Thursday, November 26, 2009

What the Dog Saw

What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures
by Malcolm Gladwell

You could literally read this entire book online for free -- it is after all a collection of Malcolm Gladwell's essays from The New Yorker. I chose to get the book, since I am a books person, obvi.

The essays are grouped into three categories: "Obsessives, Pioneers, and other Varieties of Minor Genius", "Theories, Predictions, and Diagnoses", and "Personality, Character, and Intelligence". There is an essay on the inventor of the birth control pill, an essay about Cesar Milan, the "dog whisperer", an essay on ethnic profiling. Very diverse topics that are written about in that special Malcolm Gladwell way. There is almost a formula to the structure and style of any piece he writes. A formula that can easily be parodied. The piece of the formula that never ceases to put a smile in my brain is his physical description of every person that makes an appearance in the writing. Someone or other is always a "handsome man, thick through the chest and shoulders, with a leonine head and striking, oversize features." Another character will be a "slender, soft-spoken woman with red hair, [who] recalls her time in Mali with a certain wry humor." I always smile and think of Bridget Jones, who remembers to introduce people with thoughtful details ("Perpetua, this is Mark Darcy. Mark's a prematurely middle-aged prick with a cruel-raced ex-wife. Perpetua's a fart-ass old bag who spends her time bossing me around.")

My favorite essay is called "Something Borrowed". A playwright heavily borrows from a psychiatrist's published memoir of the psychiatrist's life and work as well as Gladwell's New Yorker profile of the psychiatrist. The Tony-nominated play not only incorporates details of the psychiatrist's personal life, it verbatim copies passages of Gladwell's essay. Is this plagiarism? Gladwell goes on to talk about the evolution of music and how musicians and artists sample from each other and music evolves. Similarly, the playwright was not using Gladwell's written words to write another profile about the psychiatrist, she was using his words to create something new. Is this plagiarism? Something to discuss at the dinner table tonight. Happy Thanksgiving!

4 out of 5

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