Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Review: Because I Said So! by Ken Jennings

Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its KidsBecause I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids by Ken Jennings
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'd first heard of Ken Jennings from my mother, an avid Jeopardy! watcher. She's the only person I know who records old Jeopardy! episodes on her DVR when she's away, and then actually watches them.

But I digress.

I know he's a smart guy, and the episodes I saw with him up against Watson, the computer opponent, were entertaining. Jennings struck me as the sort of person who has a wealth of knowledge just simmering under the surface, but who doesn't use it as a bludgeon.

It was with these assumptions I picked up his book, Because I Said So! It's an examination of all of the things parents tell their kids, and the factual basis (or lack thereof) behind them. He tackles such diverse warnings as, "Your face will freeze that way," and "There are starving children in Africa!" (That was the location given when my parents chided me, but a number of places have been picked as an example.) Jennings often goes into the origin of parents' sayings, then expounds on the scientific truths behind them. The book is a study in risk assessment, reassuring helicopter parents, and enlightening those who pass things along because it was something their parents said. It's like the joke about the new bride's pot roast, which I'll tell at the end of the review.

The style of the book is light and funny, with quips and one-liners sprinkled throughout. Some of the jokes fell flat, but most got a chuckle out of me. Though the book has a fragmented style, it is grouped by general subject matter, and each section is headed by the parental wisdom he addresses. The final chapter is on sex and relationships, which were interesting, though Jennings doesn't come across as professorial enough to keep away the creepy factor. Hearing him discuss my private parts was a bit like a dinner conversation gone terribly wrong.

My other complaint about the book has to do with its presentation. Unfortunately, repeating myths, even to debunk them, often has the unintended consequence of reinforcing them. The verdict needed to be delivered in a way that undid the damage, instead of the short explanations given.

Overall, though, I found this book both entertaining and informative, and am thinking about who I might want to give it to as a Christmas present. I do know a lot of parents.

I listened to the audio edition, which was narrated by Ken Jennings. He does an excellent job reading his words, and his delivery made me laugh at some jokes that would've fallen flat on the page.

The New Bride
A couple marries and moves in together. Soon, the husband notices that, every time his new wife prepares roast beef on Sundays, she cuts off both ends before she puts it into the oven. He wonders if this makes it more flavorful, or helps it cook more evenly, or what, and finally asks. She tells him she doesn't know; that her mother always did it, so that was how she learned. The next time he speaks to his mother-in-law, he asks her why she cut the ends off her roast beef. She says she doesn't know, but that her mother always did. This is fortuitous, because the grandmother is due to visit the very next week.

Over Sunday dinner, as they're sitting around the table and chatting, waiting for the roast to cook, he asks his wife's grandmother why she cut the ends off her roast, and explains how it's survived the generations. The grandmother blushes, then laughs so hard she can't breathe. Her granddaughter jumps up to get her a glass of water, and the husband stays behind to make sure she isn't choking.

After she's had a big gulp of water, still giggling, the grandmother says, "That was the only way I could get it to fit in the oven!"


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