by Ken Jennings
Why? I bought this book at the Salt Lake Book Festival last fall after listening to Ken Jennings talk. He was so personable and funny. I was entirely captivated so I bought his book and asked him to sign it. Very cleverly, he signed it "Who is Ken Jennings?"
What? The book talks about Jennings' experiences trying out for and being on Jeopardy for 6 months. It was interesting to read about the regulations and the contracts that contestants must sign. They can't tell anyone about their experience until after the show airs, which is usually 3 months after taping. So here's a guy with a family and a job who has to fly to L.A every Tuesday and, in Jennings' case, stay until Thursday and he can't tell anyone! I can't imagine how difficult that must have been. And then after the first show airs, how do you not let it slip that you're still making new shows and that you've won big sums of money?
What did I like? I liked that Jennings doesn't just linearly tell his Jeopardy story. Instead, he weaves it over, under and through interesting history and trends in trivia. Did you know that in the mid-1800's a a man named Timp published trivia books. Wilkie Collins wrote an essay in which he describes using some of Timp's trivia at dinner parties.
Each chapter title is a question: What is Ambition? What is Cognition? What is Tradition? and so on. And each chapter has several questions to test the reader's trivia prowess. That was fun, even though I could only answer about half the questions.
I enjoyed reading about the bumpy emergence of Trivial Pursuit, bar trivia games, and the city of Stevens Point, Wisconsin the trivia capital of the world. Stevens Point has an annual 54-hour trivia game. Wow!
Anything else? Let me leave you with one philosophy of two guys talked about in the book. (How's that for specific?) These guys contend that good trivia questions are based on nostalgia. People like to be reminded of their common cultural heritage. This type of nostalgia trivia worked well in an era when the three TV choices on Sunday evening were Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen or Maverick. When Jennings asked if they thought this type of trivia would ever ebb to another high in America they said the didn't think so. There reason, "What makes us Americans, in a certain way, is the centrality of popular culture. It ties us together. The explosion of TV channels and fragmentation of popular music genres have changed all that. There's so much more out there, that there's less that people share. As a result, we have less of a strong, unifying cultural force in society in general. Things that used to be very, very deep cultural reference points don't mean anything at all nowadays."