BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,
BTRIPP
btripp

I dropped the good brain, Master ...

As I have previously noted, one of the functions that the dollar store's book section has in my life (aside for being a source of $1 books, of course) is seeding in the random, serendipitous, bits of reading that I would be highly unlikely to actually seek out. This is certainly in that class.

The author, A.J. Jacobs, is an editor-at-large for Esquire magazine, and writes for several other established bastions of old media. He is, however, possibly better known for his extreme “experimental” book projects, including The Year of Living Biblically where he journaled his attempted to delve into all the myriad restrictions on behavior found in the Bible, and The Know-It-All, which tracked his cover-to-cover reading of Encyclopedia Brittanica. Obviously, The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment in in this vein, albeit in more “bite-sized” pieces. The book covers nine “experiments” which run from on-going runs of a particular sort of research, to behavioral challenges, to trying to break through personal boundaries. Since these are, for the most part, free-standing on their own, I guess I'll just give a synopsis of each:

“My Life as a Beautiful Woman” - In this, he is trying to set up his kids' very attractive nanny. He convinces her to try on on-line date service, and works with her to set up a basic profile, but then he takes over running it, fielding all the traffic, trying to act as he would assume the nanny might, and occasionally presenting her with a filtered list of “approved” suitors. In this he presents a rather (for a guy) unsettling view of how most of our camp looks in these situations. After a few less-than-stellar dates, the nanny opts out of the experiment leaving him with mixed feelings about the whole thing.

“My Outsourced Life” - Here he takes on not just one, but two “personal assistants” from India to help him with various projects. If you're like me, you've read about using these services but have never quite been able to figure out how to make that work enough to justify the not-insignificant expense. He uses them in some predictable ways, like asking questions about his cell phone bill, or finding a hard-to-find toy for his kids, and also some industry-specific manners (he has them respond to a source of frequent, yet inappropriate for Esquire, news releases with what he describes as “the best rejection notice in journalism history”). However, this then progresses into making his regular weekend call to his parents, apologizing to his wife (!), and even reading a bedtime story to his son. The piece ends with him getting bored with the project, and outsourcing the end of it to them as well (although he did say he kept one on a $10/month retainer on-going if needed)!

“I Think You're Fat” - In pursuing a piece for the magazine about a group called “Radical Honesty”, he gets hooked into actually trying it … just saying whatever he actually thinks of things, people, etc. … pretty much to the point of expressing every random thought that floats through his head (including telling Rachel Ray that he'd just tried to look down her shirt). Needless to say, this does not go well on a lot of levels.

“240 Minutes of Fame” - It appears that Jacobs looks a bit like the actor Noah Taylor (who was briefly a hot item following the release of the movie Shine), who was skipping the Academy Awards, and the editors at Entertainment Weekly wanted to get an “inside view” piece and convinced him to attend as the actor. He chats up stars, does interviews, signs autographs, and is pretty much in a “celebrity whirl” until he runs into Taylor's co-star Geoffrey Rush, who, as one would expect, does realize that this is not the actor (although Rush opts to just fade into the crowd rather than making a scene and calling security). Obviously, Jacobs gets quite an exposure to what fame feels like … and he even got a call from Taylor's agent after the fact saying that he'd been thrilled to have “been there” without having to actually attend!

“The Rationality Project” - This one is a whole lot like a condensation of a dozen or so “brain science” books, where he's trying to avoid any of a dozen or so “logical fallacies” which leaves him acting a good deal like Star Trek's Spock, much, of course, to the irritation of all those around him.

“The Truth About Nakedness” - At Esquire he's trying to get actress Mary-Louise Parker to write a piece about what it feels like to pose naked. His editors insist that he convince her to, yes, pose naked for the article. She agrees, but with one caveat: he needs to pose nude as well, and she gets to pick which shot goes in the article. He goes along with it, and deals with all his inner turmoil around the experience.

“What Would George Washington Do?” - A factoid that had seemingly slipped my social studies and history education was that George Washington had a list of rules of behavior (originally presented by a 16th century Jesuit, so you know they're not “hard and beer, in the clear” sorts of adages) that he lived by … 110 rules … and (much like his former Biblical adventure), Jacobs tries to live according to them for a number of weeks.

“The Unitasker” - OK, I've seen the cognitive theorists too, all saying that multi-tasking is bad … and here is the author's experiment with only doing one thing at a time (better him than me!). He tries blindfolding himself when on the phone, taking meditation classes, convincing his wife that they can have dinner without the TV or conversation, and various other approaches, without a great deal of success. He finishes the piece on a manual typewriter.

“Whipped” - In what his wife describes as his “best experiment in, well, ever”, he spends a month doing exactly what she wants him to do … from extensive lists of household chores to agreeing with her on everything, to increasingly extreme requests. She even gets to write the follow-up.

Interestingly, for a book of this type, it has some very useful appendices, all eight pages of George Washington's rules, and six pages of various “cognitive biases” that played a part in “The Rationality Project”. Kudos for their inclusion. Also interesting is that The Guinea Pig Diaries appears to still be in print (despite being 3 years old and moving through the dollar store channel), with the on-line big boys having it in stock … you can, however, get “like new” copies of the hardcover for as little as a penny (plus the inevitable $3.99 shipping) if you feel so inclined. I bought this a number of months ago, so it's probably no longer out there for a buck, but you might find it worth what the new/used vendors are getting for it.


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Tags: book review
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