Wednesday, February 23, 2011

You'd be surprised at how many days can go by without one of my friends mentioning aardvarks

After Speak and Sula I needed a funny book. Something simple before pressing onto Emma Donoghue's Room. Luckily enough I acquired an e-copy of The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A. J. Jacobs. This is only my second re-read of the year. Back when I was in college this book made the rounds with my friends. A friend* bought the book and ended up recommending it to a friend, who then told our other friend they had to read it and etc, etc. While my friends and I have different personal tastes we all share a similar sense of humor and this one worked for most people.

So A.J. decides after working at Entertainment Weekly and Esquire for so long he's filled his head is filled with pop culture trivia instead of real facts and his solution to fix this is to read the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica. This isn't going to give you any greater meaning into intelligence versus knowledge (though people argue the point with him several times) but it gives you the insight in what it would be like if your friend or loved one was reading this tome and decided to share all sorts of random facts at all times. Some of these tidbits stick with you. For example "Abalones are a type of snail with five assholes" (location 229). For whatever reason (probably because it's immature) I always remember this one. I've eaten abalone a couple times and while I don't always say this fact aloud, I think it every time.

This could very easily be a boring book. Honestly it sounds like a boring topic. Read about a guy who read the Encyclopedia Britannica. Not much excitement there. But he tells the story with humor, sometimes sharing the information he's learned about certain topics, sometimes trying to get onto TV game shows (Jeopardy, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?) and a lot of the time it's how his constant fact sharing annoys his friends and family. There is a bit of a sub-plot about A.J. and his wife trying to get pregnant but honestly, I enjoyed those detours less than the main story.

It's a fun story, it's light, you can finish it quickly and you might learn a fact or two. And so you can experience the humor, here are a couple quotes I highlighted (I love my Kindle)

Telling his father his plan:
"I'm going to read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica"
A pause. "I hear that the Ps are excellent."

I feel like this is my attention span:
In some ways, it's the perfect book for someone like me...who has the attention span of a gnat on methamphetamines

Rap making it's way into the EB
Public Enemy and Wu-Tang Clan "were among the popular purveyors of rap during the 1980s and 1990s." Purveyors of rap?  Now that's got to be the whitest phrase I've ever heard."

A good how-to-be-a-know-it-all lesson
One secret to being a successful know-it-all is extreme confidence.

*This is the same friend that lent me Kitchen Confidential, The City and The City and numerous other books.

Title quote from location 223

Jacobs, A. J. The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. Simon & Schuester. 2004 eBook.