Thursday, January 25, 2007

I'm cheesy?

Book Report

Here is an article about the books that appeared in my hometown newspaper recently:

Gregory E. Lang may be one of the cheeriest - or cheesiest - authors around. His books are, on first (and second) glance, easy-read, picture-packed inspirationals rife with chirpy one-liners. Lines like, "We are friends because ... you always have a hug waiting for me," or, "because ... we both like chocolate sauce on our pistachio ice cream."

And yet as the pages of heartfelt chestnuts pile up (usually one per page accompanied on the facing page by a photograph), Lang's books somehow become something deeper than that. They make a connection.

Think of them as another person's high-school yearbook, one with enough broadly appealing signings, greetings and well-wishings to earn it space on your bookshelf.

Combined, all 15 of Lang's aphorism-laden works have reached more than 2 million readers. His first book, "Why a Daughter Needs a Dad," which hit stores in 2002, and a few subsequent titles, including "Why a Daughter Needs a Mom" and "Why a Son Needs a Dad," have been New York Times best-sellers.

Lang, 46, grew up in Lizella, graduated from Mercer University and now lives north of Atlanta. He has a doctorate in child and family development, and for two decades he worked in the health-care industry, with stints in brain-injury rehabilitation and marriage and family therapy. So Lang's background is serious enough, even if what he does now as a full-time writer comes off a touch syrupy.

"It all depends on your perspective, because I will get e-mails that will say, 'You must be the greatest husband,' or, 'Your children must be extremely happy,' and things like that. Then occasionally I'll find a post on the Internet where somebody'll say, 'This is the sappiest book I've ever read,' " Lang says. "I really believe that it all has to do with your level of comfort in being transparent about how you feel."

His debut book, inspired by his love for his daughter after his first marriage ended in divorce, was about four years in the making. Publishers repeatedly rejected his idea, but when it finally caught on, book buyers took notice. Within months of its printing in 2002, "Why a Daughter Needs a Dad" was on the advice-book best-seller list.

So how does a father's outpouring translate to widespread appeal?

"The hard part is to figure out how to commercialize that without losing the heart that you put into it," Lang says. "In my case, I think I just tapped into something. Daughters are dad's princesses and daughters think of themselves as daddy's little girl, so there was a natural emotional reaction already out there for me to try to hang a book project on."

At first he figured he'd stop at one book, thinking, "I have one child, I wrote her a book. Now what do I do?" Then Lang thought, "Well, you know, I am a son, so let me kind of look over my shoulder and write it from that perspective." That led to "Why a Son Needs a Dad."

Subsequent books in the series - all but three of which feature photographs he has taken - were inspired by other relationships, those involving both loved ones and lovers.

"Other people, they're comfortable being stoic and they'd rather not say 'I love you' out loud and in public," Lang says. "They want to save it because they think doing so makes it special when they say it. I'm just the opposite. I think the more often I say it the more special it is."
He says his books are "more than cocktail talk."

They're pretty much common sense meets "I care about you ... and here's why." "I have a very deep satisfaction that it's good work," Lang says. "I'm not just hawking a picture-coffee-table book."

Lang says many books in the advice/self-help genre are a bit heavy to the average reader. "They're kind of like, 'You're a dummy, so let me give you some instructions on what you're supposed to do.' They're almost like owner's manuals on teaching men how to deal with their children," Lang says.

He thinks his books appeal to emotions. They focus on love, forgiveness, duty and faith. "They don't go down the psychology, self-help kind of format," Lang says. "They go more toward, 'How do I appeal to your sensibilities and motivate you to rise up to the responsibility that you've got?'"

And his readers respond. About a week ago, a reader e-mailed him about his book "Why a Son Needs a Mom."

"It was my favorite gift this year," the reader, a woman in Oklahoma, wrote. "I have two sons whom I adore. I found in your book encouragement, comfort and validation. ... Not only did this book validate my practices, it was a gentle reminder to do some of the things I have neglected." Lang says, "I get a lot of correspondence from people that say, 'That's my dad and I,' or, 'That's the way I feel about my wife.' ... I've had people say that they've put photographs of themselves inside one of the books and then placed it in a coffin with somebody."

Lang says he has learned a lot about himself as well, his philosophy, his concerns. "All of us out there have hearts and some of them might be a little more sheltered than others," he says, "but at the end of the day we wish to be connected to somebody in some way."

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