I admit it – I play table tennis. I go to practice weekly and play in tournaments. I’ve found it to be a minor but enjoyable and worthwhile part of my life. For two hours every week, I work on my forehand stroke; my backhand loop; chops and pushes. I’ve actually consulted a playing manual to improve my form. I saw Everything You Know Is Pong and thought for a moment. Why should I read a book on the noble sport of table tennis that calls it ping pong? With a goofy cover, no less.
But then I saw that this recently released book was written by Eli Horowitz, editor of McSweeney’s literary journal, because it said it on the cover. Eli Horowitz does the graphic design for the book, and it’s beautiful. Nestled between pages of text are blocks of photos and artifacts that follow certain themes, like art inspired by ping pong, or alcohol advertisements that feature ping pong. The center spread is a series of photos of naked people playing ping pong. Barack Obama wrote a form letter when he was Senator of Illinois commending table tennis players taking part in a Chicago tournament and that’s included as well. Some are historical photos; others are found photos from the bottom of a cardboard box and bought at a flea market.
Between these caches of visual material, there are a lot of words as well. There are eight parts written by Roger Bennett, the other author. Although his eight sections have a slight narrative track, they’re more like eight separate essays, each investigating a different connection between the world at large and our humble sport. For instance, chapter two explores the connections between the American suburb and table tennis whereas chapter six discusses China’s role in the sport. After each chapter is a short creative piece about the sport written by a prominent writer. Jonathan Safran Foer contributes a really awesome psychedelic poem-narrative.
And throughout the whole work what is evident is the love of the game. Some of the writers may not be as good as me, and some may beat me in straight games. Some may understand the difference between topspin and backspin (at least I hope.) But regardless of your skill level, ping pong is hip these days, and it’s a great game. Everything You Know Is Pong is an enjoyable read with some literary cred and some really great photos. But of course, if you don’t care about ping pong, well, you’re wrong. You do.