Sunday, August 14, 2005

"the postreading generation"

Barbara Ehrenreich has a funny and frightening article about "how to succeed in business"-type books in today's NYTBR. Interestingly, one of the main features of these books is their, er, terse language.

The few words that do appear in these books are likely to be bolded, bulleted or boxed. Lists are unavoidable. ''Now, Discover Your Strengths'' includes a list with 34 possible strength-related ''themes,'' from ''achiever'' to ''maximizer'' to ''woo.'' Chapters are often embedded with simple exercises you can perform at home, like this one from ''Secrets of the Millionaire Mind'': ''Place your hand on your heart and say . . . 'I admire rich people!' 'I bless rich people!' 'I love rich people!' 'And I'm going to be one of those rich people too!' '' In some cases, the author seems ready to abandon print altogether, ending the book with instructions to visit his Web site, purchase his nonbook products or attend his motivational seminars (and they are, in the current batch of business success books, always ''his''). For members of the postreading generation, ''How Full Is Your Bucket?'' and ''The 8th Habit'' tuck in a convenient CD.

I've always wondered about books like Who Moved My Cheese? When Lorelei and Rory take a little trip to Harvard in The Gilmore Girls, there is a moment when Rory, stunned by the size of the school's library, laments that she'll never read all the books in the world. Lorelei promptly reminds her that she can skip books like Tuesdays With Morrie and Who Moved My Cheese? I've never read either, and I can't say I've ever really wondered if I'm missing something. But Ehrenreich's survey makes me suspect that there's some corrollary between these books and the popularity of FOX news and right-wing radio. I mean, Who Moved My Cheese is no "Richard Cory."

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