by Malcolm Gladwell
(Little, Brown)

After hearing that the British forces were mobilizing, a horseman hurried through the night to warn the local militias south of Boston. But the news did not spread and the redcoats found little organized opposition the next morning. This is not a hypothetical history; William Dawes made that trip on the same night as Paul Revere, without the same success. Their distinction, in Tipping Point terminology, is that Revere was a Connector while Dawes "was just an ordinary man."

If you're only now hearing about this book, you're risking "late majority" if not "laggard" status. Gladwell offers a lay treatment of the sociological idea that trends spread like epidemics, with key small ingredients having inordinate effect. The strength of the book is the scope of illustrative examples, ranging from the crime rate in New York City to the popularity of Rebecca Well's Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. As in many popularizations, the mechanisms are oversimplified-- don't expect a marketing handbook--but it does make important ideas more accessible.

Surprisingly, several of Gladwell's New Yorker pieces on the same material are more thorough and engaging--not to mention free at The articles "The Tipping Point," "The Coolhunt," and "Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg" cover much of the book's content. You'll miss a 40-page analysis of children's television and a dubious solution to teenaged smoking, but know enough to be in the loop. BRIAN HOPKINS


by Tony Millionaire
Maakies (Fantagraphics)
Sock Monkey
(Dark Horse)

Cartoonist Tony Millionaire's double-decker comic strip Maakies tosses all notions of highbrow and lowbrow into a blender and comes up with a nice fruity daiquiri. The top strip usually follows the adventures of Uncle Gabby and Drinky Crow, two heavy-drinking, morbidly philosophical sea-going beasts. These fantastic hijinks are contrasted with a mini-strip that runs along the bottom and portrays any number of men and women leading miserable, pathetic, sex-mad and booze-ridden lives. Millionaire's images are breathtakingly ornate and reminiscent of early comics, particularly Little Nemo in Slumberland, and the similarly narrow reality of Krazy Kat. Like Krazy Kat, within repetition and obsessive behavior Millionaire finds an entire universe.

Opening the beautifully designed new collection at random, I find an exemplary strip: While at a tea party with his seagull amour, Drinky Crow guzzles down a bottle of booze in which two young scamps have placed a firecracker. Drinky's head explodes. Phoebe demands an explanation; Drinky replies, "I am searching for the perfect feeling." Below, there's a dumb joke that wouldn't seem out of place in a Milton Berle monologue. One could dwell on Millionaire's dark absurdity, but that would ignore the zest and vigor of his drawing. His bipolar writing--which vacillates wildly between shit jokes and poetry--combined with his explosive visual imagination results in something curiously dense, something that lodges in your brain and resists being reduced to anything but what it is.

Millionaire also has a comic book, The Adventures of Tony Millionaire's Sock Monkey, which features the same two heroes, Uncle Gabby and Drinky Crow, only as stuffed toys. The stories are longer and (slightly) less freewheeling than those of the daily strip, but the book has a surprising emotional power. Again, almost every narrative results in death and disaster; but coming at the end of a charming escapade--for example, Gabby and Drinky climb on a crystal chandelier believing it's some kind of celestial palace--these jagged, nasty conclusions have a giddy, vertiginous effect, both comic and deeply sad. Fans of Roald Dahl or Saki will enjoy Sock Monkey, as will anyone who enjoys Maakies and craves something that's both gentler and more richly disturbing. BRET FETZER


by Jorie Graham
(Ecco Press)

Jorie Graham started getting really famous--for a poet--10 years ago, with the publication of Materialism. Her work induced a visionary buzz of future shock, along the border of the scientific and the spiritual, like a more highbrow (and updated) Laurie Anderson. Graham really does write free verse--not the staccato prose of most of her contemporaries--with an elegance verging on intoxicated incomprehensibility.

Over the years, Graham's poems have become post-structuralist dissections of time and consciousness delivered in a warm and formal tone. Swarm takes us back to the Old Days, after the collapse of the 24-hour hair-trigger nuclear threat. Graham speaks as figures from Greek myth and history, or the imagined dead of archaeological sites, and seamlessly folds the voices over into her own. The short lines and shifting narratives are reminiscent of A. R. Ammons, a comparison that reflects poorly on Graham; Ammons can eat, shit, and drive to the Winn-Dixie all in the most sublime of world-scannings. Though equally profound, Graham isn't nearly as much fun. GRANT COGSWELL