Review: The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman

The Areas of My Expertise
By John Hodgman, Berkley Publishing Group, 255pp, $14.00

Hodgman's fake almanac, The Areas of My Expertise, is a prime example of a relatively new and increasingly popular genre. That genre is not the fictional resource book, which belongs to a long and noble tradition that goes at least as far back as Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary, released in installments from 1881-1906 and collected in 1911. Rather, what Areas is an example of is the comedy of literary-geekdom, a blend of reflexive humor, satire, silliness and surrealism that, if not invented by the McSweeneys' website, is at least exemplified by it. Hodgman himself once wrote a column on said website called "Ask a Former Professional Literary Agent," and his book bears a glowing and lengthy pull-quote from McSweeney's ringleader Dave Eggers. Now, McSweeneys.net is usually a hit-or-miss affair, swinging from the awe-inspiringly good to the just unfunny to the really fucking annoying already. Hodgman's book, however, is pretty relentlessly "hit," thankfully, though a few well-chosen examples will illustrate exactly what kind of humor this is:

Remember that as a negotiator, you are first and foremost a mental warrior. Think like a ninja. But note, it is not appropriate to dress like a ninja. (Note: it is acceptable to dress like a samurai.)

Many popular magazines are very eager to buy your short stories, especially if your short stories are written in the form of twenty-five-word raunchy photo captions.

The word "Philadelphia," from the Greek, literally means "Pennsylvania."

Included also are bizarre and wonderfully silly stories about, among other topics, the last true hobo king, battling desperately in the hobo wars, and the 51st United State, drifting among the clouds and populated entirely by mythological Thunderbirds. There an elaborate parody of Moore's Utopia. There's literary in-jokes, like one about Julio Cortazar's Hopscotch. There's even an angry bit of satire about Ground Zero tourism. Which is all to say that there's a certain kind of person this humor will appeal to, and you know who you are. Personally, I found it hilarious.