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Authors, readers, critics, media — and booksellers.

 

Writing So You Can Review Other People’s Writings

Some of the great things about getting my cat poetry book published — after failing to get my cat coffee table book (pictured to the left) published, my cat fitness book published, and my cat YA vampire book accepted by my printer — are all the perks that go with being an author. Like watching a family member's face when they excitedly unwrap his or her birthday present only to find a copy of your book, followed by their comment "But you already made me buy three of these. And at least those were signed to the right person." Or walking into a bookstore and inquiring after your work incognito, despite the fact that there is no way they'd ever know who the hell you were in the first place, meaning you just wasted six hours in the makeup chair and a whole year in Laplander dialect coaching.

But one perk I haven't experienced as an author is being asked to review another author's work. That's the sort of illustrious invitation that lets you know you've finally arrived and that you can count on squeezing at least one more paycheck out of this whole writing thing (not to mention at least one free book).

In the great hope that I am one day asked to do so, I decided to build my critical analysis portfolio by reviewing a few books on spec. I specifically chose business-management books to show that I possess a wide range of publishing knowledge outside of cats and because after reading a bunch of cat books, I realized many of them are actually quite remarkable, and I started to get real insecure real fast.

So let us begin with...

Just Because You Wish Thorn Bushes Tasted like Double-Chocolate-Swirl Ice Cream Doesn't Mean You Should Go Right Out and Lacerate Your Mouth in a Thicket: A Business Fable
From the bestselling author of If Wishes Were Candy We'd All Be Buried Under Six Tons of Zagnuts comes this instructive guide about going from a career dreamer to a professional doer. The book opens — as many a business tome does — with a parable, this time about a snowman that more than anything else wants to be a polar bear. With a Fender guitar. And a trophy wife. He wishes and wishes and wishes, but his dreams always come to naught. Then one day a penguin drives up in a golf cart and says in a comical French accent, "Stupid snowman. You can never be a polar bear. Your body structure is all wrong. Plus, bears have strict unions. Instead, you should concentrate on being the best snowman you can be!" The snowman mulls this over for a second and then replies, "You're right! I'm going to be the best snowman I can be!" Six months later he has controlling interest in U.S. Steel.

While the book includes much in the way of useful information, the reader is eventually left with more questions than answers. Why does the imagery of the parable in no way correspond to that of the book's title? How exactly does a snowman assume leadership of one of the world's largest business concerns? Why does the penguin suddenly reappear in the final chapter only to rail against the Scots and the Trilateral Commission? In the end, though, these are minor quibbles compared to the wisdom you are certain to gain about flightless waterfowl and the rich inner lives of inanimate objects.

Hunter S. Thompson on Leadership
Keeping in spirit with the late self-proclaimed "gonzo" journalist's decisive moves and distinctive style, this short, direct work will teach executives wholly unexpected approaches for results-oriented management. Less an actual book than a compilation of quotes he woke up to find he had written on the walls and roof of his house, it's sure to appeal to professionals who don't so much want to think outside the box as shoot at it with an unlicensed howitzerit's sure to appeal to professionals who don't so much want to think outside the box as shoot at it with an unlicensed howitzer while under the influence of home-cooked mescaline (as clearly demonstrated in the author's photo). From the opening chapter, "Look What Those Ghost Raccoons Did to My Youth I'm Going to Poison the Water Commissioner," to the closing summary, "Oh Jesus I Can't Feel My Thoughts I Want a Quesadilla Why Won't the Key Start the Coat Rack," readers are sure to glean crucial insights into setting goals, establishing clear priorities, resolving personnel conflicts, and just how to start building a submarine in your basement only to get distracted and instead try to construct a language consisting entirely of vowels and crossbows. The book also contains what might be a recipe for beef stew, directions to some friend's party, and 122 pages about how to use dynamite in lieu of a fishing rod or swimming pool contractor.

The 247,000 Attributes of an Effective Business Leader
"Charisma." "Confidence." "Passion." "Selflessness." "Responsibility." "Vision." "Goals." "Initiative." "Analysis." "Instruction." "Teamwork." "Guidance." "Directness." "Loyalty." "Motivation." "Productivity." "Praising." "Discernment." The list goes on and on for more than 700 pages with nary an introduction, illustration, or summation. The author's insistence on breaking up each term by syllable, the dearth of any context save proper grammatical usage, and the inexplicable presence of such words as "heliotrope," "nursemaid," and "pulchritude" may lead one to assume the publisher simply slapped a new cover over an old copy of Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, but the tome is nonetheless an invaluable addition to any business professional's library. Be sure to check out the highly informative appendices, including "Geographical Names," "A Chronology of Major Historical Events," and "A Guide to Pronunciation Symbols."

You Can't Spell "Cannot" without "Can": Making the Impossible Unimpossiblish
If good management is the execution of a plan that meets or exceeds department goals, then clearly great management is the execution of a plan that defies all reasonable or even earthbound expectations. Or so say the authors of this book. And to prove their point, they randomly brought together a paleontologist, an ad executive, a Yankee Candle cashier, and a touring company of Godspell to lead a small South Pacific island to prosperity and international prominence. Six weeks later everyone was dead, save for a lone monkey with a note taped to his chest that read, "Our new leader." While most people would look at the swath of needless destruction, the innumerable candle-scented corpses, and a logbook that includes the passage "Every day the monkey doubles our productivity quotas" as sure signs of absolute management failure, the authors (whose previous publishing credits include the investment guide Just Keep Thinking Happy Thoughts and Maybe Your Stocks Will Bounce Back) focus only on the positive. The country never had time to go into debt. No one achieved success at the expense of another team member. Everyone worked together to construct a large kite in hopes of flying off the island (albeit only to float into an active volcano). By concentrating on what was accomplished and completely ignoring all that went horribly, horribly awry, the authors illustrate a defining principle of most business leaders — to maintain a strong "vision" for your department, it's perfectly acceptable to ignore all the blind spots along the way.

Oh, God, We're F****d: How Change Will Be the Death of Us All
Written as a harsh rebuttal to the hugely successful and far more encouraging leadership bible Who Moved My Cheese?, this hastily scrawled and stapled work starts with the premise that change can have nothing but a detrimental effect on one's professional and personal life. Things get only darker from there as the author recounts a lifetime of setbacks, personal failures, and opportunities that proved to be anything but. Eventually he forgoes prose altogether to doodle stick figures in a hangman's noose, paste pictures of his ex-girlfriend taken with a telephoto lens, and scribble an extensive "enemies list" that includes several thousand names, many of them Muppets. Poorly mimeographed, published through a vanity press that shares an address with an SRO hotel, and available only at check-cashing locations, the book is a desperate, utterly despairing cry for help. But at less than 40 pages — many of those torn out by the author himself — it can easily be read on your commute to work, and the staggeringly obscene book-jacket art alone is well worth your two bucks.

÷ ÷ ÷

Francesco Marciuliano is the author of Sally Forth, an internationally syndicated family comic strip (created by Greg Howard). He was also the head writer for the PBS children's series SeeMore's Playhouse. He lives in New York City.


Books mentioned in this post

  1. I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems...
    Used Hardcover $7.95
  2. Who Moved My Cheese?
    Used Hardcover $6.50


Francesco Marciuliano is the author of I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats

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