Bellwether by Connie Willis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Fad researcher Sandra Foster just wants to know what caused women to start bobbing their hair in the 1920s - but what she gets is an aggressively incompetent assistant, a longer budget request form, and a chance meeting with a man who seems immune to every trend.
Sandra sees herself as the sane point in the turning world - even though her hobby is systematically checking out her favorite books so that the library won't get rid of them, and every moment of her day is spent analyzing pop culture. She struggles to understand why people are suddenly wearing duct tape armbands and rolling their eyes, and wishes that things like politeness and chocolate cheesecake would catch on.
Flip, Sandra's rude assistant, is possibly the most irritating character in literature (aside from Lydia Bennett), and she could be Ignatius J. Reilly's trainee When Flip's misdelivery of a package leads Sandra to the office of chaos researcher Bennett O'Reilly, Sandra doesn't realize that the chance meeting will lead her to borrow a flock of sheep just to keep the unconventional scientist around. This isn't even the craziest thing that happens in Bellwether.
Connie Willis has a way of writing that makes you feel as though you're inside a screwball comedy. The romance aspect here is slightly underplayed but charming (I could use more of Bennett). Sandra's company, HiTek, has a level of internal dysfunction to rival Office Space's TPS reports or the Feds' toilet paper memo in Snow Crash. Best of all, each chapter begins with fascinating tidbits about historical fads, from Hula Hoops to dancing mania to diorama wigs.
Bellwether is every bit as smart and funny as you expect a Connie Willis book to be, and the perfect way to start your summer reading.
Interested in the idea of complexity? Continue on with The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow, or Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.