by Ken Jennings
You may recall that I read a previous Ken Jennings book, Maphead, an exploration of geography and the subcultures that surround it. I liked it, so I read his new book.
Because I Said So! is a bit different, consisting of dozens of common myths that parents drill into the heads of their children, and determining them to be true, or false, or somewhere in between. Whereas Maphead was divided into chapters, each relating to a specific geography topic, each of the myths in this book only gets about a page, making it less of a book and more of a list. (Imagine Buzzfeed’s “100 Myths That May or May Not Be True, by Ken Jennings,” if that helps. Or not- I don’t want to compare Jennings, a writer whom I respect, to the gif-posting wannabe journalists at Buzzfeed.)
So I was a little disappointed by the format. I feel that in general, a book should be readable; you should be able to look at a book for more than two minutes without a jarring change of subject. If you can’t, it’s just a reference book, and I’ve found that those tend to sit on the shelves, uselessly. And that’s not what I’m about.
Still, Jennings is a good writer, and a smart dude, and he’s able to make pretty mundane shit funny. He also answers some questions I’ve been wondering about forever. Will running or walking in the rain keep you dryer? Hint: if you don’t care, you probably won’t care for the book.
Since reading it last week, I’ve already been able to pull this book out for use as a reference, telling someone how bad tanning can be for your skin. (Hypocritically, I might add. While I never go out with the intention of tanning, I tend to get burned every time I hit the beach.) I can only hope that I’ll be able to remember some of these myths, both debunked and confirmed, so that in the future I can look them up if I need to. Of course, I could just turn to the internet, but that’ll give me three opinions on every two-sided issue. And since I don’t have the time or the will to sift through the statistics on my own, I’m perfectly content just trusting Jennings.
There were a few things I was very surprised to learn. For example, sugary food is apparently no worse for your teeth than any other carb-heavy food. It also doesn’t cause kids to go crazy. In an instant, literally everything I know about sugar was turned upside down, although maybe that says more about my ability to remember any of the three chemistry classes I’ve taken in my life.
Perhaps most importantly, Jennings seems pretty happy giving helicopter parents their comeuppance, and I’m pretty happy to seem them taken down a peg as well. The myth that there are people out there putting razors in Halloween candy, for example, is shown to be a ridiculous falsehood. I mean, I can’t imagine anyone doing that kind of thing without picturing them as Snidely Whiplash. Yeah, the dude who kept tying that chick to the railroad tracks.
Jennings gives a similar treatment to stranger danger and the idea that there are people just chilling outside elementary schools, waiting to sell laced drugs to our kids. I don’t know why it’s so funny to ridicule parents for their ridiculous overparenting, although it might be because some politicians use these moral panics to get elected or create horrible public policy. (Or both.) In any case, I enjoy it, and it pleases me to see hard evidence that parents have no idea what they’re talking about, at least some of the time. Though I think I would advise my kids to stay away from anyone who looks like Snidely.
To be clear, this is not the Mandy Moore movie; it’s a collection of parental advice that Ken Jennings attempts to verify or debunk. This is a well-written and well-researched book, and I was entertained, but there’s not much substance here, and I wouldn’t recommend it to a casual reader.