Challenge: 1% Well Read

December 17, 2008 at 6:44 pm | Posted in Challenges | 1 Comment

Hey, I’m doing a challenge that you might want to do too.  Unfortunately, it started in May, so we’ll have to go pretty fast.  The goal is to read 10 books in 10 months off the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list.  (You can read them in between visiting the 1001 Places to Go Before You Die, since the lines will probably be pretty long).

I went over this list, and found that I’d read 169 out of 1001, for a whopping total of 17%.  That’s five a year over my lifetime.  This is both good and bad news, because it appears I won’t die for a long time (166 more years), but it also means I’d better start saving more for my retirement!  Oh.  Wait.  You mean reading off this list isn’t a guarantee of immortality?  Shoot.

Do you ever look at these lists and just smack your forehead that you haven’t gotten to some of the titles yet?  Then, do you look at the other ones and wonder why you’ve never even heard of them?  I have this idea that you have to be British to really keep up on this stuff.  Not sure why.

Anyway, here’s what I’ve read off this list between May of this year and now (with a little tear over the three I read before the May deadline):

White Teeth 5/15/08

Everything is Illuminated 8/11/08

Diary of a Nobody 8/13/08

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater 10/27/08

I’m considering Saturday by Ian McEwan, Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates, Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, and of course finishing Ulysses by James Joyce.

“Outliers”

December 17, 2008 at 5:12 pm | Posted in Nonfiction | 1 Comment

I’m definitely with the masses on this one.  Malcolm Gladwell is a genius.  I’ve found all his books to be such compulsive reads that I’m finished within 24 hours.  There’s absolutely no question of putting a Gladwell book aside to read something else.

Along with all his other fans, I’ll tell you why I like Gladwell’s books.  “They make you think.”  Sure, they make me think, but I’m pretty sure they’ll make other people think, too – a distinction I’m not able to make as often as I would have thought when I was young and naive.

This is where Gladwell’s critics are missing the point.  Even if you hate all his conclusions and aren’t impressed by how he puts a book together, you have to concede that he’s one of the few writers who can lure the ordinary reading public into sampling nonfiction.

Now I’ll criticize the criticism.  (I always skim through the worst reviews I can find on Amazon to see what they have to say).  People complained about Blink that Gladwell contradicted himself, saying at one point that snap judgments are good and then at another point saying they are bad.  Um, yeah?  Hammers can be used for both good and ill, too.  I thought it made the book stronger that Gladwell pointed out multiple sides of the issue, because hey, that’s how real life works.

Outliers had more of a cohesive thesis, so of course somebody else had to complain about that.  Oh, no!  An author makes a clear case for an opinion!  We can’t have that – it sounds… political!  For heaven’s sake.  If you can only read about ideas that mesh with your own world view, you might as well not bother reading at all.  Stick to popular fiction and just let your poor tight little mind relax into pudding.  You know you want to.

I agree with Gladwell that opportunity is an intrinsic element of success, and I believe that the easier someone’s life has been, the less likely he is to realize how challenging it can be for others.  There’s simply nothing plugged in to the ‘adversity’ slot in the brain.  It can be painful to listen to people who really Have It All – and always have – ranting about how others Don’t Know How to Work or Want Everything Handed to Them.  Why not make the playing field a little more level?  The worst that can happen if you give someone an opportunity is that it will be screwed up.  I think it’s terrific that writers like Gladwell use their influence to try to affect society in a positive way, while simultaneously giving credit where it is due to why they have achieved that place of influence.

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