Andro Linklater

A little goes a long way

Is trivia important or trivial?

No book can be entirely bad that tells you a zebra is basically black with up to 250 white stripes, that Princess Diana’s colonic irrigation treatment required ten gallons of water or that the height of the Eiffel Tower grows seven inches during a normal summer (although in this one it has probably shrunk). So many of life’s minor pleasures are contained in the ivvy words — frivolity, privies, rivers, trivets, vivacity, privilege, to name an immediate few — it is no surprise to find an entire book devoted to triviality. A shelf might seem about right for such a subject. But in fact, if all the publications associated with quizzes, lists, useless information, strange achievements and bizarre phenomena were put together, trivia books would fill a warehouse, and the prototype, The Guinness Book of Records, sells three million copies annually. Which is where Mark Mason steps in. Triviality, he declares like a fashion editor insisting that white is this season’s black, is the new importance.

At first, this seems the basis for a rather stylish practical joke, as though calling football ‘the beautiful game’ justified a campaign to have Inverurie Loco Works play their next fixture with Forres Mechanics at the Museum of Modern Art. Mason duly records pages of earnest conversation with trivia-loving friends, celebrities and psychologists in which they agree that although a delight in triviality is largely confined to males and masculine- thinking females — ‘It’s part of “bloke equipment” ’ says John Sessions — it is significant because it throws light on the way we (or perhaps only men and MTFs) perceive the world and relate to one another.

But rather than having fun with this idea, it soon becomes clear that Mason is deadly serious.

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