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Bob Coleman [userpic]
by Bob Coleman (mandingo)
at September 26th, 2006 (05:40 pm)

Subject: "The Areas of My Expertise" by John Hodgman.
Whassit: An almanac of complete world knowledge compiled with instructive annotation and arranged in useful order and which include matters historical, matters literary, matters cryptozoological, hobo matters, food, drink & cheese (a kind of food) squirrels & lobsters & eels, haircuts, utopia, what will happen in the future, and most other subjects.
Location: You can get it at Barnes & Noble most likely, Amazon.com, and a quaint, hole-in-the-wall bookseller settled uncomfortably behind a dry cleaners in Boulder, Colorado that specializes in stocking varied editions, reprints, faded manuscripts, and alternate covers if this one book. If you give him a hobo nickel, he will give you a copy for free.
Rating:4 Truthful Lies out of 5.

One of the funniest ideas of this book is expressed at the introduction, in which Hodgman emphatically states that his book is full of lies that he made up, but because of this, his book is more true than if he had stockpiled it with facts. "Truth," Hodgman states, "may be stranger than fiction, but it is never as strange as lies. (Or, for that matter, as true.) Proof of which maxim is the fact that I just made it up."

The result of this intriguing idea is a dizzying array of completely nonsensical and often hilarious descriptions on such subjects as "Basics of Snow and Ice Warfare," "Secrets of the Mall of America," "Historys Worst Men's Haircuts," and a detailed description of the Hobo Movement over the past century, covering their language, graffiti, and whereabouts, and ending with the conclusion that after taking over the Federal Department of the Treasury, the hoboes eventually went to the stars, or perhaps another dimension.

Not unlike the subject matter, the quality of Hodgman's nonesense varies. There are various pieces which are fantastic, make virtually no sense whatsoever, but still had me chuckling as hard as any book before has caused me to do. There are a few duds, but most of the pieces are brief enough that any kind of downstroke is over quickly enough that you're already moving on to a newer, usually completely different subject.

I highly recommend getting the paperback edition, as it has an updated appendix of things learned since the original publishing in hardcover, and contains updates and further news that is as enjoyable to read as the rest of the book.

If you didn't know that the geiger counter was named after Hans Geigercounter, or you didn't know that there was a tunnel in the Mall of America leading from Camp Snoopy to the Pottery Barn that is lined with human skulls, or that Herbert Hoover created a cadre of fighting pnuematic robots whose schematics he stole from the mind of Nikola Tesla using a dream-thief machine, then this might be something you would be interested in.

It also contains 800 Hobo Names including "David No-Ears," "Gluttonous Slim," "Reynaldo Reynaldoson, Who Will one Day Kill His Father," and "Nick Nolte."


Posted by: must be believed to be seen (ladykinbote)
Posted at: October 3rd, 2006 07:43 pm (UTC)
i'm a cheery dork.

That sounds awesome! I'll totally have to remember that the next time I'm looking for an airplane book -- it sounds like it'd fit my travel attention span pretty well.

Also it reminds me a lot of a book I found in the discount section at Borders a couple months ago, Giraffes? Giraffes! Which is similarly full of entirely fictional nonfiction articles. But they're all about giraffes. And it's possibly for a slightly younger audience... it's in that large-size hardback picture book format that lots of science books for elementary school students are published in. But I recommend it entirely, and will post a link when I get home.

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