January 31st, 2016

_Confessions of a Tax Collector_, Richard Yancey

Richard Yancey has a variety of series out for YA and adults, including at least one which has recently been made into a movie. This isn't any of those.

In 1990, Yancey (master's in English, did one year of law school before dropping out, theater work and theater critic, etc.) decided to get a Real Job. He became a Revenue Officer for the IRS, which is doing collections work. Wow, is it ever doing collections work. I read Rossotti's book a while back, so I had some sense of the transition that the IRS went through in the late 1990s/early 2000s in the wake of a really big scandal. Yancey's time as a Revenue Officer largely predated that scandal; the book entirely so, other than a mention in the epilogue. Just like Kevin Hazzard's paramedic work occurred in an Atlanta now firmly in the (recent) past, so Yancey's IRS collections work occurred in a Florida territory now firmly in the (recent) past.

Hazzard and Yancey share a number of things. Women in their lives who make more money than them and have more successful careers than they do. Women in their lives who take care of them. Women in their lives who tolerate their general fucked up ed ness. Yancey, however, spends the first several years of the memoir indefinitely engaged to someone he ultimately does not end up with. And I don't think anyone regrets the end of that relationship: not Yancey, not the slightly older woman, and definitely not the reader. Sure, we probably wouldn't want to live with someone training to become a Revenue Officer either. But I thin, we all like to believe we wouldn't be quite so relentlessly critical.

The reader does need to pay close attention to the narration. There are sections of the narration which occur in the protagonist's vivid imagination (notably)

HEY SPOILERS Run Away Or Your Property Will Be Seized

when he imagines the world after seizing Laura Marsh's house: she commits suicide and leaves a note blaming the IRS, leading to negative publicity. He imagines discussing this with a mentor in the agency, and it's unpleasant all around. Even though he starts the process and gets permission to seize, he ultimately closes that case in another manner.

Yancey and his colleagues are almost exclusively pursuing small business owners and the self-employed who are not making payroll tax deposits. And Yancey's work starts after those non-taxpayers have ignored a lot of letters and notices. Once I wrapped my brain around that, it was a lot easier to be sympathetic to his work. But I have to say I really chuckled when he asked his boss to route only tax protesters his way. It was _really_ easy to sympathize with his tactics against those particular non payers.

All that said, it does make clear something Rossotti and others have pointed out. The IRS, left to its own devices, tends to myopia. They don't go looking for elaborate, obscure means of concealing money. They go after Just Folks who are robbing Peter to pay Paul, and make the mistake of thinking the feds are gonna put up with that, the same way their relatives, the bank, suppliers and so forth put up with that.

I really enjoyed reading this book, even tho I really _don't_ enjoy reading first person narration that involves smoking. I hate that part. I hope he eventually quit. Because that stuff will kill you. I got a kick out of his character renovation over the course of the book, and how he seemed to be forever backing into important insights. Once he had them, tho, he ran with them, and I really respect that. Too many people figure it out, and then very carefully make sure they suppress that knowledge and go back to their old, damaged and messed up approaches. He sure didn't.

_Lotto Losers: A Fun Look At Winners Who Lost It All_, Ken Fritz

A friend recommended this to me. I was a little surprised at how Christian Fritz is, given the friend, and the nature of our friendship. However, once I understood that Fritz' was actually talking about the importance of living your values, and just tended to use Christian language and examples for this but wasn't really meaning to suggest that this is the only way, I was able to roll with it.

Fritz is very chatty and funny. The structure of the book is about what you would expect. It starts with some discussion of schadenfreude and the history of lotteries, moves through the majority of the book which is lists of people who won and then what happened next, then ends with a discussion of What Can We Learn From This/What Should You Do If You Win. His advice is almost exactly what you would expect (take the payments, not the lump sum; do not be hasty; be careful about hiring advisors; do not continue to buy on credit; scale your plans to the size of your winnings, etc.)

I've been reading stories about lottery winners for my whole life. As a kid, the discussions were pretty simple: what would you do if you had a million dollars. When I got older, life got a lot more complex, and while I never played the lottery (any lottery), I had a related experience and it quit being so pie-in-the-sky and started to be more of an oh shit how do I not become one of Those People. I continue to read, with interest, stories about people who -- either through entrepreneurial activities or winning a lottery -- experience a change in resources that is very life changing.

This book is honestly one of the better ones out there. He's very pragmatic, in a really relatable and accessible way. It's not spectacularly well written, and what he is saying is not that complicated, but a lot of other people who write about financial transitions of this sort do so much _less good_ of a job, that this book really stands out. Also, very funny.