Friday, June 20, 2008

book review: the know it all

this book was found in the bargain bin at munro's books for 6.99$. sorry, mr. jacobs, you probably didn't make much money off me. but it was a fantastic holiday read. it's the travelogue of a man reading the encyclopedia britannica, cover to cover to cover to cover to cover... here are two excerpts.

Fux, Johann
I'm proud of myself. When I saw the name Johann Fux - an 18th century Austrian composer - I didn't giggle. Sure, there was a faint smile, but I'm getting better, I tell you. I didn't ask myself whether Johann Fux on the first date or whether Johann Fux while wearing proper protection. I didn't secretly think that "Fux You" would make a cook T-shirt.
The more i progress in the alphabet, the more successful I am at stifling that eleven-year-old boy inside me, the one that still thinks a good Beavis-and-Butthead-style scatological pun is a cause for great joy.
It's not easy. Just the number of asses alone will tempt even the most evolved mind. I've learned about The Golden Ass (a book by a Platonic philosopher) and The Wild Ass's Skin (a novel by Balzac). I've read about the half ass (a type of mule in Asia) and Buridan's ass (an animal in a philosophical parable). But it goes way beyond asses. Asses are just the start. You can also take a trip to the river Suck (in Ireland), where you could fish for crappies (a freshwater bass) while you drink some Brest milk (a town in Belarus known for its dairies). If you're bored, you could have a stroke-off (while playing bandy, a version of ice hockey) and fondle a bushtit (a small bird). If you're feeling smart, you might want to argue the impact of Isaac Butt (an Irish leader), or debate the merits of the Four Wangs (Chinese landscape painters), who might have been collected by the Fuggers (an art0loving family). Or else, just take a flying Fokker (a German airplane)

But we were born of risen apes, not fallen from angels, and the apes were armed killers besides. And so what shall we wonder at? Our murders and massacres and missiles, and our irreconcilable regiments? Or our treaties whatever they may be worth; our symphonies however seldom they may be played; our peaceful acres, however frequently they may be converted into battlefields; our dreams, however rarely they may be accomplished. The miracle of man is not how far he has sunk but how magnificently he has risen. We are known among the stars by our poems, not our corpses
-Robert Ardrey*
this book covers an incredible breadth. pop culture, ancient culture, collecting sperm samples, being a son and a father... Jacobs writes like a human being on a multitude of (alphabetical) topics. he informs, entertains and enriches his readers.
i wholeheartedly endorse it.

*this is actually me quoting jacobs' book quoting the encyclopedia quoting ardrey. but this is my favourite new quote. i'd write it on the walls in jiffy marker if i was still living in my old house, where we did stuff like that.
oh, and it's interesting to note that the book's index, which includes such listings as ''life, chaos of' and 'meaningful cross-referencing, see cross-referencing, meaningful' and 'mensa(ns): obesity of', there is no listing for quotes, forcing me to flip though the book looking for this one. it took longer to find the thing than to type it out.

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