October 27th, 2008

krazy koati

There's a lot that you can learn

The Onion AV Club had an interview a couple days ago with The Guy Who Plays The PC in those Macintosh commercials (John Hodgman). PC was talking principally about his new book of mock-facts, More Information Than You Require, the sequel to The Areas Of My Expertise, which I had briefly skimmed through before giving it as a Christmas present to my brother-in-law who, I'm quite sure, has only briefly skimmed through it himself. The parts I read I liked, though. As you might guess I'm fond of the mock-factual essay as a genre. I'm sure at some point I'll get the books for myself.

While talking about the ``guideposts'' to the project he startled me: The Book of Lists was a big influence on me as a kid. There are other influences that I was conscious of when I started writing, including William Poundstone's trilogy Big Secrets, Bigger Secrets and Biggest Secrets. Cecil Adams' column The Straight Dope was a big inspiration. [ ... ] That intense, polymathic expertise on all things plus a weird contempt/affection for the readership was definitely inspired by Cecil Adams in the Straight Dope. If that weren't enough to make my jaw drop he also talks about The People's Almanac.

Shuffle the order a bit and you have some of the books that revelled in while growing up, particularly The People's Almanac, giving me an appreciation for the astounding richness and weird detail of the world, not to mention a modest appreciation that just because I read something didn't mean I should necessarily believe it. (It also introduced me to the alternate histories of Robert Sobel's For Want Of A Nail and some others I forget, and future histories of James Blish's Cities In Flight among others.)

It gives me a strange sensation to run across someone having this particular set of interests in common with mine. It's like the feeling of catching a movie you own on TV, only amplified: an odd validation of the peculiarities of my tastes when it comes from a stranger. I expect a fair number of you friends have read these --- we have some common interests like these or we'd have less in common than that --- but a guy I'll probably never meet captivated by Numbers Stations, the 17/23 Correlation, and the Civil Disobedience Plan To Foil The Invading Communists?

Trivia: The festivities opening the Erie Canal started in Buffalo at 9 am on 26 October 1825. Source: Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation, Peter L Bernstein. (I read the date wrong yesterday so would ideally have swapped yesterday's and today's.)

Currently Reading: The Civil War In The American West, Alvin M Josephy, Jr.