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Literature / The Areas of My Expertise

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"All of the historical oddities and amazing true facts contained herein are lies, made up by me — and it is this astonishing innovation that allows each entry to contain more truths than if it were merely factual... Truth may be stranger than fiction, goes the old saw, but it is never as strange as lies, or for that matter, as true. Proof of which maxim is the fact that I just made it up."

Short for:
An Almanac of Complete World Knowledge Compiled with Instructive Annotation and Arranged in Useful Order by Me, John Hodgman, a Professional Writer, in the Areas of My Expertise, which Include: Matters Historical; Matters Literary; Matters Cryptozoological; Hobo Matters; Food, Drink, & Cheese (a Kind of Food); Squirrels & Lobsters & Eels; Haircuts; Utopia; What Will Happen in the Future; and Most Other Subjects; Illustrated with a Reasonable Number of Tables and Figures, and Featuring the Best of "Were You Aware of It?", John Hodgman's Long-Running Newspaper Novelty Column of Strange Facts and Oddities of the Bizarre.

As the name implies, it is a book of trivia written by John Hodgman, better known as a PC, and as The Daily Show's "Resident Expert". Every single fact in it is a lie ... or is it?

It is intelligent, absurd humour, and primarily a parody of Poor Richard's Almanack, written by Benjamin Franklin, and more broadly, a pastiche of almanacks and trivia books in general. In order to properly get every joke in it, you'd need to take a course. (In fact, one can imagine students in the far future doing so. ELL 321: Early 21st Century Comedy: John Hodgman).

The audiobook version, which in many ways is even more hilarious, is read by Hodgman in his trademark deadpan style. It also features Jonathan Coulton singing the book's theme song, the songs of the various American states, and generally acting as Hodgman's foil and straightman throughout.

The first in the Complete World Knowledge trilogy, followed by More Information Than You Require and That is All.

Hodgman also gives us The Fifty-Five Dramatic Situations:

Man/Woman v. Man/Woman Man/Woman v. Nature Man/Woman v. Society Man/Woman v. Him-/Herself Man/Woman v. Cyborgs
Boy vs. Girl Mountains thwart progress A stranger comes to town Triumph over ennui Threat of cyborgs from the future
Cop v. Rookie Zoo animals attack zookeepers A town springs up magically around a stranger Success thwarted by phobia Threat of present-day cyborgs
Magicians v. Detectives All animals attack all humans Society persecutes inventor of revolutionary fabric or vehicle Hero must choose between excellent sexual partner and stable companion Return of Civil War-era cyborgs that are powered by steam
Teacher v. Unruly class; both learn lessons Hunted by tornadoes Self-satisfied loner flouts irrational laws, reveals absurdity of society, congratulates self Past life reasserts itself Cyborg fights the man within
Pursuit throughout life by a French constable whose determination exceeds his reason Volcanoes come to town Hero is chased by townspeople bearing torches Hero wonders if closest friend is actually his archenemy, then lives in fear Man seeks control of his own cybernetic brain
Country Mouse v. City Mouse One partially blinded by bear seeks revenge Person living in two-dimensional world encourages embrace of third dimension and is shunned A horrible physical deformity is overcome, only to be revealed that it is all in the protagonist's imagination Only the hero can see the cyborgs who secretly run our government and media
Devil worshippers v. Apartment dwellers Wilderness becomes crucible in which asthmatic learns to grow a beard Conscience prevents acceptance of Human Resources One partially blinded by bear overcomes need for revenge Family discovers pet to be cyborg
Rivals in business become partners in bed The ocean arrives to put an end to well-laid plans True talent overlooked in favour of kiss-asses Struggle to overcome the effects of brainwashing/hypnosis Young, handsome cyborg Army officer kills his own family, blames hippies
Former lovers who are archeologists seek same ancient curio Petty jealousy inspires tireless pursuit of whale New numbering system for clones proves problematic for non-clones Everything turns out to be a dream Man creates cyborg who wishes to become a real boy
Evil cousins thwart romance Saint Bernards come first as rescuers, then reveal themselves as enemies Shark loves Jet (also can be Man v. Nature or Nature v. Technology) Body part is severed, gains mind of its own: Watch out Cyborg servants turn on master
Professional debunker v. Popular spoon-bending psychic Snakes lie in wait Child raised by Saint Bernard assassins seeks acceptance and forgiveness of human society Hero in coma seeks to solve own murder, discovers culprit is himself Cyborgs seek fortune on Broadway, settle for bartending gig, and learn much about human life

This book provides examples (and parodies) of:

  • Alien Geometries: One house with a 666 phone number is described as having no right angles.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: Subverted: The Skulls and Bones are said to have failed in their bid for world domination, and now spend all their time masturbating and tending to the pterodactyls on their private island. The Masonic symbols allegedly hidden in Washington DC's architecture are also parodied.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: The Hoboes voiced their displeasure with the government by whistling behind the White House, writing illiterate editorials to newspapers, and summoning dust storms to destroy the midwest.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": There was a species of otter called a "lobster", now driven to extinction by the New Lobsters. There's also a joke about how during the 1920s, when "gorilla" was a slang term for tough guy, the term for an actual gorilla was "mega-chimp".
  • The Con:
    • One involves impersonating a Ninja and requires, as part of the con, the summoning of Mons.
    • Another requires several thousand people and the cooperation of the subject's family.
    • Another requires control of the weather.
    • And one requires a ferret.
    • And one involves three-card monte. With a collaborator posing as the table.
  • Complexity Addiction: A common malady amongst conmen, given some of the schemes they come up with.
  • Cool Airship: President Hoover's hoveryacht in the Caspian Sea.
  • Glurge: Invoked and parodied with the Six Oaths of the Virtuous Child, which start off unsettling and get gradually more bizarre as the Child fashions itself into a sharp-toothed, pious killing machine.
    Today shall not be wasted. I shall rise before the sun so that I may then watch my family as they slumber, with intent, waiting eyes.
    I shall honor my mother today, and I shall tell father he is powerful.
    Today I shall be clean. I shall not touch my teeth, knowing that the oils of my skin shall cause them to disintegrate. I shall instead hone them, with a good steel, twice after prayers.
    I shall be a faithful child, and I shall ever make science my enemy. Also, eels.
    At day, I shall perform my chores and duties happily. And if I see an eel, I shall kill it.
    At night, I shall dream of more labor, and in my sleep I shall smile with sharpened teeth, knowing that today has not been wasted.
  • Homage:
    • The mountains of Colorado (state nickname: The Dwarrowdelf) are described as "large and fairly Balrog-free".
    • When describing the correct manner of raising rabbits, Hodgman describes the phenomenon of El-Ahrairah worship
    • When building a snow fort, "watch out for wampas."
    • Repeated references to Doctor Who, including using a picture of Cybermen for "typical cyborg mischief".
    • Repeated references to the Evil Dead series, such as the claim that George W. Bush has a chainsaw for a hand. John Hodgman was Bruce Campbell's literary agent, and Campbell is listed as an expert consulted on the subject of fake blood (likely not a joke).
  • Joisey: Listed as the "Too-easy-to-Mock State".
  • Stock Ness Monster: Averted. The Loch Ness Monster is fairly small and roughly humanoid.
  • Take That!:
    • Parodied with the "attack ad" segments, in which he jokingly accuses Jonathan Coulton of being an awful catsitter, and another person of masturbating out a window on two separate occasions, while John Hodgman has only masturbated out a window once. Also, one of the Hobo Names is Nick Nolte.
    • More Information Than You Require takes this even further. That is All brings the Nick Nolte Take That! to its inevitable conclusion declaring him a cosmic horror.
  • Thunderbird: The 51st state, Hohoq, is a clouded floating plateau inhabited by airplane-sized thunderbirds that shoot lightning from their eyes.
  • Weasel Mascot: Fig. 22: "Let's Use My Ferret To Steal That Diamond..."