Book review July-August 2010

DivanomicsDivanomics: How to still be fabulous when you’re broke
Author: Michelle McKinney Hammond
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers Inc., 2010
Pages: 247

You should have seen it coming.
You knew the economy was bad. You saw friends losing their jobs, houses and their savings. Yet when everybody else was slapping checkbooks shut, you didn?t worry. Your ship came in years ago and you figured you were OK.

But then, faster than a tsunami, you were drowning in debt. How did that happen? Sunk like the Titanic, your finances under water ? suddenly, you?re broke. So how can you keep your dignity, image and lifestyle afloat in lean times? Start by reading Divanomics: How to Still Be Fabulous When You?re Broke by Michelle McKinney Hammond.

As a popular speaker, best-selling author and businessowner, Michelle McKinney Hammond was on ?the diva track.? In addition to her writing, she was in demand for television, magazines and cable. She?d hired the ?right? people to help manage things, and she trusted that nothing was amiss in her business or her life.

Unfortunately, she was wrong.
By the time she realized that her accountant hadn?t paid the bills and her assistant wasn?t returning phone calls to prospective clients, McKinney Hammond was in trouble with the IRS and creditors, and her business had all but dried up. She had a negative bank balance, and she was scared. The first thing she did was to take a look at her ?financial landscape.? Though it was hard, she fired many of her staff and got rid of distractions. Then, she did an assessment of her assets and debts ? including small IOUs ? and prioritized how she wanted to pay everything off. Now fabulously solvent, McKinney Hammond shares her ideas for living debt-free.

Obviously, never buy what you can?t afford. Set limits for yourself and understand that ?budget? is another word for ?empowerment.? Get a prepaid credit card or lower your credit-card limits. Declare a shopping fast for a month. Learn the difference between need and greed. Find expenses that rob you of cash flow, and eliminate them. Clean out your closet and clothes-swap with friends. Share phone plans, shopping memberships, bulk groceries and your talents. Tithe, pray and be sure to pay your savings account regularly.

While I?m not sure I completely agree with everything author McKinney Hammond says to do (hang out in a hotel lobby and nibble free hors d?oeuvres for dinner?), there?s no doubt that most of the tips she offers in Divanomics are sound and wise. Yet I found this to be unique as a business book. McKinney Hammond is wonderfully sassy, and reading Divanomics was like talking to a friend who just discovered frugality. And though there?s very little outward indication of it, this book contains an abundance of biblical stories and faith-based teachings. That?s certainly not a bad thing, but it caught me somewhat unawares.

If you?re looking for a chatty, splashy-fun, hints-and-tips book on avoiding debt and living well while treading financial water, this is a good one to have. But if you?re looking for a completely serious personal finance book, you?ll find Divanomics to be all wet.??? ?

Glorious Glorious
By Bernice L. McFadden
Akashic Books, May 2010
250 pp., $15.95

In Glorious, author Bernice L. McFadden revisits the Jim Crow South, the Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights Era for her first historical fiction story ? her seventh title. In this richly imagined novel centered around Easter Bartlett, she covers several themes: artistic and romantic passions, Garveysim, society?s attitude toward interracial connections, lesbianism, and white patronage of Black artists to render a powerful narrative and a triumphant character. McFadden?s writing makes all things beautiful and meaningful. The characters that propel the story, her detail to historical elements and the surroundings are gratifyingly reimagined. Glorious is unforgettable and emotional storytelling.

The Long SongThe Long Song
By Andrea Levy
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, May 2010
313 pp., $26

?Reader, my son tells me that this is too indelicate a commencement of any tale. Please pardon me, but your storyteller is a woman possessed of a forthright tongue and little ink.? So begins Miss July?s stories. In a distinctive and vivid voice, Miss July is the author of a zesty tale about an enslaved clever mulatto girl on the Amity sugar plantation in Jamaica whose life is changed after the Baptist War, a slave revolt on the island in the 1800s. But that same Miss July is also the real protagonist of the aforementioned account, recalling the brutalities and merciful instances that occurred during slavery. Andrea Levy writes featly about slavery in Jamaica in The Long Song; her fashioning of quick dialogue and spirited characters merged with suspense showcases the talents of this masterful novelist.

Foxy Foxy: My Life in Three Acts
By Pam Grier with Andrea Cagan
Grand Central Publishing/Springboard Press, April 2010
277 pp., $24.99

Foxy is simply one quality that describes iconic actress Pam Grier. She is also bold, compassionate and feminist-minded. In her memoir, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts, Grier, who was indelible as Foxy Brown, Coffy and Jackie Brown, is extremely frank and introspective as she recalls ? in an amusingly conversational tone ? her life growing up in Denver; moving to Los Angeles; and then her career in film, television as well as stage performances. ?I define myself by my energy,? Grier said at a recent book-signing. While Grier warmly recounts family relationships, romantic relations and career choices, she unflinchingly shares these experiences and acknowledges the ?heroes? who have left lasting impressions, as these things have kept her focused and grounded along her journey.

The other Wes MooreThe Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates
By Wes Moore
Spiegel & Grau, April 2010
256 pp., $25

It?s a knotty task trying to isolate the causes that elevate one young, Black kid and what might hamper another; yet Wes Moore offers insight regarding some of the challenges many Black males face and the decisions they make ? some forced upon them ? as they step into manhood. His compelling story, The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, is about two young boys who were born in Baltimore and happen to have the same name; both are raised by their mothers and both get off to a rocky start in school. They start almost along a similar path in their early years. However, Wes, the author, becomes a Rhodes scholar, a White House Fellow and a successful businessman. Wes Moore No. 2 ends up serving a life sentence in prison. The book presents many notable messages, yet the author says, ?Rather, this book will use our two lives as a way of thinking about choices and accountability, not just for us as individuals but for all of us as a society.?