May 30, 2010

The Joy of (Outdated) Facts

(NYTBR) ... Of course, ideas of what’s worth knowing, and even what’s interesting, are constantly changing: The fascination with trigonometrical formulas certainly seems to have receded. But in a world where ever fewer people care about, or even understand the nature of, fiction, where readers and viewers demand facts and reality, outdated books of supposedly impartial information can be a useful reminder of just how slippery facts are — as unreliable as the most unreliable narrator.
Douglas Adams once told me that shortly before he wrote “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” he was working on a screenplay with the premise that all human civilization had been obliterated, except for a single copy of the Guinness book. Aliens from another planet tried to use it to reconstruct what life on Earth had been like: people sitting atop poles for 152 days at a time, eating 77 hamburgers at a sitting, talking nonstop for 127 hours. Continued