by Tempra Board
Laughing is good for your health, which is why you should read humor writer and self-experimenter A.J. Jacobs’ newest book, Drop Dead Healthy.
I’m a fan of Jacobs. I first discovered him while standing in the humor aisle at Barnes and Noble one Christmas, looking for a book for my stepdad. The title, The Know-It-All, jumped out at me. I was already smiling at the title’s appropriateness (which did not go unnoticed by my stepdad). In this book, Jacobs relays his many months of reading the Encyclopedia Britannica in its entirety in an attempt to “become the smartest person in the world.” My ulterior motive of course was that Dad would give me the book after he was done so I could read it too (trying not to think about the fact that the book will have spent the majority of its life in my folks’ master bathroom).
Then I read Jacobs’ My Year of Living Biblically, another hilarious journey, this time through Jacobs’ obsession with living by as many Biblical rules as possible. He engages in stoning adulterers (in Central Park…with pebbles…amazingly while not getting beat up), sacrificing a chicken, letting his beard grow to socially unacceptable grizzliness, and a host of other bizarre practices. Then there was My Life As An Experiment, in which Jacobs conducts a range of self-experiments, including a period of telling no lies (otherwise known as “radical honesty,”), living as a woman (online), and outsourcing key elements of his work and home life to India.
Jacobs’ books may not be for everyone. They are indeed irreverent, and require the reader to have, as you might guess, a sense of humor. A friend of mine recently complained after reading My Year of Living Biblically, “it’s just a shtick to get a book deal,” (well, yes), and “if he really wanted to seriously learn about the Bible there are better ways to do it,” (certainly), and finally “I feel sorry for his wife.” (OK, but you aren’t his wife, so who cares? Besides, I imagine his wife appreciates the income from a national bestselling author, and he makes her laugh…at least sometimes.)
Unlike Jacobs’ other books, I read Drop Dead Healthy on my new iPad, which I discover in the book, may be less healthy than reading the regular printed paper variety, at least as far as night time reading goes (the “blue” light from electronic devises and some readers may make it harder to fall asleep, and lack of good sleep is bad for your health.).
These are the kinds of tidbits Jacobs provides, along with the rationale and scientific support (or lack thereof) for every conceivable lifestyle choice or health impact: acupuncture, raw food diets, moderate versus intensive exercise, laughing therapy, posture, worrying, background noise, sexual health, environmental toxics, aromatherapy, using sunscreen, meditation, accident proofing your home, the importance of chewing…and on it goes. He wrote the book nearly entirely on a treadmill, lost a total of 16 pounds, and cut his body fat percentage in half. Pretty good. It makes me feel instantly guilty for sitting here at my desk, typing away in a boring old sedentary fashion. Great. Now I am getting a double whammy of lack of exercise and worrying about lack of exercise. Pretty bad.
Now this website is about writing, not health, and maybe humor writing isn’t what inspires you. But while this book may not make it into the canon of American literature, the way I see it, funny writing is good, descriptive writing. Some examples:
Jacobs is alarmed to find on the Internet that “just about every quarter-baked idea ever conceived still gets traction.” For example, the 8,000 year-old practice of trepanning, in which a hole is drilled in the skull to cure a variety of mental and physical illnesses, is alive (if not well). Jacobs finds the International Trepanation Advocacy Group. “Its website features images of green-tinted brain scans next to doctors in white lab coats writing complicated math equations on a board. Apparently, this is not your caveman’s trepanation. No, this is totally scientifical drilling of holes in your skull.”
Jacobs reveals, unfortunately, that the current immobile lifestyle many of us lead is horrible for our health, or more illustratively: “Sitting and staring at screens all day is bad for you. Really bad, like smoking-unfiltered-menthals-while-eating-cheese-coated-lard-and-screaming-at-your-spouse bad.” (It increases our risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and some types of cancer.) I am getting depressed again just re-reading this.
But on the up side, there are plenty of quirky anecdotes and historical trivia to lift your spirits. For example, did you know that graham crackers were invented by the “chastity-obsessed nineteenth century health guru” Sylvester Graham? They were “intended to quell the passions in hormonal adolescent boys.” (Graham felt that bland foods would help lower the boys’ sex drive and its inevitable consequence, masturbation, which would lead to, obviously, insanity.)
Or for a more current example, an experiment conducted by the Monell Chemical Senses Center, which studies smell and taste, “showed that men’s body odor has a calming effect on women.” Use that how you will.
In the end though, I am inspired to take better care of myself. And the good news is that it’s not really that hard (still comes down to move more, eat less, and stress less). Think of this book as a health digest. In the appendix are tips for eating, exercise, and stress reduction gleaned from two years of research, consultations with Harvard professors, Johns Hopkins researchers, and other important medical types, and self-experimentation. Use it. Some if it is as simple as getting rid of bad habits (like eating in front of the t.v., which studies show can increase the amount we eat by up to 71%).
I love reading stuff that is at once inspiring, important, and hysterical. I am reminded of Dave Barry’s famous story on getting his first colonoscopy after his brother was diagnosed with colon cancer. It’s a missive that encourages everyone over 50 to get this preventive, life-saving procedure, is of course filled with poop jokes, and still makes me laugh every time I read it. That reminds me, there IS a chapter on proper pooping methods in Drop Dead Healthy, and it involves a training devise you can install on your toilet that safely allows you to squat. I’ll leave it there for now.
Oh my! I can’t agree more to your, “I love reading stuff that is at once inspiring, important, and hysterical.” I might not have time in the near future for a full read-through; however, you have peaked my curiosity enough that a skim through the next time I am at the books store is definitely in order.