubborn and foolish and did not set himself apart from his peers. In fact, he was in the bottom 5% of his graduating class. By his own admission, he played the part of a spoiled navy brat who reaped the benefits of his esteemed family blood lines. The turning point of McCain's life occurs when his plane was shot down and he is captured as a P.O.W.

The second half of the books is super scintillating (thanks Dicky V.) as McCain vividly describes his experience as a prisoner. He was beaten, tortured and interrogated. McCain turned towards the other P.O.W.'s for courage and support and to keep hope alive. This is also the time when McCain learns to love America and all the freedoms and comforts of our nation. Despite the mental anguish and terror, McCain begins to develop his ideology and moral compass as he survives through the trauma.

Many of his stories seem to glorify war. To men like John McCain the military is a way of life. McCain is honest and forthright in deconstructing all three men (including himself) and it helps understand the motivations and inspiration of the McCain's.

Litty’s Take

As I mentioned in this blog post I am going to read the autobiographies for all of the top 2008 presidential candidates. I started with McCain because I had the most outstanding questions about him. He is considered a political maverick and isn't afraid of partisanship. Yet many believe he is quickly swinging to the right to win the Republican Party nomination. I wanted to understand his past. What does it mean to be a P.O.W.? It sounds horrible. Is he still all there physically…mentally (this might sound foolish but really is something that floats through my head)?

I was satisfied with what I learned about him and look forward to reading about more candidates. I can now better relate and appreciate McCain and his ideas. For instance, he supports increasing the troops in Iraq. Understanding his past it's a cinch to realize that McCain would favor this. I'm not saying I agree I just understand the qualifications behind his convictions.

There are some things I liked and some things I wasn't so hot about but overall I feel more informed. I'm not here to share my political views but I do want to put myself in the position to make an informed decision. Reading this book has allowed be to better evaluate McCain.



Fight Club

Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Year: 1996
Pages: 208
Amazon: Fight Club

Read Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk and you realize it was easy for Brad Pitt and Edward Nortan Jr. to turn the film into a cult classic. The novel is both outrageous and profound but it also has a tighter plot that more easily coalesces than the film.

The novel is narrated by an unnamed average guy (nicknamed Jack) who breaks out of his monotonous life to rebel against the blah that is his life, his job and his society. He is sick of the bullshit of his job, the commercialism of a consumer society, and feels chained down to his worthless Ikea possessions. His sole relief is attending support groups and pretending he is terminally ill in order to illicit and feel genuine emotion and support from a group of people. He craves true human interaction.

Somehow (can't remember how) our beleaguered narrator develops a badass alter ego named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt character). Tyler Durden rebels against everything the narrator despises about society and replaces support groups with the invention of Fight Club. In Fight Club, people get together to beat the crap out of each other. It makes them feel alive. Naturally, Fight Club spirals into chaos as the narrator struggles to not let Tyler Durden dominate his life. Unlike the film, the transformation into Tyler is steady, logical and done in a way that clues the reader off as it is happening.

In my version of the book, Palahniuk writes an afterward about the immense popularity and social immersion of Fight Club. It is awesome. He serves up the idea that the story resonates with people around the world for the same reason why he wanted to write it - because this is a story for you, me and every average guy. It is a story that is to obscene for most to tell but perfect for everyone to read.

Litty’s Take

Palahniuk does a solid job of developing both an intriguing plot and meaningful themes. He speaks out for the frustrations of his generation and accurately uncovers the issues and fears of young adults. As I read the book I related to his hatred for the corporate world, disgust at places like Ikea dictating what one owns and how one should decorate his own home. We acquiesce to accept phoniness within society but still let it gnaw at our true happiness.

Obviously, Palahniuk takes the rebellion to the far extreme but it is fun to think about such an insurgence. He writes about what the average guy would love to do. Get into fistfights for fun. Defecate in food served to pompous luminaries. Tell the boss to f-off.

The narrator reminds me of a modern day Holden Caulfield (Catcher In The Rye) mixed in with some Thoreau. But instead of being resigned to his sorry existence and "quiet desperation", the narrator turns into a bad ass. It makes the reader feel inspired. The protagonist wages war with society and! It puts the reader's head in the clouds.

I'm pumped up to read more books by Chuck Palahniuk. I've heard about Choke, Survivor, Invisable Monsters, and Stranger than Fiction (non-fiction stories).




Author: Alex Garland
Year: 2004
Pages: 192
Amazon: Coma

Coma is mind-bending novella that follows the semi-conscious mental state of the story's narrator Carl. On the way home from his office, while riding on the train, Carl comes to the aid of a female stranger as she is being harassed by a group of young thugs. Carl ends up getting an ass-beating for the ages that leave him in a coma. At first, it appears as if Carl has recovered, is released from the hospital and returns home. But twilight zone like experiences and surreal events lead Carl to conclude that he still very much in a coma, albeit in an intense dream state. The stories continue from within his coma as Carl slips in between different dream worlds. He visits friends, has an affair with his secretary and revisits his traumatic mugging, but always reverts back to his vegetative state in his hospital bed.

The book's author, Alex Garland, who is refreshingly unpretentious as a write refers to the story (article) as "a short read. It was always designed to be. I suspect it would not have worked had it been much longer. Those jumps in mental landscape get frustrating after a while. You need something to grip on to.'

The fuzzy and confused perspective of his comatose state is heavily illustrated by Garland father and political cartoonist Nicholas Garland. The illustrations enhance the tone and intentional confusing nature of Carl's trippy journey.

Litty’s Take

I've been a big fan of Garland since reading The Beach and The Tesseract. This is his third novel and while it holds it's own and is a quick read it is way different from the first two stories. Both of those stories took place in exotic locations, with young, idealistic protagonist's searching for utopia. By the way, if you enjoyed the film version of The Beach at all (with Leonardo DiCaprio and a super cute French chick) it is definitely worthwhile to give the novel a go.

The Coma does allow you to ponder the vibrant dream world of the sub-conscious and makes you wonder what happens to a person in a coma. I've always figured that dreams were meant to be forgotten and that is why we all do within minutes after waking up. But how real are you dreams? Can they add to one's fulfillment and satisfaction if they aren't ignored? I also wonder if dreams are our mind's way of telling us stuff that we refuse to listen to in our conscious state.

My recurring dream: I am in high school and realize that I have a Science Final Exam that day. For some reason I haven't gone to class in months, haven't opened a text book and have absolutely no chance of passing the test. I wonder why I never dropped the class while I try to hopelessly figure out a way to scheme my way into avoiding imminent failure. Thankfully it's not the worst nightmare one could have because I must have this dream at least once a week.




Author: Gus Alfieri
Year: 2006
Pages: 300
Amazon: Lapchick

Lapchick is the biography of Joe Lapchick – a basketball pioneer in the first half of the twentieth century and more importantly a legendary coach at St. John’s. The book is authored by Gus Alfieri, a sports columnist who played for Lapchick at St. John’s in the 50’s.

The theme of the book is that Lapchick was a gentleman with a tremendous amount of respect for others and for the game of basketball. He understood people and built lifelong relationships with teammates, players, coaches, journalists and fans. Lapchick’s accomplishments as both a player and coach are distinguished. He was a member of the original World Champion Celtics, won four national titles at St. John’s and was the first coach of the New York Knicks. But it was how Lapchick lived his life that seems to be most commendable and gives the reader a sense that Lapchick would have been successful at whatever he did in life.

Alfieri sheds light on more than a few fascinating and somewhat underexposed topics in basketball history. He writes extensively about the barnstorming days in the 20’s and 30’s and the formation of professional basketball leagues. He also covers the point-shaving scandals that tarnished college basketball in the 1950’s, the prominence of the NIT as the major post-season college basketball tournament and the emergence of black players in the NBA led in part by Sweetwater Clifton for the Knicks (under Lapchick’s realm). Even as a serious basketball fan with a good knowledge of the game I was in the dark on most of these topics.

Litty’s Take

As a diehard St. John’s fan, a self proclaimed Redmen aficionado, I had often heard the name Joe Lapchick. I used to attend the annual Lapchick tournament at Alumni Hall growing up. But I knew very little about the coach or about St. John’s history before the Louie Carnesecca era. So it was great for me to learn about Lapchick and read about how St. John’s was at the center of the NYC and college basketball scene (something I can only dream about these days). I often boast, somewhat facetiously, that St. John’s is a six time national champion (of the NIT tournament). In the 1940’s and 50’s the NIT was more established and desirable than the NCAA tournament. St. John’s won the tournament four times in this period. Alfieri deftly explains how the NIT was the IT tournament of the day and any how the Garden became the Mecca of sports.

I also learned about the Redmen stars of the era including Sony Dove and Alan Seiden, names that were nothing more than words in the SJU record book. It was special to read about the start of Louie career as an assistant to Lapchick and the controversial way in which he replaced the former coach. Lapchick’s days of head coach of the Knicks also was a primer in the early history of my favorite professional basketball team.

I’m lucky to read the book knowing most of this history would probably have been swept away if somebody didn’t come along and chronicle it the way Alfieri did. In some ways it seemed to me that writing the book just for me.

Best of all, the book was given to me as a holiday present by my Mom. Pretty cool that she somehow knew than I would enjoy it more than even I did.



The Wisdom Of Crowds

Author: James Surowiecki
Year: 2004
Pages: 284
Rating: 77/100
Amazon: The Wisdom Of Crowds

The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki valiantly tries to prove the idea that large groups of people are smarter than a few individuals. The book follows the popular trend of pop/social science books (Blink, Freakanomics, etc.) in trying to overturn popular assumptions with witty insight. His case studies are easy to understand and include the TV show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, congested traffic in urban centers, wall street markets and open-source programming.

Surowiecki's thesis gets a bit blurry throughout the book and isn't as powerful and thought-provoking as The Long Tail. The main point is somewhat confusing because, in the context of the book, crowds consist of the aggregate of independently-deciding individuals - not groups of people making decisions together. The example I created for myself to keep the framework intact is that of a trial jury. The book is not defending the "wisdom" of a jury in its current form. If a jury's decision consisted of members each casting their vote without any collaboration (and therefore persuasion) from each other than, by Surowiecki logic, the verdict will be incredible accurate (nevermind that it would result in a lot of hung juries - and probably why it doesn't work that way)

Litty's Take

I was a bit disappointed with the book. I was looking for something as juicy and mind-bending as The Long Tail or Freakanomics but I thought this fell short. I struggled to follow along with each section of the book and was constantly trying to figure out how each example fit into the greater idea. This probably would be a great magazine article, but not sure it needs to be a book.

I'm writing this review a few weeks after I finished reading the book and there are very few takeaways that are still in my head. I haven't really incorporated this ideas into my thinking and don't see how I'm going to apply it in real-life situations. I guess the one idea it did enforce is that nobody is always right - and the more opinions, perspectives and ideas you can gather the more ground and scenarios you will cover.

Anyway, if you're still interested in the book I'll be happy giving you my copy.



Parlay Your IRA Into A Family Fortune

Author: Ed Slott
Year: 2005
Pages: 300
Rating: 74/100
Amazon: Parlay Your IRA.....

Individual Retirement Accounts, or IRA's, are investment vehicles that help an individual plan for retirement. By investing money into an IRA each year throughout one's career a person is able to leverage tax benefits and hopefully be financially prepared for retirement. It sounds simple. It isn't.

There are different types of IRA's and various stipulations, clauses and procedures for each kind. The idea behind the value of an IRA is take advantage of compounded interest by growing your money in a tax-deferred environment, Ed Slott, the IRA Expert, who authors this manifesto uses plenty of graphs and charts to drive home the idea of how effective compound interest is to creating value.

IRA's are often passed down to beneficiaries (especially in wealthy estates) upon your physical departure from this planet. This is where things really get tricky. If not properly organized an IRA can't be "stretched" by the beneficiaries therefore losing the awesome growth powers of the stretch. A few missteps and a family can easily lose thousands and even million of dollars of value.

Litty's Take

This book was given to me to read by my father. I'm glad he did. Managing your wealth is as important a job as your career. Much like the book "Rich Dad Poor Dad" there is much more to increasing your wealth than cashing a paycheck every two weeks.

That being said I was amazed at how difficult it is to properly set up IRA's to maximize value. Basically it is impossible. I'm not sure if this is because a cottage industry of IRA Experts (like Mr. Slott) has figured out every which way to manipulate and maneuver through the IRA code to provide maximum benefits or because the government agencies that create these tax shelters are morons. Either way it seems like Average Joe is getting screwed out of his family fortune while the rich get richer.

If your looking to gain some understanding on how this all works Slott's book is decent. He tries to add some color to the mundane and intricate minutia of tax code and retirement planning. I think reading this can help you ask the right questions when planning your own financial affairs.



The Ghost of Hannah Mendes

Author: Naomi Ragen
Year: 1998
Pages: 384
Rating: 76/100
Amazon: The Ghost of Hannah Mendes

The Ghost Of Hannah Mendes is two stories weaved together into one supposedly romantic, historical and ancestral tale. The present day story is of a dying grandmother desperately trying to pass along all that is locked within her lineage to her self-centered grand daughters. Abuela convinces her dissatisfied with life grand daughters to embark on a far-fetched adventure to find the remains of a family manuscript that dates back to the Spanish Inquisition. Having to abort due to decline health, The girls end up on their own and get much more than they bargained for by finding love, ghostly spirits and an enlightened understanding of their heritage in their Indiana Jonesian quest through Europe.

The actually manuscript is the other story and is intertwined throughout the novel. This is the fictional story of Hannah Mendes an “indomitable Renaissance business women” who lived in the 1400’s and overcame the Inquisition to become an influential woman of wealth and power.

The juxtaposition of the two stories aims to provide greater meaning and context to each one individually.

Litty's Take

My mom gave me the strong recommendation on this one. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to relate and enjoy the novel as much as she did. Perhaps it had to do with the dominance of female characters, or maybe it is just that the idea of heritage resonates more with mothers and fathers who are constantly passing it down.

I skipped reading the sections of the book that were the transcripts of Hannah Mendes. It was hard enough trying to follow along with the misadventures of two girls who weren’t all that interesting. In hindsight, I would probably have been better off just reading the transcripts and not following the modern day saga.

Naomi Ragen does a commendable job of developing themes of Jewish heritage and family in all of her books. Her main characters are often female and she has no qualms about stooping down to garner interest through romance and inconsequential drama. I would consider reading another one of her books if the plot was a bit more relevant to me.

I would love to get my mom to chime in with her review and hear why she so thoroughly enjoyed the novel.



Tender Bar

Author: J.R. Moehringer
Year: 2005
Pages: 370. Quick read.
Rating: 85/100. Worth it.
Amazon: Tender Bar

Like all best selling memoirs, the Tender Bar is a story that is at times gut-wrenchingly heart-breaking and at times laugh out loud funny but overall it is inevitable more glorified and dramatic than real life could ever be. This isn't necessarily a bad thing and the author puts a unique spin on the standard coming-of-age without a dad story.

Moehringer grew up in Manhasset, a typical NYC suburb, and the next town over from Great Neck, my own childhood stomping ground. At a young age Moehringer is attracted to Publican's, a local bar, in which he finds comfort and the masculine figures that he lacks in his own family life. His love affair with the bar is the dominant theme throughout the book. By the end of the tale I actually begin to believe in the mystique and comfort that the bar provides - but just barely.

Litty's Take

One thing I don't get - why do all memoirs perfectly recount tales from when the author was between ages 5-10. Nobody remembers that age, let alone retell word for word conversations. Whenever a chapter begins the summer I turned 6 ½…..i automatically become suspicious.

One thing I love - Moehringer doesn't make himself out to be a hero or even a protagonist. He doesn't try to show his cathartic growth throughout the novel. He has lived a life with regrets, fears and failures and he puts the same energy into these events as he does in telling his successes. The result is an even balance which allows you to root for him as a person and a realization that the story is only special because it is his own.


Atlas Shrugged

Author: Ayn Rand
Year: 1957
Pages: 1074. This takes quite awhile. Definitely a challenge the first time.
Rating: 89/100. Really challenges the reader to think about life.
Amazon: Atlas Shrugged

Ayn Rand's masterpiece, Atlas Shrugged, has a unique and special aura that can very easily captivate a reader. The story is about a society that has lost its spirit and faith in man and the select few people who strive to overcome the imminent doom of this loss of morality. But the plot, although impressive and timeless even after 50 years, is merely a vehicle for Rand to share her themes and philosophies on life and society.

The book's main purpose is to promote a way of life and to celebrate the mind. It cherishes the idea that life is a precious gift and those who truly appreciate it must strive to accomplish their goals. Virtue is created by fulfilling one's own selfish desires and true satisfaction can only be derived from within. Rand most admired characters in the novel are martyrs who hold utopian ideals. These characters are admired for their desire, determination and self-understanding. Their influence over the reader is tremendous as the reader admires their unattainable morality.

This book isn't for everybody and may be hard for many to understand and relate too. For those who have yet to read or do not enjoy Ayn Rand they might wonder what all the fuss is about. Atlas Shrugged is quite idealistic and has had profound effects on many people though. It can achieve this because it sets forth a romantic ideal of life and makes it seem attainable to the reader. Those who choose to believe in the message can be greatly influence by the novel.

Litty's Take

I have mixed feeling about Ayn Rand and her books. I first read the Fountainhead (another Rand novel) in high school and then proceeded to read all five of her novels (including Atlas Shrugged). At the time, I was instantly drawn to the characters and was open and impressionably by the ideals and themes in the books. It seemed to me like Rand was providing a means to unlock greater meaning out of life and these characters were able to achieve this enlightenment.

I realized that I had let Ayn Rand ideas and philosophies have way to big of an influence on my thoughts and ideas. I had unconsciously allowed many of her ideas to seep into my head and had too easily accepted them as truth without critically analyzing each one. Some of these ideas I liked and wanted to incorporate into my own understanding of the world but other ideas I believed, with some hindsight, too be both unobtainable and unhealthy. In some aspects of my thinking I had become selfish, elitist and frustrated - and this was a direct result of reading these novels. Furthermore I had not realized the books had had such a great influence on my character until after I had unknowingly changed many of my beliefs. Then I did some research on Rand and basically found her to be a philosophical quack that is looked upon more as a cult leader than a true teacher. I was angry that I let myself be so influenced.

After my experience the first time around I had vowed never to read another Ayn Rand book. I didn't want to be "brain-washed" any more and was afraid of letting my mental guard down. I guess I picked up the book out of curiosity - to see if it would have the same effect on me the second time around. I'm glad to say it hasn't. I felt much more detached as I read it again. I was able to find parts of Rand's philosophy that I admire and other ideas that I vehemently object to as well. There are still times I will be reading a newspaper article or be in a conversation and have a new and different reaction than I usually would. I quickly realize that this might be because I've just finished reading Atlas Shrugged and I'm able to quickly put my new reaction it into a better perspective instead of automatically trusting this new feeling. I'm glad I've read it again though as it has helped me come to terms with many of these ideas and feelings.

Note: I didn't spend really write about the specific ideas and theories of Atlas Shrugged because I believe they are pretty personal and that the story creates different emotions and ideas in each reader. I thought it would be better to discuss how the book affected me and how I chose to deal with my own issues and ideas as I was again exposed to it.



My Library

I recently found an amazing new website called Library Thing that allows me to easily create a list of every book I own. This is my profile and my catalog. I also created this widget that shows the covers (you can pick the exact cover that you have) of all of my books. Pretty neat, huh.



Blue Blood

Author: Art Chansky
Year: 2005
Pages: 357. A typical sports book. Pretty quick once you get going.
Rating: 77/100. Doesn't capture the magic of the rivalry.
Amazon: Blue Blood

Blue Blood traces the history of the college basketball rivalry between Duke and North Carolina over the last fifty years. Despite being only eight miles apart on Tobacco Road the schools are radically different. Duke is an exclusive private school attended by northern transplants (including the youngest Litvack) with a basketball coach, Coach K, who is a living legend. Carolina is a public institution that embodies the entire state and has rebounded to regain its spot among the elite programs in the nation under new coach Roy Williams who carries on the legacy of Dean Smith. The book does a nice job of chronologically telling the story of how the two teams have see-sawed for dominance of Tobacco Road as well as their impact on the national stage.

Some of the most interesting chapters aren't that well-known, such as when the Larry Brown led Tar Heels battled Ary Heyman and the Blue Devils in the early 60's. Both Brown and Heyman were jewish kids from neighboring towns in Long Island. Both were highly recruited and both had a disdain for the other which boiled over into a huge brawl in Cameron Indoor Stadium on a snowy night in 1961.

Chansky also chronicles both teams in the 90's, a decade in which each team reached the Final Four five teams. Perhaps the most enlightening chapters discuss the post-Smith years at Carolina with the Matt Dougherty fiasco leading to Roy Williams finally taking the job and bringing a national championship back to Carolina.

Litty's Take

As a college basketball fanatic I've always had a special affinity for the Duke-Carolina saga. It always seemed so special and so different from a professional sports rivalry. If I was able to attend or watch only one college basketball game a year it would definitely be Duke-Carolina in Durham over any other game. I was hoping Chansky would bring me into the rivalry and explain it's magic. I wanted to learn about Jordan on campus, Leittner and Hurly at Duke and the legend of Dean Smith. What I got was a lot of bland stories about the coaches and the outcomes of each season.

I wouldn't recommend this book unless you were dying to get more Duke-Carolina info. If you are a Duke or Carolina fan you already know all of Chansky's stories. If you're a college basketball fan who just wants to better understand the rivalry I would recommend you get some tapes of classic Duke-UNC games and see for yourself what it's all about.



Ballad Of The Whiskey Robber

Author: Julian Robertson
Year: 2005
Pages: 257. Once you get into the story you will be hooked.
Rating: 94/100. Amazing story, well worth the read.
Amazon: The Ballad Of The Whiskey Robber

The Ballad of The Whiskey Robber warps you into the backwards world of post-communist Budapest (a city made of up two distinct towns separated by the Danube River - Buda and Pest). The tale is the true story of Attila Ambrus -- a Romanian immigrant who moonlights as a pelt smuggler, second-rate hockey goaltender, pen salesman, Zamboni driver, gravedigger, church painter, building superintendent, and who finds enough time between gambling and drinking to become the most prolific bank robber in Eastern Europe.

Rubinstein allows you to love The Whiskey Robber, for both his greatness and his all too humane shortcomings. The story also introduces colorful characters including a police detective always one step to slow and a crime show host whose trashy programming captures the fancy of the audience of a deregulated media.

Overall, the story captures the zaniness of an enigmatic city in the midst of social growing pains. Through the chaos, Rubenstein allows the reader to relate to the characters and understand their seemingly inexplicable actions.

Litty's Take

I fell in love with this book the first time I read it and now have read it again only eight months later. The plot is so interesting and unpredictable that I assumed it was a fictional story as I read it for the first time. Only after I finished the book and was going through the appendix did I realize the story was true.

A good book hijacks your imagination and lets your conscious get lost in the story. This is one of those books. I knew the characters, understand the city, and was excited for each twist and turn in the plot.

I recently recommended the book to a friend who works at a movie studio and told him this book needs to be made into a movie. In fact, in the story Attila's publicity-seeking lawyer desperately tries to sell the movie rights to his story. The Hungarian Cochran realized he was part of this fascinating tale that Rubenstein so deftly tells. So click this link, pick up the book and enjoy. If I ever do start my real life book club this might be first on the list.


The Long Tail

Author: Chris Anderson
Year: 2006
Pages: 226. An easy read.
Rating: 91/100. Does a good job to get you thinking.
Amazon: Buy: The Long Tail

The Long Tail, the trendy new business book by Wired editor Chris Anderson, is a fascinating look at how the digital marketplace is transforming both commerce and culture.

"The Long Tail" is a phrase coined to describe the phenomenon that occurs along the demand curve as product variety increases (due to the low cost of digital inventory.) Apparently, it never ends and the tail of the curve is repelled by the horizontal access like it is a magnetic force never allowing the two lines to touch. As more obscure products are offered consumers come out of the woodwork to buy the crap. Although the demand for these individual products is small, when compounded (like tax-free interest on your 401K) the obscure products actually create an astonishingly large piece of pie. Anderson's examples include Amazon, Net Flix, iTunes, Wikipedia and the blogosphere (man, can't believe I used the word blogosphere).

My gibberish summary in the paragraph above may very well lack coherence. If the book seems at all interesting, I would recommend that you give it a read. The examples are enjoyable and illuminate the theories. Anderson does a good job of making sense out of the online economy and explains the trends that you always kind of realized was happening but couldn't put it all together. At times the book might lose a bit of focus and struggles to connect all the dots. Anderson realizes that new technology has shifted the paradigm in many markets (commerce, media, and information) and does a commendable job explaining all the effects and trends that result from this shift.

Litty's Take
I first encountered the idea of the Long Tail in a Wired article by Anderson that the CEO of my last job passed on to me. At first it seemed that the main idea is simply that more is better. The Internet allows more products to be offered and hence a few more products may are sold.

As I try to dig deeper and really understand the "Long Tail" the idea becomes way more interesting and complex. Disruptive technology does more than just make things better/easier/more profitable. It changes the playing field and therefore changes every player, team, strategy and behavior.

A few personal examples and ideas that I will leave up in the air. The reason for this is that I'm still forming my opinions.

The Long Tail of College Basketball
My father is a proud alumnus of Bowling Green State University in Ohio. As a kid I would do anything I could to follow BGSU college sports. Unfortunately I was unable to do t for BGSU. For my favorite local team, St. John's, I watched and attended almost every game. My information typically consisted of mailing a check to buy a yearbook and reading the scores in the newspaper the next day. Even box scores were impossible to obtain. Fast forward 12-15 years. BGSU sports are widely available on television and the internet. I can watch or listen to almost any college football or basketball game.

Now, does this mean that I will watch more college sports since there are more games to choose from? Will I now watch every St. John's and BGSU basketball game in effect doubling my college basketball consumption? Will I decide to root and follow more teams or conferences? How will I make my decision on which teams to root for? Is Gonzaga a school that climbed up the Long Tail and is now a major national power? Could a school like Gonzaga have become as popular as it is in the 70's or 80's?

The Long Tail of News
I'm very interested in Middle Eastern politics. I recently spent a good amount of time in Israel and fell in love with the nation. I have tried to become as educated and informed as possible in regard to Israel's predicament with its Arab neighbors. I'm also quite cynical of mainstream media and don't have the patience to watch news from the traditional media. To do this I read the Israeli newspapers, follow pro-Israel blogs and watch my favorite news commentators. The amount of information is tremendous, even overwhelming. By searching for and seeking out pro-Isreal information (from the long tail) am I closing my self off to understanding both sides of the issue? Am I becoming too polarizing in my beliefs?

The Long Tail of Music
I have a 30 GB iPod with over 2000 songs. That is my music universe. Once in awhile I may hear a song at a friend's house or out at the bar. No radio, no visits to record stores. I'm trying to figure out if this is a good thing. Yes, there are now unlimited songs available to purchase and listen to on the internet. There are services like Pandora.com that will find new songs for me according to my tastes and preferences. But, for whatever reason, I hardly ever add new music to my iPod. I no longer know songs that are radio hits or even best sellers. I wonder how my musical taste will change or evolve or well get "locked in" to whatever is on my iPod for all of eternity. More importantly what will my kids say when I play Sublime, Jack Johnson and Tupac 30 years from now!!!



A Random Walk Down Wall Street

Author: Burton Malkiel
Year: 2003 (8th Edition)
Pages: 432. Slow, slow and slower unless you love reading an dry academic repeat himself.
Rating: 80/100. Gets the point across and gives an overview of wall street.
Amazon: Buy A Random Walk Down Wall Street

Burton Malkiel, a Wall Street cynic, thoroughly explains the financial markets in this investment classic that is considered a "must-read" by those in "the know". He first goes through the history of Wall Street, moves on to analyze different investment theories, and then creates a practical overview on how to invest money. The strength of the book likes in his overview of almost everything concerning investing and his ability to clearly and simply explain financial ideas. For instance, building sandcastles in the air is his term for the mania that characterizes a bubble.

"A Random Walk Down Wall Street" rips apart almost every strategy that tries to beat the market. He debunks the idea that financial analysts are experts and fires academic bullets at many popular investment theories. His "shock the world" statement is that blindfolded monkey's throwing darts have as good a chance at positive results as the guy running your money. Malkiel then proposes his own bland theory on successful investing. His answer - diversify by investing in index funds that track the market.

Litty's Thoughts

I read the book to refresh my knowledge on Wall Street and the different kinds of investment vehicles. Unfortunately, I'm in debt and my investment consist of series EE bonds that were issued 10 years ago as Bar Mitzvah presents and which Malkiel considers one of the most useless investments around.

RWDWS covers all kinds of investments including stocks, tax shelters, mutual funds, and fixed income assets. The first 100 pages are the most interesting. That is when Malkiel explains the history of investing and discusses the factors and psychology behind many landmark events.

The book starts to go downhill when it scrutinizes technical and fundamental analysis and analyzes risk. Malkiel uses academic studies and research to basically kill every idea or investment strategy. At the end he proposes his strategy that seems pretty lame. Perhaps he's a professor that jealous that brainless finance monkey's make exponentially more income than he does. The book serves its purpose on educating the reader and can be a springboard for figuring out where your interests lie. Overall, wasn't sure what all the fuss is about.


Subscribe By Email

Get posts sent to you
directly by email:

Meet L-Books...

    Littybooks can help you find your way along the cathartic path of leisurely reading. Benefits may include peace of mind, unimpeded circulation of your inner chi, and an overall satisfaction with your life. So pick up a book and look at the words inside.
My profile

Book Reviews