NPR's Morning Edition has a great audio interview with Steve Almond, author of Candyfreak (reviewed here in an earlier posting) about the trend of "My Year of" nonfiction titles, or as Almond defines them, "schtick-lit". This genre involves the author's quest for knowledge about a certain niche subject, or as Almond notes, schtick lit is the literary version of the current plague of reality television shows.
I have enjoyed many of these recent "My Year Of" titles, most memorably A.J. Jacobs' The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World (NY: Simon and Schuster, 2004). Jacobs read through the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and his book is an enjoyable romp through his humorous takes on all sorts of scientific, historical and biographical tidbits. His next schtick-lit project is The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, but as I have no patience with fundamentalism of any stripe, I think I'll pass.
Other schtick-lit I've enjoyed in recent months:
Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, by Julie Powell (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2005). Julie tackles the entirety of Julia Childs' Mastering the Art of French Cooking (volume one only). Amusing for this foodie, but I wanted more focus on how she tried to shop for classic French ingredients and learned fancy cooking techniques, and less about her friends' personal lives. A much more absorbing read was My Life in France, the posthumously-published memoir by Childs, in which her good humour shines throughout.
Anything by English travel writer Tim Moore. Moore just cracks me up. He is a self-deprecating and very witty writer who has tackled projects in each of his notable books:
Frost on My Moustache: The Arctic Exploits of a Lord and a Loafer (Moore morosely follows the Nordic travels of gung-ho Victorian explorer Lord Dufferin); French Revolutions: Cycling the Tour de France (great Anglo-French rivalries and sore butt jokes); Travels with My Donkey: One Man and His Ass on a Pilgrimage to Santiago (Moore and his hilariously-stubborn donkey Shinto walk 500 northern Spanish miles in the footsteps of many a religious pilgrim). All are highly recommended to anyone who enjoys armchair travel with such guides as Bill Bryson or Tim Cahill; Tim Moore writes in that vein, but is just so much more hapless.