This week, our choices are:
The Antisocial Network: The GameStop Short Squeeze and the Ragtag Group of Amateur Traders That Brought Wall Street to Its Knees by Ben Mezrich, Grand Central Publishing
There are so many things to learn—about Wall Street, about short selling, about social media’s growing influence on investing, about the gamification of trading—in the individual stories, and how they connect to one another, in Ben Mezrich’s new book, The Antisocial Network. But in the end, for all you’ll learn, I am not sure that you’ll leave with a greater deal of understanding about a whole lot of it. And that is because, as well as Mezrich plots out what happened in the short squeeze on GameStop, it is utterly absurd. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Consider this testimony from Ken Griffin of Citadel Securities before House Financial Services Committee:
“On Wednesday, January twenty-seventh , we executed more 7.4 billion shares on behalf of retail investors. To put this into perspective, on that day Citadel Securities executed more shares for retail investors than the average daily volume of the entire US equities market in 2019.”
How did that happen? Do we even know what it means in the present moment or portends for the future? That one company controls so much of the economy, and that so few understand what it is they even do, is only one part of the overall absurdity of the story. We’re also left wondering if it’s possible that the stock prices of publicly traded companies can become divorced from their fundamentals, driven more by memes and the magical thinking of their fans.
But the magic in the book is in the writing—the way Mezrich can conjure a scene so vivid that you not only feel like you know the people on the page, but feel as if you’re in the room with them. And in that, it feels a lot like life, making for an essentially human drama inside the financial upheaval. (DJJS)
L.A. Weather by María Amparo Escandón, Flatiron Books
This family drama set in 2016 follows Mexican-American parents, Keila and Oscar, and their three adult daughters, Claudia, Olivia, and Patricia, as they are all brought together again after Olivia's twin daughters narrowly survive drowning in Keila and Oscar's neglected swimming pool. In chronological sections separated by date, the steady pacing of the storytelling allows the reader to savor each tense reveal and its aftereffects. Each of the characters seems to be in a different state of hardship, and they each attempt to deal with it in their own way. For example: Patricia was a single teen mom and became a social media expert who works with big name clients across the country, but she still lives at home and has a husband who lives 400 miles away. In the midst of her anxiety over her sister's possibly-drowned daughters, Patricia wonders:
What was so mysterious about suffering? Why did people avoid talking about misfortune and grief? Except for a few death announcements and surgeries, people didn't discuss pain or hardship. She had made it her mission to address the good and the bad, to share the joy as well as the drama and bring out into the open the full spectrum of human emotions and experiences—"the open" being social media.
So, when all these threads of individual anguish and strain come together—and as everyone finds their own way of working through (or avoiding) their own difficulties—the family drama gets more tense. The characters all feel very real, and we are able to learn a lot about them, and through them; In only a year's time they slowly realize their own weaknesses and avoidance techniques. While the story toes the line between drama and melodrama at times, author Maria Amparo Escandón includes a bit of humor to keep it feeling down-to-earth. There are surprises on each page, and while Los Angeles is an easy place to scoff at for us Midwesterners, I'm very happy to live there with the Alvarados in L.A. Weather. (GMC)
Windswept: Walking the Path of Trailblazing Women by Annabel Abbs, Tin House Books
Walking. Many of us walk to spark inspiration, to sift through our thoughts, to connect with the natural world around us. We wander to explore the world outside, and the world inside ourselves. Annabel Abbs realized how much the act of walking means to life itself, but when researching the act of walking and looking over her books on the topic, she was disturbed to find most held the names of men. She began a new adventure of seeking female writers, women who journeyed through wild landscapes through the means of walking, and wrote about it. She looks at walking with a feminist's eye, writing about Simone de Beouvior, Nan Shepherd, Frieda Lawrence, Georgia O’Keefe, and many more who walked and found inspiration that deeply impacted their lives.
These women walked in order to find minds of their own. They walked for emotional restitution. They walked to understand the capabilities of their own bodies. They walked to assert their independence. They walked to become.
It is a lovely ode to moving one foot in front of the other through the eyes of women who have walked in the past, who made the landscapes around them their own through their own expressions on it, who blazed the trails before us. Some familiar, others semi-lost throughout time, hidden by the men who walked over them. It is a book that asks why women have been so overlooked when it comes to nature writing and the act of discovering the outdoors through the simple and wondrous act of walking, and answers, in part, by raising their voices up. Part memoir, part history, Windswept follows the literal footsteps of the trailblazing women who walked before us. (EPP)
You Have More Influence Than You Think: How We Underestimate Our Power of Persuasion, and Why It Matters by Vanessa Bohns, W.W. Norton & Company
There is an aspirational aspect to many of the books we cover here—to be better and more influential than we currently are, to accomplish more, to change the world. There is nothing inherently wrong with such ambition, but I do worry that it can make us feel like we’re not good enough as we are and damage our sense of self-worth. It also extends beyond us, as focusing on our aspirations can also blind us from the influence and power we already have, which can lead us to wield it unconsciously and even recklessly. So, just as it is always helpful to take stock and be grateful for what we have in life, it is important to step back and be conscious of the influence we already wield. Vanessa Bohn’s new book, You Have More Influence Than You Think, is vital for that very reason. As she writes:
Conventional books on influence and persuasion have one goal in mind: to show you how to gain the influence you don’t have, presumably so you will go forth and use your newly acquired influence boldly. My goal in writing this book isn’t to help you gain influence, but to make you more aware of the influence you already do have but don’t realize.
Bohns encourages us to consider our influence more as a responsibility we have to one another, not as power or control over others. The simple fact is that we are all already changing the world. We just have to become less oblivious to how we are doing so. When we understand our everyday effects on the people around us, we can use that influence to both help others and to ask for what we need without feeling as if it is a burden on others. Like any projection of power in the world, learning how to use—and when not to use—it can be tricky. But first, we have to understand it, and stop underestimating it. That shift alone can make a world of difference, and a difference in the world. (DJJS)