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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Book Club: The Zeroes by Randall Lane, Escape by Carolyn Jessop and Disneyworld!

Since our last Frisco Kids book club, I've been busy plowing through more books. Thought I'd fill you in on the latest.

I'm going to start with the heavier hitters: The Zeroes: My Misadventures in the Decade Wall Street Went Crazy by Randall Lane. I know Randall from when we worked together at the college newspaper, so I was immediately interested in reading his book. The Zeroes covers one of his  magazine start-ups, where he and a partner targeted stock traders (Trader Monthly), writing a magazine for and about them. This was before the crash, of course, at the height of traders making hundreds of millions in bonuses. These individuals were highly sought after by luxury advertisers, making it seem a simple thing to cash in on them. And Randall did - growing Trader Monthly into a handful of other publications aimed at a narrow, rich niche (like Dealmaker and Private Air) and throwing decadent parties reviewed in the likes of the New York Times.

I'm not a financial type, and I don't follow traders. Yet the Zeroes was a page-turner for me because Randall is a great story teller. He weaves together the rise and fall of the stock market during the last decade, with the rise and fall of  his company. His observations are keen (and to keep his memory straight, he went through thousands of his emails from that time period, and interviewed sources as well). For financial types, there's a lot of name dropping and juicy tidibits which will mean more to them than it does to me. But in reading the book, I learned a lot about what happened in the last decade financially, and what it's like starting a business -particularly a magazine. Even to the mass public, it's a great read. Check out the excerpt of the book in Vanity Fair, where Randall makes a deal with the devil, er...artist Peter Max (I didn't like his art before, and I like it even less now). You'll see that his writing is beautiful and it's funny too.

After the Zeroes, I read Escape by Carolyn Jessop. This 2007 memoir follows one of the plural wives in the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of the Latter-Day Saints) in Colorado City, Arizona. You might remember the name Warren Jeffs - the prophet/leader who ruled the sect from 2002-2007. Carolyn's husband Merrill took over as de-facto leader after Jeffs was jailed for marrying off underage women to men in the sect. You might remember the Texas raid by the government's Child Protective Services, after a minor there allegedly complained of abuse (the complaint was later found to be a fraud, but a bunch of men were arrested for polygamy and sex with minors).

Carolyn was born into the FLDS (as one of its 10,000 or so members) and married her husband Merrill Jessop when she was 18. Her husband was then 50 and she was his fourth wife. He fathered 50 kids with five women. The book follows Carolyn's life, highlighting the power struggles between the sister-wives (as they're called - some actually are blood sisters), the kids and the husband. It doesn't sound like a fun way to live. The women's power in the house is based on how many kids they have, and who is having more sex. She notes all kinds of abuse - from other wives hitting the kids, to the husband withholding food from them, to him physically and mentally hurting them. At the time of the book, most of the women weren't allowed much outside education (over time, public schools were shunned) and the women didn't usually have a way of earning or keeping their money. That made them extremely dependent on their husband, and on the prophet who could decide on a whim (or a "vision") to take them out of the family and give them to someone else. The women were very much at the mercy of their husbands, who owned them like property and were their conduit to eternal salvation.

Carolyn managed to escape at the age of 35, with her 8 kids (one of whom went back to Colorado City when she turned 18). After she escaped, many in the family, including Merrill, moved to the Texas ranch, and her husband became the de-facto leader. This book was a page-turner, and you can't help but feel badly for the women and kids there. Carolyn landed on her feet - albeit with a lot of therapy and struggles - financial and emotional, and she was the first FLDS woman to get full custody of her kids after leaving. I just found out she released a follow-up, Triumph, Life After the Cult, which is now on my reading list. I'll also be curious to watch the new Sister Wives on TLC - though these women seem to have more freedom than those featured in the book.

And now for the not-so-heavy hitters. Disneyworld has been a big theme around here, as I'm feeling like a traitor planning a trip to Florida instead of Anaheim. It's a first - and the level of complication in planning is 10 fold or more over going to Disneyland. What have I read? The Unofficial Guide Walt Disneyworld, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Walt Disney WorldThe Hassle-Free Walt Disney World Vacation, Fodor's Walt Disney World with Kids and Universal Orlando and SeaWorld, and Birnbaum Guides: Walt Disney World; Expert Advice from the Inside Source . Fortunately I started at the library. I'll fill you in how the trip goes, but let me know if you have any tips for me!

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