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Spoiler! November 26, 2008

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Books.
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The family has a peculiar fondness for Malcolm Gladwell’s work. It began with a copy of The Tipping Point I bought on a lark as my mom’s Christmas present some years back. I’m pretty sure she got around to reading it, but not before my dad chanced upon it while looking for something to read, whereupon I found it back in my hands as recommended reading. Not long after, my dad bought a copy of Blink practically as soon as it hit store shelves, and when he was done with it (I’d say about an hour later, but some of you out there would think I’m exaggerating) it also found its way into my waiting hands.

Suffice it to say that after both books Gladwell found his way onto our collective “reading radar.”

Recently, I chanced upon a copy of his latest book, Outliers, and scooped it up instantly. Here was my chance to do my dad one better, and finally get around to reading a book I knew he’d be interested in before he would.

When I saw him later in the day I couldn’t help but report my find.

“Hey! I found a copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s new book.”

“Yeah?” he replied.

“Sure,” I said, pulling it out of the bag to show him.

“Um-hmm,” he muttered, giving the blurb a quick read through as I moved on to take care of other things.

Later, I discovered that he took the book with him, which wasn’t that big a deal as both of us still had several other titles to dispense with on our reading lists.

Much later, however, I learned in the harshest possible way that my dad not only worked his way through his reading list, but actually finished with Outliers:

He began telling me what it was all about. In vivid detail. Several times.

Thus began the mad scramble to finish the book and enjoy whatever of it I could before any more damage could be done. This was an enterprise that was less like reading and more like devouring the text. The pages just breezed by, and occasionally (sometimes even more than occasionally), I’d find the exact items that my dad had told me I would find in there. Naturally. Yet as I dispensed with more and more of the book — it’s vintage Gladwell, and may be his best offering yet, save for (in my opinion) the autobiographical point at the end — it dawned on me that my dad had hardly told me anything that spoiled my enjoyment of the book. At worst, he told me no more than if someone were to recommend the book and describe it to me as if I knew nothing about it; at best, because he had distilled some of its points and injected some of his own insights, it even became a much better read.

It’s true that this may not always be the case. I’d say that when mavens rave about their interests (there’s another Gladwell reference right there!), chances are they’ll jump the gun and go straight to the punch line. Nine times out of ten, maybe. But it doesn’t always matter. In the end, others’ pre-emption alone does not a spoiler make, but one’s anticipation.

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