Earlier this year I posted a manifesto to my old blog, Burning Silver and Time, about how I was going to take this year and give myself permission to relax, to read whatever I wanted, to play whatever kind of music I wanted, to put less intellectual pressure on myself in the creative areas of my life.
Fast forward to halfway through the year…I’ve signed up to teach college, launched a Web site, launched a self-published novel, am marketing said novel, am editing next novel, am querying out said next novel, applied to grad school to study math, and have committed myself to blogging at least one personality feature a week. Needless to say, as far as my manifesto is concerned, that whole “do as you will” and “try to relax” perspective didn’t last long.
I am, however, trying to keep this reading project going. I haven’t read as much fiction as I expected, but as I get older, the proportion of non-fiction to fiction that I consume grows steadily greater. Part of this is because there are some great narrative non-fiction writers out there. Part of it is wanting to learn more, and part of it is doing research for writing – either on my blog, a fiction piece, or my own non-fiction attempt, which is in the early stages. Anyway, without further ado, here are two “reviews” of the books I recently finished.
But before I go on – I should mention that when I say “review,” I really mean, “here are my thoughts on this book” as well as “here is what this book made me think.”
The latter perspective is most appropriate for the book I finished a couple of days ago, Bowling Alone, by Robert Putnam, Simon & Schuster (2001). I bought my copy about three or four years ago, which was about one or two years after I graduated from UAlbany’s political communication program, during which I was actually supposed to read the book. The concept was interesting, and the mounds of data that Putnam uses to make his point make a lot of sense.
Reading this book in 2013 is a lot different than it would have been reading it in, say, 2006. I don’t think we have necessarily made any great strides in reversing the decline in social capital that Putnam describes, and I do think that the “dark side” of social capital has become larger and darker since he wrote this in 2000/2001.
On the other hand, Putnam gives me a good framework to understand something that I’ve been wrestling with. On the one hand, I consider myself an introvert. A socially-oriented introvert, but one nonetheless in that I need about as much alone time as I spend with others. Social situations are fun, but afterwards I need to recharge the ol’ batteries.
This does not change the fact that I enjoy social situations. For example, I joined the Fayetteville writers’ group, which gets me out of the house and gives me convenient deadlines, but also which gave me an excuse to host a social gathering once a month and fill the house with people.
I believe in voting, try to attend town council meetings (or at least keep up-to-date with them), invite people over to watch UFC fights, and generally participate in other behaviors associated with socializing and social capital. In doing so, I have decided that yes, I am a classic introvert, but also, in the Putnam-ian sense of the word, a social capitalist. I believe that those strong and weak links between people are worth nurturing, especially those bridging links – the ones that take us out of our self-selected, homogeneous groups, and bring us into contact with people from other geographic areas, walks of life, etc. Being in the Army is a great opportunity to meet bunches of interesting people – the reason that I try to cultivate these meetings is because yes, I am a social capitalist.
I credit my social capitalism to my mom who, when I was growing up, was herself an inveterate schmoozer and macher (Putnam’s terms for, respectively, people who nurture connections in society and those who use those connections to get things done.) She has been a teacher, Girl Scout leader, churchgoer and mother of six kids. Pretty much everywhere you go in northern NJ, someone knows my mom and, by extension, knows the whole Brune clan. (Growing up, this made it exceptionally difficult to get away with anything. AN-ything.)
The book itself is informative, densely-packed with data and probably the most thorough review of the subject that was yet attempted or ever will be. I am familiar with some of the literature that has further explored social capital in different contexts, but would love to see a second edition that incorporated some of the changes we’ve seen in real life. That said, I definitely recommend it for people who wish to understand the current state of American democracy, the world we live in, or just like large piles of narrative statistics.
The other book I just finished, Stealing Secrets, Telling Lies, by James Gannon, Cahners Business Information, Inc., 2001, is an informative survey of codebreakers, cryptanalysts and straight up spies, traitors, and informants. There are some familiar stories, such as the Enigma and Purple, but with well-researched twists that give a new perspective to what actually happened in those situations. I enjoyed the clear, journalistic writing, and zipped through it in a day or two. Along the way, I jotted down some notes for two short stories I’m currently working on, as well as a blog post that I’m outlining about modern espionage, sympathetic traitors, and the impact of the Web and Wikileaks on shaping perspectives about such. But that will come later.
Anyway, I’m now reading a collection of Schopenhauer – selections from “The World as Will and Representation.” So far, it’s going faster than I thought it would. I’m trying to mingle in some fiction, especially indie fiction, as I am planning an indie fiction focus for the month of June. But now, lunch is over, and it’s back to what they pay me for.