Funny Numbers

10,000 is a funny number.

In most libraries across the country, you’ll find one book that focuses on that number like a hawk. That book, of course, is Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcom Gladwell.

The book describes the success of many people, from the Beatles to Bill Gates. The author attributes their success to mastery over their given craft, and posits that this mastery comes from 10,000 hours of deliberate practice; inborn talent is only allowed to grow if the person commits to practicing that skill in a deliberate way for long periods of time. This is not the only piece of the success puzzle that Gladwell posits, but it is a large one, and one that’s being debated.

What’s implied by this theory is that in order for a person to be a success, they must specialize at an extreme level. They must get really, really good at a single thing.

One of the people who’s put in their 10,000 hours is a comedian named Louis CK. He’s been in the stand-up game for quite awhile now; he has a successful sitcom, stand-up specials, and roles in Hollywood films. By any measure, he’s a great success, a seminal figure in pop culture today. Continue reading

The Blood Runs Cold (Contains Spoilers)

It is not funny that a man should be killed, but it is sometimes funny that a man should be killed for so little…

– Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder

In Cold Blood is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

I got the audio book from my library yesterday. I am just beginning, but I am already hooked. It’s one of those books you can’t put down.

The story, as you might already know, is about a murder. Specifically, the murder of four people, the four brutal members of the Clutter family in unassuming Holcomb, Kansas.

That is not a spoiler. They tell you right on the cover.

Nobody would ever think of In Cold Blood as a mystery, but that’s really what Capote has crafted here. In a traditional mystery, a reader doesn’t really know if the mystery will be solved, who is going to die, that sort of thing. But In Cold Blood is not that, and never claimed to be that. Instead, Capote is relying on something else.

The suspense that the book created in a single word: why? Continue reading

Understanding Highs

Pop music these days is, well, poppy.

Most of the music that makes it to the charts is fun, and little else. That’s fine, right? Surely nobody’s looking for insight, guidance, or commentary from a pop star with whipped cream cans coming out of her bra.

But in the midst of all of this mindlessness, there’s something that’s a little off. The songs that we’re hearing, even the ones in the pop charts, are picking up on it.
Continue reading

Reading as Skill

On the shelves of any library, if it’s big enough, you’ll find things called jeremiads.

This term comes from the biblical Book of Jeremiah. In it, the titular prophet lamented the state of Israelite society, and warned of its imminent downfall.

Today, a jeremiad is a prolonged lamentation, or complaint about society, the literary version of an old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn. Such writings rarely have anything useful to say. They can say the same thing, over and over, and people will read them because they confirm their biases. Rarely are they clever, teach anything, or make you reflect.

One style of jeremiad that all librarians seem to ascribe is the profound observation that ‘people don’t read anymore.’ It’s not just the librarians that say this either. Social commentators of all stripes seem to think that Americans are becoming stupider simply because of the fact that people are too dumb, lazy, or screen obsessed to actually read something. Continue reading

Brick by Brick

Manhattan is a great place to be in the springtime.

Walk out of the subway on to 42nd. It’s only a block to you destination, of course; you couldn’t come to New York and not see the library. You can see the lions from down the street.

Past the arches you walk, and the place opens up. It’s beautiful. The walls are painted with murals, the ceilings painted with clouds. There’s marble everywhere. Woodwork is everywhere. In the reading rooms, up the stairs worn smooth by centuries, they’ve got pieces like Toledo enamel suspended so high above you it might as well be in the sky.

The true heart of the collection is beneath your feet. It’s dug in many stories beneath the surface. That’s where the beating heart of the collection is housed. 15 million items.

It’s as fine a temple as ever has been built, and it’s built to awe.

How does somebody build something so incredible? It’s hard to even wrap your head around that question. Where does one even begin?

Now, with that in mind, I want you to look a little more closely at something.

Look at the wall. Really look at it. What do you see? Continue reading

The Rule(s) of Writing

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These pages all started out blank.

“Kill your darlings.”

“Show, don’t tell.”

Write what you know.”

As a writer, it’s easy to believe that there are certain rules of writing that, if followed, will result in your success. Rules are comforting, in a way. They offer certainty.

The problem with this is that writing is not certain. We can see the end result, pick that apart, and see what works for us. We can fiddle and tinker.

Rules are a different matter. Continue reading

An Opinion About Opinions

These days, we’re all news junkies.

There was one article that I found on CNN; it almost didn’t catch my eye enough for me to click on it. It was a piece on the athlete’s union that Northwestern’s football team is currently trying to establish. You can find it here.

Now the title of this article, the one that caught my eye long enough to click on it, is ‘Students Cry Foul Over Athlete’s Union.’ The title alone, were I not familiar with the situation from other sources, naturally lends itself to the following assumptions: first, that the athletes in question have a union with which they’re working, and students, on the whole, are angry about athletes having a union for whatever reason.

But what does the article actually say? Continue reading

Taste

Underwood

Boom.

Raymond Chandler was not the most prolific of writers. He only started publishing in his forties, after losing a job in the oil industry thanks to the perils of being an artist, which are eerily similar to being a drunk.

He remains, however, one of the most brilliant writers of the 20th Century. The iconic private detective Phillip Marlowe was his creation; anytime you see a private detective in a trench coat, talking about ‘dames,’ and drinking, you’re looking at the cultural contribution of Mr. Chandler.

His taste in food, much like his writing, were simple and direct. ‘Cooked well and fast’ were his prerogatives. Every scrap of his writing reads that way, spiced with the acerbic wit that made Marlowe famous. Continue reading