Brad Feld

Category: Books

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris is fucking hilarious.

Sedaris has written several other books about his dysfunctional family. I guess I’ve been living under a rock so I didn’t hear about him until Thursday morning while listening to NPR’s interview of him while driving 100 miles an hour on E470 home from the airport (can I get a ticket for admitting that in a blog?). The interview had me laughing hard enough that I had to slow down to 80. I was at the grocery store later that day picking up some stuff so I grabbed his book.

Here are a few snippets. Multiple by 257 pages (and some context for each snippet) and you get the picture. For more on the David Sedaris phenomenon, read the NY Times article Turning Sour Grapes Into a Silk Purse.

About his sister Lisa… “My sister’s the type who religiously watches the fear segments of her local Eyewitness News broadcasts, retaining nothing by the headline. She remembers that applesauce can kill you but forgets that in order to die, you have to inject it directly into your bloodstream. Pronouncements that cellphone conversations may be picked up by strangers mix with the reported rise of both home burglaries and brain tumors, meaning that as far as she’s concerned, all telecommunication is potentially life threatening.

About his brother Paul (the overachiever in the family)… When my sisters and I eventually left home, it seemed like a natural progression – young adults shifting from one environment to the next. While our departures had been relatively painless, Paul’s was like releasing a domestic animal into the wild. He knew how to plan a meal but displayed a remarkable lack of patience when it came time for the actual cooking. Frozen dinners were often eaten exactly as sold, the Salisbury steak amounting to a stickless meat Popsicle. I phoned one night just as he was leaning a family pack of frozen chicken wings against the back door. He’d forgotten to defrost them and was now attempting to stomp the solid mass into three 6-inch portions, which he’d stack in a pile and force into his toaster oven. I heard the singular sound of boot against crystallized meat and listened as my brother panted for breath. “Goddamn…fucking…chicken…wings.” I called again the following evening and was told that after all that work, the chicken had been spoiled. It tasted like fish, so he threw it away and called it a night. A few hours later, having decided that spoiled chicken was better than no chicken at all, he got out of bed, stepped outside in his underpants, and proceeded to eat the leftovers directly from the garbage can. I was mortified. “In your underpants?” “Damned straight,” he said. “I ain’t getting dressed up to eat no fish-assed-tasting chicken.”

Another one about Paul the overachiever on the night of his wedding when David and Paul are walking Paul’s dogs Venus and the Great Dane – David is about to give Paul a mushy love you brother congrats on getting married kind of speech… A light rain began to fall, and just as I cleared my throat, Venus squatted in the grass, producing a mound of peanut-size turds. “Aren’t you going to clean that up?” I asked. Paul pointed to the ground and whistled for the Great Dane, which thundered across the lawn and ate the feces in one bite. “Tell me that was an accident,” I said. “Accident, hell. I got this motherfucker trained,” he said. “Sometimes he’ll stick his nose to her ass and just eat that shit on tap.” I thought of my borther standing in his backyard training a dog to eat shit and realized I’d probably continue thinking about it until the day I die. Forget the tears and brotherly speeches, this was the stuff that memories are made of. The Great Dane licked his lips and searched the grass for more. “What was it you were going to say?” Paul asked. “Oh, nothing.”

And finally, David’s Dad and his sister Lisa… I flew to Raleigh two weeks after the baby was born, and my father, unshaven and looking all of his eighty years, arrived half an hour late to pick me up at the airport. “You’ll have to excuse me if I’m a little out of it,” he said. “I’m not feeling too hot, and it took me a while to find my medicine.” It seemed he had a little infection and was fighting it by taking antibiotics orginally prescribed for his Great Dane. “Pills are pills,” he said. “Whether they’re for a dog or a human, they’re the same damned thing.” I thought it was funny and later told my sister Lisa, who did not get quite the kick out of it that I did. “I think that’s horrible,” she said. “I mean, how is Sophie supposed to get any better when Dad’s taking all her medicine?”

After a few weeks on Typepad, I decided to switch to Movable Type 3.0 so I’d have more control over my blog format. I’ve reached the point where I’ve changed my home page to be my blog. No – you don’t have to change your feed or your links since (a) I use Feedburner for my feed so I can change it transparently to you and (b) since I’m using Movable Type on my server, I can redirect pages easily.

As I’ve been getting up to speed on the Movable Type script language and configuration, I’ve been pretty bummed at how poor their documentation is. It undermines the richness of the system they’ve created. I’ve stumbled on a number of blogs talking about configuring Movable Type and have found Elise Bauer’s Learning Movable Type site to be fantastic.

Two books in one day – that’s either a long day or a delightful absence of television from my life.

Stephen Frey’s Shadow Account is fun (4 of 5 stars). Frey is a managing director at Winston Partners – a Virgina-based private equity firm and hedge fund, so think of him as the up-and-coming John Grisham of Wall Street.

The protagonist – an up-and-coming investment banker – gets tangled up in a complex story line that is based around an accounting fraud ala Worldcom / Enron. Unlike a lot of other books of this genre, Frey actually takes time out from the endless drama and plot turns to cogently describe key issues that apply to the real world (such as Chapter 8 where he addresses the question “… explain how a public company can manipulate its earnings.” Fifteen pages later he’s done a nice job of it in a way that keeps you in the story. This happens a few times in the book – which makes it a little easier to justify as on the border of the junk book category (notwithstanding the murders – real and fake, prostitutes, infidelity, insider trading, government conspiracy, and a senior white house staff that reminds me of the one in charge right now (minus Tenet).

I haven’t read any of Frey’s other books, but they’ll go on my mental floss pile.

Run (or click) don’t walk to buy Death by Meeting : A Leadership Fable…About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business. The author – Patrick Lencioni – is an ex-VP Organizational Development that now runs his own consulting firm – The Table Group. In the past, he’s written a wonderful series of “business fables” that are must reads for any CEO or executive – especially entrepreneurial ones. Death by Meeting is his latest (and by far the best).

This is an extremely fast read – I started it this morning at 5am at La Guardia and finished it by the time we arrived home in Denver – while getting a solid three hours of sleep on the airplane. In addition to setting up the problem of excruciatingly bad meetings (which I’m sure everyone has experienced), he cleverly walks through his framework for solving the problem of horrifying meetings. As with any good fable, you will be able to relate to the characters, will laugh and cry, and at the end think ‘wow – that’s useful.”

I read a lot. I try to make sure every third book is mental floss (or – as my mom says, “junk.”) Today’s mental floss was Reckless Abandon by Stuart Woods. As in all Stuart Woods books, it’s a fun, breezy read where Stone Barrington hooks up with someone (this time – Holly Barker – who is the main character in some other Woods’ books) to go after a bad guy with the aid of his connected police / mafiaoso-son-in-law buddy Dino.

Surprise – the good guys win in the end.

Next up – EVA: The Real Key to Creating Wealth by Al Ehrbar. The inverse of mental floss.

Ugly Americans

May 23, 2004
Category Books

Nope – this is not yet another post about Iraq.

I just finished reading Ugly Americans : The True Story of the Ivy League Cowboys Who Raided the Asian Markets for Millions. Awesome!

Ben Mezrich previously wrote Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions. I directly knew one of the people in the book (an old boyfriend of my wife and a frat brother of mine) and indirectly knew another (a frat brother of Raj Bhargava, an entrepreneur that I’ve done five companies with) so I figured I was pretty biased when I thought it was a great book.

Mezrich did it again. Ugly Americans is riviting. It’s a true story about a clueless Princeton grad (John Malcolm) who randomly ends up in Osaka trading Nikkei futures for Dean Carney (an alias) at Kidder Peabody. After Joe Jett blows up Kidder, he ends up at Barings trading the same futures for Nick Leeson. After Nick Leeson blows up Barings, he ends back with Dean Carney in Tokyo who has started a hedge fund.

The book catalogs Malcolm’s exploits through his six years of being an Ivy League Cowboy in Asia, culminating in the trade of the century which will either earn $500 million in three minutes at the end of the day on a Friday or wipe out Carney’s hedge fund. Of course, there is plenty of Japanese culture, sex, some love, American’s gone wild, Yakuza, and twists and turns that could only happen in real life.

Highly recommended – along with Bringing Down the House.

How’s that for a title?

I’ve got two books, a Homer Simpson like “doh!“, and blog spam for you today.

First the books. My wife and I are huge readers (she’s also a writer). So – we read pretty much anything we can get our hands on. I’m always looking for recommendations – so send them to me.

Book one is Free Prize Inside by Seth Godin. Seth is an amazing writer (and fantastic guy). Everything he’s ever written is worth reading – even the stuff that’s crap (since it’s better crap than the other crap out there). I haven’t read Free Prize Inside, but mine is on order and I hope to have it soon. If you have any interest in business – read Seth’s stuff.

Book two is The Radioactive Boy Scout by Ken Silverstein. It’ll have you rolling on the ground laughing while you concurrently shit bricks about how close this teenager came to building a makeshift nuclear breeder reactor in his backyard (ok – it wasn’t really a breeder reactor, but a few more steps and all his neighbors would have been dead). The book started out as an article in Harper’s Magazine and evolved into a well written exploration of what happens when you mix the nuclear energy industry, a teenage mind, and a very dysfunctional family.

I’d just finished reading The Radioactive Boy Scout when I saw the following Market Alert from the WSJ: MARKET ALERT: Stocks Fall Sharply on Rate Fears. Now doh!

Finally, Mitch Kapor got blogspammed and is pissed. Spam, Spim, and now Blam?