Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Improvement | Lefsetz Letter

Improvement: A Novel

This book is about nobodies.

I listened to Scott Galloway on Barry Ritholtz’s podcast “Masters In Business.” You should too, Galloway’s got his finger on the tech issues, the Frightful Four and how they impact our lives. Furthermore, he admits early in the podcast he was wrong about one of his predictions, no one ever does that, forget D.C., you’re not running for election, want to endear yourself to people, admit your faults, nothing brings them closer to you. But Galloway’s podcast is better than his book, where he doesn’t shoot high enough, we want to know what we do not know and the truth is we all know so much and those who don’t know anything should not be addressed, because they don’t care, the world is no longer one of generalists, but those with deep knowledge in specific verticals, appeal to them.

And when Galloway’s appearance was done I was at loose ends, I wanted more business, but no podcast appealed to me, so I pulled up Patti Smith on Alec Baldwin’s “Here’s The Thing.” And Patti’s got a terrible accent. And although I’m a fan of the initial Arista LP, I think the veneration of her musical output and impact is overrated, but damn if she didn’t close me here, because brains are God-given, and she’s got them, she’s not just babbling like an idiotic star, she’s got insight, and she too is honest, she’s not concerned with looking good, which is a revelation. And she said she was never interested in a career, she just wanted to do something great.

Joan Silber’s “Improvement” is great.

Prior to reading it I read a genre book, highly reviewed in the WSJ. That’s about giving people what they want, mysteries, thrillers. They’re all plotted out, the writing is secondary. But there’s always an unacceptable twist, something that doesn’t ring true. When it happens I wince, and I no longer want to read genre fiction again.

And Galloway recommended non-fiction in the podcast. Enough with the faux self-improvement. Last time I checked you were a human being. Best to improve your humanity rather than your checkbook. That’s what’s wrong with society, our values are all screwed up. Money is not the devil, and having little makes you think about it all the time, but there’s no tally at the end of your life, no cashier in the check-out line in heaven determining your worth by your bank account. The truth is we’re all just people, how do we get along, how do we survive, what are our lives about?

That’s what “Improvement” is concerned with.

But first and foremost it is readable. That’s one thing that’s been cast aside. I have a steady inflow of new books at my house, people looking for a ride to riches and fame. And almost none of the authors can write. They think an idea is a book. They think if it’s got covers they’ve made an achievement. Writing is an ability you hone, it’s more than words, it’s a feeling, a vibe, it’s truth.

Joan Silber can write. She inhabits these characters, makes them real.

You spend your life in your head. At best you can connect with others occasionally. More often you’re at skew lines. What goes on in your head? That’s what I’m interested in. That’s what Silber nails.

How do you feel? What choices did you make? How do you deal with conundrums?

Not everybody is a winner. Not everybody is on their way up. Some people fall through life. Some people have dead end jobs. Some people live to get high. Some are dreamers. Some are losers. It’s a vast panoply of humanity, but it’s rarely seen today. It’s almost like we’re hiding who we are, because if we find out we’re meaningless, destined to be forgotten, we’ll collapse.

Only we don’t.

I’m loath to give you any details, but if I don’t, you probably won’t read the book.

Can you dump the father of your child before it is born?

Can you believe someone in prison may not be innocent, but is good?

Can you go leave the beaten path and find love, peace and happiness as an ex-pat?

Is there something that bonds you to all your exes such that if they track you down you’re inexorably drawn to them, like an animal… And will it last?

Can you make the right choice, the one that’s good for you intellectually as opposed to emotionally?

Can you make good choices at all? That’s what life is about, jumping through the hoops and making good choices. I hope your parents taught you well, because that’s the best way to learn. Friends will take you from the path. As for making your own mistakes, you’ll make too many. When do you say no instead of yes? When do you excuse yourself from the group? One bad decision can foul your entire life, can end your life. And only those surrounding you will care. You won’t be written up in the newspaper, you’ll just fade away.

“Improvement” cuts like butter. It draws you in. You don’t identify with the characters’ lives, but you do with their emotions, their feelings, and that’s the goal of art, not to put money in the coffers but to make the audience identify, feel less alone.

Don’t pay $19.24 for a hardcover, that’s way too much.

But right now the Kindle iteration is less than ten bucks, the way it should be.

I doubt Oprah will talk about “Improvement.” It won’t be on the tip of the tongue of everybody you meet. It’s a personal thing. But when you read it, you’ll be all-in, your mind won’t drift, you’ll think not only about the characters, but yourself. What would you do?

You want to improve yourself, those around you, but at what cost?

That’s the question.

Scott Galloway on “Masters In Business”

Patti Smith on “Here’s The Thing”


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