Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mole-men and Other Stuff that Doesn't Exist

The paperback and "audioback" editions of John Hodgman's new book,That is All, comes out on October 2. This is the third and final volume in his Box Set of Complete World Knowledge trilogy. I'm not reviewing that book because I didn't get a review copy because apparently I'm not cool enough. But in anticipation of that momentous book release, I wanted to review the previous two Complete World Knowledge books.

I did not, however, have time to read them. I've been pursuing a new career as a sword swallower and have had a heavy practice schedule. So instead I just read the second book, More Information than You Require.

To tell the truth, with my damaged throat I couldn't manage to actually read the book, so instead I opted for listening to the audiobook. This turned out to be a fortuitous decision, as the audiobook is a work all its own, quite distinct from the printed book. It is narrated by Paul Rudd--up to the point that Hodgman enters the studio and takes over the reading whereupon Rudd becomes an occasional heckler. Accompanying Hodgman is Jonathan Coulter, his feral mountain man singer/songwriter friend who breaks in with an occasional tune and also acts as Hodgman's abused sidekick. A number of other visitors' voices can be heard on the audiobook including, among others, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, who teaches Hodgman and listeners how to mix up old timey cocktails, Dick Cavett who says some words, and Zach Galifianakis who actually just appears in one of the audioized photographs that illustrate the audiobook. When anyone actually gets around to reading the book's text, that's pretty funny too.

If you don't know who John Hodgman is, I will tell you. As he describes himself, he is a minor TV celebrity, a writer of fake trivia and a former literary agent. He is most famous as the nerdy and slightly inept "PC" from the Mac and PC commercials of a few years ago. He has appeared numerous times on the Daily Show as the "resident expert," and has made guest appearances on Flight of the Conchords, and Battlestar Galactica.

Now do you know who he is? It doesn't matter. With all of this experience, he is the perfect person to provide a complete history of the world in a three volume collection of trivia, provided that all of the history and trivia is made up, which in this book it is. "Truth may be stranger of fiction," writes Hodgman, "but lies are the strangest of all."

He certainly backs this up. For instance, he explains that the electors who make up the electoral college are actually prognosticators who are kept alive in an orange or banana flavored nutrient bath. He also provides a recipe for the nutrient bath. He describes in vivid detail Napolean's attempts to conquer the moon and the difficulty his armies faced while fighting in a low-gravity, friction-free, oxygen-free environment. And he describes the profound significance of the Mole Men, underground dwellers and accomplished writers of declarations of independence who influenced the writing of our American Declaration of Independence.

Plus he teaches you how to mix drinks containing Dalmatian blood, how to use fire to rid your house of nasty pests including exterminators-gone-native, and how to buy a computer from a street vendor. The book includes a handy audio page-a-day calendar which chronicles, among other things, the fabled "strangest rain" rivalry between Richmond, Virginia and Milwaukee, Wisconsin (it begins with frogs versus human teeth).

Anyway, if you like really strange funny stuff, read it, or better yet, listen to it and also listen to the first one, The Areas of my Expertise, if you want.

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