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Saturday, November 14, 2009

What I'm Reading: The Guinea Pig Diaries

Not only does my husband subscribe to Esquire, where A J Jacobs is the Editor-at-Large, but I have read all three of his books, and one even made it to my favorite books of the year list. So of course I put my name on the hold list for his newest, The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life As an Experiment. His other two books follow his exploits through a full year: reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica one year and living his life to the standards of the Bible for another.

Guinea Pig Diaries is different in that it is a series of essays recounting shorter experiments. My favorites were when he outsourced his professional and personal life to India, the month he tried not to multitask at all, and the month he did whatever his wife told him.

Guinea Pig Diaries would be a good introduction to Jacobs' writing style which is funny, but personal. His works are about him trying something, but they are also a memoir of his life with his wife, kids, family and friends. He takes himself seriously enough that his experiments are worthwhile, and he pokes enough fun at himself to keep you smiling. He also learns something from each experiment and ends each with a coda outlining how his experiment has changed him.

However, unlike his first two books, which followed an experiment over an entire year, some of the essays in Guinea Pig Diaries, in which all experiments are only for 1 month, are not as compelling as stories in and of themselves.

Overall, Guinea Pig Diaries will appeal to readers who want an episodic book which is heartwarming, insightful, thoughtful, introspective and hilarious all at the same time.

Readlikes: Jacobs is one of the most popular authors in the genre that is becoming known as "Year in the Life." Those of you with access to NoveList, they have a great list under the record for Jacobs' Bible book to get you started (Berwyn patrons, click here). A few highlights from this list are Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper by Diablo Cody, The Year of Yes: a Memoir by Maria Dahvana Headley, and Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine.

Jacobs has been described as a modern day George Plimpton. I agree. Plimpton's immersion journalism still has resonance today. I even named my fantasy football team after his classic Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback.

Wall St. Journal sports reporter Stephan Fatsis is another similar author in both tone and subject. He has gone on the professional Scrabble circuit and tried out as a kicker for the Denver Broncos.

David Sedaris
and Roy Blount, Jr are also humorists who would appeal to fans of Jacobs. They all use humor as a way to talk abut serious issues. All three also use their personal lives for material.

Jacobs mentions a ton of books throughout Guinea Pig Diaries, and he lists all of them in a chapter by chapter bibliography, but of special interest may be The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman, His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph Ellis, and Marriage, and A History by Stephanie Coontz.

In terms of fiction, I would suggest anything by Christopher Moore (humor, satire, horror elements), Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon (Jewish, writer, funny), and On Beauty by Zadie Smith (humor, introspective, satire).

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