Book Review: Quotes Every Man Should Know, ed. by Nick Mamatas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“We are all drowning in a sea of quotations, our lungs too full of wisdom to even breathe.” ~ Nick Mamatas
You know what I love about that quote? It’s the author of this book quoting himself in his own introduction to his book of quotes. This wonderfully amusing, slightly ridiculous level of meta irony is what has made Quirk Books so successful in recent years. I would call them the hipster publishing house, except I don’t think they take themselves that seriously (and I’m not sure if they even have a beard). Like most of the other books from Quirk I’ve read, this slim volume edited by Mamatas undergirds a tongue-in-cheek approach with a layer of real consideration, making for a fun, worthwhile book.
Let’s be honest, anyone can slap together a collection of quotes and call it wisdom. If 100 people sat down to do it, each on their own, I’d bet dollars to donuts there would be plenty of overlap in terms of sources. You’d have your Socrates, your Ben Franklin, your Buddha and Gandhi, there would be a good mix of Biblical sources, and probably a liberal sprinkling of Churchill. If you’re feeling sassy, you might reach for Oscar Wilde and maybe a bit of Twain. Mamatas does more or less that, but he also mixes in more modern sources like Louis C.K., Ricky Gervais, and John Wayne. The roster of thinkers is not what makes this a good collection though, it’s what the editor does with them.
Mamatas takes the time to not only discuss quotation in general, but also some of the specific sources. He gives advice on how and when to quote (including the extremely apt, “Be sparing”) and provides topical context for much of the material he presents. Each chapter is preceded by a brief introduction and punctuated with other thoughts, such as the page and a half devoted to Yogi Berra. I especially appreciated Chapter 6, “They Never Said That.” In this case, the editor devotes about a page each to debunking some of the most oft-used, erroneously attributed, quotations (I admit, I was a little broken up to get confirmation that Ben Franklin never said the bit about beer and God).
All in all, this is a useful little book for any guy to have on his shelf. Not only can it raise your intellectual game on a surface level, but I think it also gives you a chance to be more than an “exhaustive human database.” For, as René Descartes said, “It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well.” Right on, René.