Friday, March 30, 2012

52 Books in 52 Weeks - Book Thirteen: Final Approach by Lyle Prouse

Final Approach by Lyle Prouse

I vaguely recall the story of the Northwest Airlines pilots who were arrested for “drunk flying” in the early ‘90s – mostly I remember the throwaway one-liners that were the incident’s inevitable offshoot. This book is an account of what actually happened, as told by the captain of the plane – a career aviator, decorated veteran, devoted family man … and closet alcoholic. The story of his rise, his fall and his resurrection is nothing short of miraculous.

In a turn of events that culminated in loss of career, financial ruin, a federal prison stint and public humiliation that would have sent most people into a tailspin of depression and despair, Lyle Prouse faces his tragedy the only way he knows … head-on and one day at a time. 

There were moments during this story that I said “No way,” and in fact if this had not been an autobiographical account, I might have dismissed it as impossible. Yet every word is true. Lyle Prouse’s rise from poverty, fall from grace, and ultimate redemption is a heartwarming saga that will leave readers marveling at his strength, tenacity and powerful message of recovery. I can’t think of a better book for this Easter season.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

52 Books in 52 Weeks - Book Twelve: The Weekend That Changed Wall Street

The Weekend That Changed Wall Street by Maria Bartiromo

As a fan of CNBC’s “American Greed,” I am almost as fascinated by business scoundrels as I am by serial killers. So it was with great interest that I picked up this book by anchor Maria Bartiromo that chronicled the fall of Lehman Brothers, the humbling of financial giant Merrill Lynch and the government takeover of AIG.

Vastly simplified, the author explains in layman’s terms why the financial markets came tumbling down in mid-September 2008. (Condensed version: Regular folks who shouldn’t have gotten mortgages got mortgages and then couldn’t afford them. Financial geniuses who should have known better than to give them mortgages were having too much fun making money to consider the inevitable.) And while she remains journalistically objective in placing blame, her insights into the personalities and dealings of some of the key players are revealing. 

Although she makes no predictions about the future (“…we are still trying to figure out what went wrong and how to fix the system that failed”), the author staunchly defends our free-market capitalist system as the best there is, stating, “For my part, I choose to be on the side of freedom.”

And while I’d like to see more dire consequences for the fat cats who squandered our trust and ruined the financial futures of thousands of Americans, I’m afraid I have to agree.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

52 Books in 52 Weeks - Book Eleven: Mrs. Keppel and her Daughter

Mrs. Keppel and Her Daughter by Diana Souhami

If you’ve ever been fascinated by the splendor and romance of the British royalty, this book is certain to change your perspective. Spanning a little over a half-century – from the late 1800s to the mid-20th century – it tells the story of a mother and daughter caught up in the sexual intrigues of the day.

Alice Keppel is the mistress of Edward VII – a role that is both admirable and acceptable. Violet, her daughter, is madly in love with her childhood friend Vita – but her desire for a monogamous lesbian relationship is one that “correct” society cannot abide. Under the era’s prevailing moral ambiguity, a “proper” marriage must be maintained for appearance’s sake, although dalliances – with the opposite sex, the same sex or often both – are perfectly fitting. 

As the world changes around them, both women valiantly try to hold onto what they feel is most important in life, emotionally as well as materially. Their desperate attempts gave me the feeling that they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time – with Alice stuck in the past and Violet trapped in a world that was not yet ready for her. Perhaps what suffered most was their relationship with each other, as they focused on their differences and never quite realized just how similar they were.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

52 Books in 52 Weeks - Book Ten: Unholy Messenger

Unholy Messenger: The Life and Crimes of the BTK Serial Killer - Stephen Singular

As you may remember, I am a big fan of true crime, but some books in this genre fall short in their storytelling. Not so with Unholy Messenger. This is the kind of true crime book I enjoy: long on the psychological character study and a bit shorter on the police work, with just enough gore to make it realistic but not so much to make it uncomfortable to read.

Dennis Rader made headlines back in the 70s in Wichita, Kansas, as the BTK Killer. But after terrorizing that city, killing 10 people and taunting the press and police, he went underground. Then, as the Jaws trailer used to say, “Just when you thought it was safe …” he returned in 2004.

What was most fascinating about this man was his double life. While he wasn’t busy drooling over his version of erotica and carefully plotting his next homicide, he was a husband, father, scout leader, civil servant and church elder. While the police were busy suspecting every white, middle-aged male in a 20-mile radius of the crimes, he flew under the radar. No one ever saw him coming!

How he was captured after reemerging in the 21st century still possessing only a 20th century skill set is ironic and strangely satisfying. As is this book.

Friday, March 9, 2012

March REVolution: Work

March Madness: It's Not Just About Basketball!
(Note: It is a testament to the subject matter that I began this blog post on March 4 but didn't get around to posting it till March 9.)

Having focused on God in February, it was only fair to give Mammon its due in March. And so this month’s REVolution is dedicated to work.

As most of you know, I am happily self-employed and have been since 1988. Although it was never my intention to be a freelance proofreader, writer and editor, fate had other plans, and by the time my business got off the ground, I knew the only way I’d return to a corporation was kicking and screaming.

That is not to say that self-employment is a perfect situation. Losing the security of a regular paycheck takes some time to get used to. Landing a new client means having to re-experience that “first week on the job” feeling a lot more often than is comfortable. And let’s not even discuss insurance. But perhaps the most challenging part of my job is budgeting my time. So that’s what I’m focusing on this month.

The advertising and marketing business has always had a reputation for tight deadlines and working under pressure. And that's only gotten worse as technology has sped things up. Unfortunately, there are certain things that don’t lend themselves to speed, and proofreading is one of them. Nevertheless, the perfectionist in me attempts to shove that knowledge to the background and pretend it can be done. That inevitably results in my throwing up my hands at some point and crying, “I can’t take it anymore!” Not healthy for anyone. And not at all productive.

March is traditionally my busiest month – in fact, people who don’t know what I do assume I’m an accountant because it coincides with tax time. Every year I think, ‘Maybe this year will be different,’ but it never is. So it’s time to march forth (on March 4 – gee, I love irony) with a plan this year:

  1. Budget my time. There are still only 24 hours in the day, and for my sanity I choose to spend only a third of them at work.
  2. Delegate. This is my Achilles heel. No one does it as well as I do. But I need to let them try. Maybe even teach them. What a shocking thought!
  3. Say no. OMG, this is hard! But when I know I can’t do it or can’t do it right, who am I helping by agreeing to do it anyway? Not my client and certainly not myself.
  4. Take a break. This is the second year in a row that I’m scheduling a long weekend during March. Can I afford it? Maybe not. Can I afford not to? Absolutely not.
My suspicion is that when March 31 rolls around, I will be a happier and more productive professional for having tackled March Madness head-on this year. Stay tuned!