What the Dog Saw: Reviewed

What The Dog SawHow does society solve its homeless problem? What do job interviews really tell us? These are just a couple of the many questions that Malcolm Gladwell tries to find the answers to in What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, using a collection of articles written for The New Yorker over the years.

The best way I can describe this book is by saying that it’s about problem solving on various levels. Gladwell seeks answers from the experiences entrepreneurs, a dog whisperers, a profiler, and a number of other people and organizations.

The first part looked at Obsessives, Pioneers, and Other Varieties of Minor Genius was the least interesting part of the book for me, with the exception of the final two pieces taking a look at the invention of birth control, and the profile of Cesar Millan, which was the inspiration for the book title. The reason why I did not like this section as much was that it was too focused on specific businesses and how they solved their particular industry’s problem. I’m sure it’s interesting to many, but reading about it was not really for me.

The second part highlighted Theories, Predictions, and Diagnoses. It definitely upped the interest for me with articles on the downfall of Enron, solving the homelessness problem, and plagiarism, among others. Looking at societal issues and the human psyche is something I can sink my teeth into all day, so these pieces really stood out for me.

The third part discussed Personality, Character, and Intelligence which again took a look at the human psyche and how we make snap judgements of people. This section reminded me a bit of Gladwell’s Blink, so while I enjoyed reading the examples, the subject matter was repetitive.

In the end What the Dog Saw just doesn’t compare to Blink and The Tipping Point. With the lack of connection between each story, it had a more text book feel, and therefore I wasn’t as motivated to keep reading. With the other two books, I couldn’t put them down because there was such a great flow. I give What the Dog Saw a 3/5.

The best of 2010: Top 5 Movies

Along with books, I’m just as big of a fan of movies. This year I haven’t seen as many as I normally do, but nonetheless here is my top 5 list for 2010. As with my top 5 book list, I’ll post a link to the review I did earlier in the year in case you want to check it out for more info:

5. The Social Network

Garnering a LOT of hype this year was the fictional adaptation of the origin of Facebook. To make it to #5 on my list says a lot for how good this movie was. I was not a fan of the idea of making it, but I was given the opportunity to watch a screening of it, so I said ‘hey, why not?’ I ended up enjoying it a lot, hence #5.

4. It’s kind of a funny story

This one probably won’t win any awards, because it appears to have flown quite under the radar. What makes this one so great for me is how it deals with the issue of depression and suicidal tendencies amongst teenagers. Zack Galifianakis’ role in the film is also a bit of a surprise, since he’s not overtly trying to be comedic, but instead as a patient in the psych ward of the hospital, has meaningful dialogue and shows he can act well. Check out more from my review from October 11.

3. Black Swan

This one had a lot of hype, going back to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) so I’ve wanted to check it out for quite some time. Natalie Portman’s performance was the best I’ve seen from her. She transforms herself into a timid ballerina dancer who is getting “old” and has one more chance to shine in the leading role of the Swan Princess in “Black Swan”. As the movie progresses we see her character unravel and become taken over by the character of the Black Swan, who she’s had trouble grasping. It was quite a trip to watch, and will definitely be a conversation maker with people who’ve seen the movie. Go watch!

2. catfish

As with my review, I’m not going to say much about this one because the more you know, the great the chance it will be ruined for you.

1. Waiting for Superman

This was a tough, emotionally draining movie to watch, as it showed real world examples of how the education system in America is failing. I highly recommend this one and would love to hear your thoughts on it, if you’ve seen it. Here’s my review from October 13: Waiting for Superman

While this year’s crop of movies was good, I think last year had a lot more gems to choose from. Looking over my top 5 list from 2009, I still want to go back and watch each of those movies – I hope this list has the same staying power.

What movie made it to the top of your list for 2010?

Top 5 books I’ve read in 2010

I love to read. I’m pretty sure I’ve made this clear over the last while, and if you’re regular reader of my blog you’ll see my many book reviews. I tried to read 26 books in 52 weeks, but it appears that may have been too lofty of a goal – it might have something with me reading books that are 800+ pages too.

Anyway, I think I’ve read enough to compile a serious top 5 list of my favourites. This is a list of the top books I’ve read this year; they didn’t necessarily come out this year. I’ve included a link to the previous reviews I’ve given so as not to repeat myself again and again:

5. The Girl Who Played With Fire

This is the second book in the Stieg Larsson trilogy, and I felt the character development of Lisbeth Salander was much better than the first, where she was still a bit of a mystery. Find out more from my review which I posted on July 23.

4. Gratitude

A great World War II novel that takes place in Hungary, which I liked, because anytime I read something, fictional or non-fictional, that happens outside of countries like Germany, England or the United States, I have a better appreciation of what happened during the war. Here’s my review which I posted on February 24.

3. Secret Daughter

An amazing book about the culture clash that occurs between couples coming from very different backgrounds and how that can affect families as the children of those couples grow and want to adapt to one culture or the other. My review of “Secret Daughter” was posted on September 29.

2. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

An amazing story about a father who made the decision to give up his first born daughter because she had Down’s Syndrome. He lied to his wife and told her she was a still born, but for years he held the secret, and his wife went into a deep depression, which affected her love for the boy they later had together. You can read the rest of my review, which I posted on May 5.

1. Through Black Spruce

In 2009, Joseph Boyden’s first novel “Three Day Road” made it to number two on my top five list of fiction books, in 2010, he’s improved on that with “Through Black Spruce”.

To steal from my earlier review of the book (my first review of 2010), “This is story is a universal one of self discovery. The path the characters take aren’t ones they’d want to go through, but because of those experiences they have a  stronger understanding of who they are and what’s important to them, in the end.”

I’m anxiously awaiting the planned third book in this series, and who knows, if it comes out in 2011, it may make the top of the pile again!

What is your top book you read this year? Did any of the books I read make it?

The best of 2010: Music

I am a huge fan of music. Yes it may be mainstream, and not indie enough for you hipsters out there, but it’s what I enjoy. What are your top albums of the year? Did any of mine make your list? I’m always open to listening to new artists so please share!

5. Shad – TSOL

I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of London, Ontario born rapper Shad by now – if not, check out his first video “The Old Prince Still Lives At Home” and that should jog your memory.

I’ve been looking forward to TSOL for quite a while now, especially after the first single “Yaa I Get It” was released. The album is a lot more polished than his previous work, and quite a few tracks are catchy and single-worthy to me. Shad has a ton of skill and is one of those true stars that’s flying under the radar. It’s only a matter of time before an American label recognizes him and puts him on front stage like he deserves.

4. Kings of Leon – Come Around Sundown

Ever since I started listening to Kings of Leon a year or two ago, they’ve quickly shot to the top of my favourite bands list. It’s great rock music, with that southern spirit that is too hard to not enjoy.

Come Around Sundown started off a bit slow for me. It took a few listens before I could really get into this one, but then it felt like I’d been listening to it for years. I’ve even wondered if I had put on one of their old albums by mistake a couple of times.

Overall the album is a continuation of what they did on the Only By The Night album, so there isn’t nothing new there.. but hey, why mess with a good thing?

3. Broken Bells – (Self Titled)

I’m not really sure what got me listening to Broken Bells, but I’m happy I decided to give them a chance. Consisting of James Mercer (The Shins) and Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley), the two come together to create a great combination of vocals and sounds. The album is great for long drives or lazy Sundays, and best of all a few of the songs are catchy so you’ll be humming them all day.

Here’s, The Ghost Inside, which is a great track from the duo. It also features Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, so obviously it’s  a hit with me 🙂

2. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

This is an album I never would’ve expected to see anywhere near my top 5 list, but here it is. Arcade Fire is a band I’ve long considered to be overhyped. Yes their music is good, but the adoration it receives from many kind of turns me off.

I decided to let all bias go and test out the album. It took quite a few listens, but it eventually started growing on me. Next thing I knew, I was listening to it pretty much non stop on the subway ride into work for 2 or 3 weeks, which with all the music on my iPod is quite the feat.

If you’re not a big fan of Arcade Fire, give this album a try; I promise you’ll at the very least like it. This one is the most deserving to be on my list because as I said, I wasn’t their biggest fan before hand.

Here’s The Suburbs video which is of course the title track, and also a great one:

1. Vampire Weekend – Contra

Definitely not a conventional sound that everyone will like, Contra by Vampire Weekend has been sold for the longest out of this top 5 group (January), but still manages to keep me coming back. Last year I wish I’d put Dragonette’s Fixin’ To Thrill at the top of my list, because it was one of those albums that did the same, so I wasn’t about to miss the opportunity this year (not to say Franz Ferdinand was any less deserving of the #1 spot).

Back in March I wrote a post breaking down the album fairly well so please check it out: My Musical Fix: Vampire Weekend

My review of City of Strangers

Ian MacKenzie’s City of Strangers too way too long for me to read. It was a combination of tiredness (on the subway ride to/from work is where I do most of my reading) and uninteresting storyline. Book number 12 in my “26 in 52 Challenge” was to my knowledge the first Penguin Books novel that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy, and I’m a bit disappointed at that.

Set in New York, the book follows Paul Metzger who’s a guy that’s pretty down on his luck, and seems to be drifting through life. Paul is the divorced son of a former Nazi supporter whose brother renounced the family name and married a Jewish woman, converting to the faith. Much of the book has Paul trying to cling on to the broken relationships with his ex-wife and somewhat estranged older brother (much older – 20 years difference; different mothers).

In the end nothing is really solved, but thanks to an assault Paul experienced in front of his house, his ex-wife, brother and himself become entangled in a gruesome situation that ends up cementing the distance between him and his ex, and preventing him and his brother from building a further bond.

So if you find that kind of story interesting, then this one’s for you. It’s definitely character-driven, like most Penguin Books are, but there’s a lack of excitement and plot movement in this one that couldn’t keep me into it.

I give City of Strangers a 2.5/5

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