2020 Reading Goal #34 – Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

Y’all, I’m getting so close to my goal of 50! This is already my second best year overall. I’ve decided that I’m going to include every review I write for the last few books of the year on here. This is the first.

The stock market is rigged against the average investor by every other party taking part in the market. That’s what Michael Lewis explains so thoughtfully in this book.

This was the second book I’ve read by Michael Lewis. This was the second time he’s left me thoroughly impressed.

Fair warning, the subject matter of the book is not just the stock market, the focus is on high frequency trading and dark pools and the fractured nature of exchanges. All of it is highly complex and not easily understood even by the financial professionals who work within the system. This isn’t my takeaway, it’s shown throughout the book. But he manages to make these extremely complex practices understandable. Sure, I won’t be giving a Ted Talk on high frequency trading, but upon completion I understand the story he was trying to tell.

What nonfiction often struggles with is leading up to something, a climax or grand event that acts as the high point of the story. Somehow he writes this exactly like a fiction novel. Toward the end of the book Brad Katsuyama (with plenty of help from his small, but highly talented group) launched IEX, their new stock exchange meant to level the playing field and protect investors from the predatory trading practices found elsewhere. Reading the description of what happened that first month is as good as any writing I’ve ever read. As a reader it gave me goosebumps to read about this band of people joining together to take on the entirety of Wall Street. A small minority that needs just a little help from the silent majority to quite literally change the world.

5 stars. No doubt.

On Recommended Books

I’ve written over the years about not being a fan of book recommendations. It’s one thing for me to write about what I think about one, but rarely will I tell someone, “You should read this.” My thought process has always been that I have no idea what anyone else should be reading. Heck, I can barely decide for myself sometimes.

But sometimes it’s flipped. Though generally not into someone telling me what I should be reading, there are times when I specifically ask for recommendations. I can tell you (as expected) my experience when reading these is hit or miss.

But how do you go about it? You like recommendations? You don’t? You give them? Tell me, tell me.

More Hispanic Authors, Please

I wrote recently about how I felt reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, how unabashedly Hispanic the story was and how rare I found it to be. No one has any say over what I read. It comes down to what I decide on. Sometimes it’s a whim while browsing at my local store (rare), but usually it’s just whatever I decide.

Goodreads gives easy access and insight into one’s reading habits and trends. This isn’t new to me, but my reading is heavily white and male. I imagine this is the case for many because publishing (like so many areas of society) skews similarly. After reading Diaz’ aforementioned story, I think it brought my grand total of books by Hispanic authors to 4 out of roughly 300.

What I’ve found in these last few weeks is even when discovering an author I want to try for the first time, so often the book(s) are difficult to find anywhere. There’s one in particular I’ve had my eye on and I can’t seem to find it anywhere but Amazon for $22.

Have you read any Hispanic authors you’d recommend?

A New Thought

Of all the things this pandemic has brought to mind, one that’s surprised me is about writing. For those of you new around here, once upon a time I self-published a book back in 2013.

Recently my manager at work randomly bought and read it and sometimes we talk about it during 1-1 sessions and I swear he knows it better than I do. 😂

But what the pandemic has me thinking about more recently is writing again. Again, mine was self-published and it could have been much better if I’d taken more time on it. When I originally finished I wanted to start a series. I still have that ultimate goal, but I don’t want it to be that one.

Back then I used to take a notepad with me everywhere just in case I had a sudden thought. Now that’s not necessary being home all the time, but maybe I’ll start thinking about it again.

Almost There

In my first post back I wrote about lots of things. The most relevant to the blog was my ongoing attempt to read 50 books in a calendar year, which I’ve never done. But I’m getting close!

Last night I finished my 32nd book of 2020. I still have a little bit to go, but this is now the second most books I’ve read in a single year. My best was 44 back in 2012. As the days and weeks tick by I’ve started reading more each night. It’s a race against the calendar, but I’m doing my best.

How are you doing this year with your reading?

Memoirs, Memoirs, and Memoirs

So far this year I’ve read a few memoirs, with at least a couple more upcoming. This is not a genre I’ve ever really gotten into. There’s no reason for it, just how things have happened.

But this year and going forward I’m thinking it’ll be a new genre to gain more exposure to. Why? Again, no specific reason except that there’s more to read than just mysteries.

So tell me if you’ve read any good memoirs recently.

Will There be Bookstores in 2021?

No, this obviously isn’t happening right now with virus cases, as expected, surging once again in most of the US and world. What happens in the next few months will give us all an idea of what to expect in 2021.

What I really want to talk about is bookstores. It was less than a decade ago that Borders closed its doors, mostly on account of e-books. Barnes and Noble and Books-A–Million (the two largest chains remaining in the US) have been struggling for years before the pandemic took customers out of stores. Half Price Books (my personal favorite) seems to be okay because if their doors are open, then they can buy books from the public.

Months ago I told my brother I thought JCPenney and Barnes and Noble would close for good. So far, I’ve been wrong. All the bookstores around me have been reopened since the spring. That doesn’t mean customers have returned or will be doing so. Though we can still buy online, there are lots of people unemployed or furloughed. Books may not be at the top of the list of needed items.

I’ve gotten this far and haven’t mentioned indies. They are probably the most likely to shut their doors during the pandemic. They can’t host author events and even when open, customers may not return.

Recently I was thinking to myself about Half Price Books not having their 20% storewide or coupon week promotions. If you’re familiar, then you know both of these promotions bring in lots of customers over several days. They’ve moved their sales to their website, which isn’t my preference. I was thinking to myself about the few dollars I could be saving if they’d had their promotions. But what’s important is that they’re able to survive (along with all the bookstores around). That won’t happen, but at least they’re still fighting, like many in the country.

To answer my own question, yes I think there will be bookstores next year. The real question is how many.

You’ve Gotta Exercise it

2020 is the first time so many different organizations from different aspects of American life have gotten together and made a concerted effort to encourage people to vote. Many would argue it’s because of the current President. The US has continually had very low voter participation the last few decades. Some states and towns are more active than others, of course, but as a whole tens of millions simply do not exercise their right to vote.

There are a litany of reasons for this I won’t go into. It’s gotten to the point that simply encouraging citizens to participate in the election of their officials is an exercise in partisanship. I could volunteer for a nonprofit that helps people get registered to vote (and doesn’t tell them who they should vote for) and somehow it’s a statement against this person or that one.

In Harris County, TX there are nearly 5 million people. I was looking into a candidate recently before going to the polls and I checked up on their electoral history. They’d won a previous race with 16k votes. There are more than 2 million registered voters in the county. Those 16k people hardly would be considered representative of the 2 million voters or 5 million residents, but they voted and wielded great power.

We could go town to town and see similar situations play out every election year. It’s none of my business who you vote for or why. Maybe you’ve already mailed in your ballot or you’re making a plan to go in person, the how is up to you. Democracy doesn’t work when everyone stays home.

In the midst of a pandemic it’s understandable that many are still hesitant to go out in public unnecessarily. I’m 28 and for seven months I’ve stayed home as much as possible. In Texas I’m not given the ability to vote by mail. So I’ll be voting early, right around the time this goes live.

If you’re in the US make a plan to vote. Know the hours of your voting location or mail in your ballot as soon as you can. There are countless nonpartisan websites that will help you get to know local candidates if they’re unknown to you.