Friday, April 22, 2016

What to Do When It's Your Turn, by Seth Godin

Do you remember the book, What Color is Your Parachute? It was big in the late 1970s. This book is, to me, a more mature version of it, updated for the times, and more crisp. (My comments on the 1979 edition, not the latest update.)

It is, however, otherwise difficult to describe. It isn't about anything precisely, it is just supportive of the reader taking chances and risks, and following their passions. I recommend it to my class of college seniors and juniors. I'm just not sure they get it.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The 5 Mistakes Every Investor Makes and How to Avoid Them, by Peter Mallouk

I admit that I was skeptical about Mr. Mallouk's book, expecting just an advertisement for his company, Creative Planning, and not providing much real value. I was wrong. The book delivers exactly what it promises, a fairly compelling story in favor of buy and hold investing.

The mistakes that are covered:
  1. Market timing. Or trying to do so. Mr. Mallouk shines a light on so called experts and calls them out as charlatans.
  2. Active trading. Between buying high and selling low, and trading costs, he makes a case for index investing.
  3. Misunderstanding performance. This section is really about not believing what you see in the press.
  4. Letting yourself get in the way. Another way of saying, buy and hold.
  5. Working with the wrong advisor. Mostly a discussion of conflicting interests and the value of a fiduciary advisor.
How about guidance? The title doesn't promise guidance, it only promises to illuminate big mistakes. It does just what it says. Yes, there are a few pages on how to think about a portfolio, but they are very basic. For example, the "I need 7 percent to hit my long-term goal" portfolio comprises 25% large cap US, 15% small cap US, and 20% international stocks, and 25% US and 15% international bonds.  Nothing too earth shattering here. Not much of a discussion about the relative benefit or problem with a market capitalization -based index.

So this made me wonder: how does Mr. Mallouk's firm justify its assets under management based fees? For picking five ETFs? For finding sector indices that compose the five portfolio asset groups in order to reduce market weighting impacts? Or for hand-holding that helps prevent mistake #4 (selling in a frenzy when the market declines)?

This is a good book. I could pick at some of the arguments, but my guess is that for 99% of individual investors, reading this would be valuable.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A Wealth of Common Sense, by Ben Carlson

Mr. Carlson's book is intended to convince investors that simplicity trumps complexity. It is a fast read, and for folks who are well read on the topic there isn't much new news. For those who are trying to figure out how to manage investments, or if it is worth paying an investment firm a significant percentage of their assets for expert advice, this book can provide substantial value.

The net net messages are: most of the expert advice you might pay for is not, in the long term, all that useful. You should buy and hold (if you aren't likely to need the cash flow for several years) in the least expensive asset vehicles (e.g., ETFs). Don't sell just because the market crashed (it simply locks in your losses); ride it back up over the next few years.  Etc.

If Wes Gray's "DIY Financial Advisor" (which I highly recommend) is the advanced college class on getting the best results for the least cost and effort, then Mr. Carlson's book is the "investing 101" course on the topic.  For the right person, it will return value far in excess of the cost.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Explorers Guild: Volume One: A Passage to Shambhala, by Jon Baird

I really wanted to enjoy reading this book. I like the concept: an old-fashioned adventure novel. I like that the book intersperses panels of graphic novel into the text. I like that it feels written a hundred years ago and yet current.  I like the writing style with its rich and textured tone.

I'm not crazy about it being set in the late 1910's. But I do like the concept of searching for the mysterious city Shambhala.

You know at this point that there's a "but" coming your way. Here it is: but I just couldn't read this book. I made it to page 363 out of 763, not even half-way through. And I realized that I just do not care about what happens next.

I wasn't even curious enough to skip to the back pages to see what happened at the end.

For the right reader, this might be a fabulous story. Alas, not for me.

The Explorers Guild

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo

You'll want to read this book.

You'll want to read it because all your friends will have read it at some point, and because it will become a movie, and everyone will talk about it.

But mostly, you'll want to read it because it is just quite good.

But my label says, "fiction / suspense / fantasy." What's up with this fantasy thing?  What if you're not a "fantasy novel, unicorns and X-men" kind of person? Not to worry. The novel's setting is a different place than ours and also features folks with odd powers. But that's not really the story, or at least not all of it. Mostly it is the setting, and after just a few pages you won't notice that there are oddities here.  The story is about love and honor, revenge and greed, and the complex plot twists that amuse a reader.

It is just super fun; really a wonderful novel.  And great news: there will be a sequel!

Six of Crows

Sunday, February 21, 2016

We Learn Nothing, by Tim Kreider

I must become more particular concerning taking advice about books to read. Case in point: Mr. Kreider's collection of essays. One was insightful: "Lazy: a manifesto" does a good job arguing against over-scheduling one's time, and that the phrase "I'm so busy" is nothing about which to be proud.

Mr. Kreider is also a cartoonist. I'd not known that. Had I seen his drawings first, I'd not have read the book; I enjoy them even less than his writing.

There's a blurb on the cover of the paperback edition of this book. Judd Apatow (whose movies I don't love, so wasted on me, but still...) exclaims: "Heartbreaking, brutal, and hilarious." Bah, it was none of the above.

We Learn Nothing: Essays

Friday, February 19, 2016

Little Sister, by Giles O'Bryen

What a quirky little spy novel! The hero is the typically absurd brilliant PhD inventor slash special forces operator now retired and causing stress for the British secret service. The spy masters are believably cast as venal. A prototype device that enables heretofore unimagined levels of surveillance was mistakenly sold to an arms dealer, and our hero goes after it on his own in the clumsiest of ways. Meanwhile, the sales placement person who organized the deal also goes after it, hoping to sell it at a profit to the US NSA. Nothing goes well.

It was a pretty good novel, but not great. If you see it on the sales rack, pick it up for a long airplane ride or for the next time you're in a doctor's waiting room.

Little Sister (A James Palatine Novel Book 1)

End Game, by John Gilstrap

This is another novel starring Jonathan Graves as a wealthy special forces type, now in private security, focused on helping kidnap victims.  It was good, held my attention, but... was awfully complex in terms of communicating its complicated plot lines effectively.  It isn't his best work. Still, I'll keep reading Mr. Gilstrap's novels.

End Game (A Jonathan Grave Thriller Book 6)

The New Strategic Selling, by Robert Miller

This book addresses complex sales situations: where many approvals to purchase may be required, where there's a complex power base at your client's shop that must be navigated. It is not about how to close a deal so much as how to pursue a deal.

I found the book to be moderately interesting but long: it would have been better at half the pages.

The New Strategic Selling: The Unique Sales System Proven Successful by the World's Best Companies

The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield

This little book comprises three littler books, each of which would make for a fine magazine article. The first identifies "resistance" -- the underlying energy sucking force that is behind procrastination and failure to attempt. The second is about fighting resistance, mostly through accepting oneself as a professional versus amateur at whatever it is one wants to accomplish. The last is least clear to me, about allowing one's muse to guide one artistically.

This is absolutely worth reading for free. It probably is worth reading at deep discount.

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles