Monday, April 4, 2011

Book Review: What Old Men Know

A dictionary for grown-ups

“What Old Men Know” offers wisdom spiced with humor

By Keith A. Owens

The nice thing about getting on in years, I’ve been told, is that it becomes considerably easier to be honest about what you think. No more need to sugarcoat your opinions, kiss up to the boss, or  convince anyone you’re something you’re not for reasons you will undoubtedly be sorry for later. Once you reach ‘that age’, half the fun in life is the freedom of being you because of all the lessons you have learned thanks to the swift – and repeated - kicks of experience. You know what you know, and can’t nobody take that away from you.

“What Old Men Know” (Harmonie Park Press, $16.95), Dr. John Telford’s second book for the local publisher, is considerably more than what it claims to be on the cover, namely “a definitive dictionary and almanac of advice”. This is a book of both wisdom and knowledge (old men know the two are not necessarily the same), anger and remorse, joy and pain. In many ways, this relatively slim 284-page volume, which indeed is laid out like a dictionary and can be read and enjoyed starting from any page, is The Book of Telford. The retired educator and track star has excelled at both of his chosen skills, but perhaps what he has excelled at more than either is the fine art of hell-raising. In “What Old Men Know,” it is the spirit of the hell raiser who lends the reader his glasses for an opportunity to view the world as he has come to know it. It becomes quickly apparent that Telford’s often harshly critical perspective of the way life works (versus the way it should work) is a view taken from a perch not many have earned the right to attain.

Perhaps the best way to discuss Telford’s most recent volume is simply to offer a couple of examples of what you will find once you take the time to stroll through his written landscape of ‘the way it is’. Just for starters, let’s take a look at the way the word ‘advice’ is defined in the online dictionary,
  1. admonition, warning, caution; guidance; urging. Advice, counsel, recommendation, suggestion, persuasion, exhortation  refer to opinions urged with more or less force as worthy bases for thought, opinion, conduct, or action. Advice  is a practical recommendation as to action or conduct: advice about purchasing land. Counsel  is weighty and serious advice, given after careful deliberation: counsel about one's career. Recommendation  is weaker than advice and suggests an opinion that may or may not be acted upon: Do you think he'll follow my recommendation? Suggestion  implies something more tentative than a recommendation: He did not expect his suggestion to be taken seriously. Persuasion  suggests a stronger form of advice, urged at some length with appeals to reason, emotion, self-interest, or ideals: His persuasion changed their minds. Exhortation  suggests an intensified persuasion or admonition, often in the form of a discourse or address: an impassioned exhortation. 2.  intelligence, word. 3.  notice, advisory.

Now let’s take a look at Telford’s take on that very same word:
ADVICE – Something that Old Men like Your Auld Author give liberally, as it is usually of no (immediate) monetary value. We old dudes also recognize that our advice isn’t always received in the spirit in which it is given, and those who need it the most generally welcome it the least. We further recognize that in the rare instance someone gives advice to us at our advanced age, it is ordinarily of little use to us, so we simply and sagaciously pass it on like a hot potato as quickly as we can.
I think we may have time for one more, so just for fun let’s take a look at the meaning of the word ‘plagiarism’. defines the meaning of the word in the following way:
The unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work.

That’s nice, but let us now consult The Book of Telford for the word’s deeper meaning:

PLAGIARISM – When you lift material from only one writer. (When you lift it from many writers it’s called research.


Keith A. Owens, formerly the Senior Editor of the Michigan Chronicle, is a Detroit-based freelance writer and musician

This book review was originally published in The Michigan Chronicle.

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