The Windfall is the hilarious story of an Indian middle-aged couple who, after selling a successful website, move from a crowded apartment building into a luxuiours house, discovering a very different lifestyle. It could be a simple nouveau-riche satire, but it’s a lot more than that since the heroes are not blindly trying to imitate their rich neighbors and have a very balanced approach to wealth and the ridiculousness of spending extravagantly. There is a funny subplot of their son, who is consuming more drugs than studying at a second-rate American business school. Won’t change the literary world but the story is entertaining, and deeper than it seems at first.
Those who know me well may wonder why I would read The Home Decluttering Diet: Organize Your Way to a Clean and Lean House but I gotta keep those skills sharp, right? And this particular book won’t help. It consists of a set of checklists, first to de-clutter the house, one area at a time, over the course of a month, and then individual chapters on how to organize each room, each topped off with a cutesy craft project, most of which add more clutter. Good grief! And the initial decluttering plan is just insane. One day is for makeup (a whole day??) while another, equal day is for the kitchen. Really? Must be written by someone who doesn’t cook much (and places layers upon layers on her face!). Avoid absolutely.
Is this Science Week for the FT Books blog? The Seeds of Life: From Aristotle to da Vinci, from Sharks’ Teeth to Frogs’ Pants, the Long and Strange Quest to Discover Where Babies Come From tells the remarkably long and chaotic discovery of how babies are made. The author has lots of amusing anecdotes, including about the Italian priest that fashioned the lovely frog pants on the cover (they were effective contraception devices) and also explains how the philosophy of science changed over time, from a completely non-desirable, pointless endeavor to an amateur pursuit to the orderly testing protocols of more modern time. An enjoyable history.
I love short books, and I thought it would be wonderful to read Astrophysics for People in a Hurry to finally understand something about the mysterious undertakings of astrophysicists. I was sorely disappointed. Yes, the book is short. It’s also very hard to understand, written in a compact style without any visuals that may help a neophyte understand or retain all the abstract concepts that are raining on us. So despite the wonderful first sentence (“In the beginning…”) and lots of factoids stuffed into the slim book, I would advice against it as a learning tool.
Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage is a memoir that’s really a reflection about time and is full of wonderfully observed details. How minute body language changes tells her that her husband is rattled by a surprise encounter, how her aunt’s china symbolizes her happy engagement, how successful people may have amassed truly awful report cards, how we can wonder about a path not taken. It will make you wonder about your own choices.
Something to Hide is an utterly unpretentious and fun story of four women whose fates are shown to intertwine after many twists and many secrets (most from one woman to the other). I was concerned at first that the four far-flung locations would be exploited with heavy descriptions of travel and local attractions, but they end up fitting completely into the story and giving it the mysteries it needs. Yes, it’s a madcap pace but the emotions of the women are real and well-rendered.
Perhaps I should have expected that a book with the cutest title of As Long As We Both Shall Eat: A History of Wedding Food and Feasts would not be the next organized book around. And indeed, it bulges with all kinds of stories and anecdotes, most related to weddings, but many not, vaguely categorized in chapters that themselves meander quite a bit. We do read eclectic facts such as charging for wedding beer in 17th century England, bride to be force-feeding in Western Africa, and rules for Disneyland weddings (no”non-matching” characters allowed).
I suspect that most people who boast of having read The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan have not, in fact, persevered through 800 pages. (I did, but quickly…) It’s too bad, since we should probably all know a little more about the Federal Reserve Bank and how financial policy is set but a book this long and this detailed will comfort us in the thought that all this stuff is just too complicated and too tedious.
My favorite part of the book, as is often the case, was Greenspan personal history, a math prodigy raised by a single mother who was utterly devoted to him, and who saw himself at a pure libertarian and statistician — quite at odds with his later political career as a regulator!
The book focuses on his not seeing the 2008 bubble coming, which is a little too easy to say in hindsight — but certainly it was no secret that the real-estate market was bubbling. And to fill the 800 pages we get abundant details about Ayn Rand’s lovers, White House parties, how Greenspan proposed to his second wife, and of course who said what to whom at various Oval Office meetings. Where are the Cliff Notes?
The heroine of The Widow Nash is not a widow, but an escapee of an abusive suitor and an oppressive family who, in her mid-twenties, settles in a small Montana town where she tries to rebuild a life, incognito, and even find love. What would be impossible today (disappearing without a trace) is rarely possible in 1904, at least with a determined ex-fiance, but it works, just about, and we get a story that mixes small-town gossip and violence with a life very well-traveled, since Mrs Nash has accompanied her mine-owner father around the globe. Despite a few longish and not entirely needed stories about developing Yellowstone attractions, bravo!