Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Reading About Books I'm Not Likely to Read



So here are a couple of bright looking young guys who are very, very clever writers and thinkers who are being much discussed and read and talked about. The clean cut one is Daniel Pink and the one with the hair is Malcolm Gladwell. I've been reading about them and their books and realize I'm not likely to read them. A dirty little secret of people who seem to know all about what's going on in the literary world is that they do almost as much reading about books as they do reading books. It's not as sneaky as it sounds; there are far too many books to read and not nearly enough time so one has to pick and choose. To stay abreast of what's going on it's important to read about books. I've been doing this since I left college.

Daniel Pink came to my attention thanks to Oprah -- rather her magazine which printed an interview between O. and Pink. She's very impressed. His book is A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the World. Now there's a title! And it's about all I want to know about the book. I know the right/left brain ideas, which have been highly simplified going at least back to Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain quite a few years ago. Much as I'd like to be able to draw deftly I couldn't get more than two chapters in, I simply resisted the manipulation idea. I think I'm mainly a right-brainer [creative! who doesn't want to be?] but my left brain is skeptical and critical and resists all that flattery. So I immediately resist Pink's book.

The critical side sets in when he emphasizes that US companies are outsourcing all the dreary routine stuff like computer programming, data entry, customer service, even some newspaper writing, legal research, all the "dull" stuff to places like Bangladesh, India and China. While we good old Americans do the creative stuff -- like hedge funds and subprime mortgage lending, creating Super Bowl advertising and making movies to appeal to the mentality of 12 year olds. "Rule the world?" God help us! Look at the economic mess those creative types have got us in, think about the arrogance of "ruling the world" via action movies and potty mouthed stand up comics and weepy Oprahs empathizing with victims of domestic violence. This is enough to know about Mr. Pink's book.

On the other hand Mr. Gladwell, after two best sellers that were so clever, he's now asked to speak to those [possibly] right brained executives garnering fees up to $80,000 for inspiring them, thanks to his books, The Tipping Point and Bling, has now written Outliers which he says is a departure, "very definitely not a self-help book" [suggesting the others really were]. He told a NNY Times interviewer "It's very much a book about collective and social organized change. I am turning my bank on, I think, these kind of empty models that say, you know, you can be whatever you want to be. The world decides what you can and can't be. The appropriate place to provide opportunities is at the world level, not the individual level."

The earlier books and their success make me skeptical of his thinking but apparently the new book is taking a much larger view of the forces that mold society, the things that come together to produce the remarkable successes like Mozart, Darwin, Bill Gates. He has stopped giving easy recipes and says we are all living in a great web of circumstance which includes everything from genes to economic well being to religion to nutrition [I'm extrapolating]. I tune in when I discover someone is taking a wide view and not giving me that old adage I've argued against for a long time about the "cream always rises." No, it can't if it's homogenized. I'm not sure that takes a whole book to explain. I'm not sure I need to know his arguments since I already agree with him. The whole world needs to change-- and I think that includes those who would assume that somehow Asians are to be our "left brainers" as if they do not have creative abilities, as if they ancient civilizations were the produce of bean counters and not great thinkers in every area of culture making.

So I think I'll settle in now and finish the clever and somewhat too light Julian Barnes book I'm reading. Something about British cleverness doesn't irk me as much as American cleverness -- at least in fiction.

1 comment:

Anne said...

I think I know what you mean, one does get tired of being told "this is it, this is how the world works." A bit too glib. You read the review of the book and if you have any reading experience at all, you pretty much know what that author is going to tell you and you wish they had just stuck to 25 words or less because the rest is just fill.

I'm a reading maniac though, when I hear of a book like this, if the premise doesn't annoy me then I will go online and borrow the book at my library. I'll haul it home when it arrives at the local branch, and spend maybe half an hour skimming it to see if there's anything memorable in it. If not, well, no harm done, back to the library it goes.

So I'll probably skip Pink but maybe skim Gladwell, although I have reservations about him and do disagree with some of what he has said in the past. Maybe Outliers will raise my opinion, maybe not.

Thanks for the reviews!