Book Log – Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

I quite agree with the description “Harry Potter for adults” that I’d heard about this book.

I’d avoided reading this book because I had been given a recommendation by a bookstore person once… “If you like Harry Potter, you’ll love The Thief Lord“, which turned out to be an appallingly bad book. I feared Strange was just another poorly written, pale subsititute hyped to try and catch a little of the Potter sales magic.

But it’s not. It’s very well written, and has a smart humor to it reminiscent of Jane Austen. Set in the early 1800s, it creates an interesting alternate-history where English Magic had died out 200 years prior and chronicles the efforts of two new magicians to bring it back.

I should be surprised if a movie doesn’t come along eventually.

Book Log – What No One Ever Tells You About Starting Your Own Business

What No One Ever Tells You About Starting Your Own Business, Second Edition: Real Life Startup Advice from 101 Successful Entrepreneurs by Jan Norman.

A fairly interesting, general advice book on starting your own business. The author interviewed a bunch of business owners and asked what they wish they’d known. There’s plenty of good little stories about that sort of thing.

But a lot of it I had been told or witnessed myself, coming from a family of entrepreneurs and marrying into another family of entrepreneurs.

Still, not a bad read and gives me things to think about.

Book Log – The Truth (with Jokes)

The Truth (with Jokes) by Al Franken

While my politics don’t neatly fall into any catagory ( calls me a “libertarian not worth his salt” because I believe in legalizing just about everything but keeping fire departments and probably public schools1), I enjoy me some Al Franken.

What’s interesting is that his political books are getting progressively more serious. Rush Limbaugh was 75% wacky/25% serious political discussion. Liars about 50/50.

This one is about 85% serious critique of the current administration. The title is very apt. Serious discussion with a few jokes thrown in3.

I enjoyed it, and found it interesting. He makes a jest about running for congress, but after reading the book I wonder how much of a jest it is. It almost seems like he’s repositioning himself as a serious politician.

Anyway, good read.

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1 I just spent 20 minutes trying to find a journal entry where I discussed my opinions on public schools that I could link to. Why on earth doesn’t LiveJournal have a search engine that would help me with that2?
2See how demanding I get when I’m a paid user? I’m insufferable.
3Al says there are only 2. I caught a few more.

Book Log – The Science of Good & Evil

The Science of Good & Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow The Golden Rule by Michael Shermer

This is Shermer’s third book in his pseudo-trilogy, the first two of which were Why People Believe Weird Things and How We Believe. The first book was an interesting look at people who believe in UFOs, witches, holocaust denial, and other, well, weird things. The second got more into the nature of belief from a scientific and social point of view.

This one takes on morality and suggests an evolutionary basis for doing good. It’s a good, sound dissertation on the topic.

And, as always, he has lots of interesting side stories, studies and statistics. One bit I’ll bring out because it gave me a jolt:

Consider that, according to polls, 95% of the citizens of the United States believe in God. Elsewhere, I read that Agnostics and Athiests account for about 0.9%.

And consider this excerpt:

A 1999 Gallup poll… When asked, “If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be an X would you vote for that person?” (with X representing Catholic, Jew, Baptist, Mormon, black, homosexual, woman and athiest), while six of the eight received more than 90 percent approval, only 59 percent would vote for a homosexual and less than half, 49 percent, would vote for an athiest.

That means I belong to a group that is more of a minority than homosexuals, blacks, hispanics, jews, and Asians. Roughly on a par with Native Americans and Alaska natives. In addition, we’re more mistrusted than all of the traditionally villified groups in the U.S. (They didn’t put terrorists on the poll, but I’m confident we’d have a better chance at the White House than Osama. Maybe.)

For the first time in my life as a white, heterosexual, middle class male from the midwest, I believe I might qualify for some sort of Affirmative Action.

I’m writing my congressperson.

Book Log – Gravity’s Rainbow

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

This is not technically a book I’ve read, but rather one I’ve abandoned on page 59.

There are often books I set aside and come back to later.

But it is extremely rare that I come across one like this one, where I have no intention of coming back to try it again. Although I may be betraying a lack of intelligence or sophistication, I find it unreadable and uninteresting. To be fair, the person who recommended it to me said it was a bit chaotic, likening it to James Joyce. I’ve never read James Joyce, so that didn’t serve as much of a warning.

Also, the book has things I can’t much abide by: dream sequences. I almost universally hate dream sequences. I hate them in movies, tv shows and books. I’m not even crazy about hearing about people’s dreams, unless they involve me and/or sex. When this book isn’t describing a dream sequence in stream-of-consciousness, it is telling the actual story in a dreamlike stream-of-consciousness. Yuck.

So that’s that. Anyone want a book?

Book Log – The Shakespeare Miscellany

The Shakespeare Miscellany by David Crystal and Ben Crystal

Stacey picked this book up in New Jersey, thinking it might make a good addition to the Georgia Shakespeare bookstore.

It’s random, but interesting. Basically, a bunch of facts, stories and quotes about Shakespeare in no discernable order. In fact, I’d say some were out of order, giving facts that were needed to understand other facts after the fact, so to speak.

Many, many tidbits that I will probably never remember, but enjoyed hearing at the time.

If you see it at the Georgia Shakespeare bookstore, buy it!

Book Log – Investment Fables

Investment Fables: Exposing the Myths of “Can’t Miss” Investment Strategies by Aswath Damodaran

Aswath Damodaran is a professor at NYU. He writes very accessible books on investing and valuation, and makes several of them available for free on the internet as well as streaming videos of his lectures. This book is not available online, but it’s part of the Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommended reading list. There were all sorts of good tidbits of information here and he does a good job of demonstrating why a lot of stupid strategies are, in fact, stupid. At the same time, he points out ways in which the strategies could be modified to be effective. For example, instead of just investing in low P/E stocks, look for low P/E stocks with a few other character traits that will help you to avoid stocks that are low for a reason.

There was one bit that bothered me so much that I dog-eared the page. From page 439, which relates to aribitrage strategies:

Third, even if the information is correct and investors, on average, form expectations properly, there might still be investors who are willing to trade a prices that do not reflect these expectations. Thus, an investor who assesses the value of a stock to be $50 might still be willing to buy at $60, because he or she believes that it can be sold to someone else for $75 later. Investors who see this irrationality and are willing to bet on it or against it may be able to make higher returns in the long term. This presumably is what successful investors like Warren Buffett and Peter Lynch bring to the process.

I was fine with it up until the last sentence. What on earth was he talking about? Both Buffett and Lynch were famous for not buying something for more than it was worth and hoping someone else will buy it still higher. They ridicule other people for doing it.

I can only assume this is a typo, because the rest of the book is spot on.