He’s back, by popular demand! Tim Wu’s culture diary was such a hit with our readers that we asked him to answer our advice column this week. —Lorin Stein
A quiet kid in my introductory English class approached me the other day with a batch of his poetry. He wants to be a writer and asked for “an honest appraisal” of his work and chances. Of course, the poems are awful, but I would hate to discourage him. How should I handle this?
Easy question. You cannot lose. Tell him, honestly, that his poems are awful. That scarring pain of first rejection is the greatest gift you could give to an aspiring writer. It being Christmas, consider the agony your very own myrrh and frankincense.
“I read your poems. They are awful.” With these simple words, you have the rare chance to create a lifetime’s worth of writing fuel, a resentment that can be relied on for years. Or, in the words of Notorious B.I.G.: “This is dedicated to all the teachers who said I’d never amount to nothin.’”
My husband wants to go camping. I, to put it mildly, do not. It is cold, it requires physical exertion, and neither of us are so young anymore. Can you recommend a book that will satisfy his Boy Scout fantasies without destroying our marriage?
Ha! This idea is so counterproductive it makes me laugh. Go ahead! Give him a good book about outdoor adventure—Into Thin Air, Desert Solitaire, or A Passion for Nature. I can guarantee that the demands for camping will increase. No, I can guarantee that they will escalate. Give him Into the Wild or, worst of all, The Call of the Wild. I now see Alaska in your future. I predict demands to climb Mt. Denali or move to the Gobi desert for a year. I speak from experience.
The silver lining is that all of these books demand solitude. Man against nature sort of stuff. So if what you really want is to dispose of your husband for a year or so, go for it, assuming he lives through it.
What you refer to as a “Boy Scout Fantasy” is actually something called “manhood” and, without surgery, it is not so easily excised. At best you might try to redirect the spirit—say with a book that makes him want to fix motorcycles, like Shop Class as Soulcraft. But if you’re hoping to use books to quiet the call of the wild you can forget it. You might as well give a sex addict a pile of porn.
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