A few weeks ago, I wrote a brief review of the first sixth of John Hodgman’s recent book, That Is All. I’ll summarize: I found it funny (silly, actually) and not really worth time I would have preferred to devote to literature that aimed higher.
Even so, I continued to plod through the book a few pages at a time, mostly while on the toilet, really in much the same way that one flips through the joke sections of Reader’s Digest while on the toilet. Tonight, I found myself torn between reading more of Hodgman’s book (I had about 90 pages left) and reading something I thought I’d really find nourishing. I hunkered down and basically speed-read the next 50 pages. I should pause and note that this is not a book that lends itself to speed-reading. Full of tables and footnotes and asides and a running calendrical storyline at the tops of the pages, it’s actually something of a chore to get through. And the information itself is often so bizarre, usually purposefully incorrect, forcing you to stay pretty alert or risk missing out on a lot of the humor. Essentially, it’s a book that demands a lot of attention while giving you very little back in return. In a word, it has been infuriating.
But tonight, between two sections titled “The End” and “The Beginning,” I began to catch a whiff of redemption. After all that silliness, Hodgman lays down something like this:
If you live, as I do, in a city that is not only full of intrinsic dangers (falling pianos), but also prone to natural disasters and targeted by violent extremists; and if you, as I do, enjoy a family history of cancer or some other congenital disease; and if you are, as I am, sedentary and overweight and over-asthmatic (as I assume you must be, as you are reading a book) … [ellipsis Hodgmans’s]
ALL OF WHICH IS TO SAY that if you are, as I am, a mortal human, then the likelihood that death will intrude upon your life cruelly, quickly, and before your chosen time — that it will take you before your own personal story for the world has unfolded the way you wrote it or it was written for you, and before you can even say goodbye — this likelihood is greater than you admit… [ellipsis mine]
Life may be miraculous in its unlikelihood in the universe, but it would be a fallacy to suggest that its rareness makes it inextinguishable.
This is the manner in which Hodgman closes “The End” before moving on to the “The Beginning” (which is the end — eat your heart out Burnt Norton). In the final section, Hodgman gives us a true and proper narrative, a story that made me slow my reading back down even while negotiating the silly calendrical top-matter and actually begin to enjoy the book. It was beginning to seem a worthwhile read (and then it ended; that was, I suppose, all).
Even with redemption in the air, I can’t say that I liked the book. I sort of hated it, as a matter of fact, until the final sprint. Or, I was amused by many of the little pieces that made up the book, but I resented the the thing as a whole. As I said in my initial impression linked above, any batch of a dozen pages of the book would have made a funny blog post, but I sure didn’t need them together all at once. I won’t read any of Hodgman’s earlier books, but if he wrote another in the mode he adopted toward the end of That Is All, I’d snap it right up.