Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 231 (9/22) -- College in a Nutskull by Anders Henriksson

If you google "student bloopers," or many similar phrases, you'll find vast lists of mangled information and humorously spoonerized sentences purporting to have been written by actual students and handed in to their actual teachers, though details on the time and place of these papers will be exceptionally scanty. This book -- credited as "compiled and edited by Professor Anders Henriksson," thank you very much -- aims to be the peer-reviewed, tenure-track version of those lists, compiled from the actual essays, quizzes and other materials created by students worldwide over the past whoever-knows-how-long. But Henriksson doesn't provide any more supporting detail than those Internet lists do, so we just have to trust him on it -- well, trust him and the long list of other professors that he thanks in his acknowledgements (and trust him when he says there's an even longer list that didn't want to be named).

Of course, the provenance of these bloopers is really a side issue; what's more important is whether they're funny. (The point of reading a book like this is to be able to laugh and feel superior simultaneously, which means that the bloopers must be both humorous and based on simple facts that most of the audience will know -- they're only funny, in the most part, if you know what the real fact is that this particular student mangled.) And there are some real howlers here, such as :
  • Life in the trenches was very dangerous due to constant attacks by submarines.
  • Europe is several miles to the right of the USA.
  • Greeks and Pakistanis go to the Eastern Orthodont Church. Unlike Catholics, they did not worship Santa Claus.
  • Some people do not cope well. This copulation problem can lead to heroine or alchohol abuse. Alcoholism may involve drinking.
  • Rome was built in a day. Homes came with garden moratoriums. Amazing aqua ducks supplied fresh water.
  • Henry V is about a king named Richard III.
  • A dipthong is a very small bottom worn in Brazil.
  • The Babylonians were able to live only during certain months of the year.
And so on: this is a short book (130-ish pages), laid out to mimic a student's notebook, with no more than six or eight bloopers per page, but there's at least one good laugh on each of those pages. Henriksson, through whatever academic back-channels, has a great pipeline for student idiocy, and the final product here is the cream of that very fertile crop. (Though it actually follows a previous book along exactly the same lines, Ignorance is Blitz -- clearly, student idiocy is a very renewable resource, since each September brings a new crop of it.)

So this is another one of those cases where there is a competing, inferior product available for free, but the paid version -- and the price is ludicrously low at $8.95 list -- is well worth the expenditure. If you know much of anything about the world and its history, you'll know just how these thickheaded young people went wrong, and you will find their ignorance very funny. (But you will also hope that the professors who funneled these errors through Henriksson also spent some time teaching these students, so that, with any luck, they're not quite as ignorant now as when they wrote these things.)
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

1 comment:

Troy Simpson said...

A nice review!

I, too, reviewed College In A Nutskull; I have a somewhat different view of the book:

But humour is a subjective thing.

Post a Comment