To All the Authors I’ve Loved Before

A.J. Jacobs, author of Thanks a Thousand, thanks the authors of books he remembers fondly.

When A.J. Jacobs decided to thank every single person involved in his morning cup of joe, he couldn’t imagine the journey ahead of him—to Minnesota, to thank the miners who extract the iron used to make coffee roasters; to Madison Avenue, to thank the marketers who got his attention; and to Colombia, to thank the farmers of his favorite coffee bean. The more gratitude he expresses, Jacobs finds, the better he feels. In Thanks a Thousand, he reminds us of the interconnectedness of our world, and encourages us to look up and express gratitude.

Here, Jacobs turns his grateful attitude toward the authors of the books that delighted, inspired, and taught him something (even if it was just how to fake understanding—looking at you, Barthes).


Dear Lewis Carroll,

Thank you for writing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Thanks in particular for providing me with the one poem that I decided to memorize as a kid, and which I still half-remember: “You Are Old, Father William.” And now that I am old myself, and my hair has started to turn very white, your poem reminds me that it’s okay for old people to occasionally embrace childlike absurdity, even if I don’t turn a back-somersault at the door.

Gratefully,
A.J. Jacobs

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Dear Author of that book I read about the science of sports,

I’m sorry I can’t remember your name or the title of your book. But I read it when I was ten years old, and it had one of the most profound influences on my worldview ever. Here’s why: You had a section on how curveballs work. You wrote that the ball curved because the swinging bat caused an air current that moved the ball. Which is totally untrue. A huge mistake. It seemed weird to me even then, so I asked my dad, and he explained the real reason (if a ball is spinning, the faster-flowing air under the ball creates less pressure and forces the ball down). So thank you for teaching me not to believe everything I read. It was my first exposure to fake news. It gave me a healthy skepticism that I treasure to this day.

Gratefully,
A.J. Jacobs

Dear Judy Blume,

Thank you for providing me with one of the formative memories of my youth: sneaking into Steve Siskin’s parents’ bedroom, stealing their copy of Wifey, and reading out loud the naughty parts (Steve had memorized all the important page numbers). Side note: Steve’s parents also had a shower curtain with illustrations from the kama sutra. They were those kind of parents.

Gratefully,
A.J. Jacobs

Dear Kurt Vonnegut,

Thank you for writing Breakfast of Champions. You showed me that an author can illuminate important points by making inappropriate childlike doodles in the middle of a book.

Gratefully,
A.J. Jacobs

Dear Roland Barthes,

Thank you for making me unbearably pretentious my freshman year of college. I devoured your book Mythologies. I pretended to understand it. I started using words like “signifier” and “intertextuality” in everyday conversation. I’ve since become a stodgy skeptic of post-modernism, but at least you made my brain work overtime.

Gratefully,
A.J. Jacobs

Dear Tom Wolfe,

Thank you for showing me you can never use too many adjectives (see “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby”). And thank you for showing a high-schooler who had no talent for invented tales that nonfiction can be just as creative and playful as fiction.

Gratefully,
A.J. Jacobs

Dear Agatha Christie,

Thank you for providing me with my first big reading challenge: finish all 66 of your detective novels. I don’t think I ever did—I probably got to about 50—but I loved trying. I correctly guessed the murderer about 10 percent of the time, so congratulations on fooling me. I remember especially liking And Then There Were None, but I just looked it up on Wikipedia and am horrified by the original title. I’m not sure what to say about that.

With gratitude and unease,
A.J. Jacobs

Dear Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica,

When I was a kid, my dad started to read your book from A to Z. He didn’t quite finish (he made it up to somewhere around Borneo when he decided he could probably use his time better). As an adult, I decided to try to finish what he began and remove that stain from our family history. I wrote about my encyclopedic quest in my first book. Your encyclopedia was an amazing, fascinating, sometimes mind-numbingly boring book. I wish I remembered it better, and I wish I remembered more important facts (do I really need to know that opossums have 13 nipples? No. But it’s stuck in my cerebral cortex). But I do remember that reading the entirety of human history has made me much more grateful to be alive today. We have plenty of challenges now, but I no longer have nostalgia for the past. The good old days weren’t good. They were disease-ridden, dangerous, sexist, racist, homophobic and really, really smelly. So, thanks for making me more appreciative of life nowadays.

Gratefully,
A.J. Jacobs


Author Photo: Lem Latimer

A.J. JACOBS is the author of Thanks a Thousand, It’s All Relative, Drop Dead Healthy, and the New York Times bestsellers The Know-It-All, The Year of Living Biblically, and My Life as an Experiment. He is a contributor to NPR and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Entertainment Weekly. He lives in New York City with his wife and kids. Visit him at AJJacobs.com and follow him on Twitter @ajjacobs.

About A.J. JACOBS

A. J. Jacobs

A.J. JACOBS is the author of Thanks a Thousand, It’s All Relative, Drop Dead Healthy, and the New York Times bestsellers The Know-It-All, The Year of Living Biblically, and My Life as an Experiment. He is a contributor to NPR and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Entertainment Weekly. He lives in New York City with his wife and kids. Visit him at AJJacobs.com and follow him on Twitter @ajjacobs.

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