Lessons From Lucy, Dave Barry

Lessons From Lucy by Dave Barry. There's a dog on the cover. There's Dave Barry on the cover. The dog looks both wise and dumb as good dogs should. Dave Barry looks like Dave Barry, I guess. The cover says New York Times Bestseller in all caps so it's not like I'm alone in liking this. Nice to be in the in-crowd. And the publisher has put a subtitle on the thing stating that it's about "the simple joys of an old, happy dog" by which I think they're referring to Lucy, but who knows what they think of Barry or how they refer to him around the office. Could go either way.

My friend Faith suggested the book, so I blame her. I've known Faith forty-one years. I remember how, on her fortieth birthday, a family friend hung a sheet or something on her house saying, "Lordy, Lordy, Faith is Forty." I also remember thinking, "wow, forty is old." And now our friendship is forty-one years old, I'm ten years older than that, and I've come around to a whole new way of thinking about these things, which is to say: wow, forty-one is ridiculously old.

The book is good and fun. It's a self-help book, but Barry knows better than that. He also understands he's stating the obvious in the book and that it's okay. Besides, it's not really a self-help book because it's funny. Self-help isn't allowed to be funny. It's not even allowed to approach funny. There are laws in all fifty states and Rhode Island about these things. Lessons From Lucy is a humor book disguised as self-help too obvious to be real self-help and couldn't be self-help anyway because it's funny, all of which is help to my self.

To give just a taste — mind you, this book tastes terrible even with chocolate sauce — discussing mindfulness, Barry reminded me of my good old days working in schools that often helped teachers by forcing them through day-long sessions about things that obviously didn't matter and would be forgotten before the end of September so that we could spend another day-long session acting as though we were invested in and listening to the presentation and definitely not watching the NCAA Tournament on our phones hidden cunningly in our laps.

I was one of the last people to find out about "mindfulness." By the time I'd heard of it, major corporations and government agencies were putting their employees through mindfulness training. I did not view this as a positive sign. In my experience, any trend that reaches the point where large organizations are inflicting it on their personnel has a high statistical probability of being stupid.

I don't remember what the second lesson for Lucy is (there are seven chapters, each with a lesson from Lucy, and (spoiler!) they follow in numerical order) but it served as an excuse for Barry to describe being a member of a precision lawnmower brigade and the band The Remainders (who play, according to Roy Blount Jr. music falls under the heading "hard listening.") I read it in bed last night and am still married because my wife remained downstairs talking with our daughter while I snorted and giggled through forty-four pages and then reread most of it to snort and giggle some more. After I'm done drafting this, I'll read it again and laugh at the exact same stuff and this may go on for days. I think this is a sign of greatness, that I derive joy from things again and again, sucking the marrow out of life as it were. I hear whispers on occasion, suggesting the possibility that I'm just a simple moron. Another thing that could go either way.

But there really is a part of this for which I blame Faith. The epilogue had me in tears. Not laughing, Dave-Barry-is-so-funny tears, but real ones I had trouble seeing through. The last eight pages I had to keep wiping my eyes and try to breathe normally. Also, I got snot on the book. For this, I apologize to the Onondaga County Library System and everyone else waiting to read Lessons From Lucy, but mostly I blame Faith. So should the librarians.

Don't worry, the dog doesn't die. Lucy doesn't even get sick. She's fine. Everybody's fine. Even me. Everyone is good except Faith who has some serious explaining to do.

Ways Of Hearing, Damon Krukowski

A quick book deserves at least a quick post. Damon Krukowski's brief Ways Of Hearing is the companion to the podcast of the same name which I should get around to hearing. But here's the thing: I don't like sitting still for podcasts. I'll sit and read, but for a podcast I need a commute or other ride and, for better and worse, I have none. If I could get my podcasts on paper, that would be just ducky.

As to the matter of the book ("Words, words, words."), it begins this way:

The first record I made was all analog. It wasn't a choice — that's just how it was done in the 80s. My friends and I lived in an all-analog world. There were no computers in our lives.

And it ends like this: (Spoilers! No, not really.)

...my aim has been to call attention to aspects of sound we may not always think about. You might say, I've been trying to highlight different parts of the noise around us.

And that's because it's my hope that by listening to a wider swath of noise, we might discover more about what is meaningful signal for each of us. And how we might best share those signals with one another.

Between all that is a discussion of how digital eliminates all that analog noise and strips much of the experience of living from the world. If you remember using an old phone, probably hung on the wall of your kitchen, you'll grok this easily. Recall how on that old phone you never wondered if someone was still on the line. You heard their dog's bark, music playing on their radio, a truck passing their open window, and maybe their breathing (especially if it was a late-night call was to your love).

Now switch to your iPhone or Android. None of that noise comes through because it was decided that we only want the signal. Noise was all filtered out such that at the slightest pause in conversation, we wonder, is anyone still there?

Noise is necessary. Noise is good. It's part of what appeals about records. It's why a handwritten note beats the hell out of an email. It's why we go out to dinner with friends. In the noise is humanity. The real world is analog noise much more than it is digital signal.

At that dinner party with friends, you're paying attention to the friend speaking to you. All the other conversations at the table and across the restaurant are noise. You've chosen to focus, to make this one person the signal in all that noise.

Then your wife, husband, daughter, or son, catches your eye. Their signal rises to the top of your attention, the rest becomes noise. That person you love leans in and says something low, a signal only for you, a joke the two of you share. You smile. More signal chosen amidst all the noise. Even when you turn to some other signal, the noise of love permeates your spectacular analog world.

That's the way I want to go about hearing.

Oh, and Krukowski's previous book The New Analog is perhaps even better. The guy is brilliant. Go get 'em.

Dreyer's English, Benjamin Dreyer

A few days ago I wrote about having no guru, master, or teacher. I was wrong. I don't attend a specific school, but teachers, masters, and gurus are all free at the public library and Benjamin Dreyer filled those roles for me as I read, enjoyed, learned, and laughed through Dreyer's English, a book I recommend to every writer and reader as well as pretty much anyone who enjoys smart, funny people talking about interesting things. My wife tired of me laughing and reading sections to her, but she often tires of me and who can blame her?

Just about everyone has written about this book by now and what more can I say about it? My first thought when considering writing about it was this: don't. It has all been said by wiser and stupider (page 263, #22) people than I. Still, deciding not to write out of the fear of repeating what has already been said is the height of cowardice. But now that I'm here, what do I have to say other than that Dreyer is funny and made me smarter?


There is a section in which he describes working with Richard Russo on Straight Man, my favorite book and the funniest I know, followed closely by Russo's Nobody's Fool and Jess Walter's The Financial Lives Of The Poets. All of those make me stop and laugh out loud, not just smile and keep reading. That Straight Man still has this effect on me after at least half a dozen readings testifies either to its hilarity or my simplicity. I'd like to think it's the former. I'm sure that's what all us simple people hope.

(I liked the section enough to type "Hello," He Smiled: The Richard Russo Story in full, a time-consuming process far more useful than it might seem.)

Dreyer's English had me laughing at least as often as any of those and just as hard. This from a guide to clarity and style, though it's important to note that it is, as advertised on the cover, An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style (emphasis mine). Well, in that case.

I can't cherry-pick things to quote here. There are too many. Get the book from your library. If you're a writer, buy a copy — I suspect I will — and within a few pages you'll understand. It's good right from the get-go and it stays good.

The footnotes are especially funny though, no laughing matter, my eyes skate right over the tiny asterisks. There's a terrible word to pronounce, but I looked it up so as not to write asterices or some other atrocious mistake that sounded Latin and highfallutin (page 137). I'm not utterly correct, but hope springs eternal for my education, edification, and whatever word begins with e and ends in tion that would round off that triple.

Of course the problem with having read such a book and especially with writing about it, is that I'm imagining all that might be made better about this post were I to better pay attention to all Dreyer has told me. That and if I could pull of jokes as he has. Perhaps I just need a few footnotes, but alas, no.

That's enough out of me. Go read him. Buy the book from the link above and make me a rich man, yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum. Or something like that.

Two Books

My project isn't unusual. It's to figure myself out, to find out who I am and who I might become, to plot a path into some future. You know, the usual. One way I do all this is to read books.

Last week, on the advice of someone I respect, I began reading This Is Marketing by Seth Godin, a guy I've not read before but about whom I was vaguely suspicious. He seemed a guru with too many slick answers, but I was willing to give him a shot.

I tried to see what the book had to teach me, but I've taken the bookmark from between pages eighty-six and eighty-seven and placed it into a new book, Handmade: Creative Focus In The Age Of Distraction by Gary Rogowski. Though the bookmark is only between pages twelve and thirteen I feel better already. Rogowski talks of sawdust, Robert M. Pirsig, learning, and hiking. It's as though I can touch each thing to which he is referring.

In eighty-six pages, Seth Godin gave me two things to touch. Two. I kept waiting for more than platitudes. Maybe I'm just not familiar enough with marketing to get the book. Then again, I'm not much of a woodworker and Rogowski already has me in his hands. He keeps talking plainly and telling stories. He doesn't seem all that concerned about persuading me. He's convinced and that's enough.

I wanted to learn from Godin and maybe I have. Moving the bookmark from his to Rogowski's book tells me a lot. I'm not sure just yet what all of that might be, but I'm getting a strong, strong feeling that might just be some kind of understanding.