Movies on the Page

I’m reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new collection, What the Dog Saw, and just had to stop to comment. It’s no wonder this guy’s books seem to defy the laws of gravity, hovering at the top of the New York Times hardcover nonfiction bestseller lists for dozens of months on end without visible means of support. The man can write. It isn’t just his unconventional choice of topic; it isn’t just his fascinating conclusions; and it isn’t even just the way he weaves puzzles and draws out his mysteries, holding the crucial revelations and answers to the very end, like a great detective story. It’s the way he uses words to paints pictures: the writing offers food for the ear, eye and palate, and not just the brain. In “The Ketchup Conundrum,” his dicussion of why there are many varieties of mustard but very few of ketchup, he introduces a character with the undistinguished name of Andrew Smith. This man’s claim to fame is that he knows a great deal about ketchup, hardly what one would think of as the most memorable trait — but look at what he does: “The world’s leading expert on ketchup’s early years is Andrew F. Smith, a substantial man, well over six feet, with a graying mustache and short wavy black hair.” What does his physical description have to do with his expertise on ketchup? Nothing whatsoever. But it sure makes the whole passage that follows easier to grasp, enjoy and remember. Later, in “Blowing Up,” his essay on financial forecasting, while discussing three workers at a little financial firm that specializes in options trading,...

What I’m Reading

I’ve thought about doing this for years, but never got around to it before: noting down which books I’ve read recently. I think I “never got around to it” because it always seemed a bit self-indulgent, like declaiming to the world what I ate for breakfast: who cares? But I’ve had a change of heart. Here’s the thing. The past few years, I’ve noticed that every so often, something happens and I sort of run into a brick wall where I don’t seem to be able to write anything. I have two or three (or more) book projects going, and there’s both passion for the topics (on my part) and urgency about their completion (on circumstances’ part) — but I hit that wall anyway. Lunch is over, I go downstairs to my desk, flip on the laptop, and my eyes promptly glaze. As Curly (of the Three Stooges) once so poignantly put it: “I’m tryin’ ta think — but nothing happens.” What’s wrong? Why can’t I write? Because: first I have to read. Such a simple thing, but it’s taken me a while to figure it out. If you want a fireplace to give you heat, first you have to give it logs. If you want words and thoughts to come out of your head, you have to put words and thoughts into it. Reading: feeding the furnace. Hence my change of heart: since I tell you all about the books I’m writing, wouldn’t it make sense also to mention the books I’m reading? Surprisingly, although I mostly write nonfiction, most of what I read is fiction. I think...