Feeling Good About Yourself?

Well, Ariel Leve isn’t as she sits down to speak with A.J. Jacobs about pet peeves, interviewing celebrities, and how to lead a green life (hint: no kids). Ariel Leve’s new book is It Could Be Worse, You Could Be Me.

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AJ: You’ve written a very funny essay collection called It Could Be Worse: You Could Be Me. What’s so bad about being you?

AL: I have my health.

Really? As a hypochondriac, I figured you’d find something wrong with your health.

You’re right. I have had a weird bump on my middle finger for a long time. My doctor has forbidden me from Googling but I figured if I Googled something that was so unlikely to yield a dire result, it wouldn't count. I put "bump on finger" in the search engine and guess what came up? Finger cancer. It said: Of all the fingers susceptible to cancer, the middle finger of the right hand is number one.

English men enjoy my company. Or maybe they're just better at pretending to.

By the way, people say all the time that I'm my own worst enemy. How is that helpful?

In the book, one of the bright spots of your life is your special relationship with your super. How’s that progressing?

Last week he gave me permission to store an extra suitcase in his office since I've run out of space in my apartment. No other tenants get that. So, I'd say we're going strong. I still feel special. Not only that, he calls me back. That goes a long way. And I might be in denial but I believe he'd call me back even if I didn't tip him well at Christmas.

I’ve read your celebrity profiles, and you get amazing stuff. How do you get famous people to open up? Do you get them drunk? Are there roofies involved? Please enlighten us.

Roofies? Where would I get roofies?

I can’t help you with that one, sorry. Who was your favorite interview?

John Irving. And Bill Nighy. And Mike Nichols. And Nick Nolte. It just hit me your previous question was sort of a backhanded compliment. Is it that hard to believe people would open up to me without being drugged or drunk? Maybe my relentless probing wears them out.

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You’re not a fanatic when it comes to mulching. But in your book, you say that you’re actually extremely green. Please explain.

Not having had children means I've spared the world another person and that's as environmentally friendly as it gets. Right there, I've conserved gallons of water. Children take a lot of baths. Also, children drink milk and cows are a source of methane gas. You have three children. How many family vacations does it take before you rethink that decision?

You’re right. My family’s carbon footprint is substantial. But in my defense, we don’t own a hairdryer. I love the cover of your book. Is that your face buried under the pillow?

No—but it could be.

You are in favor of naps, but feel they are unjustly maligned. Why the anti-nap sentiment in society?

People are very judgmental when it comes to naps. If you're napping at your desk because you've been working hard, then it's OK. But if you're at home in the middle of the day and you're taking a nap, then it's depressing. People feel you have to earn a nap. A nap on the couch is okay. That could be accidental. A nap on the bed? Not okay. It says you made the decision to sleep the day away.

I said in my blurb that you reminded me of Fran Lebowitz. Please don’t stop writing, by the way.

Why not? It's worked out well for her.

Did you read her when you were young?

I did. I think I was reading Metropolitan Life when other kids my age were reading Nancy Drew and Judy Blume. Which kind of says it all, I guess.

What are you reading now?

For my birthday this year, someone gave me The Complete Manual of Things That Might Kill You. Can you believe it? That's like giving an alcoholic a case of Champagne.

You need to put that down right now. Which of your columns got the most feedback?

I wrote one on how I wish I could have a medically induced coma every so often. It would be like an extended break where I could save money and get some rest. People were not amused.

You are a masterful collector of pet peeves. Can you name for us your current top 5?

People who tell me to "Relax." What good does that do? I'm not going to relax on command. People who wear enormous backpacks on the subway and have no spatial awareness. When someone adds, "I'm just saying" after stating the obvious. Or even worse, "I'm just sayin'." A lot of my pet peeves, by the way, have to do with being unoriginal so I would say that's a top pet peeve as well. Although it's not very original of me to say that, which makes me a hypocrite. But who cares. How many have I listed?

Four

Global warming.

That’s an excellent list. You once told me you also are annoyed by people who overuse the word “the” for comic effect. Like “I was watching the TV last night.” That still make the top 10?

It was recently bumped by people who overuse the word 'frenemy.'

You’ve spent a lot of time writing in England. What’s the difference between English and American men?

English men enjoy my company. Or maybe they're just better at pretending to.

What about the difference between English women and American women?

Here's one I've noticed recently thanks to Twitter. My American female friends have no guilt about self-promoting. They'll boldly tweet about something they've done with lines like, "Check this out!" Whereas my female English friends are far more reserved and addled with shame. They'll tweet: "If you don't mind, and it's not too much trouble, here's my blog post. Feel free to ignore it."

How do you like tweeting? Are you more British or American in that way?

I'm torn. Usually I'll tweet something self-promoting and then hate myself for it.

Who has it worse than you?

Why are you asking that?

I just thought it’d be a nice way to end the interview.

Plus: Check out Book Beast for more news on hot titles and authors and excerpts from the latest books.

Editor-at-large for Esquire magazine, A.J. Jacobs is the author of 2007’s The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible and the forthcoming The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment, published by Simon & Schuster in September 2009.