KNOWLEDGEABLE FROM A TO Z On a rainy afternoon, a senior editor at Esquire magazine, A.J. Jacobs, spoke at the New York Public Library about his book "The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World" (Simon & Schuster).
The program, sponsored by NYPL's Library Shops, offered the audience insight into his Herculean feat of reading the Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover.
He said that when all of the volumes in the set are piled on top of one another, the stack stands at 4 feet 2 inches - "a Danny DeVito of knowledge," Mr. Jacobs called it, referring to the actor's small stature.
He told the audience that in case they wanted to "crack the code" and figure out how to get themselves included as an Encyclopedia Britannica entry, he would offer some hints. Become a botanist, he said. It seemed, he said, that "every third or fourth person" was a botanist. Also, "They love their Arctic explorers," he said, adding to audience laughter. "Especially if it's an ill-fated expedition."
Mr. Jacobs talked about unusual facts he learned: Rene Descartes fancied cross-eyed women; Nathaniel Hawthorne was obsessed with the number "64" and wrote it on scraps of paper; and that Egyptians mummified mice and embalmed them along with the cats. After a while, his wife told him that she would fine him a dollar for "every irrelevant fact I inserted in conversation."
When asked about his book tour, Mr. Jacobs recalled on audience member in Santa Cruz, Calif., who inserted his own irrelevant fact into a discussion, claiming, "Christopher Columbus came to America in search of hashish." Mr. Jacobs said he disagreed.
Asked who else had read the entire encyclopedia, Mr. Jacobs offered two names. The first was famed heart surgeon Dr. Michael DeBakey. Mr. Jacobs said that they had compared notes on their wide-reaching readings, and Dr. DeBakey said he had skimmed parts of the encyclopedia. Mr. Jacobs said he himself could not have done that, since it would be like running a marathon - but hopping into a cab for the uphill sections.
Mr. Jacobs's other predecessor in having read the entire encyclopedia? Playwright George Bernard Shaw. Always alert to one upsmanship, Mr. Jacobs bested Shaw by saying, "He read it when it was much shorter."
STAR ATHLETE At the evening dedicated to the publication of Holocaust memoirs sponsored by the International Study of Organized Persecution of Children, Margaret Bergman Lambert, a spry, nonagenarian and former high jumper, described how fury impelled her performance.
In her book "By Leaps and Bounds" (United States Holocaust Museum-Holocaust Survivors Memoirs Project), Ms. Lambert recounts how she was forced off the German Olympic team before the Berlin Olympics because of her Jewish faith - even though she had tied the women's high-jump record in Germany a few weeks earlier.
When Eva Fogelman introduced the author as 91 years old, Ms. Lambert, as feisty as a youngster, corrected her: "I am only 90 years old, if you please, and don't forget it."
Other books celebrated that evening included: Adam Boren's "Journey Through the Inferno" (United States Holocaust Museum-Holocaust Survivors Memoirs Project); Dr. Charlotte Kahn's "Resurgence of Jewish Life in Germany" (Praeger Publishers); Hadassah Rosensaft's "Yesterday My Story" (United States Holocaust Museum-Holocaust Survivors Memoirs Project); and Joseph Tenenbaum's "Legacy and Redemption: A Life Renewed" (United States Holocaust Museum-Holocaust Survivors Memoirs Project).
POLTERGEIST POWER The Parapsychology Foundation hosted a lecture by Oxford-educated William Roll Jr., who spoke on "Running from Poltergeists: The Curious Story of Tina Resch." Mr. Roll, a parapsychologist at the State University of West Georgia, has written four books. His latest, "Unleashed" (Paraview Pocket Books), describes how an Ohio family endured a poltergeist whirlwind that moved objects in their home, eventually causing the their family to unravel during the 1980s.
The crowded audience at the New York Academy of Sciences included Stephen Greeley; psychic Clare Hogenauer; and Ted Wisniewski, who is writing a doctoral dissertation at the CUNY Graduate Center involving psychology and counterculture of the 1960s. Also present was the executive director of the Parapsychology Foundation, Lisette Coly, and the speaker's son, William Roll III, who is based in Brewster, N.Y., and works for American Portfolios.
During his remarks, Mr. Roll Jr. made reference to his son. The audience laughed when he said, "Bill is also working in the occult. He's a financial planner."
BOOK TALK East Village Books at 99 St. Mark's Place between First Avenue and Avenue A has interesting newspaper clippings - including an obituary of Frankfurt School philosopher Herbert Marcuse - pasted to its walls.
But one section of books in the front of the store has labels that read "ethic non-fiction." While moral philosophy and ethics is generally non-fiction, the store likely meant to write "ethnic nonfiction."
WHITING WRITING Each year the Whiting Foundation grants awards to America's promising young writers. What are some of the 2004 award winners working on next?
Poet A. Van Jordan is researching the work of African-American film director Oscar Michaux in the context of the Leo Frank lynching case and D.W. Griffith's "Birth of A Nation." Nonfiction writer Allison Glock is exploring the story of a girl who disappeared in the Smokey Mountains in the 1970s.
Victor LaValle is at work on a horror novel.
GRATITUDE BREAKFAST "You should spend the first half of your life chasing success and the second half chasing significance," said Town & Country's editor, Pamela Fiori, in her introduction to designer Vera Wang.
Ms. Wang was honored at the Women In Communications Gratitude Breakfast. Known for her bridal gowns, Ms. Wang also made it clear she understands post wedding demands when she good-naturedly thanked her husband and teenage daughters for proving that "no matter how overwhelming things get in professional life, they can always get much worse at home."
KNICK-KNACKS Georgette Mosbacher, Saul and Gayfryd Steinberg, and many others were at NBC Universal's executive dining room as CNBC's president, Pamela Thomas Graham, introduced Maria Bartiromo, who is anchoring the new CNBC Sunday show called "The Wall Street Journal Report With Maria Bartiromo"...At the 17th annual Meals on Wheels Power Lunch at the Rainbow Room, guests signed greeting cards that are to be passed out with meals distributed during the holiday season. Longtime supporters on hand included Gloria Steinem and Barbara Walters. The latter quipped, "Helping the city's seniors? We are the city's seniors!"