Sunday, April 26, 2009

Book Review: The Noticer

"I notice things about situations and people that produce perspective. Remember, young man, experience is not the best teacher. Other people's experience is the best teacher."—Jones, An elderly man with white hair, of indiscriminate age and race, wearing blue jeans, a white T-shirt and leather flip flops carrying a battered old suitcase.

Andy Andrews

The Noticer: Sometimes, all a person needs is a little perspective

176 pp. Thomas Nelson Publishers

By Scoti Springfield Domeij

The Noticer, a self-help book set in a fiction setting, came highly recommended to me by several readers that I respect. When people hype a book, it sets up my expectations. I anticipated it to be a page-turner until the last page.

For me, it wasn't.

However, from a writer's perspective, the book is an easy read and creatively constructed. I enjoyed the author's vocabulary and the stories and pictures his words painted in my mind. Flowing seamlessly from chapter to chapter, every chapter and story provides a nugget of wisdom for a particular problem facing a character.

Chapter 1 made me wonder if The Noticer was a type of takeoff on The Shack.

Chapters 2 & 3: The advice that Jones, a character who turns up in individual's lives when they are struggling, synthesizes The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Matedown for a couple on the verge of divorce.

After reading the first three chapters and making notes, I set the book aside to attend to my life. The book did not motivate me to pick it back up again until a few hours before deadline for this review.

Chapter 4 is a lesson on self-talk, fear and worry. Jones tells Worrywart Walker "Forty percent of the things you worry about will never occur…. Thirty percent of the things you worry about are things that have already happened—in the past. And all the worry in the world ain't gonna change what's already happened, right? Twelve percent of all worries have to do with needless imaginings about our health. My leg hurts. Do I have cancer? My head hurts. Do I have a tumor? My daddy died of a heart attack when he was sixty, and I'm fifty-nine…. Ten percent would be petty-little-nothing worries about what other people think. So if my math is right, that leaves eight percent…. Eight percent for legitimate concerns … these legitimate concerns are things that can actually be dealt with. Most people spend so much time fearing the things that are never going to happen or can't be controlled that they have no energy to deal with the few things they can actually handle (pp. 54, 55)."

Chapter 5: Jones expresses to unmarried, college-age students, who call him "Garcia," how to determine if someone would make a suitable life partner.

Chapter 6: Jones helps a widowed woman realize that her life has meaning. Generations yet unborn would be shaped by her actions. "No matter your age, physical condition, financial situation, color, gender, emotional state, or belief… everything you do, every move you make, matters to all of us—and forever," (p. 91).

Chapter 7: Although, Jones seems to represent a wise, Jesus-figure moving among men and women, this chapter reinforces a theme running throughout the book, "you can do whatever you want to do. You can accomplish whatever you want to accomplish [emphases mine]."

Before I read The Noticer, I asked a fellow struggler on the road of life to read it and provide feedback on the book.

A Fellow Struggler's Thoughts on The Noticer

"The chapters are vignettes of human interactions with the basic plot being the mythical figure, Jones, imparting wisdom, or perspective, to other people.

The perspective the author, Andy Andrews, dishes up via his "Jones" character is insightful, timeless, and often fresh.

The last chapter sums up his theme: "In desperate times, much more than anything else, folks need perspective." This perspective, Andrews explains, leads to calm, clear thinking, new ideas, and ultimately "the bloom . . . of an answer."

How true!

But something feels slightly misleading to me in this theme. It's more what he doesn't say than what he does say. Yes, we all need perspective when we are mired in our difficulties. Someone wiser than us who connects us with perspective is a true gift to us.

What bothers me is the premise that life can be figured out and conquered by me IF I will just apply myself . . . if I will avail myself of the timeless wisdom in books like Andrew's. It's partial truths like this one that are ubiquitous these days. Books, CD's, Videos, TV, and popular guru-speakers all trumpet their "secrets."

The teaching of all this self-help information is this: I can manage my life. There are "how-to's" to be learned and applied that will get me over the hump, out of the crisis, on to the life I dream about. What I need is the information or insight that will give me perspective. (I can have what I want…)

It's our modern day remix of the Garden. I can do this, God—on my own. It's also terribly Western because of our financial means to navigate our own lives.

I continually come back to the one truth that anchors me and gives me a foundation for a meaningful, sane life. The truth isn't perspective, insight or a secret. It's a person, a personality—it's Jesus. When I call out to Him in my heart, He answers. He gives me direction—sometimes using books like The Noticer—most powerfully in scripture.

Most of all, He gives me His presence. I am not alone. He doesn't drop a clue down on me and then leave. He is with me—in me—every moment of every day. Jesus is the "secret" our Christian gurus are tiptoeing around these days. He's out there, but not really useful for anything tangible. And that is what I take issue with. I've found EVERY human resource inferior to Jesus.

I hate it that we hide Him…and call ourselves 'Christian.'"

Chapters 8–10 and The Reader's Guide

Chapter 8: It seemed to me that the story reduces The Five Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in all Your Relationshipsto a couple of insightful paragraphs.

Chapter 9: Andy, a main character, is rather shocked to see Jones as a shape-shifter. Jones' familiar face was "motionless—changing—moving—and yet it was not. This old-man face that had caused me in the past to casually wonder whether it was of Anglo or Africa descent shifted visibly before me. As I thought of him as "Garcia," he appeared quite obviously Hispanic, yet when "Chen" came to my mind, there was an old Asian man before me (p. 127)." At the end of this chapter, Jones takes Andy back to the place where Jones found Andy—homeless, living under a pier. Jones reaches out again to another young, homeless man and the cycle of providing encouraging perspective to someone begins again.

Chapter 10: Jones disappears, leaving behind his familiar suitcase. People, whose lives Jones' touched, gather around the suitcase, talking about the difference he made in their lives. They open the mysterious suitcase in which Jones has left them a note, which concludes the book.

A Reader's Guide provides questions for each chapter that can be used for group discussion or personal reflection.

The author weaves story, relevant problems, and advice together. Since I assumed that Jones represented Jesus, it seemed a little weird to hear the Jesus character quoting studies. The book, a short and easy read, would appeal to the ADHD short-attention spanned, Internet scanning generation.

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