Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

My Last Duchess

Or, creepiest poem I’ve read.

That’s my last duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Frà Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
Frà Pandolf chanced to say “Her mantle laps
“Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint
“Must never hope to reproduce the faint
“Half-flush that dies along her throat”: such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart how shall I say? too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favor at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men good! but thanked
Somehow I know not how as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech which I have not to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
“Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
“Or there exceed the mark” and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and make excuse,
E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretense
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

He totally killed her. Basically, for smiling too much. And now he’s negotiating for another duchess. *Shudder*


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A few years ago a book came out titled “The Surrendered Wife” by Laura Doyle. The book caught on very quickly due to its controversial premise, i.e. that the key to a happy marriage is for the woman to “surrender” to the designated head-of-household, the husband. This surrendering would also entail that the wife hand over all financial decisions to her husband.

I read so much about the book (alternately skewered and praised) in articles and op-eds that I had to read it just to see what the notoriety was about.  

Here’s a Publisher’s Weekly review on the book:  “[Doyle’s]…main point is that when she criticized, nagged and tried to control her husband, the marriage suffered; but when she “surrendered,” letting him do things his way and make decisions for the family, he rose to the occasion, becoming a responsible and loving husband and making her feel protected and cared for.”

While I agree that overly-controlling wives spouses (after all, control issues can exist in men and women) aren’t good for a healthy marriage, I couldn’t agree with the book’s practical applications. Cede all financial decision-making authority?? A shudder crept up my spine when I read that part. I have to admit that that advice very likely biased me against the rest of the book. 

However, I have applied Ms. Doyle’s principles of, er, surrendering to another part of my life…


I’ve been taking classes weekly, and it’s truly one of the highlights of my week. A good salsa is like a great conversation – energetic, provocative, interesting, fun. I wonder how many classes I have to take before I am confident enough to go dance at a salsa club…

When I first started dancing, I had a tendency to anticipate choreographed steps . I’d get thrown off if the Lead improvises or does something differently than what the teacher had demonstrated. So instead of dancing WITH a partner, I was dancing TO a choreography.

Needless to say, dancing with a (good) partner is so more fun than memorizing steps. Now, I make a real effort to be more conscious of the Lead’s positioning and more responsive to his guidance.

You know what this means… if a couple does something wrong in salsa, it’s all the guy’s fault!

I’ve been fortunate to dance with some very good Leads in my classes, and a couple of not-so-great ones. The best part about dancing as a girl is the experience of dancing with a good Lead – someone who gently but firmly guides you through the moves so that you know exactly what you’re supposed to do, and you have enough time to display your own flair in the dance. 

When I danced with more experienced Leads, sometimes I do turns and crossovers and I don’t even know how I did them! When the Lead is good, the Follow looks great, and everything flows.  With all the emphasis on “leadership” in this world (ahem, bschools?!), I’m more than happy to “surrender” to the art of followership in this aspect of my life.

Besides, I’d much rather be a surrendered salsera than a surrendered wife. 😉

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Just thought of this…

Has anyone realized the similarities between Tuck Everlasting and Twilight?

In both stories, a normal girl was falling in love with a boy who is immortal. In both stories, the girl had a chance to achieve immortality and live forever with her boy. In one case, the girl chose to live and die, away from the boy. In another, the girl chose to die and, er, become undead, forever with the boy. Even if you haven’t read the books, I’ve guessing you figured out which book is which.

I first read Tuck Everlasting as an elementary student. As a child, I was slightly disappointed that in the end Winnie didn’t drink from the fountain of youth and run away with Tuck. I suppose  Twilight is the darker, more twisted, and yet more fairy-tale-like take on immortality and young love.

In personal finance news, the newest Carnival of Finance is up! This is the first time I contributed in a looong time, but the Carnival is always good for checking out interesting posts from blogs that I might not be familiar with.

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Last Twilight post

Okay – this will be my last Twilight detour, I promise!

(might have spoilers below)

So today I borrowed Twilight and Breaking Dawn from a girlfriend. I thought that Breaking Dawn seemed so convoluted that I didn’t really bother to read all of it, just enough to get the happily-ever-after, vampire-style. As a fast reader and a ruthless skimmer, I pretty quickly went through Twilight‘s 400+ pages.

Stephanie Meyers really hit on a captivating storyline – I was very intrigued by the whole premise of the Edward-Bella (vampire-human) love story. But all the way I keep thinking, I really wish there was more character development (at the risk of sounding like an English teacher), especially in Bella.

I can’t really understand the love story between Bella and Edward – why does she love him so much? How can we tell it’s different from teenage infatuation? She is intoxicated by his physical beauty, and is grateful that he protects her… but what else? The love story seems a little more believable from Edward’s standpoint, only because he’s had 90 years as a vampire to understand himself (and really, who knows about vampires? Meyers’ characterization can be just as right as anybody else’s) – but Bella? I get the chemistry, I get the attraction, I just see Bella’s feelings for Edward as more passionate infatuation than deep, abiding love.

To be fair, although Meyers didn’t go into much of what happens after Bella becomes a vampire, it’s conceivable how her passion for Edward could develop into long-lasting love – whether bound by their experiences as vampires, or that they now have a baby, or that they will grow old stay young and unnaturally beautiful together.

But then again, Romeo and Juliet didn’t have time to develop a great, lasting, deep and abiding love either. Obviously, in fiction, lasting love is not necessary for the makings of a Great Love.

The best love story I’ve seen in a long time, portrayed by Hollywood, actually comes from Up. The first part of the movie is the best – bring tissues. Because you will tear up. (I spent the first 15 minutes of the movie trying to hold back tears because I will not cry in an animated movie!)

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I’ve never actually read the Twilight series. I skimmed a couple of the books at Barnes & Noble, but never quite dove in. Last night, however, I stayed up until 3AM watching Twilight the movie.

People enjoy Twilight for different reasons. For most, it’s the love story. After all, Bella and Edward make Romeo and Juliet look pedestrian – what’s some familial fighting compared to insatiable bloodlust? Romeo never wanted to desanguinate Juliet!

I think I’ve just discovered why Twilight speaks to me.

Not because of the vampire-human love story. But because of Bella’s certainty. She was certain that she wanted to be with Edward forever and she was certain she would become a vampire to be with him (I didn’t spoil anything, did I?). The best part of the fact that your boyfriend is a vampire? It’s only one decision. You will have to make one monumental decision (to become a vampire!) but afterward you’re done. You’ve decided your life. There is no room for second-guessing. Now all you have to do is to sit back, relax, and enjoy eternity with your undead beloved (and occasionally dabble in internecine vampire fighting).

Twentysomethings today, especially women, have been told from an young age that they can do anything. But the opportunity to do anything is, on the flip side, the pressure to do everything. There are no certainties about one’s path. No matter what decision you make, there will always be more. Like other young adults, I appreciate the freedom I have – I do. But sometimes the plethora of choices can prove exhausting.

This is the situation Barry Schwartz described in the Paradox of Choice (great video of Schwartz’s talk at the 2007 TED conference): choice is supposed to be the underpinning of individual automony and happiness, but having too many choices can cause 1. analysis paralysis and 2. dissatisfaction with the chioce you’ve made (it’s easy to imagine that you could’ve made a different choice that would be better). 

Life is a matter of choice on all fronts – consumer choices, career, family, relationships. This is what 20s are like. You’re trying to get ahead, to be prepared, to make the best choices to set yourself up for happiness and success at home and at work. There are so many decisions, and by extension, so much room for second-guessing.

Sometimes I feel energized by the possibilities that are laid out before me. Other times, I find myself wishing for a little bit more certainty. It’s a feeling I expect I’ll have to work through – for the rest of my twenties and beyond. After all, no vampire is coming for this girl.

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Here are the four books that I’ve been reading for the past week:

The Little Book of Common Sense Investing – John C. Bogle
Happiness, a history – Darrin M. McMahon
The Feminine Mistake – Leslie Bennetts
Madame Chiang Kai-Shek – Laura Tyson Li

I haven’t planned it that way, but I realized that each of my book selection says quite a bit about me, or at least where I am at this stage in my life.

According to my reading materials, I want to:

  • invest appropriately for my future by capturing my “fair share” of market returns (The Little Book of Common Sense Investing)
  • examine the issues surrounding work, motherhood, and economic independence (The Feminine Mistake)
  • ponder the concept of happiness and how it relates to my particular circumstances in this particular time period (Happiness, a history), and
  • be fascinated by fascinating women (Madame Chiang Kai-Shek)!

Quick, pick four books that you’ve purchased/borrowed – if you are what you read, what do they say about you?

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The Little House in the Big Market

For the past few days I have been (re)reading all the Little House books – beloved books of my childhood.

When I was young, I loved them because the books were simple to understand and filled with mouth-watering descriptions of food. As I read them now, I started thinking of how much things have changed in the time between Laura’s life and my life.

The one thing that have struck me is the disparity in material and culinary richness, but also in people’s mindset. When Laura was five, her sister Mary had a proper rag doll. Laura, however, played with a corn cob wrapped in a napkin as a doll. A corn cob!

Finally, on Christmas, Laura received a rag doll, a pair of mittens, and a stick of peppermint candy cane. She was so happy that she could not say a word. Can you imagine only having candy once a year?

All foods were prepared at home. Even though the dishes sounded delicious, there was really no variety in terms of ethnic offerings. There were no pizza or potstickers or pho. No gelato or chocolate mousse. No tacos or teriyaki.

There was no expectation that little girls shouldn’t not have a corn cob, or that women should have more than a couple dresses a year. I can’t tell from the Little House series if the adults were ever ashamed of not having more – but I imagine that when one is living in the Big Woods, with wolves and bears for neighbors, the Joneses are pretty far away.

When Laura was sixteen, she worked as a schoolteacher and a seamistress’ assistant to earn money for her family. I have often wondered if she would’ve liked to go to college – that subject, I gather, was never even broached because the Ingalls could only send one daughter, Mary, to a college for the blind.

And now, we enjoy a level of material, culinary, and informational richness that would have been mind-boggling in Laura’s days.

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A reader emailed moi for advice on how to get started investing in a Roth IRA. I was pretty excited that she thought of me (disclaimer: I am NOT a financial adviser). I don’t particularly talk about my investments on this blog (except to say that I DO invest) because investing is different for everyone, based on risk tolerance, time horizon, goals, etc.

But based on my personal experience, what I will say about investing is this:

-Be informed, but don’t fall into the trap of analysis paralysis.
-Risk & return… if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
-Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
-Understand after-tax, after-expense returns.

If you have an interest in learning about how to construct a portfolio and investment theories, some of the books I’d recommend are: All About Asset Allocation by Rick Ferri, The Four Pillars of Investing by William Berstein, and The Coffeehouse Investor by Bill Schultheis.

If you just want to get started, I think Suze Orman’s Money Book for the Young, Broke and Fabulous is a GREAT beginner’s guide. I don’t always agree with Suze, and really didn’t care for her Women & Money book, but YBF is awesome. Another, even shorter guide is On My Own Two Feet, a personal finance book geared towards young woman. The book is a good resource and easy to read.

As to where to get the money to invest… I can’t invest (lend capital to others) if I don’t save (have excess capital to lend). This is a little mind trick I play… whenever I put money into my funds, I imagine I am buying a little piece of the shoemaker instead of the shoes, the automaker instead of the car, the restaurant company instead of a meal.

In 20 years, I would’ve long worn out the shoes, forgotten the meal, or ran down the car. But the shoe company, the automaker and the restaurant will work every day to generate a return to its shareholders (me!), and my pieces of those companies will grow in value.

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Returning the literary love

Now that you have so graciously shared your recs with me, it’s my turn to return the literary love. Below are just some of the books that I love, and can read over and over again

The Hours by Michael Cunningham: A flawless weaving of the lives of three women, all tied to the novel Mrs. Dalloway: the incomparable Mrs. Woolf herself, a 1950s housewife in suburban America, and a 1990s lesbian writer in New York City. Gorgeous writing all around.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. A collection of related short stories about the Vietnam War. I first read it for a summer report in high school – I bawled my eyes out because all the stories were so poignant and true – until the first day of class when the teacher said, you guys know it’s a work of fiction, right? It’s written on the inside jacket. I felt stupid. But that doesn’t change the fact that Tim O’Brien is a genius.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. I don’t know if there is a seminal work on grief, but the seminal work for me would be this book by Ms. Didion. Her husband of 30+ years dies suddenly at the dinner table. The first two sentences: Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. The book is an attempt to figure out the how and when and where of the instant, and what lies beyond it.

The Naked Economist by Charles Wheelan. Even if you hate economics, I’d give this a strong recommendation. Dr. Wheelan covers the subject with witty & interesting anecdotes and easy-to-understand examples – not quite as quirky as Freakonomics but just as good. No dismal science here! Har har har.

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I love the public library

Using the public library is one of those standard personal finance advice – you know, get a library card & cut back on renting movies or buying books to save a bundle.

That advice is almost trite, but it works.

And I LOVE it! I frequent 2 libraries – one near work, and one on the way between home and work. Sometimes I’ll just duck in the library for 30 minutes and browse the shelves and fall in love with the fiction aisle. Those books with the elegant script, the intriguing title, the cover picture a blurred tree off in the distance, or a half a face of a lady, or a tiny sailboat off in the ocean.

I admit, I am a sucker for covers like that – they beckon: read me, and I will make you think, I will show you something about love, faith, grief, fidelity, betrayal, forgiveness, loneliness. Every good fiction, I think, holds out that promise to readers: delve into my pages and discover human nature.

Can you imagine – to be able to lure people in with a promise like that? To write is to create worlds. Destinies. It’s almost like playing God. Sometimes I imagine that we are just words on the page in the big book that the Ultimate Author is writing. If Heaven is when you’d get to read all those books that God’s written, I’d plop myself down and never stop reading (except to eat and love – it is Heaven, is it not?).

I’ve secretly harbored the hope that I can write something beautiful. Something provoking. Something that can be read, and re-read, and everytime you read it you fall in love with it a little bit more. Someday. 😉

And how the heck did a post on the public library get to God & human nature & all that jazz? Beats me.

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