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Saturday, April 06, 2013

Book review: Fascinating Times by Mal Fletcher

The idea of fascinating times, as author and social commentator Mal Fletcher explains, can inspire thoughts of exciting possibilities or simply exhaustion.

The supposed Chinese curse goes, 'May you live in fascinating times'. Maybe this is an indication that as much as we tell ourselves we are up for an adventure, really we just want to be left alone doing what we've always done.

Judging by the subject matter of Fletcher's new book, Fascinating Times, sitting quietly is hardly likely to be an option, at least not all of the time.

His collection of essays and commentary from recent years is like an omnibus of the major forces sweeping across our lives and generations, whether we like it or not.

And given our propensity at times to want to ignore things we don't like, don't understand or simply don't agree with, we can be thankful that Fletcher has done the hard yards of pulling these topics together and providing thoughtful, reasoned commentary.

At times, as I read through diverse issues such as middle-aged male suicide, youth drinking, digital dementia and identity theft I found his confident, measured voice comforting - 'somebody has thought about all this stuff that's going on!'

Not that every reader will agree with Fletcher on all points - a social commentator* would be disappointed if we did - but even rounding up the ideas, issues, trends and possibilities found in Fascinating Times is a considerable service.

Antedote for social neglect

And let me speak more specifically to those of the Christian community, of which Fletcher has some links. It is too often that broader social issues of concern are not well understood within churches and Christian organisations where it can be accepted that Biblical authority is a basis for social neglect.

Perhaps that's why Fletcher, after running successful youth programs in Australia, moved to the decaying bastion of Christianity - Europe - to deploy his energy, insight, leadership and commitment to social engagement.

He has forged a reputation as credible authority on a range of social issues and his website is well endowed with links to a variety of media appearances, many on the BBC, where his comment has been sought.

So back to Fascinating Times. The kindle-only ebook has 43 chapters which are (mainly brief) essays or editorials that Fletcher has written and/or published across a broad range of social concerns and future trends.

It can be read cover to virtual cover or perhaps even better, delved into as an issue comes to your attention. Because although they are thoughts written in the past year or so - whether about Olympic values, the nature of marriage, the future of social media, assisted dying or the over-exposure of children to sex - they are the topics defining our generations, one way or another.

To finish, here's a few tweet-like gems from the book, from an author who is also a prolific tweeter.

'The ultimate test of social networking's political impact may be whether or not it can help keep to keep societies free' - from Chapter 9, Is Facebook Shrinking the Six Degrees of Separation?

'Parents of wayward teenagers must step up to the plate, accepting at least some of the responsibility for the behaviour of their charges. Unless we learn to accept responsibility, we cannot hope to see our young people do the same' from Chapter 7, Parents Must Share the Blame for 2011 Riots.

And this from the final chapter, in part titled, Helping the Young Find a First Life Before a 'Second Life', he leaves us with a goal to go on with: 'Wherever we live, young people need our help to put the "personal" back into interpersonal connections. In this, we must not fail them.'

Fascinating Times by Mal Fletcher, kindle ebook, 239 pages (depending on what you are reading it on),  $9.99 on Amazon.  Reviewer: Peter Hallett. [Click cover or Amazon link to purchase.]


 * For the language purist - we should really say commenter which means the same with less letters but it no longer sounds whole to our modern ears.

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