Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Private Schools In Le Recession

As a product of public schools, I had to dive into some extra research for this WSJ story today about private schools.

I don't normally cover education, but found reporting this story fascinating. Parents and staff are understandably concerned and I'm grateful for all the input I received in the last few weeks on the topic and the thoughtful email that keeps hitting my inbox. Thanks to all!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Devils, Tigers and Cedar...Oh, my!

Thanks to all who gave suggestions for Bookquest 2009, a.k.a. my attempt to read 50 titles by Dec 31st.

Dearest Carey* suggested I create a profile on LibraryThing to keep track of my titles. I did, but am happy to hear tips on how to best utilize the thing.

This week I received a pleasant reminder from someone I've never met in person that to be on target with my goal, this week I should have wrapped up my third title. I have! (Food poisoning can be good for that.) Here's a quick look:

"Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson was killer. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.) Larson, a former Journal scribe, tells the story of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. Love! Murder! Ambition! But the footnotes are the most amazing part of this book. As a journalist, I look at the amount of research Larson did to put together this true story and my head spins. It fits my long-held belief that the best stories are, as they say, stranger than fiction. Especially recommended for: Chicagoans, history buffs and fans of crime lit that isn't literary garbage.

"The White Tiger" by Aravind Adiga won the Man Booker this year and has crazy amounts of buzz about it. I read it in one sitting at a coffee shop on a rainy afternoon (is there a better way to read?) and found myself hating the narrator in the first 50 pages, then realizing that was exactly what makes Adiga a good storyteller. "White Tiger" is scathing commentary of the caste system in India and does for that world what Richard Wright's "Native Son" did for race relations in the U.S. in the 20th century. I actually crashed a book club discussion of this at McNally-Jackson Booksellers and was surprised by how different the interpretations of the narrator were. I won't give away any more! I know next to nothing about contemporary Indian literature and I'd offer up this title to others like me. But I think anyone who likes a good read would dig it.

"Snow Falling on Cedars" by David Guterson has been sitting on my shelf for years and I have no memory of how it got there. At moments, this was a little sappy for my taste, but I did end up missing my train once because I got so sucked into it. "Snow" is a murder mystery/ love story that takes place on an island north of Puget Sound. But like "White Tiger" it ultimately turns out to be about race, specifically the discrimination that Japanese-Americans faced after World War II. Guterson, like Larson, did his homework, or at least I bought the historical context of it. Japanese internment is a topic that has long fascinated me, as I've grown up in the Northwest, where so much of it happened during my parents' lifetimes, yet I seldom heard much about what actually went on. I'd be interested to learn more about Guterson's personal connections to the subject matter and characters. Those love scenes are either the product of experience or one hell of a fiction writer. Or both!

*Carey's awesomeness doesn't end there. He's also the only person I've met who has managed to be resurrected from a layoff. Way to go, CGB!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Door-to-Door Brokers on Page one of Today's WSJ

My adventures in Missouri with quirky investment firm Edward Jones are on page one of today's (Saturday's) Wall Street Journal. Writing this story was nothing short of a blast. Going through final edits here at CES I wouldn't say was a blast, but I'm excited that the story ran nonetheless. (There's video, too.)

Today's my last day of reporting from CES. Over on the WSJ's Digits blog, I've been writing about dancing Obama iPod docks, wireless blenders, the resurrection of Sharper Image, flaming hard drives, robotic chess, Crocs for cell phones and an auto exec talking about talking cars.

I've been told that there's a snowstorm a'brewin in New York, so flying home tomorrow might be more hectic than I expect. But for today, back to the gadgets!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

I'm Off to Vegas for News, Not Marriage

I'll be in Las Vegas today through Sunday, helping out with the Journal's coverage of the Consumer Electronics Show. For updates, check out the Digits blog and some financially-focused posts over at The Wallet.

And since everyone asks about their credit score all the time, here's a link to a story I wrote last week on that very topic.

Monday, January 05, 2009

2009: Literary Inspiration from Karl Rove and President Bush

A good book should leave you... slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it. ~William Styron, interview, Writers at Work, 1958

A book is like a garden carried in the pocket. ~Chinese Proverb

No two persons ever read the same book. ~Edmund Wilson
I admit, I'm normally not a huge editorial page buff. But a friend emailed me this WSJ op-ed from Karl Rove the other day about a reading race between him and the president. In 2008, Rove read 64 volumes to President Bush's 40.

Leave politics out of it for a second. (That's tougher for some than others.) That's about a book a week. Damn.

So this year, I'll try and read 50 books. They can be fiction, non-fiction. Classic or contemporary. Short story collections are fair game and I haven't decided what the rule is for graphic novels or audio books.

I have no shortage of dusty volumes and "you gotta read this!" titles scrawled on Post-Its from friends. I'm grateful that a huge bulk of my day-to-day duties at work is reading, but I still think there's something to be said for a narrative arc over 100 pages. And there are finance-related books, not specifically tied to my day-to-day coverage that I've been meaning to get around to. Those can count toward the 50 total, too.

I'll try and post the titles I'm reading here, but don't expect lavish reviews or anything up to par with Art Garfunkel's pace. (Keep it up, Art!) But in the spirit of sharing, I'll be utilizing the local library and paperback swapping sites that I've reviewed in the past. If you've got books to recommend, let me know. Or hey, join in the nerdy fun!

Oh, and in 2009, I don't want to become a fatty or slave to debt. Just figured I should state that for the record.

(An aside: is anyone else glad that we'll never have another New Year's with those foul "00" glasses frames? Ha ha, to the revelers of New Year's 2100!)