Listening to Little Gray Books

A podcast night out.

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You know that feeling when you learn a new word and suddenly you hear it everywhere you go? I’ve been having the feeling lately, but with a person instead of a word. His name is John Hodgman.

He first passed into my consciousness a few months ago through his witty, nerdy appearances on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. He’s one of the new crop of “correspondents” that’s trying (and so far mostly failing) to fill the shoes of departed greats Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell. I liked Hodgman’s deadpan quirkiness immediately.

Then I started seeing him on the new Apple commercials in which he—dressed in business drab—represents the stodgy, bug-riddled PC, and a cool guy in a T-shirt plays the role of the Macintosh. Really good ads, although I’ll leave it to Seth Stevenson to tell me why I like them so much.

And this week I discovered four new (to me anyway) lines on the versatile Mr. Hodgman’s résumé:

1) He used to be a literary agent.
2) He writes for the New York Times Magazine and wrote a book of (fictional) trivia called The Areas of My Expertise.
3) He’s the same John Hodgman I’ve heard numerous times on public radio’s This American Life,including in a now-classic 2001 piece asking people which superpower they’d choose—flying or invisibility.
4) Since 2001, he has hosted a series of smart, funny, literate performances in Brooklyn called The Little Gray Book Lectures.

The lectures, which include performances by TAL veterans like Sarah Vowell and Starlee Kine, are no doubt old news to Brooklynites. But I hadn’t heard of them here in California until a friend alerted me to the podcast version. (Web site here; iTunes feed here.) The few I’ve heard are a real pleasure, covering such useful topics as “How To Observe Presidents Day (Observed)” and “Secrets of the Secret Agents.”

The bad news is that there are only a few to hear. The podcast feed hasn’t been updated for a year, and it contains only a fraction of the many lectures Hodgman & Co. have staged. Here’s hoping we’ll be treated to at least a few more Little Gray Books in the coming months.

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