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Paper Trail

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Paper Trail Common Sense in Uncommon Times, by Ellen Goodman, is not one of those books you read from cover to cover. At least not all at once like you would if you were reading a typical book.

You see, Goodman has recently published a book of her opinion/editorial columns. They range from the personal, as in about her family, to taking a stand on societal issues, such as assisted suicide. The chapter titles will give readers a hint of where she is headed, with a teaser hint from one of the columns within that particular section.

I knew that I had found a winning novel when I read from her introduction, “About halfway along this paper trail, I was invited to teach a course at Stanford on opinion writing, which I called ‘Telling People What You Think’.

This is the phrase my daughter came up with many years ago when a friend asked her what my job was. Katie said “My mom is a columnist.” Her friend then promptly followed up with: “What’s a columnist?” At that point, Katie answered, “My mom gets paid for telling people what she thinks.” I’ve never come up with a much better job description.

But when I arrived at Stanford and opened up the course catalog, I discovered my course had morphed into “Telling People What to Think.” After gagging a few times, I went down to the main office and explained the problem. The secretary was most apologetic and promptly sent out a campus -wide correction. When I opened up my e-mail, I discovered that I was teaching a course on “Telling People How They Think.”

I had evolved from being a fascist to being a neurobiologist in one slip of the keyboard. I had gone from uttering dogma to reading minds.”

Goodman never writes form the viewpoint of wanting you to agree with her. All she does is to take a look at what is going on around her and tells her readers about it. She wisely thinks that they will agree and talk about it with their friends and neighbors over coffee, or disagree with her opinion, and tell her about it.

Isn’t that the mark of a good columnist?

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