Irony is Our Friend


I started off several articles this week, but left them unfinished. Because I thought there are plenty of people out there teaching expertise one way or another — 3,219 articles in the archives here alone — and then I worried about having a call to action and a marketable something to offer at the end.

    How many minutes should a good article take to read? Should it be long or short?

    All questions I still receive from new bloggers. And my answer remains the same at 12 years of writing online — I think it should be human, and tell some truth about life, even when it talks about work. Last week was a good week for that here, for example. If you missed the posts and other curated food for thought, catch up here.

    But I think I missed my own advice too often recently. The irony of it doesn't escape me.

    The snow has been a major distraction this week. We're fine here, but so many have no power still from Friday's surprise nor'easter and are enduring today's snowfall with generators humming. Many of the beautiful, large trees Pennsylvania is known for are cracked, or gone. Roads still closed.

    So today the more I thought about writing, the more I kept looking at the foot or so of snow accumulating outside with a desire to go out and play we sorely need some pure joy in our lives. Just for the heck of it, improvising and seeing how it goes. Play is more than just fun.

    Getting out more helps. Digital culture has become a bit of an inside game lately, and I confess some fatigue. The world is desperate for real conversations and connections hit home for several people this week. A corollary of that is that energy comes from doing things, conversation is a great way to get energized when talking physically with people.

    My Christmas article with movie suggestions was a huge hit with thousands of views and today looks just like that image. So I thought it was a good day to talk about fiction. What I'm reading now to get some respite from business books and more into stories.

The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, a pseudonymous Italian novelist, are translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein. All books in the series are worth reading.

They follow the entwined lives of two childhood friends. They're also social novels that offer a history of postwar Italy and the terrorism of the Camorra, addressing many of the issues present during these times in Italy. Politics and corruption, violence and poverty, the abuse of the workers, the advent of technology and the personal computer.

Everything comes filtered through the personal lives of Lila Cerullo and Elena Greco, ordinary women who would never make it into the history books. Lila and Elena grew up in the slums of Naples, Ferrante's native city. The series carries through 50 years, as the women rescue and betray each other, struggle to escape the slums and their mothers, and become mothers themselves.

We're not talking about this, “In the wealthier countries a mediocrity that hides the horrors of the rest of the world has prevailed. When those horrors release a violence that reaches into our cities and our habits we’re startled, we’re alarmed.”

And this is something we all feel at some point or another, “Then I felt as if my thoughts were cut off in the middle, absorbing and yet defective, with an urgent need for verification, for development, yet without conviction, without faith in themselves.” 

Ferrante has great insight into human nature, and the nature of relationships. She's a brilliant writer, Italian “completely and with pride,” as she says in a recent interview, and someone who doesn't go for stereotypes, she says, ‘Yes, I’m Italian – but I’m not loud, I don’t gesticulate and I’m not good with pizza,’ and doesn't hold too tight on nationality (and its specter, nationalism.)

In a recent interview at The Guardian, she says to “prefer linguistic nationality as a point of departure for dialogue, an effort to cross over the limit, to look beyond the border.”

    Having spent more than 6 years doing simultaneous interpreting, written, and consecutive translation officially, and the rest of my work translating ideas for dissemination, I can tell you from experience that transporting stories from one place to the next, one mind to another, is a positive force for connection.

I have great admiration for professional writers.

Which is why I picked up Camino Island, a novel about books with an intriguing twist and a young lady novelist doing some detective work while experiencing an epic writer's block. Mercer is a bit hard to take, but the underlying story of a man who turned a small bookstore into a fantastic business is fascinating. So is a well written discussions of various authors. The strong beginning and ending help you forgive the departure from solid ground for John Grisham. I had not read him in a while and this is definitely a departure.

Something worth thinking about, “I’ve never understood people who grind through a book they don’t really like, determined to finish it for some unknown reason.”

Irony present, “Maybe you should be a lawyer.” “I can’t think of anything worse.” 

The book feels like an exploration for Grisham, it includes some fun bits with the useful parts on writing.

“Cable's Rules For Writing Fiction, a brilliant how-to guide put together by an expert who's read over four thousand books …

I hate prologues. I just finished a novel by a guy who's touring and will stop by next week. He always starts every book with the typical prologue, something dramatic like a killer stalking a woman or a dead body, then will leave the reader hanging, go to chapter 1, which, of course, has nothing to do with the prologue, then go to chapter 2, which, of course, has nothing to do with either chapter 1 or the prologue, then after about thirty pages slam the reader back to the action in the prologue, which by then has been forgotten …

Another rookie mistake is to introduce twenty characters in the first chapter. Five's enough and won't confuse your reader.

Next, if you feel the need to go to the thesaurus, look for a word with three syllables or fewer. I have a nice vocabulary and nothing ticks me off more than a writer showing off with big words I've never seen before.

Next, please use quotation marks with dialogue; otherwise it's bewildering.

Rule Number Five: Most writers say too much, so always look for things to cut, like throwaway sentences and unnecessary scenes.”

We should have more stories in non fiction, too. “Stories are data with a soul,” says Brené Brown. At a time when so many brands are working hard to become more friendly, social, and develop a voice, it's hard not to get wrapped up in being the voice of the expert and forgetting the voice altogether.

See also how stories influence what we do.