Book Broads • Business Lunch

by Angie Eakley

I drive 30 miles to and from work every day, from a Milwaukee suburb known for its white-trash reputation to a region known as "Lake Country," which gives the opposite impression. As with every generalization, 'Stallis isn't as down and dirty as people like to think, and there are working class people living in reasonably sized homes out in Lake Country. (Although in the former the mayor recently hired a PR firm to make commercials or something to change popular opinion, and the latter is home to a high school that made the news for funding a locker room to rival that of the Milwaukee Bucks, so some stereotypes die harder than others.) One of my friends also works out there, and we occasionally get together for lunch. We call it "business lunch," refer to ourselves as "business ladies," and once when a miscommunication resulted in us each waiting for the other at a different Panera location, ruthlessly mocked and blamed our non-existent assistants for mis-managing our calendars. All this is to say that I am sorry to the gentlemen we saw at BW3s and mocked for the suits they wore and the files they brought in, because you my have been doing something Very Important for Business that I, at least, will never understand.

Despite this pathological inability to envision myself as even kind of an adult, I have always been drawn to the Business Profiles section of the bookstore. I still can't stomach those motivational business books; even I know that a company has never been saved by forcing its managers to read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Sorry, worst manager I ever worked for, nobody liked you personally or as a boss, and corporate probably told you that this assignment was mandatory, but the main dysfunction of this Team is YOU, and also nobody's going to read that book. Nobody.

The Business shelves are my Sci-Fi/Fantasy section. It's an alien world to me. (I know there are incredible books in that genre, and I'm certainly missing out by remaining relatively oblivious about all of it, but I just can't do realms. I can't keep track of rules and conventions in a made-up world, and I have SO MANY books to read that I just can't get sucked in to a 20-book series that spans decades and thousands and thousands of pages. SO many pages! I'm a big fan of the psychological mystery/thriller, and I just read the OG - all 800 pages of Wilkie Collins' The Woman In White, and as much as I admired and loved and got totally sucked into it, the editor in me died a little every time I read a LITERAL PAGE AND A HALF about something that could be conveyed in a sentence, and it was almost lost altogether when the narrators speak of brevity AFTER 700 PAGES OF EXPOSITION. Also the gender politics of that book are horrific, but that is a story for another time.) To me, the business world might as well be a country in Westeros or something, because I don't know anything about it. All the popular business books seem like weird self-help books to me. I don't know what a "strength-finder" is, but I conservatively shelved 2 million copies of that book in my 10 years as a bookseller.

To belabor this metaphor, business profiles is my Patrick Rothfuss novel; my The Sparrow. (This is wishful thinking. It is on my reading challenge list this year. Godspeed, me.) It is a treasure trove of storytelling! Sometimes it's a whistle-blowing tell-all by an insider; sometimes, it's an exhaustively researched story about a glorious rise and fall. Sometimes, it's more of a biographical profile of a weirdo. I can't get enough! My Woman in White follow-up will be a business profile book called Losing the Signal, about the rise and fall of BlackBerry. I never had a BlackBerry; I was the last of my friends to get a cell phone, and am on my second ever smartphone. I shouldn't care, but I do, because a) "book with 2 authors" is a prompt in the reading challenge I am currently doing, and this book does, indeed, have 2 authors, and b) it's a Business Profile so this is my Game of Thrones, my Lord of the Rings, my Ender's Game. I already know that I am all in. My friends have no idea how many idiosyncratic facts about BlackBerry they're going to have to suffer through, but I'm not even sorry.

In honor of all the profiles that have come before it, here is a survey of Business Profiles That I Have Known and Loved:

The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort
I picked this up as an advance reader copy in the free box at Barnes, and even that copy notes that the story is optioned for a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Business Profile books are often turned into movies. Recognize the narrative? Success from obscurity (they came from nothing! This could be you!), salad days of money and fame (wouldn't it be great to be stupid rich!), corruption as a result of said money and fame (you'd never lost sight of you origins! You'd appreciate every penny and be gracious and generous to everyone!), and finally, downfall (sweet, sweet schadenfreude!). You might get a little bit of redemption in the end, but that's just the cherry on top. It's been quite a while since I read this book, and I've since seen the movie, so I'm ignorant of many of the book-specific details, but I do remember the tone of the narrative jibing with the end-of-movie reveal that this dude is still an asshole who learned basically nothing. Regardless, his story is incredible.

Liar's Poker, The New New Thing, Next, The Big Short by Michael Lewis
Lewis is the king of the business profile. He's probably more famous for his sports books Moneyball and The Blind Side, but if you only know Michael Lewis from the movies based on his books, you're really missing out. His first book, Liar's Poker, is an account of his time at Solomon Brothers. He graduated college at a time when Wall Street jobs were handed out like AOL cds in the 90s, and although he was admittedly a mediocre-at-best trader, he proved to be an excellent observer and engaging writer. His books are centered on an incredible true life story (which is usually the only part of the narrative translated into film) that perfectly illustrates a larger cultural point. Moneyball is about Billy Beane and the A's, but it's also about the history of fantasy sports and the rise of sabermetrics. The Blind Side is about Michael Oher's improbable rise to NFL prominence, but it's also a Malcom Gladwell-worthy story about the physical and cultural particularities of Oher aligning perfectly with the prominence of the role of the quarterback and the rise of the west coast offense. It's about the ability of athletic prowess to provide an escape from economic depression, and about how far schools will go to bypass the "student" part of "student-athlete" for their own gain. It asks what happens to all the Michael Ohers who aren't "discovered" by wealthy white families who can provide to the means to a lucrative career. The Big Short taught me what a sub-prime mortgage actually is, and I left that book not only understanding what happened, but how it happened. Basically, if you see a book written by Michael Lewis, read it. It'll be entertaining and informative and worth it, I promise.

The Informant by Kurt Eichenwald
It's a shame that whatever is currently going on with Eichenwald is happening, because he has written some fascinating journalism. This particular book could also be in true crime, or FBI-specific sections, but the story of the world's most bumbling and diluted CI is worth every one of its many pages. Like all of these books that are turned into movies, a lot of the details are necessarily cut or changed for the film. No matter how little you think you care about corn, you will be mesmerized by the callous brazenness of the businessmen in these pages. This is one story that seems like it could only have been a movie, but proves the cliche that truth is often crazier than fiction.

The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich
Mezrich is one of those authors whose books I will read regardless of their subject. His format is simple: he writes about incredibly intelligent people doing incredible things. He's written about the MIT students that took Vegas for millions (Bringing Down the House, which was the basis of the movie 21), the heist of a priceless piece of the moon (Sex on the Moon), and the rise of billionaire Russian oligarchs in the wake of the fallen Soviet regime (Once Upon a Time in Russia). Lost in the glare of Sorkin, Fincher, Reznor, and Eisenberg is the fact that the basis of the movie The Social Network is this book by Mezrich. Before Justin Timberlake forced us all to wonder what's better than more money than we'll probably ever see (and remember all that time we spent on Napster), Mezrich was telling the story of an awkward loner who changed the world with his online Facebook. Again, if you want the story behind the story, this is the source.

No One Would Listen by Harry Markopolos
Any complexity inherent to Ponzi schemes, and to Madoff specifically, is emotional. The actual running of the scheme is simple; as long as you can keep convincing new people to hand over their money, the deception continues undetected. In order to do that, however, you need to justify robbing other people for your own gain. The Madoff case was spectacular for many reasons: it's brazenness, the relative restraint he had to use to remain undetected for so long, and his callous betrayal of friends and family along the way. No One Would Listen is the story of the people who uncovered Madoff's deception, how they did it, and why it took so long. It is a fascinating tale of greed, audacity, and the determination of a small group of people to expose the truth in the face of indifference and incompetence, told by the people who finally brought him down.

The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonnette
Every time I see a TY display at the big box store, I think about this book. When they made their debut, beanie babies were sold exclusively at specialty toy shops. That's probably the least interesting fact in this book. Everything about beanie babies is kind of nuts. From their creator, a strange man on a quest to make the perfect stuffed toy, to their improbable ascent to the top of the collectable world, to the people left with entire rooms of now worthless toys with their tags carefully shielded in plastic protectors, the story of Ty Warner and his toys is worth every minute it takes to read this profile. Bissonnette details how and why the beanie baby bubble came into existence, and what happened when it inevitably popped.

Books like these are why I love the business profiles section. They are dynamic, interesting stories about a specific business or industry that will draw you in regardless of how many team dysfunctions you can name. These things happened in business settings, but they are stories about ambition, circumstance, greed, ingenuity, and consequence. It's not a surprise so many of them find success on the big screen. The movies may be compelling, but the books they're based on tell the whole story.

Lost And Found

Whoa. It's been a while since I, creator of this space have actually written words for said space. Actually, I do have a few posts here and there written, but I haven't actually sat down with my laptop in a while. I am trying to take it out a lot more to hopefully provoke the urge to finally post something. I give a lot of credit to Angie and my fellow Book Broads for motivating me to keep this place going. Seriously, thank you! Angie has been writing a whole bunch and I so greatly appreciate her taking the time to create for this space. She also kicked my butt into gear into renewing my URL. So cheers to another year of the blathering broad(s). Erika is busy with school and being a lovely rat mom (go, Erika! crush school and do the things!). Our gal, Portia has her own blogging space, Sequin Books. I'm all for people beginning their own blogs. In fact, at the end of this post, I'll add a couple I'm grooving on lately.

Since last I wrote, I have gotten married! Matt and I have been together nearly six years so it's not different, except there's paperwork involved (lol) No, I love the man to pieces and I'm so excited about spending the rest of our lives together. Post wedding, we took a little road trip to Knoxville, Tennessee, which was really cool. I don't know if I have necessarily discussed it here on the blog, but I have kind of lost my will to take photographs. That sounds terrible. I still snap pictures with my phone. I'm looking to downsize my camera system from a DSLR to a more portable mirrorless camera. I'm trying to re-introduce myself to my love of images. I don't know where that spark went. I felt it dwindling a couple years ago, but I was struggling to hold on. Admitting it feels a lot better. I'm working on it. I am at least still expressing myself in one way or another.

I'm sure I've mentioned previously that I've taken up hula hooping. Hula hooping is more than just rotations around your waist, but a form of expression. Lately, I've discovered the "nerdy" side of flow-- tech! There's grids and geometry and mind-boggling things. I'm loving this form of expression. I'm sponsored by my favorite shop, Third Eye Colorado. Our team is more than just a bunch of sponsored hoopers, but we're family. I've met a lot of folks through the community and so grateful for it allowing me to come out of my shell a bit. Here is my latest video. I have also taken up two hoops and fire spinning with fire fans. I'll have to create a video of that soon :)

Slowly but surely, I am also getting back to reading. I've been reading short stories (like super short, like flash fiction) and poetry to ease myself back into getting fully immersed in a book. I can't wait. So that's it. I'm going to try to rekindle my love for images, explore different writing subjects, continue hula hooping, and sharing books that interest me. Stick around for a bit. Oh, and as promised, here's a few blogs I'm digging:
+ From Babies to Bourbon
+ Home With Willow
+ The Larson House
+ Good Bones Blog

Book Broads • Book Challenge 2018

by Angie Eakley

I've written before about my aversion to book clubs. As an avid reader and lifelong book hoarder, I like being able to choose what I want to read next in the moment, not to have to "force myself" to read something on a certain timeline. In the past few years, however, I have structured my own reading choices along certain rubrics, and have enjoyed the motivation and structure they afford.

A few years ago, I declared the "Fall of Grish," and proceeded to read all of John Grisham's books. Hunting used book stores for his entire catalogue was easy given his popularity, and was relatively inexpensive as I stayed in the realm of the mass market paperback. It also justified trips to Half Price Books on the regular, which is a favorite pastime of mine. Shortly before I left my job as a bookseller, we had a bay of psychological thrillers. I've always been a fan of this genre, but hadn't read many of the authors on display. Before I left, I printed the title list for the display and kept it in my bag. More authors discovered, more direction at the used book store, more anticipation of forthcoming titles!

Three years ago, I started keeping track of all the books that I read. After I finished a book, I'd make a note in the calendar on my phone and scan the ISBN into my BookCatalogue app. (I could probably write thousands of words in praise of this app; you can organize your books, note when and to whom you've lent books, mark their location and whether they are signed, and double check that you're not buying a book AGAIN, because you've meant to read it and it's in the clearance bin and for $2 you can't pass it up.) In 2015, I read 38 books. In 2016, I got my crippling anxiety under control AND left the bookstore, so I had adequate serotonin levels and 3-4 weeknights free; I read 59 books. In 2017, I set a goal of 60 books. I had to knock out a bunch of those quick-read psychological thrillers in December, but I made it!

This year, I'm doing something a little bit different. A friend of mine came across the POPSUGAR 2018 reading challenge. It consists of 40 open prompts, with entries like "read the next book from a series you've already started," "read a true crime novel," and "read a book that was published the year you graduated from high school." In a twist that will require more will power than I may possess, I'm going to attempt to complete this challenge all with books that I already own but haven't yet read. Even as I type this, I can think of at least two that I'll have to acquire, so that's going about as well as you'd expect.

I really love the open-endedness of this challenge. There is something incredibly validating about checking something off of a list, and being able to pick and choose the order in which to accomplish those tasks makes it feel less like an obligation. If I don't feel like reading a book about or involving sports this time, I don't have to. I've got a whole year. A few of my friends are doing the challenge as well; some will combine challenges, so a nordic noir with two authors published this year will check three prompts off the list; I'm going to do one book per prompt. It has us all talking about books and excited about reading, which is kind of my brand, so I'm very much looking forward to this reading year.

If you'd like to hop in on this challenge, you can find the list of prompts here. If you're looking for a suggestion from someone else doing the challenge, let me offer Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan. It's short, it's beautifully written, and serves as a wonderful introduction to his incredible books. (Don't read Prayer for the Dying unless you are ready to be DESTROYED, though. If you prefer non-fiction, his true crime book, The Circus Fire, is one of the best of that genre. You can't go wrong with any of his books, really.)

Finally, I'd like to say a giant thank you to everyone who takes the time to read my and all of our posts. I've had a great time thinking, talking, and writing about books since we started this, and I love hearing that people are reading and responding to our thoughts. From everyone on the Nerd Phone Chain, happy 2018, and happy (& challenging, fulfilling, informative, escapist, empowering, entertaining) reading!

Book Broads • Scary Book Month

by Angie Eakley

just a note: Elis was unable to find her laptop cord from moving, hence the late Halloween post just before Thanksgiving :P

I'm always jealous of people in long-running, functional book clubs. In theory, I love book clubs. Especially since leaving my bookstore job, which was essentially a book club discussion interrupted by customers and projects, I don't talk to people about books as much as I used to. Since I always have a book with me, people often ask me what I'm reading, but a lot of the time it's a one-way conversation. I miss spending several hours each week with friends who are also always actively reading, and who are excited to share their discoveries and bond over a shared love of specific authors or individual books. The problem is, it takes a lot of effort to get a book club together, and its success depends on the efforts of all of the members. Also, more selfishly, I like to be able to choose what book I read next; I have literal piles of books to be read, and I am not always in the mood to read a specific book at a specific time, which is sort of the standard operating procedure of a successful book club.

I don't have a specific rubric for choosing my next book, but sometimes I like to choose something related to a specific time or season (Bernd Heinrich's wonderful Summer World and Winter World, for example, are even better reads when what's being described in the books is happening around you). As a recent Joe Hill-related 6-year-old Facebook memory can attest, I've long chosen a "scary" book to read around the end of October. That year it was Heart-Shaped Box, another The Girl Next Door, another Columbine. Fact, fiction, or in between, it just has to be scary. Initially, I was going to read Five Days at Memorial, but recent events made me reluctant to want to read about the government failing to protect its citizens in the wake of a natural disaster. Instead, I chose probably the most famous true crime book of all time, which has long been on my to be read list but that I didn't even own until recently: Helter Skelter.

I know the story; at this point the story of Charles Manson and his "Family" is the stuff of cultural legend. I've listened to the Manson series on both The Last Podcast on the Left and You Must Remember This podcasts in addition to all the general information about the story you'd pick up as someone who grew up watching various true crime shows. Helter Skelter is written by the prosecutor, but tells the story of the formation of the Family and the execution, investigation, and capture of the killers in addition to the story of the trial itself and the immediate aftermath.

I don't know what exactly about this story resonates as much as it does. It may be the same reason stories of any cult situation are so fascinating. The idea of an individual giving up their autonomy in service of a singular person or idea seems insane, but it happens with regularity. Despite the location, time, or culture, people - often young, disaffected, questioning - voluntarily give themselves over to another in service of a larger ideal. In the compressed timeline of a 42 minute procedural or true crime show or book, it doesn't seem plausible. When put in the context of real time, however, and the psychological commonalities among the followers, these things can build. Manson had dozens of followers; only a handful committed murder.

That's what makes this book (and lots of other true crime books) so scary; it's not the specifics of the story itself. It's the idea that at any point people could break in and commit savage murder for seemingly no reason, and with seemingly no remorse. That under the right circumstance, any person can become disconnected enough to go looking for something else. Depending on who they find, they could end up with a better, more fulfilling life; or they could lose themselves to evil - thinking, saying, and doing things they'd never believed possible. And what of those murderous "followers?" Without Charlie, who are they? Could they again commit those heinous crimes? Can a person change?

Evil is something we always want to see. We don't want to look at images of the victims; they could be anyone. They could be us. But the killer - the killer is "other." We want to be able to look into the faces of Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Boston Marathon Bombers, the Columbine killers, and we want to see something there that makes them different. Because if they are just people, people just like us, if evil isn't something inherent, then those people could be us. Or the people we know, the people we love. We want to believe that people are basically good, that life is sacred, worthy of respect. When someone like Charles Manson comes along and not only refutes that, but does it by manipulating others both on a movie ranch in California and from the confines of a prison cell, then we are all at risk. Because evil doesn't have a tell. It's not a look, a mark, a strict dichotomy that is either present or not. It is a part of being human. It is a choice, albeit one that is easier for some to make than others. These true crime stories capture attention because they are shades of us; they don't make us feel safe, but maybe they reassure us that we are not evil. That given a choice, we would not choose violence, revenge, or hate. That for us, dressing up, decorating, and binging on candy once a year, just playing at evil, is enough.

Happy Halloween!

what are you?

From a very young age, I was made aware that I was different; not different in how we are all unique, different because of the names I was called (spic, pork chop, monkey), questions I was asked. I heard,"What are you?" so often before the age of ten, I began to believe I was an alien.

At thirteen, my bus mate and I were questioned by the police as to why we were walking in our neighborhood that afternoon. Why two brown girls with our backpacks bursting with books seemed like a threat to those two officers, I will never know. But I knew they could see me as I opened the gate to my yard (my friend lived a block over). As we were questioned, I remembered our social studies teacher taugt up about out Fourth Amendment Right. Luckily, my knowledge wasn't needed during this encounter, but my heart remained in my throat until they pulled away five minutes later.

That same year, we were assigned to read Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. We read this after Maus, a graphic novel that depicts Spiegelman interviewing his father about his experience as a Polish Jew & Holocaust survivor. We were well acquainted with atrocities inflicted upon those deemed different and not human. With out reading of Black Life Me came project that remins one of the most powerful things I have seen from thirteen year old.

Essentially, we were to create situations within society similar to how John made himself black. I'd like to note that NO BLACKFACE was involved. All projects were subject to teacher approval. Some folks partnered with other races for their own experiment of treatment of blacks vs treatment of whites. One gal even when to the mall with a pillow to see the stigmas black teen mothers are faced with. It emotionally effected her so much that she had the class in tears.

Everyone was deeply affected by their projects. At thirteen, how do you grapple with the fact that there has been no progress in the years since John Howard Griffin wrote the book? As we grew older, we began to experience those injustices directed at us. The most vile, racial epithets lobbed at our athletes when we visited more rural areas. They wanted to intimidated the "city kids," yet it fueled our beast mode and proved on the court/field/track that we can and will rise above the bullshit. Plus, we didn't need to resort to bigotry and intolerance. At 16, we were well acquainted with the DWB-- Drive While Brown/Black. It's when you get pulled over in a predominantly white neighborhood for bullshit reasons:

  • tail light is out
  • what are you ladies doing out here?
  • did you know your right headlight is out?
  • where you going in such a rush?
  • just checking to make sure things are alright.

    Alright? That my car is my own? That I want to go home after a long work day? Unless I am straight up running people over, there's never been a real reason for me to be pulled over. I worked in a predominantly white shopping mall for many years and was subjected to some awful microaggressions. White colleagues would try to say,"maybe they didn't mean it that way," or "you're overreacting." but having lived this experience as a woman of color, I'm pretty sure I know when microaggressions are being lobbed at me, no matter how passive aggressive.

    So, what was the point of me rambling on about all of these things? From a young age, I have been made to feel other, not only in society at large, but also within my familial circle. Because I don't eat beans and am shy to speak Spanish, I'm deemed "not Puerto Rican" enough, although coquito runs through these veins. My heart aches and breaks constantly as I read the news and the bullshit regarding the lack of aid to Puerto Rico. I'm not surprised by the lack of help given to mi gente. I just wish other Americans realized puertorriqueños son su gente tambien and stop believing the lies of 45.

    please consider donating here (Hurrican Relief Fund for Puerto Rican) or here (Hispanic Federation). Anything you can do to help can make a huge difference.