Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Review: The Year of Living Biblically

I'd meant to readThe Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possiblewhen it was published in 2007, but never got around to it. It was published during the whole stretch where my grandfather died, I started writing a book and went through a crushing breakup. Reading a book about the Bible wasn't exactly on the top of my priority list.

But I'm glad I finally got around to the book where A.J. Jacobs tries to live according to the Bible for a year. It's silly in parts, like him not shaving for a year, wearing all white, and the whole rules about how he's not supposed to share a bed with his life when Aunt Flo's around. It's more serious, though, than I expected and Jacobs is really changed by the experience. Even though he remains agnostic (not really a spoiler, so calm down), his view of the world has changed, and he seems to reach a spirituality that has little to do with God but more with seeing the world in a different way and appreciating why people believe in religion.

It also felt a little bit like a throwback. The book came out when stunt books were popular. Jacobs' first book was about reading the encyclopedia. I don't see as many of these now because how many times can you live in a retirement community as a young adult or live your life according to everything Oprah says? Apparently, when that well ran dry, the publishing industry turns to vampires.

So - good read, even though the trend of stunt memoirs is drawing to a close. Or maybe not - maybe a vampire living according to the Bible?

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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

I was surprised at myself when I bought Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purposeby Tony Hsieh. I'm not that big into business books. I shop at Zappos.com (of course), but I wouldn't call myself a devotee.

But I like what they do - which included giving me a credit for a pair of gloves that had fallen apart three months after purchase - and a few people recommended the book, so I gave it a read while going to and from New York today.

Not a bad read. It explains a completely different business point of view than what I'm used to, especially now that I have ended my career as a full time freelance writer. Hsieh writes that by focusing on the people who work at the company, and having a core set of company values, your business can really take off WITHOUT maximum profit being the bottom line...though those moves certainly help grow a business.

When I was freelancing full time - up until about two months ago - I felt like a commodity that had to be "bought" at the lowest price possible. Editors and publishers cut word counts, cut rates, treated me worse than I've ever been treated before. I felt like I was being spit on by some of them through vile-packed emails.

How do they expect to keep good, dependable skilled writers if that's how they treat us? The argument that they could get someone else to do it cheaper didn't help either. After five and a half years of freelancing full time, I took a full time marketing job and went back to freelancing part time.

Toward the end of that career, I realized that writing was not fun anymore. It did not make me happy. It did not give my any sort of financial security, and my "product" suffered. Maybe that's why this book spoke out to me, both as someone who was caught in a dozen tiny profit focused machines (magazines and newspapers) and as someone who was producing what became an inferior product.

I'm not saying that the job I have now will also be my final employment stop, but it gives me the flexibility to write what I want to write again. I'm working again on a novel. I'm writing on this blog again, and today I spent the day wandering New York City with a former college classmate. I'm writing an article about him for our college alumni journal. I wasn't worried about how much I was going to make per hour. I wasn't worried about all the other assignments I had to do. My only concern was being in that moment of catching up with an old friend, and making sure I had the information to write the best piece possible.

Somehow that relates to this book. It's a quick read, too. Great pick up.

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