Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Simple Path to Wealth: Your Road Map to Financial Independence and a Rich, Free Life

I saw JL Collins' The Simple Path to Wealth go by at work, and was curious.  I didn't really read what the book was about (there wasn't actually a synopsis on the back, just a bunch of praise), but a couple of the quotes got my attention, like Paula Pant's "Let's face it: Most investment books are boring. Dull. Uninspired. This book brings managing your money to life."  While I've had a few bonds over the years, I'm a relatively new investor, so thanks to that endorsement, I thought that this sounded like a good place to learn a little bit more.

Collins' approach is pretty simple: he says most people are in either a wealth accumulation phase of their life or a wealth preservation stage (and you can go back and forth between the two as your life circumstances change).  To accumulate wealth, he recommends getting rid of debt (that's a giving), and investing heavily (50% of your income if you can!) in a stock index fund (he recommends Vanguard's VTSAX).  The index funds are a safer bet than trying to predict the outcome of buying individual stocks.  If you're trying to preserve your wealthy, he recommends adding some bonds into your portfolio to smooth out the ride a bit (once again, he recommends Vanguard's VBTLX).  Why the recommendation of Vanguard?  The company was created by Jack Bogle; he believed that an investment firm's interests should be aligned with the interests of its shareholders.  In contrast, many companies' interests do not align with shareholder interests (the companies want to make as much money for themselves as possible).

That is literally his advice.  It is simple, but it takes a lot of hard work - you will have to restrict your spending habits in order to save.  But the end result is worth it.  And you will have achieved financial independence when you can live off of about 4% of your assets (so if you live off of say $20,000 a year, you would need $500,000 invested).

I honestly enjoyed Collins' writing.  Pant really wasn't lying about The Simple Path to Wealth - Collins has made managing money a relatively easy to understand process.  The only major complaint that I had with the book was that Collins is American, so some of his advice focuses strictly on American accounts (and I will admit, when he started getting into the nitty gritty of the various American accounts that were available, I felt my eyes glazing over).  Be that as it may, his advice is still solid, no matter where in the world you may live.  You just may have to use other accounts or funds to grow your wealth.

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World

Wow, this has really been a year of reading nonfiction books for me!  I just finished The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. I was interested in reading it and knew my brother had purchased a copy; he was done with it, so he gave it to me (it was actually a little more involved than that - he had left it at a take a book, leave a book shelf like a day or two before I asked if I could borrow it from him.  He then rescued the book for me, and wrapped it up as part of my Christmas present from him! I was delighted that he was able to get it back!) :)

Wohlleben is a forester who manages a forest in Germany.  Over the years, he made many observations about trees that were directly against people's beliefs.  For example, he found a trunk of a tree that should have been dead centuries ago, but was still alive; the neighbouring trees had kept it alive, giving it food.

His observations have led him to believe that trees are much more active than humans give them credit for - they just live life in a much slower way than we do.  Plus much of what happens isn't visible - it happens either behind their bark or beneath the ground in their roots. Using science to back up his observations, Wohlleben looks at the social life of an intact forest (and also shows how human-planted plantations of trees have a much harder life because the trees are left virtually alone to fend for themselves, without the support of their neighbours).  I found his description of what he calls the "street kids" (the trees we plant in our cities) particularly heartbreaking - these trees are planted where the ground is compacted, so they have a hard time spreading their roots, plus their roots were damaged when they were little all so that humans could more easily handle them prior to them being planted.  And if one of these street kids manages to break through an underground pipe in an effort to spread its roots, it ends up sentenced to death by us because it is inconveniencing our infrastructure.  These poor beings!

While Wohlleben references a lot of science in The Hidden Life of Trees, I felt that in some places he made leaps in logic between fact and what he believed was happening (I can't think of anywhere in particular now, but I felt that during the first night I was reading the book).  A far bigger complaint though is that I found the prose to be really, really dry to read.  After about 40-70 pages, I actually got so bored that I started reading another book. I had to force myself back to The Hidden Life of Trees.  And this is a huge shame, because it really is an interesting read.  It's possible that this is a problem of translation, as the original text was written in German.  But I'm really not sure.

While I don't regret reading The Hidden Life of Trees, because it was full of interesting facts, I wish it had been more engaging.  But I do plan on checking out the notes section more extensively in the future - I'm hoping it will direct me to more engaging texts on the subject.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Touch the Dark

I've been reading so much nonfiction lately that I hit my end: I had to read fiction.  So I grabbed Touch the Dark by Karen Chance, a book that I was planning on reading right before I ended up with a bunch of nonfiction library books I had to get through first.  So yesterday I grabbed it for something to read while waiting for my doctor's appointment.  I read a good chunk of it there, then came home and just kept reading, finishing it at like 3 or 4am.

Touch the Dark is the story of Cassandra Palmer, a seer who was raised by vampires.  She's been on the run from the one who raised her for years (she had previously gone to the cops and effectively destroyed his then business dealings and he wants revenge).  Realizing he's finally found her, she's about to run again but this time she wanted to say goodbye to her roommate (this was the first time she had someone else dependent on her and didn't want to leave him in the lurch).  The vampires catch up to her at the club where he works, but he manages to fend most of them off because he happens to be a vampire too (Cassie is right betrayed because she had no idea).  He takes her to the Vampire Senate, where they want to offer her protection in exchange for her help.

From here things get a bit weird for a bit.  Cassie has a ghost helper, Billy-Joe, who tells her the guy who killed her parents is nearby. So she hops out the window to go talk to him (and maybe kill him? I honestly don't know what her plan was here). I thought the guy was a vampire and Cassie didn't really have much luck dealing with multiple vampires on her own, but it turns out he was a satyr (which was extra weird because she had just been talking to the ghost about faerie and how faeries couldn't exist when this satyr shows up, so I don't know).  Anyway, the vampire guardians and this crazy mage find her somehow (magically?  I don't know, wasn't very clear), then there's a showdown in the parking lot with them and Cassandra versus the satyrs who turn out to be part were-rats.  Plus some evil (?) mages show up too.  Cassie and Billy-Joe work some magic of their own, accidentally popping Cass out of her body and into the past.  After she gets back from that adventure, she pops out of her body to possess one of the evil mages.

After that craziness passes, the good made, Pritkin, freaks out because Cassie shouldn't be able to do the things she just did and therefore must be a demon.  He attempts to kill her right in front of the vampires, who don't take too kindly to that (but can't kill him because that would start a war with his mages).  They eventually manage to convince him that Cassie is not a demon (and suggest that he was sent to kill her because he has a one-track mind).

Somewhere around here, it's revealed that Cassie may be the heir to the Pythia, a powerful seer who is sort of the arbiter between the various supernatural factions.  Mircea, a powerful master vampire, tries to have sex with Cassie, believing it's the only way to make sure she is a suitable candidate for the Pythia's power (there's a rumour going around that the power won't go to a virgin).  There's a super long sex scene where he agrees to answer her questions in exchange for pleasuring her (it's kind of weird and goes on forever - over like two chapters).  She's into him, but keeps refusing sex because deep down she doesn't want to be trapped with the Pythia's power.

Before Mircea can actually do the deed, they're interrupted because the Senate is under attack.  Around here, Mircea and Cassie travel back in time because they've figured out that the bad guys are doing the same: they're travelling back in time to change the past so events go the way they want to.  They have sex in the past in other bodies (because why not?) then have a showdown with the bad guys: Rasputin and the missing heir to the Pythia (a seer who was trained from birth to become the next Pythia).  Cassie hopes the missing heir is under Rasputin's coercion, but that appears to not be the case when the heir attempts to murder her.  Time stops and the actual Pythia (who is dying) shows up and tells Cassie that too bad for whatever she wanted, she is going to be the new Pythia (it turns out the whole losing your virginity rumour was just something a seer from the past started because people weren't letting her take a lover. I thought that was funny).  So Cassie and Mircia stop Rasputin and the heir (who get away), and save their future.

As you may have gathered from my synopsis, this book was weird.  Very weird.  I didn't think I liked it too much at the beginning, but then Billy-Joe showed up and it got pretty fun.  Billy-Joe was a gambler who thought he was god's gift to women - some of his banter back and forth with Cassie was hilarious (Cassie was the only one who could really talk to him).  Since no one else could really see him, he made a great spy, but Billy-Joe being who he is, he had a habit of wandering off and otherwise not being super reliable.  He was just fun.

I liked Mircia (he's a master vampire who is related to Dracula) and Louis-Cesar (another master vampire, and the dueling champion of Europe) as well.  The way the two different master vampires were was pretty fun, and I felt like Chance really nailed how Mircia would think of mortals.  Also, putting together Louis-Cesar's past from the snippets of memory Cassie Saw was rather fun.  But outside of this, the book felt like a bit of a mess plot-wise, almost like it needed to be split into two to be more coherent (or just heavily edited to be more coherent?  I don't know).  I read the synopsis for the next books in the series and they didn't really sound too appealing, so I'm probably not going to read any more.  But that's okay.  I'm glad I gave this one a try, and had some fun along the way. :)

Monday, May 7, 2018

A Two-Spirit Journey: The Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder

I don't know what's up with my memoir-reading lately.  But after finishing Naked, Drunk, and Writing, I started reading A Two-Spirit Journey: the Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder by Ma-Nee Chacaby with Mary Louisa Plummer.  A Two-Spirit Journey was hands down the best memoir I've read (or attempted to read) in a long, long time. 

A Two-Spirit Journey starts out by giving Chacaby's family's history, then jumps right into her own.  She was born in a tuberculosis sanitarium, then fostered/adopted by a French family.  Her maternal grandmother found her and adopted her, bringing her to their reserve north of Nipigon.  Chacaby had a good childhood with her kokum, but had a hard time with many other people (partially due to her two-spirited nature, which other people did not respect the way her kokum did).  Chacaby had a particularly difficult time once her mother came back into her life; her mother often beat her.  She also suffered horrible sexual abuse and torture from other members of their community.  But the worst came from her husband, whom her mother arranged for her to marry (against both her wishes, and her kokum's).  That man hit her, refused to accept their daughter as his own, and caused the premature birth of their son.  Chacaby eventually walked out on him, taking the children with her to Thunder Bay.  Her life took a downward spiral thanks to alcohol, and her children were put into foster care.  Eventually Chacaby fought to get herself sober, using AA's twelve step program.  She then dedicated her life towards helping other people, both women and youth, reclaim their own lives by getting off the streets and getting sober.  But Chacaby's eyesight, which had always been bad, eventually caused her to lose her job.  But she remained upbeat no matter what life threw at her, eventually finding real love with some extraordinary women.

There's an afterword that explains how the book came to be.  Chacaby narrated her life's story to Plummer.  Plummer is a social scientist who used rigorous methods to ensure Chacaby's life story was useful for social scientists.  There is an interesting discussion about first person accounts written down by other people, and some of the difficulties Chacaby and Plummer had to overcome to make the book readable (when Plummer tried to make it verbatim, some of Chacaby's grammar didn't come across well on the written page).

While I was drawn right into Chacaby's narrative, I found that it lost a little something at the end, when she was trying to summarize and conclude the book.  Other than that, I thought that it was an excellent read.  Chacaby has been through so much in her life, and it is so inspiring that she manages to remain positive in spite of everything. 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Naked, Drunk, and Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay

Naked, Drunk, and Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay by Adair Lara is a writing book I've had FOREVER that I just never got around to reading.  I've tried reading it here and there over the years, but for some reason never got very far.  I'm not interested (right now anyway) in writing a memoir, but I would like to learn more about personal essays, which is why I kept attempting to read it.  I finally buckled down and actually read the whole thing (even the stuff about memoirs) over the last few weeks.

Lara is concerned with both personal narrative essays and memoirs (which are basically longer personal narrative essays).  She starts the book off with the essay, talking about how to craft one, coming up with your angle, your tone, and using images.  She takes a break to talk about getting yourself to write and the value of writing buddies before moving to talk more in depth about writing memoirs.  While I'm not interested in writing one myself, I found her discussion of memoirs quite interesting, especially since I was also reading Cait Flanders' memoir The Year of Less (and it was, in my opinion, full of all the things Lara said NOT to include in your memoir - like making yourself out to be the victim and not having a satisfying conclusion - your memoir should be you looking back at the events long after they have ended, not you looking back at events while still in the middle of things).  If I hadn't read Lara's book, I don't know if I would have been able to put my finger so easily on why exactly I didn't like Flanders' book.

That being said, I still feel like I'm floundering a bit as to the writing of a personal essay.  Her advice on the actual crafting of it didn't quite gel in my mind.  I'll probably have to give it a try and/or reread that chapter another time before it does.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store

I don't actually remember putting The Year of Less by Cait Flanders on hold at the library. But the subtitle made the book sound interesting: I wanted to know how she managed to stop shopping for a year, and also about her giving away her belongings (I've been decluttering on and off for the last few months, so hearing about how someone else dealt with things interested me).

I got the book on Monday.  I read the entire thing that night (it's pretty short - only like 216 pages). And I'm honestly not really sure why I did.  I wasn't overly engaged with what was going on (this review by Rhonda on Goodreads actually sums up my feelings rather well). It was late when I finished reading the book, so I was going to write about it on Tuesday.  But I forgot about it until now because I honestly didn't care about the book at all - it was really forgettable. :(

The Year of Less does give an overview of Cait starting her shopping ban.  She comes up with rules for it - what she will let herself buy over the course of the year of her ban, with everything else not allowed.  She also starts purging her belongings around this time.  That wasn't very exciting because she apparently isn't attached to things at all, so there was no struggle to get rid of anything. 

The majority of the book isn't really about her giving up things's more about her addictive personality and her past (including alcoholism and her weight struggles), her travelling (she goes travelling a lot with the money she saves), and about the impending divorce her parents are suddenly going through.  The stuff around the divorce was rather unfortunate from a writing perspective - Flanders paints herself as the victim (she is depressed by her parents' impending divorce to the point of being unable to deal with life), plus the book ends with the divorce still ongoing (except for a little note in the conclusion or epilogue or whatever it was at the end of the book).  I'm currently reading Naked, Drunk, and Writing by Adair Lara (I've been reading it on and off for the last few weeks because I'm currently interested in personal essays) and making yourself the victim and not having a satisfying ending because you're still struggling with the events in question are big no-nos for writing memoirs.  It's also rather unfortunate, because The Year of Less could quite easily be about Flanders coming to terms with the divorce, rather than all the other things in the book.  As it is, The Year of Less is, unfortunately, a very surface-level book.  It's a very forgettable read that's not really worth your time. 


I should add that at the end of the book there's a bit of information about doing your own shopping ban.  If you're interested in doing your own, you might want to check that part of the book out.  But it's honestly pretty common-sense.  And if you really needed tips, you can just google something like "do your own shopping ban" instead of perusing The Year of Less.  Heck, Flanders' site is the top result of that Google search, so you can just read her short post about it there if you want, it's got all of her rules.