When my biggest P.R. client relied on licensing for its most important revenue stream, I figured it might pay to learn a bit about the law behind their business. Laughable, perhaps, both because a P.R. person was bothering to actually study the law and because this Dummies volume isn’t exactly Goldstein and Reese’s. The effort was worth it nonetheless: while I thought I understood enough about intellectual property law to get by, I discovered that I did not, and I gleaned enough tidbits from this book to be able to speak to the company’s attorneys like something more than a high-functioning cretin.
I have no idea how I made it to my mid-fifties before I picked up Frederick Douglass’s autobiography. I am left ascribing it to the same oversight in my formal education that denied me Harriet Beecher Stowe and W.E.B DuBois and to a vocational focus that limited my post-graduate reading to the most utilitarian of tomes. Released from the professional-development beartrap, Mr. Douglass beckoned from atop a very tall pile of books, and I took him up.
Douglass’s life would have been painful enough to read had it been but the exceptional tale of a single individual. Knowing throughout – and reminded by Douglass – that his experience of slavery (though not his life post-escape) was archetypal threatens to overwhelm the empathetic reader. Many were the points in the narrative where I had to stop, even step away, to process.
It is indicative of the age that even as I fall into Douglass’s shoes during his story, I hear a voice shouting, “you privileged white-passing old fool! You can never understand what he went through! You can never understand what we went through! How dare you presume to try?
I ignore the voice. There should be no limits to empathy, even if we share nothing in common beyond mere sentience. I will never be Frederick Douglass. But I would be a failure as a human being if I did not do all I could to crawl inside his mind, and come out changed.
Expanding my reading to include the detective fiction genre after bingeing “Longmire” on Netflix – and heeding Susan Wise Bauer‘s enjoinment to approach a new subject or genre chronologically – I naturally began with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. After running through the four novels and five short-story collections composing the Sherlock Holmes canon, I can attest that I am not just hooked, I am downright fired-up.
In addition to a growing stack of books from Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Robert B. Parker, and Craig Johnson, I am working on an essay about Holmes. There is a lot of pulp out there, but in a genre known rather more for its pot-boiler tendencies than its literary chops, I am finding much to appreciate beyond pure diversion.
That said, next up is a little Jesse Stone, purely for diversion.
Now, where to begin?
Once you get used to Kim Stanley Robinson’s multithreaded neo-Tolstoyian style and push past the first chapter, this is an unforgettable book, one that paints a gloomy picture with a glimmer of light.
I have never been more proud to be the father of a budding environmental scientist, more ashamed of the wasteful aspects of my lifestyle, and more focused on what is important. That’s far more than I had bargained for from this book, but it was worth the almost physical effort to get through such an unrelenting narrative and come out changed.
For is that not what great books are about?
I’m going to make a list of all of the good things about retirement. #1 on that list has to be Never having to ever read another professional self-help article again (e.g., “How to Write More Professional Emails;” “16 Tips to Make Yourself a Better Boss;” “Data Analytics for the Ignorant but Curious;” etc.)