Well, whaddaya know?
A lot, as it turns out. You know which day it is, where you sit as you read this article, and you probably know what you’re having for your next meal. You know your name and age and many other things, too, but you don’t know everything. As you’ll see in “Peculiar Questions and Practical Answers” from the files of the New York Public Library, you’ve got a lot to learn.
In the course of your day, you have dozens of times when you’re faced with a situation that’s perplexing and, well, you can’t see how to solve it. Chances are, you turn to your trusty phone and you look there for answers, but if you’re still stymied, you can always call your local library.
For generations, the New York Public Library has fielded calls for information from people all over New York and beyond. From pre-World War II to the later part of the 1980s, they kept track of those questions on small file cards and someone decided to keep the cards. Not long ago, the current staff found an old box of Q&As and they were delighted. They had to share.
Say, for instance, that you’re dying to know how many seeds are in a watermelon. In 1944, someone asked that question, and the staff found an answer for them, which is in this book. You’ll also learn what happens if you swallow some of them.
What do you call the Constitution of the United States? Is there a formal name? Someone needed to know the answer, and so do you.
Can you attend college to become a church usher? It was a burning query for someone during World War II, and there was a solution to the issue then. Not that anyone would play the game at church but that same year, someone else asked about the “social significance” of Blind Man’s Bluff.
Here, you’ll see that at least some of your money weighs less than it did 70 years ago. You’ll find out why mice should never visit amusement parks. And if you’ve ever got a thorny question, you’ll find out where to ask…
That’s helpful to know, when you absolutely can’t spot what you’re looking for. In “Peculiar Questions and Practical Answers,” you’ll get more info, tips on contacting the NYPL, and maybe a little help.
Or maybe not.
While this book is lighthearted and sometimes humorous, there’s not a lot of information here; it’s more like a bookish nibble than a solid snack. Many of the entries are on the slim side of fully answered and some are unsatisfyingly vague: readers are given Dewey decimal numbers and are left to their own devices, which may be woefully inadequate.
The best way, perhaps, to approach “Peculiar Questions and Practical Answers” is to not expect much. It’s lighthearted, definitely browse-able, full of gee-whiz pages but nothing truly substantial. Still, if you’re a trivia fan or someone who’s too busy to read, it’s fun and that’s all you need to know.