Friday, September 17, 2010

Travelogue: The Suburbs

Hi All! Welcome to our travel-weblog!

It took us a little while to get this started because WiFi is really tricky to find out here - it's almost always password protected and there are very few Starbucks.  We finally found a "library" though which has all kinds of computers you can borrow and WiFi available and these really cool "reading" rooms.

But so anyways we arrived here on the weekend and it's been a whirlwind so far! I don't even know where to begin...

Originally we were supposed to go with a bunch of friends to Italy for the summer but then Daddy said something about the trip not being appropriate because of the "Bear Market".  Which is weird because I thought they had those in Russia, not Italy.  And either way I'd kind of love to see one.  I love bears!  Especially baby ones.

At first we were really bummed, but then he said that he'd made arrangements for us to go to The Suburbs to stay with his cousin and "au pair" for their two kids.  I know: I didn't know what an au pair was either. But he told me it's like being a camp counselor except instead of being stuck in the wilderness you get to experience a completely different culture!  The pay isn't great (zero), but they have cable and we mostly have our nights to ourselves.

PLUS: there is so much to see and do out here!  Soccer fields are everywhere (chew on that Italy!), there are loads of swimming pools, and you can see any movie anytime you like.  I saw some kids listening to hip hop in the park yesterday too.  They might have had a few pops too (wink, wink).

This is going to be the best summer ever.

We promise to keep the updates coming, tomorrow we're supposed to go to "Super Market" which I'm sure will be, well super!  Maybe we'll even do one post in the local language (Urdu) once we get the hang of it!


Oh!  I almost forgot.  They've totally solved poverty here. There are absolutely NO homeless people!  It's amazing!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Book Review: Diary of a Very Bad Year

Diary of a Very Bad Year: Confessions of an Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager

Confession of a semi-anonymous stock trader: I don't read much in the way of non-fiction and especially not finance non-fiction.

But this small book came to my attention from the good, smart people at n+1, a literary magazine that I've been subscribing to for some years (and sometimes even reading!).

They published a few interviews with an anonymous hedge fund manager (HFM) in the magazine and on their website as the financial crisis was just unfolding and it was pretty interesting, if as much for the context as the content.  The HFM was charming, accessible, and really quite inciteful.  Also, it was kind of fun to watch Keith Gessen try and figure out what HFM was talking about.

Well I guess the response must have been good because Gessen kept going back and eventually gather enough interview content to compile them into a fairly sturdy book.

It was fun to read partly because, on purpose, I haven't read much about the crisis, and it turns out I'd forgotten a lot of the more ridiculous things that happened.  More importantly, I'd forgotten how scared we all were.

But beyond the actual story, which is familiar enough to anyone who reads the papers over the last 3 years, what was interesting about the book was just how articulate, and how clear-thinking HFM was in spoken-word interviews.  His ability to explain reasonably complex issues in really simple, interesting terms was amazing.

I can't quite recommend the book to everyone because ultimately it's still pretty esoteric in topic - a bond manager talking about the bond & private loan market during the most dangerous time to be a bond manager in the last century. But to anyone who has an interest in the mind of a man who is extremely well paid to think faster and further than his competitors, this is probably a good way to spend 10 subway rides.

Book Review: Chronic City - Jonathan Lethem

Chronic City (Vintage Contemporaries)

I've been a pretty big fan of Lethem's since Fortress of Solitude, which is still considered his best if not his most popular. He is able to balance the smirky ironic cynicism of this age's writing with a much finer, old-world emotional gravity that makes his current, topical story feel much more timeless.

Essentially buddy story, Chronic City is at it's core about hipsters.  What do the arbiters of culture and taste, both low and high, do in their downtime?  It tells the story of a willfully bland ex-child actor and general layabout (the amazingly named Chase Insteadman) and how he falls in-friend with a hermetic, pot-smoking, burger chomping suit wearing counter-cultural journalist named Perkus Tooth.  They spend many pages wiling away time in Perkus's cramped apartment cooking up paranoid theories over percolated coffee and brand-named joints.

Which, somewhat plot-less as a pot-book might be, and believe me there are some people who really didn't care for the aimless drug-talk, it's a great ride if you're willing to take it with them.

I was.  

But beyond the upper-east-side hijinks,  the fantastic details, and some seriously great set-pieces, it's Lethem's writing that got me excited.

His ability to glide so smoothly from the realistic to the fantastic, from the trite to the emotionally charged is just amazing - all the more so because it seems so effortless. 

In one particular scene near the end of the novel, Chase is concerned with mounting an intervention for Perkus and it occurs to him that he needs to enlist the help of one character sooner rather than later since the character is "about to descend into the joyful solipsism of young parenthood", which, as those who know me can imagine, rang so true to me I had to put my glass down.  

Indeed, I'm the last person most of my friends would call to help them stage an intervention.  But then, maybe I always was.