If nothing else, The Smartest Book in the World is just a handy guide for appearing more urbane than you are. If you are someone like me who wants to pass off as literate in between armpit scratches and belches – Greg Proops offers a lot of advice. There are book recommendations, movie recommendations, poetry (which I have not read much of honestly without either a rapper or mandatory homework involved) and even good advice on drugs, for the children of course. This advice and discussion is offered with plenty of humor of course. Proops is a very funny guy – and I have expressed my love for his podcast before. I have also discussed why books by comedians let me down – that you often get a rehashed version of jokes you know – but Proops succeeds despite the book basically being just that.
For instance, a refrain through the book is baseball teams – teams of Women, teams of bombshells, teams of English Monarchs, teams of dictators. These are all funny, from the choice to play each position as to Proops logic as to why. But some of these did start out as things he did in podcast form, often prompted by audience members, always extemporaneously, which is dazzling. It is amazing that each week he can string together an entertaining 90-120 minutes with only a few notes and no written material. I was curious whether a medium where that sort of improvisational touch is unimportant would hinder him. But what he does is take some of these half formed ideas, and provide some expansion and some clarity. This means there is plenty of new material, and the ideas have someplace to go.
It is hard to pin a specific best part of the book, but I will call attention to the pacing, which Proops is particularly expert at. As I’ve noted – there are a lot of lists. Lists of baseball teams interspersed with his view on women, society, poetry and such. What is good is that when each specific section could potentially overstay its welcome, he moves to another thing and so there is consistent energy. It moves from serious to silly to social deftly and never slows. Even the afterword and acknowledgements contain more book recommendations which I want to check out. I smiled the whole time.