“Truth,” writes John Hodgman in the introduction to his More Information Than You Require, “may be stranger than fiction, but never as strange as lies.” It is one of the most – and indeed, one of the only – truthful lines in this strange and strangely enjoyable volume.
Marketed by its publisher as belonging to the classic “humor/reference” genre, More Information Than You Require is a nearly 350-page compendium of facts that are not true: of, as Hodgman repeatedly owns up, lies.
Topically arranged, these lies cover a variety of subjects, ranging from the relatively mundane – “How to Cook an Owl” – to the downright misinformative, like “The Seven Portals to the Hollow Earth.” They are supplemented by a handy but untrue on-this-date-in-history factoid on every page.
Hodgman said More Information Than You Require is a “direct continuation” of his previous almanac of untruths, Areas of My Expertise (it picks up on page 237, just where Areas left off), and part two of a trilogy that will eventually encompass a “complete world knowledge” or some semblance thereof. It is, in short, the most self-conscious, self-deprecating act of tremendous hubris in recent history and a rather unsettling commentary on contemporary society.
But what is More Information Than You Require, really? It is a collection of patently untrue statements, expressed humorously, which rely on the reader’s prolonged engagement in a series of thematic jokes (the Mole Men, famed declarationists and shadowy shapers of our world; the Secret World Government and sinister Feline Studies Lab, both located at Yale; Champ Stanley, occult meteorologist) carried throughout the book. Consider, for instance, the following excerpts:
“After his death in 2004, some entrepreneurs briefly marketed a ‘Reagan’ brand of cologne and body spray, but it was discontinued when it was discovered that wearing it caused Nancy Reagan to show up at your house, wanting to cuddle with you.”
“The Lands Below comprise a vast variety of underground terrain, from the narrowest of crawlspaces to glowshroom-lit caves extending for miles, all leading down to a gravity-less center in which hangs the red Inner Sun.”
“January 29, 1845, Philadelphia: Edgar Allan Poe publishes ‘The Raven,’ an ode to a stuffed bird that would later be adapted to television screens as That’s So Raven.”
Funny, yes. But funny for 350 pages? Rather surprisingly, the answer to that question is also yes. Although not intended to be devoured in one sitting – it’s the perfect sort of book to leave on a toilet or nightstand – More Information Than You Require works, and works well.
But on a deeper level, this book and Hodgman’s continued success serve as timely reminders that for all our blustery calls for “straight talk” and the like, we neither know nor care just what’s true anymore.
Peter Chomko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.