…i ran into a book i’ve been avoiding like the plague for the last few years recently.  it is called “The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World” and it is by a fella named aj jacobs, who claims to be a journalist.

i say “claims to be a journalist” because he is writing for the esquire.  i don’t think esquire had any journalistic content in the last 25 years or so.  it is nothing but a glorified newspaper advertising insert.  a better printed best buy circular or smart source coupon book, that is what esquire (and all the other lifestyle magazines) are.  monthly product placement and advertising vessels.  esquire, like many of its ilk, had journalistic content and merits decades ago.  nowadays if some good and interesting writing finds its way in, it is either due to a sheer oversight or nostalgia.

well, going back to the subject, 6-7 years ago everyone was talking about the book– apparently aj sat on his ass, read the encyclopedia britannica in its entirety and wrote a book about it.   needless to say, i avoid books like that at all costs but had a run in with it recently.  i also sat on my ass and skimmed through it.  the book may be shit but aj is smart.  not by the mensa definition (and there is some stuff about mensa morons in it) but my definition.  he not only wrote a bestseller book but also made a career out of it.  he is the foremost leader of “stunt journalism”.  again, it is a shit genre but it makes money.

here is the recipe for such a book: find a topic.  any topic which will require research but no real intelligence or creativity.  for instance decide to write a book about oliver cromwell and how he would resonate today.  then start narrating your “research”.  when i say “start narrating your research” i don’t mean only your findings but your research process.  have a couple of personal story arcs embedded that the readers can sympathize with.  for instance aj used how he and his wife was trying to conceive offspring.  apply tons of self-deprecating humor, comparing yourself with cromwell and his cronies.   and, here is the most essential part, insert one edgy knock-knock joke to each paragraph.  this, again, is the most crucial ingredient for success.

almost all of aj’s jokes are edgy knock-knock jokes.  “edgy” as in they would be edgy for our social-nazi ms. susan behrens and her kind, making her chuckle controllably and exclaim “oh, aj, you’re impossible” with a slight blush.  trust me, you’ll win over 70% of the kindle, 45% of the ipad and 100% of the NPR demographic.

going back to the title of this entry and mensa, aj takes a few subtle shots at the mensa morons.  utilizing self-deprecation again, he summarizes how he became a card carrying mensa member based on his SAT scores alone (apparently that is enough), but then unleashes his knock-knock jokes  at a mensa convention.  that section pretty much sums mensa up.  morons filled to the brim with data.

i am dissing the book but i am not dissing aj.  for all its worth, he found a good market and a good product and attained success.  kudos.  reading the 32 volumes of the britannica was not smart, by any definition.  but writing a bestseller book about the experience, no matter how shitty i find the book, is smart.  making a career out of it and writing more and more shitty books is smarter.  as long as there is an audience for them.