Strike the match.

Thanks to all who offered advice, especially on the wi-fi problems. I did, indeed, make the change Ash and Jay suggested, and it made my connection noticeably quicker, but I’m still having the drop-out problem, so. Probably time for a system upgrade.

And as for the ashcanned snark, well, someone else wrote it. Good for him. It’s better than what I wrote, since what I wrote was banged out in 20 cross-eyed screechy minutes on my couch yesterday morning. As for why I ashcanned it, well, it’s because I’m a coward.

(If you don’t want to click the link, here’s the money quote: (Mitch Albom is) a huckster evangelist for the soccer-mom set. Truer words, etc.)

I do a little work here and there for the Freep, and while losing it wouldn’t really dent my income, it just seemed like a test of my so-called adulthood to leave this bridge unburned, although I realize there’s a good chance no one would even notice it, or care. Mitch is on the staff at the Freep, but I get the feeling he’s not so much of the paper as he is a dirigible that floats over it, lightly tethered. Many of the people below resent that it often blots out the sun, but they’re not in control, and so they shrug and say what-can-you-do.

Unlike Bob Greene, Albom seems to behave himself, most of the time. There was that incident with the column about the two basketball players who didn’t go to the game, and there was the Curious Case of the Spiked Bad Review, and there are stories people tell you over beers, but I’ve never heard anything involving teenage girls and the Marriott Hotel, so that’s good. Journalism is full of cheerful hacks who laugh all the way to the bank, from screeching pundits like Ann Coulter to the warmer-and-fuzzier sorts who trade in dog stories, and the first thing you learn about them is this: 68 percent of the collegial bitching about them is rooted in jealousy. People say “I’d never write sentimental bullshit like that,” but what they really mean is, “Why didn’t I think of it first.” Albom has jerked easy tears for years, collected them in a golden bucket, and taken them to the bank, where he’s traded every one for a fistful of C-notes. His slight, repackaged tales of feel-good spirituality are routinely savaged by critics, but sell and sell and sell some more, and I don’t know about you, but nobler souls than I have made that bargain and sleep well at night over it. (It’s easy to sleep well on high-thread-count sheets.)

But where my eyes start to cross and steam emerge from my ears is when I read stories like this, about the kickoff for Mitch’s book in Detroit the other night:

(Singer Tony) Bennett was moved to tears as he spoke about one portion of Albom’s novel, which went on sale earlier this week.

“This book,” Bennett told the gathering, “teaches you if you apologize to the people you hurt…” before he covered his face in his hands and wept, unable to continue until host Albom offered comfort.

Man, just reading about it makes me want an apology from Mitch Albom. Let’s start with, “I’m sorry I keep writing treacly books that reduce 80-year-old singers to public tears” and go from there. I don’t mind the guy making his money however he can, but is it too much to ask that he lay off the Dr. Phil-meets-the-Dalai-Lama crap? How long before someone asks him to lay hands on a sick child?

It’s an open secret — not even a secret at all — that the man who stayed on the best-seller list for years with a book that revealed how important it is to stop and smell the roses does nothing of the sort. He’s working harder than ever, with radio, TV, fiction, even playwrighting. He’s in the paper at least twice a week, not just in Sports, and by my measure he’s phoning it in; having written columns for years, I know exactly how to pull one from my nether regions, and many of Albom’s Sunday pieces smell like that’s where they came from. (I recall one in recent months, which took off from a half-baked proposal to exhume Mozart’s corpse for some reason. Mitch disapproved, and suggested it would be better to “honor him by playing his music.” Noted.)

I don’t know the guy, though. Maybe he has “roses, stop and smell” in his BlackBerry somewhere. Maybe he’s the world’s most efficient multi-tasker, able to wedge his relationships into neat blocks of time between the radio show and lunch with Jeff Daniels. I once took a writing seminar at the Freep, and Albom led a session with warmth and apparent humility, touting not his own work but Joan Didion’s. He also paid us the ultimate modern-age compliment; when his cell phone rang, he pulled it from his briefcase and turned it off.

I do know this, though: I’ve never read anything by the guy that felt true to me, that didn’t feel manipulative and false and sentimentalized for my protection. I don’t follow sports, and so I’m talking about his non-sports, post-Morrie work here, and to give him his props, people who read him pre-Morrie say that a lot of his sports work was excellent. But what I recall are the columns that gave my head cramps from the eye-rolling. There was one he wrote around the time the TV-movie version of “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” was on the air, which a writer to Romenesko boiled down to, “Thanks for loving me, Detroit,” and that’s pretty much on the money.

I see a lot of his books in garage sales, along with “The DaVinci Code” and “The South Beach Diet.” I try to imagine the impulse that sorted them into the garage-sale pile rather than the keepers. I think of a woman who read “Five People,” wept at the ending and later felt bad about it, sort of the soccer-mom version of post-coital remorse. I think of someone who was given “Tuesdays With Morrie” when their father was dying, read it and thought, “Jesus Christ, is this ever a load of crap” and tossed it aside. (And I consider the very real possibility that someone gave them the book and they already had three copies, the way people kept giving me “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” when I was pregnant. There’s a reason books become best-sellers.)

I saw one in a sale last week, and it reminded me Albom had a book coming out soon. The Freep story says he’s off on a 10-week — ten-freakin’-weeks — book tour. Which means Mitch on Oprah and Mitch on the Today Show and Mitch at charity readings to raise money for the homeless. Which means more people crying like Tony Bennett. It’s going to be a long, long autumn.

Hey, is that a siren I hear? Fire trucks? Looks like someone set the bridge ablaze.

Posted at 9:46 am in Media |

12 responses to “Strike the match.”

  1. Jennifer said on September 29, 2006 at 9:55 am

    “I think of a woman who read “Five People,�? wept at the ending and later felt bad about it, sort of the soccer-mom version of post-coital remorse.”

    I loved this!

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  2. Marcia said on September 29, 2006 at 10:04 am

    You had that match lit before I even got the VP to pressure you. Well done.

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  3. Marcia said on September 29, 2006 at 11:01 am

    P.S. And I have to agree to disagree with you about Bob Greene’s writing. I’ve always liked it.

    ……ducking now…..

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  4. nancy said on September 29, 2006 at 11:07 am

    OK Marcia, it’s now, officially, on.

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  5. Dorothy said on September 29, 2006 at 11:19 am

    Marcia is braver than I am. So now that she’s broken the ice, I have to admit – I was a big BG fan, too. But I also admit that Nancy’s reveals have put him in a whole different light for me. It creeps me out now to read anything he writes.

    But truth be told, I absolutely loved “Good Morning, Mary Sunshine.” Maybe it was new mother hormones that swayed me.

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  6. brian stouder said on September 29, 2006 at 11:35 am

    you know, I have wondered about this from time to time – these writers who are essentially brand names, like McDonalds, wherein you see the name and know what you’re going to get.

    History has branded franchises like Stephen Ambrose or Doris Kearns Goodwin (to name two plagerists) – who rely on teams of ‘research assistants’ and then (apparently) add their own secret ‘eleven herbs and spices’ to the mix, resulting in a shelf of books that have the author’s name across 1/2 of the cover, and the title of the book meekly posed on the remainder.

    David McCullough, who has won a sack full of prestigious awards, and who has the requisite cadre of research assistants, seems to define the business model (or perfected the art form). He is a teevee presence (when I read his books, I can hear his distinctive voice and delivery style), and his books are accessible, enjoyable, and enlightening….and he has yet to be caught cribbing other people’s work. His books are pleasant, informative additions to my shelves (whereas my Ambrose books went in the last garage sale!)

    Indeed – McCullough makes what he does look easy, even though we know it cannot possibly be easy to organize a rearch staff, manage the mountains of information they come back with, and then efficiently sift through it all and construct a readable (and reasonably accurate) narrative – all within the deadline that the publisher no doubt imposes, in return for the hefty advance that it would take to finance such an effort.

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  7. mary said on September 29, 2006 at 11:39 am

    I think avoiding anything endorsed by Oprah is a good rule of thumb. I was given the Cesar Millan dog book, which I am actually reading. In his introduction he thanks Oprah, Dr. Phil, that men/mars/women/venus guy, and at least one other pop culture self help icon. It was hard getting past that page. I had watched his show the previous Saturday, and in the book he tells the story of one of the dogs featured on the very show I saw, but he changed the breed. So now I know he’s an Oprah butt kisser, a Dr. Phil fan, and a liar. Reading this book is hard work. It’s not Mitch or Bob, but it’s job.
    Now I’m holding up one finger and going “sssssst,” at my dogs like Cesar. Smokey and Poppy stop whatever they’re doing, which is good, but Max, a little slower on the uptake, tries to bite my finger. Playfully, thank goodness.

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  8. mary said on September 29, 2006 at 11:44 am

    I worked for a writer who is something of a teevee presence, and I hear her voice when I read her books. She’s not a hack, though, but she does play up the folksy bit at times which gets old. It’s not even really folksy…more like rowdy cowgirl stuff. It was one reason she got in trouble with her editor at the paper she worked for.

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  9. alex said on September 29, 2006 at 11:51 am

    I was a sucker for Bob Greene in my early days in Chicago. He did some pretty powerful reporting on child abuse and neglect, as well as some harrowing serials in which adopted children were being pursued by their ne’er-do-well birth mothers — and being removed from the only families they’d ever known.

    He was quite effective at inciting his readers’ outrage, but never more so than when he seduced the high school girl who brought down his career.

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  10. anriley said on September 29, 2006 at 3:22 pm

    I used to just gag over Bob Greene’s columns about Michael Jordan — I mean, good God, it was downright embarrassing to read — a grown man just swooning like a junior-high girl. Honestly, I couldn’t believe Greene actually submitted this stuff to be published, and I couldn’t believe the paper would actually print it. And then the sentimental nostalgic glurge — hell, Bob, be a man.

    Oh, I couldn’t stand that guy. And then he turned out to be an even worse creep than I would have thought. What a piece of work.

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  11. Dave said on September 30, 2006 at 8:16 am

    Bob Greene wrote a column about Elmore Leonard, who I’d never heard of at that time, say about 1981. Pretty soon, I was reading everything the Lima (Ohio) Public Library had by him, so I’ll always give him that. But, as I continued to read his columns and his glossing over of his surely very comfortable Bexley, OH, growing up years, I began to get suspicious, this before the real creepiness came out.

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  12. Marcia said on September 30, 2006 at 5:04 pm

    Another Limaland escapee? Dave who?

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