A.J. Jacobs recently released another memoir analyzing an aspect of his life while simultaneously writing a treatise on a sociological issue. His literary journey has taken him from writing about knowledge and spirituality to his most recent offering, a book exploring the idea of how to build a healthy body.
Jacobs recently took some time to respond to some questions regarding his recent bestseller Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection.
Diversions: Our journal is primarily interested in what we refer to as “American experiences.” Body image is certainly on the minds of many Americans, as is a level of anxiety regarding health. In Drop Dead Healthy, you refer to your wife’s urgings and an experience with pneumonia as catalysts for the pursuit of “bodily perfection.” My first question is, how did your perception of the idea of health change as a result of your experiences?
Jacobs: I realized there’s a big difference between looking healthy and being healthy. America has a weird obsession with washboard abs, for instance. Sure, they’re pretty to look at. But killer abs don’t increase your lifespan. I’m more interested in things that make you live longer, stress less and increase your happiness than those that reveal the musculature of your stomach.
Diversions: You tried a lot of so-called cures on your quest for physical fitness. In retrospect, what alleged path to fitness seemed like the biggest waste of time? Is there any thing you would describe as an obvious scam?
Jacobs: Yes, two things — one from each end of the body. First, juice cleanses and detox diets. There’s little if any scientific evidence that they make you any healthier. Your body detoxes by itself just fine. Second, on the other end, colonics. You can live a long and happy life without shooting water up your butt.
Diversions: What is your writing process? I’ve read The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically, and I’m consistently impressed by the apparent transparency of your style. Does this come naturally to you, or has there been a process of stripping away any boundaries between you and your readers? What are your current boundaries? Are there things you won’t write about or share with your audience? (For the record, I’ve also skimmed The Guinea Pig Diaries at a local Barnes and Noble. I’m not sure why I haven’t bought it yet. I’ll get to work on that ASAP.)
Jacobs: Thank you for your honesty about The Guinea Pig Diaries. Very transparent of you! I think there’s something liberating about writing about my own flaws, so maybe that plays into my writing style. I also read my books out loud to myself and will often change the sentence structure to make it sound more conversational.
Diversions: Can you share any upcoming projects with us? Are there any experiments on the horizon for intrepid urban explorer A.J. Jacobs?
Jacobs: I’m planning on diving into the world of Silicon Valley. I want to embed myself with the startup community.
Diversions: Are you answering my questions from your treadmill desk?
Jacobs: Total honesty here: I spent six hours on my treadmill today and notched up 11,700 steps. But right now I’m sitting on my butt.