Seriously Trivial

For the lover of lists, charts, and compendia of facts.



The World's Most Difficult Quiz 2

By Pat Cullen


The most diabolically challenging trivia quiz in history was once a final examination given to students at a boarding school on the Isle of Man. Begun in 1905, the annual "General Knowledge Papers" pose themed sets of questions (Which consort outlived the king by 61 years? What has a malodorous tetroxide?) that have become an annual sensation since The Guardian began printing the questions in 1951. Rambling through history, literature, science, and current events, this collection of brain-busters would be classified as a form of torture -- but quizmaster Pat Cullen mercifully includes the answers.



Hello Goodbye Hello

By Craig Brown


A loop of chance encounters between celebrities, politicians, artists, and authors delivers both play and profundity in this endlessly entertaining game of a book. Whether marveling at Mark Twain's gracious reception of a 23-year-old Rudyard Kipling or casting an incredulous eye on the praise H. G. Wells heaps on Stalin, you'll be astonished by the moments of serendipity uncovered by Craig Brown's ingenious daisy chain -- and garner some ice-breaking anecdotes for future meetings of your own.



Robertson's Book of Firsts

By Patrick Robertson


Patrick Robertson's new compendium of achievements, innovations, and discoveries isn't just good fodder for your next quiz night. It's also full of eyebrow-raisers, as the fifty years worth of research behind this volume yields stories that overturn conventional wisdom about everything from how popcorn arrived in America to the first black head of state. The best part: each of Robertson's gracefully composed short entries makes delightful reading.



The Secret Life of Words

By Henry Hitchings


Word origins are among the most enticing treats for trivia lovers, and Henry Hitchings, the award-winning author of Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr Johnson's Dictionary, spreads an etymological feast in this book. His uniquely constructed history of English shows it to be a truly polyglot language, following hundreds of words back to sometimes startling origins, from "cushy" (no relation to "cushion") and "doodle" to "hype" and even "wiki" (that last one involves an airport shuttle bus). Quite possibly the most browsable book on language ever written.



A History of the World in 100 Objects

By Neil MacGregor


The director of the British Museum offers a dazzling tour through the human past as he and his curators dive into the world-renowned institution's treasure trove of artifacts. From an Olduvai hand-axe to a chronometer from Darwin's ship The Beagle, MacGregor's inventory of these items is one readers can return to time and again, continually finding fresh insights about where we've been, and where we might be heading.

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

A pair of linked stories finds that, as translator Ann Jefferson relates, "[Pierre] Michon's great theme is the precarious balance between belief and imposture, and the way the greatest aspirations can be complicated by physical desire or the equally urgent desire for what he calls glory."