Sunday, November 25, 2012

Write Shallow, Narcissistic Prose, Become a Published Author in the Times!

With our limited audience at the Billy Rubin Blog, we pine for the kind of attention that Lori Gottlieb has received throughout her professional career. Dating back to her days as a post-bac premed student, she was earning a name for herself in national publications: here, for instance, she dished up the skinny in Salon on interviews with mean people at Harvard Medical School back in 1999. Since then she has undertaken a rather dizzying set of career changes (for instance, she dropped out of med school after two and a half months because "she didn't like being around sick people"--even though the first two years of med school involve almost zero exposure to sick patients) but all the while pumping out essays and eventually, books, mostly memoirish accounts of her various professional adventures and misadventures. Today she has the kind of legitimate following that would make us pee our pants out of delight. Our envy is unadorned.

That said, much though we covet her following--or at least the idea of a following, though not so much hers in particular--we'd never stoop to the type of writing in which Ms. Gottlieb engages. Key recent examples include last year's offering in The Atlantic, "How to Land Your Kid in Therapy", as well as this week's remarkable meditation on the decline in psychotherapy, "What Brand is Your Therapist?", which appeared in the Friday edition of the Paper Of Record. "Remarkable" in that it really isn't an analysis at all of the profession and the challenges it faces, although it does provide some verbal window dressing in the first few grafs to make it seem so. Instead, it's the kind of piece for which Gottlieb is justly renowned: a me-me-me account of her experiences trying to start up her practice. Fully, three out of the 39 paragraphs do not contain the words "I", "me", or "my"--and the remaining 36 typically feature one of those three words in the first or second sentence. You may think you're reading about the modern state of psychotherapy; actually, you're reading about--may we use her first name?--Lori.

Here at the Billy Rubin Blog we have no qualms with the memoir, nor with centering a narrative around the concept of me. We are huge fans of Hunter Thompson, Ruth Reichl, PJ O'Rourke, Bill Bryson, Joan Didion, and Calvin Trillin--all fine writers whose central subject is often (sometimes only) the first person. But Gottlieb is playing at something else entirely: she's posing as a serious analyst about serious issues when in fact she is, at best, a shoddier version of the above masters of the craft. "How to Land Your Kid in Therapy" is in essence the uninformed musings of a trainee. She displays no evidence of having spent any serious time studying such an important topic or having considered what the research might have to say about parenting styles. Basically, she used her media persona to spin a couple of therapist-patient sessions (while a greenhorn, no less) into a full-fledged theory of childhood emotional development. Was The Atlantic doing anyone any favors by publishing this? Is the New York Times doing the same this week?

We think not, so waste not your time when you see her name in print, unless you, like us, can't avert your eyes from disaster in the same manner as watching the aftermath of a car accident. Which is, in summary, an apt description of her oeuvre.

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