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Friday, May 6, 2011

Review: All Facts Considered by Kee Malesky

I, like most readers I know, am a huge fan of random facts and who better to deliver them to me than one of NPR's many reference librarians. Kee Malesky's book, "All Facts Considered," is written as a series of interesting facts grouped together under three main categories (History, Science, and Art). Each fact is explained in a few paragraphs or less. Malesky says that librarians have to be well versed in a wide range of facts because on any given day they are questioned about countless unrelated subjects. Now, that's an idea I can get behind. I majored in liberal arts - I appreciate a broad interest in knowledge and learning.

There's a great jacket quote from "Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me" host, Peter Sagal, saying in reference to his relationship with Malesky, "every one of us 'media figures' who appears smart or well prepared in public has somebody standing behind the curtains, knowledge at the ready, covering for our ignorance." Reading this book is like having a knowledge mouse perched in your pocket ready to dazzle friends and foes alike with interesting factoids. And you don't have to be a 'media figure' to enjoy the man behind the curtain - little old you can experience a sense of intellectual superiority through this "Essential Library of Inessential Knowledge."

I loved this book. I learned a lot and definitely refamiliarized myself with things I have known and forgotten. Malesky's chosen format makes this great for casual reference or an afternoon of nerdy reading. Bonus, every fact has at least one source listed that you may use to delve deeper into the subject. As the author states in her introduction to the source material, "the not-so-hidden agenda of any librarian is to get you to read."

While reading is great, one of the best parts of reading a book is discussing it and this one prompted several discussions for me. I even called my mom one night to have her look up a reference in a book I knew she had. We stayed up talking about it until late that night. But the best, I must say, was having this conversation with my grandmother:
Me: Are you familiar with Abelard and Heloise?
Her (questioning look): Yes.
Me (dubious): Well, I want to read this to you anyway. "[Abelard and Heloise] fell in love, had a child, and were married (secretly, and over her objections) to protect the advance of his career. Her family sought revenge and arranged to have him castrated. Heloise and Abelard fled Paris, each taking monastic vows, and rarely saw each other again. But they did correspond by letters..." (a beautiful and tragic letter follows)
Her: That's so sad. ... I thought you meant Heloise the cleaning lady.

My grandmother. She's the best. Following this conversation she told me I must give her this book when I finish. If that's not a topnotch recommendation I don't know what is.

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