July 30, 2010

Stunted development


Matthew Honan holds A.J. Jacobs responsible for the rise of “stunt books” — “like when you read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica and wrote about it in your best-selling book The Know-It-All.” And then there was Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically (“about your attempt to hew to every one of the Bible’s precepts”). And Jacobs is supposedly at work on a new one called The Healthiest Human Being in the World.

Now, says Honan, “everyone else is following your stunty lead: Dozens of scribes seem to have learned that writing about a wacky self-experiment is the key to a fat advance.”

Which gave Honan an idea. “I wanted to find out what this sudden rush of stunt books tells us about our country, our place in the world, the state of our humanity. And there was just one way to do so: with a stunt of my own. I would spend a week reading only this genre.”

In a hysterical column for Wired, he details his week’s reading:

Ed Dobson‘s The Year of Living Like Jesus, an evangelical rip-off of Jacobs’ book. And Dobson isn’t the only copycat. Ammon Shea wrote Reading the OED after Jacobs’ Know-It-All was released. If anything, maybe I’m being too original. I resolve not to covet my neighbor’s donkey for the rest of the week. A few days later, I confront another stunt-book trope: burnout. It hits its apex when I read these sentences from Just Do It, Douglas Brown‘s story of having sex with his wife every day for 101 days …

The kicker: Honan realizes that even his stunt isn’t original when he comes across a blog, “My Year of Everything, in which former MTV host Dave Holmes recounts his attempt to read a different stunt book every week for a year.”

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives