Kurt Vonnegut — 1922-2007

As the man wrote in Slapstick every time someone died: “Hi ho.”

He was the best writer to ever live in Barnstable — my home town. He defined American Literature in the late 60s and early 70s with Slaughterhouse Five. I loved his work and will miss him. He also had a character in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater die in Cotuit Bay in a sailing accident. I like to believe it was by being hit in the head with the boom of a Cotuit Skiff.

“Eunice also wrote an historical novel about a female gladiator, Ramba of Macedon, which was a best-seller in 1936. Eunice died in 1937, in a sailing accident in Cotuit, Massachusetts. She was a wise and amusing person, with very sincere anxieties about the condition of the poor. She was my mother.”

What I am not reading

Mark Helprin is a big favorite of mine. A Soldier of the Great War, Refiner’s Fire, Winter’s Tale, Memoir From Antproof Case — all very good books and enjoyable reads.

Then my brother-in-law over the Christmas holidays asked me if I had read Freddie and Fredericka. Nope. So I bought it, the wife stole it, left it lying around, and I gave it a try last week.

And put it down. I don’t know. I gave it my best, but satire is not Helprin’s strong suit and maybe it was seeing Helen Mirren in The Queen a couple weekends ago, but satire about the British Royal Family doesn’t float my boat and I tossed it down after 100 pages.

I also started and have stalled on Pynchon’s latest, Against the Day. It did the usual Pynchon trick of sucking you in with a slightly comprehensible plot until about page 100 when the drugs kick in, or whatever it is that makes Pynchon drift off into Pynchon-land. So I know I need to suck it up, just as I sucked it up with Gravity’s Rainbow and get into Pynchon mode (which is like reading Shakespeare, it takes a while to get into the language), and slog through it. I still haven’t finished Mason/Dixon, but I still maintain Gravity’s Rainbow is the most important novel of our times and did more to shape my personal weltschauung than any other piece of philosophy, art, or sermon.

What I am reading

The Road
I just finished Cormac McCarthy’s latest — The Road — and am sitting in stunned contemplation, utterly saddened and affected by one of the best pieces of contemporary literature I’ve read since Don DeLillo’s White Noise.

McCarthy’s tale is of a father and son making a hopeless pilgrimage to survival on the road from some unknown and undescribed point of devastation through a burned landscape to an unknown destination to the south, where there may be some warmth against the nuclear winter. The boy is perhaps 12, the father perhaps 40, together they wheel their shopping cart through the ash and snow, terrified of any other human contact in a world filled with cannibal marauders reduced to infanticide for their own survival.

To describe The Road as the most powerful caution against nuclear war is an understatement, and McCarthy makes that understatement by never describing how the world came to end. It’s simply over, finished, and the conclusion is so foregone that you read the spare language knowing where the journey ends, but unwilling to accept it in light of the love between the father and his son.

I can’t recommend this book — it’s a profoundly depressing read — but I will re-read it in some time, and will share it with my own sons as one of the most profound expressions of paternal love I have ever read. This is a little book but a big book, and made me think of the passages in Stephen King’s The Stand when the survivors make their way across the country of bicycles. Oh the number of times I wished for a carless road when I was a cyclist. After reading McCarthy’s grim tale, I know there will be no bikes in his future.

Heart of a Soldier

My step-father lent this to me last weekend and I burned through in three short flights. Story of Rick Rescorla, VP of security at Morgan Stanley, who perished when the towers collapsed on 9/11. Rescorla was a Brit who enlisted in the US Army, served as an officer in Viet Nam, was a Silver Star winner at the Battle of Ia Drang (reenacted by Mel Gibson in We Were Soldiers), and an all around Hemingway-style man’s man who did it all … from playing rugby in Rhodesia to shooting a lion. The book is not a tale of tragedy and terrorism, but of a remarkable friendship between Rescorla and his best friend and fellow Army officer, Daniel Hill. By James B. Stewart.

What Makes Sammy Run?

Budd Schulberg’s (On the Waterfront) classic tale of ambition and greed in Hollywood. It is the story of Sammy Glick, Lower East Side newspaper copyboy who rises to Tinsel Town prominence through backstabbing, plagiary, and utter weaselishness as told from the point of view of fellow Jew and writer, Al Mannheim. Good book, not a classic, but sort of essential in a Sweet Smell of Success sort of sense.

What I’m Reading — Life After the 30-Second Spot

Joseph Jaffe came onto my radar in December when he corrected me for terming his new venture crayon as a development firm in my now infamous screed asking why marketers should give a fig about SecondLife. crayon is not a dev firm, but a “new marketing company.”

Jaffe went back on my screen this morning as I was reading Lorne Hanley’s fascinating piece in this morning’s Sunday Times Magazine about Bud.tv. Jaffe was quoted there in the context of his authority earned by penning Life After the 30-Second Spot.

Jaffe, who co-founded crayon (emphasis on the lower-case “c”, ask me sometime about what happened when I tried to start a sentence in a Forbes story with the word “cisco”), is a former Madison Ave. exec (Ogilvy, TBWA/Chiat (what is the deal with the four-letter ad agency acronym fest?)) is the kind of change agent I’d love to drag into a interactive marketing meeting to knock some heads together.

The book came to me via a colleague, Gary Milner, who bought multiple copies to press into the hands of the marketing team. Last week I read it during the flights to and from RTP.

The first thing I did was look at the frontispiece to see what the publication date was. 2005. The problem with books about new media, or any trend pushed by technology is that books are inherently slow media and new media is inherently fast. Jaffe actually writes what I imagine in 2004 or early 2005 was a very strong and prescient polemic against business-as-usual marketing, mass media tactics, and a call to arms and revolution to Internet/Interactive marketing. A lot of what he predicts has come true, but I suspect for a more current state of the art perspective, you need to spend time on his blog, lifeafter30.com

CMOs should read it, people like me who own the function should read it, but it’s not an operations manual by a long shot. It’s stuffed with great stats and quantitative data that should help some interactive marketing change-agent inside of a “Brown-Suit” company to make their point via some strong Powerpoint slides (I saw one of Jaffe’s points or frameworks appear in a presentation I saw just last week).

So, good book, not a cookbook like an O’Reilly Press manual with a lemur on the cover, but a good cribsheet for making the big plea to the CMO to get with the program and ditch all the old tactics that used to work, but don’t any more.