At any given time, in between the novels I read, I thumb through five to eight trivia books simultaneously and all over the house — in bed, in the bathroom, in the den, in the kitchen. As I’ve said before, they make great palate cleansers, especially when I’ve been reading text-heavy narratives, plus they contain snippets that can be read and digested easily, not to mention the convenience of being able to stop at any point of the book and pick it up days or weeks later and just keep on reading. The trivia junkie that I am, these useless bits of information do come in handy from time to time during the weekly quiz nights and the monthly geek fights that I attend.
I finish a batch of trivia books several times in a year, hence the trivia book roundups. Here’s the last bunch from last year, which includes Say Chic; The Bathroom Trivia Book; Be Safe!; Cocktail Party Cheat Sheets; Kiss and Tell; A Year in High Heels; From Altoids to Zima; The TV Guide Book of Lists; The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fun FAQs. These are books 189-198 for 2010, which means I only owe you 6 more book reviews in my 2010 backlog. Hopefully I have the remaining six up by next week so I can move on to my January reads (12 and counting) as well as a surprise in the works for this month (patience!).
Say Chic: A Collection of French Words We Can’t Live Without, by Francoise Blanchard and Jeremy Leven, paperback.
The 411: This book is a compendium of over seventy familiar French words and phrases that have become part of everyday English. Each entry explains the origin of the word or phrase, how it entered the English vocabulary, and the evolution of its meaning. It even has a literal pronunciation guide so you can be sure you’re saying the words correctly. Entries in this book include au pair, c’est la vie, faux pas, joie de vivre, menage a trois, piece de resistance, savoir faire, and dozens of other words and phrases we like to sprinkle in our speech because they make us sound so much better.
My take: French was my foreign language back in college, so I have a smattering of French phrases left over from that time (okay, I can introduce myself in French, ask people if they can speak English because I can’t understand what they’re saying, order French fries and a glass of wine from a restaurant, and purchase a TGV ticket at La Gare du Nord and choose a window seat, hahaha!). I’ve been meaning to take it up again but I haven’t got the time just yet, so this book caught my interest while browsing through the bargain bins.
The entries are only a few paragraphs each; concise but witty and informative, such as this one:
“Et voila! [ey vwa lah] So simple and yet so difficult to translate, the expression et voila most often translates as “and here you are” or “and there you go.” and is used by the French on numerous occasions. The origins of voila are the French verb voir (“to see”) and the preposition la (“there”). The phrase vois la (“look there”) was eventually contracted into voila, a very handy word that applies to practically anyone or anything.
A simple sentence such as “Here They Come” becomes even simpler in French with the phrase Les voila. The reason the English would borrow such a trivial phrase probably has to do with the fact that, while English-speakers do have “So there you are,” it has neither the ring nor efficiency of a well-delivered Et voila.”
Chic line illustrations with red accents add charm to the text.
My rating: 4/5 stars
The 411: This book is one of the many volumes of The Bathroom Library, a series that (according to the introduction) has entertained people for more than twenty years. It’s mostly in a thematic quiz format, with answers on the flip side of the page as well as little bits of trivia called “potshots” as spacefillers.
My take: I have to be honest — I bought it first for the elegant gilded cover because I thought it would be hilarious to stash the book in the bathroom. The quizzes are okay, some are a good mix of general knowledge on of subjects. Some quizzes I skipped though, because they were too convoluted (matching type not a good idea for a bathroom book!), or they asked for very specific information, such as year of invention, and then you had to arrange them into a timeline. Too time-consuming, because trivia is either stuff you know or you don’t, and complex instructions really kill the mood.
My rating: 2/5 stars
The 411: This book addresses a hundred everyday threats and gives readers advice on how to circumvent them. More than just safety precautions, this book tells you how to go out of your way to avoid risking your life — for instance, the safest position for watching tv (6 to 8 feet from the screen), the safest temperature at which to set your refrigerator (40 degrees F or below), the safest way to drink from a soda can (through a straw, after wiping off the top), the safest place to store your toothbrush (in the medicine cabinet), the safest amusement park ride (Ferris Wheel), the safest location on a plane (window seat near the wing), and the safest way to talk on a cell phone (with a headset, holding the phone away from your body).
My take: I was amused at how this book made me feel like such a daredevil, because I hold my (three) cellphones to my ear, i keep my toothbrush on top of the bathroom sink, and I plug more than one appliance in an extension cord. While it certainly is informative (the ten page chapter on the sources was truly astounding), it’s one of those kitschy little books that make you feel it’s pulling your leg even though it’s giving out well-founded (and organization-endorsed) information. Makes a good gift for worrywarts.
My rating: 3/5 stars
The 411: This book is a guide to initiating conversation around the punch bowl, for people who want to impress fellow party attendees with topics such as barbarians, socialist theory, Keynesian economics, the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, and a host of other bits of knowledge. The sections are divided per topic, with basic information presented in an entertaining manner, a pronunciation key, fast facts, and even a guide to opportune moments to bring up a topic, like finally cornering that cute guy in the terrace, and just as your lips are about to meet, you can point to the night sky and wax poetic about Galileo’s heliocentric model of the solar system!
My take: I’ve heard fellow geeks and geekettes waxing poetic about mental_floss, which led me to buy this book from a discount sale. It was informative enough, but the tone a bit too cheeky for my taste, and the style a bit over the top — maybe a shade too sensational — and not as witty as I expected. Nevertheless, it’s a diverse compilation about (mostly) personalities and their contributions to the world.
My rating: 3/5 stars
The 411: This book is a compendium of kissing trivia, including kissing songs, kissing laws, top movie kisses, the Blarney Stone, frog-kissing princesses, kissing across different cultures, kissing cocktails, mistletoe, and more. It’s an astounding amount of kissing information — 128 pages of snippets on smooching!
“No, I don’t think I will kiss you, although you need kissing, badly. That’s what’s wrong with you. You need to be kissed, and often, and by someone who knows how.” – Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) to Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) in Gone with the Wind
My take: My first thought upon finishing this compendium is, I should have saved it for Valentine’s Day! It’s an interesting read, for sure — whoever thought there would be so much trivia available on the subject?!? Particularly interesting is how kissing burns two calories per minute (120 per hour!) and a passionate French kiss works out more than thirty facial muscles; a kissing glossary straight out of the Kama Sutra, and a page on the Philippines reporting the 2004 Lovapalooza with 5327 couples who kissed on the midnight of Valentine’s Day for 10 seconds, and narrating how former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declined ‘hello kisses’ (beso-beso) and announced that the only kisses she would accept would come from her husband!
My rating: 4/5 stars
The 411: A companion volume to How to Walk in High Heels, A Year In High Heels showcases more tips to fabulous living — all year round. Divided into the 12 months of the year, the book is crammed with instructional how-tos, inspiring ideas, fascinating anecdotes, reading list suggestions, shoe trivia; and sensible advice (really!) from month to month. Topics include starting a book club, doing a Valentine’s day solo, getting on the A-list. brushing up on Shakespeare; learning the moonwalk; handling hen nights; wearing haute couture; striking the work/life balance; acquiring the taste for opera; picking a diamond; decking the halls with boughs of holly, and so on. It also features articles contributed by Manolo Blahnik, Diane von Furstenberg, Matthew Williamson, Dita von Teese, Anya Hindmarch and Christian Lacroix.
My take: Over the years, I’ve amassed a growing collection of girl guides and how-to books, but Camilla Morton’s books are still my favorites because they’re not just fluff; they’re wittily written, and they actually give useful tips and explore creative ideas. No dumbing down for Ms. Morton — she’s big on intellectual pursuits such as books, reading, and learning new things.
I also love the monthly structure of this book; I actually started it in January last year, reading one monthly chapter until December, and I looked forward to reading the monthly installments.
My rating: 5/5 stars
The 411: This book is a delightful compilation of the origins of brands that have become everyday household names.The selection ranges from cars to food to clothing and other sundry items, with brands such as Arm & Hammer, Coca-Cola, Jell-O, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Adidas, Gap, Nike, Apple computers, Barnes and Noble, Ebay, Kodak, Random House, Tupperware, Yahoo!, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Mary Kay, Vaseline, and many more!
My take: I had not meant to read this right away, but I had picked it up from the book bazaar and was waiting in line for a cab when I started to flip through this book. Before I knew it I was flipping page after page in fascination. The stories behind the most successful brand names are fluke-y and weird, like how 7-Up actually started out as Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda, or how Steve Jobs had his heart set on naming the Mac the “Apple Bicycle,” and the entries are quick reads, with a drolly entertaining humor. Although, yeah, it’s a bit disconcerting to note just how much our day to day life is dominated by brand names.
My rating: 4/5 stars
The 411: This is the list book for couch potatoes, by couch potatoes. The book contains about 50 years of television trivia by the largest weekly circulation magazine in the world, with 21 million readers each week. This is a Hollywood pop culture extravaganza, with lists such as soap characters that returned from the dead, inside info on The Amazing Race and Big Brother; TV’s Hottest Doctors; Secret Stars of the Simpsons; 50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of all Time; 50 Greatest Shows of All Time; Greatest Game Shows; Cranky Characters; and Jump the Shark Moments.
My take: I’m not a big TV person because I don’t really have time for a regular viewing schedule, but I do follow a bunch of shows every year(currently it’s The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, Glee and Hellcats; and I do check in with the reality shows Iron Chef, Project Runway, America’s Next Top Model, and The Amazing Race from time to time). This book is great for the TV geeks, as it spans several decades and covers all the wildly successful shows, issues, events, and personalities. The book is dated 2007 though, so it misses out on a whole lot of Bazinga.
My rating: 3/5 stars
The 411: This Idiot’s Guide to trivia contains hundreds of amusing questions and surprising answers on entertainment, life, sports, people and names, science, food and drink, words, travel and places, fun and games, and miscellany. The book reveals the first animated character to co-host the Academy Awards (Donald Duck); the title of the Jeopardy theme (Time, for Tony); why men’s and women’s shirts button on different sides (traditionally, women were dressed by maids while men dressed themselves); the real first name of Tiger Woods (Eldrick); Queen Elizabeth’s full title (Queen Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of Commonwealth, Defender of Faith); the most venomous insect (harvester ant); the longest words that can be spelled using only Roman numerals (CIVIC, CIVIL, LIVID, MIMIC and VIVID), and other trivial information.
My take: Technically speaking, the questions in this book are not really Frequently Asked (as the authors explain in the preface), but I enjoyed the effort of this book to stay true to the nature of trivia, as I love the fact that this book contains some of the most useless information I’ve ever read (and that’s a huge compliment). Presentation wise, I prefer better-designed books (but I’m guessing they had to keep with the Idiot’s Guide stylesheets), but I love the originality of the content in this book, because I’ve read a lot of trivia books that just repeat things you can find in every other compendium and cease being trivia because practically everyone knows them already!
My rating: 4/5 stars