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The Bag Lady Papers: The Priceless Experience of Losing It All Hardcover – February 16, 2010


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A victim of Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme, mom and former Self magazine editor-in-chief Penney (How to Make Love to a Man), hyperventilates her way through this intriguing memoir of putting it back together. Finding herself almost entirely without money, Penney faces the unexpected need to retrench with a daunting sense of paranoia; brought up by aloof parents, Penney lived for a long time with a chronic, seemingly irrational fear of becoming a destitute bag lady. As a "Person of Reduced Circumstances", Penney bolsters herself with chin-up wisdom ("unless you've been mummified, you have choices and alternatives") and bravely vows to apply her own nail polish while eulogizing her days as an expensively-dressed editrix at Conde Nast. While she ponders lists labeled "money can still buy" and "money can't buy," a collection of well-heeled and influential friends encourage her with quotes from Emerson, invitations to the Caribbean and tax advice. With considerations like, "Is it worse to have had money and lost it? Or is it worse to never have had money at all?" Penney can be an (admittedly) unsympathetic protagonist, but her struggle is genuine, her charm expansive and surprising, and her strength winning.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

When the bags are emblazoned with gilt-edged logos from Prada and Gucci, it’s hard to muster up much sympathy for Penney’s woebegone tale of having to sell the Palm Beach and Long Island vacation homes, sleep on reduced thread-count sheets, and downsize her Starbucks order from venti to grande. One of Bernie Madoff’s more vocal and vituperative victims, Penney channeled her rage over losing her hard-earned savings into a popular blog on The Daily Beast. As a former editor of Self magazine and best-selling author, Penney was no stranger to hard work or glamour, and in the face of her fiscal crisis, learned she had to focus on the former to help her cope with the loss of the latter. Perhaps as a way of justifying her reason to whine, Penney balances her litany of petty grievances and paralyzing distress with a jaunty chronicle of her storied career in high-stakes publishing, and offers practical, hard-won counsel for any woman facing any kind of adversity. --Carol Haggas
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books; First Edition edition (February 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401341187
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401341183
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #574,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

I really enjoyed this memoir!
Kathleen Reid
She also has this really boring part where she asked her friends to make lists of things money can and can't buy.
A reader
Additionally, her writing style is disjointed and annoying.
R. Johnson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Rapid Reader on February 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The complete title of this book is "The Bag Lady Papers, the priceless experience of losing it all", but it is a misnomer. Alexandra Penney did not, by any stretch of the imagination, lose it all. She was never at risk of being a bag lady, not for one second. Yes, she lost all of her cash savings to "MF" (her acronym), but she still has an apartment in NY, owns homes on Long Island and in Florida, has a fine collection of Baccarat glasses, fine linens, expensive china (and who knows what else), some fine jewelry, an Hermes bag (do you know how much an Hermes bag costs? A good-sized house payment), ongoing royalites from previously published books, and obvious employablity. I found it hard to sympathize (or relate) to her struggle to polish her own fingernails, iron a blouse, give up ordering her favorite baked potatoes with white truffles, or let her maid go, you know - the necessities of life. She never did give up the maid. Nor did she give up buying tranquilizers, drinking wine, taking trips to Palm Beach, or seeing her hair stylist. (Yes, Alexandra, some people do successfully color their hair without it falling out.) She even takes up seeing a pricy psychiatrist to help her with her "bag lady syndrome." Oh, the suffering. Perhaps I'm unfair. I did try to realize that this world she describes so well is her reality. Everybodys reality is totally different and is the truth to them. But this is certainly not the norm for most Americans. The excessively detailed descriptions of "things" and the near total disregard for relationships or other qualities in life was stunning. The odd thing is I might have liked this book if it were a work of fiction. I liked Bonfire of the Vanities, perhaps based on real people, but still a work of fiction.Read more ›
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A reader on February 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I have to agree with the others: some really rich person loses some money and freaks out. She isn't worried about putting food on her table; she's worried about cutting her maid's hours back. Her son offers to let her stay in his "guest house"! How will she ever sell her extra house?
It's a "pity-me" book but the average reader isn't going to care. What, the average American family carries over 10K in credit card debt and is living paycheck-to-paycheck, and we're supposed to care about some excessively rich person who can no longer take numerous luxurious international trips every year? Most of us can't simply give up an well-paying job on a whim to spend more time being an artist.
In addition, the author is too vain or embarrassed or reserved to let us know facts that actually might lead to empathy. If her son left for college in '87, assume he's 17 at the time and she was 20 when she had him (a conservative estimate), she's probably around 60 or so when this happened. And she never tells the reader how much she lost.
Here's the book I wish had been written: average person works for Enron, puts all their money in Enron stock, struggles to keep a roof over their head. Or average person's spouse gets cancer, insurance won't cover much or they lose insurance because when you're sick you can't keep working with the only job that has insurance, and they struggle. Or something along those lines. "Nickel and Dimed" was infinitely better.
Reading a book about how the ultra-rich becomes a "PoRC" is boring. Because for her, being "person of reduced circumstances," she's still better off than the vast majority of her readers, or 99% of the people on the planet.

She also has this really boring part where she asked her friends to make lists of things money can and can't buy.
Read more ›
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By R. Johnson on February 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book was painful to read. I constantly wanted to put it down but thought it might get better - it didn't. The author wants us to feel sorry for her for losing her savings when she has a house in NYC, Florida, and Long Island as well as a car, a rarity in NYC, family and friends who constantly lavish her with gifts and free Four Seasons meals, as well as a constant stream of all her possessions- Louis Vuitton bags, Baccarat, Christian Louboutin shoes, jewelry, and on and on. It was so materialistic and petty that there is no way with someone who is not extremely wealthy and materialistic to sympathize with the author. Additionally, her writing style is disjointed and annoying. And she did lose her savings, she wont' say how much, but she did not become homeless or a bag lady. Poor Ms. Penney might have to quit getting the NY Times or cancel her home phone, both of which she kept when she cut out everything but "necessities."
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By C. Kennedy on August 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover
At first I was sympathetic with Penney when she received such harsh comments from readers of her blog on the DailyBeast. After finishing the book, I agreed with them. This woman was never in any fear of living on the streets. Talk about connections!? She had more than a Peruvian Coke Lord. She stays in Florida at a rich friend's house & gets an offer to be Editor of "Self" magazine?! She pitches a magazine story that she turns into a best selling book, that leads to another & another...?! Of course, all this happened BMF, but have all these connections dried up? What about her shrink that turned her on to MF? She spent thousands in therapy with him & he never called to make sure she was okay? No, she has to call him. Does he offer a hand? No. Sure, he has his own problems, but as a shrink, wouldn't he feel a bit responsible for getting her into this mess? I know I would. Then, there's the housekeeper. Why does she even need one? When she's in a funk, she scours her house operating room clean, unlike me who would never get dressed & watch tv & eat cheetos until I exploded if I was in Penney's loafers. No, this is a book of fantasy from a woman who is so unlike most of us. For example: eat an egg white omelette, followed by a piece of carrot cake? Why eat the disgusting egg whites to begin with? What did her anorexic friend say who only managed to choke down half her egg-white fare? Pretty cruel in my book. What if the friend had bought six Hermes bags while shopping with HER? That's a pretty apt simile'. Anyway, like me, get this book at the library, but don't buy it!
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