“Let’s Be Less Stupid”: A Humorist Seeks the Possibilities

Indeed, sometimes, when I look for my glasses while wearing my glasses, I think, “My, my, it’s going to be a very smooth transition to dementia”. Patricia Marx, author of Let’s Be Less Stupid

Former SNL writer Patricia Marx, worried about her mind’s possible age-related decline, took on a “Smartification Program” for four months, trying all sorts of popular intelligence enhancers. Whether or not she achieved her goal is revealed in her new book aptly titled Let’s Be Less Stupid: An Attempt to Maintain My Mental Faculties.

Publishers Weekly: “She blames the information age for overstuffing people’s brains with information. Marx includes quizzes, tests, and teasers to improve readers’ memories, aiming them at her fellow baby boomers who fear dementia more than death. She also provides lists of things to forget, including inconsequential presidents, wars, and Shakespeare plays.”

Marx, if you haven’t caught on yet, is a humorist. Heller McAlpin, NPR, calls her style “equal parts sarcasm, silliness and smarts.” Also enlisted are “‘second opinions’ from friends, who are no slouches in the wit department themselves.” And she includes “quirky line drawings and maps of her brain that evoke Roz Chast’s cartoons” and such games as “Middle-Age Mad Libs.”

Sample questions (New Yorker) from a quiz designed to test your mental age:

  • What’s that thing that you put in the thing? The thing you take pictures with. That thing. What’s the thing you put inside that?
  • Off the wagon? On the wagon? Which is the good one, and by good one I mean the bad one that’s not fun?
  • Why is there a Post-it on the cutting board?

So, what specific kinds of things were supposed to make Marx less likely to lose her faculties? States the author in the LA Times:

For example, I learned Cherokee, zapped electricity into my brain, meditated, did online brain exercises and, for one day, gave up Diet Coke. Before and after my Smartification Program, I had my brain imaged and my IQ taken. Did I get less stupid?
I can’t reveal that secret. Actually I can, it’s on Page 182 of my new book.

Kirkus Reviews elaborates on Marx’s process:

…Along the way, she discovered befuddling controversies. Alcohol, for example, ‘does not kill brain cells’ but does damage dendrites, which conduct messages from one cell to another. According to some experts, rearranging furniture stimulates the brain, as does taking a nap, ingesting ginkgo biloba, not ingesting ginkgo biloba, consuming antioxidants, and creating ‘top one hundred’ lists. ‘As someone whose favorite sport is sitting,’ Marx confesses, ‘I would just once like to hear some bad news about physical exercise.’ Alas, ‘better thinking’ turns out to be a benefit of aerobics. Willing to try some form of meditation, Marx chose ‘mindfulness,’ clicking on a YouTube video featuring clouds, waves, sunsets, ‘and any number of other pictures that look like the photographs you’ve removed from store-bought frames’….

Sarah Lyall, New York Times:

This is investigative journalism at its laziest. I mean that in a positive way. ‘You don’t really expect me to eat legumes and unrefined cereal, do you?’ Ms. Marx says. Nor will she try to sleep more, or apply herself very rigorously to ‘mindful meditation,’ especially when her instructor declares, ‘If you understand the raisin, you understand mindfulness.’ (‘That’s a big if,’ Ms. Marx says.)

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