Saturday, September 16, 2017

Dimensionalize That Paradigm!

Two books converge in the woods, and I choose the one more complicated

A long-favorite short story by James Thurber, “The Macbeth Murder Mystery,” tells of an American woman at a hotel in the English countryside, circa 1955. She wants to read a good mystery story before going to sleep, but the only thing close at hand by her bedside was Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

So she reads it as a murder mystery, and comically reads too much into everything.

I’ve just done the same thing with two shortish novels – “Private” by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro and “The Reason You’re Alive” by Matthew Quick – that happened to be taking up space in my Kindle library. I figured, “Well, what the hell…”

The only thing the two books have in common is that the protagonists of both are war heroes, with unlimited access to funding.

I fear I’ve read far too much into both books, however. I’m now all worked up about the art of storytelling.

Private (Private, #1)Private by James Patterson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Private,” the first book in the Jack Morgan series, is a relentless plot machine. Resistance is futile. Every chapter is bite-sized and fast-moving. Multiple plots are juggled with ease. Celebrities make cameos. The men are more manly; the women all sleep with Jack. One plot involves the NFL… accompanied by the mafia, of course. Another involves obligatory cyber-genius serial killers preying on young females. There’s plenty of sex, violence and advanced forensics. In short, it’s a typical late 2000s episode of “CSI” or “Criminal Minds,” with the loose ends neatly tied up before a closing ad for Kraft Foods.

The thing is, you can’t put the book down – and you can’t argue with its success. It’s like eating peanuts from the generous bowl the bartender always places in front of Jack because he’s such a big tipper. You always think, “Just another chapter or two before I put this down…”

“Private” is published under the James Patterson Brand… ghost-written by Paetro and, judging from the acknowledgements, researched by a small army of assistants. It takes a village to be a best-selling author these days.

The Reason You're AliveThe Reason You're Alive by Matthew Quick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After this naked, tour-de-force of storytelling, reading “The Reason You’re Alive” reminded me of a corporate parody video I once saw where a marketing manager urged his staff to “dimensionalize that paradigm.”

I now think I finally know the meaning of that phrase. You see, I see what you did there, Mr. Quick. You dimensionalized the paradigm of storytelling.

“The Reason You’re Alive” isn't all about the plot. It's told by an unreliable narrator in a PTSD mental fog – a non-politically-correct war hero. There are graphic descriptions of war crimes, combined with lots of casual and mean-spirited obscenity. There’s also a deus-ex-machina Vietnam buddy who provides the funding that makes the ending possible.

Still, in the end, I didn’t really enjoy the book that much, to be honest. It was all a little too forced, a little too quirky. The war crimes are over-the-top but, hey, I’ve read that Miramax has purchased the movie rights, so maybe it’s just me. I probably never watched enough episodes of “CSI” and “Criminal Minds” to become as desensitized as a studio executive.

Still, if forced to choose between the two books, I’d choose “The Reason You’re Alive” in a heartbeat. It’s not like everything else. And “Private” is precisely like everything else.

The moral here is that I’m going to re-think the “reading whatever is close at hand” trap I’ve fallen into lately.

I’m now looking for something that dimensionalizes the storytelling paradigm, but that that also isn’t a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I hear “Macbeth” might be a pretty good read.

View all my Goodreads reviews

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Michelangelo in Paramus

From my Instagram feed about New Jersey

You don't see this every day in a shopping mall parking lot: an exhibit of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel artwork.

I visited there last night and took these photos.

Here's further information about it posted on the sponsor's website:
"Up Close: Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel" recreates the awe and wonder of one of mankind’s greatest artistic achievements, while allowing its visitors to experience this art from a new perspective. The ceiling paintings from the Sistine Chapel have been reproduced using state-of-the-art technology. In order for the observer to fully engage and comprehend the artwork, the paintings have been reproduced in their original sizes.

Westfield Garden State Plaza will host the exhibit September 1-October 15th in the West Parking Lot nearest Lord & Taylor in Paramus.
Just another reason to love New Jersey.

PS- Regarding the artwork, I have to say... there was a lot of finger-pointing at the exhibit!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A New Generation Runs to a Crisis

My 9/11 Pinterest site
Driving north on the New Jersey Turnpike this morning – on the eve of the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- I saw a convoy of Con Edison trucks heading south, toward Florida, to help restore electricity in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

The crews were speeding in the opposite direction of safety, because they knew they had a job to do.

I’m proud to see the same ethic on display at my own job.

I work in PR at Verizon, and I know colleagues who are, right now, staffing Florida command centers 24x7 in hardened facilities state-wide, built to withstand Category 5 winds. They are already assessing damage and coordinating with emergency management teams to provide support as soon as it is safe and possible. Just as other colleagues did in Texas last week… and just as still others did nearly 16 years ago today.

I recently had the chance to review and comment on a publisher’s proof of a history of Verizon. Although I was with the company on 9/11/01, I was lost in the details of my own experience while safely in Midtown Manhattan, and so I was astounded and moved to read the detailed story of the extraordinary bravery and commitment to service by workers at Ground Zero who miraculously reopened the New York Stock Exchange just days later.

I’ve been archiving materials I’ve come across about these efforts. I’ve posted them on this Pinterest page. The most amazing artifact is a 38-minute video of the key participants who led efforts to restore service, in their own words.

This year, I’m also sharing a separate Google folder of archival photos detailing the damage to Verizon’s communications hub at 140 West Street, adjacent to Ground Zero, just days after the attacks.

Part of Verizon’s employee Credo is that “we run to a crisis, not away” – and since 9/11/01, many thousands of employees have been on site to repair and restore damaged networks, and still more have responded with monetary aid and donations to about three dozen emergency situations through the company’s Disaster Relief Incentive Program. This includes Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti earthquake, tornadoes in Missouri and Alabama, and – just this past week – Hurricane Harvey, the Mexico earthquake and now Hurricane Irma.

This afternoon, as I was writing this, I retweeted a network status update from Verizon’s Florida PR contact, Kate Jay. When I did, I happened to see the tweet below by John Legere, the CEO of T-Mobile, promoting his “Slow Cook Sunday” Facebook Live feature, just a few hours after Irma made landfall on the Florida coast.

Legere has amassed more than 4 million Twitter followers and often insults competitors. One recent Sunday morning, he retweeted a story about the first-ever telescopic picture of a black hole. “Wait…” he commented, “Is this a photo of Verizon’s soul??”

It was a joke; I get it.

But this Sunday, I’m not in the mood to laugh.

Yes, Verizon does have a soul. The evidence was on display in 2001, just as it has been this Sunday.

We run to a crisis.