What We Are Reading Today: Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

Updated 14 September 2019

What We Are Reading Today: Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

In Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell investigates what goes wrong when we interact with people we don’t know, using dramatic scenarios ripped from the headlines, history, psychology, and criminology.

“No one shows us who we are like Gladwell. Here he sets out to understand why we act the way we do, and how we all might know a little more about those we don’t,” said a review in goodreads.com.

Gladwell is the author of five New York Times bestsellers: The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw, and David and Goliath.

The new book likely to be his most controversial yet, both in terms of his chosen subject matter and the examples he uses to illustrate his points. 

“Summarizing the lessons to be learned from the diverse tales in his book, Gladwell’s main conclusions are that it would be disastrous if we stopped trusting people, that we should ‘accept the limits of our ability to decipher strangers,’ and that it behooves us to be thoughtful, humble and mindful of context when trying to understand people’s actions,” Anthony Gottlieb said in a review for The New York Times.


Mazen Maarouf brings magical realism to the darkness of war

‘Jokes for the Gunmen,’ on the longlist for the Man Booker Prize, has been translated into English. (Supplied)
Updated 23 October 2019

Mazen Maarouf brings magical realism to the darkness of war

  • ‘Jokes for the Gunmen,’ on the longlist for the Man Booker Prize, has been translated into English by Jonathan Wright and published by Granta Books.
  • It was published in Arabic by Beirut’s Riad El-Rayyes Books in 2015.

CHICAGO: From award-winning Palestinian-Icelandic writer, poet and journalist Mazen Maarouf comes a collection of short stories, “Jokes for the Gunmen,” now translated into English.

Unraveling sometimes fantastical and other times traumatic realities, the stories are mostly from the perspective of a child in a war zone in which life is about survival and how one’s perception of the world can be narrowed through limited circumstances.

Maarouf introduces his readers to narrators who mostly stay nameless, whose stories pick up in the middle of their lives, long after the bombs began to fall and life became about survival rather than living.

He unapologetically explores the depths of a child’s thinking as painful incidents occur and instability ensues in his characters’ lives.

He is unafraid to create uncomfortable situations, and often the accidental outcomes are the ones that seem to help life move forward.

Misunderstandings and misinterpretations often lead characters to their destinies, and in Maarouf’s collection, the only way to take the unforgiving realities of life is to turn them into a joke.

He explores elements of magical realism in his stories, such as when one character’s uncle, a self-proclaimed matador, dies three times in the same week, and one in which a son tells his mother fantastical stories about biscuits.

Dark humor encapsulates each unique story. Maarouf explores dreams, life, jokes, war, relationships, and the contrast between light and dark.

Each of his stories is embedded in a deep reality that cannot be shaken when it comes to war and its aftermath.

There is a harshness that overlays each incident, but one that pushes forward the notion that life must be lived through war.