The QI Annual is an endeavor several years in coming, and thank the stars, it more than makes up for the wait. Its theme is all things beginning with "E", and unlike The Book of General Ignorance, the source of its content has little to do with what has already been featured on the show. It focuses, instead, on original tidbits of knowledge offered up by a refreshing variety of authors.
As its colourful cover would suggest, many of QI's regular panellists contribute items to the Annual, their topics ranging from the scholarly to the silly. Dara Ó Briain's narrative about how some of Eire's less celebrated historical figures have actually helped out the world of medicine is hilariously riveting, and Bill Bailey does his part in being entertainingly knowledgeable by offering up brief biographies of "Embarrassingly Named Composers". Even Clive Anderson's treatise on the English Elm is a pleasure to read, for it is suffused with his characteristic wit.
On the other side of the bridge of erudition, we get treats like Jo Brand's imaginary gig as an Agony Aunt ("Dear Aunty Jo, I am on a television show called QI and I keep coming last. What shall I do? Love, Alan"), the pictorial demonstration of emotions by Jimmy Carr and Rowan Atkinson, and Jeremy Clarkson's guide to eating exotic creatures (self-researched, of course). Alan Davies' piece is an essay on--what else?--Essex, and illustrated with a near-nude picture of Jodie Marsh, but it is surprisingly full of interesting information about the area, much of it garnered from personal experience.
Of the segments in the Annual related, if sometimes peripherally, to the show, there is a page on "the poetry of QI", which has rendered extracts from the programme into free verse poems. The highlight here is Julian Clary's much-acclaimed "I Had Wind When I Met the Queen", but I'm a personal fan of "David Beckham Lives in Chingford". On another set of facing pages, the QI Elves guide you through a series of wacky experiments you can actually do, such as measuring the speed of light using grated cheese and a microwave. The accompanying pictures of them in lab-wear makes it clear that, yes, they've done it themselves.
The book provides well for those wanting quick distraction and those willing to delve right into the pile of wisdom. As you might expect from an annual publication, it presents a selection of games and puzzles with which to divert one's attention, including a fiendishly hard quiz that can be entered online. The QI philosophy of offering real knowledge in an absorbing way is not ignored, however, and the annual duly contains fact-filled essays on the eighteenth century and excommunication, tucked in among pieces about lavatories and erotica. Overall highlights include the multi-paneled pastiche entitled "The Education of Stephen" (which has to be seen to be believed), and a disturbingly graphic representation of "The Atrocities of Francois L'Ollonais".
Needless to say, if you were looking for a Christmas gift that'll be a surefire winner, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the QI Annual. With any luck, we won't have to wait five more years for the next one.