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Optimism vs. Pessimism

ScalesHere's a very timely article in yesterday's New York Times.  It's called "The Power of Negative Thinking" and it really resonated with me.  Yes, I tend to be overly pessimistic about certain matters but I think the article's author, Barbara Ehrenreich, is spot on with her observations.

What in the world does this have to do with publishing?  You'll see it refers to all the bestselling self-help books that promise "if you believe in it, you'll get it."  The reining champion of this genre is, of course, The Secret.

As Ehrenreich says later in the article, "consistent pessimism can be just as baseless and deluded as its opposite."  The most important statement she makes is towards the end where she says, "The alternative to both is realism — seeing the risks, having the courage to bear bad news and being prepared for famine as well as plenty."  Amen.


Book Calendar

I've always liked the concept of not doing things as being more important than doing things. It is not pessimism, but simple refusal to cooperate with things like The Secret.

Timothy Norris

Of course there's already a book on this...


This isn't related to the Ehrenreich article exactly, but pessimism and publishing. Did anyone read the article called "The End" in New York Magazine (September 14)? You can view it online here:

Grim, no? Here's one quote that resonated particularly strongly with me:
"We're an industry more willing to watch the boat sink than rock it a wee bit." —ONE FRUSTRATED PUBLISHER

It's true, of course, that the book industry as we have known it is coming to an end. But I think there's too much interesting innovation going on that for us to fall victim to the "inchoate dread turned choate." This blog highlights lots of those new ideas, and seems to me to be inherently excited about new opportunities rather than afraid of them. What do others think?

Neil Edde

Re: Barbara Ehrenreich's column, I couldn't agree more. I haven't read her latest book--This Land is Their Land--but I did read Nickel and Dimed a few years back and it got my populist blood boiling. Be careful, Joe. You keep reading the NY Times and linking to Barbara Ehrenreich columns and people will start calling you a liberal. (I'll pre-order a team jersey, just in case.)


Re: the article in New York magazine, I think it's important to keep in mind that the author was speaking primarily of the big NY trade fiction houses, where, much like the music industry, the old business models are being thrown for a loop. If the publishing business plays out like the music industry has in recent years, I'd say there are interesting times ahead. I'm a big music fan, especially live shows, and there's been an explosion of good new bands in the past few years. Without guaranteed paymens from big record labels, bands once again have to play for their money. It's great if you're a music lover. My hometown of San Francisco has always had a decent music scene, but these days the venues are packed almost every night of the week. And it's every different kind of music you can think of. Yeah, there are some bad bands out there, but the web is great for sifting through things and finding ones you like. I'd imagine it's the same in cities large and small.

So yeah, grim times for some in our business. But for others? Exciting. Fun. Interesting. Perhaps a tad unsettling. But Ms. Ehrenreich would probably say that's a good thing.

Timothy Norris

There's always a book out there on a topic. Here's one of the better ones: "The Positive Power of Negative Thinking" by Julie Rorem.

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