When the Ayatollah Khomeini’s death sentence against Salman Rushdie was announced on Valentine’s Day of 1989, it instantly plunged Rushdie into at least four different battles. He was fighting for his life, of course, an unrelentingly anxious campaign to stay hidden from Muslim extremists which went on long after his cause made headlines. Second, he was fighting to propagate his own ideas about a secular Muslim culture, to which was now added the cause of free speech, amidst intense pressure to apologize for The Satanic Verses and back down.
In the nineteenth century, back when Texas was part of Mexico, a sign nailed to the front door of an abandoned house in the South reading “Gone to Texas” (or sometimes just GTT) meant that the inhabitants had fled and were out of reach. Perhaps they were escaping the law, but just as likely they were escaping debt collectors. There was free land to be had out west as part of the Homestead Act of 1854, and the homestead exemption rule stipulated that land acquired from the Republic of Texas could not be seized for the payment of debts incurred before immigration into Texas. Were J. Frank Norfleet’s grandparents fleeing something awful when they moved from Mississippi to San Antonio in 1854?
All of which is a long-winded and fairly irrelevant way of saying I will be GTT next month for the Texas Book Fair in Austin. Check out the list of authors who will be participating; there I am, right after Dan Rather. I know I should be playing it cool, but I’m really excited to hear some amazing writers read from their work, including Kristin Cashore, Mark Z. Danielewski, D.T. Max, Naomi Wolf, and Captain Underpants.
After those heady two weeks in March when my book was on the front table of Barnes & Noble, I went to a nearby branch to visit my book in its permanent home. I searched in the American History section, then with increasing dismay in the long shot of Business and Investing, only to admit defeat and ask a salesperson for help. After looking it up in his computer, he steered me over to…true crime.
It has been nearly six months since The Mark Inside published, so I wasn’t particularly expecting any more reviews, which is why today’s write-up at Boing Boing is especially lovely.
[P]erhaps the best book I’ve ever read on con artists and con artistry…She writes with the lyricism of a magic realist, but with the rigor of a historian…[A]n engrossing and illuminating account of the moment at which speculation — not thrift — became the order of the day in America, and it’s thrilling and hilarious by turns and when you’re done, you understand the past and the present better.”
What a gift!
Three new and intriguing books about Ponzi schemes have been published lately. The most recent is Tamar Frankel’s The Ponzi Scheme Puzzle: A History and Analysis of Con Artists and Victims, which offers psychological portraits of the players on either side of the con. Frankel was recently interviewed in the New York Times by Diana B. Henriques, author of The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust. Geoffrey C. Ward has written a narrative history of his great-grandfather, Ferdinand Ward, the man who bankrupted Ulysses S. Grant long before Charles Ponzi was born, in A Disposition to be Rich: How a Small-Town Pastor’s Son Ruined an American President, Brought on a Wall Street Crash, and Made Himself the Best-Hated Man in the United States. I haven’t read any of them yet, but I’m liking the mini-wave of interest in the con. One thing I know for certain: despite Frankel’s promise of a surprising new way to stop Ponzi schemes, no amount of persuasive words by gifted communicators will dissuade future investors from giving their money away to swindlers. The con never dies.
Funny, often courageous, yes, but also superficial, baffling, and downright misleading.
My first question, upon reading the last page of Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, was: who is this book for? I had been thinking of it as a book to hand to my daughter someday when she’s in her mid-teens. Moran’s mix of forceful polemic and raw, hilarious memoir is enormously appealing for entry-level feminism, and the chapter titles (“I Start Bleeding!” and “I Need a Bra!”) seem geared toward a coming-of-age audience. But the polemic turns out to be far too soft for the feminists I want my son and daughter to become, and the jokes are probably best appreciated by someone who has already been there. Like me. Since I’ve mastered how to be a woman.
I’ve written about being conned (while researching confidence artistry) here on Huffington Post, but my susceptibility does not stop there, nor does my willingness to disclose my own foolishness. Herewith…
About seven years ago, when I was a graduate student, I found myself alone in Rome for a few days. I headed right to the Roman Forum, but not for the ruins. I wanted to see the gypsies that my guidebook had warned me so sternly about.
If one measure of a book’s worth is the number of times it causes one embarrassment by forcing one to laugh aloud in a public place, then John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead is very great. Other measures of greatness it exhibits: total layover hours in airports that flew by while reading (9), nicknames for my son acquired from (1), number of people who would be getting a copy of the book were I not going to link to most of it here (3).
You’ve already heard of John Jeremiah Sullivan. Don’t shake your head like that–yes, you have. Remember that article in the New York Times Magazine last summer by the dad who goes to Disneyworld to smoke pot? Yeah, I knew you knew him. Read The Rest
“I would like to speak of gratitude as a labor undertaken by the soul to effect the transformation after a gift has been received. Between the time a gift comes to us and the time we pass it along, we suffer gratitude.”
–Lewis Hyde, The Gift
I’ve spent the past four years thinking about confidence and credulity. Now that my book is out, I’ve spent the past four months thinking about gratitude and the gift. I think they’re related.