Happy FTC Day: A Book Review

12/01/2009 By Shawn Burns

I want you to buy a book. It’s a special book, written by a special person. I want to tell you all about this book, and make claims about its characteristics, style, and themes. I want to convey to you that my objective evaluation of the book is objective. I want to do so many things. But today, December 1st 2009, is FTC Day. It is the Day of Disclosure about material connections between bloggers and advertisers.

I don’t want to tell you if I paid for the book or not. I don’t want to tell you if I promised the author that I’d write a review because she bribed me with a free copy. I don’t want to tell you if the publisher flew me out to Los Angeles for a banquet and dancing with the author and a thousand celebrities. I’d like to maintain the mystery: you don’t get to know all of the ways people influence me.

Imagine the author just straight out paid me to review her book. What would that involve? Money? Fine. What would I do with money? Buy things? Pay bills? Invest in General Motors? I wouldn’t just have it. I’d have it and use it for something else. That is, money doesn’t have value: what is purchased with the money has value. So if the author paid me to review her book the real value of the exchange for me would be in what I could buy with that money. But, even that is too short-sighted. Because stuff isn’t the point. It’s the feeling you get when you have the stuff: when your bills are paid you feel secure in your home; when food is purchased you feel nourished; when products are purchased you feel relaxed, or entertained, or educated, or a thousand other possible feelings. The money doesn’t matter. If the author paid me to review her book, the real value of the exchange would be in the feelings I gain access to in virtue of having this money.

Now imagine the author didn’t pay me, but offered me a free book as a way of rewarding me for reviewing the book. What value does the book have for me? Well, I could read it, and change my feelings to: entertained. Or I could gift it to someone, and change my feelings to: joyful-in-generosity. Or I could use it to level a table and change my feelings to: happy-to-no-longer-have-pens-roll-onto-the-floor. What would I get out of a free book? Feelings. More feelings.

No matter what my connections to the author are, the fact is that my only compensation for anything, really, is a feeling. That is the way I am influenced to write: the promise of feelings. That is the way anyone is influenced to write. But I’m not going to tell you all of the ways in which my feelings are influenced: that list would be endless.

The FTC would like me to tell you if I have any material connections to whoever benefits from the sale of this book. I can tell you I do. In fact, you’d be a fool to think I don’t, that anyone who writes a review doesn’t. Because those connections are feelings, and we all have them and they are what inspire, motivate, and influence us to write. They may be related to money, or product, or time spent talking, or cute baby pictures, or a host of other things. But for some reason the FTC thinks that money and product do more to undermine objectivity than cute baby pictures or shared moments or just liking the sound of someone’s name. The most direct influencer of feelings, you’d think, would be the cute baby pictures or that one time you hung out together and watched a ball game, but the FTC cares about the most indirect influencers, as though distance and opacity are doing the work to undermine objectivity. Well, they are wrong. Feelings do the work. Only robots can be trusted to write objective reviews.

Where was I? Oh, yes, a thoroughly objective and un-influenced review of a book.

The book is called It’s Not Me, It’s You: Subjective Recollections from a Terminally Optimistic, Chronically Sarcastic, and Occasionally Inebriated Woman. It came into my possession at the BlogHer “˜09 conference in July, and it is personally autographed by the author, Stefanie Wilder-Taylor. Stefanie writes the blog Baby On Bored, and she is hilarious and honest and here is a blurry picture of her (she’s on the right):

The camera isn't moving. Stefanie just causes electro-magnetic disturbances wherever she goes. She's a force of nature.

I actually read the book over two days at the end of July, but I’m such a great review blogger that I decided to do the review while the material was still fresh in my mind. Six months later. With a reviewer like this who needs the New York Times?

It’s Not Me, It’s You is a collection of short biographical pieces about Stefanie’s own life. Everybody has weirdness in their past, but Stefanie has cults and Russian mafia bosses/porn producers/telemarketers and Hollywood Squares triumphs and drunken little people and frat guys. And this one time when she freebased cocaine.

I could summarize each piece without doing anything to diminish the value of actually reading them: because the fun of the book is in the way Stefanie tells the stories. She has spot on comTIMINGedic, something many people who think they’re funny just doTIMINGn’t have. The stories build, the funny happens, and everyone settles in to wait for the next bit of insanity.

Although the book is worth reading for the humour Stefanie stuffs into it, it is also a very personal recollection of growing up and fleeing a broken home, living poorly and dangerously on her own for the first time, losing and finding her father and trying to deal with how human he is. Although not a strict narrative biography, the connections between the essays work, and the picture Stefanie draws of who she is feels full and bursting.

Buy this book. I have a lot of feelings because of it. You too will have a lot of feelings because of it. It would make a great Christmas present. It would also make a great Labor Day present, Halloween present, Veterans’ Day present, or Thanksgiving present, but I didn’t manage to get my act together soon enough for that. You’ll have to settle for Christmas.

Ah, well, I’m not so brave after all. Here is a document listing all of the material connections between me and the publisher and author. I don’t want the FTC coming after me.