Mr. Smarty Pants

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that not one of you is wondering why I haven’t been writing as often on this here website as I used to. Well, I’m going to tell you why, anyway.

It’s not because I don’t have enough time. Never had enough time. And it’s not because I’ve lost interest. The sad truth is that I have too much interest—but it’s the kind of interest that is easily diverted, distracted, and detained. Also, newer, smaller, nimbler online publishing mechanisms such as Twitter have jostled their way into my attention. Twitter enforces a 140-character limit on every entry, which basically ensures that no one publishes anything of consequence. Ephemera only, please. Here’s an analogy: Twitter is to blog is to letter (as in “snail mail”) as methamphetamine is to mojito is to single malt scotch.

But enough of this navel-gazing meta-blogging.

The Know-It_All

A couple weeks ago I set a goal for myself—to read a book in its entirety. Any book. It has been at least three months since I have done that. Bad sign. The book I’m working on now is called The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. The title made me a little skeptical, but after reading just a few pages, I fell in love with it. The author, A.J Jacobs, is hilarious. The book chronicles his attempt to read the Encyclopædia from A to Z. Each letter of the alphabet gets its own chapter, in which Jacobs discusses a handful of the more interesting, bizarre, inspiring, or creepy entries. Throughout it all, he weaves in a personal narrative about his self-improvement plan and the reactions he gets from his wife and friends and complete strangers when he tries to regale them with anecdotes from his new storehouse of knowledge.

The book is making me realize all over again how very little I know. For example, if you asked me before yesterday what the northernmost state in the USA is, I would have been able to tell you that it is Alaska. But, if you asked what the westernmost state is, I probably would have guessed Hawaii. Easternmost? My guess would have been Maine. But the correct answer to all three questions is Alaska!

Every once in a while, he discusses an entry that I know a little bit about. And, as pathetic as it may be, I get a giddy joy from it. When he gets to the entry on John Hanson, a smile sweeps across my face, because I already know that he, not George Washington, was the first president of the United States. But after I read it, while riding on the bus to work, the smile turns to laughter.

He’s sometimes referred to as the first president of the United States, thanks to his role as president of the Continental Congress in 1781. The first president wasn’t George Washington—that’s a good fact to mention at the bar, assuming you want to get kicked in the groin and have your glasses broken.

It’s a good thing I don’t have to worry about laughing uproariously in public and looking like some kind of lunatic, because half of the other people on the bus are manically rocking back and forth or talking to themselves (or unseen others) at the top of their lungs.

This book is right up my alley—light, funny, condensed. I just hope I can finish it.


I forgot to mention how I knew about John Hanson being the first president of the United States. He was a Swede. By the way, so was Jonas Bronck, the guy after whom the Bronx was named.

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5 Responses to Mr. Smarty Pants

  1. tracy says:

    karl, i was at least one person wondering why you haven’t been posting as much! and i’m realllyyy thinking about twitter myself… you might have totally convinced me.

  2. Josh says:

    It’s funny, I use that Alaska trivia question all the time and I don’t think I’ve come across one person who ever got the answer right (I don’t remember where I first heard it though).
    I’ve also found my blogging suffering (not that I ever did much to begin with) but most of my thoughts are small ones anyway much more conducive to Twitter.
    By the way I just started following you on Twitter.

  3. Diane says:

    Read a book!? How radical! I have the same goal for myself, but you are one step ahead. Having gotten the book. And started it.
    As my fake son (Fabio) would say, LOL!

  4. Becki Meyer Veal says:

    I just learned about John Hanson (the first of seven “presidents” before Washington) last week– from a Haitian refugee during a social studies reading in an ESL class! Crazy.
    I’m glad you’re posting again. I always look forward to reading your thoughts…

  5. Karl says:

    Wonderful blog, thoroughly enjoyed it — and have subscribed. Hurrah for the rules of English :)

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