book review: the guinea pig diaries

By A.J. Jacobs

The Guinea Pig Diaries is a book of crazy stunts, not unlike the stunts I dream up to try in my life. What fun to read about someone else pulling these silly stunts! And boy, is the author's wife a saint, which the author knows. His first two books I have heard of but not read: The Year of Living Biblically, and The Know-It-All.

The book collects Jacobs’ various articles written about experiments doing things such as outsourcing his life to India, or trying to behave rationally all of the time, or living a brutally honest life. These are all funny and some are even laugh-out-loud funny. When he outsources his life, he has personal assistants in India respond to all of his emails and buys all of his gifts online. He got the idea from the book, The World is Flat, which describes how much of our day to day lives is already outsourced (at least that is what I gather, because I have not read that book). He loves not having to worry about all of this email, and his assistants, in addition to being cute, write the best email responses! The brutal honesty chapter was one of my favorite chapters because that's I how I try to live my life. I am a direct communicator. I don’t beat around the bush. But I suppose 90 percent of my readers already know this. Ha. Jacobs, on the other hand, often lies. Little white lies. We all tell them. But when he stops telling the lies, both large and small, he feels somehow liberated. But he kind of feels bad for hurting people’s feelings too.

Because he wrote all of the articles at sometime in the past, he adds a coda to the end of all of the experiments. He said the rationality project has been the most lasting or life altering. In that experiment, he read up of cognitive behavioral psychology and tried to put what he had learned into action. I do this when driving; when I am in traffic I try to rationally remember that the other lanes only seem to be moving more quickly, because it's an optical illusion that the lanes look like they are moving more quickly.

His most genius experiment is spending the month being his wife’s slave. He does everything she asks, including turning up the volume on the TV manually even though she has the remote in her hands. His wife does the coda in this chapter, where she reveals the positive impact the experiment had on their relationship. Jacobs realized how much of the household work his wife does in comparison to him. Maybe this is something we should all try?

Jacobs said in his notes that he responds to all emails he gets. So as an experiment, I emailed him a few things I thought might interest him: 1. A photo of Bumpass, Virginia because of a reference to a similar sounding town in Virginia found in the book, 2. The essay I wrote about men sitting down to pee in Germany, something also mentioned in the book, and 3. I asked him to respond.

And he did! I was so excited! I got the response and did a little happy dance, until Brent reminded me that in his brutal honesty experiment he coped to having lied to a bad poet to protect the poet’s feelings. So his calling the German men peeing essay hilarious might have just been his being nice to me.

In any event, the book is good fun and the main qualms I have with it are the cover and the title. The cover sucks and the title is not as enticing as it could have been. If the book had not been recommended by someone else, I never would have picked it up. I did not tell Jacobs this when I emailed him though: it seemed gratuitously mean...maybe I am not as brutally honest as I think.

1 comment:

Kara said...

I loved every sentence of this review - and I'm not lying! I read his Know-it-All book, and now I've got this one on hold at the library.