I’m a little behind in my weekly reading updates, and so I apologize for that. However, I’ve been engaged in a few things during my normal blog-writing time, distracting me from filling you in on my literary life. I actually just finished a wonderful novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but I’m not going to talk about that until I tell you about Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties by Beth Kobliner.
Now, Kobliner came and spoke to my class at the Summer Publishing Institute, and her financial tips there made me doubly excited to read her book. While I’m no financial wizard, my OCD tendencies has made me severely obsessed with what I like to call “my financials:” how much I spend (and on what) per month, tracking my income, seeing if I’ve made a net gain or loss each month, etc. Using various spreadsheets, I attempt to “budget” myself each month, hoping to, like every responsible person, cut down on expenses and increase my savings. It’s not really complicated, but tracking these numbers gives me a semblence of control over my money. At the very least, I don’t feel like I’m spiraling into debt and destruction with only a few thousand dollars to my name.
Beth Kobliner’s book gave me some much needed perspective: she simultaneously reminded me how little I have to work with (yeah, Beth, rub it in), but also chided me for freaking out when things could be so much worse. For example: did you know the average college student gradutes with $3,000 in credit card debt? I certainly didn’t, especially considering I don’t have a credit card. Knowing that I was spared from this awful debt-ridden fate relaxed me somewhat, along with the fact that with careful management, I CAN live on my meager salary if I’m careful. “Clerking” in a used bookstore certainly isn’t the path to self-made millions, but after reviewing my monthly salary and living expenses as she directs, I realized that I can make my rent and various other debt payments. PERHAPS I’ll even have something to show for it when this year of “living-in-poverty” is over.
I also appreciated Kobliner’s candid advice about insurance, including what to get and what to avoid. The world of car-health-life-renters-disability insurance is a mystery to me (I still rely on my mom in my battles against State Farm), but Kobliner broke everything down and gave this recent college grad a much-needed explanation of all the mumbo jumbo. The same is true for her chapters on investing. I don’t know when I’ll have enough money to worry about investing, but when I do, I now have a slight idea where I can put it.
Maybe…I might have to review…oh I’ll admit it, I’m still no financial wizard. However, Kobliner doesn’t expect her readers to be experts yet. While her 30-something readers may know a little more, Kobliner also gears her advice for those just emerging from college, knowing they’re completely clueless. She even recognizes that, even after finishing her book, we may remain clueless for a long while yet. That’s OK, she assures us. Put her book away for a few years if we need to. When we’re ready to begin thinking about mutual funds and mortgage payments, use those chapters as reference. Don’t worry about becoming an expert overnight; that’s what Kobliner is for.
As useful and interesting as Getting a Financial Life was, though, my soul veritably screamed for fiction when I was done. One can only sit in an easy chair and read about mutual funds for so long before it feels like you’re being lectured by your grandpa. And so upon finishing with Kobliner, I dived into a novel that’s been sitting on my shelf for far too long considering all the “acclaim” surrounding it: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. I received the book for free at SPI, after listening to a talk about “The Making of a Bestseller.” Guernsey was a lovely book, and a surprise hit, all those fancy publishing people assured us. We just had to read it, otherwise we wouldn’t understand one thing about how the publishing world works.
Now I’m a cynical bastard, and I don’t like being told what to think. “I have other things to read before I can get to this Guernsey book,” I thought. “After all, George Eliot and Mill on the Floss (which is what I read while in New York, if you can believe it) won’t wait for anybody.” Plus, I don’t like buying into hype too early, and so decided to let Guernsey stew in its reputation for a few months. If it was still “amazing” when I got around to it, I’d know those publishing people were telling the truth.
Well, they were. Guernsey was a perfectly delightful little book, and I devoured it at a speed similar to my experience with Admission earlier this summer. It was well-written, had an engaging storyline, and starred a heroine I’d love to be best friends with. Plus, Shaffer wrote Guernsey as a series of letters. Now, if you haven’t yet read a book written in epistalory style, then I recommend you try it. There’s a lovely sense of mystery in a narrative made up of letters: one never fully sees everything that happens, and it’s crucial to decipher second-hand accounts for their truth and bias. This method can also produce supremely satisfying results: at one point, a woman is recording in her journal (the only moment that Shaffer deviates from letters) about witnessing Juliet finally admitting her love to the man she’s certainly destined to be with. At just the moment Juliet and her man (I’m not telling who) come together, the woman ducks down beneath the window sill and doesn’t see what happens. But since we’ve all seen this scene in movies time and time again, we can all imagine what’s going on and somehow, it’s better that way.
Speaking about the plot, the book follows the British writer Juliet Ashton in the years following the second World War as she searches for a topic for a new book. She finds one after a man writes to her about finding one of her old books, and so begins an exploration of their mutual literary passions. This correspondence results in the unfolding story of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and an amazing story of survival during the Nazi occupation of the British islands. I will admit, the plot was interesting. But what really got me–hook, line and sinker–was Juliet. Her letters are hilarious and full of life, and like I said before, I desperately wanted to meet her. There’s a love story woven in near the end, and it’s just satisfying enough to make you smile without feeling like Shaffer smacked you over the head with lovey-dovey stuff.
In the end, you get the feeling you’ve peered into the lives of real people; people that are crazy but just “out there” enough to be real. I wouldn’t say this book was particularly deep or “important,” but I don’t think Shaffer meant it to be that way. While it’s not a necessarily a guilty-pleasure read either (it has too much heart), I would recommend the book to anyone who loves books and lovely stories that leaves you feeling happy and satisfied.