Romance at the End of Everything

In celebration of the recent release of the audiobook for That Is All and my pending HODGMANIA 2012 trip to Massachusetts, this week I am going to talk about my love of John Hodgman.

Hodgman is my favorite author, but more than that he is the person I feel best expresses my beliefs and view of the world. I agree with virtually everything he says and when he speaks on a topic he often says the sorts of things I wished I had the words to say myself.

This realization came to me when I read his first book, The Areas of My Expertise. In the introduction he includes a note about sports which reads:

If you wish for sports information, might I kindly refer you to every other aspect of our culture?

This dismissal, so confident and casual, was eye-opening. I knew that I was going to enjoy this book on more than a humorous level. I was not wrong.

If you are not familiar, Hodgman's books are composed of fake trivia. Written in a dry almanac style, you might find yourself believing the absurd things he talks about. But make no mistake, these are almost all lies about topics so mundane you question why anyone would even bother to lie about them. I find style writing to be incredibly funny.

To break it down further, the common rhythm of a joke is to say two things that establish a premise and a third which is funny, the punchline. In comparison, Hodgman will say two things that are absurd, follow that with a punchline that somehow tops the first two, then two more absurd things closing with an actual true fact that ties it all together. Due to the dry style, the jokes literally (not literally) sneak up on you.

And even though Hodgman's books adapt the faux-expert tone, there often is a poignancy that comes out from time to time.

This has always been true of his work, some of my favorites include his Open Letter (later adapted into a This American Life story), his letter to his children and his TED talk about alien encounters. Large portions of That Is All are especially emotional in comparison to the other two books.

And when he talks about reality it is perhaps even more compelling. He only does so rarely, in one interview a year, but I always agree with him. Consider this interview conducted in the run up to the 2008 election, or his 90 Days, 90 Reasons essay. His remarks about September 11th are just about the only thing I want to continue reading about that day.

I met John Hodgman for the first time about a year ago. He was on book tour for That Is All and I was so obsessed I made a trip up to Portland and Seattle that I dubbed HODGMANIA 2011.

After the Seattle show, I waited to have my book signed. When it was my turn I told him that he is like George Plimpton to me. To explain, Hodgman idolizes Plimpton. He writes about how Plimpton was a Renaissance man who did everything and inspired him to take up many things. So telling him that he was my George Plimpton was the highest compliment I could pay him.

I also asked if he was going to write a novel, as the last section of That Is All contains the longest piece of straight fiction he has published (and I loved it). He said probably not, as fake trivia is his trade, but I hold out hope.

Five months later I lost my job and was debating between moving to Seattle or New York. Hodgman had come to San Francisco for a show, so I again waited in line (also to have him sign my copy of Eat, Pray, Love because I am a nerd), and asked for advice. I gave as much context as I could in a short conversation, and he said to me:

"If you have the means, I think you should definitely try living in New York at least once."

And so here I am.

Prior to my obsession with Hodgman, my favorite author was Haruki Murakami. I discovered Murakami in college and devoured his catalog. At the time I wanted nothing more than to be a Murakami protagonist, to love jazz music and drink black coffee. To be an island. I now realize that the ideal of Murakami, the way his characters live, was what I thought adult-hood to be like as I was just figuring it out.

Last year, Murakami's 1Q84 and Hodgman's That Is All were published a week apart. I loved 1Q84 and think it Murakami's best work yet, but reading both in a short span of time made me realize that my view of adult-hood has changed. If Murakami represented what I thought being an adult would be, Hodgman now represents an adult-hood I choose to live.

One where we strongly believe in an objective reality, so strongly that we can make up absurd jokes only funny because they ring true. One where we cherish our friends, and want to make and share great things. One where we both accept and fight against death and the passage of time.

And so when Dozgoth the Pitier comes in 1000 years to remake the world, I will be here. I am ready.