Monday, November 05, 2007

Another One for the Christmas Stocking

Joe Queenan in the New York Times Book Review says,
The Toothpick . . . is the work of a maddeningly sober pedant who is anything but a crowd pleaser. “It would appear that in America the use of toothpicks has become largely a matter of class,” he writes in a passage that expertly captures his infatuation with the obvious and the insignificant. “Unlike in the late 19th century, when the urbane crutch-and-toothpick brigade proudly chewed its toothpicks on the steps of fine hotels and restaurants, now it is more the rural and less educated who openly chew theirs in the parking lots, if not at the counter itself, of big-box stores and fast-food establishments.”

Where books like Guns, Germs and Steel or Rats, Lice and History examine overlooked trends or inventions and demonstrate the decisive role they have played, The Toothpick is basically a paean to our irrepressible friend, the toothpick. Petroski assumes that once they have overcome their initially blasé attitude, people will be mesmerized by the tale of how an inexpensive oral-particle-removing device came out of nowhere to take the world by storm. He has forgotten the hoary dictum: Never send a toothpick to do a pencil’s job.

It’s possible that The Toothpick is inspired satire, a deliciously subtle send-up of a genre Petroski helped to popularize. A more plausible explanation is that the author was so emboldened by the public’s giddy response to his earlier work that he decided to go for broke. If this is the case, then we, the reading public, bear
the greatest responsibility for this misfortune.

464 pages on the toothpick! I bet this guy REALLY loved detention.

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