Sunday, October 19, 2008

Book recommendation: O'Reilly's "A Bold..."

This evening, while listening to the fantastic final game of the National league series (to determine who would go to the World Series), I finished reading Bill O'Reilly's new book "A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity."

I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it. Here is why. Not only is O'Reilly an interesting person with good messages interspersed in his personal life recollections, but the book is a format that I think is very valuable in these troubled times.

I think of this format as kind of "modern memoirs." They are not the traditional form of memoirs, which are like writing a biography, as they are selective and artfully "spotlight" certain life events. This makes it more interesting than a slog through either a traditional autobiography or memoirs. But more important these modern memoirs that I approve of avoid being smarmy, as in being "tell all" of one's exploits, and they also avoid being depressive renditions of abuse or other sadness in one's life.

It is not that I think that people need to be ashamed or hide the sadnesses, tragedies or abuse of their lives. But that is different than forcing everyone else to join you in your woundedness, and that is what FAR too many books do today. Modern books, especially by those intellectual giants 'celebrities,' entice the reader to share their post traumatic stress disorder. We really don't need much more of that. There's three reasons those types of books are a problem. One is that by focusing on the childhood trauma or whatever, the author genuinely forgets to share perspective about what life other than the trauma was like in your household, community and "times." People, especially the young, need to read about how other people lived on balance, since fewer and fewer people seem to be able to paint that picture. For example, O'Reilly in a matter of fact way is able to explain in his book's vignettes what actually having a two parent household where the father was honest but strict (and not abusive) is like. It seems everyone is able to write a book about how their father was absent or a drug abusing pimp. Kids and the readership in general don't need much more information on that subject. Thanks, we've all been "enlightened" and "brought into your pain" quite enough, thank you very much. What people do need is to be able to read what life was like 'back then,' as O'Reilly does so well. It used to be that millions of people (I'm one of them) could explain what it was like, the "normal" life of "regular" 1950's and 60's working class Americans. Fewer and fewer can do so, as the population ages and as their message is devalued anyway.

The second reason we don't need more "tell alls" or "victimologies" is that a desensitizing occurs, that far from being part of "raising awareness," things like child rape, incest, drug dealing parents and other tragic events become "the new norm" the more that these stories are told. Women are especially guilty of this. They took the mission upon themselves to restore the dignity of victims of abuse (not a bad thing), but they have done it in an increasingly damaging, rather than helpful, way. By the way, notice the double standard. Those women love to gain pity and notoriety via telling their "I was molested as a child" autobiographies, but hate women who tell their "I regret having had an abortion and it damaged me" autobiographies. So in a weird way that I realize is not deliberate, but has now become political, women who wanted to be leaders in "raising awareness" have actually helped "shock jock" and then followed by "the new norm of desensitizing" the very abuse or tragedy that they had hoped to be helpful about by "telling their story."

The third reason we don't need more "tell alls" or "victimologies" is that because they tend to lack proportion, since the author is using them as a "healing" or "venting" tool, they have a contagious effect on the readership. When every book you read has some child molestation story worked into it, it is hard to maintain a balance toward life. I won't name names but I read a book that was a combination cook book and life story that worked in the already frequently told and very tragic childhood rape story. I really can't say much more than that without just being so bummed out by the editor, author, fan and readership mentality that thinks that is a great idea for posterity.

So I want to praise O'Reilly's book for not just being a good read, an interesting story, and helpful to understanding the man, but also a valiant, even if unintentional, contribution to the type of book that we all need more of. O'Reilly did not milk his dad's death from cancer for every tear jerking new age philosophical moment, as far too many people I know exactly do, just to give an example. He had a few very good points to make about very sad and painful event in his life and the reader comes away with some useful thoughts in that regard without being manipulated. Throughout the book O'Reilly is revealing but with dignity, and that is extremely cool. Buy it, read it, and give it as a gift. I give it an A++ recommendation and by the way, that's with one chapter that I was not too crazy about ha, but see, that's part of being a friend, or getting to know someone, there is no need to be perfect to get an A++ in that regard.