It's possible that, like Encyclopedia Britannica, the Bible and any book of astrology, a reader can open John Hodgman's That Is All to any page and come face to face with a life-changing revelation. Such as, "If someone gives you a gift in KOREA, it is expected that you will first refuse it by throwing it on the ground. You must do this THREE times before accepting." (Words in all caps are part of Hodgman's inimitable writing style.)
That's under the "Some Surprising Customs from Around the World" header on page 779 and may or may not have any basis in reality. Because, as Hodgman points out early in his book, "Don't be concerned that you do not know all the rules, for I am here to make them up for you."
All is the third in a trilogy by the humorist/satirist/TV and radio personality/author of The Areas of My Expertise and More Information Than You Require. In fact, it's the trilogy that explains page number 779 falling in the middle of a 343-page book. It's the 779th page in the trilogy (All opens on page 621).
Weird as that may seem, there's no point in arguing. Hodgman is a self-appointed expert in all subjects. In 2008, Time magazine asked him if there was anything he was not an expert on, and he answered, "sports." Since then, he's mastered even that topic, including a section on feats of physical prowess in All. The object of badminton, he informs us, is "to hit the thing over the thing without letting it hit the thing."
"Just as a dying man often turns to religion at the end, so I did embrace that which I so long rejected in this book, and learned something about sports," the author tells Xpress by email. "Now I know there are two games called 'football,' and basketball, in some states, is still played with peach baskets instead of balls. But I would not say I'm an expert."
He doesn't have to say it. He can't help himself, pointing out that "FALCONRY is the fastest growing sport in the country (now that it has been incorporated into Ultimate Fighting)."
It makes sense that Hodgman would have the answers. Part of his claim to fame (along with his McSweeney's advice column, “Ask a Former Professional Literary Agent” and his "Deranged Millionaire" narrator character from They Might Be Giants' Venue Songs) is being a human personal computer. The job title was earned from his appearances as the PC in the "Get a Mac" campaign (Hodgman revealed to TWiT.tv that, in fact, he's been a Mac user since '84); he took the commercial role a step farther appearing regularly on The Daily Show to solve Jon Stewart's problems.
But All does present one problem which the humorist can't solve: The end of the world. To be specific, the world will split in half on Dec. 21, 2012, "as I have envisioned it in my asthma-inhaler-fueled mad visions," says Hodgman. To, perhaps, ease readers toward this bitter end, the book include a page-a-day calendar counting down the events until Dec. 21 of next year. The events predicted in this countdown include, "April 7, 2012: Across the country people discover the same message in every fortune cookie: THE END IS NIGH … IN BED."
Less than two months out from the official start of the countdown (Hodgman recommends beginning the book on Dec. 21 of this year), the author is not stepping back from his Mayan Calendar-supported claim of annihilation. But just in case we're all still around on Dec. 22, 2012, "I will likely write another book of some kind in the future, but not a book of fake trivia," he says.
Not that he hasn't excelled in that department. Among his list of fake facts about New York is, "Two of New York's most famous residences are the Chelsea Hotel and the Dakota. But did you know they used to be the SAME BUILDING? They separated in 1951, but were never TECHNICALLY DIVORCED. Speaking of the Chelsea, it is said that Dan Brown wrote The Da Vinci Code while living at the famous literary haunt, supposedly completing the novel in one single white-wine bender lasting ALMOST AN HOUR."
"I have pretty much faked every bit of trivia I know, and it will take some time for me to learn more," Hodgman tells Xpress. "And also to clear my bunker out of canned goods, mayonnaise and crossbow boats. GARAGE SALE!"
All does introduce one piece of trivia that Hodgman doesn't have to fake: End of the world or not, the geeks are finally coming into their own. "At this point what was once marginal is now mainstream," says Hodgeman. "HBO is airing high quality medieval nudity fantasy. Super-hero movies are the only movies being made. Some nerds delight at this final revenge. Others fear that it is merely a co-opting of their once private trove of glittering cultural treasures, and that the jocks of the world have stolen their lunch money." But surely the author's bespectacled PC persona would approve of this turning of the tables.
"I suspect we are seeing more of a gradual meeting of jock and geek culture in the middle," says Hodgman. "I can see no other explanation for why three out of every 50 NFL players are now wearing steampunk helmets of their own design."
— Alli Marshall can be reached at email@example.com.
who: John Hodgman
what: Reading event for That Is All
where: Asheville Community Theatre
when: Friday, Nov. 11 (Hodgman speaks at 7 p.m., a book signing follows. Ticked. One ticket comes with each purchase of That Is All for $30, which can be pre-ordered through Malaprops. http://malaprops.com)