Wednesday, December 26, 2012
“The Onion Book of Known Knowledge” by The Onion; Little, Brown and Co. ($29.99)
You may think you know everything about everything, but “The Onion Book of Known Knowledge” would beg to differ.
The latest book from the crackpots — er, writers — at the satiric news source have taken on the whole wide world this time out in this “Definitive Encyclopedia of Existing Information” (their words).
“We knew the whole appeal of doing an encyclopedia would be that we could make a joke about anything,” says editor Will Tracy. “There was no corner of the known universe we couldn’t cover.”
And so the extremely funny “Book of Known Knowledge” starts at A and ends at Z, with a totally made-up letter somewhere in between. How does something so wide-ranging — it includes entries from chainsaw (“portable mechanical saw that doesn’t fit in your briefcase, so you’ll just have to get to work early that day and put it under your desk before your co-workers arrive”) to quince (“fruit native to the Middle East, and yet another goddamn thing that exists and must be catalogued”) come together?
“We had a running list of things we knew we had to have, like God and World War II, things that you’d expect to find,” Tracy says. “Once we covered those, it was sort of like, ‘Do whatever you want. You want to write a entry on Apple? Do that.’”
This comprehensive approach may explain entries like “Jupsi: what Pepsi was called for some reason in a weird dream Muscatine, Iowa, resident Jessica Perrin had on the night of May 7, 2003.”
“I wrote that entry in the last few months. We were just starting to get nutty,” Tracy admits. “That’s when some of the entries started coming in and we’d go, ‘What the f--- is this?’ But we were light on J entries. I was just trying to think of something funny.”
With ideas flying in willynilly, the Onion writers have to trust their colleagues’ feedback about what works.
“Sometimes I think I have something really great, but the room doesn’t go for it,” Tracy says. “Months later, I’ll look at it and I’ll think, ‘Yeah, that wasn’t that great.’ It happens less and less, though, the longer you’re doing it. With this book we just had to watch out that the jokes would be something we’d already used. Trying not to repeat ourselves was hard.”
The Onion appears in many forms these days — via Twitter @TheOnion, a news channel, a website, in books — but there’s one thing linking them all: “That main Onion brand core voice runs through it all,” Tracy says. “That’s a language we all speak.”