Monday, May 11, 2009

The Girls From Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow

I am a big sucker for books about women's friendships so it is no surprise that I picked up The Girls From Ames.

Forty years of close friendship is no mean feat!  Especially in this day and age when so many of us leave the scenes of our childhoods and build lives so far away. 

Zaslow who co-wrote The Last Lecture and is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal is a wonderful writer.  He spent a year getting to know these women.  He Interviewed them and their families, hung out at a reunion, read letters and emails and examined scrapbooks. 

This should be a fabulous book.  It is, actually, a fairly interesting book.  It isn't dreadful or even bad; it just isn't wonderful.  I do not want to diminish the fact that these ten women have remained friends through all of life experience for four decades. And yet, this book was a long slog!

It is impossible to cover forty years and eleven character and do them justice in 300 pages.  After all character and plot are not built by telling story after loosely related story and hoping that some how it will all jell. 

Most of my problem with this book stems from the fact that you never really get to know any one of these women well; never mind all of them.  And they are not individually flamboyant enough to clearly differentiate themselves.  I spent a lot of time going "OK, who exactly is Jenny (or Karen or Karla)."  I finally resorted to making a cheat sheet on an index card that I put next to my table.

My other problem is that I didn't get any real sense of place and time.  In other words, nothing really evoked and emotional response or deep recognition of these women or their particular world either as children or as adults.  There early years took place in a world vastly different than mine.  In a well written story (fiction or non-fiction) the author paints a picture that evokes time, place and circumstances.  In this book; not so much.

Perhaps if you are from Ames, or if you are younger than I you will love this book.  I really wanted to!

As children, they formed a special bond, growing up in the small town of Ames, Iowa. As young women, they moved to eight different states, yet they managed to maintain an extraordinary friendship that would carry them through college and careers, marriage and motherhood, dating and divorce, the death of a child, and the mysterious death of the eleventh member of their group.

Capturing their remarkable story, The Girls from Ames is a testament to the enduring, deep bonds of women as they experience life's challenges, and the power of friendship to overcome even the most daunting odds.

Because they came of age in an era of unprecedented opportunity for women, their story also examines how feminism's major breakthroughs have been seized or wasted, and captures what it was like to be girls in the sixties, to come of age in the seventies and eighties, to be new mothers in the nineties, and enter middle age in the new millennium and how close female relationships can shape every aspect of women's lives. With both universal events and deeply personal moments, it's a book that every woman will relate to and be inspired by.

Monday, May 4, 2009

eBooks, Digital Publications and Publishers

If you wonder why bookstores keep going out of business and why publishers are losing money, here is a clue:

I don't think I've ever heard a reader say: "I want more fancy digital stuff in my eBooks! I want videos and audio and animations!" . . . The publishing business ought to concentrate first on their core value: getting books people love to readers who love them. --- Anonymous "Publishing Professional"

First let me give the guy (I assume it is a guy) credit for the statement that he hasn't heard a reader say they want more "digital stuff" in their books.  This is a depressingly accurate statement.  Readers, the dying breed that still exist probably don't say that.

closed bookstore 

The problem is that there are several generations (GenX,Gen Y, the Millennials and whatever comes next) that have been raised to EXPECT digital stuff (videos and audio and animations and links) as a part of any media they consume.  What would FaceBook, MySpace or even Twitter be without digital stuff?

Sure, they read.  Text will always be with us.  But it is mostly a big stretch to call them readers.  They are in fact consumers and creators of digital stuff

They are not patronizing Borders or Barnes and Nobles.  They are increasing relying on information they download from the Internet.  Much of it free.  Who needs bookstores?

When it comes to publishing the problem is slightly different.  The Internet has enabled almost anyone with something to show, say or sing to publish their work.  This is incredibly artistically liberating.  It is, however, rarely lucrative.  Most of the owners of the intellectual property do not make any money at all. 

As people come to expect more interactive publications there is an unfortunate downside.  Many works of genius may never be commercially viable because the author lacks the skills or the ability to assemble a team. 

This is where Publishers become incredibly important.  Their role in this new world is to find those geniuses, help assemble teams and promote the finished publications.  If  the current batch of publishers want to remain in business they will have to substantially change their outlook and attitude.  I'm rooting for them!


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