25 Women to Read Before You Die

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Powell's Q&A

John Hodgman

Describe your latest project.
Good evening. My name is John Hodgman. I am the author of The Areas of My Expertise.

My book is compendium of fascinating trivia and historical oddities in the tradition of The Book of Lists, though different in that all of the amazing true facts in my book are entirely made up by me.

If you are curious, the areas of my expertise include hobos, monsters, haircuts, utopia, the nicknames and mottoes of our fifty-one United States, and most other subjects.

When I am not writing fake trivia, I write actual journalism as a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, where I also help to edit the new section called "The Funny Pages."

Sometimes I also host a lecture series in NYC called The Little Gray Book Lectures.

I am self-employed.

  1. The Areas of My Expertise
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  2. The Areas of My Expertise
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If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
John Hodgman: He Wrote a Book of Fake Trivia and Cryptozoology Jokes That He Worried Only He Would Enjoy; But It Turned Out That Some Other People Liked It As Well — an Actually True True Story.

What fictional character would you like to date, and why?
Pass. I am happily married, so I do not date. And even more astonishing, I am married to a non-fictional character who exists in the real world.

If you could choose any story to live in, what story would that be? Why?
Please see the answer to the first question. I cannot imagine a more exciting or improbable story to be a part of.

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good place to start.
I am very enamored of Don't Point That Thing at Me by the wonderful, deceased dissolute art dealer Kyril Bonfiglioli. It's a crime novel first published in London in the '70s introducing a wonderful, living dissolute art dealer named Charlie Mortdecai who half-slyly/half-drunkenly weaves his way through a completely impenetrable plot involving some kind of spy ring, and also Texas.

It and its two sequels [After You with the Pistol and Something Nasty in the Woodshed] were recently re-published by the Overlook Press, and it has everything I like in a book: it's a forgotten literary artifact that lives within two lowbrow, overlooked genres (crime and humor). Of course, it's in the dark soil of the lowbrow, overlooked genres where literature usually grows most interestingly and unexpectedly. It's hilarious throughout, and ridiculous, and by the end quite surprisingly tragic and moving.

I wouldn't want to date Charlie Mortdecai, but I was very, very happy to live in his head for all these pages.

Writers are better liars than other people: true or false? Why, or not?
Lies are just another kind of storytelling, but with the very distinct and enlivening motive of desperation. Since writers are by nature desperate creatures, they usually do a pretty good (or pretty awful, but always interesting) job of lying.

What is your favorite literary first line?
"I owe the discovery of Uqbar to the conjunction of a mirror and an encyclopedia."
—Jorge Luis Borges, "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius"

How did the last good book you read end up in your hands and why did you read it?
I received Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven for Christmas, at my request. Jonathan Coulton, who accompanies me on guitar when I read in public, asked me if I wanted to read a fascinating and disturbing history of Mormonism and of religious fundamentalism in general. Because he has been such a good sport about playing guitar and wearing a buckskin shirt when I read, I figured I owed him one.

What makes your favorite pair of shoes better than the rest?
I own one pair of shoes.

What is your astrological sign? If you don't like what you were born with, what sign would you change to and why?
I am a Gemini, and like all good Gemini, I only know and care about one sign: Gemini. What are the others? The pig? The gryphon? The shooting star? The sleepy bear? I have no idea. I guess I could be a gryphon if I had to be.

Describe the best breakfast of your life.
Scrapple sandwich.

Why do you write?
I have an unfortunate compulsion. I really would rather not do it, as it is very nerve-wracking and un-fun. But when it works, there is nothing like it.

Dogs, cats, budgies, or turtles?
I like dogs, but I also have children, so I do not need to handle any more feces or neuroses at this time. Budgies and turtles are simply incomprehensible to me. What do they want? I have always had cats, and while I feel a little taken advantage of, I think this situation will continue.

In the For-All-Eternity category, what will be your final thought?
That is all. spacer

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