More Information Than You Require by John Hodgman: B-

From the front flap:
When John Hodgman first embarked on his project to assemble, tabulate, and completely make up a comprehensive survey of COMPLETE WORLD KNOWLEDGE, he was but a former professional literary agent and occasional scribbler of fake trivia—in short, A NOBODY. But during an interview on The Daily Show with John Stewart, an incredible transformation occurred—he became A FAMOUS MINOR TELEVISION PERSONALITY. Hodgman realized from this unique vantage point that he understood better than ever that THERE IS SOME WORLD KNOWLEDGE YET TO BE DOCUMENTED. And so he has returned, crashing his Kansas farmhouse down upon the wicked witch of IGNORANCE to bring you MORE INFORMATION THAN YOU REQUIRE.

I’m aware that I have a rather particular sense of humor. And so it’s really not a surprise that I didn’t find More Information Than You Require to be all that funny. I’m more apt to giggle at a silly comment than I am to laugh at a lengthy essay full of clever falsehoods, of which this book is primarily comprised. That isn’t to say that the book is entirely lacking in funny lines—my favorite is “First, get a pig’s spleen. They are often just lying around.”—but that they are few and far between.

Most of the material is at least somewhat amusing, eliciting a snerk here or there, but I don’t think I smiled even once while reading the absolutely ponderous chapter on mole-men near the end; references to Fraggle Rock couldn’t even endear it to me. I didn’t care for the recurring jokes about harm befalling cats, the occasional vulgarity, or the little page-a-day calendar blurbs that disrupted one’s flow of reading and which Hodgman himself seemed to acknowledge as annoying, saying, “You can’t avoid [reading them] forever.”

However! There are also some very nice stories buried in here, those with a more personal feel that seem to be at least marginally grounded in reality. The chapter on being famous, for example, is terrific, and I loved reading Hodgman’s perspective of being recognized. There’s also a really sweet story about vacationing in Portugal as a younger man, waiting for his girlfriend (now wife) to return from a solo journey she’d made, which includes the surprisingly touching line, “And even now, a decade and a half later, when she is out of my sight, I never stop looking for her.”

Alas, I think campaigning for more stories like that would be asking Hodgman to abandon… well, being Hodgman. I still wish the fellow well, but I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of his books. They’re just not my kind of humor.


J’s Take on More Information Than You Require

John Hodgman’s More Information Than You Require is almost more information than I can stand. The premise of the book is.. a whole bunch of facts and trivia and stories that Hodgman made up. The layout fits the title and premise of the book, but really turns me off. Even the cover looks like an overload of information.

The format of the book is random facts and stories and information (mostly false) roughly sorted by topic into chapters. There’s images to spice things up. And sometimes there’s boxes. You almost feel like there would be sidebars and topbars and bottombars, but because every page also contains a Page-A-Day calendar notation, Hodgman really was running out of room.

The way I’d normally read something like this is to read everything on the page before turning the page. Eventually I had to give that up. I stopped reading the calendar entries and my enjoyment of the reading experience improved. But it was still problematic, because there were footnotes to be reading. So there’s just constant interruptions to the flow in my brain.

As for the content itself? Eh. I think this book would be far better used as a bathroom reader. Small doses would be easier to swallow, and more amusing. I did like the entries for July 12, 13, and 14th. July 31st was distinctly lacking in wizard references! I confess to skipping the several-pages-long list of molemen names. (Firefox thinks I spelled molemen wrong. I probably did.)

All in all, I like Hodgman better on television. In small chunks.


More Information Than You Require (John Hodgman)

The Plot
John Hodgman continues his neverending quest to provide the world with all possible bits of information, an effort begun in his first book, Areas of My Expertise. In More Information Than You Require we learn the secrets of the presidents, the secrets of the mole-men, and the sad history of the weather in Richmond, VA.

My Thoughts
I can no longer remember precisely how John Hodgman came to my attention. I have to assume that it was during his first appearance on the Daily Show and yet I did not read his first book until September 2006, so I think it cannot have been. I do know that before I knew he was he, I had heard him on This American Life and enjoyed some of his tales.

In any case, I have been a fan for several years, though I cannot claim the distinction of having discovered him when he was not yet a Minor Television Personality.

Hodgman’s humor can be very dry at times, and some times becomes a little to surrealist for me to find it very funny. On the other hand, sometimes he’ll come out with something so freaking clever that you can’t believe it. Overall, there’s a good baseline amusement factor here, periodically interrupted by some excellent stuff.

And now, in honor of the book, the list of thoughts I compiled as I read:

  1. First, the hoboes; second, the mole-men; third, ???. I spent some time considering this important question and can only speculate as to the answer. Perhaps a race of creatures living in the air? Futuristic aliens?
  2. While I found the list of mole-men generally more interesting than the prior book’s list of hoboes (why YES I did read EVERY SINGLE ONE), there were a number of the names which confused me. I am interested to see if anyone else had the same question I did.
  3. Rap-Around. Ah, Rap-Around. If Hodgman was truly on this show, I now regret having missed it. Because, of course, I grew up in range of the Boston stations, and I remember this show well. Or, rather, I remember the ads for this show well, along with the opening. I seem to remember it coming on around noontime on a Saturday, signalling the disappointing end of morning cartoons and the beginning of an afternoon of televised sporting events. These would begin with the channel being changed from Rap-Around to Candlepin bowling.
  4. The story about him and his girlfriend in Portugal is very sweet. I’m afraid I have nothing witty to say about it, but I wanted to mention it anyway.
  5. All through the book Hodgman does a truly excellent job conveying his (I believe) genuine bemusement at his sudden celebrity. The story of his visit to the Apple store was truly priceless; I can completely picture the scene and I laugh every time I do.

In Short
Anyone who read Hodgman’s first book and enjoyed it will certainly feel the same about this one — as the page numbers indicate, it is a literal continuation and he is in good form here. For me, this one was even better than the first, because I am a nosy twit and I enjoyed the more personal sections this book contained. I’m looking forward to the third volume at which point all useful knowledge will have been recorded and we can pitch the whole reference section of the library to replace it with endless copies of these three books. That is all.