Do you live in 2015? So you need to start behaving like you do.
Start off by finding the answer to the question in the title of this post and setting your goals with precision and determination. Start acting, time is not on your side. Do you need to look (more) beautiful to keep your job, to find a new job, for your spouse, for yourself, because of the pressure of the society to look eternally young and fresh, or maybe do you need a correction for a bodily defect? Take a hard look at yourself in the mirror, go through your thousands of selfies, talk to your therapist and make a decision. Examine every section of your body, it’s not only about faces anymore. Everyone seems to be doing this. You will be feeling isolated and disconnected if you don’t start soon.
Just take a look at the profile pictures of the list of your friends on Facebook or dating sites you may use: if you don’t use dating sites or apps, sign up today, you won’t stand a chance of meeting anybody in the real world anymore. It won’t take you long to realize that everyone is scraping off a couple of years from their details, if not decades. If you are 55 – apparently the end of life to date someone online or get a job – photoshop yourself and pretend you are 45 or younger.
I watched a program on E! the other day (“Botched”) in which, apparently, these two renowned plastic surgeons fix botches or errors made by some of their peers. People, especially in Los Angeles, the Mecca averyone in our culture seems to be looking up to for the new standards of beauty, fashion, lifestyle and voyerism, will not accept the body they were born with any longer. They treat it as discardable pieces of clothing to be changed and replaced by a new one every now and then as they wish. Wa have started finding it more and more common to expose as much as we can about our private lives through social media, dating sites and reality shows. Therefore, we need to fit the bill, make the grade. Look beautiful. In the 90s and before, only giant billboards over Times Square could do that kind of magic, launching careers for the likes of Marky Mark (Mark Wahlberg, who posed for an explosive Calvin Klein underwear campaign). Now the potential to project yourself internationally and become a celebrity is within everyone’s reach, or at least, we think so.
I watched the doctors’s show on E! in a state of trance and disbelief, and I’m trying very hard not to sound judgmental and self-righteous here. I struggled to understand how these people feel, what they suffer, the source of their eternal dissatisfaction with themselves, which makes them undertake the risk of hundreds of painful surgical procedures to add, cut, move, reposition, enlarge, narrow and change body parts as if they were playing with cartoon characters on a drawing software. Worse: they all looked weird and doll-like in the end, far from beautiful, in the classical sense, but maybe these will be the new standards in the upcoming years. My perspective on beauty may be getting dangerously outdated.
One of the patients on the show had gone through a number of operations to make his face look like Justin Bieber’s, his idol. He looked nothing like the original in the end, but he was happy and kept trying. There were certain things he wanted done – such as shrinking his jaws – that the doctors would refused to do, though. He said he would consult other doctors instead. A woman with size DDD cups, who could hardly keep her breasts inside the blouse, was angry because the doctors wouldn’t make them even bigger. Nothing will stop her. If she needs to go to Tijuana to have them enlarged by the local doctors who use ice bars for anesthetics, as told by another patient who was trying to reposition her navel and had this nightmarish experience in Mexico- she will not hesitate. There was also the case of a gay man who will not stop at anything to make himself have Barbie’s or Ken’s looks. At first I thought he meant Ken’s, but then, as the program progressed, I was under the impression he wanted something more radical: an amalgamation of Ken’s and Barbie’s looks in his own body. He looked totally plastic and robot-like to the naive and unsophisticated eyes of someone like me, who grew up by the beach in Recife, in the northeast of Brazil, where people could not be more natural in the way they looked physically.
A gay friend showed me a matchmaking app named Grindr, which operates as a virtual shopping catalog, showing parts of the body of strangers – usually toned or heavily worked-out headless torsos of young men – they may contact and meet at the touch of a button. The people will show up on your device screen if they are geographically near you, which, supposedly, adds to the immediacy of the satisfaction and completely eliminates the concept of delayed gratification. The guys on the app seem to be all the same: if you don’t look like a porn star (they immediately exchange more explicit photos after the first contact is made, so all the physical info is made known), your chances of having someone continue your attempts at making conversation are meager. And even if you look like a Greek god, I was told, the real contacts rarely happen, as the parts keep canceling and postponing the actual meetings forever. The fear of the real is palpable and insurmountable.
I don’t mean to be nostalgic about the old ways of flirting and dating. They did not work that well either. And there is no way they can compete with the optimization provided by these new dating apps in some respects. If you are lucky enough to meet the person you contacted through the app outside the virtual world, you’ll already be armed with a load of information about him/her (most of it fake or distorted, just like in real life, when people talk about themselves). It saves a lot of time. It’s just the new way of doing things. We will have to get used to it.
People have also always worried about how good they looked. It may be only my impression that things may have gotten a bit out of hand now. I wonder how historians will analyze this period we are living now and how all these changes – which actually started back in the sixties – will reshape the human race and its values and behaviours.
Good luck with your bodily alterations.
I have some 2000 friends on Facebook. Of course not all of them are close friends, but also family and business peers. Most of all are in ELT (ENGLISH LANGUAGE TEACHING) one way or another: as teachers, publishers, writers, distributors or students. Of course, our news feeds are packed with info about methodologies, new materials, suggestions on lessons, and self-congratulatory posts on how great it is to be a teacher. The latter, I must confess, are not among my favorite posts: you didn’t see Steve Jobs talking about how great it was to be a brilliant marketer all the time. He presented us the results of his work in terms of concrete products. Of course, with teaching, not all products are tangible, customers are more likely to talk about the quality of our service. However, if we are teachers, we should be teaching on the Internet: not only languages – our main job – but other stuff we have fun with, things we like, activities we are good at and we can share with other people.
We live in a fascinating age where we can show our work on as many and varied platforms as we care to look for: photos on Instagram; videos on YouTube and Vimeo; pictorial suggestions and ideas on Pinterest; snippets of your expertise on Twitter; blogs on WordPress…. to name just the most common. I’m surprised you guys – the experts in inparting knowledge and sharing strategies in meaningful and structured ways – are not doing that more often online. Most of you keep posting cat pictures and your latest dinner photo on Facebook. That’s fine: some of the cats are even cute, but you can do so much more.
Everytime I go through my news feed I’m fascinated to find out how my friends know about so many different and interesting things: pets and how to treat them, unusual recipes, places to go to on vacation, art, suggestions on movies to watch, you name it. Most times, however, they just share a copy of something written by another person they might have come across online and expand a little bit on that.
Well, do more.
Create a blog on the topic and let us learn from you. I have no idea how to cook, and would love to read a simple cooking blog written by any of my friends and would be glad to share with her the results of my efforts, for example. If, for some reason, you don’t like to write, use pictures, videos, cartoons. The important thing is to come up with a story. Create a thread that can lead us to what you are trying to teach us, the goal you wish us to reach. Make it didactic and systematic, set exercises, answer our questions, help us. Who knows, you may even make money out of it, if it gets great readership.
I myself started a blog (LINGUAGEM: jorgesette.com) a year ago just for fun, discussing not only language, my favorite topic, but other themes I enjoyed (movies, art, books, culture, TV shows, marketing, sales), but now the blog is becoming more and more professional, as it’s helping me promote the language eBooks I publish on Amazon.com. As I write in English, I’m easily read all over the world, and it’s really gratifying the sense of pride and accomplishment you get when I see my humble stuff being read in the US, India, Pakistan, France, etc. This year (2015) we’ve been getting more than 3000 views per month, and getting stronger.
So, my recommendation is don’t think about the money first: publish something on the Internet for fun: gather an audience, build a network, and make new friends. Then, if it works out, turn it into a business.
Don’t waste time: start teaching us today! It’s fun.
On the other hand, for those interested in reading how a professional blog for customers should be written, please refer to my previous article: Should you have a blog as a marketer:
New York is considered the workplace backstabbing capital of the world. I believe that’s only because there are more offices there. The situation in Sao Paulo or London is not that different, and I’m sure you must have the same problem at work wherever you live.
Backstabbing gets worse in times of change and instability, as people get more afraid of losing their jobs and tend to sacrifice basic principles and decency in order to keep their positions. Like me, you may have been backstabbed a number of times, it’s part of corporate life. However, I believe the situation is getting worse now, as younger employees, with immature emotional skills, lack patience for the hard work and time required to climb the slow steps of the corporate ladder, and do not think twice before creating situations that compromise the work and credibility of more meritorious co-workers.
There are some tips I can pass on to you on how to deal with sabotage and backstabbing based on my experience in the corporate world, although I’m by no means an expert on the topic. Sadly, these tips do not guarantee 100% success.
1. Let’s start by discussing the personality of the typical backstabber: they are usually popular and seem to be nice. They never lose their temper in public. They act behind your back and are cold enough to invite you to lunch at the same time. Everything you say while talking to them informally may and will be used against you, in a slightly distorted way, to fit their story and context in the future. They do not know as much as you do about the work, lack your skills, and are generally jealous of all you managed to accomplish in your long career. They need short cuts, quick fixes. They are great at socializing and tend to personalize their contacts with clients and other co-workers to the point of inviting them to their houses, for example, or going out with them for drinks without any specific business purposes, as an artificial attempt to foster intimacy. Their lives revolve around the idea of getting ahead no matter what, except by doing hard work. They tend to be passive aggressive, manipulative and non-confrontational.
2. The first thing you need to do as you suspect someone is sabotaging your work or damaging your professional reputation is to analyze the situation from as many angles as possible: are you being paranoid? Give the person the benefit of the doubt. Tell your story to a couple of close friends (out of work) and get their reaction.
3. If you are sure you are being sabotaged, the next step is to get allies. Try and find out if someone else in the office is also suffering in the hands of the backstabber and see if you can build a case involving more stories than yours alone.
4. Confront the backstabber: invite him to a meeting and express your feelings, ask what is going on, how you can both work better together, and what he would like you to change so the atmosphere gets better. Tell him what you would like him to change. Have this meeting privately, so the person does not feel you guys are ganging up on him.
5. If things do not improve, start collecting tangible proof (email, documents, careless or intentional mistakes) that this person is somehow sabotaging your work. Today, collecting evidence is becoming easier and easier, with all the digital trail people leave behind them. Take all the evidence and go two or three levels above the person’s position (her direct boss might be in on the sabotage as well, so you may be in trouble if you talk to him) and state your case as unemotionally as possible. Make it all about the work, objectively. Tell the big boss that you are finding it hard to work with that person, explain why, show your proof, and ask if she could help you solve the problem.
6. Start immediately looking for a new job, as backstabbers have a better chance of succeeding, due to their popularity and skillful aptitude to fake feelings and emotions.
7. Think that your life is a lot bigger than the work you do for a living.
Corporate life is hard, but I still firmly believe that competent, decent, and hard-working people will eventually prevail in the long run, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Apply the rules below at your own discretion in the workplace. The author assumes no responsibility for the consequences, although he is 99% sure they will help you climb the corporate ladder faster.
1. There is no difference between business and politics. Corporations are like the National Congress.
2. Crush your opponents again and again (competition or coworkers). And yet again. But if they survive, align with them.
3. Keep your self-control. No shouting matches are allowed in public. Keep a perpetual fake smile on your face no matter what. There is sex, drugs and cigarettes to drown your misery at night. Use them in moderation.
4. Get married and have a big family. There is no way a single, childless person can prove their love and care for the constituents (or customers).
5. Lie, lie, lie. And lie once more. Do not commit to anything as far as possible. Then tell the truth, when you are out of danger and no one expects you to: now you become a hero.
6. If you are writing a contract or some other kind of written document: make sure you get legal advice to make the language as vague as possible to allow for leeway and future changes.
7. Distance yourself as much as you can from the weak and broken. Discard them.
8. Involve your security personnel as much as you can. Get close. Have sex with them and your spouse together to tighten the relationship.
9. Unlike the common thought, intelligent people understand that being gay is not a personal choice and they couldn’t care less about who people go to bed with. However, play to your audience’s tastes and ignorance. If they hate gays, you must hate them too. And mean it. Typical doublethink tactic from Orwell’s 1984: study it.
10. Give condoms as a gift to whoever is sleeping with your husband. You don’t want him to financially support the bastard.
11. Eat ribs at shoddy joints.
12. Play the feminist card whenever you run out of options. “It’s because I’m a woman, right?”
13. Have Robin Wright on your side and get her to love you.
As I have been stating in a number of previous posts in this blog, the barriers between Sales, Marketing and Customer Service need to come down fast, if companies are to become more effective. The upper hand of the relationship between customers and companies has shifted significantly towards the former in today’s market place. Salespeople must focus on the client as an individual and cater for her specific needs at every stage of the buying process. Therefore companies need to adapt and be way more attentive and responsive to be able to move the client along the sales funnel (the steps towards the purchase) and close the deal. Companies need to train their staff to develop sophisticated social media skills if they want to succeed.
Sales, Marketing and Customer Service have to work closer than ever to provide a seamless experience to the client, regardless of the different touch points (email campaign, sales call, the various social media channel communications, print ads, etc) she is exposed to and chooses to use on the path to a purchase.
The old system of departmentalization between Sales, Marketing and Customer Service is becoming obsolete: in the past, sales leads were generated by Marketing, which would qualify them and pass them on to Sales, which, in turn, would hand post-sales issues to Customer Service for support and help. This process does not work so neatly anymore. It has become a lot more complex, not to say messy. Customers are probably exposed to your product through a number of sources and the communication and the responsibility for the process of following up on their requests must be handled together, as a team, by your employees. Software is available to make all the history of this interaction clear to whoever deals with that client.
For starters the client is bound to already know a lot about the product even before she first contacts you. She has a number of ways to research and get precise info on what she needs to purchase. The idea is to be fast and prompt in your response, adding to what is already known, whether it be: passing on more specific info on the benefits, clarification on functionality, scheduling a live demonstration, an invitation to a webinar with a specialist, drawing the terms of a contract, the negotiation of a discount, etc.
Let’s focus in this post on how specifically the sales force could use social media more proactively to meet the customer’s needs and move them along the sales funnel towards a successful goal. They can use any or all of the following tools as a supplement to what they already do (such as personal sales calls or phone calls). In many cases, however, you will notice that if they use these online tools properly, parts of the more traditional in person face-to-face sales process might be replaced smoothly by digital communication – which, not rarely, are more likely to yield results.
1. LinkedIn: this is your personal online ID card. Chances are customers will check out your profile immediately after you schedule an appointment to see them. Make sure you live up or surpass their expectations. Choose your profile picture carefully. Only you can decide on the level of formality or informality expected from professionals in your industry. Play by the rules. Fill in as much relevant info about your career as possible, and do not hesitate to ask coworkers, bosses and senior management for recommendations and endorsements. You can always return the favor. Publish only work-related posts on this platform. Avoid jokes and cat photos (you can use other social networks for that, don’t worry). Think twice before you post an update here. Remember that slips may jeopardize your chances of a future job. Nurture and grow your contacts daily. Be courteous and answer communications sent to you as quickly as possible.
2. Facebook: if you are uncomfortable using your personal profile professionally, create a specific professional one (I’ve confronted that dilemma of separating private and public life myself for a couple of years, so I’m totally sympathetic to whoever has the same problem). However, I gave up the on the struggle and unified my profiles. In this day and age, customers expect to deal with genuine human beings, so developing skills to be able to post the right content to the right group of people through a single profile will surely make your life easier and boost your career. If you wish to post photos of your family barbecue, do create a little private group for the only people who would care about this. Besides, as you probably know, you have the option to post to your whole audience of “friends”, to a few chosen people, or to the public in general, by adjusting the platform settings for every post. Just exercise some common sense in your content publishing strategy and you should be OK. This works better than keeping separate profiles. What you can’t do is avoid creating a digital presence for the development of your personal brand on the Internet. Gather as many clients and prospects as your “friends” as possible, and start posting relevant and useful content (not annoying and interrupting ads) on your newsfeed. You will be building what they call “thought leadership”, presenting yourself as an expert in a specific subject, and, naturally, prospects will grow to depend on you when they have a problem that needs the kind of solution you have been discussing or blogging about.
3. Instagram: develop a similar a strategy. Of course, the focus here, however, is on visuals: photos and videos. Publish a balanced mix of personal and work-related content. The personal stuff will make it easy for the customers to relate to you as a person (so the occasional cat pictures are fine, don’t worry), whereas the work-related publications will hopefully help you build a friendly and caring image for your company and for yourself as a professional. You could, for example, post photos of your products and services (a dynamic teacher in action using the latest technology in the classroom, if you sell edtech products, for example). Try not to use fashion models – this is not an ad after all (lose the glitter and fake glamour) – but real life photos of actual happy users of your product instead. Show people you work with. Post pictures of the offices of your company, to make it more relatable to customers. The main thing to keep in mind is you should be providing valuable or fun information, educating your prospects, training your users, not interrupting your audience with a sales pitch. In the meantime, Marketing should be working on building a bank of images, video clips, ebooks, blog posts, white papers and other useful pieces of content to help you pass them on in a more personalized way to your prospects, but there’s nothing wrong in your creating your own content, if you have the skills and the authorization of your boss. Do not rely solely on the Marketing Department’s support for your success, it doesn’t work like that.
4. Twitter: don’t waste time using your Twitter account only for personal interactions. Think of it, as of any other social media channel, as a powerful tool to create an Internet presence and carve a unique personal brand. This may advance your career in unexpected ways. Create or curate as much germane content to your customers as possible. Retweet, for example, your company’s invitations to webinars and events. Indicate and promote useful and complementary websites to the customers. Share relevant information about your industry. Educate the prospects on the benefits of a new product or service. I know you have only 140 characters to use, but you’d be amazed at how much can be accomplished with that. Don’t forget you can use links to more comprehensive information (such as a blog post, a landing page or a how-to video clip), although I wouldn’t recommend you overuse this technique. The recommended balance goes more or less like this: for each 15 new updates, think 10/4/1: 10 posts should be about content from other people you are curating and sharing; 4 posts should direct them to your latest blog post or video clip; 1 post should invite them to a special offer on your company’s landing page. Don’t use this ratio as a straightjacket, though.
The bottom line is nobody has a perfectly safe job in today’s corporate world. Companies will not give you all the support you wish you had to carry out the ideal sales performance everyone expects from you. You need to stand up for yourself and imagine you are an external consultant hired to do the best job you can for a limited period of time. Lay-offs are around the corner. I don’t mean to scare you, but this is the brutal reality of our times. Therefore, you have no choice. Dive into social media, develop a powerful personal brand on the Internet, nourish a healthy and trusting base of clients and feed them all the relevant content you can. The pay off will be the empowering of your personal brand and the resulting sale – when and only when the customers are ready for it. The good news is this method will yield a lot more closings than the more traditional approaches, in which you need to wrestle down the poor customer to the floor and drag her across the room by the hair to force the purchase of the latest edition of your Manual for Reluctant Customers.
For more on the same topic, please refer to my previous post:
Please let me know your thoughts about this article. Use the comments section for your reaction.
I have always been very interested in the association between Art and Learning. Teaching with art. In my workshops and presentations as a teacher and sales trainer, I usually try to illustrate my sessions with slides containing pictures of famous paintings or sculptures to make a point. The reaction of the audience is invariably positive. I started then to think about the power of the pedagogy or andragogy (training adults) that incorporates art works as some form of context in the specific field of English language teaching. These are some of the reasons to expose learners to art I came up with. The list is by no means exhaustive, and I would appreciate your help in adding your ideas to this blog in the comments section at the bottom.
1. Fun: art is fun. Fun makes learning easier. We all know that whenever leaners are enjoying an activity their level of engagement rises and, therefore, they spend longer stretches of time focusing on the topic. Considering the goldfish-like attention span of most people today, due to the overwhelming amount of information they are bombarded with from all sides, this is already a victory in and of itself.
2. CLIL: most teachers are familiar with this acronym that means Content and Language Integrated Learning. It’s been around for some time now. It only means that language should be taught within a specific context, as a means to an end, rather than as a metalinguistic process. Learners acquire a second language more effectively if they come across real or contextualized uses of it: in a text, a listening passage or a video clip, for example, so they can concentrate on the message as much as on the medium. The length of exposure to the topic may vary: the longer the better. This means that if you teach, for example, history or math in English for a whole term, the learners might develop a better grasp of the language than if you had used fragments or decontextualized sentences to focus only on the language itself. Art, therefore, lends itself perfectly to the job, as it provides a wonderful canvas (pun intended) to design innumerable language activities on.
3. Emotions: Krashen, the linguist, warned us against psychological barriers that, when up, prevent the linguistic input from reaching our innate language acquisition device. The classroom environment must be as free as possible of pressures and inhibiting factors to be more conducive to learning. Art can be a great help in creating this atmosphere of calm and relaxation learners need to internalize input. But it also keeps them alert, due to its positively emotional impact, which is also a necessary condition for language acquisition. Besides, beauty makes the language more memorable.
4. Flexibility: teaching English based on paintings and sculptures lends itself to all kinds of activities across language levels, catering for different kinds of learning styles. Of course the impact is huge for the more visually oriented learners. But if you add a listening comprehension task about the piece of art or aesthetic movement you are discussing, or have, for example, learners work on some kind of hands-on activity as a follow-up – such as putting the pieces of a puzzle together, producing their own art work, or making a collage on the theme – you will be equally catering for the auditory and kinesthetic learners.
5. Personalization: learning is all about personalization. People have individual learning paces, varied kinds of intelligences, diverse learning styles and interests. Art and its many manifestations allow for different meanings and interpretations. The same work of art fosters different reactions and emotions in different people. Teachers can tap into this. Allowing open-ended responses to a speaking or writing activity based on a painting makes for solid and effective methodology.
Both teachers and students profit enormously from the inclusion of art in their English lessons. Most people are not really exposed to fine art, despite all the technological means to reach it we have at out disposal today. So, in addition to all the reasons listed before, we, as teachers and educators, will be refining the learners’ aesthetic taste, opening up a whole world of discovery and instilling a wish for self-improvement in them.
If you want to see some practical examples of English lessons using art, we have some ready-made plans on Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/jorgesetteelt
For those of you who are English Teachers and love art in general, we offer a wonderful collection of supplementary eBooks for the students to practice vocabulary, speaking and writing, based on the works of famous painters: TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART. The series is comprised of 8 books so far, and features works by Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet, Norman Rockwell, Vincent van Gogh and Winslow Homer. For further information on how to download the materials, please click here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS
Check out this brief video on the material on TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: MONET:
When you are at the stage of brainstorming for a nonfiction blog post or a piece of creative writing, it’s inevitable to remember a couple of articles, books and novels related to the topic you read at some point and enjoyed. They will be a source of inspiration and influence in your writing, making you somehow even slightly jealous, wishing you had thought of that first. But, of course, you would also have needed the right language to encapsulate it. After all, more important than the plot itself is how you say things.
Take the book Life of Pi by Yann Martel, for example, whose original idea some people claim was stolen from our Brazilian writer Moacyr Scliar. Well, plagiarism is hard to establish, there are a lot of gray areas, but one thing I’m sure of: Martel did not write the same story nor, most definitely, used the same language as Scliar. Jorge Luis Borges, in his marvelous piece Pierre Menard, Autor del Quixote, from the book Ficciones takes this idea even further, asserting that a book written with the exact same words by a different author at a different time would be read in a new way, due to the dissimilar historic contexts, and therefore would not be the same book at all. I agree.
After reading a comment on Facebook by a friend saying that she is full of ideas for blog posts but do not find the time to write them (yes, we all know how teachers are busy!), I made a joke saying that all my good ideas had already been stolen by the likes of Shakespeare, Tolstoy or Philip Roth.
Then I though for a moment, and decided to give serious consideration as to which novels I really wished I had written and why. This is my humble list:
1.The Human Stain, by Philp Roth: it’s hard to discuss this book without giving a bit too much away, so apologies for the spoilers. The story of a light-skinned black boy who grabs the opportunity to pass for a Jew in 1950’s America and later becomes a Classics Professor at a small college is a complex account of the choices you make in life and the responsibilities and consequences that come with them. The need to make concessions and compromise basic values to achieve a bigger goal is the central theme of the book. The deep moral dilemma you face when you take such a radical decision, including the necessity to abandon and cut relations with your family and community to start a new life somewhere else as a completely different person, is evaluated by the author from unusual and unexpected angles in this impressive book. As irony is the hallmark of Roth, the book starts with the most paradoxal of incidents: the professor, noticing that two of the students enlisted in his class never seem to be present, asks the class the question which brings about his doom: “do they exist or are they spooks?” The latter being an old loaded word, a racist epithet for blacks. It turns out that the Professor, never having seen those students before, meant spooks in the most common sense of the word, that is, ghosts, and, after all the pressure and hassle he goes through, without support from any of his colleagues and students – for a number of political reasons – he decides to resign and end his career. I would love to have written this story for its universality: any minority can identify with what Coleman, the Jewish/Black professor, goes through, and can easily put themselves in his shoes. Given the opportunity would you do the same? Would you change your race, color, nationality, sexual orientation or gender? Or would you just give up all of your chances of fully growth and spend the rest of your life as a second class citizen in a society that will only offer you the fulfillment of your whole potential if you are the right color?
2. Dom Casmurro, by Machado de Assis: this must be the book I reread most often in my entire life. I know it almost by heart. What attracts me is the way the characters are so well-rounded and fully developed, leaping out of the page as if you could go for a walk and talk to them. This does not mean, however, that you will know them any better. This is the whole point of the story. The dissimulation, the fact that we never know anyone completely. The impossibility of dealing with only one version of the reality. I can’t get enough of the artistry of the author, who, narrating the story in the first person, never lets the reader be sure about what really happened: was the main character’s wife an adulterer? Is the boy she gives birth to his son or his best friend’s? The doubt will corrupt his marriage and ultimately destroy all the love in his life. He becomes empty and isolated, having chosen the version of reality which will cause him the most pain and damage. Don’t we all choose the latter?
3. We need to talk about Kevin, by Lionel Shriver: a professional woman is in love with her work and her husband. She writes and publishes travel guides, having the chance to go places, tour interesting and remote regions, avoiding getting stuck in a housewife’s rut, being independent most of the time. Yet, she can count on a loving husband to comfort and look after her when she comes back home after a long trip: this is a dream life. She has the best of both worlds. Then, what else is it that society claims will make every woman even happier and more complete: to have a baby. From the birth of Kevin, her firstborn, to the dantesque crime scene at the end of the book, We need to talk about Kevin reads like a nightmare. You can’t put it down. A thriller in every sense of the word. But one that goes way beyond the limitations of the genre. Shriver’s ambitions are a lot more encompassing. She discusses the nature of evil. Is it caused by nurture or nature? How is it created? Has Kevin always been the monster she feared he was or was his low self-esteem caused by his mother’s lack of love and care that turned him into a criminal? Was the mother’s resentment for having to give up all the pleasure and independence of her former life, her pre-baby life, toxic enough to corrupt and undo the little creature? The sense of guilt of a mother for not conforming to the patterns of a society that takes motherly love for granted only contributes to the character’s anguish and mental confusion. Of course, the book will show different perspectives of the scenarios we painted, but the conclusion will be up to the reader.
These are all great themes and I don’t need to tell you how masterfully these concepts and ideas are exploited by those wonderful writers. The angles they illuminate, the perspectives they reveal would hardly have occurred to the average reader. That’s why they are geniuses and we are blog writers. But we can always try to get closer to their art in our writing. According to Malcolm Gladwell, another writer whose books I wish I could have written (although they are nonfictional), all it takes is a dedication of 10,000 hours of work to become a world class master at your craft.
Which books would you like to have written yourself? Let us know.