Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Susan Pohlman's Halfway to Each Other

The subtitle for this book is : 'How a year in Italy Brought Our Family Home' and it is the Italy that got my attention since we had just booked our tickets to go to Italy in summer. It is a memoir and I was looking for pointers from someone who actually lived in Italy. It was not a waste at all because if it wasn't for this book I wouldn't have known to take a beeline to St.Peter's Square to see the Pope as soon as we reached our hotel that Sunday.

Pohlman is a good writer and the book is written from the heart. I took some lessons from it without even realizing that I did. She and her husband were living the American dream to the fullest. Shuttling their two kids back and forth for their myriad of activities and entertaining for the husband's high profile and busy work and taking part in all parent volunteering at the school with barely any time for each other or for the grand home they had bought together. When counseling didn't work the couple decided it was time to divorce. That is when they took a last trip together for a work related conference of Jim Pohlman. Having had some time for each other in between entertaining guests rekindled some of their old feelings and suddenly they were not sure that divorce was the right choice. Jim asked Susan if they could give it another chance with the irresistible choice of living in Italy for a year, away from the rat race waiting back home. Normally a grounded creature of habit, Susan was not so sure of this uprooting of their lives but she agreed with Jim in giving each other another chance. Being on vacation and being with each other without all the baggage helped them to see themselves as they had in good times.

Once the decision was made, they sold the house and got the kids admitted to the only International school in Italy. The location of this school decided where they will live. Thus the entire family sans their sweet dog moved lock stock and barrel to the top floor of an apartment building in Italy close to Genoa. Despite the initial hiccups and general feel of reduced amenities compared to their American lives, the family soon adjusted to the slow relaxed pace of life in Italy. Susan even managed to memorize what pasta goes with what sauce and was able to order things with confidence towards the end of their stay. She found friends among the other school moms and both kids adjusted after at first being extremely grumpy about the regular routine in their lives.

At the end of the year, they decided that without a steady income they simply cannot continue in Italy. So they moved back again after much thought but this time with a solid marriage and happier more mature children. They also simplified their lives by opting for a smaller home and making things less complicated to manage.

This book is inspiring and thought provoking since it makes you look at many things through a different eye. Even if they were things you knew it still is good to hear it from another source. The book serves you in more ways than one. As a travelogue, a self help sort of book and just a plain satisfying read.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Golden Gate Bridge

The picture says it all! If you expected a treatise on GGB I am sorry. I just wanted to post a picture of the California landmarks project that my girl did for her final 4th grade project before it starts to gather dust in the garage:-) The important thing was we had lots of fun doing this particular project. H and I had walked the entire bridge both ways when the kids had gone to Colorado with relatives. It was just beautiful! The orange color is actually International Orange and was chosen so it is easier to be seen by ships in the fog. We got it when we mixed copper with yellow I think. Molu and I had fun with all the facts she collected as we had all gone there just last year again when some family friends visited. The memory was still fresh for her and so her report was very detailed. I love San Francisco where GGB is and consider ourselves lucky that we live at a drivable distance. My lettuce and celery are graciously providing a backdrop for the tiny bridge.

Summer is here and backyard is inviting. The pond which had muddied from grass clippings when the gardeners came has cleared after H filtered it through UV light. 4 out of 6 fish we had in there survived the winter and the new environment.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Billionaire's Apprentice By Anita Raghavan

This is a very interesting book about the rise of the Indian-Americans in the US, particularly in the world of finance. It is made interesting by centering the book around the fall of the once powerful Galleon fund managed by Raj Rajarantam. I remember vaguely reading about the scandal of insider trading that broke out around Rajaratnam a few years ago. It stayed in the periphery of my life at that time as being something tied to the Wall Street, stocks, SEC and the likes. This book however has connected the whole thing in a relatable way to the tech industry and silicon valley that I am very much a part of. I did play with stocks at one point in time like everyone else. That was before the bubble and like how the cat who jumped into hot water refuses to touch even cold water, I don't trade in stocks anymore. The average index fund investing is good for me. I remember a veteran once telling me never to play with stocks if you don't have the time for it. This is so true and life has been going on peacefully ever since I decided to keep my small investment portfolio filled with long performing index funds.

Not so for the likes of Rajaratnam and Rajat Gupta who are the major players in this book. Raj dabbled in stocks for a living - a grand living- made by managing the hedge fund he named Galleon after the ships that used to dock in Sri Lanka's ports. Rajaratnam is from Sri Lanka and educated in England, but Gupta is very much of the Indian diaspora. A truly inspiring story of the success of meritocracy in India and the US, only to fall from grace so needlessly at the end. This graduate of IIT and Harvard Business School had the dream life he worked so hard for. It is to be noted that the players on the other side are also of Indian origin. Sanjay Wadhwa of the SEC and Preeth Bharara of the U.S Attorney's office had major roles in bringing the insider trading partners to justice. Since this is a white collar crime there is a side that thinks it does not merit so  much attention. But I happen to agree with an observation in the book that likened investors using insider trading info to athletes using steroids.

The book can be tedious at times but Anita Raghavan tries to keep it interesting by offering little tidbits of information about each of the personalities. Like how Sanjay Wadhwa's father was incredulous when he heard that his son was trying to bring a case against 'The Rajat Gupta', a much revered personality among the the Indians in the US as well as in the homeland. I admit that while I had heard Raj Rajaratnam mentioned in the insider trading scandal, Rajat Gupa completely escaped my attention. So the book is when I first heard of him. He seems to be a benign personality who wanted to do good for himself as well as others. He, Raj and others indicted in the scandal had a major role in creating the Indian School Of business. Gupta was in the invitee list to the Obama White House when the then Indian Prime Minster visited and he also had close ties with President Clinton's American India Foundation. Maybe he felt life was too empty after being the  three-times elected chief of the global management consulting firm McKinsey. The personality that comes through the book does not show someone who hankers after money but it does show a driven person who cannot sit still and be in peace unless he is also doing some important stuff on one side.

The tidbits that hold our attention can also be distracting at times as sometimes they have nothing to do with the story being told. Some information is repeated maybe to jog the reader's memory that I found unwanted. However I do have sympathy for Raghavan who has done her research really well and wants to tell us all she has learned. The period and the events and the financial world she is trying to cover is so vast that she did choose an interesting vehicle like the fall of Galleon to bring the whole thing into a book that is readable. She has meticulously outlined the hardships Gupta had to go through as an orphaned elder son taking care of his family which also gives us a good picture of the India at that time. She explains with patience Wall Street talk and SEC dealings for the uninitiated. Not a surprise coming from this veteran journalist of the Wall Street Journal, the European Bureau Chief for Forbes and a current contributor to NYTimes. Along with the downfall the book throws some light into the integration of Indian-Americans into various visible facets of life in the United States. I am glad I had a chance to read this book.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Two Books

The Devotion Of Suspect X By Keigo Higashino

If it wasn't for the Malayalam Movie Drishyam  I never would have heard of Keigo Higashino or his much acclaimed mystery novel 'The Devotion Of Suspect X'. I wanted to read the book because it piqued my curiosity. There doesn't seem to be a lot of similarities and it was good to read a new book. It is an interesting book where the perpetrator is altruistic in his intentions and is portrayed in a very Holmesy fashion. He is a genius of a mathematician who fell in love with a woman and her child next door which opens the door for the rest of the story. Of course it is a murder mystery and if I divulge any more you will get mad at me for spoiling it. A fun read that you will not put down till it is over.

The Road By Cormac McCarthy
I have to thank Jay for leading me to this book. It was great to find it in the library. It started out reminiscent of The Tortilla Curtain, then rolled into The Old Man And The Sea and eventually into a full blown experience on its own. I kept superimposing the scenes with that of a movie I had seen called I Am Legend. I was completely bowled over by the father's utterly selfless love for his young son. Apparently, McCarthy hatched the idea of the book while on a trip to Texas with his son and the book is dedicated to his boy. I wanted to be there to protect the child, enfold him in my arms and make sure that nothing hurt him. Guess this makes McCarthy a writer of some caliber. Being able to brightly shine the light of such gripping love among total destruction and loneliness! Loved the book.


On other news, the four of us watched The Book Thief during the holidays while it was still running in theaters. Awesome movie with an awesome cast! The girl who played Liesel Meminger captivated our hearts. My son and I had read the book some time back. Some of the details of the book had begun to fade from memory and so I enjoyed the movie really well without having to stop and compare notes with the book as I am bound to do sometimes:-)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Valentine's Day School Projects

My son's favorite subject in this world is Science and he showed his passion with this covalent bond project they had to do in honor of Valentine's Day. It shows the (romantic) bonding between Mr. Phosphorous and Ms. Iodine. He named them Phosphoromeo and Triiodideiet:-) I thought it was cute and funny and had to take a picture when I spotted it in his hands in the morning. He said he got a standing ovation for presenting it. But no matter how much his Dad and I beg, he refuses to present it to us without his material. The poster is being used to decorate the science lab along with that of all the other students and he says he will do the presentation for us once he has the material back with him. Ok we will wait.

My 4th grader on the other hand is just starting serious projects from this year onwards. I remember helping my son on a similar project when he was in 4th and second time around things are a little easier. Like him I know she will start doing them all on her own soon too. How time flies! This is the front page of the newspaper she had to do based on 'The Bridge To Terabithia'. She said she didn't want to color her drawings. She prefers them to be black and white but had to color them as a requirement. Being the biased mom that I am, I actually like it. We had watched the movie on a plane trip long time back. I watched it on and off and so don't have a good memory of it. It was sort of nice to relive the story while helping her on the project.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Give And Take By Adam Grant

If you have not read this book then I advice you to run, not walk to the nearest bookstore and acquire a copy. It can stay in your family for generations to come and yet not lose the substance of any of its message.

So there used to be a world where there were three kinds of people. Dummies, regular people and the genius type. That is an old story. In my opinion,  Adam Grant has finally come up with a more fitting description. Givers, takers and matchers. Although the book is not religious, every religion will have to agree with what he has outlined as a good set of living principles. I have always thought that the book of 'Proverbs' in the Bible is a very practical set of rules by which to live in this world. It is full of common pearls of wisdom. (BTW, My son's class just finished John Steinbuck's Pearl, a favorite of mine from long ago) But if you don't want to find and read the Proverbs then you at least read Grant's book. He shows you how the givers eventually succeed if they know how not to be doormats. I love this principle. I have used it effectively at work and if nothing it has given me much inner peace. Yes, the same peace sought by Kung fu Panda! Adam was inspired by his grandparents and parents who were themselves great givers. I grew up seeing my mom always ready to give in any way she can and have always been amazed at her selflessness in giving.

Adam's examples are inspiring. He rightly fingers Enron's Kenneth Lay as a taker masquerading as a giver and Adam Rifkin and John Huntsman Sr as true givers. Most of us are matchers it seems. We like to make sure that when we do a good deed it is reciprocated in some form. He proves through many strong examples how giving eventually wins over taking and matching. He believes there is a giver behind every matcher and we match instead of give because of the perception that givers are pushovers. Be brave, says Adam, and be sure to do good because it will eventually bounce back. Long time ago, probably when I was in 10th grade I had read a book that impressed me with its intriguing message. It was 'The Magnificent Obsession and portrays the life of a doctor who practices what is now called 'pay it forward'. Adam's book is practical and I believe every single one of us can benefit by following the ideals put out in it. It is also the reason why he wanted to write this book. To give the ideals of giving that he has encountered and enacted in his own life and observed in others. I had many other books I had read but wanted to bring this to you hot off the press so it won't lose its steam.

At the end Adam has written down many ways you can start practicing. I am putting out some links here that I know Adam Grant will only approve of. Take a survey at www.giveandtake.com to find out your give quotient. Visit www.humaxnetworks.com to start a reciprocity ring. www.lovemachine.com can help you start sharing at workplace or elsewhere. An interesting link can be found at www.thepowerofintroverts.com and a help network at http://hopemob.org. Then there is www.bni.com and www.thegogiver.com/community and many others. A last word from Adam is to seek help and you will find a way to give help. A book with a great impact with its message is a book that cannot be ignored.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch

Birds and paintings. Both beautiful and watchable for hours on end. Deadly combination for a reader like me when put together in a book. Donna Tartt has made this painting come alive for me and seeing it here has just made me want to see it for real. Like Tartt says in the book, there is something about it that haunts you and wins you over. Making you want to gaze at it for as long as you can. How I wish I am in frosty New York instead of sunny Cali just so I can take a look..

The boy who lost his mother in an accident at the museum and his life around the painting is the main thread. Tartt is extremely skillful in portraying the complicated curve of Theo's life. Almost Dostoeviskyan I'd say when it comes to telling us the thoughts that churn in his mind. While I loved all of it, I too was after the painting just like Theo. Harking after it on all pages and happily settled so long as it occupies the center spot at the reading point. Despite my soft corner for paintings, the author's excellent penmanship gets top grades for making me love the painting sight unseen! I didn't get a chance to google the painting until after I finished the book and when I finally set my eye on the bird I was surprised to realize how much I had already loved it.

My mom loves animals and birds and whenever she visited us she would spend her time getting to know the birds. As soon as we got home in the evening she would give details of who visited and what they were doing both in the front and back yards. My daughter too loves them and we always take note of when they are up and about Saturday mornings on the little tree in the backyard and the ones that flit about looking to make a home all over the front of the house in spring time. Doubtless, the bird painting is my main source of happiness in reading this book. Seeing pictures of it on the web made it even better. Oh and Happy 6th Anniversary, little blog!