Posted in Lessons by The Books Production Team on March 13, 2009


typewriter1          Do you remember that old saying about the only two certainties in life being death and taxes?  Well, as far as sayings go – this one’s okay – but I’m not absolutely convinced that it’s entirely true. Sure, yes, I hear your grumblings – these two constructs are, in fact, certainties.  You’ve got to pay your taxes, and if you don’t, the IRS will eventually catch up with you (just ask Al Capone and Barry Bonds).  And, it’s also true that unless you get carried like Elijah to Heaven by chariots of fire, you’re going to die – although, according to the fictional Ricky Bobby, “with a high enough level of income and the advances in modern medicine, it’s not unthinkable to think that some people might live to be 245 or 300” (we’ll call this latter life extension the Magic Johnson rule – since he now has as many T-Cells as all of Mbabane, Swaziland combined).  But, my contention is that life, while indeed offering us a recurring sit-down with the tax-man and a one-time appointment with the undertaker, is at the same time full of all kinds of other inevitabilities – and the secret (also known as Michael Scott’s Second Rule Business) is to react, adapt, readapt, and act.  Or, in less cryptic, or less stupid terms – life is about preparing for the many inevitabilities that exist, and having a glass jar full of contingency plans to break open when the time is appropriate.

          For instance, despite China’s terrifying record of human rights violations, it is inevitable that at some point in the twenty-first century, they will pass up the United States and become the world’s leading economic superpower .  Why is this inevitable?  Well, the major reason is that they’ve got 5 times as many people as we do – which wouldn’t mean all that much except for the fact that their 1.5 billion citizens are also working considerably harder than we are right now.  As I write this sentence, most of my American readers are on spring break, and most Chinese kids are tucked away in a basement doing organic chemistry experiments.  This is why, after you get back from Cancun, you should get prepared, and START TAKING CHINESE NOW (see Lesson #2).  Likewise, it is equally inevitable that at some point in the next decade, the Chicago Cubs will reverse the Curse of the Billy Goat and, much to my chagrin, will actually win a World Series title.  Why is this the case?  Well, as long as the Cubs continue to dump twice as much money into their payroll as any other National League franchise, it only makes sense that they will eventually be able to buy themselves and the ghost of Harry Carey a championship.  After all, it worked for the Red Sox in 2004 – and there is absolutely no way that the curse of a fucking Billy Goat has anything on Babe Ruth (I’m pretty sure Babe Ruth used to eat Billy Goats for breakfast).  As such, if you, like myself, are a Cardinals fan, it’s important to steel yourselves for this certainty.  I’d recommend ear-plugs, Budweiser, and a Kosuke Fukudome dartboard to help you through what will inevitably be a lousy November.

          Those, however, are just two examples of major life inevitabilities that help round out the death and taxes equation.  And there are plenty more – including the one that we’ll be working with today – the inevitable boredom that will eventually haunt your weekend nights as you make your way through college.  Now, there’s no one path to boredom (just like there’s no one path to enlightenment – Dr. Wizard’s Advice notwithstanding), but, in order to catch as broad a swath of the college population as possible, let’s deal with the inevitable march towards boredom that is typified in the college-drinking scenario – which breaks down like this:

          Freshman Year:  Most students, upon arriving on campus during the fall semester of their freshman year, will be initially overwhelmed by the freedom of escaping from their parents and the fact that there’s no one waiting at home to smell their breath at the end of the night (except, possibly, a member of the opposite sex who has also spent the night gargling with Keystone Light and cigarettes).  As such, there exists an introductory period of drinking euphoria, typified by a progression of swilling cheap beer in dorm rooms, swilling cheap beer at a cousin’s off-campus apartment of some guy who lives on your dorm floor, and swilling cheap beer at fraternity parties during rush and the remainder of your freshman year.  But eventually, this gets old.

          Sophomore Year:  During the summer after your freshman year, you go back home, and some moderately shifty guy named Ricky who hangs out at the community pool tells you that for a hundred bucks, he can get you a fake I.D. – which, you assume, will make your sophomore year awesome.  Upon your return to campus, you are even more excited to find out that all of your friends have also met their own version of Ricky – and you spend your second year at college drinking at bars where the bartenders know you aren’t 21, but let you drink anyway with your crappy Hawaii I.D. because in the inevitable bar-raid that’s coming, your crappy Hawaii I.D. will deflect the necessary amount of blame from them for serving minors.  Win-win-win (except for the fact that your real driver’s license might get revoked for a few months if you get caught).  Even still, this gets boring – and you can’t wait until you turn 21 at some point during your junior year so that you can start going to bars that card more carefully – because campus bars are totally for sophomores.

          Junior Year:  And now the moment of awesomeness finally arrives.  You have your big birthday (hopefully you follow Dr. Wizard’s rules for YOUR TWENTY-FIRST BIRTHDAY – see Lesson #21), and you graduate to the big leagues.  But, about a month after you turn 21, you realize that drinking Jaeger-bombs in a black button-up shirt is just about the same as drinking Keystone Light at an off-campus apartment – and so you decide instead to start wearing a thrift store T-shirt (so you’ll fit in) at the townie-bar (that isn’t really a townie-bar because every March and April it gets invaded by a new crop of barely-21-year-olds – and it actually counts on this for 74% of its annual business – where there might even be some random Hungarian owner who makes you feel like you are part of an insider circle because he gives you shots of homemade moonshine from his “secret distillery” in the back).   And then, this gets old, too – and now you’ve reached a precarious position.  So you stop, terrified, and you ask yourself, “what is it that we’re going to do next year?”

          And thus, now we come back to the inevitable merger of all of the many paths to weekend boredom that are reconvening from the woods.  Our quick journey through a prototypical college drinking lifestyle has been fun – but at the end of the day, you’re still fucking bored – because even Keystone Light, while being terrific fun for a season or two, can hardly fill the entirety of 208 college weekends.  So, it becomes time to look elsewhere.  The problem, however, is that unless your parents have given you an otherworldly allowance, you don’t have much money to do expensive cool things – like go skydiving or go to Paris.  And thus, it’s time to explore other promising alternatives for filling collegiate WEEKENDS ON THE CHEAP.

          So here’s what you should know: all of the things that you can’t wait to do, that sound so grown-up and adult-like, that you assume you’ll do once you have a job and money – well, you can actually do those things for next to nothing while you’re still in college – because most colleges provide them for free.  Concerts?  Movies?  The Symphony?  Plays?  Sporting Events?  Internationally Renowned Speakers?  Yeah – your college and your Student Entertainment Board are bringing these things regularly to your campus.  All you have to do is get off your ass, get out of the Keystone Light mindset, and go attend them.  Now, I’m not trying to tell you that you have to do these things – but the next time you complain about boredom, consider the fact that there’s probably a Nobel-Prize winner lecturing on your campus at some point in the next month, your student-drama department is begging people to come watch them put on a show that you would have to pay $75.00 to see on Broadway, and you can score tickets to see up-and-coming artists who are busy touring college campuses for almost nothing on their way to becoming the next big thing (during the same week of my senior year, I once saw Jack Johnson, John Mayer, and Dave Chappelle – for a total cost of ten dollars – and all of them blew up in popularity inside of the next 12 months).  You’ve just got to commit to taking advantage of the free entertainment.

          Now, while I’d strongly recommend that you do these things while you don’t have to pay for them, I understand that sometimes it can be difficult, for some unknown reason, to go watch a movie at the campus movie theater.  Still, if none of these options excite you, there are still other ways to have fun during college weekends on the cheap – including, if you’re stuck in the Keystone Light mindset, innovative ways to drink.  For instance, have you ever tried putting on your winter coat, setting up a card-table outside, and playing drinking War in the middle of February?  Or loaded a backpack with Keystone Light and gone for a ten-mile hike with your friends at the town-golf course?  Just a couple of ideas to mix things up during that long senior year – but you should also try the Symphony, because it’s cooler than you think.  Sort of like McLovin – who, incidentally, also had a crappy Hawaii I.D.


Posted in Lessons by The Books Production Team on March 6, 2009


typewriter          Well, I should probably start today’s lesson with a slight disclaimer – I’m having an undeniably strange day.  Last night, I woke up screaming from a nightmare where Michael Dukakis, no joke, was trying to kill me.  Now, I haven’t had a nightmare since 1999, and I haven’t given Michael Dukakis much serious thought since George Bush the Elder was sworn into office ten years earlier than that – but that’s not all.  This morning, I started crying in the gym while I was lifting weights because I got all choked up with happiness about a random episode of the incredibly geeky Battlestar Galactica that I happened to watch earlier in the day while I was eating breakfast – and I had to go hide for a few minutes in the locker room!  Literally, and it might have something to do with the incredibly intense Jeopardy study sessions that I’ve been undertaking for the last few weeks, my emotions are cycling faster than Charlie’s during the scene in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia where he’s eating the steak in preparation for his underground street-fight.  Now, I suppose this phenomenon could be a case of the normal spring fever I always feel as spring break approaches, or I suppose it’s also possible that some evil hobbit has switched out my multi-vitamins with Sweet Dee’s fictional steroid, “Mucho Macho.” Regardless, it feels like my cerebellum is on Batman, The Ride! at Six-Flags.

charlie          So, maybe I’m hallucinating – and because I don’t want to embarrass anybody, I’ll leave this anonymous – but I just read two business school admissions essays from a couple of GMAT students (I have a couple dozen in my total stack – so again, this is anonymous) that I swear were written by fourth-graders.  I mean, they were terrible, and full of the misspelled words, incomplete sentences, and horribly illogical phrasings that most of my classmates left behind when they graduated from Mrs. Butler’s class at Bennett Elementary school – and these essays were supposed to represent the polished writing of college graduates.  Keeping that in mind, forget everything else I’ve ever claimed was the number one problem with the college students of today (granted, the fact that college students don’t date and get wildly inebriated are still troublesome) – and focus on this truth: as undergraduates, you have got to start reading more – because it’s clear that that’s where the problem lies with these future business leaders of America whose essays I just completed grading.

twilight_book_cover           Listen to me when I say that there is absolutely no substitute for what reading can do for you intellectually and emotionally.  And despite my occupation as a teacher of classic literary fiction, I’m not talking about just reading Faulkner or Melville for class – or, as my good friend Matt advocated in his post a few weeks ago, James Joyce.  I’m saying that you need to crack open books in your spare time – I hear good things about Harry Potter and Twilight – and you need to read them, maybe even in lieu of doing your homework – because you’ve got to get into something where you begin concentrating on the story, where you find yourself losing track of time because of the pleasure you’re experiencing, and where you can allow your subconscious mind to process the way that the words in the English language are supposed to be put together.  Unless you read seriously (and by this I mean read things that are fun), and enjoy the process, you will never be able to write well.  And why is this important?  Well, despite the advancement of technology and the growing need in our country for science and math related laborers, in every profession you can possibly undertake, you need to be able to write down your findings clearly and logically – and you will never succeed very well in any profession unless you can do so.  Hell, even Jose Canseco was able to write a pretty good book – and his primary job was to take “Mucho Macho” and bash a baseball.

           Now, anybody who has read Dr. Wizard’s Advice to this point knows that I love television – and I think that the small screen is a wonderful venue for storytelling – but as Aristotle argues in the Nichomachean Ethics, “all things in moderation.”  There’s something about being forced to construct your own mental images that raises your ability to creatively problem solve and imagine new ways of processing information, and reading definitely is the one and only way to heighten your powers of lengthy concentration in a world where you are constantly bombarded with images meant to splinter your attention span.  In order for your brain to undergo this transformation back to its more powerful state, however, you’ve got to crack open the books – John Grisham, Michael Crichton, Stephen King – whatever works for you.  If you do this, I promise that you will be rewarded – on both the personal and professional scales of gratification.  Also, it will probably make you a better viewer of television, in that you’ll make more powerful and lasting associations with the story arcs of each series you watch.

girl-reading            Last year, the Scholastic Corporation released a study citing the fact that only 21 percent of students 17 and older thought that reading for fun was important.  This probably explains the fact that only 21 percent of Americans can write a simple business letter.  The problem is that people don’t think they like to read – which is mainly a by-product of teachers in my position quizzing them over Faulkner and James Joyce.  But there are a whole lot of reading options out there, and everybody can find something that will help them.  Still, as Hilary Clinton said, “it takes a village,” because as John Donne said, “no man is an island.”  You’ve got to help me in the revolution to reverse this non-reading trend.  So, your assignment for spring break is as follows: bring a few books with you to the beach.  Read one yourself, and pass the rest out to your friends.  There will still be plenty of time left over at the end of the day to drink margaritas and meet new co-eds at Club La Vila– in moderation.