Tkacik’s indictment of Gladwell is incisive, epic, merciless, and right. It runs a full seven web pages and is worth reading every word. Now, the next time you see someone reading Blink and reflexively go to slap it out of their hand, you’ll be able to explain why you did it. Here’s a choice gleaning from fairly late in the piece. Click through to start at the beginning.
And so once again we find Gladwell muckraking in the trenches of banal cliché and thereby reinforcing said cliché–and, more insidiously, banality itself. In Outliers, as in Blink, he appears to assume that the unexamined life is the only sort his readers could be living, though lessons with titles like “Demographic Luck” and “The Importance of Being Jewish” suggest that he may have downgraded his expectation of who his readers are from the less savvy to the truly oblivious. Outliers contains a few new terms and morsels of trivia: the 10,000-Hour Rule describes the number of practice hours one must put in to attain true genius; we also learn that fourteen of the seventy-five individuals on Gladwell’s list of the “richest people in human history” were Americans born between 1831 and 1840. (Cleopatra is No. 21.) But for the most part, the book’s first section, “Opportunity,” contains nothing that will enlighten anyone who has given even a small fraction of 10,000 hours of thought to the word’s meaning.
Also, it’s worth looking at this piece in light of this website’s ongoing discussion of what good criticism can or should look like. The piece is occasioned by the publication of Gladwell’s new book, Outliers, but it could hardly be considered a mere “review” of that book. And yet, it’s not a NY/LRB-style essay, where the book(s) provide a sort of anchor for a larger discussion about something else. Tkacik seems completely at ease in Gladwell’s catalogue, moving with an apparent lack of effort through and between his books. She has a clear thesis that is developed, amplified, and otherwise nuanced over the course of the essay. A writer who disagrees vehemently with Tkacik’s thesis and all her supporting arguments–or a writer who couldn’t care less about Gladwell one way or the other–still has a lot to gain from reading this essay. It’s a stand-out example of a particular kind of long-form criticism.
November 7th, 2009 / 3:45 pm
At The Fanzine, Jeff Johnson considers Ben Lerner’s Mean Free Path.
Dennis Cooper hosts the official online launch of Mark Gluth’s The Late Works of Margaret Kroftis. I have yet to hear anything but the best about this book.
Because we love Roger Ebert now, we are interested in his review of Valentine’s Day.
“Valentine’s Day” is being marketed as a Date Movie. I think it’s more of a First-Date Movie. If your date likes it, do not date that person again. And if you like it, there may not be a second date.
Also, did you know that Ebert wrote a book called Your Movie Sucks ?
William Deresiewicz on Tolstoy at The Nation. (I’ve become such a committed Deresiewicz reader I can now type his last name without having to check the spelling first–I check after, and I’m usually right. This goes for you, too, Moe Tkacik.)
NYTea Time: Dominique Browning is quite taken with Cathleen Schine’s The Three Weissmanns of Westport. She locates the book in the updated-Austen trend, but hastens to identify a crucial distinguishing feature: “The strange thing about the Jane brigade is that most of its practitioners have raided only her plots, apparently not quite up to the task of honoring the essence of Austen. But Schine’s homage has it all: stinging social satire, mordant wit, delicate charm, lilting language and cosseting materialistic detail.” Hey, there’s a new Peter Handke book! And Adam Haslett wrote a novel! About the financial crisis! Michiko Kakutani did not like Union Atlantic–-but that was on a Monday; Liesl Schillinger likes it quite a lot today. What else? Jon Caramanica looks at a couple of rock & roll books; Catherine Rampell on the interesting-looking academic-ish-seeming, Capitalism and the Jews by Jerry Z. Muller; Dahlia Lithwick on death row lawyer David R. Dow’s memoir, Autobiography of an Execution; and Todd Pruzan makes my weekend.
It’s Career Day at Gawker. Today we learn about how to be a “literary manboy.” I was happily/worriedly checking off boxes when I realized I’m still a good nine years below the beginning of the designated age range (36-45). Also, the Gawker piece is actually a response to this Times profile of a freelance journalist named John Bowe. The piece is called “A Bachelor’s Effort to Understand Love,” which is a feat I have never even attempted, so uh–bullet dodged? Also, the Gawker piece ends with this priceless rant by the great Moe Tkacik-
I also asked Moe Tkacik, a former Jezebel and Gawker editor, what she thought. Her analysis was that men are “just incredibly late, and until then loathe, to acknowledge that there are rewards and advantages to companionship/fidelity/love that aren’t purely romantic/sexual/possibly, on some largely delusional level ‘spiritual.’ So they conflate ‘that time when I allowed myself to be vulnerable because I was in fucking Saipan WRITING A BOOK ABOUT MODERN DAY SLAVERY OF ALL LIFE AFFIRMING THINGS’ or ‘that time when I was somehow more emotionally available — possibly I suppose owing in part to the fact that I was fifteen years old?’ with ‘the only real time I fell in love,’ the transcendence of which, until it is somehow surpassed — not super likely to happen at the next Housing Works party btw — stands as the unimpeachable order from within themselves to neglect all other minor romances.”
A+, Moe, though for the record, wonderful things can and do happen at Housing Works parties. Happy Friday, everyone!