Friday, July 21, 2017

Book Review: The Right Words at the Right Time

A Fair Trade Book (lol)

Title: The Right Words at the Right Time Volume 2 Your Turn

Editor: Marlo Thomas

Date: 2006

Publisher: Atria

ISBN: 978-0-7434-9743-5

Length: 401 pages (but the type is large)

Illustrations: black & white photo at back of book

Quote: “The right words can be funny words, thought-provoking words, words that prop us up.”

Marlo “That Girl” Thomas put together a collection of her celebrity friends' memories of what had been “the right words at the right time” for them. Readers responded with similar stories of their own. What was an actress with a charity to raise money for supposed to do? This was the second fundraiser, dedicated to the child patients at St. Jude's Hospital.

It's a nice, cheerful bedside or coffee-table book, suitable for dipping into whenever you have time for just a short cheerful read. The people in these stories are not famous and many of them are no better writers than the famous, but all stories are readable and easy to relate to.

In other years I wouldn't have made this comment, but in view of recent cyberchatter I have to mention this: this book is political. It runs over with the kind of moderate-left trendiness that used to be obligatory at the Big Three TV networks. Because Thomas undoubtedly thought, as many Washington Post writers would undoubtedly agree, that this is a nice neutral sampling of nice feel-good stories for just about anybody—and it is, for anybody who's not been sensitized to the presence of political rhetoric—let me call attention to:

* Several stories from survivors of the 2001 suicide plane attacks. A media blitz of “9/11 stories” was demonstrably successful in boosting support for the resulting war.

* There's a story about an American finding enlightenment in a Japanese Buddhist monastery. There's no story about a Japanese Buddhist finding enlightenment in an American Christian monastery.

* There are stories about women embracing mediocrity. There are stories about men pushing themselves to succeed even in the absence of talent.

* There are stories about abusive or inadequate parents. There aren't stories about abusive day-care centers or inadequate public schools. There's a story about incest; there's no story about a child being sexually abused at school. There's a story about a child who's beaten up by her mother; there's no story about a child who's beaten up by schoolmates.

* If it's not been made an issue of identity politics yet, it should be: There's a story about a child “being brave enough to overcome shyness” and talk to strangers. There's no story about a child “being brave enough to overcome fear of being alone with his/her own damaged brain” and not chatter.

* There's a story about a guy who “stopped being born again” and “became a devout homosexual instead.” There's no story about any man or woman who stopped living for sexual pleasure and became a devout celibate instead.

* There's a story about wounded soldiers being cheered up by Christmas carols. This never used to be a political issue, but it's become one. Limousine Lefties no longer want to admit that religious holiday traditions could have enough meaning for any number of people to be worth exposing any possible follower of a different religion to the horror and trauma of having to watch anyone celebrate his or her religious tradition.

* There are stories about immigration to the United States. Granted, these stories come from the past, many from the 1940s. Still, there aren't stories about the observed fact that the United States is now sufficiently overpopulated that people are beginning to scream about sealing the borders.

* There's a story about an older man learning to use a computer. There's no story about a younger person learning to do something without electronic gadgets.

* There are stories about people whose religion is vaguely, liberally Jewish and stories about people whose religion is vaguely, liberally Christian. There are no stories about orthodox followers of either religion, and the proportion of Jewish to Christian respondents in this book is vastly higher than the proportion of Jewish to Christian people in the United States.

* There's a story about a teacher who was less concerned with teaching the subject he was paid to teach than with teaching “social skills” or social attitudes or some such twaddle. (That was considered cool, in some circles, around 1970.) This math teacher has an odd-numbered group of students pair off by calling out code words while the one student left out is told to “keep yelling the word ['Help'] at the top of your lungs, no matter what happens,” as an object lesson that “when people form their own little cliques, someone is always left out...silently calling for help.” It's easy to think that the teacher was just encouraging the students to be kind to people who'd like to join the cliques but have somehow been overlooked. That way of thinking, however, denies the existence of students who don't want to join the cliques of same-physical-age classmates, who are much more attuned to the things they're able to do with their own same-mental-age friends outside of school. It teaches young people to flatter themselves to assume that any invitation they make is an act of charity for which the person invited should be grateful, rather than recognizing that any invitation they make is likely to be a bid for charity and, if the invitation is accepted, they need to be grateful.

* Oh, by the way, did I mention soldiers? (Yes.) There's no story about radical pacifists.

I could go on. There are several stories about people who were on, or who got onto, the U.S. side of the Second World War. Arguably no American reader should miss the stories from the German, Russian, Japanese, French, Italian, Ethiopian, or Swiss sides; many people in the U.S. would agree with the claim that the only other side of the World War that deserves hearing is the U.K. side, that the British were the only real, solid ally we had even among “The Allies.” I don't want to read the war stories of Nazis either, so I probably have no right to point this out, but...the stories from the 1940s are totally politically biased. There's not even a British story in the lot.

Regular readers know why I felt a need to review this feel-good book in this way. I set up this web site to broadcast my views on writing, censorship, and compensation. Those have not been the divisive issues in any U.S. election, but they certainly are political issues. They are also moral, hence even religious, issues. There is no way on earth this web site could pretend not to be “political”--although from time to time I do like to remind everybody that this web site markets books that express political, religious, and other philosophical ideas that aren't mine. But when people start yammering on about wanting web sites not to be “political”...duh. You cannot not communicate.

Web sites that are not about writing, books, publishing, can of course get away with limiting the scope of their content. If your business is repairing washing machines, you can have a “blog” that endlessly recycles a half-dozen “posts” like “Things People Do That Damage Their Washing Machines” and “The Right Place to Put Your Washing Machine” and “Quick Fixes for Washing Machine Problems.” Since you can spend your days either repairing washing machines or writing, and you presumably prefer to spend them repairing washing machines, you don't have to write anything about yourself at all; your web site doesn't have to show your age, gender, or color, much less your political views. Your “blog” can be ghostwritten by a professional hack writer—I've done that. Your customers are there to learn about washing machines; they're not interested in you.

My business, web site, and customers, are a different kind.

I'm not here to “polarize” people. I don't think people need to be “polarized.” I think truth often emerges from the conflict between the errors on either side of a dichotomy.

Nevertheless, I'm picking up a lot of angst in cyberspace about the fact that socialism has not turned out to be the direction of the future, that people around the world are not turning to global totalitarian government as a savior. Ooohhh, please, don't mention nasty old politics to them! That would be as mean, as cruel, as mentioning football to them the day after their school was eliminated from the championship round!

And seriously, I have to say: most of the time my political issues aren't yours, and some of the time I may even be on your side, but if you want me to stay away from political topics, then so should you. For example, The Right Words at the Right Time, Volume 2, Your Turn, may be a feel-good read but it's also a political...screed! If political topics are too “polarizing” or “hurtful” for you, don't read it!

If you have a hardier sort of mind, of course, this book is a feel-good read, and despite its being written by non-celebrities and containing very little celebrity gossip, you'll probably enjoy it.

Marlo Thomas is alive and active in cyberspace, so this is a Fair Trade Book; when you buy it here, for the usual $5 per copy, $5 per package, plus $1 per online payment, this web site will send $1 to Thomas or a charity of her choice. The Right Words at the Right Time are odd-sized, awkward books, but both volumes would fit into one package for one $5 shipping charge; if you order them that way, Thomas or her charity gets $2, and you send only $15 via U.S. postal money order or $16 via Paypal.