Gladwell online

Recently Pittsblog pointed out that ESPN’s Page 2 had published a two-part email interview by Bill “The Sport Guy” Simmons of Malcolm Gladwell, an interview which mentioned Pittsburgh sports a few times but ranged from baseball to writing to the horrors of Las Vegas.

You know I have my issues with Simmons, but I agree with him now and then. Most specifically I agree with his opinion of Gladwell:

When I started reading you back in the mid-’90s, I remember being discouraged because you made writing seem so easy — technically, you were almost flawless, and since I knew I couldn’t write that well, you were one of those visible writers who made me feel like I was going to be bartending my whole life. You never waste a word. You come up with cool arguments and angles for your pieces, then you systematically prove/dismantle those same arguments and angles, and you do it in an entertaining, thoughtful, logical way. You never allow your biases to get in the way. You’re better at writing than me in every way. Basically, I hate you.

Here’s the best part of the interview. It’s by Gladwell:

Switching gears, I have one last point on the fact I never really watched sports on TV until I was in college. That’s not as crazy as it sounds. I would grade major professional sports in terms of their TV/live watchability in the following order:

  • NFL: A-plus televised. B-minus live.
  • NBA: B-plus televised. A live.
  • NHL: C-minus televised. A-plus live.
  • PGA: A-televised. D live.

So what do you miss by not having a TV? Really just a great NFL experience, and some golf. You will notice that I’ve left out baseball and that’s because I don’t believe that actually watching baseball under any circumstances enhances your appreciation of the game. As a kid, I read Bill James and Thomas Boswell and Roger Angell and followed the game through newspaper box scores, and I was a far more dedicated fan back than I am today. Baseball is a great idea, and a great story. But is watching it a great experience? Frankly I prefer the way the game was played in my imagination. This, incidentally, is why I’m such a fan of yours. I think that reading you on the Red Sox is more fun than actually watching the Red Sox. And before anyone objects, I would point out that there are lots of other human experiences that fall into this category. When you hear a ghost story as a child, or watch a war movie, or read a particularly powerful novel, you don’t want to be in the story. You don’t even want to be in the stands when the war is going on or the ghost is scaring the bejesus out of people. What you want is to be told the story. Right?

I’m reading The Tipping Point, and as I read I’m torn between the emotions Simmons mentions: deep love for the clarity and elegance of the writing, and raw jealousy for the guy who came up with it. (You may guess at which emotion is the stronger.)

It’s similar to how I feel reading David Foster Wallace, but kind of worse.

Gladwell recently created a blog, which he says he will use to expand upon/amend/invite commentary of his pieces in the New Yorker and elsewhere. I recommend adding it to your feed reader. (The most recent entry gives his thoughts on Freakonomics, especially regarding how it conflicts with his own writing in The Tipping Point.)

While we’reon the topic, David Foster Wallace does not appear to have a blog (at least not a real one), and as he claims in his essays to be a technophobe I don’t expect to see one soon. But he is featured in last weekend’s NYT Review of Books, if you need a fix but can be placated with reading what other people write about him.

2 replies on “Gladwell online”

  1. Both Freakonomics, the Tipping Point, and Blink are quick refreshing reads with several gems albiet on different subjects; I prefer baseball from the on the field perspective, yet cricket is even more engaging especially with several pints of lager. – J

  2. I’ve never watched cricket, but to the extent it’s like baseball I’m confident that I’d find the lager aspect of watching to be essential to my enjoyment.

    I liked the bits about cricket and Krikkit in “Life, the Universe, and Everything” though.

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