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Yuval Taylor
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I finished reading (actually, listening to) Stefan Hertsman’s novel War and Turpentine yesterday. Although it is billed as a novel, that seems to simply be a label that allows the author some creative license; the book is actually a personal and lightly fictionalized biography of his grandfather, much of it based on the latter’s unpublished memoirs. Urbain Martien (1891–1981) was a Flemish soldier in World War I and an amateur painter. He went through a horrific childhood of poverty, working as a teenager in iron foundries; his father, a painter, inspired him with the urge to paint, and taught him... Continue reading
Posted Mar 30, 2024 at Backland
The Bible’s book of Judges contains two utterly remarkable sections. One is the story of Samson, which is well-known, but the other consists of the last five chapters and is likely the most disheartening chronicle in the Bible. I reread Robert Alter’s remarkable translation and notes this month, and found them greatly illuminating. Chapters 17 and 18 concern a man named Micah who steals his mother’s silver. She curses the thief, not knowing that it’s her own son. He confesses and gives back the silver. She tries to take back the curse and tells Micah to make a household god... Continue reading
Posted Feb 18, 2024 at Backland
I recently reread Swann’s Way, the first volume of Marcel Proust’s novel In Search of Lost Time (this title is an accurate translation of Á la recherche du temps perdu, but the book was formerly called in English Remembrance of Things Past, a title I can’t get out of my head). In the close-to-forty years since I last read it, the text has changed somewhat: then I read Terence Kilmartin’s version of C. K. Scott Moncrieff’s translation, and now I read a masterful revision of that by D. J. Enright. The book is in three parts: “Combray,” “Swann in Love,”... Continue reading
Posted Jan 14, 2024 at Backland
2023 was a good year for silly pop songs. I've compiled a playlist which you can access either on Spotify or YouTube. I also took a lot of photos in 2023. The best of them are here. If you press the little screen icon on the top right you can view them as a slideshow. Continue reading
Posted Jan 2, 2024 at Backland
Imagining a world in which a god has sex with another in order to make him forget to intervene in humans’ lives was not easy for me. I’d heard of divine intervention before, but this tale took it to a new extreme. The intimacy between gods and humans reminded me of that between superheros and mortals in comic books, but far richer. I know that an epic poem is not the same thing as a novel, but it seemed very much like one: its range is confined to a single months-long episode during the Trojan War; the characters are vivid... Continue reading
Posted Dec 14, 2023 at Backland
I’m continuing to read very long books; the latest is Robert Alter’s translation of The Five Books of Moses, including all his footnotes and introductions. Of course, I’d read almost all of this material before, though in other translations and piecemeal. Reading it all at once in Alter’s translation was revelatory. It clarified for me the way different parts of the Torah were written by different people at different times, and how frequently the pieces don’t fit together very well. Genesis was by far my favorite of the books and Leviticus my least. The end of Exodus, all of Leviticus,... Continue reading
Posted Dec 5, 2023 at Backland
The Importance of Portfolio Management I’ve had a successful run as a retail investor, with an eight-year CAGR of 44%. I attribute my success to two things: my ability to find stocks that will outperform and my portfolio management techniques, which may be of equal importance to my returns. Without... Continue reading
Posted Nov 16, 2023 at invest(igations)
I’ve been reading more Henry James stories, and “The Turn of the Screw” once again captured me. I first read it many years ago and it struck me forcefully that the ghosts were likely seen only by the (nameless) governess, who frightens the children with her hallucinations. The untrustworthy/unscrupulous narrator is a staple of James’s fiction, with “The Aspern Papers” being an especially brilliant example, but rarely is one as deserving of pity as in this instance. Rereading the story now, I was struck by the instances in which she seems to have her hallucinations confirmed—for example, her identification of... Continue reading
Posted Sep 7, 2023 at Backland
The Books of Jacob is a thousand-page novel by Olga Tokarczuk, for which she won the Nobel Prize a few years ago, centered around the story of Jacob Frank, a Jew who led a messianic movement in Central Europe in the mid-eighteenth century. Spanning over fifty years, it follows a wide range of religious figures, both Christian and Jewish, as they grapple with a cult that is by turns bewilderingly strange and all too familiar. Some of the story is told through the journal entries of Jacob Frank’s evangelist, Nahman of Busk; some in letters; some through the eyes of... Continue reading
Posted Aug 18, 2023 at Backland
Note: The M Score is used to identify companies that are engaged in manipulating their financials. I am using pseudonyms in this article and changing certain details to mask the identity of the companies in question. I. Getting Defrauded Not too long ago, an investment research firm exposed a company... Continue reading
Posted Jul 4, 2023 at invest(igations)
David Treuer’s The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee is a history of American Indians that focuses primarily on the years after 1890—the year of the Wounded Knee massacre, and the year in which Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee essentially concluded. It’s positioned as a corrective to that book, one that emphasizes the continuing richness of Indian life rather than its downfall and defeat. It’s successful in doing so. Continually interesting, Treuer offers fresh takes on historical events and interweaves stories of contemporary Indians with historical accounts. “We are so used to telling the stories of our lives,” Treuer... Continue reading
Posted Jun 7, 2023 at Backland
I’ve been waiting for this book for over a dozen years. I couldn’t figure out why such a prominent writer’s collected essays had never been published when her stories, letters, plays, and folklore had all been assembled in book form. Well, now I know. Hurston was a great essayist for many years, and then she started writing truly terrible work. Collecting her essays would expose readers to the terrible ones along with the great ones. And that is precisely what has happened. Up until the mid-1940s, Hurston turned out one good essay after another. As far as I know, her... Continue reading
Posted May 30, 2023 at Backland
It may seem like my reading has slowed to a crawl, and indeed I’m reading far less than I used to. I need to change that somehow. Part of the problem is that I don’t write about books that I start and then abandon, and there have been a few of those lately. Since I last wrote about books, I’ve been reading primarily Henry James short stories. Most of them are charming. “Greville Fane” is very short and one of the wittiest things I’ve ever read: every sentence is a gem. “Sir Dominick Ferrand” is silly but fun, and “The... Continue reading
Posted Apr 3, 2023 at Backland
2022 was an excellent year for me. OK, I didn’t make as much from my investments as I did in 2020 or 2021—who did?—but a 22% return isn't bad. But more important than how much I earned is how much I learned. Was this a better year than most? I... Continue reading
Posted Apr 3, 2023 at invest(igations)
2022 was an excellent year for me. OK, I didn’t make as much from my investments as I did in 2020 or 2021—who did?—but a 22% return isn't bad. But more important than how much I earned is how much I learned. Was this a better year than most? I... Continue reading
Posted Feb 19, 2023 at invest(igations)
2022 was an excellent year for me. OK, I didn’t make as much from my investments as I did in 2020 or 2021—who did?—but I made more than I made in 2019. I ended up making a cool million dollars, up 22%. But more important than how much I earned... Continue reading
Posted Jan 10, 2023 at invest(igations)
Spotify playlist: YouTube playlist: “About Damn Time” by Lizzo. Disco amalgam, fusion, or rip-off? Does it matter? “Alaska” by Camilo x Grupo Firme went to #1 but you wouldn’t know if you didn’t listen to Mexican radio. Thankfully there’s plenty in Chicago. “All That’s Left of Me Is You” by Vulfpeck would be a good song to teach your kids. “Anti-Glory” by Horsegirl is so much better than “Anti-Hero.” A Chicago band gives us the Joy Division tribute of the year. “As It Was” by Harry Styles was inescapable this year, deservedly. “Bad Habit” by Steve Lacy. Do... Continue reading
Posted Jan 2, 2023 at Backland
I've been taking photos in two long-running "albums." The first is called "Nothing to See Here," and consists of black-and-white photos of nothing in particular. This year I took a lot of photos of Bloomington, Indiana for that album. Here are a few: Here are some more photos from that album taken in Chicago's South Side: I've also been taking color photos for a different album called "Through an Open Window" . . . Here are a couple from Chicago. I took some photos in Queretaro, Mexico, for that album, but the camera setting wasn't as high-res as it should... Continue reading
Posted Jan 1, 2023 at Backland
What a strange book! This, Evelyn Waugh’s fourth novel—and a great improvement over the ridiculousness of his first—came well before Brideshead Revisited, his seventh, and seems to have been influenced by Hemingway in its matter-of-factness and brevity, its focus on caprice and its disregard for grief. Tragedies are dismissed, natives are subhuman, characters are built up and carefully delineated only to be extinguished in the most absurd ways. The novel is a series of barely compatible set pieces whose varying lengths put them at odds with each other and frustrate not only the flow of the novel but the ability... Continue reading
Posted Dec 25, 2022 at Backland
I recently performed a study of over fifty different value factors to see which performed the best. (Admittedly, a lot of them are similar.) The results surprised me. Method I conducted the study using a web-based stock research company called Portfolio123. Here’s my methodology. (This gets a bit technical; feel... Continue reading
Posted Dec 21, 2022 at invest(igations)
No, I have not. I've actually never used one. What's your experience with them?
Joseph Conrad’s short novel (or long tale) The Shadow-Line is, in its way, a coming-of-age story disguised as a dead-man’s-curse story. The unnamed narrator begins callow, uncaring, abominably rude, intolerant, and impatient; he ends up considerate, forbearing, and full of feeling for his fellow men. This transformation goes unnoticed by himself and by most of the men around him, though one man catches on at the end. Conrad was a gripping writer. It’s difficult to pause during one of his books. “The Secret Sharer,” a short story, held me in its cross-hairs. Both tales are about young ship captains facing... Continue reading
Posted Oct 23, 2022 at Backland
Brideshead Revisited’s primary characters are all ruled either by regret over what has been spoiled or hatred of what was once loved, which sometimes amount to the same thing. It’s the story of a man who falls in love with another man and then with his sister, but for Waugh there’s no real sexual difference between them, and he pulls that off with such elan that it’s as if all the sexual differences and identities we’ve been raised with never existed and we could all choose men and women freely. Money is almost as ineffable in the novel: few people... Continue reading
Posted Oct 11, 2022 at Backland
When we trade individual stocks, we incur transaction costs. The purpose of this article is to explain these costs, quantify them, and help you avoid them. First, I’ll classify them into four types: market impact costs; spread costs; getting bad fills; and commissions and taxes. Market Impact The market impact... Continue reading
Posted Sep 18, 2022 at invest(igations)
Did you know that European stocks are easier to profitably trade than North American ones? That seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Information about them seems hard to find. Most stock-oriented websites don’t cover them: European stocks are only listed if they have ADR tickers, and frequently there’s nothing written about them.... Continue reading
Posted Aug 27, 2022 at invest(igations)