Epitaph for a Tramp & Epitaph for a Dead Beat

Two gritty and amusing noir crime novellas packaged up together. Harry Fannin is a gumshoe with literary taste and ambition, but fortunately for us, he sticks to solving crimes that fall into his lap. Tramp covers the mystery of his ex-wife’s death, after a heist involving $40 large from a factory payroll. She’s dubbed a tramp because she ran around on Fannin while they were together, which he discovered after noticing a disturbing amount of cigarettes in the ashtray near his bed. It was later explained away that she became trampy as a recovery mechanism for being kidnapped and defouled by her sister’s fiance when she was six years old.
Dead Beat dips into the Greenwich Village world of beatnik poets, one of whom is on a murder spree, killing 3 people in a 2 day period. It’s a wacky case of strange names (Ulysses S. Grant), hepcat lingo, disputed authorhood.
Overall, very well written and make me chortle at least twice.

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On Writing Well

I can hardly write the review, I’m so overjoyed to find this book. This is a beautifully written guide to writing, which should serve all audiences well. For myself, the main “Aha!” moment was the Nonfiction as Literature chapter, I’ve been devouring classic fiction for so long, my blinders kept my writerly instincts from considering factual nonfiction writing as “good”. This is, of course, a totally ridiculous opinion to hold. And now I feel I can write anything and make it good and not need to create a virtual fictional world which was my stumbling block.

Despite all appearances, this is a funny, smart, immensely helpful book. Clutch it tightly to your chest if you are a newborn author. Or even a middle aged aspiring one.

Update: great article on Zinsser not really finding his own path until he wrote this.
“It now occurs to me that I didn’t really find my style until I wrote On Writing Well, at the late age of 52. Until then my style more probably reflected who I wanted to be perceived as €”the urbane columnist and humorist and critic. Only when I started writing as a teacher and had no agenda except to be helpful did my style become integrated with my personality and my character.”

Hello I’m Special

Rebellion just isn’t the same these days. People expect rebellion against the norm, and thus are conforming to society’s expectations when they rebel. Hal takes us on a mildly interesting journey of “Everyone’s Special”, showing us ourselves in the badly-lit mirror; hordes of celebrity-wannabes lining up for Idol tryouts, the marketing of the teacher/student sex scandal with tell-all books and movies, the need for violent criminals to get media attention to feed their special-ness. There are some poignant moments in the book, as he visits with people retreating from pop-culture in the British Columbia islands, people who shun TV and movies in favor of old fashioned, face-to-face community.

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Niche Envy

Oh the dangers of database marketing! Sound the alarms! Companies use information they have about your purchase behavior to better market to you. This was a weak academic perspective on database marketing, with heavy emphasis on loss of privacy and utter lack of understanding why marketers do such things.
His argument is that people will feel judged by companies based on treatment they receive, and people will engage in specific behavior to try and be classified as a valuable customer in order to reap the benefits. This bordered on nonsense in my eyes. If people are concerned about information they give to companies, give fake information or none at all.
And this is why I’ve been receiving AARP offers for the last 5 years. 🙂

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Your Money or Your Life

Skimmable, easily digestible book of the usual financial advice. One of the items that resonated with me is the idea of considering each purchase you’re about to make– will it give you fulfillment, satisfaction, and value in proportion to the amount of life energy spent on it? Another surefire way to save money is to stop shopping.
This book has been all the rage lately with the idea of the Crossover Point (aka the FU point), where your investments generate enough cash to cover your expenses and you can do what you want with life.
Take the spreadsheet for a stroll with your own numbers to find out your personal FU point.

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Drawing on lessons learned from Machiavelli, Critical Mass, Paris Hilton, and the Nazi party, Duncombe urges the progressives to learn how to create a spectacle (ethical spectacle) that engages everyone in politics and hastens change. He refers to the one spectacle the left got correct in the last election– the Billionaires for Bush who mockingly supported the Republican candidate but passed around leaflets on how to buy a candidate. (13,000% ROI on an initial investment of $1M after defense contracts went their way)
He suggests we learn from Las Vegas embracing its fakery, the appeal of Grand Theft Auto (personal seeking & empowerment), applying advertising genius to politics (make people desire the change), turn everyone into a celebrity by making everyone have a voice in the protest/movement.
Skimmable, and seems more like an extended university paper. But good intent.

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How to discuss books one hasn’t read

The professor of French literature, Pierre Bayard, makes the case for being able to discuss books you haven’t read, or that you’ve heard discussed, or that you read and forgot. If you know what a book is about, you can still talk the talk amongst your vest-wearing, pipe-smoking, unkempt-haired literary lounge pals. He gives the example of knowing what Ulysses is about (an Odyssey tale taking place in a single day in Dublin), and being able to make frequent references to Joyce despite never reading Ulysses.
His book is Comment Parler Des Livres Que L’on n’a pas lus? and someday when I am fluent in French, I will read it. Or at least pretend to have read it.
(Thanks JK!)

My Mexican Vacation

A last minute decision to get away prior to the 4th of July holiday caused a mad dash for tickets, sunscreen, and the all-important stack of beachside reading. (You’ll notice a spike in number of books read in July— you can thank my hammock & beach towel for that) So away we whisked ourselves for an extended weekend, luxuriating in the hot Mexican sun like iguanas and cooling off in the Sea of Cortez like seals. Many cervezas & fish tacos were consumed. Many layers of sunscreen applied (I cannot say enough good things about the Neutrogena Ultra Dry Touch Sunblock – my Irish/Swedish/German skin is finally safe). We had a near-death experience going the wrong way on a dirt road during a Baja dune buggy race, but for the most part it was wildly relaxing.
Immediately after coming back to work, I was thrown into an all-day partner meeting with Lonely Planet, where we went around the conference table introducing ourselves by Name, Company, Most Recent Trip. My Baja adventures were dwarfed by tales of month-long treks through Africa, and my own experience seemed a bit lazy compared to a lot of the eco-adventure trips these partners led. Out of that meeting, many connections were made, and I’ve done a bit of guest blogging, which has whet my appetite for more more more writing!
Check out my posts:
* Baja trip on Viator blog
* Lonely Planet meeting on Blurb blog

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)

It’s official– Harry Potter is the crack rock of fantasy tales. Never have I geeked out as much as this week, rushing home from work to lie on my couch devouring hundreds of pages in a sitting. Tip of the hat and flourish of the cane to Ms. Rowling, she’s done it again with a page-turner like no other. Billions in the bank haven’t affected her wordcraft. I hung on the plot line, dangling, finding myself wondering how it’s possible to write such gripping stories that the whole world is caught up in at the moment. Pottermania has consumed my office, my family, my nation.
As for the storyline, [HELLO, SPOILER ALERT] Harry, Ron & Hermione traipse around the countryside trying to find Horcruxes and destroy them before Voldemort figures out what they’re up to. One of the horcruxes is in a vault at Gringotts, which they break into and escape on the back of a blind dragon. They end up at Hogwarts for a final showdown with the Big V, Harry saves Draco’s life a couple times, Ron & Hermione make out in the heat of battle, death takes Fred & Lupin & Tonks during the battle, V kills Snape with the snake to get mastery of the Elder wand which Harry somehow claims passed from Malfoy to Harry. Harry grabs Snape’s thoughts and Pensieves them to see Snape was looking out for him the whole time because of his love for Lily (Harry’s mom). In the end, we see Harry & Ginny 19 years later with 3 kids of their own, one named Albus Severius after Dumbledore & Snape. They’re at the train station seeing their kids (and Ron/Hermione’s kids) off to Hogwarts.

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