For the fun of it I picked up a book called The Intellectual's Check List by Richard J. Wallace and James V. Wallace. I have always considered myself to be an intellectual. I come from a long line of well educated inventors and clergy and have written and published some fiction. I have an advanced degree. I own way too many books.
I fully expected to make a bad showing in this quiz, and sure enough I did. Not because I am dumb, or because I am not well read, but because of the bias in the questions. There were five pages on Darwin and not a word on Melville. You have to get all the sections of a question right in order to score, so while I have seen four of the five Fred Zimmerman movies, I get Zero Points for missing only one fifth of the question.
The first strike against me was that I am not well traveled enough to score high. I isn’t enough to be able to identify photos, you have to have been there. I have never visited the Hermitage, or LaScala, or even the Quadracci Pavilion in Milwaukee. Zero points.
I may know a lot about some subject, but not the specific things asked. I can quote half of the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock from memory with a fake British accent, but I didn't know that it was part of the Modernist movement, or the year of its publication. Zero Points.
There were lots of things the book thought I should know or do that I never felt the need to do, visit or read. I don't own a single jazz album, though I do listen to the local jazz station from time to time. The only presidential memoirs I have read are by U.S. Grant, and I have no desire to read any other. I do not now nor ever will subscribe to The Paris Review or Tin House. Actually I never even heard of them. Zero Points.
Sometimes I scored high. I do subscribe to a daily paper, visit the library and support my local schools. I could identify the authors of The Scarlet Letter, Walden, Ethan Frome, Little Women, The Jungle, and Portrait of a Lady. I have visited all the listed Boston museums except one. Oops, Zero Points for the Boston Museums.
The book accomplished what I had expected. It lightened a glum day and I got some great suggestions for areas to explore. Some I had never heard of before. I have several more useless facts on my dusty memory shelves. I had fun with it, once I stopped scoring my answers.
The web makes a difference in my life. I may not have been to the Louvre but I can see most of its art by poking a few buttons. I have never been to the Sidney Opera House or Falling Water but I can recognize them in a photograph.
Did I mention that I didn't buy this book at my local independent bookstore, or even at one of the chains or on line? I got it while grocery shopping at BJs. How low brow can you get?
In spite of my dismal scores, I still consider myself an intellectual.