John Hodgman, More Information Than You Require (Dutton Adult, 2008)
John Hodgman is a liar. But not in the way that you think. Hodgman, the straight-laced comedian best known as the PC in the Mac “switch” ads, has just released More Information Than You Require, the second part of what is apparently going to be a three volume fake-fact-filled almanac. This follows his first book, The Areas of My Expertise, in which Hodgeman waxed ludicrous about wonderful made-up oddities such as “furry lobsters,” the “Great Hobo Wars,” and “Yale University” (oddly enough, it turns out that two of these actually exist).
In More Information, Hodgman continues to blur the line between fact and fiction, picking up where he left off tonally, but addressing a range of funny new topics, including the Electoral College, advice on how to be famous, and a history of the democratic influence of Mole Men.
The book is designed and loosely organized like a 19th-century almanac, with copious font sizes, charts and side-bars, “helpful” lists, important phrases capitalized for emphasis, etc. As a conceit, it works mostly because he manages not to overdo it too much, letting the humor come from the material more than its arrangement on the page.
But it isn’t the falsity of facts that makes Hodgman a liar. His deception involves what his book is and how it should be read. Despite the continued pagination and references to earlier material, More Information is not really a continuation of The Areas as much as it is its own book. And that’s a good thing. Hodgman’s “second volume” rightfully takes the fake almanac form in new directions.
Nor does he stick strictly to ersatz facts. Much of the book’s middle is dedicated to musings on his new rise to stardom as a “famous minor television personality” (the first book was written before Hodgman landed his “switch ad” role, or had any real television exposure). These parts are not only obviously true, they are also heartfelt, and surprisingly touching. Hodgman explains how unsettling it is to be recognized, how bizarre it is to meet other famous people, and how out of place it feels to become famous late in life, after youthful expectations of greatness have largely vanished. Also, there are interesting additions to the counterfeit-almanac style. Most noticeably, he includes a “This Day in History” feature on every page that interweaves funny little bits of fake calendar trivia with a tense story about feuding magical weathermen in Milwaukee and Richmond in the late ’70s.
Yet the book contains an even more profound lie: despite the packaging, copious tables, shifting fonts, and (most damning, perhaps) the book’s placement in the Humor section, More Information Than You Require is a more involved read than it suggests. It is not merely a gag book—a flip-through bathroom reader akin to The Onion’s Our Dumb World or The Daily Show’s America: A Citizen's Guide To Democracy Inaction. It turns out that Hodgman’s book is substantial, and a piecemeal reader might not pick up on the underlying narratives that suffuse Hodgman’s work. The fake histories of mole-men, hobos, and Presidents interweave, referencing and influencing each other. There are stories enough in the book for three or four different novels, and the careful reader will discover narrative arcs as detailed as in any decent piece of fiction, with characters emerging and interacting with the vast, odd world Hodgman has created.
That world continues expanding—several Internet fan sites have risen up to detail and expand upon the hobo mythology that Hodgman invented in his first book, and it seems inevitable that more acolytes will arrive to unpack the tight universe inside this new almanac as well. If that isn’t high praise, I don’t know what is.
CHRISTOPHER MICHEL is a writer and stay-at-home dad. He lives in Brooklyn's secret Chinatown.
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