So for the last month I’ve had my nose to the grindstone on Ken Jennings’s Trivia Almanac–my whole nose, pressed avidly against the grindstone, like Owen Wilson on a coke straw. (Too soon?) In my distraction, I forgot to hype three book releases that I’d meant to.
I wrote the foreword to Stanley Newman and Hal Fittipaldi’s 15,003 Answers: The Ultimate Trivia Encyclopedia, the new version of their essential 2001 compendium 10,000 Answers. Stan seemed both surprised and amused that the piece I turned in was a little quirkier and a little less straight-laced than he’d expected. Part of me secretly hoped he’d turn it down, so I could recycle is as the introduction to the upcoming Almanac, but no dice–they ran with it. Still, I couldn’t have wished that foreword on a better book. 15,003 Answers is like a better-researched version of Fred Worth’s 1970s trivia encyclopedias, with plenty of well-chosen facts and crazy lists you won’t find anywhere else, even in the Internet age.
Bob Harris‘s new book is Who Hates Whom? I’m not really sure how to punctuate it with its confusing double subtitle: “Well-Armed Fanatics, Intractable Conflicts, and Various Things Blowing Up: A Woefully Incomplete Guide.” Two colons? A dash somewhere? Do you put a space between a question mark and a colon anyway? No idea. Bob’s book is a primer on global unrest that’s surprisingly easy to read–even fun to read, if that doesn’t sound perverse–given its disturbing subject matter. It’s a tricky tonal line to tiptoe–how funny can you be if you’re writing about Darfur?–but Bob navigates it with aplomb. Blurbs by me and Emo Philips!
Crossword constructor Eric Berlin just sent me a copy of his new children’s book from Putnam, The Puzzling World of Winston Breen. I was a big-fan of fair-play solve-along mysteries when I was a kid, but the genre has fallen on hard times. No more! Winston Breen is your traditional rollicking throwback treasure-hunt kind of mystery, but–improbably–all Winston Breen’s clues all seem to come in the form of elaborate word puzzles! It’s just the thing for the bright-eyed kid who does the word search on the Happy Meal box before he eats the fries, the one who says she wants more books like Encyclopedia Brown or (especially) The Westing Game. Blurbs by me and ex-Simpsons show-runner Mike Reiss!
Mostly I’m grateful for my newfound one-degree-of-separation from Emo Philips and Mike Reiss, but I’m also a fan of these books. Would I have blurbed them otherwise? Only for ready money.