“What is Your Book About?”

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“What is Your Book About?”

This is always the first question I get when I tell someone that I’m writing — or now, that I’ve written — a book. I used to have trouble answering it at all, much less succinctly, but having had nearly three years of practice, I think I’m finally getting it figured out. So here goes.

The book is about “the second half of life.” The message is that the second half of life need not be — I would even say should not be, although my wife says that’s preaching — a simple continuation or a repetition of the first half. People who have studied human development — Angeles Arrien, for instance — say that the motif of the first half of life is ambition but in the second half it becomes meaning. So, somewhere in the middle, there is a change — a “midlife crisis” perhaps — and for anybody who has ever tried to change horses in midstream, there are some difficulties and some dangers that must be dealt with, and that’s what my book is about.

From that it follows that my intended reader is somebody who is in the midst of that, or is on the verge of that, or possibly who has come through that — somebody who has been divorced, downsized, depressed, discouraged, or at least doubtful. That pretty much includes everybody beyond puberty, but I was really thinking of people over 35 when I started writing. I’ve been through all of those things: divorced once, downsized three times, and the other three “D-spells” more times than I can count. So I wanted to write about what I had learned and to provide some answers, many of them somewhat unconventional, that might be helpful to others. But I didn’t want to write a “self-help book.” One of the last things the world needs is more of those. There are a gazillion of them already and almost everybody buys at least one at some time or other, but very few of them get read all the way thru and even fewer of them get heeded, because people don’t like to change. They think that change is abnormal or painful, so they go to great lengths to avoid it, to avoid even thinking about it.

Thus I wrote my self-help book as a story — sort of sugar-coating the pill to help readers to swallow it — just like Jesus used parables to get his points across, and likewise other “wisdom teachers” from all times and cultures. (Sufi tales are my favorites.) I wanted to make my story interesting enough that people would keep reading all the way to the end without getting hung up on whether to accept into their own belief structures any of the ideas I’m presenting. I felt I was writing a “didactic novel” in the same tradition as Marcus Borg’s Putting Away Childish Things or William Young’s The Shack or Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead or any of countless others written with the intention of teaching more than entertaining. Consequently, I was surprised when the first editor who reviewed my book said that I had written “a thriller,” but the more I thought about it, the more I was pleased because it meant that I had done a better job of sugar-coating than I had expected.

So I hope that readers will find my novel entertaining, and if that’s all they get out of it, that’s OK with me. But there’s lots more there that folk might find rewarding if they take the time to reflect on it, stuff that I could just as well have left out and made the book half as long. I did hold a good bit of that back, and edited out some of it after the first draft, so I have plenty of material for a sequel, perhaps two or three, but I won’t even consider starting to write another book until I see how people react to this one. I don’t want to limit myself to just what my own little imagination can produce.

— George Lindamood

30 April 2013