Category Archives: 4 Stars

Good books! Books that are well-written, and books that are interesting. Books with sympathetic characters, or humorous anecdotes, or humorous characters with sympathetic anecdotes about their lives growing up in-oh, you get the picture!

Slow week! — “Blink,” by Malcolm Gladwell

(Apologies are in order, reader! I slacked off a lot this week, due in no small part to having a lot of outside commitments, and the worst work day of my so-far-young life by far. Nobody who impressed business client at 15 should fall to doing door-to-door sales work at 18. I’ve learned my lesson! Onto the review.)

Cover of Malcolm Gladwell's

A smart guy? Yes. A prophetic researcher whose works change your life in under 400 pages? No. A writer who can point you on to the things that will? Definitely.

Rating: 4 / 5

I don’t make a secret of my minor obsession with books skirting the boundaries of psychology and self-help; in this regard, Robert Greene is my favorite author, and Malcolm Gladwell is pretty high up there.

That being said, anyone who opens Blink will do well to repeat this mantra to themselves:
“Gladwell’s a reporter, not a scientist,
May he no longer give cognitive bias.”

Blink is a great book, written in a fantastic style that betrays Gladwell’s long running position as a writer with the New Yorker. Beginning with the story of a falsified kouros statue that one expert just “knew” had to be fake, even after scientific testing appeared to prove that an impossibility, he builds up a fascinating series of anecdotes about the mind’s power to ‘thin-slice’ events and make snap judgments. There are a surprisingly large amount of events that we can do just as well if not better by suppressing our rational sides and acting on (trained, well-honed) animal instincts. Cool beans.

Apropos of his section on microexpressions and the work of the human lie detector and psychologist Paul Eckman is this great YouTube video I dug up. Even if you’re not interested in reading the book, this is an awesome watch:

So, Malcolm’s a great writer, and the stories he tells us are all great. Why doesn’t Blink get 5 stars?

Because chances are if you’re interested enough to read this review of it this far, you’re going to buy the damned book anyway. And you deserve to be warned that Gladwell is notorious for cherry-picking his accounts. Like I said: Gladwell is not a scientist. He oversimplifies issues.

But even a simplified version of an issue can be enchanting.

 

For seasoned Gladwell fans, the last link under “Related Articles” ought to give you a nice, if slightly deprecating laugh. šŸ™‚

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May 29: “Looking for Alaska”, by John Green

Cover of John Green's

I searched “Looking for Alaska” on Google and Google gave me an actual map of Alaska. Gotta love the Internet.

(I suppose this’ll set a trend for writing my reviews of the books I read the day after. Fine with me!)

Rating: 4 / 5

The first book that I read was Looking for Alaska, a title by the more literary of the two [in]famous VlogBrothers, John Green. (For those of you who don’t know who the VlogBrothers are, here’s their YouTube channel. The name pretty much sums it up!)

Clocking in at 230 pages, it took me 4 hours and 28 minutes to read yesterday (I’m not the fastest reader).

Looking for Alaska reminded me of the basic structure of Philip Roth’s bookĀ IndignationĀ in certain ways – that one may have been a bit longer, but they both featureĀ 1. a protagonist who leaves a nowhere town and only sporadically keeps his parents andĀ 2. falls in love with a girl who isn’t entirely mentally stable. They differ in thatĀ 3. John Green isn’t nearly as gleefully sadistic as Philip Roth (a term of endearment, Philip!),Ā 4. being a work of young adult fiction, protagonist Miles “Pudge” Halter actually sounds like, you know, a teenager, andĀ 5. it ends on a strangely uplifting note.

What makes this book problematic to review is that events past halfway would definitely be construed as spoilers, at least for a first time reader. So I’ll do my best to give you an idea of the setup: Pudge is sent from Nowhere, USA to Culver Creek Preparatory High School, where he falls in very quickly with a group of kids both intellectual and reckless – Chip “the Colonel” Martin, Takumi Hikohito, and of course Alaska Young. I don’t know about you, but there’s something about a girl that reads Marquez and still parties like an animal makes me drool. They are of course in opposition to the teachers and authority figures, as well as to the Weekday Warriors – snobby rich kids who go back home every weekend. Shenanigans are had all around, some more mean spirited than others; Pudge actually gets hazed his first night on campus, which really sets the mood that although this is a young adult novel, it does carry some gravity with it.

What really makes the novel shine, however, is John Green’s eye for motifs. There are several phrases that are repeated over and over in the book (a #3 for Indignation similarities), most importantly the last words of Francois Rabeleis and Simon Bolivar. Pudge is obsessed with memorizing last words, and they guide him a lot through the book. He even describes his decision to leave home at the tender age of sixteen as going to “seek a Great Perhaps,” the meaning of which is just enigmatic enough to make it interesting.

I got the feeling reading through the book that there was a lot of foreshadowing in miniature going on that I wouldn’t catch on a first read. And as Bloom County put it: Foreshadowing: Your clue to quality literature!

An enjoyable read, overall. (Maybe the next review I do for a novel I’ll break it down into categories?)