Monday, June 13, 2011

One Red Paperclip by Kyle MacDonald

It struck me not far into reading this– around the moment that I first thought (with disappointment), “this is the book equivalent of the film Legally Blonde” – that perhaps I was procrastinating. I really do want to re-read and write about Finally Feminist by John Stackhouse, but considering I keep finding myself repelled from it like a magnet with the same polarity, I don’t think my brain’s quite up for it yet. After a week or two of long stretches of sleep (thank you, God!), my son has reverted to waking us, and my body’s slowed down once again to cope with the missing rest. It was somewhat comforting to discover that my brain was functioning well enough to be unimpressed by mind-numbing writing; that can only be a good sign.

So, partly for some mental exercise and partly as punishment for picking it up in the first place, I am making myself write about One Red Paperclip by Kyle MacDonald.

This is actually a great (true) story: back in 2005, Kyle, a 26-year-old jobless Canadian, decided to revive a childhood game and trade a red paperclip for something bigger and better, in the hope that he’d be able to continue to “up trade” until he eventually ended up with a house. The fact that so many people got on board (helped by a couple of celebrities and a stack of publicity) and made this idea into a reality is very cool, and I enjoyed finding out about each of the traders Kyle met along the way and how the game panned out.

The problem is not that there’s no story here, the problem is that Kyle MacDonald tells it with no apparent help from an editor. Or maybe it’s just that I was tired and cranky when I read it. Either way, I found myself groaning audibly on more than one occasion at his sense of humour, and wishing someone close to him had read along and been able to say, “okay, stop talking now, Kyle!”. Let me give you an example, if only to prove that my crankiness wasn’t the only reason I found this book difficult (this is the first paragraph of the ‘one cube van’ chapter, on page 143):

Bruno almost crushed my hand. He had the strongest handshake I’d ever encountered. And I’d shaken Al Roker’s hand before. It was like some sort of medieval torture or martial art. I imagined Bruno being the world’s only purveyor of a special handshake-based martial art developed solely for negotiation purposes. Brunoshake. Bru-No-Sha-Ke. It sounded Japanese. Maybe Bruno was a ninja. A ninja in disguise. As a businessman. You never know. It made sense, actually. He was quite the accomplished businessman. General manager of Cintas operations in Québec. Everyone seemed familiar with him at the restaurant. Maybe he was a samurai. I looked at Bruno with a sense of respect, and calm. I wondered if I should bow or hand him my business card with both hands, but I remembered something: I didn’t have a business card.


The other thing that bothered me was that at the end of most chapters were ‘inspirational’ tips, such as “Ask not what your mind can do for you, ask what you can do for your mind”, with an accompanying self-helpy spiel. Yes, Kyle MacDonald came up with a great idea and then actually did something about it, but I’m not entirely sure that being really really lucky qualifies him to write a motivational manual, particularly when he a) is 26 years old and b) admits to running with the whole idea in the first place because he couldn't be bothered looking for a job.

So this was what I got for procrastinating. I blame the librarian; who puts the eBay/internet books on the shelf above the parenting section? Didn’t he/she know there’d be drowsy and easily-distracted mothers browsing in that area??

One Red Paperclip really was a brilliant idea, and I totally wish I’d come up with it first - but if you want to know about Kyle's trades, read the Wikipedia article.


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