Saturday, January 10, 2009

What I'm Reading - The Know It All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World

I've always wanted to write a book. Back, years ago, when I was a teenage sports columnist for The Oakland Press and the Detroit News I had a vision of writing some kind of a sports book. Not sure on what exactaly, but something interesting. I never got very far though. I convinced my parents one summer that instead of getting one of those summer jobs most kids get (like the one I had at Staples or Sam Goody the year before -- As an aside, working at Sam Goody, the mall CD store which may not even exist anymore, when you know next to nothing about music, really doesn't work) I'd write a book instead. I'm still working on that.

In 2002 (or 2003, my computer isn't quite sure, and neither am I) I started on "Sterling Sharpe, Wide Open in the Endzone -- One Superfans Journal of the Lovable Losers Known As The Detroit Football Lions." Who knew that six (or seven) years later, they'd really become losers. I got through an introduction (which, ironically, as I look back at it now, started with "I’ve always wanted to write a book", which shows how little has changed with me, or the Lions, in six years) which explained my passion for the Lions, and why I felt qualified at such a young age to write a book about the failings of a franchise which had been a laughingstock for more years than I had been alive. I also got about a page into a prologue, which I titled "The Draft." Maybe one day I'll pick it back up again.

But this blog entry isn't about my writing as much as it is about A.J. Jacobs bestseller The Know It All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. As those long-time blog readers know, I don't read a lot (or, any, really) fiction, so this kind of book is what qualifies for me as "light reading." Over the summer and early fall of 2008 I was on an American History kick, mainly focused around the Revolutionary period. And after two John Adams biographies, a Jefferson biography, and two Joseph Ellis bestsellers on stories from the American founding, I moved on to the 1800s, and 1812: The War That Forged a Nation (good, but too battle intensive and full of military strategy for my tastes) and Lincoln. I was going to start Team of Rivals, but following the 2008 general election ate up a lot of my time, and then I watched the entire first season of Mad Men on Blu-Ray, then got obsessed with House repeats (as I wrote about last week) so I haven't read much in a while. And getting back into the swing of things with something entertaining and fun seemed like a good start.

The book is about magazine columnist and editor A.J. Jacobs' quest to become the smartest person in the world by reading the entire contents of the Encyclopedia Britannica from start to finish. And what may sound dry in description is anything but in print. Jacobs has a very conversational writing style (very similar to what I hope the writing style of this blog is, and very similar to what I would imagine a book I would write would read like). Aside from learning some of the more humorous tidbits Jacobs picked up through his quest (so the book is educational, and like a shorter, punchier, wittier version of Cliff Notes) you can also read about the puzzled and mystified reactions of Jacobs' friends, family, and co-workers to his new found knowledge. So far it's been a very entertaining book, and I should make a decent amount of progress on it before the NFL games start in about an hour and a half.

And because I'm enjoying it, it likely means the purchase of Jacobs follow-up book, "The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible." Because just what I need are more books. Hey. Maybe that's an idea for my book. "One Man's Humble Quest to Read All of the Books He Bought Foolishly Believing He'd Ever Have Time to Read Them All." Nah.

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