Friday, May 11, 2012

Michael Sandel Book Tour Review

Monday, May 7, 2012

Town Hall

Sponsored by Elliot Bay Books

Oh how I love book readings but there is nothing like author of current social issues to really bring out the crazies. LOVE EM. Tonight, Town Hall has two readings going on at the same time and they are both social civic whoppers. In the lower auditorium is Timothy Noah reading from his new book “Across the Great (Income) Divide”It’s advertised as a book about how Noah believes the 1%ers vs. the 99%ers is the greatest problem facing the country. The other option, upstairs, is the Harvard Professor Michael Sandel promoting his newest book "What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets" a lecture advertised as how marketing is changing and intruding upon American culture.

Outside of Town Hall is buzzing with people as they arrive to both readings. The sidewalks are filled with civic minded Seattleites who yammer away with the excitement of a Rolling Stones concert but I can’t get no satisfaction because I have a choice to make. I’m accompanied by my friend Nick so I solicit his advice.

Nick tells me that judging from the crowd, half the Occupy Seattle Movement is mobilizing downstairs, which would make for a wild author reading but the city is less than a week from the May 1st, Occupy Movement demonstrations which turned violent and caused damage to the city. Nick and I work at local hospitals and I don’t want to feel obligated to patch up Mr. Noah’s audience if things go wrong, we elect to hear the Harvard guy.

That was my first mistake.

We sit down in the old church pew of Town Hall, while Nick scans the crowd saying to me, “You ever wonder why a lot of these people are so passionate about how the government should hold corporations to high transparent standards, yet the same group will fight to the death to keep the State out of their personal business?”

It’s a thought provoking comment. Actually it is the most provocative comment I hear the whole night and I should have just given Nick the five bucks I paid to listen to the Professor.

Going into tonight’s talk, as usual, I know little about the speaker but I read the playbill and expect a lecture about how markets are intrusive into people’s lives and what can be done about preventing this encroachment. Maybe I will get the “Big Brother” is here message, making me more paranoid than a TSA airport screener. At the very least I expect to hear something about the new book “Moral Limits of Markets”, the background of the book, why Mr. Sandel wrote the thing or even a reason to buy the book.

Michael Sandel comes out dressed like a professional wearing a nice tie suit combo standing behind the podium and makes some opening heart felt remarks. (He was married in Seattle and has some family here) The Professor seems like a nice man and brings energy to the stage; capturing the audience right away.

He starts by speaking from behind the stage podium but I see his face and realize that Professor Sandel is wearing a Garth Brooks style microphone; allowing him to wander where he wants and oh boy does he wander back and forth.

This kind of presentation is not new and the good Professor is not alone in using this speaking style. From Cicero to Mark Twain, in the days before the microphone, great lecturers could project their voices to be heard among the masses. They had no confining podiums or tables to stand behind. In those days, they were out in front but unlike today, the orators were larger than life and the stage was small.

In the last fifteen years, whether it’s Bill Gates, the late Steve Jobs, Dr. Wayne Dryer or the Sham Wow pitch man, everyone now walks around the giant stages plugged into a headset.

I’m guessing that that some marketing/image consulting, idiot told the speakers of this era that moving on stage helps keep the audience’s attention, but doesn’t help. The most intelligent speakers come across looking bad because most times their bouncing around distracts to the point where the message gets lost. I mean this guy moved more on stage than Van Halen. I’m talking 1980’s Van Halen or course, not those geriatric, Geritol popping, Ben-Gay smelling, facsimiles currently on tour.

Professor Sandel started off his talk with some vignettes about how money can gives the rich advantages over the rest of us. One example he gives is how someone in prison, can buy better accommodations rather than live in general population. ($90 a night.) Great story, he got my attention and then he gives us some more examples, and I wait for the point of his story.

Instead, he engages the audience to participate by asking their opinion on a particular subject. What do you think of school districts that pay students two dollars for every book they read? Raise your hands if you think this is a good idea and then raise your hands if you think this is a bad idea. Okay?

What happened next is a bad idea unless you in fact want to irritate an audience or in my case, give me something to write about: in that case it’s a good idea.

Keep in mind, there are least 300-400 people in the room mind you, so with the help of Town Hall volunteers passing out microphones, the Professor asks audience members to stand up and give reasons why they think it’s a good or bad idea to pay school children to read books.


It is one thing to have people ask public questions of a speaker, I like that because I come to hear the speakers opinion, but my God when you hand an angry opinionated audience a microphone; hmm boy does this make for an eventful night. Especially when the crazies holding the microphone, insist on giving out their resume to a room full of strangers before they make a point saying things such as “I’m an artist AND a dancer and I believe…” or the woman who introduces herself by saying “I’m a teacher AND a nurse and I think…”

Well guess what: I’m disgusted AND appalled. Okay, not really, however, it is worth pointing out that this kind of group discussion may work well in a class room or even in a small group but in a lecture hall of this size it turns into a controlled brawl of pointless discussion.

Professor Sandel relishes this circus he has created, acting like the Roman god, Vulcan, as he fans the flames of discontent by pitting the audience against one another, challenging them to give definitions and hone down what we as a people mean by using terms like “reward” or “bribe.”

It’s painful. So now an author reading, advertised to be a meaningful lecture on how marketing is invading every facet of modern American life, has turned into a debate about public school education sponsored by Webster’s on-line Dictionary.


I look at Nick who starts laughing. “Sorry, dude. We should have gone downstairs.”

Toward the end the preachy, pontificating, Professor points out proficiently, (I use words that start with P cause it makes me sound so wicked Harvard smart) that the culture of the United States has changed. He alludes to the audience that the gap between rich and poor has shifted the way people perceive each other and that the value of strict monetary reward might be creating a harmful division in American culture.

I’m thinking, Really? Look out your limo window buddy, because some downtown Seattle businesses still have plywood up waiting for windows to be replaced from earlier in the week. This is the town famous for the 1999 WTO riots and you’re trying to tell us there is an economic problem on the horizon? For a guy who comes from the same town as Paul Revere, you’re a little late.

I hear his message: that this country needs a national conversation on how corporate marketing is bad for American culture and we need to start talking about it soon.

Well, slap me in the mouth and call me Pearl, I thought that is why we came here tonight. I had hoped Professor
Sandel might bring some historical perspective or some forward solutions to stem the tide of these issues but all we get is a talk about needing to talk?

Even more ironic, he was here marketing a book about the dangers of intrusive corporate marketing. Not once did he even bother to promote the book his publisher wants him to sell. Okay you figure it out.
All I know is that measuring Michael Sandel against my own college philosophy professors; I didn’t miss out going to an Ivy League school.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Anne Lamott's Book Tour Review

Anne Lamont came to town this night. For those of you who never heard of this writer, just Google her book on writing “Bird by Bird.” From the time it was published,"Bird by Bird"along with Stephen King’s “On Writing” became one of the best modern books on novel writing.

Tonight I am on Capitol Hill in Seattle First Baptist Churchwhich is an old stone and wood church built 102 years ago; during a time when buildings were a form of art and had greater value in society. I personally find comfort in old places; knowing that I stand or sit where others have been and knowing more will follow after me. There are so few places like this in the Western United State and Seattle is like any U.S. city where the past has less value than the present. Before the days of the internet, Churches and Town Halls connected the community and one of the reasons I find Author Readings so appealing is that it is one of the rare places where strangers of different backgrounds can come to connect. It occurs to me as I sit in the back of the church and marvel at its beauty thinking. Apparently I am not the only one, because my God, er… my goodness this place was packed.

Anne Lamott comes to Seattle to promote her newest book "Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son."Some Assembly Required"

It is in this book that Ms. Lamont explores the world of the modern grandmother in an era where change is happening so fast it is difficult for many to make sense of the world around them.

This is the follow up in a way to her smash 1993 best seller,"Operating Instructions." That seminal humorous work is still a staple among the new mommies of the world and from what I understand a copy is given to every new mother when they have a baby at the University of Washington.

“Some Assembly Required” is an essay book co-written in part with her son Sam, who is the focal point of “Operating Instructions.”

Well Sam is all grown up now at nineteen and he and his"Operating Instructions" girlfriend are now parents so this has given Ms. Lamott a new perspective on her life as a grandmother.

The book is written as a he said / she said format with Anne and Sam both contributing to various sections. This was the tail end of the book tour and Sam Lamott was not here this evening with his mother which might have made a more interesting event for some, but I was more than satisfied with Ms. Lamott’s performance. That was not the case at the beginning of the speech; in fact I was worried this was going to be a stinker.

Ms. Lamott takes the stage and looks like a disheveled wreck. She is exhausted and admits to being happy that she is on the tail end of her on stage to the point that she request an IV for dehydration. She has brought with her all the energy of a dead flashlight and I’m thinking it’s going to be an early night.

I confess to knowing nothing about Anne Lamont except being aware of her treaties on writing, “Bird by Bird.” In fact I had never gotten around to reading anything she has ever written but in the end I was glad I went tonight because as she continues her talk, I realize that she is doing something so rare for a public speaker. She is bringing the audience along to her cadence. She controls the stage in a slow steady rhythm that calms and hypnotizes the audience. It was fascinating really because I realize that I need to be there this evening.

I needed to hear her message about books and writing and her spiritual journey. I needed to hear her self-deprecating humor about how she is takes herself too serious and that she recognizes her intrusive nature is not always welcome. Listen to her deadpan delivery as she describes herself giving too much good advice to her son and his girlfriend and only to have that advice rewarded by not seeing her grandson for awhile (Big laughs). She uses an acronym: WAIT standing for Why AM I Talking, or as Ms. Lamott’s reproduces her friend’s personal advise to Anne “Don’t inflict your goodness on people.” (Stop for more laughs)

I needed to hear her message about the success behind failure. For instance, she reminds everyone that every great book anyone has ever read was a rewrite of at least five additions. She also tells us that everyone who writes a novel should know that no matter how powerful and wonderful we write something, it is probably not that great. Yet, at the same time greatness can be achieved if in fact the craft is worked.

Ms. Lamott’s lazy speaking style fits her Bay Area accent. It’s a bit like Penny Marshal, and I mean that as a compliment. IF she came across as a sharp polished, crisp talking, Suze Orman, I honestly believe she would be less effective in fact she would have come across like a preachy charlatan. Even in a packed church with the balcony’s full, Ms. Lamott’s style is approachable enough that she holds the entire room’s attention. I’m in the back of the room and I see few if anyone, checking cell phones or texting during the talk.
I did feel that tonight she revealed herself as a conflicted woman. Again this was not a bad thing. A more plastic speaker would have never admitted such personal good and bad to an audience. She seemed conflicted that she is a person who is the family “secret keeper” yet she writes in an honest manner about her family for the whole world to read. She is accepting of her people in their lives but at the same time possesses strong opinions about people, government and of course, writing.

At the start of the Q & A when people seek the courage to step up to a microphone and ask questions in front of a huge place, Ms. Lamott, encourages people to ask questions and after a few brave souls step up, more people find the courage and a line forms and suddenly Anne Lamott tells the event hostess, “I don’t want to answer all these questions.” I’m thinking “What the hey?”
Still I don’t care. I only appreciate her for trying to be nothing more than honest unguarded self and that is an ingredient for a great reading.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Owen Laukkanen Book Tour Review

Seattle's North GateBarns and Noble


So on a Friday night with little to do and the rain coming down the way it does in Seattle I decide to give a new author a chance. Someone named Owen Laukkanen, was in town to promote his new book "The Professionals"at the local Barns and Noble.

Only one problem, I arrive to find out there is no reading, only a simple book signing. Crap. Well no reason wasting a trip to the book store. I’m still inspired by Anne Lamonts’ reading of the previous night and begin searching for a new copy of “Bird by Bird”

I see Mr Laukkanen begin the process of signing copies of books for the Barns and Noble stores and decide to say hello. He looks younger than his publicity photo which is the reverse of most authors who use photo shop and dark lighting to remove the years.

Mr. Laukkanen has an amicable smile, but I'm not interested in purchasing his novel yet I still stop to congratulate him on his newest work and I tell him I am disappointed that this is not a formal reading as advertised but that I will look forward to seeing him on the next promo tour if he does a reading.

Then something happens that I swear I did not expect. Another one of the regular ARFs (Author Reading Fan) shows up also looking for a reading. The person assigned as Mr. Laukkanen’s driver introduces me to the other ARF's and before I know it, the young author offers to chat.

Now this can be awkward for an unprepared author (seeJeyn Roberts review) and Mr. Laukkanen admits that he has not done too many formal readings but would be happy to talk about what we want to hear.

I look at the ARF and she looks at me. The ARF and I are strangers so I suggest we start out with the standard staid and tried questions that every author gets over and over again. Mr. Laukkanen doesn’t mind a bit.

We ask about his background his writing method, does he outline, how he does research, why he chose this one particular genre that kind of thing.

He Canadian by birth, and started out as a writer for a poker magazine, which interesting enough gave him no help in his quest to peruse an agent. He took his life savings and treating it like a job, Mr. Laukkanen began to pound out his first novel.

It’s getting fun because, not only is Mr. Laukkanen humble and pleasant and enthusiastic to listen to but he is own story is actually interesting. I mean IF I HAD A DOLLAR FOR EVERY WRITER WHO IS BURNED OUT, BORED AND INCONVENIENCED BY BEING ON TOUR. I MEAN WOW.

You can tell the jerks in the world. There are authors who are so full of themselves they think they will be buried in Westminster Abby. They might be great writers but when they treat the public as if their writing is doing mankind a favor; I’m not reading them any longer. That is why I write this Blog in the first place.

I’m not sure how Mr. Laukkanen will come off on stage in front of three hundred people but if he can make the big stage as intimate as he did tonight this guy can be a book selling machine. I rarely buy books at author readings and I have to say I was charmed enough to buy a copy of the “Professionals.”

I know, what some readers might be thinking “Hey Claudio, what’s with the effusive review? Where is the snark, the biting criticism? All I know is that author readings are still one of the best ways to sell books and for authors to connect with an audience. Anyone interested in discovering a new author or those who like listening to author readings, should understand this guy deserves a look.

Oh yeah, about the book: “The Professionals” is the story of a bunch of broke, out of work college grads joke about making a start-up business in the kidnapping/ransom field; until talk becomes action and everything goes bad.

I asked him why he didn’t choose the seedy subculture of the poker world as material for his first book. He understandably admitted he didn’t want to be known as a "poker writer" but that background might come in handy for future stories. Right now he has a three book series featuring his protagonist police officers that will keep him busy for the foreseeable future.

The genesis for Mr. Laukkanen’s writing crime started at the family dinner table with conversations about blood splatter patters and ballistic reports. You see his parents, are both Physicians, and his mother is an honest to goodness Forensic Scientist.

That’s correct folks, Mommy is a real life CSI. What an amazing resource for writer to call upon. I mean could you imagine ease dropping on this cell phone conversation:

“Hi mom. What’s the best method for keeping a dead woman from floating to the top of a lake?”

I’m telling you right now, if that conversation was overheard in Portland or Seattle coffee shop, the 911 switchboard would be flooded with paranoid, caffeine fueled panic.

We end the evening as he has books to sign. I impart on him some unsolicited advice, (because I think I know everything) about what works and what I find does not work best at author readings. Mr. Laukkanen, listens with grace and smiles as I babble. It is the smile of a man who used to write about the poker world knowing in this world there many losers and few winners.

Poker, like publishing, is a world where talent and brains sometimes aren’t enough to come out on top but with his new novel and personality, Owen Laukkanen is holding a great hand.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Jeyn Roberts Book Tour Review


I quietly wait atThird Place Books to meet with my other author friends and exchange ideas and critique each other’s work. At 6:45 the usual call goes out announcing that an author is reading in the small stage, but I don’t go having made other plans. My friends are late so I wait: when at 7:03 I hear a sound so sickening that I can’t believe my ears.

It is a second announcement by the book store that an author reading is about to take place, promoting the book DARK INSIDE and that my dear readers is a bad sign.

It is the sound of an author getting skunked at a reading. No one has shown so I slap my computer shut and text everyone the instructions that some poor bugger is reading to an empty room.

Okay so there is a mom and a daughter, another lady (who has actually read the book) myself and the rest of the wannabe authors straggling in.

It’s young adult literature; a genre ruined for me by lousy books about Vampires on the Washington coast but I don’t care if she is writing about, Zombies or blood suckers or the Tea Party, no novelist should ever get skunked at a reading. I just can’t let this happen.

There were meet our author Jeyn Roberts standing in this barren room; nervous as a Tribute before the start of the Hunger Games. (Get it? Ha, Ha. This is a young adult author and then I made The Hunger Games analogy and it was supposed to be clever but… forget it)

Still this could be interesting. Heck this could be fun. It is one thing to watch an author wrangle a a packed house completely engaged on their every word but then there is the other side. How does one handle a crowd of the few and unaware? Let’s see how she handles this because someday we are all going to face that empty room.

Actually I have seen great readings done in rooms as small as five people and lousy ones done by people who actually paid to see an author. The best ones always give the same performance.

I have to give Ms. Roberts a lot of credit by admitting that she is uneasy talking to so few people tonight after speaking at several local high schools where her core audience is found. As we conversed she was energetic and funny and seemed like a genuine hard working author. Yeah, I liked her.

But rather than beginning the evening by reading from the book, (so that the few of us can get some kind of flavor for the novel) she starts by asking if anyone has read the book. (No)

Then she decided to just open up the talk to questions, which makes me cringe because that puts the pressure on the audience and I know what kind of questions are going to take place.

I need something to ask about, something to anchor the evening on with a writer I know nothing about. Reading from the book helps, but that is just me.

My writing friends have arrived (seven in the audience now) and we bomb her with the basic questions, “Do you use an outline when writing?” “What is your background” One of my author friends asks the inspiration question. This is a long answer which helps by leading to more questions. Ms. Roberts has a lot to offer if only it were more structured.

Finally she read sections of the novel, which was her strongest part of the evening. She was enthusiastic about the book and she read with passion, often times explaining the plot as she went along and actually clearing up the plot.

Oh yeah the book. Here is my best two sentence elevator pitch describing Dark Inside and please add the movie guy announcer voice for this:

Tremendous earthquakes have destroyed the earth’s major cities; an ancient evil emerges, turning ordinary people into hunters, killers, and insane monsters. But a small group of teens comes together in a fight for survival and safety of all mankind. Can they do it? Will they do it?”

To me it sounds like “The Stand” meets “Godzilla” but what the hell do I know, one of my friends bought the book: I’ll ask him.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Casino Women: Author Reading Tour Review

University Book Store


In search of entertainment. I am burning through the usual websites when I come across an author reading tonight at the University Book Store for a book called “Casino Women” Well howdy do, this is the best title of a book I have seen since “When Naked Nazi Zombie Strippers from Mars Attack!”

Don’t know the author, don’t know what the book is about, but with a title like that I gotta check it out right?

I have images of a cheesy novel like Godfather, turned into a movie by Martin Scorsese say "Goodfellas meets "Caged Heat."” Or maybe, “Casino Women” is about a team of female card counters like in "Bringing Down the House" or how about a story of how a female casino owner making it in the tough all man’s world of Casino business.

If only I was that lucky.

Let me stop you and save you some time in case you want to watch television. I almost didn’t post this one. I have taken a long time to think about posting this review but here is it: This was the worst Author Reading I have ever attended. Period. A new low was set tonight so congrats Martha Grimes you’re off the hook.

I arrive with fifteen minutes to spare expecting a sparse crowd when I realize they are putting out more chairs and packing in the Book Store reading area. A fast count and we are up to fifty people and growing: a promising sign. Large groups of women, many college co-eds milling around and I begin to assume the author is a young first timer. Then just before the reading; shrouded in purple and gold jackets, they descend on the room like refugees trying to get out of the cold. What is this a book club, I think at first.?

They are wearing pins. Local 925? Union? They are handing out Union pins with slogans and wearing jackets union jackets. What are they doing at a reading about Casino’s and Women and why are they so angry as they talk among themselves?

Then before I can ask anyone, a professor from the University of Washington School of Public Health steps up and introduces, Dr. Jill B. Jones proclaiming how important her message is about health effects of casino work on women and the importance of her research.

Academia? It is slowly occurring to me that Scorsese is not going be adapting this book but that is fine, I can learn something.

Then she takes the stage. Jill B. Jones is a mature woman who has been on faculty at the University Nevada Las Vegas. I’m expecting something provocative, a charismatic speech to fill the mind and heart but no, not tonight.
Her reading is truly a reading. That is she is reading her whole presentation from a typed page and this woman never varied from the written text.

Now I’ve seen this before from some very good authors but Professor Jones demonstrated the exact reason why this tactic has the potential of a losing presentation. The woman is so monotone, so bland with a complete lack of inflection of her voice that I can’t tell where something begins and something ends… Oh how to explain this.

She reads from her prepared remarks off of the paper then Professor Jones would say something like “This is from the book.” At that point the audience is told they are listening to a section of the book, but then somehow, without any apparent break in cadence or style the book’s quote has ended and the speech continued but there is no clear break from book quote to lecture. I recorded this lecture and listened twice again and I challenge anyone to tell me where the books passage ends and she continues her speech. It was confusing and weird and distracting and had this been a first time writer I would have been more forgiving or not even review this but I expect more from a seasoned college professor.

Then there is the book. It seems that the whole thesis lacked any balance or demonstrated any kind of success story. I'm not against unions personally but I am against boring.

It was the same message over and over again. Casino’s are bad, workers are abused. The Professor tells the audience that casinos in Reno are not unionized and they struggle worse than Vegas, but they struggle in Vegas too because despite having the largest union in the State of Nevada, casino workers can’t get enough breaks from the Casinos.

The professor says while things in Reno are bad, at least in Vegas a housekeeper can make enough to afford a home and send a child to college but they struggle. Memo to Professor Jones, if she defines struggle as a job that allows someone to pay college tuition, then I know some Boeing workers who would have a choice word about the definition of struggle.

The professor says that Hotel housekeepers have the fourth most dangerous job in the United States but does not mention who is in the top three. My guess is if a housekeeper ranks number four on the danger level then that should place them behind police and infantry soldiers but between, Crab boat fishermen and loggers.

Snarky statement I realize but because of her lousy presentation and tone of the book she didn’t sway my sympathy.

Granted, the subject was not as exciting as a novel nor is this subject part of the national conversation. Fine, and not everyone can be Malcolm Gladwell; but I guarantee you that with the low grade presentation I saw tonight, this issue will not see the national spotlight anytime soon.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Return of the Tiger Mom. Amy Chua's Book Tour Review: "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother""

Third Place Books

January 13, 2012

Let’s start by being impressed Amy Chua came back; not to Seattle but to the author tour circuit. After a year removed from the release of her memoir, Battle Hyme of the Tiger Mother it’s impressive that an author like Ms. Chua has endured. She was called a monster, the worst mother in the world, the Chinese equivalent to Joan Crawford: Mao-ie Dearest heck you name it she was called it.

In the past few weeks the media has said she had gone soft. “Tiger mom retreats” screamed the headlines. The media reports she allows her children to have sleep overs now, implying that somehow Ms. Chua realizes the errors of her ways. Poppycock.

Of course this time I refuse to get sucked into the trap of letting the media frame the story again. When the publicity for Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom first came out, I figured Amy Chua to be a sanctimonious self-righteous ego maniac and that when she came to Seattle on her book tour I would be proven right. Then I saw Ms. Chua in person without the media filter and in my shame, came away with a different opinion. (See my original review from last year)
How did this all start?

Jump back a year in January 2011 when Ms. Chua’s book first came out.
The U.S. economy, is rotting and decimated. President Obama, was playing host to China’s, Hu Jintao, and as the Chinese President strutted around like a CEO who just purchased the United States in a hostile takeover.

Couple that with the PISA, tests announcing that Students in Shanghai were number one in every category, including English, while America’s education system failed. Yes the country that once landed a man of the moon found its children dumber than kids in Hungary, Slovenia and Estonia.

You could hear the Ivy League WASPs shaking in their shoes about the prospects of printing college applications in Polish or Estonian to attract the best and the brightest.

Then Ms. Chua’s book came out to the review from the Wall Street Journal and America found someone they could take out their frustrations regarding China. It’s all right that China owns our debt and it don’t bother me that them kids are smarter than us but ain’t no one gonna tell me how to raise my kids. Especially after I still have to pay off the overdraft charge buying my kid a new XBOX 360 so little junior can sit his overweight ignorant butt on the couch and play Grand Theft Auto. Who does that Chinese woman think she is?”

Of course this completely disregards the fact that Ms. Chua was born and raised in the U.S. but why let facts get in the way of a good rant.

Oh how Fox News Corp went sideways in those days. The Today show’s Meredith Vieira could barely contain her shock and disgust during an interview.New York Times ubercolumist David Brooks called her a "Wimp."“ My favorite comment came from Chinese American novelist, Deanna Fei(subject of my first and one of my lousiest reviews) who wrote this gem:

“I received a reply from my mother: a correspondingly loving message, along with a declaration that Amy Chua's depiction of Chinese mothers was ‘totally distorted’ and that Chua herself was ‘a hysterical control freak.’
Of course, in many ways, she was right.”

Wow whee wouldn’t you love to sit between these two women at a dinner party?

When I saw Ms. Chua during her first book tour, I came to realize that most missed the point and as for Ms. Chua going soft: they missed the point again. Her message was the same, what

The book was a memoir. Chua wrote about how she was trapped between her parent’s culture of the old world and the new world her daughters would live in thus deciding the strict method used by Ms. Chua’s own parents was the correct paradigm. To some readers in America, the method came across harsh and even inflexible but there were others, even non-Chinese, who could relate to Chua’s world even finding the humor she intended.

Compared to last year's appearance to the one tonight and I didn’t see a difference in the author’s message. What I did see was the difference in her.

The last time she took the stage Ms. Chua strode up to the podium with an aura made of kevlar that would have stopped an RPG at thirty feet. Let's be honest, who wouldn’t be on guard in the face of the hostile crows whipped up by the Wall Street Journal?

That was last year, tonight, as Ms. Chua popped her head into the room, something happened that I have only seen in one other author reading; the crowd broke into spontaneous applause before she was introduced.

This was the author tour she must have hoped to have a year ago. This was the author reading any writer would hope to have. Sure the controversy helped fuel sales and no doubt why she is on tour again. Yet, while the sound of the controversy still exists: the fury seems to have died down. This time around Ms. Chua seemed relaxed, like a person who could be herself and now she could share the message she wanted to deliver a year ago.

Ms. Chua has been all over the world now, but little has changed in her message as she hit upon the same points she did on her last book tour, sans distractions. When anuthor attains this level of fame it can be a detriment when an audience comes to listen. Massive success and yearlong book tours can make for a tired, staid reading. I was worried when I read the previous night; Chua was speaking at the legendary Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. How would she perform when her next gig was on the small stage at Seattle’s Third Place Books. Would there be a letdown? Some authors might have mailed it in but tonight Amy Chua spoke as if she were giving this talk for the first time.

I looked harder for any signs of change. Maybe I was missing something. As I observed the first time she came to Seattle, this is a woman of will. She possesses that rare combination of both will and stage presence making for a riveting evening. As she speaks I wonder how many authors would have backed down from the backlash she received last year. How many people would have taken the death threats and vitriol placed upon her family and sacked it in or just made them bitter?

It takes will to raise children. It takes will to make it in this world and people like Amy Chua and her parents before her understood this. It also takes will to go out night after night to live audiences not knowing what reaction you are going to face when the groundwork of the major media has already done its best to define you. Sometimes you have to step up show both your daughters and the world that you can’t let the bully win.

During the book signing, as I gathered my things to leave and I heard a woman in line say something to Ms. Chua that sounded like an apology. Then she mentioned how glad she was to have seen the author speak tonight. Amy Chua flashed that brilliant smile and in the most sincere voice responded, “Thanks for giving me a chance.

Another skeptic won over.

Monday, December 19, 2011

John De Graaf and David Batker Book Tour Review

Town Hall Seattle

University Book Stores

December 13, 2011

I don’t know what exists in heaven but hell must be a cocktail party full of Economists with no booze.

Filmmaker,John De Graaf and EconomistDavid Batker showed up today to discuss their new book "What's the Economy for Anyway?"

This book is based off of the movie/info/documentary the two men made that has received a great deal of notice. It’s backwards since usually the movie comes after the book but hats off to the two authors, for this accomplishment.

The book’s basic premise is that the measure of the economy should be in question, and in fact the whole measurement economic value should be changed. These are utopian ideals based on principles and while some of their concepts are immeasurable and intangible the two men’s presentation was downright solid.

Now I am no economist and I could not be further outside my area of expertise but let me say, economics is a boring a subject but tonight it could not have been any more entertaining.

Inside Town Hall’s basement I am waiting with my friend Nick who tags along
Next door to the lecture hall, there is a raucous reception, (invite only), with about forty people in honor of the authors.

I am sitting in the front row engaged in conversation with a delightful older lady about how she believes this movie was important and the economic concepts are spot on. She is a big fan of the movie (which I have never heard of) and talks as if Nick and I both own a personal copy so we go along with the conversation. Then a man sits between us and he starts talking about the book. Another man seated behind joins in on the conversation. It’s so happy here among strangers, I thought we were all going to have to rent a house together.

Then a man stands next to me. We make eye contact and he introduces himself to me as David. Swear to God he is the friendliest man I ever met and oh yeah by the way I had no fricking idea who I am talking to now.

David: “Nice to meet you Claudio”
Me: “You too. Wow big crowd. Were you over at the reception?”

OF COURSE was at the reception: this was David Batker, he was the guest of honor. But no I’m still oblivious and we keep talking until I make a complete ass of myself asking, “Have you read this book?”

If this had been another author, say Andrew Vachss, I would have been escorted out to the back of the building and beaten until I apologized.

Mr. Batker, could not have been more gracious in telling me he was in fact the co-author. The lack of pretension was so genuine, and so refreshing that I thought more authors could use this man’s charm to connect with potential readers.

Oh yeah, the reading.

John De Graaf, the film maker of the duo starts out the evening. He is a veteran film maker and wears the same mischievous smile you saw plastered on the Caddyshack gopher.

Mr. De Graaf opens well by stating that there will be no boring PowerPoint presentations because in his words, “power corrupts and PowerPoint corrupt absolutely.” It’s a funny line which leads into Mr. De Graaf showing the first part of the documentary that staring who else but the man I didn’t recognize: David Batker.

There is a danger in showing a movie at a reading. It has all the trappings of someone inviting you to watch their wedding video. It can be boring and staid and the presenter risks losing the audience or worse, hiding behind celluloid but De Graaf shows just enough to get the conversation started and it works.

Tonight is about left wing utopian ideals. It's about how we all need more time off, how people in other countries besides the U.S. are healthier and less sick when they work less. How other countries are more productive than the U.S. with more time less stress and a greater sense of community.

They wrote a book about problems of the world and they actually offer their own solutions that support their arguments.

Tonight they fed us statistics about what Americans feel, what the world should be and how wealth should be distributed. They talk of how outdated the GDP is as a measuring tool for the economy and how it is relied upon so much that it handcuffs progress. De Graaf and Batker would like to include the Bhutan’s National Happiness Index.

They believe the economy will grow if we change accounting practices, not like Enron changed accounting practices, but a new paradigm; such as including the environmental value of wetlands protecting the Gulf Coast. Batker argues that the value of a wetland protecting the Gulf Coast from tropical storms should be included so that the inland destruction averted by wetland preservation would save millions in rebuilding cost for the future.

Regarding the authors, I must say that I appreciate the level of discourse the two men are willing to engage in with the audience. They were entertaining, open, kind men who did not waste my time as they presented their book. (Kudos to Batker, he actually asked people to buy the book. No doubt the publisher is happy as is the sponsorUniversity Book Storeas was the audience.

Tonight they were preaching to the choir but I had the feeling that De Graaf and Batker would have engaged an opposing views if there were any to be found in the crowd. In fact allow me to make a serious observation of the audience; it was so far to the left that we were in danger of going full circle and running into Fox News Corp headquarters.

This audience, resembled the crowd downtown Seattle's "occupy protest movements" and some even had police pepper scented body spray. So help me God if one person stepped up and offered a counter argument to Batker I would have called 911 for that person’s safety.

Questions like how “other” places receive Batker and De Graaf came up. De Graaf mentioned that other parts outside of Seattle had been receptive to their ideas even in the “South” Yes because we all understand that NO SOUTHERNER is concerned about environment, community, or having the desire to change the status quot regarding the economy. No, only people in Seattle have the moral fiber and acuity to understand what is best for the world. We all know there are no are no right minded conservatives here just like we all know there are no liberals in Idaho.

Of course I am being sarcastic. I encourage people to go to these things to expand their minds. I enjoy listening to conversation that moves people and love that the Tea Party and the Occupiers give a damn but to listen to people in this crowd tonight, even if I agree with some of their points it is a nice reminder that liberals too - can be bigots.

During the open mic question, OH DID THE LUNATIC FRINGE TAKE OVER. Nothing makes my Cheetos stained hands clap together faster than when the nuts come out for a book reading and tries to take over the stage. First question is this pickle head who takes five full minutes to make a speech and yell at the audience out for not being involved in government. Earlier this same nut case, handed my friend Nick a card attempting to recruit minions to his movement. I want to yell "Dude get your own lecture hall"

Another believer gets up (THIS WAS A FIRST), he read his question off a lap top computer. WOW! Then as the two authors try to answer this he was typing Batker’s answer in real time as if his blog followers could not wait for the answer in real time. Oh yeah, question was about globalization. It was so long, complex and disjointed, that he must have been working on the question for over a week. Somehow Batker and De Graaf got through it, but I swear I still don’t know what the kid wanted to know.

The whole Q & A session was a hot mess and it was great. Mr. Batker kept up his energy and showed his charm while Mr. De Graaf kept that gopher smile on his face like a drunk at a open bar enjoying the moment. Still they had to be wondering if Malcolm Gladwell or Hernando de Soto got questions like this.

Still they were worth checking out