Friday, April 29, 2011

My 10 Favorite Books

Last fall, as a way of proving a point about literature, one of my professors asked everyone in the class to make a list of our 10 favorite books of all time with one sentence for each book to explain why it made the list. We then had to share our lists in class and the point was that we would all have different lists but each would contain a theme that would bring us closer to the definition of "literature" that we've come to associate with people like Shakespeare. Unsurprisingly, the theme of my list was human suffering and rising above adversity. I've always loved these types of stories.

In no particular order, here is my list. You should definitely read them if you haven't already (but of course I'm biased).

1. The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich
 Erdrich crafts this story so that it is impossible not to feel compassion for Father Damien as you watch him at the end of his life struggling with the choice between telling the truth or protecting himself and the troublesome Sister Leopolda.

2. Bel Canto by Anne Patchett
  This novel is tragic and funny at the same time; it brings together a cast of characters who only expected to be attending a dinner party and the terrorists who take it over who are wildly unprepared and unsure of themselves. The months of standoff that ensue demonstrate all the best and worst parts of humanity.

3. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
  This book is blunt and tough but the pain of the characters sticks with you and forces you to think about what truly matters in life.

4. Incendiary by Chris Cleave
  This book tears at your heartstrings and forces you to empathize with the narrator because of the power of the writing.

5. White Oleander by Janet Fitch
  I love this as a story of struggle and survival but also as a beautiful portrayal of the not so beautiful parts of life. Astrid's journey is one we can all hope to never have to go through but it also shows us something of our own lives.

6. Atonement by Ian McEwan
  This is the story of childhood innocence and the problems it can cause; it is a story which shows just how difficult if not impossible it is to make amends for your mistakes.

7. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  The use of magical realism in the story of the Buendia family make it captivating to read and difficult to forget.

8. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  This book pulls at your insides until there is nothing left and then asks you how you would rebuild yourself.

9. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  The unconventional style of writing combined with the more universal story of a nerd's search for love and acceptance make this a book you will want to read again and again.

10. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  Pecola Breedlove's self-loathing and fear are manifested in her desire for blue eyes, and her story causes the reader to think about what kind of world would make a child so young feel this way about herself.

Are any of these books on your list? Tell me your top 10 in the comments section below!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Review: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Since this is my first post, I’ll start by telling you a little bit about myself: I’m a recent college grad desperately seeking a job. To keep myself sane during the search I’ve been reading even more than I normally do (normally I read about 1 or 2 books each week). Most recently I’ve been trying to read books about business and things related to the fields I’m looking to get into.

On that note, several people recommended that I read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success. Having finished it, I can see why it would be an important book to read. Gladwell analyzes several of the most successful people in our country and dissects their personal histories in order to explain their success. He makes valid arguments for why each person was able to rise above their peers and gives the reader a new perspective on the reasons why some people make it and others don’t.

Gladwell’s two main claims are that it matters when you are born, and in order to become an expert at something you have to put in 10,000 hours of hard work before it pays off. He argues that it is not just talent that gets people to the top but also being born at the right time and having the right resources available. 

Gladwell uses the examples of Bill Joy and Bill Gates, two men who were very successful in the realms of computer programming and software. He claims that these two men were both born in just the right time frame (1952-1958) and thus were able to become part of the technological revolution. Being born within these years put them in their mid-twenties at just the right time, but they also both had incredible opportunities as teenagers to become computer experts. 

History has proven that this theory is entirely valid. But the question that I’m left with as the reader is “what’s next?” Obviously we can’t predict the future trends in our culture, but what’s happening now that will become the new Silicon Valley? 

Some quick internet research tells me that of the main social networking sites popular in the last few years, (Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook and earlier MySpace) the men who created these sites were born in the mid-sixties to mid-seventies, with one exception. Mark Zuckerburg, of Facebook fame and easily the most successful of the four, was born in the early eighties. If that’s the case, then is the social networking boom about to bust? It’s certainly not an industry that will be going away anytime soon, but even with the popularity of Twitter and the need for Linkedin in the professional world, it’s doubtful that another of this type of site will become more popular than Facebook. 

So, what’s next? What’s the big thing that people born in the late eighties and early nineties will be successful at? I think it will start to become apparent very soon and I’m interested to see what the next big thing will be.

Outliers is a great book to read if you’re interested in learning how others have earned their success. It’s really a captivating and fast read. I highly recommend you check it out if you haven’t already. 

You can find out more about the book and the author at his website: