One of the main reasons I started my blog was to share thoughts about what I’m reading. So it is nice to see people sharing their own reactions and recommendations in the comments section of the site.That's so sublimely bland. But that's presumably his speaking voice. Let's check out a couple reviews on the blog (which is called "gatesnotes"). I picked 2 that I've read. First, "Steve Jobs":
Driven by demons, Jobs could drive those around him to fury and despair. But his personality and products were interrelated, just as Apple’s hardware and software tended to be, as if part of an integrated system. His tale is instructive and cautionary, filled with lessons about innovation, character, leadership, and values.I'm reading this, thinking Gates writes like the publisher's press release. Then I see the line at the top: "Here’s the publisher’s description of the book." It is the publisher's press release! So far, I'm not reading any blogging by Bill Gates.
Quite a few of the books are "reviewed" this way. For example: "Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, [Holden Caulfield' leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days." Gates put that up in 2011, so it's not like it's a placeholder until he gets around to sharing his thoughts.
Okay, I found one with an actual Bill Gates write-up: "Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things that Happened":
I don’t mean to suggest that giving an outlet to our often-despicable me is a novel form of humor, but [Allie Brosh] is really good at it.... I get why Brosh has become so popular. While she self-deprecatingly depicts herself in words and art as an odd outsider, we can all relate to her struggles. Rather than laughing at her, you laugh with her. It is no hyperbole to say I love her approach—looking, listening, and describing with the observational skills of a scientist, the creativity of an artist, and the wit of a comedian.Bill Gates isn't self-deprecating (or self-effacing), but he's self-erasing. He speaks of "we" — "We can all relate..." — and "you" — "you laugh with her." So far, my working theory is that he has no "odd outsider" or other distinctive point of view. The writing is pretty close to that of the publisher's press release he's okay with allowing to speak for him much of the time.
I'll give him one more chance. Here's one for a book I have not read, "Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words," a book by Randall Munroe (who does the comic "xkcd"). This book seems to be cranking humor out of taking the position of knowing very few words. "A dishwasher is a 'box that cleans food holders.'" You can decide for yourself if you're up for a whole book of that manner of foolery. To me, it seems like an idea for a game to play on a long car ride with children. Gates says:
[Munroe] draws blueprint-style diagrams and annotates them using only the 1,000 most common words in the English language... If I have a criticism of Thing Explainer, it’s that the clever concept sometimes gets in the way of clarity. Occasionally I found myself wishing that Munroe had allowed himself a few more terms—“Mars” instead of “red world,” or “helium” instead of “funny voice air.” Of course, that would defeat the purpose of the book....I would have thought that the feeling of wishing that Munroe had allowed himself a few more terms is what's supposed to make you laugh, but Gates seems to treat the book as a sincere effort to explain things without annoying us with terminology.
I'm not intrigued enough by the Mind of Gates to read much more. But I am going to put Munroe's book in my Kindle and I want to remember more often to check out xkcd and the website Hyperbole and a Half.
IN THE COMMENTS: M Jordan said:
My son got me Munroe's book for Christmas. Actually, his goal isn't to amuse by using a limited vocabulary; it's to force himself to explain complicated things in hyper-simple terms.Great point about Donald Trump!
As a former writing teacher I wish I had thought of this for a writing exercise. I may teach again (overseas, where I've taught university last) and, with a view toward that end, I cranked out a quick and dirty computer program which allows a person to test their writing against the 1000 most common English words list (I also added 2000 and 5000 most common English words filters). I've tried doing it myself ... that is, pasting something I've written into the program and then rewriting the words that failed the flyers. It's a very helpful and at times difficult endeavor. The result, like Munroe's book, is a strange, almost whimsical but not quite style that is quite arresting. A good exercise.
One last point: I think Donald Trump has a 1000- most common word filter in his brain.
And great observation about foreign languages which force us to operate within a limited vocabulary. You never know enough nouns, but you can fairly easily get to the point where you can talk about the thing that does whatever it does.