Tag Archives: humor

Review: The Guinea Pig Diaries, by A.J. Jacobs

The Guinea Pig Diaries

Excerpt from the book jacket:

In his role as human guinea pig, Jacobs fearlessly takes on a series of life-altering challenges that provides readers with equal parts insight and humor. (And which drives A.J.’s patient wife, Julie, to the brink of insanity.)

I loved The Guinea Pig Diaries, by A.J. Jacobs. It came into my life just yesterday – I spotted it while out shopping and couldn’t resist the title, especially since Jacobs’ The Know-It-All had been highly recommended by Carrie from Books and Movies (The Know-It-All is currently sitting in my to-be-read pile).

It’s rare that I decide to read a book on the day that I receive it; I’m such a moody reader, and my mood has to coincide with a book’s genre, plot and theme first. But late in the afternoon yesterday, I was feeling a little down, so I decided to read an essay or two from The Guinea Pig Diaries because I just didn’t feel in the mood for a novel.

What a ride those first few essays were! I couldn’t stop at just two essays; I ended up reading the entire book last night.. Did I say “feeling a little bit down”? It’s hard to stay down when you’re laughing out loud, and laugh out loud is exactly what I did while reading this book.

The charm of the book doesn’t stop there, though. Jacobs is very funny, but his words are more than pure comedy. He takes his experiments seriously, and writes about the insights he’s gained during the course of each experiment. Each essay ends with a Coda that talks about how the experience of the experiment itself has altered his life, for good or for bad.

And the experiments run such a wide range. There’s his outsourcing experiment, where he decides to spend a month outsourcing both his work and his personal life to a team out in Bangalore, India:

I had [Asha] call AT&T to ask about my cell phone plan. I’m just guessing, but I bet her call was routed from Bangalore to New Jersey and then back to an AT&T employee in Bangalore, which makes me happy for some reason.

Then there’s the month he decides to give Radical Honesty a try. Radical Honesty isn’t just about not lying; it also requires you to remove that filter from your brain and your mouth, so that you’re always – and that’s always – saying what you think:

One other thing is also becoming apparent: There’s a fine line between Radical Honesty and creepiness. Or actually no line at all. It’s simple logic: Men think about sex every three minutes, as the scientists at Redbook remind us. If you speak whatever’s on your mind, you’ll be talking about sex every three minutes.

There are other experiments, too. There’s the month he decides to live his life according to George Washington’s 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation; the month he gets a taste of what being a beautiful woman is like when he persuades his sons’ nanny to let him handle her online profile at a dating site; there’s the time actress Mary-Louise Parker agrees to write an essay for Esquire about what it feels like to pose naked (with an accompanying photo), provided Jacobs agrees to appear in the magazine naked too; and there’s the time he appeared at the Academy Awards disguised as a celebrity, for his “240 Minutes of Fame”.

My favourite piece, though? It’s a toss-up between “The Rationality Project” and “Whipped”. During Project Rationality, Jacobs decides to eliminate all cognitive biases from his brain for a month:

As one scientist puts it, we’ve got Stone Age minds living in silicon-age bodies. Our brains were formed to deal with Paleolithic problems. When my brain gets scared, it causes a spike in adrenaline, which might have been helpful when facing a mastodon but is highly counterproductive when facing a snippy salesman at the Verizon outlet.

What I liked most about “The Rationality Project” was the aftereffect Jacobs experienced as a result. There’s something that’s so appealing to me about letting go of the assumptions we make all too readily about various situations in life, and Jacobs highlights some real long-term benefits of his experiment.

In “Whipped”, Jacobs decides to go along with readers’ suggestions that he make it up to his wife for all that she has  had to put up with during the course of his quirky quests and experiments:

I need to pay Julie back in a more appropriate fashion. I need to spend a month doing everything my wife says. She will be boss. I will be her devoted servant. It will be a month, they say, of foot massages and talking about feelings and scrubbing dishes and watching Kate Hudson movies (well, if Julie actually liked Kate Hudson movies, which she doesn’t).

How could I not enjoy reading about that? Jacobs was figuring that his wife would get bored of being in charge. Do I even need to say it? That didn’t happen.

I loved The Guinea Pig Diaries. It was funny, yes, but each essay also made me think. And to me, that’s essay writing at its best.

I’m very eager now to read Jacobs’ The Know It All – or at least, I would be, if it weren’t for the fact that he misspelled Wayne Gretzky’s name in that book (and that is an inside joke you’ll only get once you’ve read The Guinea Pig Diaries).

Where to buy The Guinea Pig Diaries:

U.S. (Amazon.com) | Indiebound | Canada (Chapters) | UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Review copy details: published by Simon and Schuster, 2009, Hardcover, 236 pages

What’s Up Sunday – June 14

I normally post this as “What’s Up Saturday”, but yesterday kind of flew by really quickly, especially since I was behind on the big giveaways post.

Deadline Alley

I’m heading into Deadline Alley over the next ten days – I have five deadlines to lay to rest and I’d like to get everything finished by next Wednesday. That will leave me a day to help my husband pack for our road trip, get our housesitter settled in, make sure there’s enough pet food on hand to feed the assortment of pets and well, just de-stress a little so I’ll enjoy the 19 hour drive to the beautiful shores of Nova Scotia!

Currently Listening

This past week I’ve been really enjoying listening to Tilt-a-Whirl, by Chris Grabenstein. It’s the first book in a mystery series about part-time beach resort town cop Danny Boyle and his partner, John Ceepak; Beth F. recommended the audio version of the series to me, and I am very grateful (if you love audiobooks, check out Beth F’s blog; she always has great suggestions). The narrator of the series, Jeff Woodman, has now been added to my own personal list of great audiobook narrators (joining Lorelei King, who narrates Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, Hugh Fraser, for his narration of the Agatha Christie novels, and Jim Dale, narrator of the Harry Potter series).

I’ve been actively on the look-out for good audios primarily because of the 19 hour drive (I can’t read in a car, unfortunately); the other day on Twitter Miriam Parker from Hachette Books suggested that I give Bill Bryson a try, and ever since then I’ve been walking around the house sounding rather demented because every now and then I’ll give out a big burst of laughter. Listening to Bill Bryson in audio will do that to you.

Right now, I’m listening to Bill Bryson’s I’m a Stranger Here Myself; my version is actually called Notes From a Big Country, which you can buy at Amazon UK. Notes From a Big Country has eight more essays than I’m a Stranger Here Myself (I have both titles in trade paperback, so I counted); otherwise, they contain much the same essays (I didn’t do a title-by-title check, though).

If you have an Audible membership, you’ll be getting Notes From a Big Country if you go for the unabridged version; unfortunately, Bill Bryson only reads the abridged version, but William Roberts, the narrator of the unabridged version, does a pretty good job. This listen is, obviously, a “reread” for me (since I ended up buying both versions of the book, it would be pretty sad if it wasn’t!); Bill Bryson’s books are brilliant and very funny reads whether you get them in print or in audio.

This Week: No Picture, but a Video

Rather sharing a picture from my life this week, I wanted to share the following video, called Validation. I discovered it at my dear friend Bethie’s blog, Simply Blessed. It’s a long video – 16 minutes – but I guarantee, if you have the time, and you’d like something to give you a bit of a lift and put a smile on your face, it’s well worth the watch. It was written and directed by Kurt Kuenne, stars TJ Thyne (of Bones fame), and has won a whole string of very well-deserved short film awards. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Mailbox Mondays

It’s Mailbox Monday again, and here’s what arrived at the Ms. Bookish household this past week!

Young adult/Mystery: Skeleton Creek, by Patrick Carman. This one is an ARC courtesy of the author. I’m very excited about this book because of the interactive video component – my daughter isn’t a big reader, but she’s a filmmaker and it’s hard to drag her away from YouTube most days. I’ll be asking her to help me review the video portion of the book.

Young Adult/Fantasy: The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. This one arrived courtesy of the library (I am constantly making full use of it’s requests program). I’ve been looking forward to reading this one, as I’ve come across some nice reviews about it.

World fiction: Slumdog Millionaire, by Vikas Swarup. I admit, I hadn’t even heard of the movie, but when I saw this at the bookstore, it caught my eye. I read the back cover and I was hooked.

Children’s books, Fantasy: Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke. Yes! I finally got my hands on a copy of Inkheart! It is a series that I’ve been wanting to read for a while – I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, “You haven’t read the Inkheart series yet, Belle? You? I can’t believe you haven’t read it yet. It’s exactly the kind of book you love.” Yes, well, true and true, I think. And now when people ask me, I will (soon) be able to say, “Why yes, I have. After all, it’s exactly my kind of book, don’t you think?”

Mystery/Suspense: Last Resort, by Hannah Alexander. I was doing my usual race in/out of the library, my intention being to scoop up the books I had on hold (I’m telling you, requesting books is such a huge time saver), when this book (and the next, actually) caught my eye. To be honest, I’m not too sure why it caught my eye, since it’s a medical suspense thriller, which is not a genre I read a lot of, but there you have it – in my quick dash into the library, I scooped this one up.

Humor: The Queen and I, by Sue Townsend. This is the other book I scooped up in my mad dash in and out of the library. There was, of course, a good reason why this caught my eye – as soon as I saw Sue Townsend’s name on the cover I thought immediately of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4, which I loved when I was younger. And how could I resist the one line description on the back cover: “England’s Royals are given the sack and go on the dole.”

Suspense: The Dracula Dossier, by James Reese. Another premise that sounds good: the story of Bram Stoker’s encounter and conquest of Jack the Ripper.

Short story collection: Just After Sunset, by Stephen King. I’ve been lusting after this one ever since I read Joanne’s review of it over at Book Zombie. And now I have it in my hot little hands.

So there you are – all the new book arrivals at my house this past week! For more glimpses into other book bloggers’ mailboxes, check out Mailbox Monday over at The Printed Page.