An Essay Recommending John Hodgman's New Book
That Sadly Ends Up Being Mostly About Me
by: Max Burbank
The essay you are now reading began life as an intention to write an email to John Hodgman in praise of his recently released book, 'More Information Than You Require', a continuation of his previously released venture, 'The Areas of My Expertise'.
Fan email really, but fan email I have a reasonable expectation he would respond to because he is a very pleasant person, which I can say with some authority as I SLIGHTLY KNOW HIM.
If you know who I'm talking about, (or 'of whom I speak', if you suffer from the 'English Disease') I imagine you now hold me in slightly higher esteem. Unless you already held me in maximum esteem, or perhaps you know who John Hodgman is, but don't find him all that impressive. That is certainly your prerogative, esteem being subjective, or it would be if not for one key matter, that esteem, while hermeneutic, turns out to be absolute.
You may think you don't know who I'm talking about, but you do, and I'll prove it. After I remind you that I am not 'talking' to you at all, I am writing. The voice in your head is not my voice, but rather what you imagine I sound like. Unless you are one of those terrible people who can't read without mumbling the words aloud under their breath, in which case let me be the first to tell you, it does not make you invisible, by which I mean I can see you doing it and so can everyone else.
See? You do know who John Hodgman is. Perhaps you know him from his appearances as 'The Resident Expert' on 'The Daily Show'.
Perhaps you saw him in an advertisement promoting the movie 'Baby Mama', or even in the movie itself, which I made the effort to see in the theater. Perhaps you even purchased 'Baby Mama' for your daughter on 'The Blue Ray' for Christmas, as I did, by way of my bride buying it, wrapping it, and putting it under the tree, although I am a Jew, non-practicing, to the point of Unitarianism.
Undoubtedly you have seen him portraying the 'PC' in the very popular Macintosh 'Mac and PC' ad campaign. This ad campaign can be seen on the television machine, and even the Internet machine, the device upon which you are reading this essay.
I however, knew of him BEFORE all that, for his writing! I say (write) this not to make myself look more erudite than you, but in hopes you will understand that I am. Which one of us used the word 'hermeneutic' very nearly correctly?
I have followed John Hodgman's writing with great pleasure for some time ever since I e-stumbled across his work on McSweeney's Internet Tendency, a web site you might enjoy if you are a fan of my work but are looking for something a bit more 'high tone'. Also, I later discovered, I already KNEW WHO HE WAS, BUT DID NOT KNOW IT!
Several years ago, I heard a wonderful story on 'This American Life' (a radio program you might enjoy if you are a fan of my work, are looking for something a bit 'higher tone' and are illiterate) where a soft voiced gentleman described the process by which he became Bruce Campbell's literary agent. If you do not immediately know 'of whom I speak' this time, (and you should, as Bruce Campbell is more solidly in your 'demographic') here is a picture:
I very much enjoyed that radio piece and found it to be 'uplifting' and 'inspirational' in 'certain ways'. I did not, unfortunately, commit the name of the person who had performed the piece to memory. In fact I did not realize that this radio performer and the John Hodgman who I later read with great pleasure were ONE AND THE SAME until I began researching him for AN ACTUAL PRINT MAGAZINE INTERVIEW for WHICH I WAS PAID!
I mention that I have been published in a physical magazine not to impress you but to remind you of the existence of magazines, a quaint art form in the process of following the record player, typewriter and ear trumpet into undeserved obscurity. I imagine the very idea of print media seems antique to you as you sit there slack-jawed, 'jacked in' to 'cyberspace', the sort of Copper Age endeavor one might encounter while 'surfing out' in an 'MMORPG'.
If I'd meant to impress you, would I let on that the Magazine in question was a relaunch of 'Cracked' that only ran three issues? If you are not old enough to know what 'Cracked' magazine was, here is a picture:
The 'Cracked' magazine I wrote for was related principally by license to the original 'Cracked', which was what you bought if you'd already read that month's 'Mad' and were too proud to be seen reading 'Sick'. (A NOTE! If anyone reading this article purchases the rights to 'Sick' magazine, I AM AVAILABLE FOR PAID CONTRACT WORK!) The original 'Cracked', while a sad sister to 'Mad', was published for years, so long a time that if you made a tower using only a single copy of each issue they ever printed, it would reach a great deal further than a tower of the relaunched 'Cracked', which would only be three magazines tall.
Does this knowledge alter your level of esteem for me? Where has your work been published? Do you SLIGHTLY KNOW JOHN HODGMAN? There are other quasi-celebrities I slightly know. Do not tempt me to use their names.
I hope at this point you understand that while I am happy for Mr. Hodgman's quasi-celebrity, it is his writing I most enjoy, because it is delightful, and because making this distinction sets me above the great unwashed.
In fact, his writing is so good, that while reading his new book, "More Information Than You Require", I considered writing a fan email, an act I rarely engage in because it is a DISGUISED FORM OF SELF-LOATHING, superior to actual fan mail in that it does not require any postage. I remind you, however, that I enjoyed a reasonable expectation of response. Because I slightly know him, and because he has politely responded to emails from me in the past, some of which were PROFESSIONAL IN NATURE.
So there I was, having my lunch, in the window of a popular diner in Newton Center, reading this wonderful book. I was eating a half sandwich (Chicken Salad, if you must know) and a bowl of Matzo ball soup. I was in the window because they have a small two person table there, a sort of show table so that people passing by outside might be enticed to enter by the suggestive sight of a person enjoying the food they have purchased. I ended up at that table because although there was a line, many patrons balk at performance eating, or are part of parties larger than two, whereas I am generally unbalkable and was lunching alone, as if that's any of your business.
I'd come to a particularly lovely passage (found on page 143 of the hardback edition of John Hodgman's 'More information than you Require' which I will not spoil, but of which I will say this: It is a perfect example of the comic writing I most enjoy in that it is both carefully crafted and contains the sudden, surprising use of a clinical term that when spoken in a non-clinical context is generally considered vulgar. A HINT! Like 'vulgar' the word I am discussing begins with the letter 'V'. And is not 'Vulva'. But you are getting close.
At that exact moment (The moment I was reading the passage! Attend, can't you?) I was also spooning into my mouth a portion of matzo ball from my soup, which had only just arrived. It was quite hot, in fact too hot to keep safely in my mouth, and so I ejected the steaming bit of Matzo ball back onto my spoon, and returned it to my soup. Because while alarmingly hot, it was also delicious, and after all, the mouth it had been in was mine.
Did you recall I was dining in a picture window? Sadly, the combination of extreme heat applied to the soft tissues of my mouth and the joy I was taking in reading the anecdote on page 143 proved sufficient to make sure I did not. Recall. That I was seated in the picture window? Are you listening at all, mouth reader?
The family of four outside the window watching as I returned the lightly chewed morsel of Matzo ball to the bowl from whence it came were not enticed in. In fact, they may have actively changed their minds, might actually have been about to go into the restaurant when they became an unwilling audience at my impromptu performance. It turns out that being in a picture window doesn't make you invisible any more than the act of mouthing the words your are reading.
I wanted to rush out after them and assure them the soup was more than acceptable, it was really very good, so good in fact that I placed the uneaten portion of Matzo ball back into the bowl, and not into my napkin, as any civilized patron would have done had they recalled the were dining in a picture window. In addition, I wanted to tell them that the book I was reading, John Hodgman's 'More Information Than you Require' was extremely funny, funny enough that in combination with a painful mouth burn, it made me momentarily forget I was dining in a picture window. I wanted to run that poor family to ground, and recommend the restaurant, particularly the Matzo ball Soup, and also suggest they buy the book I'd been reading, buy it NOW in HARDBACK. Because really, the unpleasant sight they'd witnessed was a powerful endorsement of both the restaurant and the book.
I did not do this, because I have children of my own and I imagine such an experience would prove horrifying to them, a strange man chasing them down the street waving a book, possibly projecting bits of Matzo ball as he raved.
Instead, I remained in the picture window, and touched my napkin to my moist chin. The email I had been contemplating sending John Hodgman, an email (MUST I REMIND YOU?) to which I had a reasonable expectation he might politely reply, had it been a very short 'CONGRATS ON YOUR NEW BOOK', now threatened to be a very long, and possibly frightening email. As frightening as being pursued by a book flailing, soup spewing lunatic? I cannot say. It would depend upon the frailness of Mr. Hodgman's heart.
And then, gentle reader, it occurred to me that I could write this almost entirely true story for you AND GET PAID FOR IT!
Which parts of my story are not true? That is for me to know and you to never find out. Perhaps there was no family of four outside the picture window to observe my embarrassing performance. Perhaps there was no performance at all, perhaps my table manners are quite refined, both in and out of picture windows. Perhaps I had a whole sandwich and no soup, or the soup was clam chowder, or it came cold and I had to return it, or I didn't return it because I hate making a 'server' think I feel I above them even more than I hate eating cold clam chowder and the self loathing that comes with it like a sack of oyster crackers during its spineless, silent consumption. Perhaps I do not SLIGHTLY KNOW John Hodgman at all, and only said I did to increase the level of your esteem for me until it was as high as a tower of the original 'Cracked' magazine. Perhaps none of this is happening AT ALL and you are about to awake from a dream of having read a humorous article by Max Burbank, and man WHO DOES NOT, IN REALITY, EXIST, but is rather a loose conglomeration of itinerant ghost writers, such as those responsible for the 'Hardy Boys' series of boy detective novels, all the V. C. Andrews novel's after "Garden of Shadows" and the complete works of 'Kipling'! Honestly, what bees' wax is it of yours?
This much I can say; John Hodgman's 'More Information Than You Require' is a fine example of 'gentlemanly' or 'tweed' comedy, subversive while soothing like a wonderful lozenge that purports to be an 'old style remedy' but turns out to contain millions of nano-scale slaver-bots, or an insidious tincture that induces very specific paranoia regarding swarms of microscopic machines burrowing into the section of your spinal column right between your shoulder blades with the intent of controlling your every action. Unless this entire essay is a literary device by means of which I am attempting to attach myself to his coattails, a metaphor and bit of clothing about which I suspect you know nothing at all, and why? Because you are reading this essay, when you could be reading McSweeney's Internet Tendency or lord forbid, The New Yorker, a magazine in all likelihood entirely outside your ken TO WHICH I HAVE A GIFT SUBSCRIPTION. An essay written by an author who holds his audience in low enough esteem to enjoin them to read an article entirely crafted to suit his OWN TORTURED, SELFISH DESIGN!
Returning to the point however briefly, I advise you strongly to scurry out on the chubby, baby-like, nearly vestigial little legs I am currently imagining you to have, and buy John Hodgman's "More Information Than You Require" IN HARDBACK! Be assured that when friends dine at your house they take careful note of which books you own in hardcover and which books you waited to purchase until they were available in trade paper. The information conveyed by your choices will weigh even more heavily in the estimation of their esteem for you than the contents of your medicine chest, which they perused at leisure while 'going to the bathroom'.
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