But the movement certainly has its critics. In a now infamous New York Times Book Review assessment of "The Know-It-All," Joe Queenan called Jacobs' book "corny, juvenile, smug, tired" and Jacobs both "a jackass" and "a poor man's Dave Barry; no, a bag person's Dave Barry." Steve Almond has dubbed the genre -- in a review of Beth Lisick's "Helping Me Help Myself" -- "shtick lit."
Sometimes, however, a shtick is not just a shtick. Nelson aimed to give her own 2003 book, "So Many Books, So Little Time" -- in which she read a book a week -- "a narrative flow," to make it "like a novel, where the character goes somewhere."
Says Hemley: "If there is a serious center, some emotional power, to the book . . . it's much more than a stunt. It's something I call the 'immersion memoir,' going a bit outside yourself, using the outside world as a catalyst." He praises Barbara Ehrenreich's maid-chronicle "Nickel and Dimed" and Ted Conover's "Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing."
Still, how long can publishers support this combination of stunt journalism and personal exposure?
Jacobs jokes that the genre could experience the same kind of escalation that the grisly-childhood memoir went through: "I'll have to die and go into the afterlife, and write about heaven or hell -- whichever one is more interesting."
Every trend, after all, fades out. "This cycle has to end somewhere too," Nelson says. "I don't know what will come next. What happens in publishing is, 'This worked, let's do more of this.' Then, it's 'That's so five seconds ago.' "
Jacobs himself hopes the Gimmick Book movement keeps rolling, at least long enough for his next book, in which he tries to become the world's healthiest man.
"I feel lucky about being able to make a living this way," Jacobs says. "It's like going to school your whole life, getting crash courses on these really interesting topics. If I ever get bored, we're in trouble."
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The king and his court
Want to match the writers with their gimmicks? Here's a handy guide to some notable practitioners.
"The Guinea Pig Diaries"
Impersonates beautiful woman via e-mail.
Experiments with "Radical Honesty."
Poses nude for magazine photo shoot.
Re-experiences kindergarten as 48-year-old.
Attends high school prom he missed first time around.
Lives in childhood home.
"Helping Me Help Myself"
Attends weight-loss cruise ("Cruise to Lose") headlined by Richard Simmons.
Attends inspirational speech by author of "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" (Stephen Covey).
Invites "professional organizer" to messy home.
"Nickel and Dimed"
Goes undercover as low-wage maid.
Waits tables at "family restaurant."
Toils as salesperson at Wal-Mart.
"Julie & Julia"
Aims to cook more than 500 recipes in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."
"No Impact Man"
Refrains from using paper products (including toilet paper).
Avoids producing any trash besides compost.
Purchases no food besides what's locally grown or raised.