BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Risk Advantage’: Sports and Auto Racing Examples Can Help Entrepreneurs Succeed


“If your game plan doesn’t seem to be working, then go back to the fundamentals.” — Mauro Panaggio, veteran basketball player and coach

* * *

In his new book “The Risk Advantage: Embracing the Entrepreneur’s Unexpected Edge” (River Grove Books, Austin TX, 218 pages, $14.95 trade paperback, available from and other online booksellers) Tom Panaggio draws upon knowledge he learned from his dad, Mauro, quoted above; from other sports figures like Joe Namath and Vince Lombardi, and from his experience as an amateur sports car racer at Daytona Beach and Sebring.

The Risk AdvantageOne thing the book lacks is an index, and in this case, it might be intentional. Tom Panaggio wants entrepreneurs and others to read the book in its entirety, not cherry-pick topics from an index. When I finished the book, I realized that Panaggio had laid out a complete plan for entrepreneurial success; leaving out the index, whether intentional or not, turned out to be a good idea.
I have to admit that I was at first reluctant to read and review this book; there are many books that offer the easy way to success, but this isn’t one of them.

Panaggio stresses that there is no silver bullet to success. Well, maybe there is one: “Fail fast.” You’re going to have failures; even the best baseball players have several times more strikeouts than hits or homers, he says, so you must get used to failure. Only do it fast and get on to the next idea.

Panaggio says that the unexpected edge for entrepreneurial success starts with identifying a worthy risk, then having the courage to take it.

Right from the start, Panaggio tells us that it’s only human to be risk-averse, to be cautious. To succeed as an entrepreneur, he says, we must get beyond “only human”, to be super human.

It’s easy to see where Panaggio got his wisdom from sports examples: His dad was for more than fifty years a basketball player and legendary coach. The race car driver examples that Panaggio prints as sidebars throughout the book came after he moved from his home in upstate New York to Daytona Beach, FL to start Direct Mail Express.

Daytona and adjacent Ormond Beach have been auto racing venues for more than a century (Ormond Beach was where race car drivers drove on the sand, including the Stanley brothers of Stanley Steamer fame), so it wasn’t surprising that Panaggio caught the auto racing bug there. His accounts of his successes — and failures — in the racing game are hilarious; but they’re also instructive to entrepreneurs and aspiring ones.

Panaggio tells how he and his business partners built two thriving companies: Direct Mail Express (which now employs over 400 people and is a leading direct marketing company) and Response Mail Express (which was eventually sold to an equity fund, Huron Capital Partners). In “The Risk Advantage” he provides real-life examples to help entrepreneurs face the many situations, predicaments, and crises they’ll encounter during their life, and to help formulate their leadership style and business strategy.

When the right opportunities presented themselves, writes Panaggio, he and his business partners were willing to embrace the risk because they knew that it was the only way to get themselves in a position to win. And once in the lead they focused not on what was behind them, but what lay ahead.

“The Risk Advantage” is a story about an entrepreneurial journey that explores the relationship between opportunity and risk, two important forces that are necessary for success. If you have the courage to embark on your own entrepreneurial journey, you will need a unique advantage to succeed in such a competitive and unforgiving environment. You must have an edge.

The unexpected edge for entrepreneurial success starts with identifying a worthy risk, and then having the courage to take it. In his book, Panaggio identifies those risks based on the experiences of his own journey.

Opportunities are always there for you to grab. If you want to realize a dream, accomplish a daunting goal, or simply start your own business, you must be willing to embrace risk. Learning the lessons of “The Risk Advantage” is an important first step on that journey.

I don’t know how active Panaggio was in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) — which issued his racing license — but my experiences with the small Indiana Northwest Region (INR) of SCCA in the mid 1960s turned out to be vital in my later career as a journalist.

INR is one of the smallest regions (chapters) in the SCCA, encompassing several counties in northwest Indiana, adjacent to the gigantic and influential Chicago SCCA region that controlled Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. At INR, I was program chairman and later edited the newsletter. Back in those days, Studebaker dealers sold Mercedes-Benz cars, so I was familiar with the Studebaker media office in South Bend, where I borrowed films of M-B racing cars in action for showing at our meetings. (No DVDs or video tapes in those days, we had 16 mm movie projectors!) Enough about me, other than to demonstrate that you never know what experiences you have and how they affect your career. Embrace the experiences and embrace, not shun or avoid, risk.

About the Author

Tom Panaggio has enjoyed a thirty-year entrepreneurial career as co-founder of two successful direct marketing companies: Direct Mail Express (which now employs over 400 people and is a leading direct marketing company) and Response Mail Express (which was eventually sold to an equity fund, Huron Capital Partners). As a result, he can give a true perspective on starting and running a small business. His practical approach to business concepts and leadership is grounded in the belief that success is the result of a commitment to embracing risk as a way to ensure opportunity.

Today Tom lives in Tampa, FL with his wife, Shemi. When he’s not speaking or advising entrepreneurs and small businesses, he’s spending time with his family — his three daughters, Ashley, Christine, and Elizabeth, are all pursuing their college degrees — or he’s out on a racetrack.

For more about the racing history of Ormond Beach:

Census Bureau Profile America Facts for Features: Mother’s Day: May 11, 2014

By David M. Kinchen, with information from a Census Bureau Press Release
“M” is for the million things she gave me,
“O” means only that she’s growing old,
“T” is for the tears she shed to save me,
“H” is for her heart of purest gold;
“E” is for her eyes, with love-light shining,
“R” means right, and right she’ll always be,
Put them all together, they spell “MOTHER,”
A word that means the world to me. — Howard Johnson

* * *

The driving force behind Mother’s Day was Anna Jarvis, who organized observances in Grafton, W.Va., and Philadelphia on May 10, 1908. As the annual celebration became popular around the country, Jarvis asked members of Congress to set aside a day to honor mothers. She was successful in 1914, when Congress designated the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
How Many Mothers

4.1 million

Number of women between the ages of 15 and 50 who gave birth in the past 12 months.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2012 American Community Survey, Table B13002



Percentage of births in 2011 that were to unmarried women age 15 to 50. The metro areas with birth rates to unmarried mothers that were among the highest in the country included Flagstaff, Ariz. (74.6 percent), Greenville, N.C. (69.4 percent), Lima, Ohio (67.5 percent), Myrtle Beach-North Myrtle Beach-Conway, S.C. (67.4 percent) and Danville, Va. (67.3 percent).

Source: Social and Economic Characteristics of Currently Unmarried Women With a Recent Birth: 2011, Table 1


How Many Children


Decline in total fertility rate or estimated number of total births per 1,000 women in Utah in 2012 (based on current birth rates by age), which led the nation. At the other end of the spectrum is Rhode Island, with a total fertility rate of 1,592.5 births per 1,000 women.

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports,

Page 66, Table 12 <;


Percentage of all women age 15 to 44 who have had two children. About 47 percent had no children, 17 percent had one, 10 percent had three and about 5 percent had four or more.

Source: Fertility of American Women: 2010, Detailed Tables, Table 1


Recent Births

3.953 million

Decline in the number of births registered in the United States in 2012. Of this number, 305,388 were to teens 15 to 19 and 7,157 to women age 45 to 49.

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports <;


Average age of women in 2012 when they gave birth for the first time, up from 25.6 years in 2011. The increase in the mean age in 2012 reflects, in part, the relatively large decline in births to women in their teen years and their 20s.

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports, Page 7 <;


Percentage of women age 16 to 50 who had a birth in the past 12 months who were in the labor force.

Source: 2012 American Community Survey, American FactFinder, Table S1301



The percentage of mothers who had given birth in the past 12 months who had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Source: 2012 American Community Survey, American FactFinder, Table S1301



Percentage of women age 15 to 50 who gave birth in the past year and who have at least a high school diploma.

Source: 2012 American Community Survey, American FactFinder, Table S1301


Jacob and Sophia

The most popular baby names for boys and girls, respectively, in 2012.

Source: Social Security Administration <;


Number of births in the past year per 1,000 women age 15 to 50 with a graduate or professional degree. The number was 56 per 1,000 for women whose highest level of education was a bachelor’s degree.

Source: 2012 American Community Survey, American FactFinder, Table S1301


Mothers Remembered


Number of florists nationwide in 2011. The 66,165 employees in floral shops across our nation will be especially busy preparing, selling and delivering floral arrangements for Mother’s Day.

Source: County Business Patterns: 2011 (NAICS 45311)



Number of employees of greeting-card publishers in 2011.

Source: County Business Patterns: 2011 (NAICS 511191) <;


The number of cosmetics, beauty supplies and perfume stores nationwide in 2011. Perfume is a popular gift given on Mother’s Day.

Source: County Business Patterns: 2011 (NAICS 44612) <;


Number of jewelry stores in the United States in 2011 — the place to purchase necklaces, earrings and other timeless pieces for mom.

Source: County Business Patterns: 2011 (NAICS 44831) <;

Stay-at-Home Moms

5 million

Number of stay-at-home moms in married-couple family groups in 2013 — statistically unchanged from 2012 and 2011. In 2013, 24 percent of married-couple family groups with children under 15 had a stay-at-home mother, up from 21 percent in 2000. In 2007, before the recession, stay-at-home mothers were found in 24 percent of married-couple family groups with children under 15, not statistically different from the percentage in 2012. Source: America’s Families and Living Arrangements, Table SHP-1


Compared with other moms, stay-at-home moms in 2007 were more likely:

· Younger (44 percent were under age 35 compared with 38 percent of mothers in the labor force).

· Hispanic (27 percent compared with 16 percent of mothers in the labor force).

· Foreign-born (34 percent compared with 19 percent of mothers in the labor force).

· Living with a child under age 5 (57 percent compared with 43 percent of mothers in the labor force).

· Without a high school diploma (19 percent versus 8 percent of mothers in the labor force).

Source: America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2007 <;

Taking Care of the Kids


Number of child day care services employees across the country in 2011. They were employed by one of the 75,059 child day care services. In addition, there were 747,436 child day care services without paid employees. Many mothers turn to these centers to help juggle motherhood and careers.

Source: County Business Patterns: 2011 NAICS 6244 <; and

Nonemployer Statistics: 201l <;


The percentage of the 37.8 million mothers living with children younger than 18 in 2004 who lived with their biological children only. In addition, 3 percent lived with stepchildren, 2 percent with adopted children and 0.5 percent with foster children. Source: Living Arrangements of Children: 2004


Single Moms

10 million

The number of single mothers living with children younger than 18 in 2013, up from 3.4 million in 1970.

Source: America’s Families and Living Arrangements <; Table SHP-1

5.6 million

Number of custodial mothers who were due child support in 2011. Source: Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2011, Table 1



Number of mothers who had a birth in the past 12 months and were living with a cohabiting partner.

Source: 2012 American Community Survey, American FactFinder, Table B13004


* * *

Editor’s note: For more about the strange history of Anna Jarvis — who never was a mother herself– and Mother’s Day:


BOOK REVIEW: ‘A Quick Guide to Freemasonry’: You’ve Got Questions: David Harrison Has the Answers

If you want information about Freemasonry, until now you’ve had the Internet — with a mishmash of information of dubious quality, not to mention all kinds of conspiracy theories — or a laborious search through dusty tomes in libraries.

quick guide to freemasonry

All this has changed as David Harrison, an author whose books on Freemasonry I’ve reviewed (see below) has written the perfect guide to the subject with his “A Quick Guide to Freemasonry” (Lewis Masonic, Hersham, Surrey, UK, 96 pages, black and white and color illustrations, $16.95, available for pre-order on

This quality paperback is beautifully printed on glossy paper in a handy double-column format and has the answers to just about every question a new member would ask. It’s also aimed at lodge mentors and established members, Harrison told me.

And, to make it useful for traveling Freemasons, it has information on the Craft as it’s practiced in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Harrison uses a Q and A format for his questions. If you want to know about the rolled up pants leg, you’ll find it here. Different colored aprons? Harrison explains their significance. White gloves and hats? It’s in the book. Harrison provides end notes and a bibliography. I found the FAQs to be very useful, and rituals in the UK and the U.S. are given proper attention — along with the aforementioned sections on Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Harrison covers the roles of the officers, the festive board, toasting, and an examination of all the current English Masonic rituals: Emulation, Bottomley, Nigerian, the Bristol, York and Hull working. Effectively, the handbook is an easy-to-understand beginners guide—a why, how, and when of Craft Freemasonry.

And, to top off an excellent work, Harrison includes reliable web sites for Internet searchers — a valuable resource! I recommend “A Quick Guide to Freemasonry” to members of the Craft, as well as those outside the Craft who want accurate information about Freemasonry. Did I say it’s beautifully designed and printed? Yes, I know I did! But it’s worth repeating; this is a handsome book that would make an ideal gift: a gift that would be appreciated.

David Harrison
David Harrison
Dr. David Harrison is a UK-based Masonic historian who has so far written three books on the history of English Freemasonry and has contributed articles on the subject to various magazines which deal with the topic of Freemasonry around the world, such as the UK based Freemasonry Today, MQ Magazine, the Square, the US based Knight Templar Magazine, Philalethes and the Australian-based New Dawn Magazine. Harrison has also appeared on TV and radio discussing his work.

Having earned his Ph.D from the University of Liverpool in 2008 — which focused on the development of English Freemasonry — the thesis was subsequently published in March 2009 entitled “The Genesis of Freemasonry” by Lewis Masonic, and his second work entitled “The Transformation of Freemasonry” was published by Arima Publishing the following year. For David M. Kinchen’s review: Both works received critical acclaim. His latest work on “The Liverpool Masonic Rebellion and the Wigan Grand Lodge” was published by Arima in October 2012. For David M. Kinchen’s review:


BOOK REVIEW: ‘My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag . . . and Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha’: Delightful to Read Guide by Jolie Kerr Tells You How to Clean Everything


Could you, as a book reviewer, pass up an opportunity to review Jolie Kerr’s “My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag…and Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha” (Plume trade paperback, an imprint of Penguin USA, 256 pages, index, $15.00)?

My Boyfriend BarfedI couldn’t and when I heard Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air interview Kerr, I had to read and review her book. Plume’s wonderful publicists obliged and I found the book to be the best and most complete guide to clean living I’ve encountered.

Kerr writes in a breezy and hip style that seems to be natural to her, making the book fun to read — as well as an essential reference work for anyone who wants to be a “Clean Person” like the author.

I don’t aspire to that status, but I want to keep the place as clean and odor-free as I can, given my use of Swisher Sweets Tip Cigarillos and the presence of our wonderful shelter cat Greta. This makes Kerr’s many methods for maintenance cleaning and cleaning up unusual messes, like the one in the title (it’s on pages 224-225) mandatory reading.

Boston native Kerr lives in a tiny clean apartment in lower Manhattan, so you can expect a wide variety of unusual situations that require her expert advice. How about a boyfriend’s “skid marks” on a woman’s favorite luxury sheets? Kerr has the answers! Could you ever imagining asking Martha Stewart or Heloise that one? Never!

Kerr is the author of the hit column “Ask a Clean Person” and provides cleaning solutions to every spill or mess you can imagine — and dozens even my fertile mind couldn’t conjure up.

First off, stock up on baking soda and white vinegar: It’s a staple in Jolie Kerr’s “Clean Person” life and should be in your’s, too. One use among many others for this combination (I buy generic dollar store versions of the two) is keeping drains in your bathroom and kitchen sinks clean and fast flowing. I’ve tried that one and it works and the mini-volcano effect is fun to watch.

There are dozens of other uses for these two relatively inexpensive staples. Kerr also likes OxiClean. Many other products are mentioned for cleaning various messes and she supplies the names of all of them. The index is very helpful; I’m glad Plume provided this essential feature.

Cleaning the cleaning implements, like toilet brushes (Ugh!) is important and Kerr tells us how to do that. When was the last time you cleaned your microwave or toaster oven? Really cleaned it? I thought so. My next project is to clean the two microwaves in the kitchen.

Kerr tells us how to use various kinds of mops, how to wash a car and how to keep the interior of the minivan from smelling like a nursery. How to remove bloodstains and other stains that I hesitate to mention in a family site. But Kerr mentions them all!

Speaking of car detailing, I didn’t see anything about cleaning the plastic cladding on cars like my Dodge Caliber, but everybody knows that ArmorAll Original Protectant is what you use for that job and I just did it. I applied it with a ripped open orphan wool stocking, which I will use again after rinsing it out. Shop rags are great, too.

The gray is gone and the cladding is a pristine black now. ArmorAll — available in drug stores, dollar stores (a favorite of mine), hardware stores, auto parts stores and just about everywhere — is also great on plastic dashboards (but don’t use it on the steering wheel!)

So don’t delay: Get your hands on this book and become a Clean Person. You might want to buy multiple copies and send them in plain brown wrappers to select friends. I think they’ll get the message.

About the author

Jolie Kerr is the author of the popular column Ask a Clean Person, which is featured weekly on Deadspin and Jezebel. Her work has also appeared in Fortune, BlackBook, the Urban Outfitters blog, Gothamist, The Hairpin, and The Awl. She has been featured as a cleaning expert in the New York Observer, O Magazine, InStyle, New York Magazine, Time Out New York, Health Magazine, and Parents Magazine. Kerr is a Boston native and graduate of Barnard College, now residing in a teeny, tiny, spotless apartment in New York City. Her website:


BOOK REVIEW: ‘High Crime Area’: You Never Know Where Dread Takes Us, But Joyce Carol Oates Does

In her latest collection of stories, “High Crime Area: Tales of Darkness and Dread” (Mysterious Press, an imprint of Grove/ Atlantic Inc., 256 pages, $23) Joyce Carol Oates takes us to places where most people don’t want to go.

high crime area jacketThe title is somewhat misleading, because some of the stories — all published previously — are not set in high crime areas, at least as we understand them.

Take the exquisitely written (as are all of the stories; there is no better stylist alive than JCO) “The Last Man of Letters,” where 70-year-old world-renowned author X embarks on a grand tour of Europe. I’m thinking of a number of people who might deserve his fate (no, I’m not telling!) but let’s say he stands in for a whole class of literary celebrities who have money, fame, but not a whole lot of manners. Arrogance doesn’t begin to describe them.

X manages to insult a variety of women: A publicist (Never, never insult a publicist…what’s with the parentheses? Am I making fun of one of Oates’ stylistic quirks? what will happen when I use italics?).

Author X proceeds to insult a translator and he insults a journalist. All women of different nationalities. This guy is on dangerous ground…. doesn’t he realize which gender is the more dangerous? Could his whole life be in a high crime area? The story was originally published in Playboy….let your imagination run riot!

In the title story, “High Crime Area” (which is the last one in the book, not the first one) a prototypical Oates character, a nervous young white college teacher, is in a real high crime area, Detroit in 1967. That was the year of one of the worst riots in the nation (

Ms. McIntyre is a graduate of the University of Michigan, in her second year as an adjunct instructor teaching English 101 at Wayne State University and most of her students are minorities, most of them black. In the first person story, she states that she loves her students and clearly wants them to succeed in their continuing education course.

As she goes to her car one afternoon, she is convinced she is being followed. No need to panic—she has a .22 caliber Saturday Night Special semi-automatic pistol in her purse, just in case. But when she turns to confront her black male shadow, the situation isn’t what she expects.

In the longest story — really a novella — “The Rescuer”, Lydia Selden receives a call from her worried parents. Her brother, Harvey, has gone AWOL from his studies at a theological seminary and is living in a high crime area in Trenton, New Jersey. Lydia is a graduate student at a university 200 miles away — her parents are closer to Trenton than she is, Lydia pleads, to no avail.

Lydia reluctantly leaves the residence hall, drives her nondescript Mazda to Trenton and discovers that Harvey is a wreck. He’s aged measurably and seems to have shrunk from his previous size. He’s in hock to a black drug dealer named Leander, who is almost always accompanied by a pit bull and various companions, his posse.

Lydia stays with Harvey and fails to notify her university, where she has a fellowship and a monthly stipend. She visits a bookstore where Harvey has bought books. She accompanies several women friends of Leander to Atlantic City, where she manages to lose a lot of money. She discovers more about Harvey and his friends in a starkly told, chilling story.

“The Home at Craigmillnar” is set in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, not a high crime area — at least not when I was last there. But that was in the early 1970s. Iraq war veteran Francis Gough is an orderly in a elder care home who discovers the lifeless body of Sister Mary Alphonsus. The attending doctor rules the cause of death was cardiac arrest, but was it natural or something else?

Sister Mary Alphonsus was for two decades the director of the Craigmillnar Home for Children, a Catholic-run orphanage near Eau Claire. In 1977, the orphanage was shut down by county and state authorities, because of numerous cases of abuse. The death of the elderly nun stirs interest because of the many cases of sexual abuse by priests in the church, throughout the nation including a notorious and well publicized series of cases in the Milwaukee Archdiocese. The Milwaukee Archdiocese declared bankruptcy at the beginning of 2011.

Did I say that Joyce Carol Oates is one of our best mystery writers? In past reviews I’ve called her an outstanding horror writer. Is JCO a master of genre as well as so-called literary novels? Or is she so good that she transcends labels? Why am I asking all these questions? I’ll go with the transcendence of labels. Read “High Crime Area” and prepare yourself for eight surprises, the number of stories in the book.

joyce carol oates_0



Joyce Carol Oates
About the author

Joyce Carol Oates, born in Lockport, NY in 1938, is the author of more than 70 books, including novels, short story collections, poetry volumes, plays, essays, and criticism, including the national bestsellers “We Were the Mulvaneys” and “Blonde”. Among her many honors are the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction and the National Book Award. Oates is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.

For my Jan. 3, 2013 review of her novel “Daddy Love”: For my Sept. 11, 2013 of her “Evil Eye”:


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Opposite of Loneliness’: Marina Keegan’s Posthumous Collection of Essays, Stories


This is a review I didn’t want to write. Not because the essays and short stories in Marina Keegan’s “The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories” (Scribner, 240 pages, introduction by Anne Fadiman $23.00) aren’t good. On the contrary, I’m sad because they show so much promise and their 22-year-old author won’t write any more.

Opposite of Loneliness jacketShe died in a car crash five days after her graduation from Yale in May, 2012. Her boyfriend, who survived, on May 26, 2012 was driving the car to a celebration of the 55th birthday of her dad, Kevin Keegan, on Cape Cod, MA. Accounts of the accident vary, but the most reliable one is that her boyfriend fell asleep at the wheel and the car rolled over. (;)

The title essay — 940 words written for the Yale Daily News — went viral, touching people of her generation like nothing before. It reached more than 1.4 million hits from people — mostly young people — around the world.

Here’s a YouTube of Diane Sawyer and others at ABC on the phenomenon:

It’s no exaggeration to say that Marina Keegan’s star was on the rise when she graduated magna cum laude from Yale in May 2012. She had a play that was to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at The New Yorker. Yes, a paying job for a college graduate, not something that is guaranteed these days, not even for a Yale grad.

As a non-fiction writer, I was drawn to the eight nonfiction essays — in addition to the title one. Even if you don’t particularly like essays — probably from being forced to read them in school — don’t skip Marina Keegan’s; I don’t blame the folks at The New Yorker — I would hire Marina Keegan in a New York Minute, too!

Marina writes about subjects as diverse as the joy of work for a Chicago pest control expert (“I Kill for a Living”) to the attraction of Yale graduates to the consulting or financial industry (“Even Artichokes Have Doubts”) to inheriting her grandmother’s pristine 1990 black Toyota Camry (“Stability in Motion”) and what a mobile trash container it became at the hands of a typical college student. (I wondered when I read this essay if this was the car in the accident….). When I started out in daily newspaper journalism at the beginning of 1966, feature stories were still a part of any respectable — and some not so respectable — daily newspapers. Today: Not so much.

The short stories — a form I love and one in which we need all the talented writers we can find — are crafted with the skill of a much older writer, but with the freshness of a young woman. I thought about other young women writers of the past, say Edna Ferber and Dorothy Parker (we think of them as old, but they were young, too) and what a great Algonquin Hotel “Vicious Circle” Roundtable it would be with Marina Keegan in it. Perennial college student and talented actor James Franco might be in my imaginary Roundtable. Sparks would fly.

Anne Fadiman (you older folks out there may remember her dad, Clifton Fadiman, I do!) in her must-read introduction tells of the fire and passion of Marina that she experienced at a Nov. 10, 2010 master’s tea honoring novelist Mark Helprin. I’ve read and reviewed Helprin’s works (Link to my review of Helprin’s novel “In Sunshine and In Shadow:

Helprin opined that making it as a writer was virtually impossible today. Let Fadiman tell the story:

“A student stood up. Thin. Beautiful. Long, reddish-brown hair. Long legs. Flagrantly short skirt. Nimbus of angry energy. She asked Helprin if he really meant that. There was a collective intake of breath in the room. It was what everyone else had been thinking but no one else had been brave (or brazen) enough to say.”

In a follow-up email, Marina introduced herself to Fadiman, born 1953, an accomplished, award-winning author and, since January 2005, in a program established by Yale alumnus Paul E. Francis, Yale’s first Francis Writer in Residence, a position that allows her to teach one or two non-fiction writing seminars each year, and advise, mentor, and interact with students and editors of undergraduate publications.

In the email, Marina said that “Hearing a famous writer tell me that the industry is dying and that we should probably do something else was sad. Perhaps I just expected him to be more encouraging hoping to stop the death of literature.”

It’s obvious throughout this book that Marina Keegan was determined to be one of those people! My wish is that her book will inspire others to escape the pessimism and do what they really want to do: write. If you have the talent and willpower of a Marina Keegan, you’ll be happy with your furniture from Goodwill or even rescued from a Dumpster!

Here are two appreciations of Marina Keegan by two of her teachers at Yale, Harold Bloom and Anne Fadiman:

“I will never cease mourning the loss of my beloved former student Marina Keegan. This book gives partial evidence of the extraordinary promise that departed with her. Throughout she manifests authentic dramatic invention and narrative skill. Beyond all those, she makes a vital appeal to everyone in her generation not to waste their gifts in mere professionalism but instead to invest their youthful pride and exuberance both in self-development and in the improvement of our tormented society.”

– Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of the Humanities and English, Yale University

“Many of my students sound forty years old. They are articulate but derivative, their own voices muffled by their desire to skip over their current age and experience, which they fear trivial, and land on some version of polished adulthood without passing Go. Marina was twenty-one and sounded twenty-one: a brainy twenty-one, a twenty-one who knew her way around the English language, a twenty-one who understood that there were few better subjects than being young and uncertain and starry-eyed and frustrated and hopeful. When she read her work aloud around our seminar table, it would make us snort with laughter, and then it would turn on a dime and break our hearts.”

– Anne Fadiman, Yale University Professor of English and Francis Writer in Residence and author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down and Ex Libris.

About the author

Marina Keegan (1989–2012) was an award-winning author, journalist, playwright, poet, actress, and activist. Her nonfiction has been published in the New York Times; her fiction has been published on and read on NPR’s Selected Shorts; her musical, Independents, was a New York Times Critics’ Pick. Marina’s final essay for the Yale Daily News, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” became an instant global sensation, viewed by more than 1.4 million people from ninety-eight countries.

For more information please visit


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Oracle’: The Past Can Scare You to Death

‘See Naples and Die’: — Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, who said it in 1786-88 as he toured Italy. It was to mean that before you die you must experience the beauty and magnificence of Naples. (

The Oracle cover* * *
If you like the works of Steve Berry — where the past and present meet and ancient stories take on a modern perspective — you’ll like Michael H. Sedge’s “The Oracle” (The Sedge Group, Wilmington, DE, 218 pages, $7.98, available from and other online booksellers, also available in a Kindle edition from

Sedge opens his horror/thriller in 427 BC with an account of the Sibyl of Cumae, inhabiting a care near present-day Naples,Italy. To the Greeks who colonized southern Italy, a sibyl is a a young girl chosen by the gods to be an oracle — a person chosen by the gods to act as an intermediary to give wise counsel or prophetic predictions.

wikipedia entry on cumae:


Fast forward to 1986, where Navy public affairs officer David Jeffrey meets Jennifer Roberts, the daughter of his commanding officer. She’s half Italian and is a knockout, instantly ensnaring the young lieutenant j.g. They marry and have a daughter, Angelica, who takes after her mother in the looks department, but has a reputation as a “good girl.” Jennifer Roberts Jeffrey is the exact opposite, finding solace in other men when David is away from Naples on assignments. I won’t give away any plot points, but the story of David, Jennifer and Angelica reaches the point of disaster when David, 38, and his 13-year-old daughter Angelica die in a mysterious fire in their home in Naples.

A few years later David’s brother, Jack, an insurance agent, travel from their home in Owosso, Michigan, west of Flint, with his family to visit his brother’s widow and have a family vacation that might help their troubled teen daughter, Rebecca. On arrival in Naples, they’re greeted warmly by Jennifer, but soon strange things begin to happen in the modeled, castle-like home near the ancient ruins of Cumae.

Sedge combines history and horror in a book that will keep you wondering what’s going on in one of the most historical places on the planet.
Michael H. SedgeMichael H. Sedge
About the author

Michael H. Sedge is an American journalist, author, marketing specialist, and entrepreneur. He founded the marketing company Strawberry Media and co-founded the U.S. small business, Michael-Bruno, LLC, which offers architectural design, engineering services, and construction management to the U.S. government in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. His non-fiction book, “The Lost Ships of Pisa”, won the President of the Italian Republic’s Book of the Year Award for a Foreign Author and the “Rusticcello di Pisa” International Journalism Award from the city of Pisa.

Sedge was born in Flint, Michigan, and graduated with a Bachelor of History and Government from University of La Verne in La Verne, California. In 1973 Sedge started his service in the United States Navy, and was soon assigned to Southern Italy for what was meant to be a 48 month stay. He was assigned to diverse locales in Europe until 1977. Eventually Sedge, who also speaks Italian, took up permanent residence in Naples, Italy to pursue writing, journalism, and ultimately as an international businessman.

BOOK REVIEW: A Susan Lewis Double Feature: ‘Never Say Goodbye’ and ‘The Truth About You’: Two Women Face Adversity; Ideal for Book Clubs

Two novels by bestselling author Susan Lewis portray women who anchor their families as they confront illness or potential family breakups are ideal for book club discussion, especially since they both have Random House Reader’s Circle guides.

Never Say Goodbye cover

I’ll review the latest novel, “Never Say Goodbye” (Ballantine Books trade paperback, 544 pages, $15.00) first, followed by a novel that was published in November 2013, “The Truth About You” (Ballantine Books trade paperback, 496 pages, $15.00).
* * *
“Never Say Goodbye” deals with the friendship between two women of different social classes in a coastal town not far from Bristol in the West of England.
Josie Clark, a 40-something loving wife and mother, struggles to make ends meet by cleaning homes and working at a diner while her husband, Jeff,  drives a taxi, after being laid off from a better paying job. His Opel taxi is always breaking down. One of their children, daughter Lily, 21, is doing well in college –”Uni” in Brit-Speak –  and has a boyfriend.
Their other child, Ryan, is in prison, for his involvement in a robbery. Josie is convinced that Ryan’s involvement in the crime was peripheral and that he should be released. The Clarks spent their entire savings on lawyers, and Jeff refuses to visit Ryan or even speak to him. When Josie discovers she has breast cancer, she’s reluctant to tell the family.
Across town, in a spectacular black and white Victorian villa by the sea, Isabella (Bel) Monkton is mourning the death fifteen months ago by cancer of her twin sister, Natalia (Talia) Lambert. Bel is single and is a successful and talented property developer and renovator. She’s the loving aunt of Natalia’s two young children and has a complicated relationship with their dad, archaeologist Nick Lambert, who has just married a beautiful woman named Kristina, also an archaeologist. Bel thinks Nick’s  marriage has taken place far too soon after Talia’s death.
Bel meets Josie through the medical center’s cancer support group and the two women become friends, eventually sharing each other’s secrets. Unlikely as it appears, the friendship between Bel and Josie becomes a life changing one. Bel is estranged from her father and is facing a decision whether to have a relationship with Talia’s cancer doctor, Harry Beck. Of course, he’s married!
* * *
“The Truth About You” (Ballantine Books trade paperback, 496 pages, $15.00) is the story of Elenora (Lainey) Hollingsworth, wife of bestselling author Tom, mother of 16-year old raging hormones daughter Tierney; 11-year-old Xavier (Zav), and stepmother to Max, Tom’s 21-year-old son by his first marriage to Emma.

The Truth about You coverLainey was the “other woman” to Max, who blames her for his troubled life. He lives in an apartment in the Hollingsworth estate, Also resident is Peter Winlock, Lainey’s adoptive father, and Peter’s faithful dog, Sherman. Peter, a distinguished publisher who sold his firm to a multinational a dozen years ago, is suffering from Alzheimer’s and needs constant care.
Lainey is the out-of-wedlock daughter of an Italian woman named Alessandra (Sandra, to her husband, Peter), who recently died. Lainey wants to travel to Italy to find out the secret of her birth father and has booked a villa in Umbria, he mother’s native region, for a family summer vacation. She wants to know why her mother fled Italy when Lainey was an infant. The guest list for the trip to the villa in Italy includes Stacy, Lainey’s best friend, who’s recently gone through a horrific divorce. The two are inseparable.
In the midst of this, Lainey receives cryptic voice mail and text messages (there’s a lot of that in this novel, where cell phones to us are “mobiles” to the characters). The messages say:   Ask your husband about Julia. Who is Julia, Lainey wonders. Has her handsome husband gone astray.
In the end, everything is sorted out, but the thrill in this book — as in “Never Say Goodbye” — is in the discovery. Not to mention the power of friendship, which is always present in Susan Lewis’s novels. No reader will underestimate the power of friendship between Josie and Bel in “Never Say Goodbye” or between Lainey and Stacy in “The Truth About You” when they finish reading these two novels.

About the Author
Susan Lewis is the internationally bestselling author of more than thirty novels, including No Child of Mine, Don’t Let Me Go, and The Truth About You. Having resided in France and the United States for Susan_Lewis- main photo 2011many years, she now lives in the rural county of Gloucestershire, U.K. Lewis’ mother died of cancer when she was a child, and she is a supporter of Breast Cancer Care, and the Bristol-based charity Breast-cancer Unit Support Trust (B.U.S.T.), which raises money to help provide treatment and support for the local community and medical technology for the Breast Care Unit at Southmead Hospital, Bristol.She is also a supporter of Winston’s Wish, the charity for bereaved children.

APRIL IS POETRY MONTH: ‘Poem of Thanks’ by Sharon Olds

By David M. Kinchen, with information  from Knopf
stag's leap
Sharon Olds won the Pulitzer Prize last spring for Stag’s Leap, a collection that tells the story of a divorce in poems of closely observed narrative and self-examination.

The entry below comes from the final section of the book, under the heading “Years Later” – when time has allowed for a fresh perspective on the original event and its dramatic sundering.

To share the poem-a-day experience with friends, pass along this link >>


Poem of Thanks

Years later, long single,
I want to turn to his departed back,
and say, What gifts we had of each other!
What pleasure – confiding, open-eyed,
fainting with what we were allowed to stay up
late doing. And you couldn’t say,
could you, that the touch you had from me
was other than the touch of one
who could love for life – whether we were suited
or not – for life, like a sentence. And now that I
consider, the touch that I had from you
became not the touch of the long view, but like the
tolerant willingness of one
who is passing through. Colleague of sand
by moonlight – and by beach noonlight, once,
and of straw, salt bale in a barn, and mulch
inside a garden, between the rows – once-
partner of up against the wall in that tiny
bathroom with the lock that fluttered like a chrome
butterfly beside us, hip-height, the familiar
of our innocence, which was the ignorance
of what would be asked, what was required,
thank you for every hour. And I
accept your thanks, as if it were
a gift of yours, to give them – let’s part
equals, as we were in every bed, pure
equals of the earth.

Excerpt from STAG’s LEAP. Copyright (c) 2012 by Sharon Olds. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, LLC., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Story of the Jews’: Forget Everything You Think You Know About the Subject and Learn What Really Happened


Another damn’d thick, square book! Always, scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh! Mr. Gibbon? — Duke of Cloucester, On publication of Vol. 1 of The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire”
* * *

Simon Schama uses this quotation in his very readable memoir “Scribble, Scribble, Scribble: Writings on Ice Cream, Obama, Churchill & My Mother” but calling Schama’s new “A History of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BC-1492 AD”( Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins, 512 pages, illustrations, notes, index, $39.95) “another damn’d thick, square book” is highly inappropriate. It’s a very readable book, as are all of the British historian’s works.

The story of the Jews

My immediate reaction after finishing this book — and watching three of the PBS/BBC series episodes was that the human species is fatally flawed — and that organized religion, especially Christianity and Islam — only makes humans crazier.

“The Story of the Jews” ends with the appalling expulsion from Spain of Jews and those who were baptized but were still considered secretly Jewish by Ferdinand and Isabella and the Spanish Inquisition in 1492.

Schama tells how Christopher Columbus sailed from Cadiz that year with a converso (a Jew who converted to Christianity) named Luis Torres, on board as translator/interpreter. Torres was an Arabic speaker — as were most of the Iberian Jews — and Arabic was the lingua franca of the areas Columbus hoped to visit.

On board the flagship Santa Maria, Columbus, no fool, also had the latest Jewish-made navigational instruments and a copy of the most up-to-date navigational book, “Perpetual Almanach for the Movement of Celestial Bodies,” written by an astronomer and rabbi named Abraham Zacuto.

In addition to medicine, Iberian Jews were particularly skilled in navigation and allied arts. One of Zacuto’s inventions was a copper astrolabe, much more accurate than the previous wooden ones. The success of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama’s voyage around Africa was greatly aided by his use of Zacuto’s “Perpetual Almanach” and the latest metal astrolabe.

Just what you would expect from “The People of the Book!”

The Iberia expulsion was modeled on the one engineered by England and Wales in 1290, with the expellees forced to sell their property for a fraction of its cost. This procedure would be followed by the Germans in the 1930s and various Muslim nations in the 1940s and 1950s as they rid their countries of Jews who had lived amongst the Muslims for millennia.

Getting rid of the best and the brightest residents of your countries, who made no effort to convert you to their faith: Is that the sign of mental illness or not?

The English persecution of its Jews and the final expulsion is told beautifully in Chapter Seven, “The Women of Ashkenaze.” These women of England come across as people not to be trifled with by mere men! If you only read part of the book, read Chapter Seven. But of course, you’ll be drawn in by Schama’s prose and you’ll read all of the book. I guarantee it!

Everybody knows about the Jews who were held captive by the pharaohs of Egypt, but I bet you haven’t heard of the Jewish soldiers of Elephantine Island in the Nile River in the south of Egypt, mercenaries hired by the Persians who arrived in 525 BCE to rule the country.

Unlike the Egyptians, the Persians treated the Jews like slaveowners rather than slaves and prized the tough Jews who policed the border with Nubian Africa. This is all documented in manuscripts penned by the soldiers — literate as were all male Jews — including the written gripes that soldiers have voiced since the beginning of time. The Jewish soldiers married their Egyptian slave girls and built an unauthorized temple on their fortified island.

Schama explodes the accepted wisdom that Jews didn’t like images, describing and illustrating their mosaics and other works of art, including the wonderful “Calendar Girls” used to denote the seasons and magnificently illustrated religious works.

Many of these treasures were burned in France and Spain by Christians who hated the idea of a religion that predated theirs and that denied the divinity of Christ. The Talmud set ablaze in medieval Paris presaged the books burned by the Nazis in 1930s Germany.

Spanning three millennia, with stories of triumphs, followed by the worst that can be done by people, Schama details the Jewish experience from their beginnings as an ancient tribal people to the disaster of 1492.

Schama describes a world of Jews not of a culture apart but of a Jewish world immersed in the world where they lived, from the Egyptians to the Greeks, from the Arabs to the Christians. The tragedy is that all too often their usefulness as doctors and moneylenders didn’t save Jews from horrific tortures and death, which Schama describes in detail.

After all, he notes on pages 296-7, Jews weren’t the only moneylenders: there were also Christian moneylenders who defied the Roman Catholic canon law against charging interest: Cahorsins, Frenchmen from Cahors in southern France and Lombards, from northern Italy, who charged a much higher rate of interest than the Jews!

Jews attempted to form their own kingdoms, in present day Yemen and in Ukraine, Crimea and the site of the recent winter Olympics, the kingdom of the Khazars, but they were doomed by Muslims in the first case and the Mongol hordes in the case of Khazaria. I knew of conversion of the Turkic Khazars to Judaism from my reading of Arthur Koestler’s “The Thirteenth Tribe,” but Schama supplies details of an Iberian Jew longing to visit the fabled kingdom. He doesn’t venture to describe the dispersed Khazars, with their distinctive “Hasidic” garb, as the ancestors of eastern Europe’s Jews, as Koestler does.

“The Story of the Jews” is not just for Jews…it’s the story of all of mankind…and nobody I’ve read tells it better than Simon Schama.

Simon  Schama photo by Margherita Mirabella
Simon Schama
Photo by Margherita Mirabella
About the author

Simon Schama, born in England in 1945, is University Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University in New York City. His award-winning books include “Patriots and Liberators: Revolution in the Netherlands 1780–1813″; “Two Rothschilds and the Land of Israel”; “The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age”; “Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution”; “Dead Certainties (Unwarranted Speculations)”; “Landscape and Memory”; “Rembrandt’s Eyes.” Since 1990, Schama has been a writer and host of many television programs on art and history for BBC2, including A History of Britain.”



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