Back in the pre-Kindle world, fairytales involved young German kids getting dumped in the woods by their parents only to find houses made of candy (topped with evil witchery) and geese with gold-egg-laying abilities. They’re fantastic stories with underlying moral points, parables to teach kids who don’t realize they’re learning.
But what’s a fairytale today, when everything follows the rapid-fire philosophy of lessons learned in 140 characters or less? And more importantly, has that nuance of educating via campfire tales gone the way of the Philadelphia Bulletin?
Those are the questions that bubbled up after reading “Facebook Fairytales: Modern-Day Miracles to Inspire the Human Spirit,” a collection of stories that “seasoned lifestyle writer” Emily Liebert indirectly contends do the same as Hansel and Gretel’s of old. If there’s an overarching fluidity to the 25 divergent-chapter tales, it’s that early in the social-networking site’s career, some great things have happened, and Facebook is an Aesop brother therein.
A woman finds the kidney donor she needs to survive.
Long-lost sisters are reunited by fluke chance.
A son locates the father and mother who put him up for adoption – and it all ends well.
A Danish teacher successfully invites the nation’s prime minister to his special-needs social-studies class.
An autistic man rediscovers the world around him via the computer in front of him.
A Philadelphia woman keeps hundreds of well-wishers apprised of her husband’s condition after he's run over by a car, and the site ostensibly aides in his re-learning how to communicate from his hospital bed.
So yeah, that last guy is me, and the last woman my wife, which is how I learned of the book in the first place (Skyhorse Publishing Inc. $12.95). For the purposes of this review, I’ll shy away from Chapter 8.
The only overarching fluidity is the website which Liebert clearly has a rah-rah sentiment. “I’m a firm believer in the power of social networking, specifically Facebook,” she concedes. “My inspiration for writing this book was my fascination with Facebook and how it’s revolutionizing modern society.
“I joined in the summer of 2008 and, at first, my intentions were purely voyeuristic. I read other people’s posts but never updated my own status. Then, like everyone else, I got sucked in and really started thinking about the cultural impact of social networking. And, in doing so, it occurred to me that there had to be some amazing stories evolving from these hundreds of millions of connections.”
The resulting 290-page soft-cover could represent both a first-generation keepsake of a young institution that’s already shifted how some interact and stay in touch with others and a beach-read for people who need a positive pick-me-up. It’s online "Soup for the Soul," in so many words. Liebert found a few stories via Facebook connections and inquiries and good old-fashioned writerly research.
She found a groove in the social-networking book catalog that hadn’t been filled and filled it with a book she hopes would appeal to both inspiration-story speakers and “Everyone who’s on Facebook! So, I’d say roughly 400 million people worldwide, for now.” The company actually offered assistance after she’d offered a look at her proposal.
If you’re anything like me, some of the stories might not be your style, just like how everybody’s Facebook page isn’t of personal interest. But it is somebody’s style, and it effectively hits the requirements to earn space on the “Inspiration” genre rack. (This, even though a couple of the stories some off as insider-media-world-baseball or an intro to the eHarmony success-stories page.)
What Liebert, the former editor-in-chief of a “luxury lifestyle magazine,” deserves credit for is not letting the stories turn into a Facebook-annual-meeting investors PR kit. Sure, referring to Mark Zuckerberg as “the wizard” or treating a job on Kathy Lee’s fourth "Today Show" hour with papal respect could make a cynic scoff. But, when Liebert writes that she hopes the book helps people see that Facebook plays an integral role in these subjects’ lives, it’s hard to argue it doesn’t.
“Mark Zuckerberg told me that, within the next decade, he expects Facebook will be as ubiquitous as email or a Web browser, such as Google,” Liebert says. “And I couldn’t agree more.”
The writing is straightforward. That’s fine when the stories cull attention on their own merits (and most of them do here), and to be expected when 25 stories have to be reported out in a short period of time. Liebert deserves credit for not minimizing what other technology – cell phones, namely – did to help as well. (The graphic treatment of breaking Facebook messages out to carry the page flat-out works.) She also avoided falling into an outlined-structure trap.
It’s a quick read, but one in which the stories speak to the depth of social networking’s reach, and to the potential long-term benefits of a societal shift that either produced – or dovetailed with – the site’s rapid expansion. It left me thinking, “Just about every feel-good story can ultimately include a social-networking aspect and social-networking isn’t even as old as Hansel or Gretel yet.”
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PW's Holiday Guide 2014