Monday, April 27, 2009

The Gift of Perspective: Review of Andy Andrews’ “The Noticer”

I have greatly enjoyed being part of Thomas Nelson’s Book Review Bloggers program. I had just requested and started reading John Maxwell’s “Put Your Dream to the Test” when I got an email stating that Thomas Nelson was promoting an upcoming release of a new book by Andy Andrews called “The Noticer”. They had three hundred copies and would release them to the first three hundred bloggers to respond to the email who were willing to commit to read and review the book, but post the reviews all on April 27, the date of the release. I figured that might be a tall order, but my path cleared for me. I found out that the Kindle version of John Maxwell’s book was free for a few days, so I downloaded that to my iPhone. I like electronic copies of books. I seem to be able to read them faster, and I also have more opportunities to read an eBook. I always have my phone on me, while it’s not always convenient to carry a physical book. The first obstacle, reading two physical books mostly at home, was overcome. With the Kindle version, I found time to read at work, at Chuck E Cheese, and at a food auction.

The next hurdle, time, worked out on its own. My wife was making ham pie at her parents’ house, and I came home from work. Since she was out, she thought I should work late. There was plenty of work to do and extra pay is always nice, but I couldn’t take another second in my cubicle, so I came home. I picked up the book, and started reading. I’m normally a slow reader. I read about the pace I could read out loud. I have learned various scanning techniques to read faster, but I don’t retain as much, so I go at my pace. (Update: after reading the hard copy in the afternoon, I visited Thomas Nelson’s product page to get details for the book and discovered that there is an electronic edition. Oh, well, I can read it again on my iPhone later.)

The Noticer had a lot of hype surrounding it. I hoped to find that it lived up to the hype. Thomas Nelson CEO, Michael Hyatt, had send out several tweets and even wrote a blog post based around the book.

I normally avoid this type of genre. I’m wary of “inspirational” books. I find it to be the kind of market that is easily flooded by BS artists who make people feel really good but add little value to their lives, or at least to my life. Once the inspiration wears off, I’m left holding my life with no new tools but mindless clichés to show for it. But I am a book geek, and there’s a strange thrill for me in having a book that hasn’t been released yet, and I did commit to read and review it, so I dug in. Oh, yeah, I also tend to *cough, cough* be brought to tears a little too easily by emotional material. My wife is mean to me when we watch those kind of movies together.

First, the technical details. The Noticer is a hardcover, jacketed book with 176 pages. MSRP is $17.99. Amazon has it listed for $12.23.

The story centers around Orange Beach, Alabama. It is mostly told in the first person of Andy, I assume Andy Andrews, the author, and his encounters with an old man, Jones, as Jones’ encounters with other weave through the story. The story begins with Andy as a homeless kid of about 20 living under a pier. Jones encounters him, somehow knowing everything about him. Jones speaks about how everybody needs a little perspective, and leaves Andy with three biographies. These inspire Andy, and Jones leaves him three more. Andy begins going to the library, eventually reading more than 200 biographies and going on to a successful life. The story then skips a decade or so, with Andy in his successful life with a wife and two children. He encounters Jones again.

The rest of the book consists of Jones somehow showing up to several different people in different situations, giving them a new perspective and changing their lives. Jones is somehow nobody in particular. He is, I guess we could say, all things to all people. The whites call him Jones. The Hispanics call him Garcia. The Chinese call him Chen. He always somehow manages to show up in each person’s life when they need perspective. I guess I should not give away the ending.

I would like to discuss the format and my own opinions, as this is my review and my blog. Don’t worry, I liked the book and I think you should read it. The Noticer is a very quick and easy read. I read a few pages before work on a Friday and finished the book in a couple of hours that afternoon while I had some time alone. It’s a very quick read even for a slow reader like myself.

The format of The Noticer is a story. Stories can be very powerful. Jesus spoke in parables as a means of teaching because it is very powerful. It cuts to the heart, yet it can also be used to conceal some things from blind eyes, and to cut right to the hearts of the open eyes. Stories can be a powerful and effective way to get a point across. I have learned a lot from books such as Johnny Tremain, a fictional account of the time of the American Revolution. It was obviously fictional, but an insight into life and events in those days. Sometimes I wish someone like Tom Clancy could be hired to write tech manuals. Come on, you’d read your printer manual if it were centered around a socio/political techno thriller. I learn a lot from stories. Of course, stories can also be used to lead someone astray. You have to be careful on the journey of a story exactly where you’re being led. I do not feel any such misleading in The Noticer.

I’m sure that of all the characters and situations Jones moves through in The Noticer, you’ll most likely find one that you identify with. I didn’t identify with all, but quite a few  left me putting my glasses aside to wipe my eyes on my shirt and hope my wife didn’t suddenly come home to pick on me. One day I’m going to find a book or movie that makes her cry…I believe I gleaned a lot from The Noticer. I will say that one line I hope stays with me forever is this, from page 65: “One way to define wisdom is the ability to see, into the future, the consequences of your choices in the present.” That is powerful!

For those of you who don’t like “religious stuff”, I don’t think this book will get to you. There are a few vague and general references to church and to God. The book definitely sets a generalized “Christian” type of tone without being specifically Christian. I’m sure some might have problems with that. I figure, if it plants a seed, that has to be a good thing.

One thing I think we should all take away from this book is that we need to stop and get our perspective. Life is full of crises and storms, and it is those that make us stronger and more capable of helping others through crises. We also should not forget that we need each other. We have no concept of how much the little things that we do in our daily lives will impact others.

There is also a companion project called “The Noticer Project”. It has to do with publically noticing 5 people who have had an impact on your life. I’m personally having a hard time deciding on 5. I’m sure if there were more, it wouldn’t be breaking the rules to list them. My wife has let me know that she better be on there.

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