I’ve thrived on a steady diet of trivia books since childhood, because I’ve always been a sucker for useless information.
The compulsive book-finisher that I am, I like trivia books because I can read them in fits and starts, and I don’t have to worry about losing the storyline. They’re also great for cleansing the palate in between books, warding off boredom in the middle of a book thats difficult to finish, or getting some breathing spac (erm, procrastinating much?) while taking on a tedious task — in my case, that’s often writing, or painting.
I just finished four of these books around roughly the same time: Lang’s Compendium of Culinary Nonsense and Trivia by George Lang; The Book of General Ignorance (A Quite Interesting Book) by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson; The Monopoly Companion by Philip Orbanes and Rich Uncle Pennybags; and How to Become Ridiculously Well-Read in One Evening: A Collection of Literary Encapsulations compiled and edited by E.O. Parrott (books #162-165 for 2009).
Lang’s Compendium of Culinary Nonsense and Trivia is a delightful little book filled with juicy tidbits about food collected by restaurateur, gourmet and gastronome George Lang. I found it, where else, in a bargain bin, for P40 (US$ 0.80), but it had been in my bookmooch wishlist for months.
With an introduction by language expert William Safire (who, sadly, passed away this year at age 79), this compendium is a 10-course (ok, chapter!) feast for people who love to read about food (that’s me!), broken down into bite-sized passages that are a real pleasure to read.
Here are some interesting bits of information from the book:
- Ladies from the court of Louis XI ate broths exclusively because they were afraid chewing would develop ugly facial muscles!
- In China, not slurping your soup is considered bad manners
- Roman chefs were spanked when their dishes were considered unsatisfactory
- In Egypt, priests sworn to celibacy were forbidden to even look at lentil beans
- The expression ”to make both ends meet” pertains to knotting the two ends of a table napkin around the neck
- In 19th century England, the remedy for whooping cough was a piece of moldy bread
- A person who drinks too much can be called drunk, intoxicated, fuddled, muddled, muzzy, noddy-headed, ginnified, bosky, bemused, cherry-merry, coxy-foxy, chocked or overseen, reely tipsy, merry, half-boosy, half-seas-over, half-and-half or flatch kennurd, top-heavy, cup-sprung, cup-shot, pot-valiant, full of Dutch courage, in his armor, pot-sure, pot-hardy, maudlin, groggy, a jolly-dog, chirping-merry, prime, mellow, spreeish, corked (or corky), rather high titty, in drink, under the table, or stewed.
It’s one of the better trivia books I’ve read, with the information chosen and organized carefully, and a good balance of descriptive foodie writing — you just know the person who wrote it really loves food — and intelligent humor.
The second trivia book in this review series is The Book of General Ignorance, a book focused on debunking what people think is general knowledge, with a brave banner statement: ”Everything you think you know is wrong,” and dares you to go through the humiliation of finding out that what you hold as universal truths are actually a load of hogwash.
I mooched this book last year and it’s taken me a while to finish it because it’s quite thick, with nearly three hundred pages of detailed information, answering 230 different questions researched by the highly curious people at QI (for Quite Interesting), an organization that believes in nurturing curiosity, discovery and humour.
QI is actually a British comedy panel game show on BBC, where “questions are impossible to answer, but at least the guest panel of top-shelf comedians can laugh at themselves (and the universe in general) while trying.” The book is based on the contest’s final round, where easy questions which have obvious but wrong answers.
This book reveals information such as:
- You cannot see the Great Wall of China from the moon (or even from space, after the first few thousand miles).
- Albanian dogs go ham ham; in Catalan, dogs go bup, bup. Chinese dogs say wang wang, Greek dogs go gav gav, Slovenians hov hov and Ukrainians haf haf. In iceland it’s voff, in Indonesia, it’s gong gong, and in Italian it’s bau bau.
- The number of the beast is 616, not 666.
- Centipedes have odd-numbered pairs of legs ranging from 15 to 191 pairs, and not one has been found with exactly 100 legs.
- Work is a bigger killer than drink, drugs, or war. About 2 million people die every year from work-related accidents and diseases, as opposed to 650,000 who are killed in wars.
- Strawberries are not berries
- A blue whale cannot swallow anything bigger than a grapefruit.
The book is certainly interesting, but I wished they grouped the information in topics rather than going the continuous question and answer route, which is kind of tiresome. As there’s no topic index (just a list of questions), looking up a particular topic of interest, or even looking for an answer to a particular question is a challenge.
I normally like British humor but this book is quite dry, maybe a bit too British for an international audience. There’s also a bit of smugness to it that can rub the “ignorant” the wrong way.
Next up is The Monopoly Companion, which caught my eye while I was browsing in yet another bargain bin (only P45!). I’ve loved the game Monopoly since I was a kid, and our family has owned at least three boards of the game because we all loved running each other down to the last cent.
It features the Monopoly “mascot” Rich Uncle Pennybags — that bald, mustached gentleman in coattails and a top hat.
Rich Uncle Pennybags tells all in this exclusive by Philip Orbanes, including the real Monopoly rules (and variations on how to play them); tip-sheets on the best properties (including a scary calculation on their payback values); general game tips; ideas for Monopoly parties (including recipes!); lists of world Monopoly tournament champions; and lots of random Monopoly trivia.
Some Monopoly factoids:
- The longest Monopoly game ever played (with substitutions) took 59 days
- Over 100 million Monopoly boards have been sold worldwide
- The most expensive set: solid gold, worth $25,000.
- In 1978, Neiman Marcus produced a chocolate set, valued at $600.
- The jailed character is named Jake the Jailbird
- Escape maps, compasses and files were inserted into Monopoly boards smuggled into POW camps inside Germany during WW2. Real money for the escapees was slipped into the packs of Monopoly money.
- The Monopoly set is based on actual street names of Atlantic City.
It’s a great book for a Monopoly lovers, and Rich Uncle Pennybags really comes to life! And best of all — the book is precisely measured to fit under the platform of the board game, except maybe not the new-fangled foldable ones (which unfortunately is the set we have).
The last book in this review series is How to Become Ridiculously Well-Read in One Evening, a book that just came for me via BookMooch, and I wasted no time in perusing it. This is not exactly a trivia book, but since I haven’t read a third of the books in the list, a lot of it is trivia to me (haha!).
It’s a thin compilation of, as the title suggests, over a hundred clever summaries of popular classics in “verse or prose, parody or pastiche, limerick or haiku, cautionary tale or letter — anything went so long as the desired result was achieved,” written by some 40 authors who regularly contributed to literary competitions, a lot of them literature majors, academics, and journalists.
It is candidly described as a ”superbly efficient book that allows one to savor the wealth of great literature without the time-consuming tedium of having to read it,” although, of course, we all know that the ones who will probably enjoy it most are those who’ve actually read the books.
Here’s a sample entry written by Mary Holtby on the book I just finished reading tonight, Pride and Prejudice (for the FFP book discussion on Saturday) — and prepare your best British accent for reading it:
“Marry well”, is Bennet tenet: Bingley singly must remain
Since classy Darcy (Lizzy-dizzy) thinks he’s far too good for Jane.
Rummy mummy, jaunty aunty, these would drag both gallants down —
Plus the younger siblings’ dribblings over officers in town.
See the specious Wickham trick ’em with his tales of birthright gloom,
See how hideous Lydia’s ruin looms before she gets her groom;
Glassy Darcy saves the bacon, shaken out of former pride:
Is he Lizzy’s destined love, to shove her prejudice aside?
Has she clout to flout that matron, patroness of priestly coz
(He whose ludicrous proposing Rosings rules — like all he does)?
Darcy oughter court her daughter, destined his through two decades…
“Mulish, foolish girl, remember Pemberley’s polluted shades!”
Dare she share his great estate, or can’t Aunt Catherine be defied?
Yes! and ere the bells ring jingly, Bingley too shall claim his bride.
It reminds me of ShrinkLits, a similar book that encapsulates classics in funny poems, but I like the diversity of formats in this book — reading poetry straight from cover to cover drives me nuts, and the variety keeps it interesting.
It’s highly entertaining, and you really do become ”ridiculously well-read in one evening,” and rather than being content with this entertaining volume, I want to go and read more of the books now that I have a succinct idea of what they’re about (dangerous thought!).
Interestingly, Mr. Parrott has similar compilations for opera and poetry, and now I want to get them too!
That’s all the trivia I have for you now, but in a few months I’ll have another set, as I’m working my way through another bunch now — I told you, I’m a sucker for useless information!
My copies: Lang’s Compendium of Culinary Nonsense and Trivia, hardcover with dustjacket; The Book of General Ignorance, hardcover with dustjacket; The Monopoly Companion, trade paperback; How to Become Ridiculously Well-Read in One Evening, trade paperback
My rating: Lang’s Compendium of Culinary Nonsense and Trivia, 5/5 stars; The Book of General Ignorance, 3/5 stars; The Monopoly Companion, 3/5 stars; How to Become Ridiculously Well-Read in One Evening, 4/5 stars