Saturday, March 30, 2013

Let's Grow Up!

A column in today's Boston Globe by Carlo Rotella, “A good cry in digital isolation” bemoans how insular we have become as we “connect” electronically via devices while acting as if we are oblivious to those who actually surround us, even when sensing that they might need help or attention. It is ironic that a front page article in the same issue describes the decline of e-mail use by businesses and the young. That article is accompanied – on the front page of a major internationally-recognized newspaper – with a graph of the use of various electronic contact media and face-to-face conversation, by TEENS, age 12-17. The implication, one I have heard for over a decade, is that we grown-ups should follow the lead of our juniors. There was a time when it was generally accepted that there were things that adults could do, and children could not. You had to "wait until you grow up.” We chafed at this but accepted it. This is wisdom and insight we should not discard lightly. I believe that the admonition that “a child shall lead them” refers to child-like openness and wonder, not to children’s lack of experience and insight into what works and what does not in the world of work and society. The article and the column taken together tell me that how we “reach out” is far less important than learning to be fully human. Our choice of technology is insignificant compared to our need for maturity.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Don't let the small size fool you

Social Media Is BullshitSocial Media Is Bullshit by B.J. Mendelson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is incredible: in a book about marketing – selling what you “make” – that is only 196 pages, not counting the end notes, he waits until a footnote on page 226, keyed to a comment on page 152, to offer his web address where you can find out what HE makes. Is there a word for “more humble than just humble?”
Two days ago I reviewed Stephen Dobyns’ The Burn Palace and included some of Stephen King’s comments about it. I didn’t quote King calling it “the embodiment of why we read stories, and why the novel will always be a better bang for the entertainment buck than movies or TV.” That came back to me today reading Mendelson, as I realized that one of the most valuable aspects of book publishing (whatever the “platform”) is that truly thoughtful and thought-provoking content can find its way to readers in spite of the fact that it will never be the center of mass market hysteria or hype.
Please don’t take away the impression that Mendelson advises us to boycott social media. Rather, while deflating many sacred cows (and re-sanctifying a few time-tested “bulls” that have been copied and recycled for decades) he shows what are realistic expectations and action plans for small businesses, artists and entrepreneurs. Publication of this book is a beneficent “public service from the private sector.”
I have been dipping into Mendelson in little nibbles for about a month; it’s too thought-full to take in too quickly. In a page or less he summarizes similar ideas to those promoted by Brendon Burchard for making money and having fun in the “Expert Industry.” The major difference is that Burchard makes it sound likely that you will succeed and have fun, while Mendelson laments that your “success” in this endeavor has little to no relation to the accuracy, veracity or even the honesty of the content of your “expertise.” It sounds cynical but for many of us it is a valuable reminder to not get hypnotized by the seeming novelty of new platforms.
Last month I was reading online about writing and publishing and the value (or lack of it) of blogging. One of the writers, I think it was Ryan Deiss, sounded in many ways like Social Media Is Bullshit but also used some of the concepts, like “influencers,” that Mendelson denies even exist. Somehow all of it added up to convince me that I want to just write and produce and be happy and authentic. And that is approximately the ultimate advice in Social Media Is Bullshit. I recommend it highly.
Addendum: I called the phone number he gives in the book (and on his web site, and he called me back in minutes - an unassuming and friendly author. I once took a position of Treasurer of a large union. My predecessor urged me to get an unlisted number, and I never regretted ignoring that device. Bravo for adding accessibility to transparency, B. J. Mendelson!

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Best of the best!

The Burn PalaceThe Burn Palace by Stephen Dobyns
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After completing this I re-read the cover material. Dobyns is listed as teaching creative writing at Warren Wilson College. I wasn't familiar and tracked down WWC, and found among their downloadable audio lectures one given by Dobyns in 1990. The catalog says, "Stephen Dobyns argues that structure is both the means by which information is released and the information itself... structure, whether in poetry or prose, represents the means by which formal elements (language, texture, pacing, and tone) may be imposed upon informal elements (action, emotion, setting and idea). In conclusion, Dobyns cautions that a work’s structure can only be determined when the writer has fully understood its purpose." Clearly he has mastered both the purpose and the structure of his work in The Burn Palace. On page 4 I noted "This is a very 'visible' (to the reader) author," as I read "Now, like an airborne camera, we move back from the hospital..." Stage directions! That seems to go against the advice in many writing books that "show, don't tell" implies never reminding the reader or your (the author's) existence. I can assure you that I never minded Dobyns' presence, and I loved his presentation and omniscient narration. When Stephen King called it "the best of the best," I took note. When I closed the book today I can endorse that evaluation. After taking the reader on a roller coaster of emotion, thrills and outrageous events that may (or may not) be supernatural, the ending left me smiling at a sweet conclusion to a harrowing time. Not everyone makes it to the end but you may find yourself cheering for those who do. I will conclude my praise the same way Stephen King concluded his: "I loved it."

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A great writer and a great human being.

The First PatientThe First Patient by Michael Palmer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Michael Palmer was coming to Quincy to speak at the Thomas Crane Public Library, so I read this in preparation. His talk was wonderful, and this was my first but not my last Michael Palmer novel. In fact I purchased a copy of his newest novel, Political Suicide, that evening and he was kind enough to sign it "To Harry The Librarian - my favorite kind of book-keeper." I actually haven't read that one yet. He told us it was part of his first attempt, after more than a dozen stand-alone novels, to craft a series. Knowing that, I recently read the first in that series, Oath Of Office, to lay the groundwork for best enjoying Political Suicide. One thing Palmer said was that he would go to any length to speak to audiences in public libraries. I posted the next day on his Facebook page, "I just saw your post from yesterday and was amazed you had traveled pretty much across the entire country to get here - and nary a complaint from the lecturn about your hectic schedule." This is an unassuming and truly nice author and human being. And a writer of exciting and compelling prose. Thank you, Michael Palmer.

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