Joshua Foer

Coming from a family of famously brainy writers, young Joshua Foer acknowledges the pressure upon him to produce his first book, Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything (Penguin, $26.95). Not long out of college, living with his parents, he sets out on a freelance journalistic quest to follow the self-described “mental athletes” who devise elaborate—and often smutty—methods of memorizing playing-card sequences, state capitols, and number strings. It’s bad enough to study this tribe of geeks, worse to join them. Like George Plimpton before him, Foer plunges headlong into participatory journalism, becoming a fellow brain-jock who creates ever more baroque memory palaces—a method originated by the classical Greeks—to form catchy associations with the most mundane of facts. (The first ten digits of pi equals, say, ten naked cheerleaders eating pie!) Eventually, coached by a boozy English tutor, he begins to enter and actually win organized recollection contests. (Even the chess club looks down on such dorks.) And the story gets better (without divulging any spoilers): Foer’s story has been optioned in Hollywood, meaning the outcome is more Rocky than The Alamo. Even as the rest of us can’t remember our own phone numbers or friends’ birthdays—they’re in the iPhone, right? Shit, where did I leave that iPhone?—Foer immerses himself in a pre-digital regimen of mnemonic training and retrieval. While we readers now rely on chips and technology, Foer discovers his own internal software. BRIAN MILLER

Thu., March 31, 7 p.m., 2011

 
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