John D. Spooner
No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Letters to My Grandchildren
Grand Central Publishing
New York 2013
John Spooner spoke at the Cambridge Public Library about his latest book. The event was co-sponsored by Porter Square Books. Susan Flannery the library director introduced Spooner, calling him "Grandfather pro tem." He began by praising and boasting of his love for libraries. Where did I hear that before? Oh yes, the last person who spoke at the library last week. Is that like politicians who support education and oppose bullying by students of other students?
Susan Flannery, Library Director
He began his discussion saying, "Making money is more about human nature than mathematics." He said his book is "not just about children, grandchildren, it's about life." He explained he has "never been able to write at home." So he "went to libraries after dinner." He did not realize that now he can have dinner at the Cambridge library while he writes. He said he "writes in long hand in note books." Then some one "types it up" for him.
He revealed that he moved to Boston in 1984 and worked at The Athenaeum. His publisher was Houghton Mifflin. He mentioned Margret Rey whose husband Hans created the character Curious George. They escaped from Nazi Germany and they left their money to non profits, e.g. the Boston Public Library. After being denied satisfaction in a dispute about the will of these people, he said there is "one rule in life." I was unable to hear what the rule is, but it has something to do with calling a reporter at the Boston Globe who wrote a story about his legal difficulties. It was "above the fold" he boasted.
John Spooner (left) with Susan Flannery
If I heard him correctly, he said he is responsible for the children's room at the Cambridge Public Library." He said "you have to be out there in life for the good accidents to happen to you." He did not add, "unless your father is extremely wealthy. Then you can just sit at home or in a bar, and they will come to you." As part of his long love affair with libraries he asked, "Where do books come from?" He added, "All books come from a germ of an idea. It usually takes about a year to get it on paper or to see a keyboard." Really? That is a slow reaction. I try to put my ideas on paper as I get them. Don't always succeed and lose a few but I try. A year?
At one college event he spoke to business majors. They asked how to get jobs, write resumes, etc. One girl from France said to him, "No one ever told us that." (The title of this book. Did he share any of the profits with her? Give her any credit?) Most of the young people were functionally illiterate, regarding finance and other other matters. He suggested to them "the worst time to call about a job is Monday morning. It will annoy the employer," he said. "The best time to call for information about the company or for an interview is Tuesday after lunch."
John D. Spooner
He added, "most interviewers don't care about your academic life. We live in an anonymous world," Spooner said. You need to focus on "a way to get a leg up." "Focus," he suggested "on extra curricular activities. Did you play sports? It is likely that the interviewer did too. He wants to talk about something he shares with you. That is what the interview will be about. Can you talk to others? Think how to separate yourself from the crowd."
Another example was a woman who wanted to go into advertising. Spooner told her to get a rubber stamp that said, "I can sell anything." She stamped the envelope she sent her letter in, and also at the top of her resume. "Have something that jumps out at people," he urged. Would having common sense be an example of something that jumps out at people? Most people lack that and wouldn't recognize it if it bit them.
Next he mentioned the value of personal notes. He revealed how he sent a condolence card to a lawyer and got a lot of business from that lawyer for 35 years. Writing notes is good for business, just as Hallmark recognizes? He says he gets personal notes from young people often.Sometimes he calls them in response. One young man sent him business cards with a quote from his book. That got his attention, he said.
He recognized that some people in their eighties are younger than some people in their forties. Really? So then why are people segregated due to age more strictly than by race, religion, ethnicity, politics. Oh wait in politics there is no tolerance for Republicans in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, the media, etc?
He told about a woman who wore a sign, "Be nice to me. I'm old." Another carried a stuffed black labrador with sunglasses on. She said, "He's my seeing eye dog." Another woman explained to him, "All I'm looking for is a dirty old man with clean body."
He said many problems are with law, money and medicine. When calling for a doctor's appointment, the way to get one early and easy is when the nurse asks why are you calling, you say "I'm calling about the doctor's emotional future." It helps to get attention. He did not explain that all of these suggestions are for people who have trouble getting through on the phone. Does everyone have such difficulties? I seldom do. Why waste such intense mental effort coming up with elaborate schemes just to get an appointment?
This man is giving life lessons, advice to young people. He is aware that high intelligence is not always accompanied by common sense. Yet he says that if a person does not read books he will not be your friend. Isn't that limiting to who your friends can be? Isn't that an example of elitism? Is reading books an essential characteristic of friendship?
Spooner alerted the audience that "We're in a number of revolutions at once, e.g., publishing, book stores closing, newspapers, magazines, etc. Today publishers want to know "What's your platform?" How will you promote your book? Who can get you on TV, radio, etc.
He asked "What kind of spouse do you look for?" His father told him "Look for funny." "A sense of humor can get you through a long term relationship better than money."
"Beware of genius," he warned. "The financial meltdown was caused by geniuses. They seldom come with common sense," he added. He told about a professor who won the Nobel Prize, who could not navigate steps to his rear porch. He couldn't use a corkscrew to open a bottle of wine. He would not want to trust that guy with any practical matters, like managing money.
He spoke about Alan Greenspan who "helped bring about the meltdown." He noted that years ago a stockbroker was a family adviser not just a salesman. He told about an event when Greenspan spoke to a drunk audience. When he was finished, they had not understood any of what he said. They were throwing wet napkins across the room.
He spoke briefly about the Harvard University Grant Study of about 268 Harvard graduates from 1939 to 1944. The researchers wanted to learn what the good life looked like. What about long life? Spooner said, "Having a Harvard degree does not guarantee anything. Four percent of each class is a Unabomber." Adaptation to life is one element of happiness.
"Be active, not passive," he urged. "Love is extremely important. Be generous of spirit," he added. "get involved. Take vacations. Be able to say, 'I sucked the lemon dry.'"Maintain a natural skepticism. "So much of life is ridiculous and tragic. "Women are eighty percent of book buyers."
He said someone asked him who the smartest man he ever met is. He said it is a man from Everett, MA, whose father was a policeman. He is now on the governing board of Harvard University. He gave his name as Joseph O'Donnell. He recently gave $30 million to Harvard University. He was featured in a cover photograph of Harvard Magazine.
Susan Flannery appeared to present Spooner with a commemorative edition of the History of The Cambridge Public Library.
[My apologies if I got any of the facts wrong. I was unable to hear very well at this event.]