In our world, economic capital isn't scarce. Money's out there. The thing that makes the difference? Human capital. Creativity can never truly be commodified, and that's why people with imaginations and aesthetic ability are so important. In Imagine: How Creativity Works, author Jonah Lehrer outlines ways to increase creative insight: when to let our minds wander and when to hunker down and focus on a problem. His suggestions of improvising, traveling, and collaborating make sense and drew me in to his book, another self-help that isn't quite so obvious about its self-help-ness. Then I googled him.
His Wikipedia page summary--"disgraced American author"--doesn't give a reader much confidence. Turns out he recycled some of his own previous work (lazy, yes, but if that was his only fault, forgivable), and took creativity to its dark side by making up several of the Bob Dylan quotes he used. The book was pulled by the publisher, but the library still has it on the shelves, which is how I came upon it. I wish they would have put a disclaimer on it somewhere: ATTN! Read at your own risk! because I'm not sure how to feel about this book.
Initially, I still agree with Lehrer's underlying message: creativity is important and the more we know about it, the better we can cultivate insights in our own lives. Taking a walk and letting my mind wander does help me let go of a problem, while at the same time allowing my subconscious to work on it. Becoming an outsider (mentally or by traveling) does make me think about things differently. I get where this guy is coming from.
And yet, if we do nothing but read the book and take it for what it is, we miss the bigger picture: Lehrer stole from himself (without telling the reader) and made stuff up in a book about creativity, of all things--that which is rooted in originality and newness and relies on us humans to give it value by keeping it honest. If I force a creative breakthrough by bullshitting a blog post, I know it. And most readers can smell it. I can't in good conscience publish something I don't 100% stand behind, and I don't even get paid for these! (Not that I haven't posted less than stellar stuff in the past, but my blog is a constantly evolving experience. Part of my writerly development is showing you guys my stuff, with the hopes of making it better stuff--and again, I'm not getting paid.)
What I'm saying is, I don't know how to laud the book without giving credit to its writer, and I don't know how to hold sketchy writing practices accountable without dismissing the work. I'm stuck with a crummy feeling that if this guy can BS his way through several books and make a living (he currently has another book deal, and that already has problems), why should any other journalist or writer take care in their craft? He's not the first journalist to endure a scandal, and surely not the last, but it's situations like these that bum out the aspiring writer in me. Knowing that publishers relax their standards when it will make them a buck tarnishes the credibility of the publishing arena.
What reading this book made me realize is how grateful I am for all the genuine, hardworking, and creative writers I've had the opportunity to read, both published and not. They entertain me, make me a better writer, and give me hope that in the end the real artists rise to the top.