Cover ImageAmmon Shea is a total nerd. 

Best of all, he’s not ashamed of it.  He embraces his quirky (to some, but not to me) hobby of reading dictionaries (not to mention his voracious reading habits in general).  Not only that, he takes it all to a new level by reading the OED cover to cover (or rather – covers to covers). 

I applaud his humor, his wit and his self-deprecation because I love a good nerd, especially a self aware one.

I find books like Reading the OED completely and unabashedly undeniable. My only problem with them is that I wished I had written them, but these guys beat me to it!  A.J. Jacobs’ The Know It All is one of my favorite books (of ALL TIME).  I even found David Plotz’s Blogging the Bible an irresistible read (and I’m an atheist!).  Shea calls the OED his Everest.  He’s reading it because it’s there (which I would venture to guess is also why Jacobs and Plotz attempted their arguably insane reading mountains). I empathize with that kind of thinking. 

My attraction to these kinds of books is much like my crush on Tina Fey – it’s entirely based on intelligence and humor (though Ms. Fey is quite the looker).  That the authors who embrace such nerdiness are almost entirely male is a ponderous phenomenon.  Perhaps it’s because it’s not cool to be a smart girl (an even worse sin than being a funny girl, though maybe that is changing thanks to people like Ms. Fey).  Or maybe it’s because nerdy guys feel they have nothing to lose by exposing themselves.  All I know is that when girls try to write about being nerdy it comes out very very wrong.

Exhibit A  – Danica McKellar – formerly Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years.  She is, in reality, a math genius, which, in my mind, makes her a total nerd.  But her books on math for girls, which include one titled Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail are, like, so, uber condescending.  OMG, gag me.  Danica doesn’t so much embrace her nerdiness as dismiss it – it’s ok to smart AND pretty!! Did I mention I was pretty??? Forget my MIT degree , I like pink too! I say this without ever reading a page.  So how do I know this?  Because it takes a certain bravado for even the nerdiest girl to be self deprecating. So much so that I have yet to see it in print (and believe me, I’ve been looking).  In the face of the resentful onslaught a nerdy girl already gets from society she has to be inherently self preserving, which is neither funny nor amusing. It certainly doesn’t sell books.

I could be wrong of course (if I am please let me know so I can read the book!), I think the Great American Girl Nerd Book has yet to be written (hmmm, I can be funny. . .perhaps I have found my calling).  It’s hard enough being nerdy, but it takes a special kind of nerd, one with a huge capacity for ridiculousness (and self ridicule), to write a book that makes the reader enamored and not annoyed with the trappings of intelligence gone awry. 

Ammon Shea does this rather well.  During the chapter he admits that he leaves the library basement and takes the OED on the road (because he was starting to look a bit sallow, he said), only to find the real world too annoying.  He returns to his dank, cavernous, reading oasis – where no one bothered him. 

Some might find that antisocial and perhaps even a bit unhealthy. I find it comforting and a bit hilarious.

Because I’m a nerd too.