The Smartest Book In The World by Greg Proops | Book review by Steve Bennett

The Smartest Book In The World by Greg Proops

Book review by Steve Bennett

The most entertaining part of Greg Proops's 'concise curriculum of cool' is its introduction, when this man of many interests sets forth his agenda, making an eloquent case for the prejudices and passions that will inspire the following pages.

But this attempt to replicate the success of his amusing, erudite podcast in book form is fatally flawed as the discursive nature of conversation translates to a frustratingly scattergun read.

He flits from topic to topic, his pets being music, poetry, film and baseball. Oh god the tedious, tedious baseball…

Most of the things he tries to enthuse the reader in are dismissed too briskly, and in too little depth. Few entries are more than a page long, so with a movie, for instance, once he's outlined the plot there's very little left.

And there's not much to offer those who are already interested in the subject. On punk, for example, he recommends just three albums: The Sex Pistols' Never Mind The Bollocks, The Clash's London Calling and the Ramones' Rocket To Russia. Excellent choices all, but not exactly obscure.

The language he uses to describe his favourites can be entertaining, especially if you can hear the author's distinctive nasal tones in your head, but also repetitive. On the chapter singing the praises of his favourite Women (the word takes a capital simply because Proops things they deserve it), each is described with near-identical hyperbole.

Of Jayne Mansfield you would 'leave your family on an ice floe and walk over the glacier just to drown near her'; of Sophia Loren 'you would sell your mother into servitude if she batted her eyelashes at you', of Sharon Stone: 'you would ruin your life to wait in line to be abused by [her]; while Diana Rigg 'causes you to resign your post s head of the English department because she said she might meet you for a smoke in the rosebushes'. All nice phrases, but all variants of the same formula.

It demonstrates the flaw of this format. That a snippet that might be amusing in isolation becomes dulled in the context of countless other similar snippets. This may be OK for a book to dip very briefly in and out of, but any more than five minutes and it becomes frustratingly dull.

Speaking of dull; the only thing he writes in length about is his beloved baseball – and the sport even inveigles its way into other topics as he builds fantasy teams based on topics such as English monarchs. But unless you're already interested in pitching averages, he can't make you care, so you flip restlessly through the pages to find a topic you like – only to find him telling you what you already knew.

So while this book, newly released in the UK to coincide with his West End appearances with Whose Line Is It Anyway? is designed to be a sort of Wikipedia with all the boring bits taken out, it ends up too slight to matter.

By all means listen to Proops' podcast for free, in fact we'd recommend it. Sorry, I mean, 'you should pluck out your own eyes just for he privilege of hearing just one delicious syllable of his wisdom undistracted by any mere physical vision,' to use his sort of prose. But shelling out for a book? Don't bother… just sneak a peak at one of his album or film recommendations and buy that instead.

• The Smartest Book In The World by Greg Proops is published by by Simon & Schuster at £16.99. If you'd like to ignore our advice, it's available from Foyles at £13.59 here.

Published: 23 Jun 2015

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