A type of insult, this is a shorthand way of saying what a character is NOT capable of. The implication is that, if a certain person were to write this book, it would have little or no content because they can't do what the title says. These are typically cruel to the purported "author", which is why we're limiting this to appearances in works of fiction.
Sometimes the title says it all ("The Amish Phone Directory"), and sometimes the author of the book is the key ("What I Wouldn't Do for Money" by Dennis Rodman). Occasionally inverted where what someone doesn't know is said to be a large book. (Which, in Real Life would be the case for everyone because there is an incredible amount of information in the universe that you would need to have an astonishingly huge mental capacity to retain it.)
Contrast Wrote the Book. Similar in spirit to A Rare Sentence. Not to be confused with Pamphlet Shelf, which is when books in video games have only a few pages if that.
Should be limited to examples that appear in fiction.
- Non-book example in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX. When Judai is dueling the Duel Spirit Kaibaman, who has just summoned one of the real Kaiba's Dragons, Manjyome remarks, "this could be a very short duel..." (Actually, as far as duels in the series go, it's average-length, but Judai loses.)
- A non-book example from The Jungle Book (1967):
Bagheera: And just how do you think he (Mowgli) will survive?
Baloo: "How do you think he will"... What do you mean how do you think he... He's with me, ain't he? And I'll learn him all I know.
Bagheera: Oh? That shouldn't take long.
- Ratatouille has an inversion when Remy explains to his brother Emile why he reads.
Emile: Oh, man. Does Dad know?
Remy: You could fill a book - a lot of books - with things Dad doesn't know. And they have. Which is why I read. Which is also our secret.
- Done in the form of a visual gag in Airplane! with "Famous Jewish Sporting Legends". It's just a pamphlet.
- George of the Jungle has this, as shown in the page quote.
- The Knowledge: The melancholy character of Titanic says that he could write a book on happiness, which would be be the cheapest book on the market, with no pages in it.
- Played With in Real Life by the book Everything Men Know About Women by Dr. Alan Francis & Cindy Cashman. It's completely blank.
- From Reaper Man: the Dean claims that The Librarian can't come along on a mission to rescue Windle Poons from the living shopping mall because he "doesn't know the a thing about guerilla warfare" The Librarian responds by making "a surprisingly expressive gesture to indicate that that, on the other hand, what he didn't know about orangutan warfare could possibly be written on the very small pounded-up remains of, for example, the Dean."
- An inversion from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:
"I am not aware that it is any of your business what goes on in my house—"
"I expect what you're not aware of would fill several books, Dursley," growled Moody.
- When the protagonist of Does My Head Look Big in This? is taunted by Tia Thompson about her religion, she makes an offhand comment about finding the shortest book she ever read called "My Thoughts by Tia Thompson". Tia gives up for the time being.
- Bill Cosby's I Am What I Ate...and I'm Frightened! has a single page, blank except for the chapter heading, for the chapter entitled "Moderation".
- In the fourth Spellsinger novel, Paths of the Perambulator, a cage of insults tries to taunt Mudge with "tell me everything you know, it won't take very long." However, Mudge just fires back "I'll tell you everything we both know. It won't take any longer."
- Referenced in Fawlty Towers with the character Johnson in "The Psychiatrist," who says the guidebook about interesting things in Torquay must be "one of the world's shortest books," like "The Wit of Margaret Thatcher" or "Great English Lovers."
- On The Golden Girls, Blanche finds out that her sister's new romance novel is based on Blanche's sex life.
Dorothy: I'd kill Gloria if she ever wrote a book about my sexual escapades.Sophia: You'd kill your sister over a pamphlet?
- On I Love Lucy, when Lucy decides to write a novel:
Lucy: I'm writing about things I know.Ethel: That won't be a novel, that'll be a short story!
- Whose Line Is It Anyway?:
Drew Carey: The shortest book ever written.
Chip Esten: British Dentistry.
Wayne Brady: Huh, The Life and Times of Gary Coleman.
Ryan Stiles: Drew Carey's Acting Tips.
- Match Game tended to have questions worded like, "Did you hear about the world's shortest book? It's called (insert title here), and it's written by [BLANK]."
- Inverted in a Castle second season episode:
Beckett: Oh, Castle, the things you don't know about me could fill a book.
- Played with in A Bit of Fry and Laurie; Laurie goes to a library to check out the book The West Indies: A Nation of Cricketers, and discovers that it reads only "The West Indies aren't much good at cricket." But it's not because they really aren't; it's because the book has been vandalized by nationalistic librarians who refuse to admit that England is capable of losing at cricket.
- Dynamite, a magazine aimed at pre-teens from 1974-92 sold in those "Arrow Books" flyers they gave out in elementary school, did an article like this. "The Joy of Homework" was one title, as was something like "My Greatest Baseball Victories" by Charlie Brown.
- MAD occasionally had a shelf of these, usually political- or current events-themed. A few examples:
- "Etiquette" by Lyndon Johnson
- "Truths I Have Told" by Richard Nixon
- "MAD Magazine's Contributions to American Culture"
- Nixon was also the subject of a National Lampoon one not long after his resignation that claimed that the new book "Friends of Richard Nixon" was one page shorter than "Famous Antarctic Television Personalities of the Eighteenth Century." It went on to note that then-President Gerald Ford said he had been "reading it all week, finding it challenging in its scope."
- In one Pearls Before Swine strip, Rat writes a book about what men want. There is one single page with the word "SEX" in all caps.
Rat: "It would have been shorter, but I included a paragraph about beer."
- In one Calvin and Hobbes strip:
Calvin: On today's agenda, we'll make a list of what girls are good for. Obviously this will be a short meeting!
- Played with in Dilbert. Dogbert is writing an encyclopedia, but its mostly on him. Although he has a section on Canada which simply says "Canada has trees." This was, incidentally, before the advent of the common wiki.
- In The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged), one of the players announces a reading of "the funniest sections of the book of Job." Awkward silence ensues, because, of course, the book of Job doesn't have any funny parts. Another compares the Book of Ruth to other short books like Great Moments of Tolerance in the Old Testament and Positive Images of Women in the Bible.
- Life Ain't No Pony Farm gives us the author's secrets and success story.
- Inverted in Schlock Mercenary:
Tagon: Vog, you're about a zillion years old. What you don't know can probably be written on the back of your hand.
- Inverted in The Order of the Stick, when Roy makes a couple assumptions about Haley.
Roy: Woah, you?! Helping someone other than yourself? I don't believe it!
Haley: Excuse me? (Angrily) Since when did you become the ultimate authority on me? If you took everything you don't know about me, and put it all together, it would get a -16 size penalty to AC!
- Another inversion, from The Simpsons:
Helen Lovejoy: I wasn't aware the rocket sled was an Olympic event.Bart: No offense lady, but what you don't know could fill a warehouse.