I’m enjoying The Know-It-All by A. J. Jacobs as my bedtime reading. At the age of 35, Jacobs embarked on a “humble quest to become the smartest person in the world,” something he figured he could do by reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica from a-ak to zywiec. What is it about being halfway to 70 that makes one feel a sudden need to go on a knowledge quest? I don’t know, but I can empathize.
Anyway, A. J. is very entertaining. I thoroughly enjoyed his subsequent book, The Year of Living Biblically, in which he tried to live by every rule in the Bible for a year, down to the dress code (unshaved sideburns and beard, muumuu-like outfit with tassles). The Know-It-All is interesting in its own way. I especially enjoy his repartee with the wife. Example: Jacobs gets into Mensa.
At home, I trot [my membership to Mensa] out during arguments with Julie [his wife], like the time we got in a squabble over the Thai food delivery. I’m on the phone with the restaurant and I’ve forgotten what she wants, even though she’s told me three times.
“Coconut shrimp,” she repeats. Then sticks out her tongue and rolls her eyes, making the universal sign for “nitwit.”
“That was not constructive,” I say, after clicking off the phone.
“What are you? A retard?” she asks.
“Uh, how many retards are members of Mensa?”
“Just one,” she says.
While writing this book, Jacobs worked as an editor for Esquire, and in that capacity had an opportunity to interview Alex Trebek. He asks Trebek what his philosophy of knowledge is, and this is the answer: “I’m curious about everything–even things that don’t interest me.”
That sentiment resonates with me. It’s exactly how I feel about learning. I’m constantly reading (or trying to read) things that really don’t interest me (like Greek mythology or quantum mechanics) because I’m curious to know what they’re about. Every part of our collective past informs our present, and I keep thinking that if I catch just enough of the pattern of where we’ve come from I’ll get a clue to where we’re going.
And Lord knows, I need a clue.
Categories: Brain Workouts