November 12, 2015


Scholastic 2016 Book of World Records Special Edition: Epic Wins and Fails. By Jennifer Corr Morse. Scholastic. $10.99.

     Well, the word “access,” which is a noun, has been turned into a verb, as in “I need to access that data” (which should really be “those data,” but singular and plural are another matter). So it seems only fair that the word “fail,” which is a verb, should be turned into a noun, as in “Epic Wins and Fails” in the subtitle of the latest book of world records from Scholastic. Trivia books (sorry: “factoid” books) have a hard time of it these days, with so many bits of insignificant information available on the Internet and with so many events occurring between the time a book is laid out and the time it reaches readers, which means information in fact-oriented books now has an even more limited lifespan than it used to. In some cases that span can be measured in days, if not hours or minutes.

     So a book such as Scholastic 2016 Book of World Records simply must call itself a Special Edition to attract attention, and if it can create a topic or approach that differentiates it from the flood of Internet information, so much the better. Hence the “Epic Wins and Fails” part of the subtitle. But don’t take those words too seriously, at least not the “Fails” one. Many of the matters mentioned here as “Fails” are anything but, no matter what the book’s layout and words say. “The stonefish is the most poisonous fish in the sea,” the book says on one page, labeling the fish an “Epic Fail.” Two pages later, it notes that the “Smallest Lake” is Benxi Lake in China, but even the book is unconvinced that this is the “Epic Fail” it is labeled as being, since the text goes on to say that the natural lake “though small[,] is considered a place of beauty.” On the other hand, the largest desert, the Sahara, is laid out in the “Epic Wins” section; and for that matter, “actor with the lowest returns per salary dollar: Adam Sandler” is laid out in “Epic Wins” as well. So the book’s layout is itself something of an “Epic Fail.”

     Still, some of the information really is fascinating. Readers who have often heard that McDonald’s is the world’s largest restaurant chain will be surprised to find that it is only the world’s second-biggest global food franchise, with Subway being No. 1. People wondering what the best-selling vehicle in the United States is – Toyota Camry is often mentioned – will find out that the best-seller is actually a truck (or group of trucks), the Ford F-Series. Anyone who remembers Titanic as the top-grossing movie of all time may be surprised to learn that it is actually No. 2, behind Avatar. How about figuring out which state has the most lightning strikes? It is Florida – which for some reason is an “Epic Fail.”

     Some items here are so well-known that their inclusion, while understandable, seems superfluous: the elephant is the heaviest land mammal and the cheetah the fastest, the California Redwood is the world’s tallest tree, the Pacific is the largest ocean (although the fact that it is twice the size of the Atlantic is interesting), the Great White is the most dangerous shark, the gorilla is the largest primate, the reticulated python is the longest snake, and so on. These “Epic Wins” are unlikely to change year after year, so the attraction of finding them in this book mostly has to do with seeing the photos of them and looking at the graphics showing how the No. 1 this-or-that compares with Nos. 2-5. What can potentially change annually are sports, film and popular-culture records, with which, not surprisingly, the book is packed. True, not all of those records change frequently: the major-league ballplayer hit the most times by a pitch (287) was shortstop Hughie Jennings, whose career lasted from 1891 to 1918; and the NFL coach with the worst win-loss percentage, Fay Abbott, won exactly zero games from 1928 to 1929. In fact, odd facts like these are a reason that books like this provide information that readers will probably not find online: you have to know what you are looking for on the Internet in order to search for it, while coming across this sort of fact in a book is a form of serendipity.

     Still, most people who want to own Scholastic 2016 Book of World Records probably want to relive and discuss the “Epic Wins”: Justin Bieber is the highest-paid celebrity under age 30; Apple is the world’s most valuable brand; The Phantom of the Opera is the longest-running Broadway show; Tumblr is the fastest-growing social-media site; is the most popular e-reader service; the top-grossing animated movie of all time is Disney’s Frozen; the most-watched video ever on YouTube is “Gangnam Style”; the NBA player with the most career points is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; the golfer with the most tournament wins is Jack Nicklaus; and on and on. Individually, any of these records – whether defined as Wins, Fails or simply interesting facts – is super-simple to find online. The attraction of a book such as Scholastic 2016 Book of World Records is that it pulls all of them into one place and gives readers sidelights they may not know (even if they know the basic facts) – plus the opportunity, while thumbing through the pages, to discover some matters of interest that they could discover online but would have no reason to look for and therefore wouldn’t find.

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