Monday, November 22, 2010

2-Fer: IOU: New Writing on Money edited by Ron Slate and The Boy Next Door by Meg Cabot

Received IOU as part of the mission of Concord Free Press.

Thank goodness for Meg Cabot, because after finishing IOU, I felt ready to put off reading for the foreseeable future. It's not that it was bad, it just draaaaaaagged. A few of the stories within were even quite engaging, but overall, it was difficult to keep going. But keep going I did, and here are my thoughts.

The book is comprised of short stories (some in the form of "advice"), poems, and two interviews. All of the pieces deal with money in some form. If you like poetry or spoken word, you may actually enjoy a good portion of the book. If I am going to read poetry, however, it should be moving, engaging, not just a series of short phrases, truncated for appearance-sake, about something not-that-surprising or unique. But, like I said, if you enjoy reading poetry, you will probably enjoy at least half of this book.

The two interviews are interesting. One is with a woman who was involved in a bank robbery in 1970 (Katherine Ann Power) and the other is with a woman who pled guilty to embezzling a couple hundred thousand dollars from her bank-employee (Donna Lee Munson). If not insightful (though the second certainly was), the interviews were entertaining.

And then the stories. These really varied, story-to-story. If I may be allowed a moment to go through, briefly, the stories w/ my quick thoughts... (if you would like to skip this section, please proceed to the Boy Next Door review, below):
  • Interest by Michelle Huneven: It is a slow read, hard to get involved, but I appreciated the pay-off. No real climax, but an interesting view of father-daughter interaction wherein the daughter has asked her father for assistance purchasing a home.
  • Tycoon by Michael Greenberg: I start to realize that this type of short-story does not necessarily have a point. I liked some of the information therein, though - the perspective of a man who briefly entered the stock market.
  • Dear Yale by Jess Row: I actually loved this one, though it was also a slow-read. The story interchanges between a letter from Yale asking for contributions and a "response" from the old man who delves into his private and what should be embarrassing stories before his answer.
  • Income by Dolly Freed: I hated this one. It was advice in the form of a "story"?
  • Free Meals by Jonathan Ames: Pretty uninspired story about an adult who needs money from his/her parents. Like hearing a story from a friend where you smile politely at the end.
  • From Ghostbread by Sonja Livingston: Another somewhat entertaining but pointless read from the perspective of a child whose mother has the collectors calling.
  • Coins by Mona Simpson: I did not like this at all - the perspective of the foreign nanny in a big city. It was just a stream of consciousness with the point, of course, being that foreign nannies are respectful and their employers are shallow, pointless, rich people. And I say this with a sister who is a nanny and coming from a family that has never been affluent enough to afford one. I am not in defense of those families (or on the other side of the fence, as it were), but come on. Cliche.
  • The Entrepreneurs by Tony Eprile: This was interesting. A Zulu man desiring to be rich seeks his answer in the form of a "secret" from a washed-up teacher and finds trouble. The story is interesting and rewarding.
  • Poetry and Blue Jeans by Jenny Boully: I did not like this one either. It was another hate-the-Man, companies are evil, feel bad story. I know. These stories need to exist to establish sympathy or at least awareness. But, again, show some originality in your presentation.
  • Broadway Taxes by Geoffrey Becker: Wonderful. Well-told and interesting. A man seeks to sell his tax-preparation business.
  • Local Money by Douglas Rushkoff: Again, not a story. I mean, maybe the "writings" did not need to be in the form of fictional stories, but that was what I had been anticipating. Maybe that was my bad... But interesting information explaining the benefit of "local money" (complementary money).
  • An Inheritance by Dan Pope: This was interesting with a good "conclusion" (short stories don't really seem to "conclude," do they). A man deals with his aunt's illness.
  • Immorally Bankrupt by Augusten Burroughs: This was a very short, fun little story. As expected.
  • The Back of the House by J.C. Hallman: Very interesting story of a dealer in a casino.
  • Nannies, Maids, and Money by Kate Clanchy. This was from the perspective of the employer and it was a little more original. I enjoyed the story and the information - it was morose but somehow hopeful.
  • The Price of Waterfalls by Michael Guista: A man makes money instead of pursuing his passion. Not terribly interesting or original.
  • Sixty per Bird by Samantha Peale. I really enjoyed this story about a prodigal artist and the one who sells out to pay the rent.
  • Old Money by Terese Svoboda: In the end, the story was interesting. As in, looking back on it, I like what it did. But while reading about the two spinster sisters, I was uninspired.
  • The Price of a View by Castle Freeman, Jr: A story about buying property with nothing surprising or particularly informative (unless, I suppose, you know nothing about property).
  • Plunder by Jane Delury: I loved this one. The story is about an elderly couple with the husband very ill. The story weaves around the past and present and draws the reader into the pain. I actually cared about the characters in only 12 pages.
  • Where the Money Went by Kevin Canty: Interesting. Well done in the less-than-2-pages.
As you can see, overall, the book was disappointing because my feelings were often summed up with: "so, what's your point." Overall, 2 of 5 stars. Because some of it was really good. But, I needed something interesting, stat!

Along came The Boy Next Door. This was the first book by Meg Cabot I have read. I am glad I did! I read the book yesterday evening. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram called it "A fast, addictive read." Indeed it was.

The book takes the form of emails. The entire story is told through emails. It's like those books written through letters or a diary. Except this one was well done. The story was complete but did not feel unrealistic. The emails were not so complete as to render them unrealistic, and yet all of the facts were disclosed in a timely and interesting manner.

Mel Fuller, gossip columnist for the NY Journal, meets her neighbor Max Friedland, who is really his friend John Trent "of the Park Avenue Trents" because of an attack on her elderly neighbor, Max Friedland's aunt and only living relative. Max, of course, is too busy to take care of his neighbor himself, which is why he sends his friend John in his place.

It was so enjoyable to read. The story was somewhat "fairy tale," but in a real-life kind of way. To top it off, there was also a mystery to be solved?! For a girl, at least, the story had it all: mystery, friendship, parent-interaction, job drama, and love. Highly recommend for a quick escape into a wonderful fantasy where men are somehow both sensitive and masculine. 4 of 5 stars.

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