Author/journalist Malcolm Gladwell writes books that start discussions, sometimes heated ones. He does that by design. In a recent video chat hosted by GoodReads, Gladwell noted that he doesn't aim to settle questions but to spark conversations. His latest book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants,” provided the starting point for this conversation, but certainly didn’t limit his discussion. He accepted questions on a wide spectrum of topics.
Gladwell suggests that ideas "aren't always easy to digest." He seeks to present them in such a way that people will be able to understand them and use the understanding to consider and discuss the implications of the ideas. He likes to get people thinking about possibilities that might not have been articulated before, even if the possibilities are highly speculative.
Attendees offered questions on several topics. When asked about how much research was enough research on a subject, he indicated that no set amount dictated "enough" research, but suggested that authors remain open to additional information on a topic, even once they've begun to write. “It’s always worth reading the extra thing,” he stated.
Another questioner asked about how to gauge the difference between a subject suitable for an article and one suitable for a book. Gladwell pointed out that later information can add to the subject matter and flesh out an article into book material or allow it to be added to other articles and synthesized into a book.
Throughout the half hour session, Gladwell reflected on the serendipitous nature of inspiration. A chance remark he heard or story he read may lead him on an investigation that results in an article or a book chapter. He attributes much of his success to luck, that the success of his first book made him recognizable and his later works were more readily accepted because of that. Gladwell does feel that his storytelling has improved with each volume, contributing to the ongoing success.
When asked about his target audience, Gladwell chuckled. He admitted that he thinks of his target audience as being himself and his mother and felt fortunate that a larger audience grew from that start. In another aspect of audience, he noted that it’s important for an author to write about subjects he enjoys so that he can enjoy the process of writing and turn out a product readers will enjoy reading. Gladwell adds that he tries to write books that he himself would enjoy reading.
Although designed to showcase his latest book, Gladwell also used the chat to offer encouragement and education to authors in the audience. His audience included students studying one of his books as well as interested readers registered on the GoodReads site. His presentation included something for all of them.
GoodReads maintains a library of recorded chats with authors, accessible to the site’s registered users.