Saturday, October 09, 2004


  • The Know-It-All by A. J. Jacobs

    Rating: *****

    I love being ahead of the curve. It pays to browse! Not only did I find some great used books in the library, but I also found this sitting on the new nonfiction shelf, even before the review was in TIME. It's really not a subject I would have chosen to look into - it's pretty random, this quest for enlightenment by reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica from a-ak to Zyeiec. Actually, not so random - I've always liked reading encyclopedias, but for different reasons than this author. His motivations are personal and funny, and this is really a haphazard memoir segued into via strange trivia he picks up while reading the hefty volumes over the course of a year.

    The real story behind the story is the Jacobs' struggle to conceive. The book is immediately private and more serious than, say, the discussions about René Descartes' cross-eyed fetish. Also, AJJ delves into his family's overachieving history and his feelings of inadequacy (unbeknownst to anyone else, he was once THE smartest boy in the world). The book begins as a crazy quest of an ego trip and then it becomes a journey that is really about the bonds of family, from his practical joker father to his Harvard genius brother-in-law to the wee Jacobs he and his ever-patient wife, Julie, are hoping to have. Of course, the trivia bits are wacky and cute, especially as AJJ tries to use them unsuccessfully as small talk and as a way to impress people. He is very funny in a self-deprecating, sad-dog kind of way. He's like Bill Bryson living in Manhattan. A hapless, but hilariously articulate man clinging to some odd little ideas that do make sense in the end. He doesn't actually find the meaning of life in the 33,000 pages of the EB, but I think he comes close.

    In Progress

  • Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell by Susanna Clarke
  • Diary of a Mad Mom-to-Be by Laura Wolf