One doesn’t have to walk far into a bookstore to get assaulted with self-help books and memoirs. Much like people with blogs, everyone thinks they have something valuable to say. In addition to memoirs by randomly generated Kardashians the upcoming election season brings with it the fatuous “campaign biography” ghostwritten by the candidate’s staffers not currently concocting an attack ad or planting a piece of journalism with a compliant member of the Fourth Estate. It is with relief that Kimberly A. Taylor’s hybrid memoir/self-help book is available. Play Fair! The Art of Relationship and Friendship presents the reader with a fusion of personal reminisces and informative sections on how to deal with others.
Play Fair! begins with Kimberly at age four chiding a fellow classmate for taking away a toy. Throughout this small book (only 84 pages), we see Kimberly’s assertiveness and confidence. Her extroverted personality eventually led her to a Fulbright scholarship in the former Yugoslavia, only a couple years after the Cold War ended. The strange culture and awkward political transition create ample opportunity for Kimberly to explain issues about interpersonal relationships. She encounters strange laws, especially those concerning removal of large amounts of currency from former Eastern Bloc nations to Austria and Germany. She also uses her privileged position as a visiting student to help others, including defusing potentially dangerous situations with oppressive officials and bureaucrats. (This tiny book is a wonderful complement to William T. Vollmann’s coverage of the former Yugoslavia in his massive Rising Up and Rising Down.)
Aiding in her development is Kimberly’s acquisition of languages. Boasting fluency in at least five languages, this allows her to streamline through dangerous or exploitative situations. Several times, native residents comment on how she sounds like she was born there. The languages she mastered include challenging tongues like Slovak, Czech, Hungarian, and Russian. She also knows relatively easier languages like German and French. (Easy by terms of comparison, since learning a language is tough. This reviewer learned German and Latin, but found learning Arabic truly difficult and alien.)
While language acquisition and intercultural encounters mean certain things within the academic realm, Kimberly eventually became a professor of psychology and applied it to international business. Season 4 of Mad Men was illustrative of this very thing. In one episode, Don Draper and his hard-drinking colleagues compete against a rival ad agency to win the Honda account. This involved an understanding of the Japanese culture and their business ethic, not to mention reining in Roger Sterling’s racist belligerence. (Sterling was a veteran of World War II and saw the Japanese, not as business partners, but as The Enemy.) The season also saw the introduction of a female business psychologist, Dr. Faye Miller. She worked with several firms in dissecting the preferences of potential customers. She also dealt with male prejudice and many seeing her job as fake or a kind of trickery. In the Sixties, many still saw the reliance of psychology as a manifestation of personal weakness.
The second half of the book elaborates on the notion of interpersonal interaction, specifically relationships with the client. How should one treat an analytical personality? Or an extroverted personality? The explanations are terse and informative. Since this is for the business class, the book is free of New Age-y half-baked psychobabble. Granted, one needs self-confidence and assertiveness in the cutthroat world of modern business, but Kimberly explains how one can thrive and survive in this environment.
Play Fair! also shows that a self-published work can be done effectively. At under 100 pages and a simple black and white cover avoids the usual opportunities for self-indulgent silliness. The Internet is full of websites mocking badly done self-published works. Play Fair! is professionally done with an eye towards brevity and high quality. If the major publishers churning out Kardashian Extruded Product would do the same, perhaps they might not be in a financial scramble.