Category Archives: Nonfiction

The Little Money Bible – Stuart Wilde

Stuart Wilde spouts some pretty far out stuff on his blog these days but, after a day lost to minimum-wage online writing, a skinny book of his about getting rich seemed like a relief. Nothing the least bit woo-woo about The Little Money Bible, although I did read it from my jaundiced perch where the view is of unrestrained predation on the middle class and an infinitely collapsing economy. In my neighborhood, mom-&-pop stores are falling to bank branches faster than leaves in autumn. How many banks do people with no money need, anyway?

Wilde’s Bible is a compilation of fiscal wisdom from two earlier books, The Trick to Money is Having Some and Life Was Never Meant to Be a Struggle. Right on both counts, Stewie. You live in an alternative universe. (Well, actually, I think the man does now live in an alternative universe.)  In this universe, none of the old rules seem to apply but I decided to dig into Wilde’s Ten Laws of Abundance for either a good laugh or some inspiration. Rule #1 is: The Laws of Abundance are Natural and God-Given. IOW, “…there’s loads and loads of money around.” Uh oh, you are starting to lose me already, Stuart. In my world there are now loads and loads of banks. Maybe the money is in there. But it’s not out here. So, the takeaway could be: become a bank robber?  Too complicated.

Moving right along we come to #2 The Law of Flow and #3 The Law of Money and Distance. Flow means you aren’t struggling with abundance issues; you are in sync with your own emotions and tweaking your strategy to have it all. Or have some of it. Whatever. Distance means there shouldn’t be any between you and lots of money. Trickier. This gets very metaphysical and involves probing your subconscious beliefs and psyche and determining what level of Benjamins will give you a warm sense of security. Know who you are and what you want. Nurture yourself. OK. After the rent is in the bank, nurture it is.

To be fair, snarky brain-dead freelancer that I am, Wilde’s little bible is a good review of basic abundance principles and it was selling like fresh doughnuts before the bandwagon of manifestation gurus blew into town. If you don’t have time for four or five hundred pages about shifting your point of view to the positive side of the ledger, you could grab a pencil and a copy of The Little Money Bible and underline away. Or highlight it on your e-reader. Along with the imminent Biblical Day of Judgement, Wilde’s latest posts are trumpeting the release of a number of his earlier prosperity books on Kindle. Rule #11 The Internet is an Infinite Source of Abundance to Those with a Backlist of Edited, Ready-to-go Books.

The Little Money Bible   Stuart Wilde | Hay House  1998


Feel the Fear…and Do It Anyway – Susan Jeffers

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The twentieth anniversary edition of Feel the Fear…and Do It Anyway that I picked up from the library was as ruffled and waffled as if it had fallen in the tub and redolent of someone’s heavy perfume. It was dog-eared, only slightly marked-up, but definitely well-read. Apparently there’s a lot of fear out there and this is a popular antidote. Once I dug into it, it was easy to see why the book showed signs of heavy use.

Susan Jeffers is lucid, logical and refreshing. She doesn’t waste a lot of time spouting wispy logic and buzz words at you–although her habit of attributing famous aphorisms to ordinary people is disconcerting. (Lao Tzu was the one who said “If you keep doing things the same way, expect the same result” not somebody-Janet, a student of Jeffers.) But that’s a quibble. For the most part, the observations and advice in Feel the Fear… are useful and intelligent. I particularly liked the 9-box Whole Life Grid that graphically portrays the elements of a balanced life so you aren’t lopsidedly putting all your emotional eggs in one basket. Fixated on career or relationship and forgetting to have friends, personal growth work, hobbies, leisure time, and solitude? Not too bright–you’re going to be awfully needy and unattractive with that approach. Fill in those boxes and expand your attention so the loss of one thing isn’t the loss of everything in your life.  

And more good advice–see everything as opportunity. If it’s an unwelcome thing, see it as opportunity to learn something new or prove to yourself that you can handle whatever comes along. You can make no wrong choices–just wrong suppositions in dealing with the consequences. Takes the charge out of tough decisions and some of the sting out of life’s little unpleasant surprises. I wasn’t wowed on every page, Jeffers recycles conventional wisdom as part of her system for shaking off paralysis and getting on with your day. But she does it with such rational good sense that you start mumbling cliches like “Why didn’t I see that?”

So, good book. Worth the read. High utility value. I am very very close to acquiring this one because I suspect it will be valuable to re-read it now and then. And it is in such heavy demand at our library that it will probably be confetti if I ever try to check it out again.

Feel the Fear . . . and Do It Anyway   Susan Jeffers, Ph.D. | Ballantine Books   2007

Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox – Lois Banner

Lois Banner’s exhaustive study of the life of Marilyn Monroe reveals details of her fractured childhood, multiple foster homes, early sexual abuse, family mental instability and the fragile sense of self she parlayed into international stardom. Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox is not a pretty story. It begins in illegitimate hardship, burns periodically into iconic photographs and celluloid and ends in a confusion of drug addiction, cover-up and possible homicide. In between, a passably pretty girl with no prospects or education launches herself at Hollywood, determined to become the biggest possible star.

What Marilyn paid to purchase her unstoppable celebrity is difficult to evaluate. She grew up in an era when child rape was unreported and untreated. She had no stability at all throughout her entire life, birth to death. She turned herself into a hot pin-up, blonde bombshell, babycakes-come-hither seductress and she perfected that persona in real life and on film. It seems as if real life wasn’t any more real than the films to her. She was ambitious, canny, smart, savvy, fighting an uphill battle against a misogynist society and an even more sexist Hollywood system, using the only coin she had–her body and her mastery of the lens–to scale the heights.

Banner writes parts of this account in an irritating “I did this” and “No one else has ever uncovered that” style that is somewhat reminiscent of a research paper and somewhat just plain distracting. But most of the text seems meticulously referenced, assertions are extensively footnoted and the story is very readable–Marilyn is still good copy. The marriages to DiMaggio and Miller, the affairs with nearly everybody, including Sinatra, Yves Montand, several women and a couple of Kennedys, the brushes with overdose, the manipulative behavior on movie sets–it’s all in there in detail. So are the acts of kindness, memories of a bubbly, funny and winning personality, the perfectionism, the hunger to learn that drove Marilyn to read, study classics, music and art, the obsessive acting, voice and dance training  that helped her to become an accomplished performer, the numerous physical problems, personal slovenliness, casual nudity and strategically unleashed scandalous behavior. 

This Marilyn orchestrated much of her life and success, even as she was helpless to defeat the dark depressions, nightmares and insecurities that kept her restless and frightened. Was it fame or was it Norma Jeane Baker who was cracked? Did she ever have a prayer of overcoming her demons? Was she so far ahead of her time that she was destined to fail? Did she blaze a new trail for women or did she succumb to the endless traps set for people who challenge the status quo? And, most intriguing, what really happened the night she died? Banner has come up with evidence, copious but not definitive, that Marilyn Monroe may have paid with her life for crossing paths with the deadly Kennedy brothers.

There is certainly enough to question in the official accounts of her death and enough motivation to make the case for a possible hit. But there isn’t much in her life to argue for a happy ending in any case.  She knew every angle of the camera and tilt of the head that would ensure her immortality as an image. In the end, an image is all we have, part or wholly mnaufactured from the bits and pieces that Marilyn assembled and reassembled all her life to create her most enduring character, Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox   Lois Banner | Bloomsbury  2012

Lives of the Novelists – John Sutherland

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Okay, I did not read every single one of the 294 lives profiled in this 797-page book. But I read a fair few and was fascinated. John Sutherland has selected an historical sampling of major and who-was-that? authors who write in English. (I think that was the criteria–didn’t read any whose work is translated into English.) He claims that these writers have produced work that holds up for at least a century–but the brief bios are not uniformly enamored of the mad, disorderly, drunken, colorful, retiring, religious, impecunious, imaginative lot. Lives of the Novelists is a good read, to be attempted in a marathon or savored in bits over time. I would love to add it to my bookshelves to peruse at leisure.  Sutherland has saved us a lifetime of research and pulled aside a curtain on novels and writers who might have been forgotten.

There are quite a few women included–yay!–but not nearly as many as men. Lots of white guys, of course, but not exclusively the pale and privileged.  You could argue forcefully for those left out and fill another volume with them–if you had years to devote to the task. You could also just enjoy the story of Aphra Behn–free spirit, spy, playwright, novelist of exotic fiction set in locales like a Surinam slave plantation. You could relish the dish about all the du Mauriers–a made-up patronym that replaced the pedestrian surname Busson and allowed the family to give itself airs about forced exile, until the fabrication was exposed. James Joyce studied medicine in Paris but left after a year, considered becoming a professional singer and abandoned that idea, too. Ian Fleming wrote a James Bond book each year after the publication of the first, Casino Royale, until his death. He also wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Alice Sebold was brutally raped while in college and her memoir Lucky and her novel The Lovely Bones are now staples of university classes on victim fiction. Sutherland doesn’t think much of her subsequent writing.

These very short “lives” are a glimpse of the person behind the fiction–some glimpses are mere sketches because so little is known. But it is compelling to see what formative years and experiences were like, who was influenced by whom and which motivation drove writers to the long labor of producing a book. For a very large number of them the inspiration was cold hard cash–not much has changed in nearly 400 years. Market forces determined what would sell; talent turned more than a few of those scribbles into art. Great classics languished unsung for years. Potboilers made their authors rich but were soon forgotten. Writers published any way they could: good connections, serialized in broadsheets, self-published, slipped through under a nom de plume. A messy business for messy lives, and often messy books.  Somehow, that’s reassuring.

Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives   John Sutherland | Yale University Press   2012

Follow Your Passion, Find Your Power – Bob Doyle

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I pulled a novel from the stack of to-be-reads and opted for a self-help book about the Law of Attraction instead. I am really curious about the relationship of imagination and creativity to material things and manifestation. Science is still sorting out various iterations of physics–helpful but not the whole story–so I regard these alchemical efforts to merge magic and molecules as brave experiments that may reveal significant truths. Follow Your Passion, Find Your Power is an interesting take on creating the life you want in the middle of the muddle that is. I began it a bit tired and skeptical–Bob Doyle tells you what he is going to tell you and does that several times so I floundered for a while in repetitive. But I’m as guilty of resisting change as anyone and overcoming resistance is what this book is about so I read on.

It got better and better. There are no surprises here–I’ve learned and tried EFT (got rid of a headache with it while reading), understand and accept that everything is made of energy and that our attention impacts what we observe (science, not self-help theory! actual published studies in serious journals!), and I have digested a bookshelf of Law of Attraction books. Doyle was featured in “The Secret” so he contends with the negative reaction to that material, and even addresses it in this book. But the message floated in a bit deeper as I read Follow… The drama queen in me periodically gets all angsty and panicked about financial freefall in this wrecked economy. I stubbornly hang on and then watch a kind of hurricane beach erosion swallow chunk after chunk of my life. Yet, at the same time, I get it. I do understand that we can choose our reality–I’m just such a creature of conditioning that stepping into a different reality feels like a fatal heresy to me. Despite all evidence to the contrary.

And there is a lot of evidence; I am not insensitive to signs and portents. Doyle’s book is a big “Listen up” to how your inner chat controls your outer actions. A most excellent reminder. Words of wisdom about acting on intuition are also pragmatic and not the least woo-woo. It is, like all self-help books, equipped with the exercises and lined pages for you to write (again) your intentions, dreams, etc. But it also has an appendix full of useful resources for exploring the ideas he talks about in greater depth.

I intended to divert my attention from depressing reality but instead I reminded myself to get back in the game and stop buying into the brainwashing. We live in a mess but this is also a turning point. A new paradigm is pushing up from the muck and anyone who is serious about change can water it, clear away the weeds, give it some sun. Definitely a hopeful thing to grow that little weed into a beanstalk. Follow Your Passion is a nice idea but Find Your Power is even better. 

Follow Your Passion, Find Your Power: Everything You Need to Know about the Law of Attraction  
Bob Doyle | Hampton Roads Publishing   2011

Sunflower Houses – Sharon Lovejoy

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It’s August and I am longing for the consolation of sunflowers. When the light begins to fade and harvest season approaches, a stand of giant sunflowers is assertive and cheerful. Alas, we have no garden and even the mean little deck we converted to an outdoor aerie is forbidden. Not so much as a windowbox is thriving around here–and certainly nothing as fabulous as sunflowers. So Sharon Lovejoy’s Sunflower Houses seemed like an optimistic read.

This book will appeal to the secret earth-goddess-hippie in you. It’s about much more than sunflowers, although they do appear in charming formation. The book is a collection of vignettes, children’s garden games and magical interactions with nature. You can learn how to make daisy chains and grow giant cucumber fish in a bottle. There are reminders about creating commons for the fairies, using rain barrels and mulching to save water. You could design butterfly gardens, clock-shaped gardens, pizza gardens, try some worm composting, cultivate ladybugs.

A tall teepee of branches planted with vines makes a wonderful tent as it fills in. And the sunflower house in your garden can be a place of wonders with soft green grass for a floor, huge sunflowers for sentinel walls and morning glory vines for a green and blue roof. Green gourds make very useful birdhouses when you cut doors in them, scrape out the insides and let them dry suspended from a fence or some cross poles.  Pumpkin patches are brilliant–plan to carve one on the vine into a jack-o-lantern to scare the goblins out of your garden.

Sunflower Houses describes a world light years away from this urban-asphalt-concrete summer.  It’s an inspirational gardening book full of stories and reminiscences about flower and vegetable and berry patches. Perfect  fantasy reading for a city-dweller in dire need of green and paintbox-bright and growing things.

Sunflower Houses : Inspiration from the Garden – A Book for Children and Their Grown-Ups   Sharon Lovejoy | Workman Publishing  1991

The Classic of Tea – Lu Yu

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It’s worth hunting for a copy of the 1974 translation of the eighth-century The Classic of Tea by Lu Yu if you are fascinated by tea lore. Lu Yu was an herbalist and tea master who wrote the first and the definitive manual about Chinese tea preparation. His chapters include explicit instructions for the utensils used in preparation and every step of the ceremony involved in brewing fresh tea. The best ladles should be made from pear wood. The best water is from mountain streams. River water may do but it should never be from a part of the river that is turbulent or cascades. Well water is “quite inferior.” 

Tea, according to Lu Yu, is best picked in the second, third and fourth moons, early in the morning when the dew is cool and only on a perfectly clear day. The finest tea leaves may “shrink and crinkle like a Mongol’s boots…look like the dewlap of a wild ox…like a mushroom in whirling flight just as clouds do when they float out from behind a mountain peak…” Lu Yu was also a poet of some note and he waxes most eloquent about his favorite beverage.

Tea is a complex subject, the most common drink in the world beside water for thousands of years, and one that has elaborate rituals surrounding it in several cultures. The Chinese started the whole thing and Lu Yu’s “best seller” on tea spawned generations of competition to find and serve the most exquisite teas with the most extraordinary accessories. Tea is a culture and Lu Yu is its guru and he campaigned for purity in cultivation, roasting and brewing.

Not for Lu Yu were flavored teas with the base additions of spices or other herbs. “Sometimes,” he wrote, “such items as onion, ginger, jujube fruit, orange peel, dogwood berries or peppermint are boiled along with the tea. Such ingredients may be merely scattered across the top for a glossy effect, or they can be boiled together and the froth drawn off. Drinks like that are no more than the swill of gutters and ditches…”  So, let’s just be really clear about that.

There is some great dish about royal and distinguished tea drinkers of the time and careful lists of the best tea-producing regions–some of those areas still grow the most sought-after teas.  I collected some rare teas on trips to China that are fun to brew and delicious to drink. I’m pleased that many of them would have met Lu Yu’s exacting standards. But his touchy spirit has infused the business of tea even today. I was able to find tiny-rosebud tea at a little shop in Hong Kong, along with some very fine white tea. The shopkeeper, however, made it plain that she was selling the rose tea to me under duress. I suppose ignorant foreigners get special dispensation. No true Chinese ch’a connoisseur would dream of polluting delicate taste buds with anything as fey as rosebud tea. Lu Yu, I’m reasonably certain, would be haughtily dismissive. 

The Classic of Tea   Lu Yu (translation by Francis Ross Carpenter) | Little, Brown and Company   1974