Malcolm Gladwell: Prodigies and Late Bloomers

Paul Cezanne - Self Portrait

Malcolm Gladwell’s new article in The New Yorker, “Late Bloomers: Why do we equate genius with precocity?,” tackles the misconceptions of the late bloomer and how one differs from a prodigy. Using Cézanne and Picasso as examples of each, respectively, Gladwell explores the marked difference between them:

“On the road to great achievement, the late bloomer will resemble a failure: while the late bloomer is revising and despairing and changing course and slashing canvases to ribbons after months or years, what he or she produces will look like the kind of thing produced by the artist who will never bloom at all. Prodigies are easy. They advertise their genius from the get-go. Late bloomers are hard. They require forbearance and blind faith.”

In the article, Gladwell also studies the “overnight” literary successes of authors Ben Fountain and Jonathan Safran Foer. This article seems to tie-in with Gladwell’s new book, “Outliers: The Story of Success.” The Gladwell pastiche is well established: take a complex phenomenon and make it accessible by illustrating it with a series of bite-sized human-interest profiles. It’s a straightforward approach that works because of Gladwell’s fluid engaging style.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

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The 150-word Review: In Wes Anderson’s film, “The Royal Tenenbaums,” we get a glimpse of the prodigious Tenenbaum children: the entrepreneur, the tennis star, and the playwright. Their precociousness illustrates a whimsical universe that accentuates the despair of their dysfunctional adult lives. Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” cultivates a similar dynamic.

Oskar Schell, a prodigious nine-year-old in his own right, is a budding physicist, inventor, and stage actor, who corresponds with famous scientists and is prone to sesquipedalianism. This all serves to contrast Oskar’s trauma:  his father died on 9/11, Oskar’s “worst day.” A year later, in his dad’s closet, Oskar finds an envelope containing a single key labeled: “Black.” Hoping to grasp one last impression of his dad, Oskar sets forth to visit every “Black” in the phonebook.  Traversing all five boroughs, he encounters an eclectic mix of New Yorkers, all dealing with loss in their own ways.

Having this book on your shelf will impress: Joyce Carol Oates, Kurt Vonnegut (maybe), inquisitive children, Stephen Hawking, survivors, and most critics, but not all.

This book will go great with: Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout

Set the mood with: Hey Jude by The Beatles

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): It’s possible Norm, that the title of this novel may allude to an incident from the author’s youth, when he survived an explosion at his school.