Malcolm Gladwell is a great writer, and the ideas he presents should not be ignored. In this book Gladwell tackles the idea of underdogs in a broad and detailed examination. The basic thesis for the book is that underdogs can win when they do the unexpected and the things that others do not think they will do. He presents many examples, from the book’s names sakes to a group of rich, white girls that win basketball games of far superior players by using a true full court press. I was reminded, as a boxing fan, of the countless upsets that I’ve seen over the years. Ali breaking all convention by urging the huge Foreman to keep hitting him (the legendary Rope-a-dope). Holyfield telling everyone that he was going to fight Tyson on the inside, and then doing just that and eliminating Tyson’s devastating lunging punches. I could go on for hours naming different strategies boxers have used to deceive or confuse their opponents and pull off upsets. But for every story like that there are thousands more of the people that get in there and do what is expected and get obliterated as expected.
I read this book with a different perspective in mind though. I was looking at it in regards to Donald Trump. Trump is the political outsider entering a race that he refuses to follow the unspoken rules. He won the primary by being that guy. By being the least presidential candidate in history, Trump put himself in a position to make a real run at the White House. How did he do it? By talking about his penis size, by insulting women, interrupting his counterparts, using a first grade vocabulary except when making it PG13, and by representing himself as the worst of us rather than the best. It was a strategy nobody was prepared for and as the polls come in and he has narrowed it to a coin toss, this strategy has worked. People are surprised, yet most people agree with H.L. Mencken: “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”
I bought Paradise Earth Vol 1: Day Zero at a book fair from the author. On the surface, the book looks to be a traditional surviving the holocaust book, but as you read further in the book you find that the book is actually far deeper and less predictable than it first appears. Paradise Earth is less about the end of days than it is about the Jehovah’s Witness and the inner workings of the cult. Sounds like a weird bridge to cross, right? It works though. Mathenia is able to draw you into the setting of the Hall and make the end of days seem not just expected, but late in its arrival. Mathenia has no love for the sect, but you can tell that he has a passionate affection for many of the members within and those that have been cast out.
While Mathenia develops the story of the end, the story of the past creeps in, and rings of regret, self-doubt, and personal morality over authoritative morality. With that said, as I finished the book I was left feeling that it wasn’t quite what I had been hoping for, yet as the book simmered in my mind, I found that it was perhaps better than I had hoped for and reached me on a deeper level.
I struggle with who to recommend this book to, as I am an atheist and enjoyed it, I wonder what those who hold faith in any religion would think of it, as I believe the morals of the story can be tilted to show the corruption and evil in all religions, but I must say, Mathernia’s protagonist doesn’t reject God in any way, just the organization of the Witnesses.
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton is a novel that has failed to survive the last century. The writing style that was once declared as masterful storytelling now reads like a preachy, half-hearted effort. I screamed at the book many of the now standard writing advice slogans: “Show me, don’t tell me!” and “Relevant information only!” I found it hard to find the story anything but comical. Within the first dozen pages, the snotty, self-gratifying, and selfish “problems” of the characters wore me out and made me want to shake them and tell them that their fairy-tale problems in their fairy-tale lives don’t matter worth a damn and that the true problems existed with the maids that ran around serving them.
In many ways, I saw this as being similar to the show Downton Abbey, only instead of having the interesting stuff about the house staff, you only have the whiny girls trying to find husbands. The book wouldn’t have been quite so bad if I hadn’t tried to explain the plot to my wife early in the reading and ended up with Weird Al’s First World Problems song stuck in my head throughout the entire book. But I think that is a modern day equivalence: Young woman is distraught because her Wi-Fi doesn’t work in the kitchen because her house is too big. And the stress of this situation leads the girl to take a few too many antidepressants and ends up ODing. What a freaking Tragedy!
Even the end, when I was supposed to feel pained over the mournful events, I still couldn’t bring myself to feel anything. I think part of this was because I never saw the woman’s actions in my mind and deciphered her quirks, instead I was told exactly what she was thinking and how she did everything. It was like watching cardboard cutouts thrown around a room and told that it was a story. If this is supposed to be one of the great feminist books in American history, it surprises me that the movement ever took traction, but I am willing to admit that some of it may have been lost over time.
A new book containing a story by me has launched today on kindle. Print copies coming soon. My story, Dreams of Generations, is a nightmare of mine that has been haunting me since childhood. Many great authors are included in this book. Check it out.
Writing flash fiction is great fun. Trying to squeeze all the elements of a story into 500 words is quite a challenge, but it teaches you how to be concise and to the point. Shoot me links to some of your flash pieces, and I’ll read them and share them. Here is one of mine. http://www.halloweenforevermore.com/horrific-words-articles/scary-fiction/the-body-in-the-river-by-robert-holt/
In the woods, stories are best untold.