Sunday, 11 August 2013

Book Review: 'Brainiac' by Ken Jennings

Ken Jennings stamped himself onto my psyche with 'Maphead', a book about geography and geo geeks, which I read last year. I adored this book for many reasons and I connected with Ken's sentiments about learning, obsession and being a nerd. I've now gone back to a previous book of his, 'Brainiac' which deals with the history and obsession of trivia and the events that made Ken a household name in the U.S.

For those of you not from the U.S. or who like 'Jeopardy!', Ken shot to fame by being a carry over champion on the game show a record 74 times. But that is not like being a champion on 'Wheel of Fortune', this is 'Jeapordy!', an intense and highly difficult quiz show where you answer with a question.

So you may be thinking "Why the hell would I want to read a book about this guy bragging about his conquest?". I can assure you that this is not what this book is about and Ken wouldn't do that type of thing anyway.

Ken does take us through his tale of 'Jeapordy!', but it is interspersed with his lifelong relationship with trivia and mainly the worldwide history of trivia. Like 'Maphead', Ken finds all different types of trivia nerds and connects with them and tells their stories also. We meet a U.S. town that goes trivia crazy once every year for 70 or so hours non-stop. We also meet a trivia writer fallen on hard times after a bad court case with the makers of the 'Trivial Pursuits' games.

What also makes Ken's books great is his voice. He is funny and self-deprecating, while being knowledgeable and insightful. He is everything I and every other geek aspires to be like.  I still can't believe he is a Mormon. He doesn't seem to have that glazed-over, I-married-my-cousin-at-the-age-of-nineteen-just-so-I-could-have-sex, we-all-float-down-here thing going on. And I totally agree with Ken when he says:
"It was nice to have someone on TV for a few months who was openly religious and yet wasn't (hopefully) the usual stereotypical mouth-breather or nut job."

You said it Ken. It is encouraging to find a religious voice that seems to be part of this reality and I can connect with.

And I want to quote Ken once more. Here a summary on geek:

"After all, we're currently living in a Bizarro society where teenagers are technology-obsessed, where the biggest sellers in every bookstores are fantasy novels about a boy wizard, and the blockbuster hit movies are all full of hobbits and elves or 1960s spandex superheroes. You don't have to go to a Star Trek convention to find geeks anymore. Today, almost everyone is an obsessive, well-informed aficionado of something. Pick your cult: there are food geeks and fashion geeks and Desperate Housewives geeks and David Mamet geeks and fantasy sports geeks. The list is endless. And since everyone today is some kind of trivia geek or other, there's not even a stigma anymore. Trivia is mainstream. "Nerd" is the new "cool.”"

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