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Because I Said So: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales & Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids
by Ken Jennings (Scribner, 229 pages)

By Jennifer Graham



1/17/2013 - Ken Jennings is the Jeopardy! guy, and no matter how many books he writes, he will always be the Jeopardy! guy, just like Dick Morris will always be associated with toes no matter how many presidential elections he fails to accurately predict. 
 
See — there are worse things than being the Jeopardy! guy. But it must be annoying to be the author of four books and still have your Wikipedia description begin with “American game show contestant.”
 
Jennings is the benignly handsome software engineer who won more than $3 million on Jeopardy! in 2004; he still holds the record for the most money won on a game show. After spending much of his winnings on the three Ts — “taxes, tithing and a wide-screen TV,” he invested enough to enable him to quit his day job, spend more time with his family (he and his wife are Mormons who have two kids), and to write non-fiction books that show off his formidable  trivia skills.  His latest, like the others, is exactly the book you’d expect a brainy former Mormon missionary to write: winsome, bland and vaguely filling, like a bowl of generic corn flakes.
 
Because I Said So, dedicated to Jennings’ kids, is an exhaustive index of Mom-isms, the things parents say to their kids because their parents said it to them, questionable wisdom that has been handed down for centuries because until now there was no easy way of vetting the information. From “Bundle up — you’ll catch a cold” to “Chocolate makes your skin bad” to “Never wake a sleepwalker,” this is stuff that’s sometimes called common sense, other times called old wives’ tales, depending on how it aligns with your world view, your acne and your recent intake of Hershey kisses.
 
Jennings takes the material and neatly categorizes it (mealtime, bumps and bruises, sleep, school, and so forth) and then deems it true or false — or sometimes mostly true and mostly false. He gives the appearance of having done research, although given his history, we suspect he knew all this stuff already.
 
As did we. The problem with this book is that it’s been done before, often in our email inbox in the form of incessant forwards by well-meaning friends. 
 
This is basically a book of domestic legends, many of which have been addressed in the syndicated newspaper column The Straight Dope and on the website snopes.com. Anything that’s not there can be found with a simple Google search in less time than it takes water to boil.
 
In fact, if, at some distant point in the future, you need to know if it’s OK to pop a blister, you can probably find the answer faster via Google than by going to the bookshelf and scrolling through the chapters to find that you should only pop it if “there’s literally no other choice, e.g., if it’s too painful or impossible to walk on.” (Mostly true!)
 
What Jennings does is compile it all in one place. It’s like an encyclopedia — remember those? The Luddites among us who still enjoy our words printed on dead trees can forgive and even enjoy such a thing. For anyone else to, you’d probably have to be a Jeopardy! geek — but Jennings needn’t worry.  Jeopardy! has been around since 1964 — 10 years longer than Jennings — and its following is strong enough to propel this book to bestseller status, even after the gift-giving season has passed. And as a gift book, this has legs like ZZ Top. Mother’s Day, we’re sorry to remind you, is only four months away. C 
 
—Jennifer Graham  





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