Saturday, July 12, 2008

Saturday Morning Interview with A.J. Jacobs

A.J. Jacobs, in my opinion, has a whole lotta guts. He is the writer of two critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling books, is the "editor-at-large" at Esquire Magazine, and writes regularly for them and several other major publications.
But forget about his credentials. The content of Jacobs' writing usually contains tasks that are far too daunting for you or I. Mildly put, he goes where other people wouldn't dare. Luckily, his biting wit and satirical nature, combined with these interesting tasks makes for a good read.
Take his first book for instance. It is called "The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World," and it follows Jacobs, letter-by-letter, as he reads the entire 36-volume Encyclopaedia Britannica. It reads like a condensed encyclopedia. He updates you on his progress every few entries, adding in banter and anecdotes about the situations he gets into with this world of knowledge in his head. Strangely enough, I'm reading through it for the second time right now, and remembering all of the odd tidbits he brings up. It is definitely a fantastic book, even for non-readers.
Jacobs' second and most recent book, "The Year of Living Biblically," follows him for 365 days as he tries to follow the Bible as literally as our modern times will allow. Since there are so many rules in the Bible, he divides the year up into 6 month periods, following the Old Testament laws for the first half, and the New Testament laws for the second. One of my personal favorite moments in this book is when he is standing at a bus stop (if I remember correctly), and a man asks him about his outdated attire, long beard, and scraggly hair. Jacobs explains his mission to the man, and the man tells Jacobs that he is an adulterer, and reminds him of the law that says he needs to stone him now. Of course, Jacobs came prepared. He had a handful of pebbles in his pocket and threw them at the man, stating that the Bible didn't say that you had to stone them to death.
I was lucky enough to get an e-interview with Jacobs, where I asked him about his books, experiments, and what he has planned for the future.

You've worked for Esquire for quite some time now. What is that like?
I have to say, I feel very lucky. I get to learn and write about some fascinating topics. My least favorite part is interviewing hot actresses. But whenever I say that, people always respond "ohhh, I'm playing the world's tiniest violin."

In your first book, "The Know-It-All," you read all 32 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica straight through. This was in 2003, if I am not mistaken. Do you still remember some of the facts you read?
A few. Not all, sadly. But there's still a bunch floating around in my brain. Whatever I see, it sparks some fact in there. Like I'll see a cat, and I'll think of how the Egyptians made mummies of their cats. But they also made mummies of their mice so that the cats would have something to eat in the afterlife. Very considerate, no?

In your newest book "The Year of Living Biblically," you tackle some pretty heavy Christian issues, despite being Jewish yourself. How did this pan out with both the Christian and Jewish societies?
It was odd. I thought I'd get a lot of flack because it's a pretty controversial topic, religion. But I feel blessed -- sorry -- because the book was pretty warmly received by both the secular and religious communities. To give you a sense: I was on the cover of an evangelical Christian magazine the same month I was featured in Penthouse. So I was proud to bridge that gap. I guess pride isn't biblical.

Which, out of the two books, was more difficult to write and undertake?
The Bible book, for sure. Reading the encyclopedia wasn't a walk in the park. But the Bible book changed every part of my life -- the way I talked, walked, dressed, ate and touched my wife.

How does your family put up with your constant social experimentation?
They deserve sainthood, for sure. Some parts they like. For instance, my wife was happy I became more grateful and compassionate during my biblical year. But she didn't like that I couldn't touch her while she was menstruating. She told me that she felt like a leper.

Which out of all of your experiments has been your favorite?
I love them all, but the Bible one was perhaps my favorite. Because it had the greatest impact on my worldview.

Did you have any crazy people approach you on "The Year of Living Biblically" book tour?
Actually, weirdly, more crazy people approached me about the Know-It-All. They all wanted to stump me. Prove that THEY were the real know-it-alls.

Are the rumors of movie adaptations for "The Know-It-All" and "The Year of Living Biblically" true? If so, how will you adapt them for the big screen?
They are "in development." Whatever that means! If you know, please tell me.

What do you have planned for the future?
I signed up for another book with Simon & Schuster. This one is about my body. I figure I tried to improve my mind with the Know-It-All, and tried to improve my spirit with the Bible. Now I'm going to try to remake my body. I'm hoping to become the healthiest man in the world.

Free Esquire articles by A.J. Jacobs can be viewed here. I reccomend reading "9:10 to Crazyland" (his interview with George Clooney), "My Outsourced Life" (he hires workers in India to live his life for him), and "I Think You're Fat" (he is completely and totally honest about everything).

Other interviews:
John Vanderslice

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