Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ecological Intelligence

Transparency. I thought about viral marketing after I finished reading Daniel Goleman’s latest book, Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything. In the same way that companies can use organized word of mouth campaigns to push products, consumers have an increasing number of ways to let their views be known and shared to influence products. Goleman proposes or anticipates the development of what he calls radical transparency by which all the contents and hidden costs of all products are visible to consumers. With that knowledge, sustainability becomes more likely, dangerous ingredients are eliminated, and we are more likely to have product choices that are green and safe. While I found Goleman’s presentation to be pedantic at times, and preachy at others, the bulk of his book presents some clear thinking about one area in which consumers can take action: the decision of what to buy and what to avoid. Anyone making products will find Ecological Intelligence a useful book to read and compare organizational readiness for consumers that will be more activist in their expectations and actions.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)

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The Tourist

Secrets. A number of elements combine to make Olen Steinhauer’s novel, The Tourist, one of the best I’ve read in some time. Steinhauer’s characters, especially protagonist Milo Weaver, are complex and nuanced. The plot moves at a pace that allows the complexity to develop, without the heart-stopping action typical of some spy and thriller novels. Dialogue always sounds right. A tourist is a buzzword that refers to those CIA field agents who operate without a home base or a name. Milo retired from that life and now holds down a desk job at a CIA office in New York. Events demand that Milo re-enter that life, from which retirement was never really possible. Milo finds himself and his reputation damaged, and is hard pressed to recover from alienation. Lies and secrets are everywhere, and Milo tries to protect himself and others in a struggle for life. Whether you like spy novels or not, the fine writing in The Tourist is likely to appeal to most readers.

Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended)

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The Slide

Reversals. Read Kyle Beachy’s debut novel, The Slide, on sunny days. Reflect too long on the many slides and reversals experienced by all the characters in this book and you’re likely to join in their depression and loneliness. Protagonist Potter Mays has graduated college and moves back home uncertain of what’s next. His parents seem to welcome him, but their marriage has been in a downward slide, perhaps ever since Potter’s brother died years earlier as a child. Potter’s girlfriend went from college to Europe on a weird quest with a bisexual friend. After some malaise that Beachy presents with fine descriptive language and wit, Potter gets a job delivering bottled water. Potter has insomnia, his dead brother appears to him as a ghost, he develops relationships with a sixteen year old neighbor and a lonely younger boy whom he met while delivering water. The rocket slide in the park he visited as a child becomes the image for the direction of Potter’s life. Thanks to manipulation by a rich friend, Potter gets in more trouble. He’s a loveable sap, and epitomizes many of the anxieties lived out by people in their early-twenties. Beachy’s humor and decent writing make this debut worth a try to those readers willing to look at work from a new and young writer.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)

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Don't Cry

Intense. There are ten powerful short stories in Mary Gaitskill’s latest collection, including the title story, Don’t Cry. You may want to cry, though, as each story presents characters in difficult relationships and situations. She writes about struggles, loss, and suffering in ways that reveal her great writing skill and expose aspects of our human condition that many of us would prefer not to dwell on. Pace yourself as you read each story, and you’re likely to spend a lot of time thinking about guilt, past relationships, sorrows, and the dark side of your own life. If that’s what you’re ready for, Don’t Cry is the book for you.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)

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Cream Puff Murder

Sweet. My introduction to Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen Mysteries series came at the recent and eleventh installment, Cream Puff Murder. This novel is light and fun, and contains no calories unless you make any of the included recipes. While I found Hannah Swensen to be an interesting and engaging protagonist, I found most other characters to be under-developed, or in this case, undercooked. While I guessed the murderer early on, that person’s character was pretty one-dimensional. Hannah’s friend detective Mike Kingson also came across as pretty narrow and incomplete. Those concerns aside, Cream Puff Murder is a sweet mystery, and the recipes seemed pretty tasty to me. Don’t expect much beyond a structured formula and simple plot.

Rating: Two-star (Mildly Recommended)

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