As usual, Robin Sparkles gets credit for introducing me to awesomeness. Last summer I read the Hunger Games trilogy and the Millennium trilogy pretty much back to back, and it was a whole lot of depressing. Excellent, compelling depressing, but still. I sent an email to my friends for suggestions of a book that wouldn’t make me want to spend the rest of my life curled up in the fetal position in my bed, and Robin came through, as usual, with The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. It was the perfect book for bringing me back from the dark reading I had been doing, and I picked up his most recent offering, My Life as an Experiment, a few months later. I am now officially hooked on A.J. Jacobs’ writing. I would consider subscribing to Esquire if he was a writer instead of an editor. I don’t know that his cuts and stets are quite as enthralling as his writing, though. Needless to say, I had high expectations for A.J.’s earlier book, The Know-It-All. It did not disappoint.
The Know-It-All chronicles A.J.’ s quest to read the Encyclopaedia Brittanica from A to Z. The style mirrors the encyclopedia, with headers that relate either directly or indirectly to the “entry” below. Sometimes it’s a fun fact from the entry in the encyclopedia (a vinaigrette is a small, gold container with a sponge soaked in lavender and vinegar that was used to battle body odor), and sometimes it’s a word that is marginally related to an anecdote that follows (Matthew Perry’s entry encompasses A.J.’s audition for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) There’s not really a tight plot here, so if you’re looking for something that will suck you in and keep you up til 4am, this is not it. However, if you want a book that you can read on a little bit at a time that will make you laugh out loud, this is for you. There is a story loosely woven among the various entries, so don’t think that it’s just a random collection of facts. Bits and pieces of A.J’s life are sprinkled in, with the main storyline focusing on A.J. and his wife Julie’s efforts to get pregnant and start a family. They pay particular attention to fertility goddesses in the EB, going so far as to celebrate a new one each week, until IVF succeeds and they are on their way to becoming the proud parents of Jasper.
This was a fun read, and I enjoyed learning all of the random facts. I’m cool like that. Now I just need to figure out a way to mention Descartes’ fetish for cross-eyed women in casual conversation. Someone bring it up so I can drop some knowledge on you.
I really can’t improve on Jon Stewart’s blurb, so I will let him sum up: “I’ve always said, why doesn’t someone put out a less complete version of the encyclopedia? Well done, A.J.”