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That is All: John Hodgman's Transcendent Final Audiobook of Complete World Knowledge

Today marks the beginning of the end of audiobooks. But don't cry -- there is still time to buy the last audiobook you will need before the coming global superpocalypse. You see, John Hodgman has released his final audiobook of complete world knowledge: That is All. It is full of jokes, celebrity cameos, mostly fake trivia, two references to Kale City Kale Chips, and fond recollections of Hodgman's now-burned speed zeppelin Hubris. Some of the narration occurs while Hodgman travels aboard the HMS Hodgmanic: the HMS stands for "Hodg Man's Ship," and under international law all vessels are rechristened Hodgmanic while he's aboard. That's just one of the little perks of being a Deranged Millionaire.

As I wrote in my review of Hodgman's That is All print edition (which you should probably read in order to understand the rest of this review), I prefer the audiobook editions of his work -- their production value is absurdly high, with more star voiceover cameos each time. But it's not really about the stars, or the jokes -- it's about the delivery of this performance among friends. Hodgman can narrate the hell out of an audiobook by himself. But when you add in appearances by Dick Cavett, Jon Hamm, Patton Oswalt (including an extended Oswalt-as-Nick-Nolte segment), Rachel Maddow, Paul Rudd, Jonathan Coulton, John Roderick, Sarah Vowell, Wyatt Cenac, and others -- you're getting your money's worth. If I had to pick a single audiobook to be stranded with on a desert island, That is All would be my choice -- with its tone veering from jokey to sweet, and ending on a beautiful high note, this audiobook is greater than its printed companion, because it is performed with friends. It is a rumination on collapse, where by "rumination" I mean "celebration," and by "collapse" I mean something that is much less an end than a beginning. For it is in these end times, these final days of 2012, that we may huddle close around our audiobook players, listen together, and have a laugh together. Just a quick tip before you start: you're going to want to get one of those waterproof covers for the player, because of the coming Blood Wave. I'm not sure what you're going to do about the Omega Pulse.

Gaslighting Paul Rudd

A theme of That is All in audiobook form is Hodgman's gleeful gaslighting of Paul Rudd. As we begin Hodgman's audiobook recording session, Rudd is in the next room narrating the same audiobook into an empty cereal box -- which he believes to be a form of microphone due to the aforementioned gaslighting. Hodgman, in his Deranged Millionaire character, repeatedly subjects Rudd's gullible Paul Rudd character (sorry, Paul) to hilarious psychological abuse. (The phrase "hilarious psychological abuse," at the time of this writing, turns up just one result on Google -- I am pleased to break that streak.) Hodgman returns to Rudd throughout the book, checking on his progress and slowly destroying Rudd's ability to distinguish reality from fiction. And it is awesome.

But don't be fooled by this. In the structure of That is All, the gaslighting of Paul Rudd is what magicians would call the Pledge -- the construction of a situation. It is fun on its own...but wait for the Turn and the Prestige to find the emotional core of this book. (And yes, I preemptively apologize for referring to The Prestige in the context of emotions.)

The Company Fridge

Something unexpected happened eleven months ago. I wrote a review of Hodgman's print edition of That is All, and eventually he noticed it. And his noticing was so sweet that we put it on the company fridge (yes, really). And then Hodgman appeared in our magazine, as our cover model, back in May. How cool is that? (Note: my most recent company fridge moment involved Neil Patrick Harris. Look, Neil. We all know you want more print work. You can even sing a song or something -- we'll just write it down. We have that technology.)

Writing About Talking and Singing

This is the part of the review where I play some clips from the audiobook. I don't have embeddable audio samples from the audiobook, and am probably prohibited by some sort of so-called "copyright law" from posting any. So instead, I guess you should watch a few videos from Hodgman's book tour, to get a flavor for what Hodgman is like live. The audiobook is like this except better, because Hodgman gets punchy in key spots (most notably the $999,999 Ideas segment) and frequently cracks up when joking with people he enjoys (c.f. the off-book material in the Rachel Maddow segment). Also, to be clear, the audiobook doesn't have these fancy moving pictures.

John Hodgman - THAT IS ALL from Adam Pranica on Vimeo.

But how does this translate into an audiobook? Is the audiobook just a stage-style reading of the book? In short, no. The portions of the book that can be read as prose are often read as such. But extended portions (like that whole wine thing, and the following section in which Hodgman lists and describes various wines) are performed as discussions with friends. TV host Rachel Maddow drops by the audiobook studio (sorry, Hodgman's Panic Suite at the Chateau Marmont) to discuss types of wine and perform a wine tasting, and she's terrific. This technique transforms the list-driven portions of Hodgman's book into discussions. And, let's face it, discussions are more fun to listen to than lists -- especially in the car.

All the Little Ragnaroks That Happen Day By Day

I finished listening to the audiobook of That is All on my walk to work yesterday morning. And, listening to an audiobook, I cried a little. On a downtown Portland street. This is not something that happens to me -- I don't cry over audiobooks, certainly not in public. But when Hodgman concluded the book, after reading a powerful segment of the book that hints at his writing future, he sang a song with Cynthia Hopkins. And that song -- listen, that song is worth the price of admission. I was not prepared for it, and I am glad it happened, even though a hobo gave me a creepy look because of it.

Without giving too much away, you should know that That is All makes its crucial Turn when Hodgman stops writing as a familiar character, and begins writing as what we might guess is "himself," whatever that means for a writer who is so aware of his changing status and thus his changing voice. Taking on a new voice, one that is so unselfconscious, is surely a vulnerable place to be after so many years occupying jokey versions of himself -- we've heard Hodgman as a Former Professional Literary Agent, Resident Expert, Famous Minor Television Celebrity, and finally Deranged Millionaire (if you aren't familiar with these, read your history). Now we are hearing from the post-post Hodgman -- in other words, beyond the narrator-in-character writer there is a Hodgman voice we've been waiting to hear from again (I remember this voice from before his first book), and boy does it hit home. The book's brilliant conclusion, telling the story of the metafictional Anne Darling Egan, serves as a transition not just in the book, but in Hodgman's career -- it suggests what Hodgman will do next, after the end of this series of postmodern characters. I have no inside information, but listening to the long segment preceding the closing song, I couldn't help but think -- Hodgman has a novel in him.

What I conclude from That is All is that Hodgman's Deranged Millionaire character was gaslighting us the entire time. The truth, of course, is that Hodgman himself is a genuinely kind person who uses character as a way to express himself with a kind of wry, safe detachment. His recent Derangement is a fun side-note in the arc of his career, but careers aren't what matter. What matters is that we do what we love, that we are with the people we love, and that we do our work surrounded by friends -- that is what Hodgman has been doing by bringing in Paul Rudd and Jonathan Coulton and running gags that span dozens of hours of audio and years of work -- he's demonstrating to us what is most meaningful isn't the jokes, it's that those jokes are shared.

Hodgman's final audiobook of complete world knowledge ends with a surging, crying-in-the-street duet of "Resist the Tide" with Hopkins, just as his public readings have for years, and we are reminded that there is more to audiobooks than speech -- there is song; there is more to jokey books than jokes -- there is the sincerity of sharing; and there is more to the end than sadness -- there is hope. That is all.

Resist the Tide

Here at the end, let's look back at the beginning of that end -- from 11/1/11, when Hodgman and Hopkins performed "Resist the Tide" together at The Bell House, at the beginning of his That is All book tour. Smile about your mortality, and sing along, and know that it's okay to cry a little. I sure did.

Buying the Audiobook

The audiobook of That is All is not available on physical media -- it's digital only. It's about sixteen hours long including bonus features (like the audio-page-a-day calendar version of "Today in Ragnarok"), though the core book material is closer to eleven hours. Pick it up on iTunes, Amazon/Audible, or wherever fine audiobooks are sold digitally. You might also want to check out Hodgman's new boxed set of complete world knowledge if you like reading words rather than listening to them.

Blogger disclosure: I wasn't specially compensated for this review. I received an early version of the audiobook to listen to in my Portland End Times Bungalow.

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7 Things You Might Not Know About Audrey Hepburn
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Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Though she’ll always be known as the little-black-dress-wearing big-screen incarnation of Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, there’s probably a lot you don’t know about Audrey Hepburn, who passed away in Switzerland on January 20, 1993.

1. HER FIRST ROLE WAS IN AN EDUCATIONAL FILM.

Though 1948’s Dutch in Seven Lessons is classified as a “documentary” on IMDb, it’s really more of an educational travel film, in which Hepburn appears as an airline attendant. If you don’t speak Dutch, it might not make a whole lot of sense to you, but you can watch it above anyway.

2. GREGORY PECK WAS AFRAID SHE’D MAKE HIM LOOK LIKE A JERK.

Hepburn was an unknown actress when she was handed the starring role of Princess Ann opposite Gregory Peck in 1953’s Roman Holiday. As such, Peck was going to be the only star listed, with Hepburn relegated to a smaller font and an “introducing” credit. But Peck insisted, “You've got to change that because she'll be a big star and I'll look like a big jerk.” Hepburn ended up winning her first and only Oscar for the role (Peck wasn’t even nominated).

3. SHE’S AN EGOT.

In 1954, the same year she won the Oscar for Roman Holiday, Hepburn accepted a Tony Award for her title role in Ondine on Broadway. Hepburn is one of only 12 EGOTs, meaning that she has won all of the four major creative awards: an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. Unfortunately, the honor came to Hepburn posthumously; her 1994 Grammy for the children’s album Audrey Hepburn’s Enchanted Tales and her 1993 Emmy for Gardens of the World with Audrey Hepburn were both awarded following her passing in early 1993.

4. TRUMAN CAPOTE HATED HER AS HOLLY GOLIGHTLY.

Blake Edwards’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s may be one of the most iconic films in Hollywood history, but it’s a miracle that the film ever got made at all. Particularly if you listened to Truman Capote, who wrote the novella upon which it was based, and saw only one actress in the lead: Marilyn Monroe. When asked what he thought was wrong with the film, which downplayed the more tawdry aspects of the fact that Ms. Golightly makes her living as a call girl (Hepburn had told the producers, “I can’t play a hooker”), Capote replied, “Oh, God, just everything. It was the most miscast film I’ve ever seen. It made me want to throw up.”

5. HOLLY GOLIGHTLY’S LITTLE BLACK DRESS SOLD FOR NEARLY $1 MILLION.

Audrey Hepburn in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'
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In 2006, Christie’s auctioned off the iconic Givenchy-designed little black dress that Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s for a whopping $923,187 (pre-auction numbers estimated that it would go for between $98,800 and $138,320). It was a record-setting amount at the time, until Marilyn Monroe’s white “subway dress” from The Seven Year Itch sold for $5.6 million in 2006.

6. SHE SANG “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” TO JFK IN 1963.

One year after Marilyn Monroe’s sultry birthday serenade to John F. Kennedy in 1962, Hepburn paid a musical tribute to the President at a private party in 1963, on what would be his final birthday.

7. THERE’S A RARE TULIP NAMED AFTER HER.

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In 1990, a rare white tulip hybrid was named after the actress and humanitarian, and dedicated to her at her family’s former estate in Holland.

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11 Things You Didn't Know About Dolly Parton
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Brendon Thorne, Getty Images

Over the past 50-some years, Dolly Parton has gone from a chipper country starlet to a worldwide icon of music and movies whose fans consistently pack a theme park designed (and named) in her honor. Dolly Parton is loved, lauded, and larger than life. But even her most devoted admirers might not know all there is to this Backwoods Barbie.

1. YOU WON'T FIND HER ON A DOLLYWOOD ROLLER COASTER.

Her theme park Dollywood offers a wide variety of attractions for all ages. Though she's owned it for more than 30 years, Parton has declined to partake in any of its rides. "My daddy used to say, 'I could never be a sailor. I could never be a miner. I could never be a pilot,' I am the same way," she once explained. "I have motion sickness. I could never ride some of these rides. I used to get sick on the school bus."

2. SHE ENTERED A DOLLY PARTON LOOK-ALIKE CONTEST—AND LOST.


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Apparently Parton doesn't do drag well. “At a Halloween contest years ago on Santa Monica Boulevard, where all the guys were dressed up like me, I just over-exaggerated my look and went in and just walked up on stage," she told ABC. "I didn’t win. I didn’t even come in close, I don’t think.”

3. SHE SPENT A FORTUNE TO RECREATE HER CHILDHOOD HOME.

Parton and her 11 siblings were raised in a small house in the mountains of Tennessee that lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. When Parton bought the place, she hired her brother Bobby to restore it to the way it looked when they were kids. "But we wanted it to be functional," she recounted on The Nate Berkus Show, "So I spent a couple million dollars making it look like I spent $50 on it! Even like in the bathroom, I made the bathroom so it looked like an outdoor toilet.” You do you, Dolly.

4. SHE WON'T APOLOGIZE FOR RHINESTONE.


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Parton is well-known for her hit movies Steel Magnolias and 9 to 5, less so for the 1984 flop Rhinestone. The comedy musical about a country singer and a New York cabbie was critically reviled and fled from theaters in just four weeks. But while her co-star Sylvester Stallone has publicly regretted the vehicle, Parton declared in her autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business that she counts Rhinestone's soundtrack as some of her best work, especially "What a Heartache."

5. SHE IS MILEY CYRUS'S GODMOTHER, SORT OF.

"I'm her honorary godmother. I've known her since she was a baby," Parton told ABC of her close relationship with Miley Cyrus. "Her father (Billy Ray Cyrus) is a friend of mine. And when she was born, he said, 'You just have to be her godmother,' and I said, 'I accept.' We never did do a big ceremony, but I'm so proud of her, love her, and she's just like one of my own." Parton also played Aunt Dolly on Cyrus's series Hannah Montana.

6. SHE RECEIVED DEATH THREATS FROM THE KU KLUX KLAN.

A photo of Dolly Parton on stage
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In the mid-2000s, Dollywood joined the ranks of family amusement parks participating in "Gay Days," a time when families with LGBT members are encouraged to celebrate together in a welcoming community environment. This riled the KKK, but their threats didn't scare Dolly. "I still get threats," she has admitted, "But like I said, I'm in business. I just don't feel like I have to explain myself. I love everybody."

7. TO PROMOTE LITERACY, SHE STARTED HER OWN "LIBRARY."

In 1995, the pop culture icon founded Dolly Parton's Imagination Library with the goal of encouraging literacy in her home state of Tennessee. Over the years, the program—built to mail children age-appropriate books—spread nationwide, as well as to Canada, the UK, and Australia. When word of the Imagination Library hit Reddit, the swarms of parents eager to sign their kids up crashed the Imagination Library site. It is now back on track, accepting new registrations and donations.

8. PARTON'S HOMETOWN HAS A STATUE IN HER HONOR.

A stone's throw from Dollywood, Sevierville, Tennessee is where Parton grew up. Between stimulating tourism and her philanthropy, this proud native has given a lot back to her hometown. And Sevierville residents returned that appreciation with a life-sized bronze Dolly that sits barefoot, beaming, and cradling a guitar, just outside the county courthouse. The sculpture, made by local artist Jim Gray, was dedicated on May 3, 1987. Today it is the most popular stop on Sevierville's walking tour.

9. THE CLONED SHEEP DOLLY WAS NAMED AFTER PARTON.

In 1995 scientists successfully created a clone from an adult mammal's somatic cell. This game-changing breakthrough in biology was named Dolly. But what about Parton inspired this honor? Her own groundbreaking career? Some signature witticism or beloved lyric? Nope. It was her legendary bustline. English embryologist Ian Wilmut revealed, "Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn't think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton's."

10. SHE TURNED DOWN ELVIS.

After Parton made her own hit out of "I Will Always Love You," Elvis Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, reached out in hopes of having Presley cover it. But part of the deal demanded Parton surrender half of the publishing rights to the song. "Other people were saying, 'You're nuts. It's Elvis Presley. I'd give him all of it!'" Parton admitted, "But I said, 'I can't do that. Something in my heart says don't do that.' And I didn't do it and they didn't do it." It may have been for the best. Whitney Houston's cover for The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1992 was a massive hit that has paid off again and again for Parton.

11. SHE JUST EARNED TWO GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS.

Parton is no stranger to breaking records. And on January 17, 2018 it was announced that she holds not one but two spot in the Guinness World Records 2018 edition: One for Most Decades With a Top 20 Hit on the US Hot Country Songs Chart (she beat out George Jones, Reba McEntire, and Elvis Presley for the honor) and the other for Most Hits on US Hot Country Songs Chart By a Female Artist (with a total of 107). Parton said she was "humbled and blessed."

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