Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Know-it-All

Another great book!

‘The Know-It-All’ funny, informative
Posted by Jami Carpenter, Las Vegas Review-Journal guest reviewer
Thursday, Mar. 03, 2011 at 05:00 AM

I was looking for something a little different — had my fill of memoirs, mysteries and motivational books — when a friend suggested I try “The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World,” the story of a guy who decides to tackle all 32 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Granted, the idea of reading about a guy who reads seemed less than appetizing, but I was salivating after the very first page.

The author, A.J. Jacobs, takes readers on a charming, self-deprecating, yet insidiously informative journey through the 26 letters of the alphabet. (A few letters take up more than one volume; hence, the need for 32 books in the series, I soon learn.) He shares little tidbits of knowledge, but in the context of his own real world, describing, for instance, how he does the mating dance of the blue-footed booby for his wife in their efforts to start a family.

Rather than simply digesting the information he discovers, Jacobs attempts to regurgitate his newfound nuggets. During dinner conversations, he mentions that raccoons wash their food before eating it. Hanging out with friends, he throws in the statistics of albinism when his wife’s friend bemoans the fact that she’s going to the islands with such white legs. He gets into a debate about dogwood with the local florist and the true meaning of vegetarianism with his aunt.

Unfortunately, his attempts are transparent and often awkward, which only adds to the humor and pathos. It quickly becomes obvious which section he is reading, when every comment and conversation-starter begins with the same letter. His family and friends shake their heads in amusement — or sometimes irritation — yet it neither daunts him nor stops him from his goal. I find myself rooting for him, like cheering for the underdog.

Through his quest, readers not only add to their own repertoire of facts and trivia, they also learn a lot about Jacobs himself, his fears and fantasies, his successes and failures. We are in awe of him and what he is trying to accomplish and at the same time, we feel sorry for him.

If encyclopedias were this amusing and well-written, maybe we’d all be on a humble quest to be the smartest people in the world.

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My Abandonment

One of the best ways to improve writing is to read (and write)! So on occasion I will be blogging about a book for the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Book Nook Blog.

Wrong thing done for right reasons in ‘My Abandonment’
Posted by Jami Carpenter, Las Vegas Review-Journal guest reviewer
Tuesday, Mar. 15, 2011 at 05:00 AM

While waiting for a flight, I was trolling the airport bookstore and spotted “My Abandonment,” a book on my long list of must-reads. And though I can’t recall why I’d put it on my list or how I’d even heard about it, it doesn’t matter. I’m just glad it was.

Through the eyes, ears, and heart of 13-year-old Caroline, author Peter Rock tells a tale — inspired by a true story — of a young girl and her father who lived in a nature preserve in Portland, Ore., for several years before being discovered. Rather than rely on homeless shelters and public assistance, Caroline and her father chose to fend for themselves, creating a modern-day Swiss Family Robinson in the middle of a metropolitan city.
 
Weaving in details from newspaper accounts of actual events, Rock brings to life a world so far removed from my own that I was appalled and awestruck at the same time, like watching a car wreck. Caroline talked about bathing with buckets of water from the stream, sleeping on a mattress in a cave made of branches, taking trips to the city in her “city clothes” to visit the library and buy a few groceries.

In bits and pieces, I learned of her mother’s death and her father’s government pension as a war veteran, but even as she told her story, there was no sadness or anger or envy in her voice. Rock’s heroine may have known what she was missing, but she appreciated all that she had.

As the story progressed, and authorities intervened, I found myself disappointed, almost angry, that their unconventional lifestyle was altered forever. They were given traditional housing, clothing, schooling for Caroline, a job for her father. But they were miserable and soon disappeared off the radar again. I realized then that sometimes the wrong thing can be done for the right reason. And before the plane landed, I had finished this tale, written with such haunting simplicity, and realized, too, that we take so much for granted, and we really need so little.

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