In “The Rules of Magic,” the Owens sisters are back —not in their previous guise as elderly aunties casting spells in Alice Hoffman’s occult romance “Practical Magic” (1995), but as fledgling witches in the New York City captured in Patti Smith’s memoir “Just Kids.”
In that magical, mystical milieu, Franny and Bridget are joined by a new character: their foxy younger brother, Vincent, whose “unearthly” charm sends grown women in search of love potions. Heading into the summer of 1960, the three Owens siblings are ever more conscious of their family’s quirkiness — and not just the incidents of levitation and gift for reading each other’s thoughts while traipsing home to their parents’ funky Manhattan town house. The instant Franny turns 17, they are all shipped off to spend the summer with their mother’s aunt in Massachusetts. Isabelle Owens might enlist them for esoteric projects like making black soap or picking herbs to cure a neighbor’s jealousy, but she at least offers respite from their fretful mother’s strict rules against going shoeless, bringing home stray birds, wandering into Greenwich Village, or falling in love. In short order, the siblings meet a know-it-all Boston cousin, April, who brings them up to speed on the curse set in motion by their Salem-witch ancestor, Maria Owens. It spells certain death for males who attempt to woo an Owens woman. Naturally this knowledge does not deter the current generation from circumventing the rule — Bridget most passionately, Franny most rationally and Vincent most recklessly (believing his gender may protect him). In time, the sisters ignore their mother’s plea and move to Greenwich Village, setting up an apothecary, while their rock-star brother, who glimpsed his future in Isabelle’s nifty three-way mirror, breaks hearts like there’s no tomorrow. No one’s more confident or entertaining than Hoffman at putting across characters willing to tempt fate for true love.
Real events like the Vietnam draft and Stonewall uprising enter the characters’ family history as well as a stunning plot twist — delivering everything fans of a much-loved book could hope for in a prequel.
(Hoffman will speak and sign copies of her book starting at 7 p.m. Oct. 12 at BookPeople. Free to attend; only books purchased at BookPeople are eligible for signing. Information: bookpeople.com.)
A proposal for economic reform
Muhammad Yunus’ “A World of Three Zeros” is a book to make Wall Street quake — if Wall Street paid attention to the developing world.
The classic description of capitalism, writes Bangladeshi economist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Yunus (“Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs,” 2010), assumes that the free market imposes curbs on economic inequality. In fact, it does not work that way, and inequality is growing markedly across the world, requiring a rethinking of the tenets of not only free-market capitalism, but also the marketplace. Such a rethinking, by the author’s account in this hortatory but accessible text, makes room for a hybrid “social business” that is not quite for-profit and not quite nonprofit but something that partakes of both while leveraging the human propensity for selflessness. In this regard, Yunus’ experiments in microfinance and microcredit, loaning small sums of money to businesspeople actual and aspiring, are cases in point. At the same time, he adds, a re-envisioned economics will recognize that humans are naturally entrepreneurs, best served not by jobs as such but by opportunities to make their own ventures in the marketplace. Again, his microfinancial work “introduced a new program of offering new-entrepreneur loans from Grameen Bank to support … efforts to create businesses” on the part of young Bangladeshis. Entrepreneurship catering to the mass market, Yunus argues, will prove more sustainable in the end than “trying to sell a few more luxury goods to a handful of wealthy people who already have more things than they will ever need.” A third plank of a revised economics includes sustainable, clean energy, which Yunus believes developing nations are better positioned to adapt than many advanced economies, precisely because they are more of a blank slate. While antithetical to the prevailing capitalism, the author’s reforms, he insists, will yield an economic system that more closely corresponds to who humans really are: partners and not predators.
The author’s humane proposal for economic reform, far from impractical, makes for provocative reading for development specialists.
(Yunus will speak and sign copies of his book starting at 7 p.m. Oct. 13 at BookPeople. Free to attend; only books purchased at BookPeople are eligible for signing. Information: bookpeople.com.)
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