He keeps calling me a VooDoo Queen, and I don’t know WHY.

Who do you voo doo?

The ceremony begins with a Roman Catholic prayer. Then three drummers begin to play syncopated rhythms. The attendees begin to dance around a tree in the center of the yard, moving faster and harder with the rising pulse of the beat. The priest draws sacred symbols in the dust with cornmeal, and rum is poured on the ground to honor the spirits. One woman falls to the ground, convulsing for a moment before she is helped back to her feet. She resumes the dance, moving differently now, and continues dancing for hours. It is perhaps no longer she who is dancing: She is in a trance, apparently possessed by Erzuli, the great mother spirit. It is an honor to be entered and “ridden” by a Loa, or spirit.


Spooky tools for voodoo ghouls:
I Got My Mojo Workin’!

You might think you were in Haiti, where such rituals are commonplace: Voodoo is the dominant religion. But no.

You’re in Savannah, Georgia. It’s a somewhat hidden lifestyle in the Low Country, one that is especially secreted away from non-African-American citizens.

And you’re me.

I live in Savannah, and often drove past a little stripmall-type business on my way to and from home. It’s probably three or four blocks from my front door. It’s located next to consignment stores, a brass buffer, a musician’s equipment store, a cake decorator, a Wendy’s. It does not stand out, and it takes effort to patronize this store, as hours are irregular–at the whim of the store keeper, primarily–and the road it faces is frequently clotted with what passes for a traffic jam here in lazy, tiny Savannah.

It’s Midterms time again, and was heading home and it popped into my head that maybe I should try to spot the botanica. Maybe I could check it out. I decided to pull off and spend a little time browsing. I assumed it would be a place with books, candles, maybe some tarot decks, maybe some Oriental tchotchkes and crystals. You know, New Age-y. It will probably smell good and have windchimes and maybe a cat or two. They probably sell tea. Maybe I could offer to work there.

“I put a SPELL on you…
— Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

Am I qualified? Well, no, but there’s a kid I talk to online, and he insists, for reasons of his own, to greet me as a VooDoo Princess. It’s this, and other quirks, that make me think he’s afflicted with 12-ness, but he means no harm. At any rate, if I wanted to do that voodoo to you, this town is as nice a place as any to get going with that stuff. So, okay, the first step is to visit a supply store. Can’t bake a cake without flour, and can’t be a big shot VooDoo Queenie without getting major mojo ingredients.

First of all, even looking for it and knowing it was there and going at a slower-than-normal clip, I passed right by it and had to turn around. It’s that much under the radar. When I pulled into the parking lot, a bleached blonde fat redneck woman boggled openly at me when she realized that I was heading towards the botanica. I had time enough to think to myself that this was a bizarre reaction from a total stranger before I opened the door to the store. Then I got it…sort of. I was an invader. The proprietress did not often get Caucasian chicks wandering into her establishment. It was a hardcore voodoo shop.

Fortunately, I find all kinds of new experiences fascinating, and I was willing to stay and explore and chat with the shopkeeper, and perhaps to learn something new. She was bored and I was hot and in no hurry to get home to wash my breakfast dishes.

Most of the store was taken up with candles and oils and incense, as expected, but there were certain differences between a botanica and your average New Agey store. First of all, don’t expect it to be polished and Yuppified. (And don’t drink the tea you can get there unless you’re sure you know what it has in it.) Most of the products were homemade locally. There is no discomfort with what outsiders would consider “black”, or dark, magick. Casting a love spell is a big no-no in most “white”, or healing / ‘good’, magick, as is attempting to control the will of other people in any other fashion. Not so in a botanica, where you can buy candles shaped like nude women and men (for use in sex and love spells, of course!), as well as various herbs and roots and powders and candles and oils, all intended to force someone else to bend to your preferences. We might judge that. Voodoo practitioners don’t. In fact, they probably reason that someone else is out there working a mojo on you already, so why not work your own personal mojo and get your requests listened to by the Loa too?

Again, it’s all somewhat alien to Caucasians, and that’s not a big surprise. It’s not our history, it’s not our culture. It’s not our place to horn in on what we do not have the background to deal with. Further, the tradition has many names and many different practices. The tradition in Louisiana is different from the tradition in Haiti, which is again different from the Gullah-based tradtion here in the Low Country.

In recent years, there has been a little more demystification of voodoo. Book lovers have gotten a glimpse from time to time, but only a glimpse. Fans of cyberpunk author William Gibson are aware of his interest in the Loa. It would seem that there are no two things more distinct than the primal, mystic, organic world of Haitian Voodoo (or voudoun), and the detached, mechanical world of the high-tech future. Yet Gibson parlayed off the success of his first SF ‘cyberpunk’ blockbuster Neuromancer to write a more complex novel, Count Zero, in which these two worlds are rapidly colliding. Gibson apparently felt there was an instinctive linkage between Haitian Voudoun and the urban hyperreality of his fictional Sprawl. As a fan of jazz and other urban music, Gibson instinctively found the religion for his new urban dystopia. The essential struggle in the book is between a Voudoun / cyber sect and the Yakuza, the Japanese gangster conglomerate. It is a battle between two traditions: one of power, corruption, and influence and the other of passion, magic, and sensuality. There are scholarly papers being written about how belief in the loa and belief in the possibility of the Internet–as a vastly interconnected System / Sprawl / Matrix–eventually developing a rudimentary artificial intelligence or awareness might tie together to explain a third popular meme, that of the Ghost in The Machine. (If you’re interested in this sort of thing, I urge you to explore it on your own, as I am long-winded enough without digressing off into THIS particular subtopic!)

Other bibliophiles discovered Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. Berendt’s book introduced readers to Minerva, voodoo priestess, and the powerful and infamous (but currently deceased!) Dr Buzzard, of St. Helen’s Island, the courtroom specialist, who used power, unknown tongues and the Evil Eye, to cause hostile witnesses to seize up in the middle of crucial testimony and fall–frothing and twitching–to the courtroom floor. “Root doctors” command respect, fear and healthy fees for their services. And even though Dr Buzzard is now dead, believers still petition him for favours, lucky numbers, support in their causes. He’s still a big man in the voodoo community. Death has not cramped his style one iota.

At a voodoo ceremony, believers gather outdoors to make contact with the Loa, any of a pantheon of spirits who have various functions running the universe, much like Greek gods. Each of the spirits has a distinct identity. Some are loving and good, while others are capricious or demanding. Haitians believe that the Loa most often express their displeasure by making people sick. There is also a responsibility to care for beloved and deified family spirits and to honor a chief god, Bondieu. During the ceremony, participants ask the spirits for advice or help with problems. It’s said that more than half the requests are for health.

My new shopkeeper friend would dispute this. Or maybe she just read me well, and realized my impecunious state at present. As I noted, I’m pretty much a jobless ne’er-do-well at present, though I’d rather not be. Her clients buy come-to-me oils and money candles and prosperity incense sticks. They empty their already slender wallets, hoping to receive an insight so they can choose the correct three-digit Quik-Pik lottery number.

In the West voodoo has been portrayed in zombie movies and popular books as dark and evil, a cult of devil worship dominated by black magic, human sacrifice, and pin-stuck voodoo dolls—-none of which exist in the voodoo practices that originated in Benin. This isn’t the whole story. In Haiti, voodoo began as an underground activity. During the 1700s, thousands of West African slaves were shipped to Haiti to work on French plantations. The slaves were baptized as Roman Catholics upon their arrival in the West Indies. Their traditional African religious practices were viewed as a threat to the colonial system and were forbidden. Practitioners were imprisoned, whipped, or hung. The slaves continued to practice in secret while attending masses. What emerged was a religion that the colonialists thought was Catholicism—-but they were outfoxed.

It was easy to meld the two faiths, because there are many similarities between Roman Catholicism and voodoo. Both venerate a supreme being and believe in the existence of invisible evil spirits or demons and in an afterlife. Many of the Loa resemble Christian saints, endowed with similar responsibilities or attributes. For example, Legba, an old man, is said to open the gates between Earth and the world of the Loa, much like St. Peter traditionally throws wide the gates to Heaven. But there are differences. Westerners tend to believe in free will and personal choice. Not so in voodoo. The Loa are believed to determine our lives to an astonishing degree and they are always present in great numbers: there might be two people in a room, but there are also twenty Loa. Participation in voodoo ritual reaffirms one’s relationships with ancestors, personal history, community relationships—-and the cosmos. There’s another important difference: anthropologists estimate that voodoo’s roots in Benin—-formerly Dahomey—-West Africa may go back 6,000 years (an estimated 60 million people practice voodoo worldwide). Compare the longevity of these beliefs to Christianity, which has been with us for only a little over TWO thousand years.

Savannah has an active voodoo subculture here, though naturally it is not as widespread, commonplace or accepted as it is in Haiti, and yet the customs arrived here and persist for the same reasons: slavery and tradition. Isolated on coastal plantations, the slaves created a lingua franca–a common tongue. We call it Gullah. Maybe after Angola. Maybe from the West African Gola River. Nobody knows. Gullah slaves may have been stripped of everything but their names but they came from oral cultures. They had no books, no saved scrolls that could be torn away and flung overboard. They remembered what was sacred. In Cuba, they call the magic Santeria. In Belize, obeah. In Haiti, voudoun. In New Orleans, voodoo. Folklorists call it hoodoo, conjuration, rootwork. But the Gullah do not call it anything. Perhaps it is too fearsome for utterance. Certainly, casual talk is a faux pas of cosmic proportions. Nonbelievers are ashamed of their forebears’ credulity. Belivers are afraid of spiritual retribution. Even if they do not have a name for the tradition itself, the do have a name for the sorcerers who practice it. The Gullah call them root doctors, a literal translation from the west African Fon, which pegged tribal medical doctors as workers with roots.

Our voodoo folks down here are mostly root workers.

While I was in the store, a customer came in with five children. One child is also clearly not a relation but a babysittee. He’s blonde and even paler than I am. The other children are siblings and other babysittees. And they are incredibly well-behaved. Perhaps the babysitter has impressed upon them that running amok in a root worker’s shop and attracting exasperated attention is a bad idea.

She pretty much ignored me and started telling her troubles to the shopkeeper. She used to have good luck, but now it has turned against her. Precious Jesus alone knows why. She needs something powerful to fix her luck. She needs money, and money just fall out of her hands and bills come. She has the bad luck, the juju. Someone or something has fixed agin her, and she needs to turn it back around.

You get the idea.

She’s a bubbly older lady, and she makes me smile with her animated gestures and her lengthy, heartfelt speechifying. I say something to the effect that if the shopkeeper can’t fix it, there’s no help in this world, and they both favour me with a big grin. I then butt out and just continue to browse.

After the babysitter purchases her candles and powders and oils, the shopkeeper and I continue to chat as I browse, taking note of the differences between the botanica and a typical New Age store. You can buy “rum” at a botanica. (I wouldn’t wish to presume as to its alcohol content or taste, but the spirits probably are happy with it.) There are buckeyes and other roots, fenugeek and other herbs, bayberry candles for money-attraction and other candles, gold glitter dust and other powders to sprinkle, burn, wear or mix into various concoctions. It’s interesting.

I do have to say that there is a slightly dark feeling to some of this stuff, but that’s more due to my background and belief system than any inherent evil lodged in, say, a baggie of lavender buds or a bath oil with food colouring and herbs in it. A hammer can help you put things together by helping you nail things together, and it can help you dismantle things by helping you pry nails out. Peanut butter can improve a jelly sandwich or kill someone with legume allergies. You get the idea. It’s how you use the tools, not the tools themselves.

I left without buying anything (I had no money to buy anything even if there was something I wanted), though I had inspected her (seven) decks of tarot cards. I owned about 2/3 of the types she was offering, which is an indication to me that this isn’t where I need to be browsing for tarot decks anyway. Which means it is also not a place that would be interested in hiring me to do tarot readings. (The shopkeeper also noted that two customers per day means business is booming.) But finding stores with tarot decks I don’t have (and still want) is getting more challenging.

Yeah, I’m a tarot deck collector and a reader and have read since I was ten or eleven years old. I started collecting decks shortly after college. I have almost 70 decks of cards of various types, 55-60 of which are strictly tarot and the remainder of which are still divination decks of some type or another (like the one based on Jungian psychology, one based on Osho Zen, et cetera).

Do I believe it is actually telling someone’s fortune to read their cards? No, not really. I think the subconscious reacts to the symbols and uses them to translate what your intuition has already picked up on from your client.

On the other hand, I can’t really explain how this worked: I did conduct an experiment a few years ago. I offered to read tarot cards for people over AOL Instant Messenger. This is something that I have charged up to $30 for, though I’m still cheaper than most tarot readers, as I spend close to an hour or more with each querent. Readings go for $20-25 for fifteen minutes in Atlanta, LAs Vegas and New Orleans. What a bargain. And, being poor, I can’t afford to do hour-long readings for free these days. An hour spent noodling around on AIM is an hour I should be spending working on my websites or job-hunting, you know?

Anyway, I read for a few dozen folks, and I knew nothing about them except their “handle”. I said I didn’t want to know whether they were male or female, how old they were, where they lived, or even what their question might be. And out of all those blind readings, only ONE person said that I was inaccurate, but her question had been “should I have an affair with another married parent I run into while picking up my child at daycare”, or so she revealed when we discussed her reading afterwards, and the cards had said no, no, no, a thousand times no, don’t do it, all signs point to no, are you fucking insane, this is a bad plan, perhaps an illuminated billboard saying “NO!!!” would help, no, no and no…and she kept rephrasing the question to me again and again, hoping for a yes to justify her desire to give into her loin-flamage stirred by her libido. And I couldn’t give it, not based on what the cards were saying.

What happened? She probably fucked him. She wasn’t going to hear that it was a bad idea. Do I care? Not really. I gave the advice that was sought, but to care too much would be to inject my own opinions and morals into the reading. I don’t think married people should ignore problems in their marriage and seek booty from other married people that they aren’t getting at home. But that’s just me. Also, people who have a polyamorous and mutually-agreed-upon situation should know that I am not talking about them.

Voodoo practitioners probably wouldn’t have told her it was a bad idea, though I don’t know that for sure. I assume that only based on the plethora of products available to help the customer go after whatever booty object they desired. There were no warning labels, if you know what I mean.

I’ve been to New Orleans and I have what my former roommates and I dubbed a “poodoo doll”, a poppet in a coffin made for tourists to buy as a curiosity. The poppet looks like Mr. Hanky (from South Park), hence the nickname. Hey, I’m sure I could hex someone into a fierce bout of constipation if I concentrated hard enough.

I’ll probably talk about tarot and Qabbalah (what little I understand of it, of course!), and Taoist philosophy and travels hither and yon and so forth in future blogs, but, for now, I have rattled on long enough. Also, I got a check today from CafePress and I intend to treat myself to actual food. And maybe a pack of clove cigarettes. Yeah! So I’m off like a prom queen’s dress. Chat with you later.

What Suze Orman Keeps Trying To Teach Me

Some money management tips I learned by reading and watching Suze (pronounced Suzie) Orman. Please note, right up front, that I consider myself to be financially-challenged. I’m not a stupid person, but money management professionals and banks and investment companies all seem to delight in using terminology and obfuscation and Scary Big Numbers and Percentages and I get intimidated. I’d say I’m at the level where I know enough not to make mistakes I’ve already made, or those that are glaringly obvious (or cons), but not savvy enough to guarantee that I won’t blunder in the future if I chose not to take advantage of the free advice and education available to me.

In short, I am a Money Moron. Right now I am making a mistake that Orman warns against: going back to school (in this case, for an AS Paralegal) when you are not 100% sure what you want to do once you have that degree in hand. Point being, I’m racking up big expenses and loan debts, am not currently employed full-time, have no job offer lined up for me on graduation day, and so on. On the other hand, not knowing what I want to do and NOT having a degree that might get me a decent job while I figure that bit out…that isn’t much smarter. Career counselling didn’t clarify things. So here I am.

I’ll share what I’ve learned, but I am telling you (in the equivalent of nine-foot-high flashing neon letters) that it behooves you to check into these things yourself. Dude! I’m a stranger on Teh Intarwebz. Keep that in mind. All I can do is promise that my intentions are good and that I hope to help, or to spur you to get someone professional to help you. Consumer Credit Counselling services are, I believe, absolutely free. Or, if your parents are money-wise, ask to talk to their assets manager about planning for your own future. (Imagine how proud the ‘rents will be of you!)

First thing you need to do is utilize what’s called the FACT act. You can get your credit score FREE once a year. There are three main credit score reporting entities (e.g., Equifax). Your score may vary slightly between the three, and there may be errors in your report. To be frank, I’m not entirely sure if you can ask all three bureaus for a report free per year or if you must choose one and pay for the other two, or if you should poll one the first year, the second the second year, et cetera. That’s up to you. Your credit score should range between 450 and 850. Some banner adverts wanting you to give them click-through commission money set the lowest rung at 300, which I assume only makes those with 450 (the worst possible score) feel better about themselves…surely some poor schmo has an even lower score, right? As an example, 740-780 is a very decent credit score to have. A score in the 600s or lower? Not so good.

Why a credit score is important:

* The higher your score (better), the lower the interest rates you have to pay on loans and lines of credit. Interest rates basically require that you pay money that you will never get back and cannot profit from. Often they are unavoidable if you cannot buy a house, car, piece of property outright. You may find the convenience of having a credit card, even one you do not use, is worth paying an interest rate. Car loans and student loans have interest rates.
* Your future employer can see your credit score. A good one implies good things: you are frugal, careful with your money, responsible, prudent. These are qualities a boss appreciates. A bad credit score implies the opposite. This is particularly vital if your job requires you to deal with company funds, a corporate account, billing, taxes, et cetera. Even creative types may get a job that requires responsible use of funds to purchase office equipment, or a corporate credit card for travel. If you can’t handle YOUR money….
* Your relationships. In most cases, debt accrued prior to marriage remains your problem. The sticking point is, it indicates that you are not a responsible person. No matter how much in love with you someone is, hearing that you have severe debt or credit score issues is not a turn-on. If you want to buy a car or house together, your low credit score is averaged with your partner’s high credit score (or, in worst case scenarios, the higher score is actually thrown out altogether when determining what interest rates you’ll pay). Banks are less eager to issue loans to you and, by extension, your family. And who is going to pay the bills if you have learned nothing from your money misadventures and continue to use credit irresponsibly? You may think you’re too young to be bothered about worrying about getting married or buying expensive things. Okay…imagine the crimp in your spontaneity if your credit score is so horrendous that when you try to open an account at Hollywood Video (when you and your schmoopie decide on the spur of a moment to have a movie date night at home) and you are turned down.
* You contest a bank error or identity theft purchase. Your poor credit score will be considered relevant, and it will take longer for your complaint to be checked out, because, naturally, you could be desperate enough to be trying to pull a scam.

The most basic problem with having a crap credit score is that you’ll end up paying thousands or tens of thousands of dollars more (than someone with a decent score) for life’s necessities. If you can find a way to get them financed at all. In essence, you’re going to be fined repeatedly for carelessness, ignorance, poor money management, financial disaster you couldn’t do anything about, whatever it was that precipitated your credit score problem. In short: FIX IT.

Suze Orman also urges young people to invest in the only truly undervalued resource available these days: the young people themselves. Stocks, property and land are no longer undervalued, generally speaking, and buying low and selling high and making a fortune is far more difficult, if possible at all. You, however, are your own best, and a unique, asset. Orman urges young people to focus on Career Building.

One way to improve your credit score is to manage credit offers wisely. Conventional wisdom says that you should close all cards but the one you use. Because of something called a credit-to-debt ratio, this can be deadly. Let’s say you have five credit cards, all with $2000 available credit. You’re only using one, and it is maxxed at $2000. You may think it would be wise to close the unused four cards now. It’s not. As it stands, you have $10K in available credit, and are only using $2K. That gives you a credit/debt ratio of 20%. If you close the other four cards, your credit/debit ratio is suddenly 100%. You now have only $2K in available lines of credit and you are maxxed out at $2K. Bad idea.

Another trap to watch out for is closing older lines of credit in favor of newer ones. Let’s say you got your first $2K card ten years ago, the next 8 years ago, the next 6 years ago and the last two four and two years ago respectively. If you close down all but the most recent credit card, you have erased ten years of your credit history on your report. This assumes that you established a credit line at all. Just having a card doesn’t show credit worthiness. You must use, pay off promptly, and then LOCK AWAY cards you plan to use to establish a good credit rating. Don’t carry them with you. If you want to go so far as to rent a safety deposit box (good for passports, heirloom jewelry, birth certificates, copies of car papers and house papers, et cetera), or a fireproof home safe, you can put the unused cards in there so you don’t have to fear impulse spending or theft. You should NOT carry them all around with you.

Another pitfall is applying for too many credit offers in a short amount of time. This raises red flags to people looking at your credit report.

Lastly, getting cards just because you can and collecting them is a bad idea. Not only do you risk financial ruin if the information is stolen somehow, a large, unused line of credit, after a certain point, is not in your favor. This is especially foolish if these cards require an annual fee.

Invest In Yourself as an Asset

If you have a job that you want to turn into a career, you must bite the bullet and put in your dues. That means coming in early, leaving late, not abusing lunch hours or breaks, not calling in sick all the time, coming in on weekends, dressing appropriately (as if you had the job you want), doing everything you are asked to do, looking around for other things you can do for the company, keeping office politics at bay by avoiding socializing while on the clock, avoiding chronic complainers, and by becoming indispensable. Know where the bodies are buried. Network laterally within your industry as well as upwards: seek mentors both within and outside of your company. Brainstorm new ways to make your boss or company look good. You must make your boss dependent upon you before you, as an undervalued asset, become valuable. Prove yourself and continue to prove yourself. Love what you do, and focus on that rather than solely money. Working in hope of a reward is never going to satisfy as much as working at a job you feel competent at and which you care about and enjoy more often than not. The goal is to see work as being separate from your play time. Net surf at home. Call spouses and partners at home or when outside of the building on your lunch break. When at work, work. That is how you become an invaluable asset and you will be rewarded for it by rising within the ranks in a career you love.

Know, too, the difference between a Job and a Career. Jobs will feed, clothe and put a roof over your head, but they are not necessarily soul-enriching like careers are. Treating Jobs like Careers can burn you out. You must not make a decision about whether a Job is or isn’t a Career for at least six months or so, though (unless the fit is grossly wrong for you): work as if it IS a Career.

If all of this sounds deadly to you, that’s a sign that you are working a Job, not a Career (or Calling). Time to re-evaluate what you want, and what you feel you are meant, to do.

How To Invest Your Paycheck Wisely

One thing you should try to do is maintain your current standard of living even when your pay grade improves. This requires discipline and sacrifice. Obviously, if you are living below subsistence level and you get a pay rise, adjust to that. Once you have a decent, if non-extravagant, lifestyle, however, treat future pay rises as more money to invest in your future.

If you have an opportunity to put money into a 401(k) or 403(b) plan (403(b) is for non-profits), DO NOT PASS UP FREE MONEY. If your employer is generous enough to provide matching funds, contribute up to the level they will match. Then stop. If your employer does not offer matching funds, there are better investment strategies.

If you’ve contributed to your 401(k) or 403(b) up to the level of what your employer will match (remember, they are giving you FREE MONEY when they match what you contribute), consider paying down or paying off your credit cards. Start with those that charge you the highest interest rates per year. Do NOT close them if you want to establish a better credit/debt ratio.

After you have contributed up to the level of matching employer funds and paid down your highest interest rate credit cards, it’s time to consider a ROTH IRA. If you choose not to touch the IRA until you are 59 1/2 years old, then wait another five years, you can take out that money TAX FREE. If you have an emergency, you can withdraw WHAT YOU HAVE CONTRIBUTED penalty-free. You can’t touch the interest you have earned, but you can claim your contributed funds.

After you have funded your IRA to the maximum, consider saving for a down payment on your own home. Property is the best investment you will ever make. It appreciates in value, in general, far better than do stocks or interest-earning savings plans. It is perhaps foolish to do this without funding your 401(k), paying down your credit line debt and funding an IRA, as those are solid foundations for future investment healthiness and houses can be money pits if you aren’t careful. Establish your base first.

Buying A Home

The typical down payment on a home is 20% of its market value. Many people choose to pay 10% of that and finance the rest. “Normal” homes in “normal” real estate markets gain 4-5% / year in added value. That can be up to 40% / year return on your investment (if you are paying 10% down). Once you have owned the home for two years, up to $250,000 of appreciation is tax free gain. If you co-own the home, up to $500,000 is tax-free appreciation in value. A half million dollars. After your first $250-500K of tax-free appreciation, any further added value is taxed at a capital gains tax rate.

How do you know if you can afford to buy rather than rent? Many people make the mistake of thinking “if I pay $700 in rent, I can afford a $700 mortgage.” Often this is incorrect. (See: foreclosures.) Suze Orman recommends that you “Play House” for six months to see what you can afford. The first thing you should know is that hidden costs (PMI–more on this in a minute, insurance, property taxes and a fund for emergencies / basic maintenance / home repairs) typically add up to 45-50% to your monthly costs. So if you are paying $700 now in rent per month, assume you’ll be paying $1050 a month with a $700 mortgage. There are other hidden costs (your car insurance rates may go up, depending on circumstances) and not-so hidden (maybe you just can’t WAIT to get a new living room suite and TiVo now that you’re a Big Grown Up Person With A House). Some property owner headaches don’t reveal themselves until time has passed: a tree with roots that grow into your septic system, inadequate weather management requiring a HVAC system to replace window unit air conditioners and space heaters, dead birds in your chimney, pest control, lawn and garden maintenance, replacement of major appliances that die unexpectedly, chances in zoning or community regulations that require you to erect or tear down a fence or shed on your property, and so many more troubles you wouldn’t believe it. This is why a house fund is vital; ditto an inspector checking that your desired home is up to code and has no hidden problems (some you may opt to address when negotiating for the price of the house, choosing to accept a lower price in return for you taking on the burden of fixing the deficiency yourself or requiring the current owner to address problems before you sign on).

So. What can you afford free and clear? You’ve learned that $700 per month rent does not mean you can afford $700 per month for a house mortgage IF you’re struggling to survive on $700 rent now. Yes, you’re paying yourself, in essence, when you own rather than rent, but if you fall behind on your mortgage payments, the bank can seize your home and foreclose. Bad juju when that happens.

PMI, as mentioned earlier, is Private Mortgage Insurance. If, like most people, you don’t have $20 to put down on a house, you have to have PMI. Currently this runs at about $45/month PER each $100,000 you have financed. There is a little-known way to deal with your PMI in advance. More on this in a second. What you should NOT do when financing a house you can’t pay the full 20% down on is a piggyback loan. Many people finance 80% of thir mortgage through one lender and another 10% through another. (This doesn’t add up to 100% because it assumes you’ve paid the minimum 10% down typically allowed.) As interest rates are rising, a piggyback loan is a dangerous way to finance just to avoid the PMI. A smart way to deal with the PMI is to pay it up front. On a 30-year mortgage for $200,000, PMI up front is $2000. So, by offering to pay PMI up front, instead of a $200K mortgage, you have a $202K mortgage which adds only about $14/month to your mortgage as opposed to the traditional way, paying as you go, which would, in this example, be $90/month. As a bonus, it is tax deductible if you pay upfront, so pay it up front and be done with it.

I mentioned Suze Orman advising folks who want to move from renting to owning to “Play House” for six months. Essentially this is a low-risk way of proving to yourself whether or not you are ready for home ownership and can afford your dream house.
1. For six months, pay your rent on the first of the month. No exceptions.
2. For six months, put half of what you pay in rent into your savings and do not touch it.
That’s it. If you do it for six months, are NEVER late, even by one day, with your rent payment and if you don’t feel overly pinched in your lifestyle (ou can afford your basic needs as well as a reasonable amount of wants every month and are still socking money into retirement plans, paying off bills, socializing as you normally do, buying the same amount of groceries you normally do, and so on) then you are ready to own your own home.

Lastly, after you have your home and have lived in it without financial distress for a year, it’s time to start an emergency savings fund. This is an account, perhaps separate from your normal savings account, where you sock away enough money to live on for at least eight months. This protects you in case you are seriously ill, in case you lose your job, in case your family has a crisis, and so on. This isn’t your normal savings fund, it isn’t your household maintenance fund, it’s a separate fund to be used only if you need to keep your head above water during an emergency. For most of us, this is a pipe dream at the moment, but it is what Orman recommends once you have dealt with your retirement savings, your credit cards and other debts and have purchased a home.

Education and Debt

Is it worth going into debt with student loans to get an education? In most cases, YES. It’s getting so that even the most basic and menial and lowest entry-level positions require you to have a bachelor’s degree even to be considered. Even some blue-collar positions require advanced degrees and special training.

Get your degree to invest in yourself as a valuable asset. Become more marketable. Caveat: don’t go to school IN LIEU OF building a career just because you don’t know what to do. Why accrue more debt? (I’m guilty of this!) Some student loans are tax-deductable up to the first $25,000 you pay.

Social Security

In short, you shouldn’t count on it being there for you. If you retired tomorrow, it would still not be there for you. It does not cover even the most basic survival needs. How do you save if you aren’t earning any money? First, invest in yourself, get a good start on your chosen career track and become indispensable. If the problem with Social Security worries you, consider taking a stance politicaqlly on what affects your future. BE AWARE of things that AFFECT YOU. Be proactive. Be informed. No one will care for you when you are older, or it is at least something you should not count on, so if you don’t get involved, you revoke your right to complain about the state of things later on in life.

Bankruptcy Doesn’t Make You Bad

You managed your money poorly or circumstances beyond your control led to your financial ruin and you had to declare bankruptcy. This doesn’t mean you are a bad person. You must not punish yourself for your mistakes. On the other hand, most people who declare bankruptcy once, declare it twice. Don’t be that person. Learn the financial lessons you need to know, ask for help from qualified professionals, and change your way of thinking about money.

A mindset that often leads to bankruptcy is feeling deprived. You feel you are entitled to nice things. You shop to fill emotional voids within, because you are sad, or feel ugly, or feel lonely or feel “less than” peers who have expensive toys that you do not have. You have to fill emotional voids in more self-affirming ways and practice delayed gratification. Frills and thrills in the now should not cost you security and luxury when you are older. Buy quality when you buy things that are intended to be around for a while. Cheap furniture, cheap bedding, cheap towels, cheap electronics: the cost of repeatedly replacing cheap quality goods is far more than buying a good quality, sturdy item at the start. You don’t have to have it all at once. Buy good quality pieces in stages. Consider reducing your possessions and collections. Shelving to house collections takes up space and costs money you could spend on other things. Anything you collect that is not worth the aggravation it would cause to move it to another place should be reconsidered. (I’m guilty of this: I hold on to a sizable collection of vinyl albums, for one.) Scale your possessions to the available storage you have, rather than buying more storage to house your possessions. If your collections don’t mean as much to you as they once did, but you keep them out of sentiment, consider selling or giving away all but a few of your favorites or most valuable. A well-chosen arrangement of things is more pleasing and has more impact than mere quantity of items, and is easier to display and enjoy and dust around.


When should you give? How much should you give? Do you consider yourself a charity?

When you give, it is a reflection of your values and a way to give thanks for what you do have. As a bonus, giving feels GOOD. Givers get a feeling of pleasure from their own generosity, and acknowledging that you are in a position to help others contributes to a feeling of personal power. That feeling of power and the warm glow that comes from helping the less-fortunate will color your inner views about your own situation positively. Decide what you can give each month, open-heartedly, and make a commitment to sit down at the first of the month when bills come due and make your donation to a charity you care about the first thing you do. The feeling of abundance you will have, giving to others in need, will make paying bills feel like less of a drudgery. You may not yet be rich, but you can still help others, so you can’t be poor, right? Your monthly donation does not need to be extravagant. If you can spare a dollar, give a dollar. Resist the temptation to give only when major disasters strike. Do it consistently. Also, don’t do it via automatic bank transfers. Physically write out a check every month and send it yourself, from an open-hearted desire to be helpful to others. If you can’t give money, give of your time. Donate clothes to the Salvation Army, books to the public library, pet toys from a deceased pet who can’t get any use out of them anymore to a rescue group, old computers and printers to non-profit groups, feminine hygiene supplies and new diapers to a battered woman’s shelter, board games and yarn skeins and knitting needles to nursing homes…use your imagination. It feels good helping others, and that good feeling, associated with money matters, will help you associate fiscal responsibility with positive feelings.

Cynical misanthrope? There are plenty of animal preservation charities, charities that fund the arts, Public Broadcasting, charities that help the homeless regain their dignity and shelter, charities that support your college or high school, charities that help with historical preservation, charities that promote literacy…whatever ignites your passions, be it politics, or children, or abused animals or certain environmental causes, there is a charity you will feel good about supporting. You can even donate anonymously if you fear getting spammed by requests from other charities. Buy a money order each month and sent it off anonymously. Pick a different charity each month and drop money orders in collection baskets, or library donation boxes, or buy canned food for food drives, pet food to animal shelters, or toys for holiday gift drives. Pledge to yourself to spent a certain amount each month and be true to your promise and do it before your money goes towards less life-affirming places (such as the cable company or utilities). Increase the sum total of joy in the world by doing small, but vital, things to help.

Investing in Markets

I won’t go into this, because it’s all new to me, but essentially you make a commitment that you’re going to invest $500 a month (or whatever) into certain mutual funds or investment groups. It’s recommended you get an advisor to help you when you first start doing this. Say you have five investment options you pay into each month. Resist the urge, at least for a while, to try to guess the direction of the stock market.

Assume you have a 14-year mortgage and a sudden windfall of $25,000. Your mortgage has a fixed rate (one hopes). It is likely that the interest on your mortgage loan is far lower than other expenses you could make. Assume also you plan to stay in your house. Take your windfall, talk to an investment counselor, and then chose the groups you want to invest in. Don’t invest it all at once. Divide your windfall money into equal amounts and buy the same amount of investment fund shares each month. This will average out better for you than if you paid off your mortgage.

Mutual funds and stock groups you can buy for $100 minimum:

iShares Dow Jones US Basic Materials (IYM)
iShares Dow Jones US Real Estate (IYR)
iShares Lehman Aggregate Bond (AGG)
Vanguard Total Stock Market UPER (VTI)

(I had Vanguard shares before and currently have a lot of Columbia shares, which aren’t available for $100 minimum buy-ins. Vanguard performed well at the time, if that makes a difference to you, and tends to be conservative (e.g., low risk, moderate potential reward, probably the best potential for maintaining portfolio value over the long haul).)

Let’s say you invest $500 a month into these five share groups (asset classes). The goal is to invest about 20% of your total 100% investment per share group / asset class. This means that each month you should rotate which asset class you buy stock from, trying to maintain a 20% division of funds per asset class. Don’t try to guess what will be “hot,” discipline yourself to rotate through all the asset classes. (This information comes from MSNBC financial information articles, and you can read more about each asset class and what you’re buying there. For example, basic materials (IYM) includes buying precious metals like gold, and others include foreign stock offerings along with US-only stock offerings.)

Lastly, MSNBC Financial wizards recommend investing inPIMCO Community Real Return Strategy Fund(PCRDX) once you can afford to buy in $2,500 minimum amounts. As with all stock advice, consult an expert, preferably one at your bank. I have merely the barest clue what’s going on with all this, I have not yet had a sit-down with my advisor to get educated (beyond the basics).

When you feel financially free, your spirit is free. You remove a huge area of stress from your life. I’m not there yet, but I’m striving to learn. I figured I’d share what I’ve recently read. Typing it in here helps me retain the information and makes it feel more accessible and understandable.

Cool Things I Learned, Including How To Literally Judge Books By Their Covers

Commonly misused words include:

  • ‘bemuse’ (confusion, not amusement);
  • ‘devolve’ (responsibility may devolve to or on you, but situations do not devolve, as it is not the opposite of evolve);
  • ‘disinterested’ (impartial, not uninterested),
  • ‘droll’ (whimsical / playful, not dry, humor);
  • ‘enormity’ refers to describe the extent to which something is evil or outrageous and does not refer to physical size (that’s ‘enormousness’);
  • ‘fortuitous’ merely means something happens by chance and doesn’t also imply that there was anything fortunate or desirable about it;
  • ‘Immaculate Conception’ does not refer to Mary being a virgin but to her lack of original sin when she herself was conceived;
  • ‘in lieu of’ means ‘instead of’ and not ‘in light of’;
  • ‘scan’ refers to scrutinizing and not skimming something;
  • ‘schizophrenia’ does not refer to multiple personality disorder (which has a new terminology as well that escapes me at the moment…disassociative identity disorder, maybe?) so using ‘schizophrenic’ when you mean that someone seems to be of two minds about an issue is incorrect; and
  • ‘willy-nilly’ comes from ‘will he or nil he’ and means ‘whether you want it nor not’ and not ‘in a confused state’.

Ah, the joys of language.

Other things I learned:

It’s okay to swim earlier than an hour after eating. No “death from stomach cramp” has ever been recorded.

Chocolate does not cause acne. Stress, clogged pores, not washing your pillowcases regularly, leaving makeup on your face, hormones and overindulgence in sugar are more likely culprits. Chocolate also isn’t as full of PEA (phenylethamine) as previously thought: it is a negligible amount. So if you eat chocolate when stressed, the caffeine and fat and sugar are making you feel better more than any amount of PEA.

People do not necessarily become more conservative as they become older. Basic ideological preferences, e.g. political party preferences, tend to remain stable across most of one’s life span, so it is more accurate to suggest that you start as you mean to go on.

Lemmings do not commit mass suicide.

Capital punishment is not a good way to keep the murder rate down. Most people do not kill in a premeditated fashion, for one, so will not be considering the death penalty as a deterrent while commiting murder. Two, studies show that after state executions, murder rates (briefly) increase, implying a link between perceived brutality from the state being reflected in the population as a whole. Old crime records from twelve countries who abolished the death penalty showed not only a marked decrease in homicide statistics, but also other crimes.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Apparently so. Though we can’t quantify precisely what makes someone beautiful, people tend to come to the same conclusions when rating images of strangers. More disturbing, they attribute more positive moral and intellectual qualities to more attractive people. This does not mean that they possess those qualities, but the assumption is apparently there and fairly universal when tested and studied. Prettier people do get perks, such as having greater persuasive powers (influence) and higher salaries (this also applies to taller men).

Few people are actually tone deaf. With training (focusing on learning the difference between pitch and volume, for instance), most people can learn to distinguish fifths, thirds, full-tones and half-tones and even sing reasonably well. In fact, it is possible to teach yourself to have perfect pitch.

Rewards do not actually motivate people. When offered a reward to achieve a certain goal, the reward became more important than the goal. Intrinsic motivation (enjoying what you do) is better. Rewards reduce creativity. Rewards imply that the goals or objectives require a bribe because they can’t be enjoyed for their own sake. Rewards also lead to entitled behavior, wherein you lose the motivation to succeed for its own sake and insist that anything worth doing must include a bribe.

Spicy food does not cause bad dreams, and is, surprisingly, often less harmful than the usual remedy for stomach distress: a glass of milk.

There is no “Seven Year Itch.” 2% of couples split within the first year, 4% split during the next, and 5% end in each of the next three years. Couples who make it past the fifth year have a good chance of staying together into old age. There is no “sudden rash of itching” in the seventh year.

The rich do get richer and the poor do get poorer. U.S. policy-makers seem to believe that the promise of financial reward will make rich people work harder and invest more whereas it makes poor people lazy and under-motivated. So the rich get tax breaks and the poor get their food stamp programs cut.

Familiarity does not breed contempt. If you have no aversion to begin with, we like things more as we get used to them.

Women’s moods do not change during “that time of the month”. Part of this is fulfilling expectations; we expect to be moody, then we are. This seems counter-intuitive, but studies show that when women are asked to rate their moods (without knowing what the study is measuring), their moods do not significantly alter from the norm during their periods. Conversely, when they are asked to chart menstrual moods, the expected result is shown.

Whether absence makes your heart grow fonder or whether being out of sight and out of mind ring more true for you depend on whether or not a particular person is a primary attachment figure or not. Absence tends to exaggerate your feelings, whether positive, neutral or negative. Relationships with family members (that were positive to begin with) improved with distance, but high-school romances (in particular) of short duration tend to fade.

The full moon has no effect on behaviors, moods or crime statistics. This has been so thoroughly debunked by law enforcement, hospitals, mental hospitals, and so on, that it depresses me a bit. I kind of liked the romantic notion that the moon made a difference of some sort, even when I never intellectually bought into the idea.

The squeaky wheel does get the grease. Bargainers attain higher and more satisfactory outcomes when they begin their negotiations with extreme rather than more moderate demands. The glitch here is that this can backfire. View negotiations as mutual problem-solving rather than adversarial combat to get best results. The lesson here is not to be modest and undersell yourself when applying for a salaried position.

Are victims of child abuse more likely to turn into abusive parents? Yes. Will all of these victims, or even a good number of them, wind up abusing their children? No. A variety of factors play a part: how severe the abuse was, how early it occurred, how smart the child was, and how s/he perceived the episode. When they are adults, how much social support they receive, how they feel about having children, how openly they have confronted their abuse all have relevance to the likelihood of whether or not they break or continue the cycle. In this case, nature can outweigh nurture.

Time (perception) really does fly when you’re having fun. Time estimates are a lot less reliable before you’re 8 years old, if asked several times to estimate a given time interval, guesses tend to be too long the first few times to attempt it, you’re likely to overestimate a short time and underestimate a long time, your body temperature affects your ability to estimate time, caffeine or a fast-ticking metronome make time “feel” faster (and, oddly, that tasks performed this way are more pleasant), and anticipation of an event tends to make time feel slower (e.g., kids and Christmas, or watching a pot boil).

Dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima (and Nagasaki) did not shorten the length of the war or save more lives. It was done primarily as an experiment; the Japanese were prepared to surrender and asked only that they be allowed to let their emperor maintain his title. The Strategic Bombing Survey in 1946 determined that “certainly prior to 31 December 1945 and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945 that Japan would have surrendered even if atomic bombs were not dropped, if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion was planned or completed.” Japan was (according to Churchill, Eisenhower, and others) thoroughly “beaten” by late July. US policymakers also knew beforehand that Japan was ready to surrender. So, why? We had spent so much money and time developing the bomb that we were determined to try it out. Note also that one bomb was plutonium and one uranium, which lends credence to the “scientific experiment gone mad” theory. The intended audience may have been the Soviets, not the Japanese: the US was gearing up to take political and economic control of as much of the postwar world as feasible. The bomb allowed the US to breach specific understandings Roosevelt had reached with the Soviets with respect to the future of Europe. In sum, using the bomb was one of the most horrific crimes in human history.

Laughter is not the best medicine. Its affects on mood and positive attitude help, but most efects are temporary. A good joke won’t help the underlying issues.

Reading in the dark won’t ruin your eyes. Glasses that are too strong don’t make you nearsighted (but may give you a headache). However, training your eye to do more close focusing (reading) than distance focusing (getting outside and viewing things at a distance) may indeed exacerbate nearsightedness. There’s some truth to glasses indicating intelligence if reading books voraciously has any relevance to I.Q.

Subliminal advertising and backwards masking have no effect.

Breakfast isn’t the most important meal of the day unless it is your ONLY meal of the day. A balanced diet, no matter when it is consumed, is more important than making a point of eating early in the day.

Competition does not build character, it produces people who are less sensitive and trusting to the needs of others, less generous and empathetic, less likely to see other people’s points of view, and less likely to use higher level moral reasoning than those who are not competing or personally competitive. competition also does not build self-esteem or faith in oneself. Instead, losing feels terrible and, like building tolerance to a drug, more and more victories and wins are required to provide a lasting sense of security. Reducing situations to “winners v. losers” instead of focusing on cooperative behavior is the primary result of competitive behavior. You can build tenacity and discipline without doing so at the expense of others. Competitiveness also increases anxiety and the feeling that you lack control over your environment and situations.

Great minds think alike…sort of. Many great thinkers can make unpredictable, even bizarre, connections between ideas and this remote association between various ideas is fairly common among geniuses. On the other hand, the unpredictability of this associative behavior, and the fact that it, by definition, runs counter to any expected trend or pattern, underscores the dissimilarity of the thinking processes of geniuses.

There are no vision-related benefits to eating carrots. In the developed world, it is rare to have a deficiency of vitamin A (beta-carotine), and eating it in excess has no benefits.

Playing hard to get is more likely to backfire than succeed.

Cold weather and chicken soup have no effects on a cold.

Picking up babies whenever they cry doesn’t spoil them–on the contrary, infants that are reassured by their parents in early life have their emotional needs fulfilled and can become more independent as a result. Deprived infants who learn that the can’t count on a loving adult to soothe them when they need it internalize the feeling of abandonment and helplessness and may grow up to spend their lives searching for the love, affection and physical contact denied to them in infancy. Note that responding to a child’s needs is not the same of being afraid to say no when appropriate.

Power does corrupt.

Expressing hostility does not get it out of your system; it sets a precedent for angry behavior. Catharsis, or not bottling up emotions, is healthy. Encouraging expressions of anger or aggression when venting, however, is not. It tends to lower your inhibitions against violence and make it more likely that you’ll behave the same way in the future and it raises the bar, so that more frequent and more explosive expressions of rage are required for the temporary relief they bring.

He who lives by the sword does die by the sword. In Seattle, the majority of gunshot deaths occurred in homes where the gun was kept, the guns are more likely to kill a resident than an intruder, and, in Detroit, more people died from handgun accidents in one year than were killed in home-invasion-style robberies over the previosu five years.

No pain, no gain? Wrong. Coaches and athletes feel that the person who trains the hardest and most often is the most fit, but you can beat yourself to a frazzle to the point where you get worse and not better. Training with pain is generally counterproductive and demotivating. You do have to stress yourself for the body to grow stronger, but setting a reasonable schedule and backing away from “more is best” will give better results.

Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone? True. Unhappy people tend to drive away those people whose support and acceptance they need, thereby worsening their need for that support and understanding.

Religious people are not necessarily more altruistic. A study of Episcopalians in the 1950s turned up no discernable relationship between involvement in the church and charitable acts. Another study in the 60s revealed only a slight correlation between altruism and a belief in God and none at all between altruism and attendance of religious services. In the 70s, born-again Christians, conventionally religious people, non-religious and atheists were studied. None were more or less likely to volunteer their time to the community or to resist temptation to cheat on a test. (Except for one group: atheists were the least likely to cheat, and the only group where a majority of group members did not cheat.) In the 80s, religious involvement could not be tied to sociability, helpfulness directed towards neighbors, or participation in neighborhood organizations. Most recently, a study of people who helped rescue Jews from the Nazis showed that rescuers and bystanders did not differ much from non-rescuers with respect to their religious beliefs and practices. In sum, simply being religious does not make you a more moral, kind or helpful person.

Spare the rod and spoil the child? False. Corporal punishment for offenses merely teaches children that beating up on others is a viable solution to problems.

There is no correlation between suicide rates and the holidays. The myth is that suicides go up during the holiday season. April, not Decfember, is the cruelest month. (Beware the Ides of April and taxes!) Suicides peak in the springtime. Americans and Canadians are LEAST likely to top themselves in December or January.

Marijuana is not a “gateway drug”. If you want to predict who might be likely to try and abuse ‘hard drugs (e.g., heroin),’ a criminal record is a far better indicator and predictor of serious drug use and related offences than is smoking marijuana. The other primary factor is availability of the hard drugs, not use of marijuana. Caveat: the link between marijuana use and smoking crack has not yet been definitively explored.

The Guide To Buying Books (according to Paul Collins, author of Sixpence House):

If a book cover has raised, metallic, (or both) lettering, it is likely to be an easy-to-read book about espionage, romance, murder or a celebrity (or a combination of the above). To readers who care about such things, this lettering tells them Hello, I am crap. Crap books can only use glossy paper. Serious books can use glossy paper, but ONLY serious books use matte finish. Tiny paperbacks are aimed at the uneducated. Small hardcovers are aimed at the educated, except for the very small hardbacks that are religious books aimed at the uneducated. Highly rectangular format hardcover books are aimed at the somewhat-but-not-entirely-educated. Paperbacks with a rectangular vertical format tend to be pocket travel guides (educated); a rectangular horizontal format (e.g. Garfield Eats Lasagna Again) are aimed at the uneducated.

Bright colours and shiny colours are for the Hello I am crap market, and black will work too, but only to set off the bright and shiny colours. A work of serious literature will probably be presented with muted, tea-stained colours. Black is okay, but only to accentuate cool greens, blues and greys.

On both Crap Books and Serious Books, you will find the author headshot. The author will be posed unnaturally looking pensive or staring into the middle distance. The size of this photo is in inverse proportion to the quality of the book. If the author photo is in colour, it is not a serious book. If there is no author photo at all, it is a serious book indeed–maybe even a textbook. If a full colour author photo occupies the entire front cover, the book is unequivocal crap.

He also points out what happens when books break the rules. Reviewers railed against The Bridges of Madison County because the diminutive hardcover and muted colors tricked readers of Serious Tomes into buying Crap. Conversely, when the Harvard University Press released Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project with gigantic raised metallic lettering, it’s not unlikely that disgruntled Tom Clancy fans were annoyed or bemused to discover that the topic was not war or espionage or murder but a thoughtful cultural analysis of 19th century Parisian bourgeoisie.

I, personally, own my fair share of Crap. I know it is Crap. Crap is for reading in the bathtub or on an airplane. Crap is cheap and disposable and won’t keep me up at night pondering the Meaning of Life or who created God or if there is, indeed, anything as lovely as a tree and, if so, have I ever seen it? Crap is light on Deep Thoughts and heavy on Tom Swifty-type speech verbs and loving descriptions of the main character’s new shoes or daily routine or whatever. I mean, hey, it’s Crap. Most of it was bought for 25 cents per book at thrift stores. It’s bubblegum for the brain.

I also, however, own a LOT of non-Crap. These are the books that stay with me even as I go through periodic Crap Purges. I have to admit, Paul Collins is right. None of my favorite books have raised, metallic lettering (or die-cut covers, or full-color author photos). The again, I’ve been known to read textbooks and encyclopedias for funsies, so perhaps I am more susceptible to the Serious Book Bug than some.

When I go to the library, I tend to get a fairly equal mix of Crap and Non-Crap. Sometimes I think I’m getting Non-Crap and am disappointed; Crap is sneakier about disguising itself. It’s more likely that Crap will break all the How To Sell Crap Rules than it is for serious books to break them. Damn you, Crap! Anyway, I see it as cleansing the palate for deeper and better things. Two books to grow and think on, and one to give my voracious reader brain a little candy. I’m happiest when my Crap Ratio is under 40%.

A Guy Named Ethan Has Your Love Life Figured Out.

I was scavenging around some old writing documents and I have no idea who Ethan is. I assume he wrote a book that sounded interesting. He seems to focus on an “urban tribes” concept (one day when I am less lazy, I will use that as a keyword to track down who he is) and I’m not sure I’m buying all the strict gender-roled assertions, but maybe you, too, might find his observations worth reading.

Ethan’s Top Five Things to Tell Your Parents When You Are Still Single at Age 30 (or 35, or 40):

1. “Mom/Dad, among people my age, my life is not abnormal. (At least, not for that reason.) My generation has delayed marriage longer than any generation in American history. The cities are filled with people my age who are still single. The vast majority of us will marry; we’ll just do it later.”

2. “Not being married does not mean that I’m a ‘slacker.’ A slacker is usually defined as ‘someone who shirks work or responsibility.’ Remember how hard I work at my job/school/local SPCA office? My life is full of activity and meaning. There is no reason for pity or scorn.”

3. “Despite your stunningly deep bench of candidates, I honestly don’t need your help. I’m sure the son/daughter of Aunt Molly’s dentist is polite and well-groomed with a high-paying job, but leave the matchmaking to me. Believe me when I say that I have plenty of people giving me advice about my love life.”

4. “My marriage delay doesn’t mean you won’t ever be grandparents. While much has been made of the drop in fertility rates among women over 30, the numbers aren’t all that bad. Two out of three women ages 35 to 40 can get pregnant within a year. Those who try for two years raise their odds to 91 percent. ”

5. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Mom and Dad, but what about all the divorces in your generation? People my age are not indifferent to marriage–and we’re certainly not indifferent about love–but we have learned to be deeply cautious, in part because of divorce in our own families or those that happened next door. Statistics have shown that marriages started after age 25 work out better in the long run. In fact, because of our marriage delay, the divorce rate is now going down.”

Ethan’s Top Five Reasons Why Being in an Urban Tribe Is Bad for Your Love Life:

1. Some tribes are not so good at making the friends-of-friends connections that are our best hope for finding love in the city. If the boundary of the tribe becomes too rigid, your social life can stagnate. One warning sign is when there are too many events to which only the group is invited. Tribes are best when they are part of a network that connects you to new people.

2. “Cock blockers” (i.e. a male who, through futile sexual importunings of every woman in sight, ruins the romantic chances of coyer males.) If they are in your group, these men can create a kind of force field that repels available women. Cock blockers are almost never successful and, like leprosy, often scare new women from coming to group functions.

3. “Queen bees” can be problematic for men and women in the group. A queen bee, usually an attractive and charming woman in the tribe, demands that all flirtatious energy be directed toward her. If a male in the tribe brings a new love interest around, the queen bee can be counted on to find that woman lacking. No woman, a queen bee will attest, is good enough to date the men in her tribe. She’s sweetly protective but her motivations are greedy. For the women in the group, the queen bee is the equivalent of the male cock blocker.

4. Friends in our urban tribes often resist “losing” us to new relationships. They fear that if we have long-term romantic partners, we will no longer be available to them. This is an understandable fear because this is exactly what often happens. You can try to get your friends to accept your new romantic partner into the tribe, but:

5. Trying to integrate a new love into the group can be an exercise in frustration. Queen bees and cock blockers can get in the way. Also, there can also be ambient jealousy between the group and the new partner. This can cause simultaneous tension in your friendships and your love life.

Ethan’s Top Five Stupidest Things He Had To Read While Researching His Book:

1. “Try to navigate the shoals of modern romance, and you’ll only Titanic yourself with too much thinking.” –Nate Penn, The Code

2. Absent “the sudden desire on the part of Western women to begin having the same-sized families as their grandmothers, the future belongs to the Third World. Only the mass reconversion of Western women to an idea that they seem to have given up–that the good life lies in bearing and raising children and sending them out into the world to continue the family and nation–can prevent the Death of the West.” –Patrick Buchanan, The Death of the West

3. “Getting married is a little like inheriting the family business. Now it’s up to you to figure out what to sell, how to sell it, and how much to charge.” –Foundations: The Newsletter for Newly Married Couples

4. “Bonding social capital constitutes a kind of sociological superglue, whereas bridging social capital provides a sociological WD-40.” –Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone

5. “It is woman’s refusal of sexual importunings, coupled with hints or promises of later gratification, that is generally a necessary condition of transforming a man’s lust into love . . . . Why would a man court a woman for marriage when she may be sexually enjoyed and regularly, without it?” –Leon Kass, The End of Courtship

Ethan’s Top Five Ways to Build and Maintain an Urban Tribe:

1. Create a weekly ritual. Seeing each other consistently is the way personal communities form. Some tribes meet to watch “The Sopranos,” some meet as a book group. For several years my group met every Tuesday night at the same restaurant. It’s the simple act of repeatedly getting together as a group that forms the bonds which keep everyone close.

2. Create yearly rituals. Although you might think of this as simply an extension of #1, yearly rituals have a distinctly different purpose than weekly or monthly happenings. Yearly rituals such as throwing a big New Year’s Eve party or taking a group trip require planning and coordination. These are times when the tribe can test itself and its members. Will everyone be able to work well together? Will every member share the burden or will some slough off? By challenging itself with grand yearly rituals, the group tests its value and meaning.

3. Don’t be possessive of the group by trying to define or control who is in the group and who is not. Although your tribe might have a core membership, healthy tribes have fluid borders. In this way your tribe can give you both emotional shelter while at the same time connecting you to the outside world. By making distinct in/out judgments, you limit the tribe’s key function of connecting you to a larger network.

4. Set up e-groups. There are many free and friendly ways to facilitate communication within your group. These allow you to easily add and delete people from email lists. My tribe has several lists: One for those who play on the softball team, one for those who want to know where Larry’s next gig will be, one for planning the next houseboat trip, et cetera. Being able to quickly spread information and ideas within the group is one of the distinct aspects of these modern groupings.

5. Create a culture that celebrates the achievements of individuals. Competition and jealousy are tribe killers.

Ethan’s Top Five Guidelines to Dating within Your Urban Tribe:

1. If you’re new to the group, avoid dating anyone, at least for a while. If those in the group suspect you are only there to poach partners, you’ll likely get a cool reception.

2. Make sure you’re serious. Bad feelings that follow a brief romance can put deep stress on a group of friends. Finding true love is worth the risk of dating a friend, but getting laid is not. If you are looking for short-term romance, do everyone a favor and find it somewhere else.

3. Let the group in on the secret sooner rather than later. Someone is going to find out and it might as well be you who spreads the news.

4. Make time for individual friendships. Disappearing into a romantic relationship can be particularly hurtful if the couple was formed within the group.

5. Don’t let any friend tell you that dating within the group is “against the rules.” Finding love is a risky and messy business. While friends may be sad that inter-group romances make relationships more complicated, forging a friendship into a long-term romance is worth the risk.

Ethan’s Top Five Frustrations Women Express about Men They’ve Begun to Date:

1. Men think that the early stage of a relationship (the point at which routine sex can be gotten with the lowest possible commitment of time, resources, and personal energy) is a fine place for the relationship to remain indefinitely.

2. A man tends to overestimate his importance to a woman at the moment when she asks him “to talk about where the relationship is going.” Men often assume that the woman has fallen in love with him when in fact she might only want some information.

3. Men overrate the value of their affection–regardless of its quality or consistency. That is, men always assume that a fraction of their attention is better than none at all.

4. Men’s tendency toward out-sized conceit (see #2 and #3) combined with the inability to articulate their intentions reveals them to be the most reprehensible of cowards. Shouldn’t that grand self-conception carry with it some responsibility for treating the relationship with candor, clarity, and honor?

5. Men often ride along in relationships with one hand on the door handle. This fearfulness of momentum leads them to perform all manner of foolishness, including dangerous stuntman-like dives out of high-speed romances as well as more comical leaps out of relationships that have yet to leave the driveway.

Ethan’s Top Five Stupidest Lines from The Rules:

1. “Trying on clothes by yourself in a dressing room can be overwhelming and confusing. . .”

2. “. . . Hike up your skirt to entice the opposite sex!”

3. “. . . Stay emotionally cool no matter how hot the sex gets . . . [in the morning ] go quietly about your business–brush your teeth, do some sit-ups and stretches, brew coffee. . .be casual and unmoved.”

4. “There we were–a secret underground, sharing the magic, passing it on, doing what historically women have done for each other since the world began–networking for success.”

5. “Don’t be surprised if the man you’re dating gets very angry when you kiss him good night in the lobby at the end of the second date rather than invite him up . . ..Don’t worry. Anger indicates interest.”

Ethan’s Top Five Things Urban Tribes Should Avoid:

1. It’s best not to sleep with every single one of your close friends. Leaving at least one or two “platonic” friendships insures that you have someone to commiserate with about how nobody trusts you.

2. Tribes from the dawn of man have used facial tattoos to signify membership in the group. It works great, but remember that facial tattoos last a long time and may impact your chances of mating outside the tribe. Before you permanently engrave the name of your softball team on your forehead, try it for a few weeks with a magic marker.

3. Sure it was fun to practice robbing a bank, but is that a good enough reason to go through with it? Living on the run with your group might seem like a lark but after a couple of weeks nerves are likely to fray. Remember how every one was sick of each other after that camping trip? Times that by ten.

4. You should try not to cut the outside world off completely. Living on a guarded compound is a lot of fun until you want to go to town and see the Matrix again. Remember: Swearing eternal devotion to a single charismatic member of your group usually means that he’s the only one who gets laid.

5. As much as tribes enjoy monthly and yearly rituals, you should strive to avoid those involving the sacrifice of humans. I know this sort of activity may sometime seem like a “good idea,” especially after those long weekends of amphetamine and cocaine use. Here’s a trick: If the idea of blood sacrifice comes up in your group, volunteer to head the committee to “explore the idea.” Later, keep the committee distracted with other action items.

Another Book-related Blog Game

1. Bold those books you’ve read.
2. Underline books started-but-never-finished.
3. Asterisk those books you own (or used to own).
4. Add three titles to the list.
5. Post to your blog. (Italicise comments, if desired)

*1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
*2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
*3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
*4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
*5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
*6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
*7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
*8. 1984, George Orwell
*9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
*10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
*11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
*12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
*14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
*15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger (Does this make me a potential serial killer?)
*16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
*18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy I’m embarrassed to admit that this was a CHORE.
*21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
*22. Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone, JK Rowling
*23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
*24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling It saddens me that someone used up their three choices solely to be fan-girly. Besides, how many people honestly haven’t read these books by now?
*25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien First read it twenty-five years ago. Still not into the damned hobbit angst. Damn nouveau hippies.
*26. Tess Of The D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
*28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
*30. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson Stay tuned for about fourteen more Jacqueline Wilson books. Is she a fairly new (within last ten years or so) Young Adult author? I’ve never heard of her, which is unusual for me.
*32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
*36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
*39. Dune, Frank Herbert
*40. Emma, Jane Austen
*41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery Re-read as an adult after a friend recommended the series. It’s sweet.
*42. Watership Down, Richard Adams My copy is in literal tatters.
*43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald This is the main reason I reposted this meme. I just mentioned Gatsby yesterday. Admittedly, the odds were great that I would have mentioned a book of some sort that would appear on a bibliophile book list, but it still seems coincidental. 
*44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh Still amused that Evelyn is male. I’m a dumbass.
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
*53. The Stand, Stephen King
*54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman On my list.
*62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough Not my thing. But I read it all.
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman I *heart* these guys. Lots!
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding
*71. Perfume, Patrick Susskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
*75. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
*76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce Yes yes yes i have read this very long and mostly impenetrable book because yes yes i was an english major yes oui si hai yes
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
*85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
*87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
*90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac
*91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel Woo, yikes, Neanderthal pr0n. Wasn’t expecting that.
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho On my list.
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
*97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot I was too old to dig this book.
100. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
*101. Three Men In A Boat, Jerome K. Jerome
102. Small Gods, Terry Pratchett
103. The Beach, Alex Garland
104. Dracula, Bram Stoker
105. Point Blanc, Anthony Horowitz
106. The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens
107. Stormbreaker, Anthony Horowitz
*108. The Wasp Factory, Iain Banks
109. The Day Of The Jackal, Frederick Forsyth
110. The Illustrated Mum, Jacqueline Wilson
111. Jude The Obscure, Thomas Hardy
*112. The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 1/2, Sue Townsend
113. The Cruel Sea, Nicholas Monsarrat
*114. Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
115. The Mayor Of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy What’s with the Hardy obsession on this list? Should I give him another try?
116. The Dare Game, Jacqueline Wilson
117. Bad Girls, Jacqueline Wilson Who is this person? Does she write books for adults?
118. The Picture Of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
119. Shogun, James Clavell
120. The Day Of The Triffids, John Wyndham
121. Lola Rose, Jacqueline Wilson
122. Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray
123. The Forsyte Saga, John Galsworthy
124. House Of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski Beautifully designed but frustrating to read book.
125. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
126. Reaper Man, Terry Pratchett
127. Angus, Thongs And Full-Frontal Snogging, Louise Rennison I’m not anti-Young Adult books, really.
*128. The Hound Of The Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle
129. Possession, A. S. Byatt
130. The Master And Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
*131. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood Gets scarier every year.
132. Danny The Champion Of The World, Roald Dahl
*133. East Of Eden, John Steinbeck
134. George’s Marvellous Medicine, Roald Dahl
135. Wyrd Sisters, Terry Pratchett
*136. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
137. Hogfather, Terry Pratchett
*138. The Thirty-Nine Steps, John Buchan
139. Girls In Tears, Jacqueline Wilson
140. Sleepovers, Jacqueline Wilson Dude, I don’t get the Wilson obsession. The titles sound like Babysitters’ Club or Sweet Valley whatever titles. Are you reading them for kitsch value? Are they seriously good? I am willing to check her out, but the overwhelming amount of Wilson mentions on here contrasted with Orwells and Steinbecks and so on just baffle me.
141. All Quiet On The Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
142. Behind The Scenes At The Museum, Kate Atkinson
143. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby Much of what is wrong with me can be explained when I say I’m a female “Rob”. Seriously.
144. It, Stephen King
145. James And The Giant Peach, Roald Dahl
146. The Green Mile, Stephen King
147. Papillon, Henri Charriere
148. Men At Arms, Terry Pratchett
149. Master And Commander, Patrick O’Brian
150. Skeleton Key, Anthony Horowitz
151. Soul Music, Terry Pratchett
152. Thief Of Time, Terry Pratchett
153. The Fifth Elephant, Terry Pratchett
154. Atonement, Ian McEwan
155. Secrets, Jacqueline Wilson ?!?!?!?! *sigh*
156. The Silver Sword, Ian Serraillier
157. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey Still sad.
158. Heart Of Darkness, Joseph Conrad Thuh howwah! Thuh howwah!
159. Kim, Rudyard Kipling
160. Cross Stitch, Diana Gabaldon (No; though I hear it’s called “Outlander” in the US)
161. Moby Dick, Herman Melville This is the book that never ends. It just goes on and on my friend. The whale does not grant him three wishes.
162. River God, Wilbur Smith
163. Sunset Song, Lewis Grassic Gibbon
164. The Shipping News, Annie Proulx
165. The World According To Garp, John Irving Made a profound impact on me ages ago. Rereading it, I can’t recall why. But it’s GOOD.
166. Lorna Doone, R. D. Blackmore I want cookies.
167. Girls Out Late, Jacqueline Wilson Maybe we should count the Wilson mentions on this list. This is getting out of control. It’s not like she’s Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., right? Tell me the truth. (Speaking of, why no Vonnegut?)
168. The Far Pavilions, M. M. Kaye
169. The Witches, Roald Dahl
*170. Charlotte’s Web, E. B. White
171. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
172. They Used To Play On Grass, Terry Venables and Gordon Williams
173. The Old Man And The Sea, Ernest Hemingway
*174. The Name Of The Rose, Umberto Eco
*175. Sophie’s World, Jostein Gaarder
176. Dustbin Baby, Jacqueline Wilson o_O
177. Fantastic Mr. Fox, Roald Dahl
178. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov Wherein Humbert Humbert discovers androgyny, eyeliner and synthesizers and becomes big in Japan. Or tries to assassinate a President. I forget.
179. Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, Richard Bach
*180. The Little Prince, Antoine De Saint-Exupery En Francais!
181. The Suitcase Kid, Jacqueline Wilson Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
182. Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens
183. The Power Of One, Bryce Courtenay
184. Silas Marner, George Eliot
*185. American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
186. The Diary Of A Nobody, George and Weedon Gross-mith
*187. Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh
188. Goosebumps, R. L. Stine I thought this was a series of little Young Adult books? I’ve read a few. If it’s just one book and a series was based on it, I haven’t read it.
*189. Heidi, Johanna Spyri
190. Sons And Lovers, D. H. Lawrence
*191. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
192. Man And Boy, Tony Parsons
193. The Truth, Terry Pratchett
194. The War Of The Worlds, H. G. Wells
195. The Horse Whisperer, Nicholas Evans Is this the guy who wrote The Notebook? Blearrrrgh.
196. A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
197. Witches Abroad, Terry Pratchett
*198. The Once And Future King, T. H. White
199. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle Um…this is for four year olds, right? I just don’t know if I’ve read it or not unless I know for sure.
200. Flowers In The Attic, Virginia Andrews “Virginia” Andrews? Wasn’t it V.A. or V.C. or something? And can I just say that I am not titillated by incest stories or child abuse stories? What the hell?
201. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien I lived through the first Tolkein craze. It’s just not my kind of fantasy stuff. I’m sorry.
202. The Eye of the World, Robert Jordan
203. The Great Hunt, Robert Jordan
204. The Dragon Reborn, Robert Jordan
205. Fires of Heaven, Robert Jordan
206. Lord of Chaos, Robert Jordan
207. Winter’s Heart, Robert Jordan
208. A Crown of Swords, Robert Jordan
209. Crossroads of Twilight, Robert Jordan
210. A Path of Daggers, Robert Jordan o_O Jordan fanboy-ism ahoy? I’ve read some Jordan, but it all was samey-samey. I have no idea which of these I have actually read.
211. As Nature Made Him, John Colapinto
*212. Microserfs, Douglas Coupland
213. The Married Man, Edmund White
*214. Winter’s Tale, Mark Helprin Brilliant.
215. The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault
*216. Cry to Heaven, Anne Rice Got bored with Anne about fifteen years ago.
217. Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, John Boswell
218. Equus, Peter Shaffer
219. The Man Who Ate Everything, Jeffrey Steingarten
220. Letters To A Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke
221. Ella Minnow Pea, Mark Dunn
*222. The Vampire Lestat, Anne Rice
*223. Anthem, Ayn Rand Possibly the only decent thing she ever wrote. That could also be because it is very short.
*224. The Bridge To Terabithia, Katherine Paterson
225. Tartuffe, Moliere
*226. The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka
*227. The Crucible, Arthur Miller
228. The Trial, Franz Kafka
*229. Oedipus Rex, Sophocles
230. Oedipus at Colonus, Sophocles
231. Death Be Not Proud, John Gunther
*232. A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen
*233. Hedda Gabler, Henrik Ibsen
234. Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton I refuse. Ditto for Tristam Shandy.
235. A Raisin In The Sun, Lorraine Hansberry
236. ALIVE!, Piers Paul Read Oh my. Is this the plane accident survival story? If so, yes.
237. Grapefruit, Yoko Ono
238. Trickster Makes This World, Lewis Hyde
240. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
241. Chronicles of Thomas Convenant, Unbeliever, Stephen Donaldson
242. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
242. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon
243. Summerland, Michael Chabon
244. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
*245. Candide, Voltaire
246. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, Roald Dahl
247. Ringworld, Larry Niven Maybe? It sounds very familiar.
248. The King Must Die, Mary Renault Maybe. We have a lotof Renault in the house.
*249. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein
*250. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle
*251. The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde
252. The House Of The Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne
253. The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
*254. The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan
255. The Great Gilly Hopkins, Katherine Paterson
256. Chocolate Fever, Robert Kimmel Smith
257. Xanth: The Quest for Magic (Original trilogy), Piers Anthony I’ve read some Piers. Namely the Incarnations of Immortality and some Xanth. He’s not really my bag, though he seems nice enough. His personal notes in the back of the books are the best part; he refrains from punning too painfully.
258. The Lost Princess of Oz, L. Frank Baum
259. Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon
*260. Lost In A Good Book, Jasper Fforde
*261. Well Of Lost Plots, Jasper Fforde
262. Life Of Pi, Yann Martel On my list.
263. The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver
264. A Yellow Rraft In Blue Water, Michael Dorris
265. Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder
267. Where The Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls
268. Griffin & Sabine, Nick Bantock
269. Witch of Blackbird Pond, Joyce Friedland
270. Mrs. Frisby And The Rats Of NIMH, Robert C. O’Brien
271. Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt
272. The Cay, Theodore Taylor
273. From The Mixed-Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg
274. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster On my list.
275. The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin
*276. The Kitchen God’s Wife, Amy Tan
277. The Bone Setter’s Daughter, Amy Tan On my list.
278. Relic, Duglas Preston & Lincolon Child
*279. Wicked, Gregory Maguire
*280. American Gods, Neil Gaiman
281. Misty of Chincoteague, Marguerite Henry
282. The Girl Next Door, Jack Ketchum
283. Haunted, Judith St. George
284. Singularity, William Sleator
285. A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
*286. Different Seasons, Stephen King
*287. Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk
*288. About a Boy, Nick Hornby
289. The Bookman’s Wake, John Dunning
290. The Church of Dead Girls, Stephen Dobyns
291. Illusions, Richard Bach
292. Magic’s Pawn, Mercedes Lackey
293. Magic’s Promise, Mercedes Lackey
294. Magic’s Price, Mercedes Lackey Have read some Lackey, just not sure WHAT.
295. The Dancing Wu Li Masters, Gary Zukav On my list.
296. Spirits of Flux and Anchor, Jack L. Chalker
*297. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
298. The Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices, Brenda Love Also known as “The Internet”. No thanks, I’ve had enough of Furries to last me a lifetime.
299. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace. On my list.
300. The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison.
*301. The Cider House Rules, John Irving.
302. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
*303. Girlfriend in a Coma, Douglas Coupland
304. The Lion’s Game, Nelson Demille
305. The Sun, The Moon, and the Stars, Stephen Brust
306. Cyteen, C. J. Cherryh
*307. Foucault’s Pendulum, Umberto Eco
*308. Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson The paper equivalent of TL;DR, except…it wasn’t and I did.
*309. Invisible Monsters, Chuck Palahniuk
310. Camber of Culdi, Kathryn Kurtz
311. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand And look, I didn’t turn into a Libertarian, Determinist, Paulbot, Republican, vulture capitalist or a Yuppie! How’d that happen?
312. War and Rememberance, Herman Wouk
*313. The Art of War, Sun Tzu
314. The Giver, Lois Lowry
315. The Telling, Ursula Le Guin
316. Xenogenesis (or Lilith’s Brood), Octavia Butler
317. A Civil Campaign, Lois McMaster Bujold
318. The Curse of Chalion, Lois McMaster Bujold
319. The Aeneid, Publius Vergilius Maro
320. Hanta Yo, Ruth Beebe Hill
*321. The Princess Bride, S. Morganstern Battered, on the brink of tattered. From love.
*322. Beowulf, Anonymous
323. The Sparrow, Maria Doria Russell
324. Deerskin, Robin McKinley
325. Dragonsong, Anne McCaffrey Probably?
*326. Passage, Connie Willis I really like Connie Willis.
327. Otherland, Tad Williams
328. Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay
329. Number the Stars, Lois Lowry
330. Beloved, Toni Morrison
*331. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, Christopher Moore
332. The mysterious disappearance of Leon, I mean Noel, Ellen Raskin
333. Summer Sisters, Judy Blume Should stick with books for tweens and teens.
334. The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo
335. The Island on Bird Street, Uri Orlev
336. Midnight in the Dollhouse, Marjorie Filley Stover
337. The Miracle Worker, William Gibson *perk* Is this new? *adds to reading list*
338. The Genesis Code, John Case
339. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevensen
340. Paradise Lost, John Milton
341. Phantom, Susan Kay
*342. The Mummy or Ramses the Damned, Anne Rice
*343. Anno Dracula, Kim Newman Believe it or not, I have never had a “Goth phase”.
344: The Dresden Files: Grave Peril, Jim Butcher
345: Tokyo Suckerpunch, Issac Adamson
346: The Winter of Magic’s Return, Pamela Service
347: The Oddkins, Dean R. Koontz For Pete’s sake. I’ve read, like, 63 Koontz books, and you list one I’ve never heard of. When my bathtub drain gets fixed, I’ll have to read it in the bathtub.
348. My Name is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok Not this one, but two others.
349. The Last Goodbye, Raymond Chandler Probably.
350. At Swim, Two Boys, Jaime O’Neill
*351. Othello, by William Shakespeare
352. The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas
353. The Collected Poems of William Butler Yeats
354. Sati, Christopher Pike
355. The Inferno, Dante
356. The Apology, Plato
357. The Small Rain, Madeline L’Engle
358. The Man Who Tasted Shapes, Richard E Cytowick
359. 5 Novels, Daniel Pinkwater
360. The Sevenwaters Trilogy, Juliet Marillier
*361. Girl with a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier
*362. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
363. Our Town, Thorton Wilder Lost somewhere in my boxes of books.
364. Green Grass Running Water, Thomas King
335. The Interpreter, Suzanne Glass
336. The Moor’s Last Sigh, Salman Rushdie I just don’t like his style. I tried. Honest.
337. The Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson
338. A Passage to India, E.M. Forster
339. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
340. The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux
341. Pages for You, Sylvia Brownrigg
342. The Changeover, Margaret Mahy
343. Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones
*344. Angels and Demons, Dan Brown I was less smart after reading this.
345. Johnny Got His Gun, Dalton Trumbo
346. Shosha, Isaac Bashevis Singer
347. Travels With Charley, John Steinbeck
348. The Diving-bell and the Butterfly, Jean-Dominique Bauby
349. The Lunatic at Large, J. Storer Clouston
350. Time for Bed, David Baddiel
351. Barrayar, Lois McMaster Bujold
352. Quite Ugly One Morning, Christopher Brookmyre
353. The Bloody Sun, Marion Zimmer Bradley Maybe. Seriously, I whip through these fantasy authors so quickly it’s like eating potato chips. You have to be damned good as a writer for your book to stick with me for more than a few days.
354. Sewer, Gas, and Eletric, Matt Ruff
355. Jhereg, Steven Brust
356. So You Want To Be A Wizard, Diane Duane On my list, I hear this series is amusing.
357. Perdido Street Station, China Mieville Former roommate left it out. I read it.
358. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte
359. Road-side Dog, Czeslaw Milosz
360. The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje
*361. Neuromancer, William Gibson
362. The Epistemology of the Closet, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
363. A Canticle for Liebowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr
364. The Mask of Apollo, Mary Renault
365. The Gunslinger, Stephen King
366. Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
367. Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
*368. A Season of Mists, Neil Gaiman
369. Ivanhoe, Walter Scott
370. The God Boy, Ian Cross
371. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Laurie R. King
372. Finn Family Moomintroll, Tove Jansson
*373. Misery, Stephen King
374. Tipping the Velvet, Sarah Waters
375. Hood, Emma Donoghue
376. The Land of Spices, Kate O’Brien
*377. The Diary of Anne Frank
378. Regeneration, Pat Barker
379. Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
380. Dreaming in Cuban, Cristina Garcia
381. A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
382. The View from Saturday, E.L. Konigsburg
383. Dealing with Dragons, Patricia Wrede
*384. Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss
385. A Severed Wasp – Madeleine L’Engle
386. Here Be Dragons – Sharon Kay Penman
387. The Mabinogion (Ancient Welsh Tales) – translated by Lady Charlotte E. Guest
*388. The DaVinci Code – Dan Brown You can’t take it seriously, but it was entertaining.
389. Desire of the Everlasting Hills – Thomas Cahill
390. The Cloister Walk – Kathleen Norris
391. My Antonia, Willa Cather
*392. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
393. The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins
394. Conceived Without Sin, Bud MacFarlane Jr.
395. Pierced by a Sword, Bud MacFarlane, Jr.
396. Tully, Paullina Simons
397. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
*398. Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood
399. Earth Abides, George R. Stewart
400. Double Play, Robert Parker
401. Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott
402. Bookman’s Promise, John Dunning
403. Julius Caesar, Shakespeare
404. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
405. A Separate Peace, John Knowles
406. The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn, Janis Hallowell
*407. The Holy Bible, (Various Authors) Yeah, I’ve read it. I even taught Sunday School back in the day (when I identified as an agnostic, no less). I have one in my house.
408. The Odyssey, Homer
409. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky
410. The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor
411. The Way of a Pilgrim, Anonymous
412. The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody, Will Cuppy
413. Song of Eve, June Strong
414. Cyclops, Clive Cussler
415. The Light That Failed, Rudyard Kipling
416. Zia, Scott O’Dell
417. Island of the Blue Dolphins, Scott O’Dell
418. The Devil’s Arithmetic, Jane Yolen On my list.
419. Riddle-master Trilogy, Patricia McKillip
420. Certain Women, Madeleine L’Engle
421. My Hundred Children, Lenah Kikhler-Zilberman
422. Sandry’s Book, Tamora Pierce
423. Joona trilogy, Kim Englehart
424. The Dark Is Rising Sequence (set of 5 books), Susan Cooper
425. King of Shadows, Susan Cooper
426. Among Friends, Caroline Cooney
427. Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes Still sad.
428. Anne Frank and Me, Cherie Bennett & Jeff Gotesfeld
429. Shadow of a Hero, by Peter Dickinson
430. A House Like a Lotus, by Madeleine L’Engle
431. Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis
432. A Raging Quiet, by Sherryl Jordan
433. A Ring of Endless Light, by Madeleine L’Engle
434. The Girl Who Owned a City, by O.T. Nelson
435. Below the Root, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
436. Island in the Sea of Time, by S.M. Stirling
*437. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling
*438. Digital Fortress, Dan Brown
439. Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne
440. The Bridges of Madison County, Robert James Waller *vomits copiously* My mother tried to give me a BoMC cookbook one Christmas, which is indicative of how much she DOES NOT understand me at all. Not into smarmy romance books about adultery. Not into cooking “down home” recipes. Gaaah. Horrible.
441. Thunder and Roses, Mary Jo Putney
442. Love Beyond Tomorrow, Erin Klingler
443. Wizard’s First Rule, by Terry Goodkind
444. The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende
*445. The Hidden Staircase, by Carolyn Keene A Nancy Drew Adventure!! My mother’s and my old books are still around somewhere, all 200 of them or so.
446. Chess with A Dragon, by Devid Gerold
447. Dreadnaught, by Robert K. Massie
448. On Basilisk Station, by David Weber
449. The High and the Mighty, by Ernest K. Gann
450. The Old Dog Barks Backwards, by Ogden Nash Love Nash poems and verse, haven’t read this, though.
451. The Soul of a New Machine, by Tracy Kidder
452. Startide Rising, by David Brin
453. The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
*454. All the President’s Men, by Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein
*455. Guilty Pleasures, Laurell K. Hamilton Stop sucking, Hamilton. I meant it.
456. Moonheart, Charles DeLint
457. The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, Alan Garner
458. Lady Chatterly’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence
459. Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges
460. Henry V, Shakespeare
*461. To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis
462. Elric of Melnibone, Michael Moorcock
463. M.Y.T.H. Inc. Link, Robert Asprin
464. Sabriel, Garth Nix
465. Falling Leaves, Adeline Yen Mah
466. The Tricksters, Margaret Mahy
*467. For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemmingway
468. The Family Way, Tony Parsons
469. Holy Fools, Joanne Harris
*470. Rachel’s Holiday, Marian Keyes Fluffy but charming.
471. The Sword And The Scimitar, David Ball
472. Past Mortem, Ben Elton
473. The Iliad, Homer
474. The Time-Traveller’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
475. Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Beverly Cleary

My additions:
*475. The Great Tao, Dr Steven T Chang
*476. The Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce
*477. Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
*478. The Chocolate War, Robert Cormier
*479. Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman
*480. The Alienist, Caleb Carr

Be book-nerdish and share your opinions on those I haven’t read on this list but should. And, seriously, what’s with the 45 Wilson books?! I gave myself double nominations just to balance that out. That’s crazy. 🙂

Game For Book Nerds

Here is the game:

1. Grab the nearest book.

Hmm. Two equally near. (*eenie meenie miney mo*) No Great Gatsby for you. Sorry. (But I checked, it was a boring section anyway.)

2. Open the book to page 123.


3. Find the fifth sentence.

Do I count sentence fragments as complete sentences or not? I suppose I will.

4. Post the text of the next 4 sentences on your blog along with these instructions.

Yeah, okay.

“Well, start it off snappily,” said the editor. “Something people will read.”
Haskins set to work and in a couple of hours brought a sheet of typewritten paper to the desk; it was a two-hundred-word story about some disease that had broken out among the horses.
Its opening sentence was simple but arresting.
It read: “Who has noticed the sores on the tops of the horses in the animal husbandry building?”
— James Thurber, “University Days”, from “The Secret Sharer” and Other Great Stories, edited by Lass and Tasman.

5. Don’t you dare dig for that “cool” or “intellectual” book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest.

Dude. My crap books are in cardboard boxes in the laundry room. You get what you get. If my computer was in the laundry room, you might have suffered through the self-published (for a reason) 25-cent thrift store chef d’oeuvre “Elvis Is Alive” (run away, run away!) or a Dilbert cartoon collection (“my boss, his hair is so very pointy!”).

6. Tag five people.

No. Anyone who has time to mess about with memes, they can do it without me virtually nudging them. 🙂

Lawrence Wright’s Book on Scientology — Going Clear — Hits Bookstores January 17

Via Tony Ortega’s blog:

“Ever since Wright’s epic February, 2011 story “The Apostate” showed up in The New Yorker we’ve been looking forward to this book. That magazine story was about the defection of longtime Scientologist and Oscar-winning film director Paul Haggis. But with this book, Wright’s going deep on what’s tearing apart the church today.

Not long ago, January was also announced for the publication of Jenna Miscavige Hill’s tell-all. The niece of church leader David Miscavige made major waves in 2008 when she appeared on Nightline, describing the harrowing life of kids growing up in the church. We expect her book to be a devastating expose of her uncle’s organization.

However, just yesterday we learned that the copy we pre-ordered was moved back a month, to February. We hope that’s just a minor distribution glitch and not a sign of bigger problems.

All we know is, the Bunker can’t wait to get review copies of both books. So send ‘em already, PR folks!”

Read more: Lawrence Wright’s Book on Scientology — Going Clear — Hits Bookstores January 17.