My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Neil Postman says in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death that American society has been drowning in trivial information since the advent of the telephone. But the truth is that we have always been drawn to curious facts as well as books that promise us many factoid tidbits covering many different topics. John Hodgman’s Areas of My Expertise acknowledges our long-standing interest by invoking, in his forward, Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack. Areas is a modern descendent of Poor Richard’s with one main difference. In an era where everyone is entitled to their own facts (truthiness much?), Areas is full of fake facts conveyed with the absolute authority that comes with being A Professional Writer. While I could easily go on a tangent about how writers play with ideas of experience and authority, I’ll restrain myself. (It’s just GoodReads after all, I tell myself.) Because as much as this book messes with each idea, Areas is not some snotty postmodern exercise–it’s too damn fun. A chapter devoted to 700 hobo names may sound dubious, but I surprised myself by giggling over names like Maryland Sol Saynomore and Patrick Intergalactic. And anyone who has an interest in food writing must read “Top Spots for Crabs,” a send-up of food magazines and the breezy articles that fill them. The pure silliness of the pieces in Areas keeps the books from taking itself too seriously and soothes our weird trivia itch. Then again, I was the kind of kid who would skim through a cultural literacy dictionary because I had read all of the books I owned or had checked out. So, Mr. Hodgman, thanks for making this book dork smile.