Friday, March 7, 2014

New Years Book Exchange #1

I mentioned in December that Matt and I were considering a new tradition. That we would buy one another a book for New Year each year that the other was bound to read. Not a book we might want to read, but one we thought the other should read. Though I had reservations, mostly that this particular tradition could crash, burn, and cause a storm of hurts feelings along the way, I agreed. After that, we were off, but the first year's results were predictable (as in, I predicted them in the above linked post). For our first ever New Years Book Exchange I got him The Great Gatsby. It was an obvious choice, a book that I love and find valuable, but one he's never read though I've tried for years to encourage him to do so. He got me Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath.

Okay, I saw this coming. We were in Barnes and Noble, we split up to get one another a book, and before I even saw the cover I knew what he'd gotten me. He loves Gladwell, has read most of everything the man's published, so this was a natural choice. The book came, however, with an explanation that kept me from completely rolling my eyes when he gave it to me--I admit, it was difficult, but he wanted me to read it so badly. He said that the book is about battling giants and overcoming insurmountable odds that may not have been that insurmountable to begin with. That's premise of the book, that being the underdog may not be a bad thing. He told me I'd battled some giants to get as far as I've gotten with my education and that I was about to battle another. He wanted me to see that I had it in me, that I could do it, even though I feel pretty overwhelmed. There was more, but I won't elaborate. It was a beautiful explanation that said a lot about how much faith he has in me. So, I took the book, a little less begrudgingly than I might otherwise have done.

It has taken me two months to finish it. The book is only 275 pages + acknowledgements/notes. It's pretty short, but I had a hard time wanting to pick it up. I'm not a big non-fiction reader. Where I devour fiction, this wasn't my speed. That said, Gladwell is a beautiful writer with a penchant for telling a well-told tale. By the time I decided to really dig in, this last weekend, I had only read about 60 pages. I finished it this morning, mostly because I really want to go on and read something else. Since I only read one book at a time, and I would have felt guilty about reading something else with this book hanging over me, I got it finished.

By the end, I was pretty impressed. Gladwell had made his case, but I was left feeling like he may have stretched his evidence to make it work for him. He takes a lot of flack for cherry-picking his evidence, which I certainly see, but it's honestly something I don't think is a problem. He's not trying to make a scientific case, he's just arguing a point which he manages to do, even with anecdotal evidence. Besides, you're so drawn in by his essayist-style that you hardly notice unless you're looking for it. The stories he tells are compelling and, for the most part, uplifting. The way he tells them, with each chapter devoted to the story of a person, or group of people, bothered me. It made the book feel less cohesive.

Now that I'm done with it, I'm certain I won't be seeking out anymore Gladwell, but I'm glad to have read it anyway. New experience, I learned quite a bit, and ended up enjoying it (for the most part)--I gave it three stars on GoodReads and am now onto Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. Most of all, it made Matt happy which is what matters. Now he's saying he wants to do several of these a year, but I'm holding him to just New Year for now. While I felt a little bit less than enthusiastic with his choice, he seemed to enjoy Gatsby quite a bit. He says that next year he's going to chose fiction for me, but that's almost scarier than the predictable choice. Who knows what he might turn up with? I suppose that's part of the fun.