Wednesday, December 14, 2011

you can prove anything with facts

You know that thing that some people have whereby they take a kind of perverse pride in not reading novels? There's a bit in Sideways where Miles is picking up Jack from his in-laws' house to go on their weekend away and the subject of Miles' novel-writing comes up, and Jack's future father-in-law says something like: meh, I never read novels; when there's all this stuff to find out about the world why would I want to read something someone made up?

Strangely such people never seem to apply the same sort of logic to other artistic media. Films? Meh, I never go to see films - I just stay home and watch documentaries about rural llama husbandry in the lower Andes. Music? Meh, I never listen to music - I just listen to somebody reading out the Oxford English Dictionary and the Periodic Table on a constant loop.

In any case, the usual argument regarding finding out stuff about the world is bogus - I mean, never mind the obvious retort about finding out things about human nature etc. from novels, even the idea that you don't learn cold hard facts is bollocks on even the most cursory examination. Why yes, since you ask, I can and will furnish you with an example: on University Challenge the other night Jeremy Paxman asked a question which basically went: the tropical diseases kwashiorkor and [some other disease I've forgotten the name of; might have been marasmus I suppose] are caused by a deficiency of what? I knew the answer was protein solely because it gets a mention in The Poisonwood Bible (on page 514, see below) and I clocked the word at the time and went and looked it up.

Incidentally it is indeed a picturesque word, and derives from the Ghanaian for "the sickness the baby gets when the new baby comes", which is rather wonderful, although not for you if you get it.

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