What the Dog Saw

When I bought the book, I hadn’t realized that Macolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw was a series of essays selected from his New Yorker articles. No matter, since I hadn’t read most of them anyway. One thing about Gladwell is that he writes in a way that makes the story interesting and accessible and this book (or series of essays) is no exception.

I’ve read criticism of his books recently and I think that people are missing the point. As he explains in this book’s introduction, Gladwell looks for the angle in the story that is unusual and goes after the story in that way. His mandate is to make stuff interesting and if you’ve read his work, you’ll have to agree that he does. Gladwell’s one of those people who knows how to weave a narrative and that’s something most people struggle to do consistently. (Check out his TED talk on spaghetti sauce and you’ll see what I mean.)

Anyway, the essays in the book range from the world of TV infomercials to women’s health to dog whisperers to genius and age and are in the typical Gladwell New Yorker style — well researched, interesting, and arguments presented beautifully. I have no complaints about Gladwell and his writing: he’s a fabulous writer and we need more writers like him. He seems to find connections in things that people don’t usually find and turns those connections into something interesting: he’s a modern day alchemist.

After writing this post, I realized that it is more a comment on Gladwell’s writing than about this book. Details shmetails.

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A fascinating interview with a “crafty” writer

I recently read an interview of writer Gay Talese in the Paris Review (via kottke.org). I had heard of Talese but I’d never read any of his work. After reading the interview, I want to.

Even if you have no interest in writing, read the interview because it’s absorbing,

In The Art of Nonfiction (No. 2), Talese is interviewed by Katie Roiphe. Excerpt:

My first job was on the sports desk, but I didn’t want to write about sporting events. I wanted to write about people. I wrote about a losing boxer, a horse trainer, and the guy in the boxing ring who rang the bell between rounds…

The good nonfiction writers were writing about famous people, or topical people, or public people. No one was writing about unknown people. I knew I did not want to be on the front page. On the front page you’re stuck with the news. The news dominates you. I wanted to dominate the story. I wanted to pick subjects that were not the ordinary assignment editor’s idea of a story.

… Once, at an NYU baseball game, I overheard a conversation between a young couple who were having a lovers’ quarrel. I wrote the dialogue and I told the story of the game through what they were watching and what they were saying. At the St. Patrick’s Day parade, I wrote about the last person in the procession, a little guy who was carrying a tuba, and behind him came the sanitation trucks. I followed the parade from the vantage point of this tuba player.

Here’s the link again: The Art of Nonfiction

Into the Wild

Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild is a terrific read. I read it a few weeks after I saw the movie (link goes to my review) and I enjoyed it immensely. I think watching the movie actually enabled me to enjoy the book more.

Slight spoiler alert

Krakauer first wrote an article on McCandless for Outside magazine and then expanded that article into the book. One of the things he addresses in the book is the perception that McCandless didn’t know what he was up against and about allegations that he was unprepared, etc. Krakauer even visits the place where McCandless lived, goes to the bus, etc. and provides a gripping recreation of McCandless’ travels.

Krakauer talks to the various people that McCandless met on his travels and the family, and writes such a compelling story that it is difficult to put the book down. For me, the book really showcases Krakauer’s journalistic skills: in his depth of research and in his writing.

I think I’ve gushed enough about the book that you’ll probably read it and wonder if I’m from Pluto, so I’ll stop now. But, read the book.

Kitchen Confidential

If you enjoy Anthony Bourdain’s TV show No Reservations, Kitchen Confidential is a book that you must-read. For those unfamiliar with Bourdain, he’s a chef, a writer, and the host of a popular TV show. His TV show sees him travelling around the world, usually eating at least one stomach-churning food, providing loads of entertaining sarcasm, and the episodes are fun to watch.

His book, Kitchen Confidential, is not about his TV life but about his life as a chef. Bourdain starts from his childhood and how he got interested in eating and then in cooking. The book chronicles his life in the kitchen and features interesting anecdotes about working in restaurants and about the restaurant business. (Anyone thinking about getting into the restaurant business should read this book.)

What gives the book its power is it’s unflinching look at the business of cooking and serving food, and its pace, which almost pulls you through the book. Bourdain writes almost in the same way that he speaks and the result is that you can almost hear the inflections in his voice when you read the book. At least, that’s the way it sounded in my head.

I couldn’t put the book down but I must mention that I am a fan of Bourdain’s show and I enjoy his brand of edgy humour and his passion for food.

Michael Crichton passes away

Michael Crichton passed away last night apparently after a battle with cancer. He was 66. My introduction to Crichton came via his dinosaur novel Jurassic Park, which you may have heard of, one of many books that I read. He was also the creator of one of my favourite television shows, E.R.

I enjoyed Crichton’s early work which includes The Great Train Robbery, Eaters of the Dead, The Terminal Man, Andromeda Strain, as well as the later ones like Congo, Disclosure, and Rising Sun. Crichton knew how to tell a story and he told it well and in a way that was enjoyable to the reader.

My favourite book of Crichton’s though is not a fiction book but a non-fiction one called Travels, which has interesting anecdotes about his travels across the world. Maybe it’s time for a re-read.

May he rest in peace.

Yes Man

When I picked up Danny Wallace’s book Yes Man at the library, I wasn’t sure if I would read the book. I put it back and then went back later to pick it up. In a way, I said Yes to reading the book.

Yes Man is a book about Danny Wallace’s adventures in saying Yes to everything. He meets someone on a bus who tells him to “say Yes more” and Danny decides that he should listen.

What follows is a series of incidents and an examination of what it means to say Yes to opportunities. A lot of the incidents are funny, a few will make you wonder about Wallace’s state of mind, but credit to Wallace for trying something extraordinary and then writing about it.

Yes Man is not a self-help book but through reading it will probably make you ponder about the opportunities in your life and whether you say Yes to them. Even if that doesn’t happen, the book’s entertaining because you want to know what Danny is going to do next and how things will turn out.

The film version of Yes Man is on the cards and the book’s done extremely well, so maybe that says something about the power of saying Yes.

I enjoyed Yes Man, so I am glad that I said Yes.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is Bill Bryson’s take on his own childhood, growing up in Iowa in the 50s and 60s. Bryson examines his childhood with his characteristic humour and his ability to make his stories interesting.

His anecdotes about life at home with his parents, his interactions around the neighbourhood, his childhood friends, and about the general state of America at that time make the book an absorbing read. Readers of Bryson’s earlier books will also enjoy the presence of a younger Stephen Katz, his unforgettable companion of several books.

Reading the book made me realize (again) that Bryson is one of the few writers who can take dollops of statistics and make them into something that’s coherent and interesting. Come to think of it, Bryson can make a DVD manual interesting.

Thunderbolt Kid confirms what we already know–that Bryson is a fine writer with a superb sense of humour.