Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Because I Said So! by Ken Jennings

Some books I post about here almost entirely as a signpost. It's not that I actually have much to say about that book; it's just that I read it and want to mark that event -- and this is where I keep those records.

So with Ken Kenning's book Because I Said So!, a did-you-know compendium that sat in the smallest room of my house for several months earlier this year and did good work there. I don't really have much to say about it, but I'll try to explain briefly what it is, and perhaps it may eventually do the same work for some reader who stumbles across this post.

Jennings is famous for winning a lot of money on Jeopardy!, a TV gameshow, in the early Aughts. He bootstrapped that minor fame into writing a series of mostly trivia-related books, of which this was the fourth. Because was published in 2012, but I didn't come across it until 2019 -- so I read it a lot faster than most things, which is either an indictment of contemporary fiction or a comment on my relative dearth of bathroom books, you pick.

Anyway, Because is about Stuff Your Parents Told You. Well, possibly not "you" -- it's mostly the standard WASP mid-Twentieth Century upbringing that Jennings is referencing here, since (as he says) that's the life he lived and (I suspect) it's what looked most general and salable to his publishers anyway. So if you come from a different background -- if your parents are some color other than very pale or came to the US fairly recently from somewhere more interesting, or if you're not even American to begin with -- these may seem strange and weird to you. (Which could make the book more interesting: maybe What Those Weirdo WASPs Think would be a lot of fun to you.)

But if you've been embedded in American media for any solid stretch of the past fifty years or so, this will all be familiar: no swimming for an hour after eating, feed a cold and starve a fever, drink eight glasses of water a day, don't run with scissors, if you cross your eyes they'll stay like that, and, of course, you'll shoot your eye out. Jennings rates all of those and more, around 150 sayings and beliefs in total, on a sliding True to False scale, with a lot of Mostly True With a Big But or Almost Entirely Fales But Based on A Misunderstood Truth in there as well.

I am not qualified to judge all of those ratings, and Jennings does not provide detailed references in this consumer-friendly book. (A: not that I would check them anyway. B: though he does explain how he found out the truth, and seems to have done a lot of research.) But my sense is that it's generally correct and accurate for 2012, and, barring any major developments in booger science or the release of a longitudinal study of chip double-dipping, it's still pretty accurate.

So if you are a 20th century WASP, grew up among them, or want to know more about their odd belief systems, this may be a useful book for you.

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