The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell

I started this book perhaps a year ago. I really liked it but got distracted and picked it up again fairly recently. It is interesting to me how much things relate in our world, so when I read the chapter about Columbine just weeks before the Aurora shooting, my brain made an eerie-feeling connection. But the existence of that connection and its relationship to epidemics in our world (think fashion trends, not Ebola) is precisely what The Tipping Point is all about.

Malcolm Gladwell seems to know how to write about all those things you wondered about but never really delved further into exploring. Like how deja vu works, or how Southern idiosyncrasies like saying “y’all” came to be denoted as such. He opens with a fashion example (hello female audience he has now ensnared!) — how is it that “trends” happen? Who gets to decide what is going to be the next big trend? And please tell me those horrible rompers are going away soon…

He compares trends like fashion to the spread of infectious disease, i.e. an epidemic. It is his theory that anything that becomes mainstream or widespread has a certain thing that happens (tipping point) to make it so. The book reads much like a psychology experiment (a VERY interesting one) and it really makes you think about why you act the way you do. It is frightening how much we follow the crowd. But you knew that.

One of the things I found most interesting was the way he described the parts of a tipping point epidemic, as if you could almost engineer one with the right steps and right people.

Overall, this was a highly interesting, intellectual read. I want to read his other books and to think more about the way we think and act as a society.

Read away – this one is a keeper!

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Kris Jenner and All Things Kardashian

So before you jump to any judgments about the title of this post, let me tell you one thing about myself. I am unabashedly and sometimes dangerously curious. I have been that way since I was little and I just want to know what is on the other side of that door…what happens when you touch the hot stove…and what is the deal with those Kardashians?

In all truth, I find them fascinating. I am reading The Tipping Point right now and to me, the Kardashian phenomena is a perfect example of an epidemic-style fame that has consumed pop culture — particularly the E! network. So, this curiosity led to a little exploration. It started with re-runs of Keeping up with the Kardashians to keep me company on the treadmills at the Y. Then a little Google research. And then, the book.

As you may recall if you pay attention to the Today Show or any sort of news genre that covers pop culture in some degree, Kim Kardashian had a huge wedding last year (that some irreverently called America’s “royal” wedding — YUCK) and then got divorced 72 days later. Her mother’s book conveniently came out roughly a week or two later. I ordered it shortly thereafter and breezed through it because I really think a fourth grader could have written a better book.

But, that was not the reason I picked it up, of course. So let me tell you a little bit about it…First of all, the Kardashian/OJ Simpson connection is fascinating. I was so young when that murder case was happening that there were many details I didn’t really know about — and hearing it again through Kris Jenner’s memory was really interesting. I still do not know how he was determined to not be guilty.

Second, Kris Jenner is very open about her infidelity to Robert Kardashian prior to her marriage to Bruce Jenner. It is interesting and revealing. As a reader, you appreciate her honesty and straightforwardness on the topic. I think it was the first time I actually considered what it might be like to be on the other side of an affair (if you have read my blog before, you know I consider that the unforgivable sin in a relationship).

And finally, the family is inconceivably self absorbed. Sure, we knew that, but reading about it in such detail takes it to a whole new level. I was disgusted with them and baffled by the coinciding statements of faith.

Ultimately, the book was pure trash — but I knew it would be from the beginning. I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about and how they came to be who they are today. So, unless you have similar tendencies, don’t waste your time. You can get all the information I gleaned from the book in a quick Wikipedia reference without suffering through some of the worst prose ever written.

Game Change – John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

As primary season kicks into high gear and 2012 is just a few months away, reading Game Change, a book about the 2008 election, could not have been a more timely decision. I had been told by folks who have read it before me that it might change my opinion of the way the election went and in ways it certainly did. This book was compiled through numerous lengthy interviews by the two authors who are really more like journalists — although it certainly reads like a novel.

Game Change covers the entire spectrum — from the first seeds of thought in Obama’s mind of running for President to Rudy Giuliani’s rise and fall, to Hillary and Bill’s complex journey, to John Edwards’ scandals, to John McCain’s ebbs and flows, and finally the making of Sarah Palin.

The book literally captures every moment in a dazzling array of perspectives from patriotism to egotism to the truly brutal tendencies of human nature when cornered. It will make you lose respect and leave you disappointed in whoever you might have put on a pedestal in 2008’s cast of characters. I think that is the taste in my mouth that I was most surprised to encounter. ┬áBoth sides were guilty of dirty politics and a lack of integrity. I know that is something we are supposed to expect as voters and citizens, but I can’t help upholding the naive perspective that maybe it will be different this time…

All of that being said, the book is a must read in my opinion. You need to know what happened in 2008 as we prepare for 2012. The book really helps to contextualize how the falling economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan molded the election, something that will again be important in 2012 as we face a potential double dip recession and wars still being fought in the Middle East. I think the best way to be a good citizen and voter is to be informed and this book certainly is a good way to do it. For the Republicans, you will be able to more accurately assess what qualities will succeed in your candidate in 2012 and for the Democrats, you will see how you can support your party and your campaign by learning the weaknesses the Obama campaign revealed in the book.

I think one thing that really took me aback was how much Sarah Palin has transformed since she was tapped to be the veep candidate just one week before the Republican National Convention. According to the book, at the time she didn’t know what the Fed was, thought Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and shriveled under the scrutiny of Katie Couric and a debate with Joe Biden. And look at her now — it is an amazing difference.

All in all, this was a fascinating read. I have no idea how accurate the accounts are and I know people on both sides of the political spectrum take issue with it — but I think it is a crucial read for Americans, particularly with the weight of 2012 on our shoulders.

Bossypants – Tina Fey

I picked up this book for several reasons. For one, I love Tina Fey — I think she is brilliant as a writer, an actress, and a human being. For two, she is a strong woman who has taken a male-dominated field by storm. And three– Tina Fey is hilarious.

Her book is an often-rambling, loosely themed tale of how she is “Bossypants” and how she has been able to break through various glass ceilings to achieve such great success in her career. The book is funny and really easy to put down and pick up without trying to remember what has happened in the plot. It is less chronological than it is “provisional” — I made that term up to mean that she offers background to explain something that is the way it is today rather than just going through the milestones of her life in order. Make sense?

At any rate, I really enjoyed getting insights into what life is like behind the scenes of creating a Saturday Night Live production and also the tale behind Tina Fey’s now infamous Sarah Palin impressions. I also laughed out loud at least 30 times from the various things she writes about or allusions she makes to things I certainly could relate to in my own life.

But I think the thing that really charmed me about the book was the lovably honest, self-deprecating, and human qualities that Fey lays out for all to read. She is not an untouchable celebrity who looks perfect and sets out to have everyone believe that her life is equally perfect. She is honest about her struggles with self-image, her obstacles in the field of comedy with testosterone-driven personalities, and her struggles with balancing being a mother/wife and the producer/director of 30 Rock. Her book makes you like her, relate to her, and feel like if you met her she would treat you like a person and maybe even be your friend (crossing my fingers here).

Now, it wasn’t any great work of literature or a profound story — but it was a great read and if you like Tina Fey, Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, Alec Baldwin, or, well…laughing…you should read it, too.

“Decision Points” – George W. Bush

Regardless of what box you check when you go to the polls, memoirs by presidents should be read by everyone. They expose the daily challenges of the office of President, the human reality of facing the stress and pressure of the job, and offer a unique perspective on the major issues of a presidency. That being said, I really enjoyed reading “Decision Points” by President George W. Bush.

W arranges his book around the major “decisions” he had to make during his eight years as president. It is not chronological and I think that enabled him to be more creative in the way he explained his choices and policies to readers. I started this book right after Christmas and though it took me a while to finish, I think it is a fascinating read. Each chapter/decision reads as its own separate tale, so the fact that it took me so long to finish was not as big of a deal as it can be when reading a novel.

When I stopped to ponder the book after I closed it for the last time, the thing that resonated with me the most is the chapter on 9/11. I would encourage anyone who is doubtful about the book to read that chapter first. It is powerful, you will cry, and it will take you back to where you were the day of the terrorist attacks. Reading about W’s emotions, decisions, and pain (he is quite open about that experience) left me speechless and thankful for our leadership that has prevented an attack like that from happening again.

I also enjoyed getting a glimpse into the President’s personal struggles that he is quite open about. He is open about his battle with alcohol and his decision to give it up forever, his relationship with his father — they did disagree on policy several times, and what life was like in the White House during his administration. I loved reading about the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office and what the energy is like in that room. I also loved reading the way he described the emotions of all of his decisions. Even reading about his last day in the White House and his last walk with the dog gave a glimpse into the emotions of leaving office, something I had not really thought about.

The last “decision” W talks about involves the beginnings of our economic crisis. Perhaps because I was a senior in college or maybe because I was in denial and didn’t want to listen to what was happening, I had never really understood all of the details that led to the beginning of the recession. This chapter really explains the situation well, in lamens terms, and the decisions The Fed had to make to curb what Ben Bernanke feared and deemed a real possibility, a second Great Depression.

Anyway, I would definitely recommend this book — to my Republican friends, to my Democrat friends, to my friends who don’t really know where they stand — you should all read it. It will offer incredible insight into what the leader of our country was thinking for eight years of your life.

“Fair Game” – Valerie Plame Wilson

I finished this book a bit ago but have been busy lately with less time for blogging! I suppose it is a good thing to not have enough time to sit on the computer, but I do miss having regular posts. My apologies to those who have found this blog stale for a bit, I am hoping to get more time over the holidays to knock off some of the books I have been itching to read.

That being said, I picked up this book in the $5 bin at Barnes and Noble. Having once been quite interested in journalism and having taken a Constitutional Law class that studied the court case involved with the story, I was already interested in Valerie Plame Wilson’s life.

We studied her story from a variety of perspectives when I was in college. In my journalism classes, we talked about the issue journalists have faced regarding the pressure to release anonymous sources and whether they should have a protected right to keep them secret. In my political science classes, we talked about the associated ethical dilemmas and the way the release of Wilson’s identity was used politically to squelch objections to entering war against Iraq.

With that background in mind and the previews I saw for the film adaptation of Wilson’s story starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn (which sadly never came to my city so I could see it), I picked up this $5 book to see what she had to say. The book is written in memoir style and since Wilson was an undercover CIA operative, she had to submit it to a review board to determine what could be published and what needed to be redacted. To explain a bit further, the CIA holds the rights to redact (the blacked out portions of documents) anything they deem to contain sensitive information and might endanger our national security. A large portion of Wilson’s book is redacted, making for frustrating reading at times because there are many questions left unanswered.

Before this gets too long, let me explain her story a bit to those of you who might be unfamiliar. Now, the book is totally from her perspective and that is where most of my recent information derives–you are welcome to do your own research to get both sides of the story. Essentially, Wilson was a CIA operative working specifically on intelligence involving potential weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, Iraq in particular. She was married to Joe Wilson, a former US ambassador to Africa and other areas. When the government was in high alert on the search to find WMDs, Joe Wilson was sent to Africa to determine if materials there were being traded with Iraq to create nuclear weapons. He found that there were no signs of such trade.

After Joe Wilson returned with the answer that the US government was not looking for, he wrote an op-ed entitled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” In response, an article was written by Washington Post writer Robert Novak that leaked Valerie’s name as an undercover CIA operative. Over time, it was found that the leak was most likely initiated by the Cheney administration–specifically, Chief of Staff Scooter Libby. In the case following, Libby was never charged with releasing her name though he was charged with obstruction of justice, making false statements, and perjury. He was fined $250,000 and sentenced to 30 months in prison and probation. However, President Bush commuted his sentence, removing the jail term.

As with any story that threatens the integrity of the highest office of government, there are numerous complications and twists and turns. Valerie certainly has her side of the story which you can read about in her book or her husband’s. She ultimately blames Vice President Cheney for the leak and will not rest until he faces punishment (which will never happen). She says in her book that her office in the CIA and her husband’s work in Africa proved that there was no reason to enter into war with Iraq on the grounds of suspected WMDs and that this position made her a threat to Cheney’s intentions there. However, I am told that Karl Rove addresses the issue from an entirely different perspective in his memoir, Courage and Consequence, that would certainly be an interesting read as a foil to Wilson’s.

Of course, we will most likely never know the facts. Depending on your political beliefs, I am certain that your opinion will be quite different from the Republican or Democrat you know. Wilson’s memoir was not very well-written, she is not a writer after all, but it does give a strong sense of what it must have felt like to see your identity in national news when you are a covert CIA operative. If you are interested in her story, I would recommend the book–but to my very conservative friends, you might not like it so much…

“To Kill a Mockingbird” – Harper Lee

I do believe that every child that has gone through the public or private school system has read this very famous and very wonderful book. It is celebrating its 50th anniversary and on a whim at Barnes and Noble, I purchased it to have in my home collection and to re-read this book I had read so many years ago with fresh eyes.

I am embarrassed to say how long it has taken me to finish reading it (and thus creating a new post), but it seems that life and being very sleepy during my nightly reading ritual can make the book reading process quite long. However, I was dazzled by the details and powerful writing that had long since faded into a blur since the first time I read this book.

Since I picked up this famous story again, it seemed to keep popping up in my every day life. I had forgotten how much of an influence this story had–on Civil Rights, on understanding of Southern culture, on current and future lawyers striving to be like Atticus Finch. I think that as an English major, I took books like this for granted. We read so many important works (trying to squeeze as many as possible into each term) and my professors strived to expand our experiences beyond the stories we all read in middle and high school. Re-reading Mockingbird made me think that I would like to read many of the books I read in college (and in high school) again when there is not a “grade” involved. I think the first on the list would be Invisible Man, perhaps one of the most powerful books I have ever read.

All that being said, re-reading Mockingbird was a wonderful experience. I think I was too young upon the first reading to truly understand the significance of the themes, plot, and even the incredible quality/skilled writing. I even remarked to myself that it seemed like heavy material for such young children to be reading it.

If you are reading this post, I would imagine you have already read this book so I won’t waste any time rehashing the plot. However, I would vehemently encourage you to read it again. Read about Scout’s childlike perceptions, Calpurnia’s kindess and wisdom, and of course, about Atticus’ incredible integrity and honor. It certainly is encouraging to see how far we have come with race relations since this book was published, though we still have far yet to go.

I am hoping to take a trip to Monroeville, Alabama in the spring (Harper Lee’s hometown) or sometime in the future to tour the court house used for the film adaptation and to see the play.

If for some reason you have never read this book, or read the Cliff Notes version when you were young and foolish…please read it! And, if it has been a long time since you read it, I would highly recommend reading it again. You won’t regret it.