The Areas of My Expertise (John Hodgman)

Ever wonder how much you should tip a hotel’s starling boy? Or its melancholier? Or its feral turn-down service? Do you even know what these are? Neither did I … until I came upon John Hodgman’s The Areas of My Expertise [LibraryThing / WorldCat], an almanac of miscellaneous facts with a twist: It’s a pack of lies.

I didn’t know Hodgman by name when I started the book, but it turned out that I had seen him before. He played the ‘PC’ in the recent series of TV commercials with the two geeky guys — one pretending to be a PC and one a Mac. He’s also done spots for Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show”, too. With this book, Hodgman has bestowed upon us all the knowledge ‘in the areas of his expertise.’ In other words, he has meticulously fabricated the world according to Hodgman. He’s very up front about this. And I’ve never enjoyed being misinformed so much. For today, at least, call this blog “Mostly FNF” (fake non-fiction).

Hodgman has given us his tour of the Mall of America (including his discovery of a secret tunnel running from Camp Snoopy to the Pottery Barn lined with human skulls); his visit to the Lucky Charms factory (where they show how the leprechauns are flayed and pulped and turned into marshmallows); and his history of lobsters (Did you know they were furry land animals a hundred years ago?). Consult a normal almanac if you want to know banal facts like the population of Ecuador, but Hodgman’s book is the only place you’ll learn that moose dislike pirates; that Chicago is merely a myth; that Kingston, NY is home to the Toobin Museum of Non-Hockey-Related Haircuts; or that the weight of a rabbit can be determined by his religious affiliation. I frankly don’t get his obsession with hobo names, but maybe that’s the joke. His hobo history is just plain goofy.

I’ve both skimmed the book AND listened to the audio version, and frankly prefer the latter. The printed book has some tables and figures that obviously can’t be read aloud very well, but Hodgman’s dead-pan “I’m-so-clearly-an-expert” delivery and the comic addition of a formerly-feral guitar-playing accompanyist makes the audio book a performance that shouldn’t be missed. It’s like a seven-hour comedy routine.

[Note: I’m only giving you the abbreviated, five-word title of the book here. The complete title runs between 63 and 111 words (depending on what counts as subtitle) and takes more than 45 seconds to read.]

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